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Previously on Serial. I don't care if it was my worst enemy. I'm not telling you. I don't care what you did. I need people out there in the community that are concerned with black lives, with brown lies, white lies, purple lives. You step out and do something. I'm torn. I hope, Major, the best way I can tell you the truth. I told him to do this.
I went through the things that I was going through when I was younger because I was young and dumb.
From this American Life and WBC Chicago, it's serial one courthouse told week by week. I'm Sara. When I began this project, I didn't plan on covering a juvenile cases. Juvenile records are public.
For one thing, I figured out plenty to look at right here in the adult system. But after a while, juvenile cases, juvenile crime became impossible to ignore.
The newly elected county prosecutor seemed to be talking about juvenile violence at every opportunity. Young people 14 to 21 are crime drivers. Who was saying the data supported his alarm?
More and more juveniles were being charged with the worst crimes serious assaults, robberies, rapes, homicides all rising for the past five years.
Once these juvenile crimes made their way into the juvenile courts, though, and once the juveniles themselves made their way into juvenile prisons, they disappear from view. Juvenile courtrooms are tightly controlled. The names of juvenile defendants aren't publicized for good reason. The crimes children commit should not forever mark them. But as a result, I didn't have a picture of what juvenile justice looked like.
In Cuyahoga County, I'd hear mutterings at the Justice Center, though mostly from defense attorneys grousing to each other. You're not gonna believe what just happened to my juvenile client or to me.
You think this place is bad? You should head over to juvenile. And I think. Why are you talking about. But then I met Joshua. He was 19 at the time. So not a child. He'd tell you he was grown, but he was still in the juvenile system. You can stay there till you're 21. Keep in mind, the juvenile system, its mission is different from that of the adult system.
The point isn't to punish. It's not about retribution.
The point is to rehabilitate in the juvenile system. That's where we're supposed to think like parents, where the standard should be. My child. Is this what's best for my child? Would this help my child? So I want to tell you about Joshua. I mean, Joshua sometimes starts off his story with. OK, so Boom Boom is big in Cleveland, shorthand for. Let me try to explain it for real.
I must be you. I feel like all the way like all the tape I have with Joshua is from prison. So the sound is mostly a tinny thread of terrible. I'm sorry about that. The prison system wouldn't allow me to interview Joshua in person, but I can tell you as his longtime interlocutor. I like it when Joshua says boom. Or better yet, boom boom means I might start to understand something such as how Joshua came to inhabit his current predicament.
One night in June of 2014, Joshua, freshly 16, had gone to sleep after a night at a bar.
Next thing he knew, FBI agents were pulling him from his bed. They took him to an interrogation room in Cleveland Heights. They told him they had him for some robberies.
It was like, oh, they got some video going to get our first houses in the. Then they saw me. I see all these pictures on Instagram.
Facebook seems 15 year olds are rarely criminal masterminds. There he was posing with all these other kids. The FBI agents were saying not only do we have video evidence of what you've done, but thank you, social media. We also know who you run with. The crimes Joshua was charged with were serious armed robberies for many months back. Two of them were gas stations. A friend held up to be peace in one day and a third robbery of a Popeye's.
Joshua said he was coerced into that one by an older gang member. They barely got any money. He said they left with this pathetic little plastic bucket that had small bills in it. According to a police report, around 150 bucks, which he handed over to the boss for the restaurant, had people in it who'd had to lie down on the ground. That's a multiple kidnapping indictment right there. Joshua had jumped over the counter and pointed a gun at someone.
And again, according to the police report said, you have five seconds to open the safe or I'll shoot him. Joshua said his gun had no bullets in it. That his co-defendants gun was broken. A firing pin was busted. But the customers and workers at Popeye's that Wednesday morning didn't know that the FBI agents were telling Joshua. We've got you on video. So let's run through our choices, shall we? We can hand you over to the adult court system.
That's called a bind. Over in Ohio, children as young as 14 can be bound over to adult court for certain crimes. To Joshua, adult court sounded serious and it was in the adult system. Joshua would be facing between 20 and 30 years in prison or the officer said.
Another option, we can talk. And if we talk, we can keep you in the juvenile system. We won't bind you over. You'll get out when you're 21, five years from now with no adult felony record.
When I talk. Joshua was operating on a couple hours sleep. If he remembers right, he was handcuffed. He said the officers weren't rude or abusive to him. This cool, he said they left him alone for a while to think about the deal they were offering.
So did you at any point did you say to them, I want to talk to a lawyer or I need to speak to my mom? Or was there any adult or any lawyer involved in any of that? Like Mom will definitely. I want to talk to my mom, but like, I got to get home. They did. And they did. Let me tell anybody. It was just me up there like, no, no, I don't have nobody.
Daughter will be in the police. Did you say, can I have a lawyer or. No? No, I never said I never bothered the lawyer for my mom. Right. OK. My ibsa. You like them of our daughter. Wouldn't you like things like that again. And I to have what. Oh, an adult. An adult. A daughter. And it doesn't say on the phone when they satomi's with having an adult here with me.
What did they say. I'll make my first. The only thing they responded for me is I got a response from. And how long did they keep you there? I was there for a ball. Well, I like like like four or five hours with no adult knowing where you were. Not really like guys. Doesn't it sound illegal?
It's not. It's allowed. My children haven't robbed any gas stations, so I feel the apples and oranges here. But I have to sign a permission slip for my teenager to go on a quote unquote, field trip.
That's a five block walk from her school. I have to check the box to allow my son's photo from summer camp to be used for promotional purposes.
But here is Joshua, 16, fogged by exhaustion and the prospect of everlasting incarceration and no adults, but a hand on his shoulder to crouch down and whisper in his ear what I believe most of us would have whispered if we'd been in that room.
Ask for a lawyer. Do it now. Ask for a lawyer. If Joshua had the interview, would have should have stopped and maybe his story would have should have gone another way.
As it was, Joshua took the deal that fast. It was June of 2014. Two months earlier, his daughter had been born. Those two months with her, he told me, were the happiest of his life. He couldn't handle the idea of being locked up until both he and she were decades older.
And also Joshua's relationship inside the gang. He was in the heartless felons were complicated. I know it's hard to square, but Joshua says he was an armed robber who wasn't into violence.
Is said the only benefit of joining the heartless felons was the protection they offered from the heartless felons from them. He said they extorted people into committing crimes, especially the younger kids like him, who wouldn't do serious time if they got caught.
So, yeah, he did stuff with them. And for them. But he didn't feel anything for most of them. The only one he have considered a friend. He told me even that guy had pulled a gun on him once during an argument. So he took the deal, juvenile life with a catch, something called a serious youthful offender, dispositional sentence. Usually people just call it an S WYO. It works like a suspended adult prison sentence. You, young man, are going to stay in the juvenile system.
That's the carrot. But we're hanging a ghostly adult sentence over your head. That's the stick which we can invoke if you can't keep it together in juvenile prison. So if you want to stay in juvenile, you have to behave. Joshua believed he could behave.
He took the deal. That same day he got arrested. Joshua says he drove around with the cops, showed them places he identified people in photographs, people associated with the heartless felons in the coming months. He'd meet with investigators a couple more times. Joshua has terrific recall for all manner of information, and he'd give them dates, addresses, times. He'd tell them details of crimes about which they already knew and about ones they didn't as a source. He was a champion.
He really Joshua is extremely unusual.
This is Lisa Rankin. She was Joshua's public defender, and she was assigned his case only after Joshua had agreed to cooperate.
So when I called her to ask about Joshua, who'd been her client for only a couple months, three years earlier, she remembered him immediately. She's used to clients refusing to cooperate with the police, refusing even to tell her information that might help their defense.
So for him to be so open and volunteering information and I think that that's how this whole thing started, is that when he had met with the officers before the arraignment and before he was represented, he had volunteered information and he really helped them on a number of investigations because they didn't have starting points. This is when the heartless felons really started coming into play. They were wreaking a lot of have hacking Kaia County. And I believe to this day I still are.
And so the police were very desperate to get as much information as they can. And Joshua really connected a lot of dots. And I think he explained it in a way that really was almost like a tutorial. I mean, he could tell you everything. You know, he could explain hierarchy, how things work. You know, there's really no such thing as a king expert because there aren't people in these gangs, you know, studying these gangs that kind of study them from a sociological standpoint.
And I felt like Josh was probably one of the clearest historians that they've had in a long time. He really put himself out there. And because of Josh. You know, other other major crimes were solved and, you know, the hope was that much more dangerous individuals were being taken off the streets because of Josh.
This gang is affiliated with the Heartless Felons gang operated in the Glendale neighborhood of between St. Clair Superior, East 25 street area.
Seven months after Joshua began cooperating, a bunch of important people in Cleveland would hold a press conference.
The mayor, a Cleveland police chief. People from ATF, FBI, County Sheriff's Office, county prosecutor.
And they said six months ago we began an investigation. They announced a 13 person indictment.
All members of a heartless felons affiliated group called The Cutthroats from Joshua's general neighborhood.
We looked at these gang members for crimes ranging from Florence, assaults, aggravated robberies, kidnappings, various weapons violations. They're also tied to at least one homicide that we know of right now.
There were drug charges. RICO charges, gang charges, more gang related arrests would follow.
The FBI didn't talk to me about Joshua's case or his cooperation, by the way, nor did the Cleveland police.
Almost everyone in the cutthroat indictment pleaded guilty. A couple of people went to trial. And again, Joshua kept up his end of the deal. A year had gone by since his arrest.
He thought he was all done helping. But then off they took him to the justice center where he got up in front of his dangerous erstwhile friends and outed himself as an informant.
He knew they'd hate him for it. He knew he could get killed for it if these guys got the chance. But he also figured everyone on that Cut-throat indictment. All these cases, they were adults. They'd be going into adult prisons. He was staying in juvenile.
He testified at the trial of one guy charged for a drive by shooting. That I was acquitted.
And also in a murder trial for that one, Joshua's only job was to identify the defendant. Just to say, yeah, I know him. Joshua had no firsthand information about the crime, but the state put him on the stand anyway. Ask the prosecutor, Mo Abdallah, why put Joshua up there that you had other people I.D. and your guy, including an ATF agent, including the defendant's own mother who'd said, yeah, that young man sporting the distinctively energetic ponytail in the surveillance tape.
That's my son. So I put Joshua up there and you don't want to leave evidence not used.
You know, you have evidence. We're gonna use it to ensure that, you know, something like this, a homicide where a person's life is taken from him for no reason and another person is gravely injured, that we don't leave it to chance.
You guys ever hesitate to use juveniles because you're just like, let's try to keep them out of this stuff.
Sometimes it again depends on the case. Our problem is a lot of our shooters are people who are killing people who are young and those are people they hang out with.
The prosecutor from the other trial, the drive by shooting told me. Of course, they never want their witnesses to get hurt. He also said, quote, In terms of Joshua, after he was done testifying, I didn't really give him any thought. Lisa Rankin, the public defender, happened to be in the courtroom when Joshua was on the stand. He wasn't her client anymore, but she recognized him and she thought, wow, they are still using him.
This is still going on. You know, I was very concerned for Joshua's safety because we know how these cases go. You know, he never was a kid.
Other defense attorneys told me they do not advise their clients to cooperate unless there's no other solution. Too often, the benefits aren't what they're cracked up to be. While the risks Krech go on for years. I talked to another public defender in the juvenile division, Morgan Pierce. She told me she, quote, Rarely if ever has a kid cooperate with law enforcement unless your kid can jump on a plane. She said they're either going to go to juvenile prison and be in danger or they're going to go back to their neighborhood and be in danger.
And I don't very much trust the system to follow through on what they say. The prosecutors are not beholden to anything. So the kids are used. They're naive.
Lisa Rankin remembered how much the police officers had seemed to like Joshua when they interviewed him, how they'd encouraged him. There was talk of him getting out of prison, going to school. There was a lot of talk that they would check in on him. And I guess, you know, ideally you hope that that means somehow protecting him. Juvenile prisons in Ohio are run by the Ohio Department of Youth Services O'Dwyer's. And if a juvenile prison system could have a golden age, this would be it for Ohio's.
Ten years ago, this system was forced to remake itself after lawsuits and a state investigation that a federal investigation. And finally, a consent decree. Back in 2007, a court ordered investigation found what sounded like child abuse, essentially severely overcrowded housing units, untrained, confrontational, poorly supervised, sometimes even vengeful staff using excessive force and, quote, reckless and malicious practices. Chokeholds that created extreme risks of his fix hire staff would use these tactics in strategic locations to avoid cameras.
Kids were also being harmed by other kids, and they had no real avenue to complain or to get help. Sometimes they threatened suicide just to get into isolation. Then came federally mandated and fairly massive reforms that sought to do away with solitary confinement as a punishment barred staff from using force except in extreme circumstances, and added lots of educational and therapeutic programs.
Most impressively, they really did redefine what juvenile prisons should be for, or rather whom they should be for. Unless your child is hurting other people. Using a gun, committing rape. Setting house fires. He is probably not going to an O'Dwyer's closed facility. He's going to go to a smaller residential or non-residential program in his own community. And while some young hot wires and spray painters still do end up in O'Dwyer's as prisons for the wrong reasons, a dearth of alternatives in their own rural counties or a wrongheaded judge.
Generally speaking, Ohio is not locking up kids like that anymore. In 2004, there were two thousand kids in Ohio's juvenile prisons. Now there are about 500 kids.
In 2015, the Department of Justice issued a report celebrating a turnaround that has, quote, resulted in what is in many ways a model system. What we are calling the Ohio model. Excellent progress. Yes. The one downside is that the kids who do get sent to O'Dwyer's, to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, are the worst of the worst.
Or if Donald Rumsfeld had a compassionate social worker, aunt, she might say the kids arriving at Y. S now are more traumatized and higher needs. And instead of being divided among nine institutions, they're now corralled into three, a higher concentration of sometimes violent, always struggling children living together in a smaller space. The facility where Joshua landed in September of 2014 is called Indian River. It's not officially maximum security, but functionally it operates like juvy max. One big building housing at that time, about 140 kids.
They have their own school, which is across the yard. I've been inside the main building.
It's clean, brightly painted Life-Size, posters of basketball stars or decorating the hallway. It has eight units, roughly 20 kids to a unit. Single rooms with doors that close. Each unit has a day room with a TV. They can play video games. They can play cards, though dice are contraband. The kids go to schools therapy. They might have jobs cleaning the cafeteria or doing maintenance. At first, things went OK for Joshua and Yune River.
No one knew he cooperated with law enforcement. Joshua's own family didn't know. He saw that the heartless felons were in charge of some of the units controlling the video game, remote taxing kids for their food, forcing them to clean up or to make threeway phone calls for them. All of which Joshua had anticipated.
The heartless felons were invented in Cleveland's juvenile lockups, and Joshua had been inside one of them before when he was about 13. That was the first time he saw how tightly they operated inside prison. Joshua had already passed the various tests to get absorbed into the gang.
They call it getting twisted.
You'll get 50 percent again on the fast if you don't want to be perpetually bullied and assaulted. If you want to be able to eat, that's a big thing. Other kids taken your food. Joshua said, you try to join and to join.
You have to get three bodies, assault three people, other other juveniles or staff like AKCA, Jill Halvorsen. He had no no preference policy with a box or index. Now all that pressure is put on a man band like they all want to be dolls. And one doesn't like outsiders at Indian River.
Joshua was an insider, well positioned. Nobody was asking him, Where are you from? Always the first loaded question. He was friends with the leader of the heartless felon's, The Godfather, or G.F., who vouched for him. So he was good for about a year. Then he'd had to testify at the trials downtown and a slither of rumors started back in Indian River. The Joshua had told Plague it kept popping up like Eric.
Like was like a janitor. Those at the end, like December game that became popular hip hop, the ones where he could it being a powerful of his Jaguar. Now, from there, it popped up again. So when you say it popped up, like, what are you talking about? What I would like to see it happening. Word word got around here. That's not how it works or like that.
Whenever I asked Joshua what it was like to testify, how he felt about cooperating with the police. His answers are Rasht and a little mechanical, as if the subject triggers a tiny guillotine window in his brain to zip closed, protecting the more fragile synapses from exposure. What he can recount with practically digital accuracy, though, is when the trouble really, really started.
Joshua had been in Indian River for about two years, and then he transferred to a minimum security juvenile prison called Cuyahoga Hills Summer of 2016. That's when the barebones rumors about Joshua started to take on meet.
The highlight the lives of a little. July was like all year. We held hands like this and I think people have cell phones. He had a cell phone. They would like they did called the streets from the streets like they call it, like somebody from a solution. Call somebody else. Phone is dead. Three weeks a person has worked, knows an official meet a and for a year and a year.
This is why he did this stuff like the Cuyahoga Hills is in a suburb right outside Cleveland. Lots of people from his neighborhood or rival neighborhoods coming and going, family members visiting, calling, gossiping, and someone from the drive by shooting case that Joshua had helped the police with. Not one of the defendants from that case, but the victim. He'd been shot in the leg with an assault rifle. That victim, he was also at Cuyahoga Hills. Joshua said they'd seen each other a year earlier at the Justice Center when Joshua had had to testify at the trial.
And now at Cuyahoga Hills, that kid was telling people who Joshua was, what Joshua did. It was open season for a lot less every day.
Unlike Indian River, it's eight units with open dorms. There's one seclusion room per unit in case. But otherwise, kids are mingling all the time. Which, if you're a target, is tantamount to a health scape. A quick look at the O'Dwyer's rundown of incidents involving Joshua.
And you see the rush of assaults as soon as he gets to Cuyahoga Hills like a blood pressure spike. July 3rd. July 7th. July 19th. July 22nd. Joshua can fight a few staff members told me he can really fight. He told me his moves got the attention of one guard who is also a gym teacher. Joshua said the guy used to watch the surveillance videos of his fights and admiration. Anyway, Joshua fought back, but he said more and more people were assaulting him.
First would be three people, then four people and six people. The worst assault in terms of the physical damage done to Joshua was in September of 2016.
It happened in the schoolhouse. He'd been staying clear of school because he knew it wasn't safe there. But he said they told him you wouldn't be allowed to take his G.D. tests if he didn't have 90 percent attendance. So he went.
And next thing you know, I was walking to the schoolhouse and gave him multiple papers and stuff, my hand going to class. And then I got a sort of from Bahah and I blacked out. No, no, nothing. I got knocked down. I woke up in the hospital. A solemn moment. Oh, my God. Really? You see, you have no memory of life. No. You weren't even able to fight back. You just, you know.
All I tell you, I've got to sort it. I hit my head on the door, hit my mouth on the ground, like, hey, my eye on the doorknob. When I was on the way down and I just learned I had a seizure. I was coughing up blood. I did like this. Also, the doll was told I'd forgotten. No. No. Well, given hospital clothes full of blood. No. No. How are you in the hospital?
I was there for a couple of hours and I came right back to the institution. They put me back in the same part of inflation. Higher, higher. High ranking ones that were out were so negative for one another attack.
December 30th, 2016. Joshua's jumped again. This time, he firmly believes a guard made that happen. He'd just been moved to a new unit and he started arguing with the guard on duty.
Joshua said he went and took the unit phone from the guard's desk was a ploy to get some attention.
He put it in his footlocker by his bed, wouldn't give it back. Meanwhile, the guard had ordered pizza for some of the kids on the unit.
Joshua said when the guard came in with the pizza boxes, he told them, kids go get the phone back from Joshua.
And you can have your pizza knowing full well.
Joshua says that that would likely lead to an assault. Did three kids jumped? Joshua got out of hand. Joshua said the guard then cuffed him, started to walk him out. But then a bunch more kids. Joshua thinks about five of them. They joined in, got Joshua on the ground. So now he's got about eight kids on him. All heartless felons while he's handcuffed. Joshua said the guard didn't call a signal 88 to ask for help.
That's for a serious fight, a riot. Instead, a different guard called a signal five, which means other staff are more likely to mosey over to help rather than runs. Joshua says more guards finally did come over. And one of them put his own body between Joshua and the kids who are stomping him.
That guard doubled up. He kicked in the head. He got knocked out right there. The family are quite a family.
Hey, buddy. Is or was. The family came here. They set the breaking news. Did they pick you up suddenly to the clinic?
Three guards were also injured. Joshua says after that, they took him to operations and he sat there for another hour, two handcuffed. Then Josh went into seclusion cell for a while. I ran all of what Joshua told me by why, yes. But the department would not answer any questions about Joshua. They do not discuss juveniles in their custody, nor would they provide anyone for me to interview about their policies or procedures or philosophy generally, because they said it would be in service of a story about a particular youth.
They did send me a general statement, which I'll get to later. Joshua said all along he'd been telling the administration at Cuyahoga Hills. I am not safe here. I heard similar complaints from other kids at O'Dwyer's. I told them, but they didn't really do anything. You see it in institutional reports and lawsuits over the years as well. Allegations that staff knew kids were in danger from other kids and didn't do enough or anything to protect them. Joshua said he practically begged the people in charge at Cuyahoga Hills, you gotta send me back to Indian River.
When I first got a sort of downer, I told the thing by saying the river is not going to stop. And then the solution I made basically just brushed it off. I kept coming back and back for, like, highlight two months. Like, I never thought. I know, like, the whole process never stopped Sansone. But then they were kept some time. And then I guess they still didn't do. I thought I had a seat.
I sat down with the superintendent decision or. And he basically Fairlight like it was my fault that I was getting assaulted, like again.
O'Dwyer's did not comment on Joshua's case, including whether he asked to be moved.
Oh, no. He basically said that I would now bring in everything on me. How? Like sand like that. I had to boss people like, oh, my gum, the high riding on the sun. And he knew I was Donahoe's fellow. So he just told me, like, you better stop or something or just was going. Haven't seen. He thinks you're a heartless felon still. Yes. He said that he thought. Yeah. That's not what he was saying.
I kept telling them, look at Tommy's play move. But he's like like flicking it off or just like him. Me like bringing it back on me. Like like you need to keep your mouth closed and we just keep your mouth closed.
After about six months at Cuyahoga Hills, Joshua met with a couple of lawyers, a defense attorney who said he'd figure out if he could get Joshua early release from ody O'Dwyer's and a civil rights attorney, Mr. Paul Costello, as a matter of fact, whom you might remember from Aramis, his case. That's how I learned about Joshua Paul. Both attorneys were shocked. They said that it seemed like the heartless felons were colluding with staff. They considered asking the state attorney general's office to launch an investigation.
In the meantime, Paul had called the facility to say, I'm no juvenile justice expert, but seems like he might want to move this kid. And P.S., we might be suing you more after the break. I have to think back now to access a more innocent time around 18 months ago when I was still incredulous.
Give me a second. There it is. How could the government take a teenager, an unrepresented teenager, persuade them to do the thing? Almost nobody does the thing. Law enforcement has been desperate for someone to step up and do cooperate, get them to generously spin through his heartless phones, Rolodex, then put him on the witness stand. Not once, but twice, then put him back in juvenile prisons, packed pretty tightly with heartless felons. Offer a parting handshake and a general note to behave himself.
Remember that? S hanging over your head. And how could that same government than sit back and watch him get jumped again and again and again? How could they call an ambulance to take him to the hospital? And months later, according to Joshua, arrange transportation to a couple of neurologist appointments to attend to the brain bleeds he said he was diagnosed with. Oh, and then that other trip for a CAT scan. How could all that have happened and be happening?
And yet I couldn't hear anyone aside from Joshua raising an alarm.
So I considered as anyone in my position would, there's probably more to this story that I'm not seeing. I set out to fact check Joshua. Began with Miss Turner, Shaila Turner. She ran a literacy and social action program inside Indian River in Cuyahoga Hills called Freedom School.
It's a curriculum designed by the Children's Defense Fund. Joshua says Freedom School was by far the best thing that happened to him. Inside O'Dwyer's, it changed his whole demeanor, he said, from an enraged, suspicious scholar into a young man who is beginning to recognize his feelings and manage them.
Every time I got mad, she'd ask me why, he said, was the first time somebody actually ever sat down and listened to me vent and tried to coach me and worked with me.
Joshua stayed in the program for two years, longer than anyone else. When the program lost funding, Ms Turner positioned herself as Joshua's mentor and kept in touch.
I asked Miss Turner about Joshua's version of the pizza incident because I figured she knows him well. She's seen his worst and best behavior. I figured she'd know whether he was exaggerating what a guard really have handcuffed Joshua. And then more or less allowed more kids to assault him.
I'm hearing stuff like, you know, the guard put handcuffs on him.
I got it. Yeah. Real. Yes. That is absolutely real. And the way that I verify it is just when I seem to be able to see the footage and their inability to do that. Only reason I know any of information about it is because they called me to calm Joshua down.
They called you? Yes. So the facility called me with Joshua in a room because Norman's mentor to calm him down. And that is the most anger I've ever heard. I can hear him cry. And I couldn't even manage that myself. So I told them that I needed to see him. I need to talk to him in person. And we went to see him. And that's when I saw the bruises and the beating. And Josh was very strong.
He's a fighter. This is what got him into it for us like that. This is something that very comfortable. And so to see him that bad and be able to talk to him and find out what happened. It was horrible. And then the guard was fired afterwards. The guard wouldn't have been fired if the guard wouldn't have been in there on. I eventually got the personnel records for this guard. He was fired, though, later through a settlement with the union.
He was allowed to resign, along with a pledge to never again work in O'Dwyer's. The guard wasn't sanctioned for Joshua getting jumped, though, he was sanctioned because of the pizza. He admitted to taking 20 bucks from one of the kids and using it to buy them pizza.
It's against the rules. It seems like every time he's telling me a story, I'm just like it feels like inside of their. Certainly at Cuyahoga Hills, but also to a certain extent at Indian River, that it's just chaos for them. Absolute chaos. It is absolute chaos. I think that's clearly.
It is absolute chaos and that the kids seem in charge. Or is that not true?
Yes, I would absolutely agree with that. Yes. And I want to raise our program also beneficial because the children were on site with the program. If we were to have relied on just the staff. I would not have felt safe. So the children I wanted to speak to, other kids who'd been at would way as to know whether Joshua's situation was real and whether it was common knowledge.
It was it was crazy. I'll know how you felt about it. But it was it was crazy. Real bad. This is Malique.
He's 18. He was at Cuyahoga Hills with Joshua. He's an adult prison now.
Well, he said he saw Joshua get jumped multiple times, so therefore he had a whole person again.
I'd gotten Malik's name from a former staff member who'd suggested he might be a good person to talk to about what life was like at Cuyahoga Hills. She'd given me a couple of names of remarkably frank former White House kids. She didn't know Joshua. And she definitely didn't know that Malique is actually Joshua's cousin. If you overlay Cleveland at Nodaway, as you see a lot of coincidences like this.
It's a pretty small world. Blake told me Joshua had it worse than anyone he'd seen come through Cuyahoga Hills. He said he himself had been high up in the heartless felons when all this was going on.
But he loved his cousin, so he stuck up for him when it got to this point.
I had to deal with, like I can say, that found the oxidizes keep anything. I was happy for him to continue to happen. So I went put in some ideas that did and did kind of like this came from people like that. And I kind of had words, but this call is over.
And he had words with a couple of the guys. He said he asked them to cool it and monitored.
Did you personally get any blowback of like, why are you friends with this kid or why are you, you know, like, I have no idea. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I do.
Heartless felons started to turn against Malique sergia steal from him. He said one night when he was sleeping, someone hit Malique in the face with a combination lock. Right between the eyebrows.
He needs stitches. I talked to another guy named Leo from Toledo who'd been at Cuyahoga Hills at the same time as Joshua. He remembered the salt in the school when Joshua woke up in the ambulance.
Somebody who slapped him and all clapped means hit. It was a big deal to pass him a pass when he went to sleep, but he had his face on the concrete wall. I mean, he was at a point that caused him to go into a season and his whole face just so it was crazy. And here was an Oscar for that.
Leo said it was because word had gone around Cuyahoga Hills that Joshua was a snitch, that he was giving the prison staff information about the heartless felons family.
He knew a lot of stuff about the farm. He was just telling. He was trying to get a better sentence or something, given the lives. People have a lot of names. OK. When you heard, like, oh, yeah, this guy's a snitch, did you have any feeling about that personally one way or another? Oh, like no snitches. He asked what he deserves. Like, what's the feeling? That kind of a.. I was heavily involved in that kind of game and I knew where I was.
It was mission only. Not only me. It's about other people. Okay, so you did you know this like this hit on him was going to happen or. No. And you knew of. Can I ask, did you order it? Am I talking to the man who ordered it? A. At the time, Leo said he was in charge of a section of the gang called y f young felons. So he called the hit on Joshua.
Coincidence. He'd later become the godfather. Joshua said he wasn't telling on the heartless felons at Cuyahoga Hills that they were conflating his past cooperation with the president. Regardless, Leo said he was mostly hearing about Joshua from the guards.
A lot of staff is telling me shit about him. My father found out that he was a snitch. Wait, what do you mean? Staff were telling you about him? I was out to try to write a case test in Cuyahoga Hills.
A kite is how you get a message to the office, like, oh, all I need to talk to ministration. I need to talk to operations and the superintendent and this to Flagstaff. He brought your name. He's calling on you. And he saw you on a stretcher, folks.
Staff was informing on Joshua. Leo says to the most dangerous people in the prison. Him, Leo and his guys. I spoke to a couple of other former and current O'Dwyer's youths from different facilities.
I also spoke to current and former guards, not disgruntled people who liked their jobs.
Also, current and former O'Dwyer's social workers, mostly adults, spoke to me on background for fear of retaliation. What they described reminded me of a black market as if the juvenile prisons have their own subterranean economy, sucking in both youth and staff who trade in favors, power and also cash.
Of course, I know corruption exists, and I know juvenile prisons in particular are prone to bullying and tumbled.
But this was a system recently out from under a consent decree, metamorphosed the Ohio model whose stated mission is not to punish but to Habila State youth and empower families and communities.
Cuyahoga Hills has won a national award for how it treats the children in its care twice.
And yet, Ma, I'm just gonna run through some of what I learned. Take contraband. I interviewed a former guard, Edward Kennerley. He's the only guard who agreed to go on the record, possibly because he's got nothing to lose. He lost his job already after he was charged with domestic violence. When we talked, he was actually in prison as a prisoner. Before that, he worked the other side as a guard at Cuyahoga Hills.
They call them why ECES and why US youth specialists, Edward Said guards bringing in contraband.
Yes, regular cell files. We lock him out of our estimates where people skin. One guy came with a million ways. He was bringing a weed in for a whole year. And they had to know about it. Everybody knew about it.
The guy worked on one of the most unruly units, Edwards said. But when he was on duty, everyone was curiously chill. Edward said that guard ended up getting fired. Edward said he himself didn't bring anything in like that, but he said kids did ask him to. We'll keep the unit under control if you bring in a cell phone or some weed.
Yeah, for sure. We we have a lot of fuels on hand, as I just did. I deal with on on that type of situation.
That's Malique Joshua's cousin and quite the businessman who's bringing stuff into the north and south buildings. He said with the help of guards, two or three at any one time. He said they'd go pick up stuff from his people on the outside and bring it back in so Malique could sell it for the guards. This wasn't just about keeping the units calm.
It was about making money. Well, he could pay them.
And how much were they getting? How much would you have to give them? Maybe it appears to depend on how much. I have a brigade, a brigade on it. Sometimes I pay them 700 or 700 here. The other thing is a lot of them haven't break. So I guess that's that's like real money, too. Wow. Oh, my God. How much does a cell phone go for it? Well, it depends on what kind of phone is HANSBURY maybe like Fonio iPhone about.
So there's not much money moving around in there. It is this crazy under the heartless felons.
They're also called the family or the fam, which has another meaning forever about money.
Leo, the former G.F. told me they take it seriously. You got to move product.
Malique estimated there was anywhere from seven to ten thousand dollars in cash circulating at Cuyahoga Hills at any one time.
Most kids send their money home, sometimes through visitation. By the time Malique left, he said he'd send home about twenty five hundred dollars and he had about 900 on hand. The commodity running alongside and sometimes feeding into the contraband market does violence.
Three guards I talked to, one current, two former said the guards feel hamstrung sometimes because some of their best tools for controlling the kids were taken away by reforms, certain physical restraints, seclusion. They could even put kids to bed at seven p.m. anymore, couldn't make them keep their hands behind their backs. The kids can be violent. The guards are outnumbered. And you can't count on swift backup from operations if there's a fight riot. So, yeah, the guards will sometimes provoke kids, taunt them or insult them so that the kid will respond in kind.
And then the guard has an excuse to shut them in their rooms and not have to deal with them. I talked to a former social worker named Casey.
How Koski, who told me she saw that kind of thing a lot. Casey worked at the Cuyahoga County Detention Center as a therapist until last summer. The detention center isn't technically O'Dwyer's, but there's a lot of cross pollination with O'Dwyer's, especially with Cuyahoga Hills, in terms of staff and kids and gang culture.
Staff would stand in the doorway of their room. They do something, do something and go, you know, you say that I do something or, you know, when you come out. Like when they're in their transition. So they're locked up in their rooms. Oh, when you come out. I don't want to see you. I see you do that. You know, if another fight happens, you can lock down the whole unit and then you just sit in the Bay Area for the rest of your shift.
Watch TV. And you would see stuff like that? Yeah. Casey told me a story about two kids who'd fought and then when the loser of the fight was being a pain in this one guard's ass. The guard asked the winner of the fight to go after the kid a second time.
He offered that use extra commissary to assault him again. So to fight him again. Did that guy get fired? No. Incidents like this. Staff orchestrating youth on youth attacks. Everyone I spoke to from O'Dwyer's said it's common. Edward, the former Cuyahoga Hills guard, said yeah.
Gardell former relationship with the highest ranking gang member or the strongest youth on the unit and use that kid to keep the rest of the kids in line.
Did you ever experience that where a guard said to you, like, can you go take care of so-and-so or call the head on? Sure. I did us. They just come come to me. You're one of my father's that I get him off. We take care of we. We don't think you're your way. Who is taking care of you? Ishioka Shields. I'll take care of every need when everyone agrees on getting. If you did what.
Veto. Don't worry, part of the veto. And why were they wanting you to beat on a certain kid? I mean, this is dreadful, giving them a hardship. Whatever. And what would you get in return? Full kind of bad, whatever I want, money, whatever I want. The final thing I'll mention, sex sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults and also sex.
Both Leo and Malique said they'd had sex with multiple female guards who were in their 20s and 30s at Cuyahoga Hills.
Before Joshua was transferred to Cuyahoga Hills, back when he was doing OK at Indian River, he was swimming along in this corrupt water to taking advantage of it. He could get anything in there, he said porn, weed, lighters, tequila. He said he never jumped anyone for money, but he did operate as a middleman. Guards would pay him maybe twenty dollars, maybe 40 to arrange hits on certain kids. Joshua said sometimes the hits were in retaliation for something violent.
A youth had done to a guard, maybe the kid through pee on them or attacked a female. The guards aren't supposed to strike back, so they use the kids as their proxies and they know that the they will fight the right. So they're using you guys to fight back. Right now. That's the thing they like. Oh, no. Brands like many people I spoke to about ody, Y.
S they'd hit an explanatory wall like this. They'd say, you just you have to see it. You have to. I can't. Joshua's best effort, I thought, was when he explained it as a kind of mad man's vacation to vacation.
He would have fucked up a vacation for the youth. You mean our vacation for the guards? Oh, for two folks who both stars with this book. Would there have been a way for you to come in and be like, I'm not going to touch any of this. I'm going to be a totally squeaky clean. Just do my time, kid, and not get pulled into anything. Is it possible to exist like that? No. The people they take this for weeks is over.
So you will disagree with a number of partners? Yes. The hardest. Youths, guards, social workers, they all told me for a kid to, quote, unquote, succeed at O'Dwyer's to get help. Stay out of trouble and get back out. You'd need a rare, rare confluence of luck, grit and influence. I spoke to four social workers who worked at different O'Dwyer's facilities. Their experiences spanned 2012 to twenty. They all said there were plenty of people who wanted to help the kids to advocate for them.
But there was no way.
One former Indian River guard told me everything was hush, hush hush. The social workers said they were discouraged from raising problems or calling out cruelties.
Guards who added kids as sex offenders say or look the other way when a child got jumped. The social worker said there was a strong no snitching culture among the staff. A couple of them told me it was made clear to them they might not be protected if they were to be assaulted on the units. One person told me the clinical note she was writing in her kids files for reports that had to go to the courts every six months were being edited by another staff member until her boss put a stop to it.
And that when she went to look back at a note, she put in one kid's file describing assaults on him that appeared to have been facilitated by staff. Her documentation was missing entirely.
Several social workers told me that they started to lose their own sense of what was normal, what was ethical. They felt like the kids had no protection from abuse or from coercion.
So rather than trying to stop it, they'd help the kids navigate it. One told me there was nothing I could do. Another told me I mean, I just had to be realistic about it. To pretend like they were getting rehabilitated was foolish. I'd tell the kids all the time. The system is not designed to help you. Sure. To Cuyahoga Hills National Award winner. It was almost like the place had a mask on.
She said every story I heard about O'Dwyer's every allegation from youth and staff. Current and former. We ran it by Odei Wayas. Again, they didn't comment on anything specific, but they gave us this statement. Whenever there are allegations of misconduct, we swiftly investigate and take appropriate action. They wrote. Do You? Why US has increased programmings, security and supports to serve the most challenging youth in the state who have lengthy criminal histories and often have gang affiliations that they bring into the facilities.
January of 2017, Joshua went back to Indian River. This time they didn't keep him on one of the heartless felon units, A, Alpha, B, Bravo.
And November. Instead, they put him on D Delta. D, Delta was the closest thing Indian River had to protective custody. Mix of kids from Columbus, Cincinnati, Youngstown, a few Clevelanders. When I first started talking to Joshua, that's where he was Delta on unit restriction, meaning he couldn't go to the normal places in the facility.
Yeah, we are going to go to school, OK. The teacher comes to you because I can go to school if I go to school. Some of them just thought all the time, like nonstop.
He can't go to the school, to the cafeteria. To sit outside are the work of another. How long has that been going on that you're not leaving the unit? I mean, it's been like that. Like I'm not half as January. It was now mid-May, five months of unit restriction for Joshua's own protection. He felt safe ish on his unit. He said he was cool with most everybody in D. Delta. His hopes were set on early release.
And then, who knows, maybe a lawsuit. But early release was the main thing he wanted.
I talked to Joshua every couple of days, sometimes every day. Early on, he started describing what sounded like an uptick in the usual chaos, like couple of days later.
What do you mean? Like a whole nother union and ran and ran on my name like a big ass thing, right?
He said about 15 kids from eight Alpha Heartless Felons unit had yanked the door open and stormed the kids on Delta. Joshua said the heartless felons were trying to conquer their unit, basically because their unit wasn't joining H.F. wasn't submitting to H.F.. Delta was more h.b head busters. A rival gang. Delta had kids from Columbus and Cincinnati and kids from those places. If they're in a gang, they tend to be h.b. That was most of the tension and then persona non Joshua was on D Delta to the distress dispatches kept coming.
His unit had been rushed on their way to school.
Dozens of kids swarming at them from across the yard. Staff hurried them back inside before anyone was hurt.
But it's really scary. There'd been another riot, this time on eight Alpha. It's in staff attack a youth in his room. There's so many people walking around here in my unit with black eyes and stuff, he said. We just got two new dudes on our unit, dude, from Toledo. They jumped him twice in one day. And a dude from Cleveland.
Cleveland's Alpha with all the hawks. They kept it awful, which kept jumping on the hill for nothing in the whole week. They couldn't kill from within alone.
Sometimes in the calls, Joshua was sounding jangled. He said he couldn't take it anymore. It's too much stress on me. Oh, no.
I only just like. I don't want to go through this forever. I like a pop up brain, like I could take no more.
In early July, Joshua's unit was put on a Ovie Protocol Act of Violence protocol, sort of like lockdown, 7:00 p.m. bedtime, no extras.
Meanwhile, he said the heartless felons were larking around TV and video games all day, getting to go outside in their Nike shoes, jogging pants, watches his unit, all state issue stuff stuck inside, watching the heartless felons, the aggressors through the windows. An Indian River guard I spoke to confirmed, yes, they had been putting some units on Ovie protocol lately, but B, Bravo, the unit where the heartless fellin leaders are too dangerous.
Yeah, this guard said they won't even try. Joshua said his unit United. They discussed it. This isn't fair. We're not safe. The staff isn't protecting us. It feels like the superintendent is siding with the heartless felons protecting them. And we're the ones being punished for fighting back. They all wrote up grievances which they sent to the O'Dwyer's central office. All Fit Fingers is in big letters. We did it you sufficient. One argument arising from our uniforms is citizens said we don't feel safe.
Like nobody in my unit can go nowhere without sort what works. Whose idea was was to do that. This is more activism.
Look at that. Respectful to whom it may concern activism. A staff member at Indian River had helped Joshua with it, told them why he should send the packet that should go to Columbus in care of Julie Walburn, assistant director of O'Dwyer's. Joshua didn't know who Julie Walburn was. But the judges down in juvenile court in Cleveland did, including Joshua's judge, Kristen Sweeney, who's also the administrative judge for the juvenile court. Here's how she described Julie Walburn to me.
Aid drenching spring rain. After months of drought, Julie Walburn had come to work at Odey.
Asked that April a month before I started talking to Joshua and he started describing the mayhem in Indian River.
Julie Walburn had come to a recent meeting of juvenile judges in Cuyahoga County and she said, We know about the violence and the rule breaking.
We're going to fix it.
Judge Sweeney thought finally, I'm trying to think like, wow, how long has it been that I have felt like the institution as sort of not taking some of the violence seriously? I would say was probably at least four or five years, at least four or five years.
Mind you, that's in the post consent decree post reform era of Odei Y. S. One of Judge Sweeney's colleagues, Judge Denise Renie. She was malise judge gave me the backstory of how the spring rain came to be. She'd gotten a case back in December. A kid at Indian River, a heartless felon. Inside his case file were pictures. Here's Judge Rainey.
And I'm looking at all these photographs and they're photographs of youth smoking marijuana. Well, wait, I have it. OK.
Judge Rainey keeps the case folder on her desk to remind her, she explained of how we're failing these youths.
When we let heartless felons run the facilities instead of the adults, we look through the stack of photos together.
So this is from inside there.
They're definitely smoking, definitely smoking, listening to an iPod, something that is gang signs. Well, I don't know from gang signs, but I assume that's what that is. So then money holding a lot of money. Was he posting from inside? Oh, really?
The kid had a cell phone and an Instagram account where he was posting these photos.
So Judge Renie saw all these images in December of 2016 and she flipped her lid.
The impunity, the message they're sending to other kids go to Odey, way us smoke weed, make money. Kick it with your friends.
Judge Reaney sits on a state judge's committee for juvenile law and procedure. And I just sent them to all of the members. So they started calling O'Dwyer's and saying this is unacceptable.
In January, officials from O'Dwyer's came to a judge's meeting just meeting, and they were trying to explain why this was occurring. And I was visibly distraught, to say the least, were Judge Floyd put her hand on my little arm and said, because what was the explanation like?
How do you. It was an isolated incident. I'm like, he has thirty seven pages. How isolated is this? We you know, I'm in the facility every day. And, you know, this doesn't really happen. I'm like, it's on Instagram. What do you mean it doesn't happen? So they were basically just kind of like whitewashing it. My biggest issue was you are not helping our community. You take these youth and you put them in here and they come out and they are in there and they know absolutely they have no trade, they have no vacation and they have no ability to act appropriately.
So what what are we doing besides housing them in a facility where we're not teaching them anything? A few months after that meeting, the assistant director of O'Dwyer's abruptly resigned. And Julie Walburn took her place as soon as she came on board.
She walked through that. She, according to her, she walked through all the facilities. She met with all of the heads of each facility. And she said, you know, we're going to take back the facilities and we are going to ensure that these youth are not only safe because there is a lot of fighting, but the ones that are the bad actors are going to be removed.
We had an honor roll in mid-June.
Joshua told me that the superintendent of Indian River had gathered the s why the kids who had adult time attached to their sentences that could kick in if they didn't do well in juvenile bloody way, as hadn't been invoking those adult sentences. But now the superintendent told them, new sheriff in town, we now have a zero tolerance policy for S.
Y owes any infraction doesn't even have to be violent and we can seek a bind over. You are now on notice. Behave yourselves. About a month after that late July, another call, Joshua told me he just found out he had a court date is small commander.
Yes. Why would you have any court date? Why would you have a court date coming up to see that they they tried to involve myself? I know a solution. Oh, you're kidding. They tried to say that, like, I'm still defiant, but a solution. So you can approach me or stuff like that.
I told Joshua I couldn't imagine anything drastic was going to happen to him. How could it? The system knew his situation. But Joshua wasn't hearing that.
I mean, I don't know what to do. Like, I'll stick to some of the heat right now for words like I'm going crazy. I know what to do at our kids in some years. I got look at 18 years me.
If Joshua got bound over, that was the adult sentence he was looking at 18 years. That was his out. Joshua wasn't going to the court date tomorrow, but I could go and watch the adults figure out where Joshua belongs. That's next time on our final episode this season of Syrian.
Serials produced by Julie Snyder, Emmanuel Joce, Ben Calhoun and me with additional reporting by Edith Laskoski editing on this episode from IRA Glass and Nancy Updike, Whitney Dangerfield as our digital editor.
Research, in fact, checking by Ben Feiglin. Sound Design and Mix by Stone Nelson. Music Clearance by Anthony Roman. Seth Lind is our director of Operations. The zero staff includes Emily Condon, Julie Whittaker, Cassie Halley, Frances Swanson and Matt Tierney. Our music is by Adam Dorn and how Willner with additional music from Matt McGinley and Nick Thorburn. Our theme song is also by Nick Thorburn and remixed by Adam Dawn. Special thanks for this episode. To Alfonse Gerhart Stine, Kimberly Jump.
Sam Imada, head of the Cuyahoga County Public Defender's Juvenile Division, Abe Hemingway, Gabriella Celeste, Laura Austin and Brook Burns. The animation and illustration on our website was done by the talented team and Mothe studio. Thanks to Dave Prosser, Daniel Chester Re, Margo Securitas Guinot of its Luke Doyle, I4 Ashton and Hinata Garcia. You can check out their work at our Web site serial podcast. OutWalk that serial podcast, dawg. We can also sign up for our email newsletter and be notified when new episodes are released.
Serials are production of This American Life and WB Easy Chicago.