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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

August 25, 1991|Alex Raksin

I CRIED, YOU DIDN'T LISTEN: A Survivor's Expose of the California Youth Authority by Dwight Edgar Abbott with Jack Carter (Feral House, P.O. Box 861893, Los Angeles 90086; distributed to the trade by Publishers Group West: $19.95; $12.95, paper: 176 pp.) Here is one of the strongest refutations yet of the popular notion that people end up in jail because of either bad genes or weak wills. Though a good student with a healthy home life, the author was sent to L.A. County Juvenile Hall when he was 9 because his parents were seriously injured in an auto accident. Severely beaten on the day of his arrival, he was raped by a counselor on his third night. Abbott was then faced with the option of breaking down emotionally and enduring repeated beatings, or of inuring himself to the world of human feeling and adopting the violent prison ethic as his own.

Understandably, Abbott chose the latter option, striking back at others in a way that has kept him incarcerated to the present day (he is now 50 years old). We might want to remember his story the next time we find ourselves shaking our heads at some ex-con who lapses back into crime shortly after being released. For as Abbott poignantly (if gracelessly) demonstrates, our prisons, having long abandoned any correctional role, are now little more than "gladiator schools."

This is not to say that Abbott is by any means a simple martyr. He is clearly racist (identifying his attackers by color only when they happen to be black) and probably duplicitous: At one point, he says he walked into a police station and pulled out a gun "intending to give it" to an officer. But Abbott's case is significant precisely because he is neither all good nor all bad. He is both, and it is a disgrace that our criminal justice system--which now holds more than 80,000 inmates under the age of 18--never made an effort to appeal to his better side.

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