Jerome White Bey’s
great-great-grandfather, Allen Parker, in all likelihood, was born a slave
and died a free man. At the end of the Civil War, in 1865, Congress passed
and President Lincoln signed into law, the 13th Amendment of the Bill
of Rights: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as
a punishment for a crime where the party shall have been duly convicted,
shall exist within the United States, nor any place subject to their jurisdiction."
Ninety years later, Jerome was born free; he will, however, considering
the Amendment just quoted, most probably die in slavery.
In 1887, twenty-two
years after the end of slavery, when Jerome's great-great-grandfather
was still a young man, the state of Missouri established the Missouri
Training School (MTS) for Boys. Located in Booneville, a rural town west
of St. Louis, its stated purpose was the reformation of delinquent boys
between the ages of 10 and 17. It became, however, a storehouse where
children whose parents could not control them were placed and forgotten.
Behind its walls these "incorrigible" children became the objects
of draconian punishment including solitary confinement, beatings, hosing
down and chaining. By the 1940s its reputation as a house of horrors was
solidly established. Originally intended to house up to 350 youngsters,
by 1967 it held over 600 youths. Cots were crowded together scant inches
from each other, forcing boys to sleep cheek by jowl with one another.
When youths were
deemed troublesome to the point of incorrigibility, they would be transferred
to the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, an adult institution,
or to the prison farm at Algoa, a facility for young adult offenders.
A priest told one boy who asked why he and several others were being transferred:
"Because you're mess-ups." Though the majority of boys at MTS
at any time were white, the majority of those transferred as incorrigible
were black. That the majority of correctional officers were whites from
largely white rural areas in Missouri cannot be discounted as a deciding
factor in the decisions as to which youths were deemed "incorrigible"
and hence subject to transfer.
By the late 1960s,
photographs of the deplorable crowding and squalid conditions began to
appear in newspapers and legislators were obliged to scrutinize the facility.
As a result, state officials decided to utilize smaller schools and to
emphasize counseling. The children so unkindly stigmatized as "mess-ups"
would hereafter be counseled rather than transferred. Nevertheless, the
transfer of youths to adult institutions continued apace until 1971 when
the Missouri Supreme Court, in response to a suit that began 5 years earlier,
voted 5-4 to find so-called "administrative transfer" unconstitutional.
The youths that
left the MTS were markedly different from the boys they had been when
they entered. Brutalized in such a manner and to such an extent as they
had been in Booneville, the paths their lives would now take were nearly
entirely determined for them: if they had received brutality for no reason,
they would dispense it in the same manner. It is as if they had been bred
for prison. Most of them returned to the prison system and remained there
until they died or were released for perhaps a few years, only to return
to Prison: the Life of Jerome White-Bey
The MTS at Booneville may no longer exist as it did in the years prior
to the mid 1970s, but similar juvenile justice systems still exist in
many states throughout the country. Today, in fact, we see an increasing
amount of sentencing and/or transferal of "incorrigible" youth
to adult facilities with all the brutalization such imprisonment implies.
As in Missouri, those sentenced and/or transferred to adult facilities
are largely youths of color and the poor. Thus we make our youth into
fodder for the future wars they will necessarily wage for their own dignity
As you read Jerome's
account of his time at Booneville, you will see first and foremost that
he has never relinquished his dignity or his freedom to think for himself.
Given what he has been through, what he is presently living and the future
he undoubtedly faces, one can only respect his courage. He has not bowed
to what are apparently unbeatable odds. Nor will he.
by Julia B. Lutsky)
Just Another One of the Boys from Boonville
When I was
growing up I was looked upon as a problem child for I was always in and
out of the juvenile center. We lived on the south side of St Louis; I
can remember how I used to get into fights in school every day. I never
started them but I was always the one blamed. My mother and grandmother
were always there for me, the family unit was in place.
I recall that, in 1967, I ran away from home to hang out with my friends
who were the bad boys of the neighborhood. I began to love the street
life; there were no adults around to tell us what to do or not to do;
we stole whatever we wanted or needed. One day my mother caught me and
took me back home. I ran away again and again. The police caught me breaking
into someone's house and I was taken to the juvenile center. They called
my mother but when she got there she told the juvenile authorities to
keep me for a while as she was having problems with me. I kept running
away from home for no sound reasons, I was always getting into fights
at school and if they kept me maybe it would teach me a lesson.
My mother, father, grandmother and grandfather all visited me while I
was in jail. After four months my juvenile officer told my mother she
could take me home if she wanted to, so I went home. I can remember how
happy everyone was to see me and how nice everyone was to me. However,
in 1968 I ran away from home again. The police caught me and turned me
over to juvenile court. In 1969 the court sent me to the Missouri Training
School for Boys in Boonville. That is how I became one of the boys from
Boonville. There at Boonville I also began to get the same reputation
as a troublemaker, a bad boy, an undesirable no one could control.
I was always into trouble at Boonville because the staff was extremely
racist. I had never experienced racism until I was sent to Boonville.
The first time I was called a nigger was at Boonville - by a staff member
named Mr. Carmichael. Every weekend it was almost a ritual that I had
to fight the duke of the dormitory or another kid there. One day while
I was drinking water in the fields digging up potatoes, Mr. Foster, the
head man over us, walked up to me and kicked me in the ass and said, "Nigger
boy, get back to work." I lost all control of myself and rushed toward
him. I remember knocking him to the ground then I was put in the hole.
That was my first time in the hole. Then one day they came and got about
six of us and drove us to Jefferson City to the Missouri State Penitentiary.
Of the boys, Gary (Fox) Barber, came back to prison and he was killed
here by another prisoner in 1986. One other boy, Earl Davis, and I are
the only ones alive; Earl is a minister somewhere - but he too came back
At the age of thirteen I was sitting in a prison cell called H-Hall crying
my head off; I was scared to death. I remember receiving little love notes
and candy in H-Hall. I remember telling the other boys we all have to
stick together no matter what. In November of 1969, we were sent to Algoa.
Now, Algoa was extremely hard for me because the older prisoners used
to always jump on me asking for sex, trying to make a punk out of me and
I had to fight each and every day. The guards were of no use to any of
us. One day I was put in the hole for talking while in line. I remember
beating on the door complaining that my cell was cold. The guards sprayed
me with the water hoses and then opened the windows. After a month I was
released from the hole.
I'd been sent to Jefferson City in August or September of 1969, then to
Algoa at the first week of September, 1970; I can remember the guards
coming into my cell beating me with sticks because I would not stop hollering
and pleading for help. One day I was released out of the hole, then the
following week a lawyer came to see us and asked us if we wanted to go
home. We all said yes; we were told to sign some papers and the following
week we were put on a bus and sent back to St. Louis. We had not committed
any crime, we were given no reason why we'd been sent to Jefferson City.
I have always believed that this horrifying experience is the sole reason
that today I am sitting in prison where I have now been for 24 years.
Since I understand things much better today I can clearly see now that
I was bred for prison life the way one breeds cows, horses, pigs or dogs
and as it was then it is now.
As I recall, after my release from Algoa in February of 1971 I mostly
stayed around the house and enrolled myself back into a school with the
help of a juvenile case worker whose name was Mr. Thomas. Mr. Thomas was
real cool, I liked him a lot. I used to have to report to him once a week.
I was enrolled in Southwest High GED classes. One day I saw one of my
old friends. We started hanging out together but we were not getting into
any trouble but I stopped going to school.
One day, as I was walking home, one of the Barry twins, who lived down
the street from me on St. Vincent Street, offered me a ride in his car.
He dropped me off at my house and we talked for a while. I went in the
house, changed clothes and then hit the streets. As I went down the street,
I saw Barry sitting in his car. He asked me did I want to go with him
over to his girlfriend's house? I said, sure, why not? I never thought
to question Barry about his car, so we got in his car and as soon as we
turned onto a street named Grand, the police got in behind us with their
light flashing. The Barry told me this was not his car, it was stolen
and, to add insult to injury, he jumped out of the car and left me holding
the bag, so to speak, for I forgot to run. The only thing that helped
me some was that the police saw the driver jump out of the car and run.
Since I refused to tell who the driver was, I was arrested for riding
in a stolen car and, lo and behold, guess what happened? I found myself
again being sent to Boonville in July of '71.
But this time things were different for I was the only one sent to the
Missouri State Penitentiary, released and sent back to Boonville. Needless
to say, the Boonville staff was not pleased to see me once again. Nevertheless,
I was able to stay out of trouble: A Food Service Management training
school course had been established allowing one to learn a trade in food
services. I took the course and completed it.
One day I was called to the Boonville Administrative Building and when
I arrived I was ordered to cuff up [be handcuffed] because I was being
sent back to the Juvenile Center in St. Louis. I was not allowed to pack
my personal belongings (my property) and to this day I never saw my personal
property again. When I arrived at the Juvenile Center I learned that a
Boonville official sent me back to the Center to have me certified as
an adult. The Juvenile Court Judge, however, ordered that I be sent back
to Boonville but the Boonville officials refused to accept me back. The
Juvenile Court Judge then released me into the custody of my mother in
January of '72.
I can remember growing up after I was released from Juvenile, how the
police used to go out of their way to harass me. I can remember how the
police used to catch me by myself and take me to the Third District Police
Station on the south side of St. Louis and make me walk from there to
my own neighborhood. This was a problem because I had to walk through
an all white neighborhood and, as soon as some white dudes spotted me,
the foot race was on. The police would do this once or twice a month.
The white dudes never caught me and I became so well known in the neighborhood
that I had free passage as long as I did not go wandering around. I remember
how my little walks became a joke to them so instead of chasing me through
their neighborhood some would laugh me through it. Even so, I made a friend
or two along the way.
The police came up with something new called frame-ups or set-ups, so,
at the age of 17, I was sitting in prison charged with a robbery I had
nothing to do with, on a three year sentence, all certified and legal-like.
Every one of the boys from Boonville who were transferred with me on the
first go around I ended up meeting again in prison. Not once did we, our
families, lawyers, judges, news reporters, parole officers, etc,. mention
what had happened to us. The state of Missouri has been covering this
up for way too long and I am seeking a closure to this nightmare; can
you believe that from 1968 up until today I have never seen a Christmas,
a birthday, a New Year, a Thanksgiving in society (i.e., the free world)?
This nightmare began when they illegally sent me to prison at thirteen
years old. I ask you, where is the justice? I am 46 years old now and
I have been unjustly condemned to sitting in the hole. I am classified
as an undesirable even today because I continue to resist and oppose the
injustices and inequities of this state system of social control. I plan
to fight the injustice that was done to me until death seizes me or until
This is becoming extremely difficult for me for the pain is real and my
mind keeps shutting down; it will have to do until I am able to go deeper
into my past. [There is a lot more to tell but] that’s a lot to
ask; a lot of doors to open that I am not ready to deal with for the pain
and suffering is great. I have to really sit down and put my all into
this because it involves my revolutionary consciousness.... I can see
the need to have my experience out there. [Consequently, my story will]