TechnologyIamA developer of Ahoy! a browser extension to fight online censorship in Portugal and used by ~150k people. AMA!
Jan 25th 2018 by vaurdan • 14 Questions • 36 Points
Judges and a property owner worked together to create a money making system off of incarcerated juveniles. I was one of those kids.
The juvenile judge worked closely with schools and police to have a zero tolerance system for juveniles.
The County run detention center was closed down due to the work of these judges and this property owner. A private detention center was built and the judges were offered kickbacks for sending kids there since the privately run detention center was paid for having the kids. (Through CYS or some form of the government, I'm not sure)
My first offense was when I was 14. My mom and I had gotten into an argument and I wanted to "run away". She stood in front of the door and I pushed her out of the way and left. Took a walk in the woods and came back home to find the police. She called them because I left. She just wanted help finding me, but they arrested me. Simple assault for pushing her. I was put away for 6 months. My mom called everyone she could and somehow managed to get me out.
My second and final juvenile offense was when I was 15. I was in school playing with some ketchup packets or something equally as childish. One of the cafeteria aids came over and began yelling at me. I was a cocky little teenager and I made up some story about my dad being someone important and told her she would lose her job. I ran my finger across my throat when I told her this. The rest of the day went by and I was called down to the office just before dismissal. My mom was there and a police officer came. They all went into the office and I assumed the school was trying to scare me... I was arrested and sent to the detention center. The judge told me I was charged with terroristic threats for threatening to kill the cafeteria aid. I was sent away for a little over two years.
There were no defense attorneys into he courtrooms. Only the judge and the children. We all knew he was very strict since he had visited our schools many times and talked to us about crimes and how he would have zero tolerance. I had no idea at the time that anything was wrong with the system. Every kid just thought it was normal. About a year after I was released the situation was exposed and investigated. The judges were arrested and the children were part of a class action lawsuit.
I spent a year and half of my high school years getting a very dulled down education consisting of multiplication tables and learning middle school level history. I was between 50 and 200 miles away from my family and because of this I went months without visits. I got a phone call once every few days if I was lucky. I was housed with kids who had gun charges, drug charges, and attempted murder charges. I was borderline abused by staff members. The class action settlement was about $20,000, which I don't know if that made up for everything.
EDIT: documentary is here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxpNynnYwC0
Ask me anything.
Edit: I chose to not use the word "victim" because I do not see myself as a victim. I did what I did. I may not have deserved what I got, but I initiated what happened. I don't want pity, or anything of the sort. Just getting the rest of this situation off my chest and answering questions anyone may have about what happened.
I took some steps to hide my identity, but with the story taking place in scuba small area and with personal details being put out, it's very easy to figure out. Who I am doesn't have to do with the story, but I don't care if anyone knows who I am or not.
The documentary has apparently been removed from Netflix but is still on YouTube.
How important do you consider the internet for future generations to come?
For fucks sake. $20K is a big fuck you. I'm sorry you had to deal with that.
Have you still been able to lead a successful life due to these bs charges on your record?
Really important! The newer and the future generations don't know what is life without internet. Right now, we rely on the internet for everything: to study, to pay our bills, to communicate, to watch "TV", you name it. And our generation is aware how important is to fight to keep a neutral and censorship-free internet.
If we fail to protect the internet and its freedom, our children and grandchildren will never know what it is to have a free internet with neutrality and no censorship. They will just take it as part of their reality and it will be less likely that they will ever fight for its future. So it's our job to make sure we keep the internet faithful to its original design and principles, so they can keep protecting it as we did.
I really don't want a censored and non neutral internet to be the reality for the next generations. We must set the example.
Yeah, I mean, I feel like $20k is a lot of money, but when I look back on it, I don't think it really made up for anything.
Everyone's juvenile records were all erased, however I met a kid in the detention center that I wound up hanging out with afterwards. We did get into adult trouble together about a year after I got out. Bumpy start to adulthood. Used most of my settlement to repay restitution and court costs for adult problems.
Since then I've turned my shit around. Own a business, father of two kids, ran for mayor, lost, do a lot of volunteer work, run lots of community events. Deep down, I think those places had both positive and negative effects on me.
What universities did you guys went to? How was your experience there?
I work closely with kids in mental health treatment centers that come off as being similar to detention centers.
What could staff have done to help your stay there?
I saw that there was a lot of abuse but were there staff members that helped you at all?
I can only speak about myself on this matter. I went to Instituto Superior Técnico, in Lisbon (well, technically I'm still attending as I have a couple classes missing). The university is great, you learn a lot about software engineering, how to do things properly and how do things work under the hood. Although, it does not give you the time or teach you how to work on stuff to help other people. For instance, it would be so great if there was a class, for example, to focus on working on open source projects - the best practices, how to work with people you don't know, how easily you can help by just donating a bit of your time. I know it sounds a bit cliché, but this would help building a social consciousness around what we take for granted, like the internet itself. I have seen too many college students not giving a s*it about the net neutrality or the internet censorship - they just think it's fine.
I really liked a lot of the staff. Like anywhere, you have dicks and genuinely good people.
Some staff went out of their way to be personal with the kids. Share life experiences, get to know them, give advice, etc...
For clarification I was in four different places. With four drastically different methods to their systems. One was a very not strict bland type of detention center with cells where the kids wore provided sweatsuits and followed a schedule for the day. I remember nothing significant of the staff there.
Another was a very laid back place with more of a home atmosphere aside from the locked doors and fences. The staff there were generally nice and took the time to get to know the kids. This was also a VERY new facility when I went there. I was probably the 12th kid ever sent there.
One was an INSANELY nice place from the outside, with a pond, bicycles, riding paths, gym equipment, etc... Got there and found out it was all broken or no longer allowed. Lol. Most staff there were seasoned vets. Mostly irritable. Some were decent, but a majority of them had been doing it for so long and didn't care to get to know the kids anymore since the place held a few hundred and staff usually juggled around.
The last place was very strict. I got cocky about pushing in my chair silently one time and wound up being restrained on the floor for about three hours.
Shift change came and they literally switched out. I only struggled for about 10 minutes of it. They screamed in my face and I pretty much cried the whole time.
It's fucked up, but I feel like that last place kinda helped me a lot.
I wasn't cocky again after that. Lots of yes sir, no sir out of my mouth. After that, the place got investigated from kids being hurt.
One staff member in one of the lighter places would bring in his guitar and teach us. Another brought his xbox and played with us. I really liked when it felt more like a big brother or sister rather than a staff/inmate.
Fuck that judge.
What movie have you watched more times then any other ?
What did you eat when you got out the second time ? first meal out I guess I mean.
I've probably watched Talladega nights way too many times.
We stopped at McDonalds. Lol. It was about 8 months since I last had fast food.
I also met my now Stepdad on the ride home.
I'm from the area(Luzerne County, which is near Scranton, PA. Yes, the Scranton from The Office)
A lot of people want the gist of the story, more answers, etc.
So here it is, from someone who has experienced first hand Luzerne County's "Culture Of Corruption".
First off, let's establish that the two judges who went to jail, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were gushed over by plenty of officials/staff on Luzerne county. Notice that the same papers blasting those who stood by and did nothing were also those who praised Conahan/Ciavarella for their "tough" sentencing style. I don't recall which off the top of my head, but one of the two won the Newspapers "Man Of The Year" award.
A property developer, Robert Mericle, had gotten a prison contract and in exchange for cash bribes, the judges would sentence the kids harshly for often nothing crimes. One girl received 3 months for a fake mocking facebook page of her principal.
The story on the books is that two judges went rogue and that was that. They were caught, got jail sentences, public condemning, and that was that.
But that's not where it actually ended, or even started.
To understand how corrupt this county is, you have to take a look at it in context.
Take Anthony Lupas. Anthony Lupus was a local attorney, and the chairman for his towns Democratic Party Board. His son, David Lupas, became the District Attorney(DA). The son is now a judge. What's wrong with this? Well, Anthony Lupus was a ponzi scheme artist. A pretty damn successful one, too, with over $6 million missing. Now, the sins of the fathers don't always transfer to the son, but they do when the son borrows $400,000 to run unopposed.
What you witnessed in Kids For Cash was not justice finally taking place, but rather a coup that took place for others to rise high.
The situation hasn't gotten better, it's actually gotten worse as the new criminals are actually competent compared to the two failures of human life that were Conahan and Ciavarella.
Proof that the uppers don't really care about what happened? The most exclusive and expensive private school in the areas sports field is the Robert Mericle sportsfield. This came up after Kids For Cash, and while you could argue it would be OK if he was just accused, he wasn't. He was convicted. Convicted. Anthony Lupas name is still up at our local Casino, take a look.
One of the worst areas is Dupont. Dupont was(is?) pretty much the Wild West. There were 3 cops in the area. One is in jail for being a drug addict, one is in jail for molesting children, and the DA who was elected following the outing of the criminals will no longer recognize the old Chief of Police as a cop.
By the way, the one who was molesting the children had his wife beg officer John Saranchuk for help. Saranchuk's response? Telling her that if she kept pushing, she'd be arrested. The drug dealer? Well, I can't say if Officer Saranchuk has a drug problem. I can say that when the FBI raided the Dupont police office, that a pretty large amount of cocaine was missing. After the drug user(or one of them) was gone.
The new police chief had to give up his gun because of a PFA filed against him.. This is "progress" in Luzerne County.
The current assistant DA is the reason many of the Kids For Cash cases went through.. So when you ask "But why didn't you do X? The answer is that a lot of the time the assistant DA would say "just let this go, you'll only make it worse by fighting." Hey give him credit, they would have made it worse.
These days the Luzerne County Courts are basically Kangaroo Courts. Go into court and observe. Play Bingo with any of the following:
Refusing to have certain parties go under oath.
Threats of contempt of court.
Refusal to even hear certain motions. Can't appeal something if it was never legally denied. Pretty clever, right?
A person involved in the Kids For Cash scandal but still somehow with a law license.
Now, Luzerne County is somewhat split. No one will say anything bad about the Kids For Cash victims, but you'll get the occasional "just some troublemakers who got to spend some extra time" in juvy. Others want to speak up but can't. Others speak out, and are punished for it.
There is a ton of stuff I won't go into here in depth, but feel free to look the stuff up if you're interested:
The fact the old court administrator was the brother-in-law of Conahan(meaning the guy who can decide where cases go was related to the guy who judged the cases.)
Gas Gate(In which thousands of dollars of gas was stolen, and seemingly disappeared)
Leo Glodzik, a corrupt businessman who had cars illegally towed. Poor people were essentially left to walk in the cold. Nicer cars were towed. Off duty cops were caught multiple times driving cars possessed in this way. The man was convicted, the cops were not.
The fact that one of the judges, the honorable Lesa Gelb, stole her firms client list when she went off on her own, and then had this squashed.
The pay-for-play DUI system, in which the mayor of Laflin(the town where both judges for Kids For Cash lived, as where Lupas lived, his son lives, and Sanguedolce live) wasn't charged for an obvious DUI.
I can answer other questions, assuming I don't get a knock on my door.
So accurate. I've put my story out there before once or twice locally...
People here wouldn't believe the amount of "It was your own fault" or "It's not the judge's fault".
For some reason, the corruption is not only ignored but accepted locally.
How did your first "conviction" happen? The one where you got sent away for six months - did you have a trial, did you plead guilty?
Did your mom try to get a lawyer when you were incarcerated for six months?
And what about your second offense? Same questions.
I understand there was a corrupt system (no defense attorneys? That is really messed up), but I'm familiar with the juvenile justice system where I live and you'd have gotten next to nothing for those offenses where I am.
There was no real trial. I stood there with my mom in front of the judge. No defense attorney. My mom cried. She said she wanted me to get help with my issues at home but didn't want me taken away. The judge didn't care and sent me away. My mom called lawyers and elected officials. Everyone she could for 6 months. One day out of the blue I was told to pack my things up because I was getting out.
The second time, it was basically the same. No defense attorney. Me and the judge. The juvenile court room was much different than any other court room. The judge and the other workers there all seemed like buddies. There was no feeling of fair justice. No telling your side. Just the judge putting you away. Scary to a kid, and even scarier to me as an adult knowing that it happened that way.
$20k doesn't make up for your years lost, and that's obviously understandable. Have you ever thought about what would help the past injustice sting less? For example, an apology from the judge, or new laws to prevent this from happening again?
Time helped a lot.
As I've said in other answers, the places weren't all bad. Aside from the obvious negative aspects, I did learn a few things and the experience did make me grow into the person I am today. Better or worse.
I don't want to hear from the judge, but I suppose an apology would help. I think I'd rather just let him know that I no longer blame him and explain what I was put through.
Sounds like you did something a little bad but not as bad as some kids in there...
Did you meet anyone who did less than you? I mean... what's the stupidest thing you heard that someone did to end up in the detention center?
I don't remember asking any other kids what they did until I was in the last place I was in. It was a really strict place with intense therapy groups and pretty bad physical punishment for the kids. (Staff broke a kids arm and gave another rug burn from head to toe for an escape attempt.)
In a Balanced And Restorative Justice group one day, we went around and said what we were there for. Kids were saying drugs, theft, robbery... The kid before me says he forgot his gun at someone's house so he went to go get it and brought his other gun, and when he got pulled over by the cops he forgot a third gun was under his seat so he was arrested for having two of his three guns on him.
I said "I told my teacher my dad would fire her..." Lol.
Did you get into any fights inside?
Any time you genuinely feared for your safety? Did you get bullied or picked on?
Did the people inside split along racial lines like they do in prison?
I was bullied at times. Other times I was the bully. I got into a few fights.
In the place where fighting and bullying did occur, there wasn't much staff intervention and there were definitely groups and a sort of hierarchy.
There was some racial tension. At the one place, I was the only white kid and the only kid not from a big city with bad crimes, which felt a little intimidating, but after a while we all got along great.
What goes through your mind, at 15, when you realize you're going to jail for two years? Was anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts a big factor? How did you adjust and calm the sudden impact of this?
Well, they don't tell you how long. In fact, you never know how long it will be. At any point. There was no "finish line".
The places had systems of treatment and let you out when you were ready.
It sucked at first. Then it still sucked but you got used to how things were. Then it still sucked, but you dealt with it and it became normal.
Do you have any power to also implicate the people that are responsible for "KARS 4 KIDS"? Specifically the people who created the advertising jingle.
Working on going after them next.
My question is this, what do you think about the US prison system?
Edit: my fist comment was deleted, here's what it said. In the US private prison industry, the corporations have contracts with the government, the corporation gets a certain amount of money per prisoner, but if the government doesn't keep the prison full enough, usually like +90%, the corporation FINES the government millions.
That's a major part of why we have a small portion of the world's overall people, but 25% of the world's prisoners.
We are not free. This coutry sucks.
As a juvenile, I was in places that generally focused on rehabilitation and therapy. They all varied in how they did it, with some more physical and some more emotional, but they still focused on fixing issues and making you a better person.
I did get into trouble as an adult and was very let down that it was literally just a time out with no steps towards corrections, despite being a "correctional facility".
I feel like jails and prisons should focus much more on the individual inmates and work to recover them.