Maol Mhuire O'Duinnin's Reviews > I Cried, You Didn't Listen: A Survivor's Expose of the California Youth Authority

I Cried, You Didn't Listen by Dwight E. Abbott
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's review
Mar 26, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: memoir-autobiography
Read in March, 2009


This book is unbelievable, but I believe it if you know what I'm saying. It's an incredible account of a boy's experience inside several "correctional facilities" that were designed for boys under 18 who were charged with criminal offenses or simply had nowhere else to go, specifically in California.

This boy, if he's still around, is now a relatively old man, having been born 8 years before my parents, which will make him 67 this October (he mentions his birthday several times in the book) and serving the first of four consecutive life sentences. His account, according to the intro and preface, was probably written over a number of years while he was in prison. The narrative begins when he was 9 years old.

I was totally engrossed reading this and finished it over a few days (not very long, maybe 150 pgs.)--I just bought it from Big Idea bookstore in Pittsburgh last week (it's published by AK Press). I don't have it on me at the moment, but Dwight described himself as a pretty typical kid growing up in California in the 1940s and 50s. His parents were caring and loving and had a successful business. It seems Dwight (who is white, by the way) considered himself a pretty typical kid in a typical American family.

As a result of a freak situation, he ended up in a place called "Juvenile hall" or some such term: his aunt, who was supposed to be caring for Dwight and his siblings while his parents were away, was drunk and unresponsive when neighbors came over to check on things. The neighbors called the cops, concerned for the kids, and they were all sent to different state youth institutions temporarily. Knowing who he is now and the crimes he's committed throughout his life (he only details his experiences from 9-17 in this book, but mentions that he killed people as an adult), you might think Dwight came from an abusive family or that he ran away and lived on the streets, etc. But Dwight blames his criminal behavior as solely having begun and been reinforced by California state "correctional" institutions.

Even though things have obviously changed since the 50s on all fronts including law enforcement, Dwight maintains that they have not changed for the better for youth who become incarcerated today. His story may not be every prisoner's story, but it probably happens more than any of us who have not been incarcerated would think or want to believe. And I think that those who don't have experience with law enforcement are one intended audience. This book is extremely graphic and disturbing in its descriptions of the kinds of abuse perpetrated behind closed doors in the prison system (also funded by state and federal tax dollars), there's no doubt. But that's what this book needs to be. Most probably will find it more disturbing based on the age of those who Dwight is describing, especially in how they are abused by the adults who are supposed to be helping them to recover from their so-called devious ways to returned to society as rehabilitated.

There are so many things I could say about this book, but I don't have much time. What Dwight has written has profoundly affected me and disturbed me about what can happen in the prison industrial complex in this country. I haven't believed in the prison system as helping anyone for quite some time, but this book has given me a lot of incite into specifically what happened to an individual. Dwight's style is very bare-bones, matter-of-fact, and intimate in its detail, and it's probably the closest I'll get to an experience in prison without actually being there. His is not a political tirade against the state as much as its an emotional account of his experiences with adults and peers inside a cannibalizing system. It gives me an appreciation not only of the massive and blind power law enforcement has over the citizenry, especially children, but also of my own relative freedom and what potential I have to act in my own personal interests as well as those who are marginalized.

I could never recommend this book enough to anyone who thinks they could read it without being so disturbed as to close it before they finish. You have to be prepared to deal with the graphic descriptions and realization that somebody actually experienced this. I have never been physically abused, and never been emotionally or psychologically abused to this extreme, so this book was shocking to me. May it be as shocking to those who decide to read it. May it inspire many to act against the atrocities described within.

Note: I think the book was published in 2005, so there's a chance Dwight is still around. He chose to publish his contact information in the back of the book and encouraged readers to write him with questions and comments.
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Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea I've been keeping in touch with him through correspondence for over the last couple of years. He's very personable and loves letters. I encourage you to write him.

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