Concord Monitor – Opinion: New Hampshire, it's time to acknowledge the stories of suffering

Ann Podlipny lives in Chester.

In the 1990s, I was a Child Protective Services Officer (CPSW) with the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). I am now a farmer in the Manchester Food Bank's one acre garden on the grounds of the Youth Development Centre, colloquially known as the Youth Detention Centre.

As I sow, weed and water the land, I see the forbidding, gloomy and austere red brick buildings where youth like David Meehan were often locked up for years until they exited the system. At the time, I was working with a juvenile probation officer (JPPO), one of the men accused of Meehan's physical, mental and sexual abuse at the facility. As hard as it is for me to forgive myself for consulting with this monster of a man, in an innocent effort to help my clients, I cannot imagine the depth of betrayal and breach of trust that has affected over a thousand young people in his and others' inhumane care. In his role as a mentor, I never suspected his brutality.

At that time, our case numbers were unmanageable due to the sheer volume. How could a CPSW cope when tasked with providing safety and security for forty children? New Hampshire has historically underfunded this agency and underpaid its social workers, who were typically inexperienced and overwhelmed; Fluctuation is common and burnout is high. The state claims to prioritize the welfare of its children but refuses to pay adequately for their protection.

In the current civil trial in Rockingham Superior Court, about a dozen men have been charged with abusing teenagers at the YDC. According to InDepthNH, they “allegedly covered up complaints, failed to investigate serious and credible allegations, and manipulated official reports and forms to conceal their abuses.” State officials reportedly knew about the abuse problem in the juvenile justice system in the early 1990s. State defense attorney Martha Gaythwaite's strategy is to question Meehan's credibility and downplay his allegations of abuse.

Meehan's testimony reveals untold suffering as he spent years trying to tell authorities who his perpetrators tragically were. Once again, Meehan is considered neither truthful nor trustworthy. Such disrespect and insensitivity to one's pain leads to re-traumatization, as in the case of a victim whose narrative has been discredited and who repeatedly loses their sense of dignity, agency, and self-respect.

After years of torment, Meehan had the courage to speak out. According to InDepthNH, “his severe post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the worst cases Dr. Terry Allen Keepers has ever faced in his long career treating child abuse victims, and it all stems from years of being raped, beaten and tortured at the YDC.” …the driving force in Meehan's mental health issues is post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and includes anxiety and panic triggered by overwhelming flashbacks.”

Dr. Dylan Gee, a physiology professor at Yale University, testified that Meehan's debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder forces him to live every day with the abuse he suffered as a teenager. “The memories flood Meehan and become overwhelming,” she testified, “as he continually confronts the abuse. Hundreds of oral and anal rapes, the repeated brutal beatings, the consequences of solitary confinement.”

This perverse inability of society to take a young person's pain seriously is a reminder of the legacy of Indian abuse. “Kill the Indian, save the man” was the mindset the U.S. government used to force tens of thousands of Native American children to attend “assimilation boarding schools.” They were taken from their families by social workers and law enforcement and imprisoned for years, where they were subjected to deadly infections and extreme brutality. They were forbidden from speaking their own languages ​​or practicing their religion and culture, and were forced to abandon their families and lifestyle because they were considered inferior to the dominant white colonial power. To date there has been no formal apology from the government.

According to Dr. ML King “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” It is time to acknowledge these stories of suffering that we cannot “overlook.” I sincerely hope that the State of New Hampshire will formally apologize to those of us who have recently learned about or were previously involved in the collective abuse of children in state care. In the event that it could ever be meaningful, healing, or do any good, we apologize sincerely and profoundly.

Anna Harden

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