All the goddamned warnings for child abuse bordering on state sponsored terrorism, but if you’re in a place where you can read this, go ahead and give it a try.
So, Texas takes 11 year old Joshua Beasley Jr. from his family because it’s in his best interests to be housed in a so-called Texas Juvenile Justice Division institution.
But he doesn’t actually get better in an institutional setting. It seems certain aspects of the experience did not tend to mitigate his mental illness. Blake Crenshaw, an older kid in his mid-to-late teens, got to know Joshua when the two ended up in the same facility not long after Joshua’s 13th birthday. Crenshaw described their environment this way:
“[The staff] are constantly beating you down, beating you down, telling you you’re nothing. You’re nothing but a criminal. You’re never going to get out of there,” Crenshaw said. “And with someone like Joshua, he’s so young. He doesn’t have the maturity level to process everything that’s going on in his head. All he’s thinking is, ‘Mad, mad, mad, mad, mad!’”
Such bullying was common, and Joshua wasn’t the only one to react badly to it:
Crenshaw said the youths in the facility often acted out because of the way they were treated by staff.
One might think that if that strategy isn’t working for the kids, since the ENTIRE JUSTIFICATION of taking Joshua and others away is that it was in his or their best interest, Texas officials responsible for the care of these children would look at how they were responding and, if they weren’t getting better, try something different. As for Joshua, Crenshaw knew what to try:
He said the trick was to speak to Joshua gently rather than yelling at him. He would tell Joshua to think about his little brother and to focus on staying calm so that he could go home.
But the TJJD had a different idea. They decided to prosecute Joshua as an adult for one of the times he fought back against the guards.
Crenshaw said that the taunting [by staff] would often lead Joshua to react by mouthing off, spitting or throwing an object. …
“[Staff] would give him like two warnings. Then they’d just be through with him. Multiple staff would take him, slam him on the ground, pepper spray him, handcuff him, shackle him and they would take him to the security pod.”
It’s hard to believe that that strategy didn’t work to improve Joshua’s mental health, social skills, and relationships with staff. Still, there was always adult prison for a child who had spent, at this point, FIVE YEARS in TJJD institutions getting worse instead of better. Joshua had persistently self-harmed in what could be seen as either cries for a different kind of attention or as actual attempts at suicide. (From my own experience I doubt that he himself could always distinguish between the two motivations.) Records show that he strangled or hung himself via ligature quite frequently, sometimes more than once a week, but especially often during holidays and around his birthday each year. He pleaded to be sent home, or at least to be allowed more time visiting with his mother and little brother.
His mother, Amnisty Freelen, was of course devastated that he continued to get worse and that there seemed to be no end in sight. When Texas decided to charge him as an adult for spitting on a guard inside the system that had him for 5 years and only taught him that adults were there to hurt not help, Freelen wanted a full trial to show that her son was responding to abuse. The goal was to prove that moving him to an adult prison with less care (if you can imagine) and more violence would not be in Joshua’s best interest. Joshua’s own attorney refused to allow her input, saying he was taking his orders from the 16 year old who was years behind in his education and seemingly had zero adult coping skills, much less long-term planning faculties that would enable him to consider the risks and benefits of differing legal strategies. The lawyer insisted that he hoped that in a system with fixed terms of confinement, Joshua could go home sooner than in a system with the power to detain Joshua nearly indefinitely so long as TJJD determined it was in his best interests to be confined.
Of course, after transfer Joshua received less supervision. While this may have resulted in fewer fights with corrections officers, it also meant that his only known strategy for accessing care — tight or hanging ligatures — would deprive him of oxygen longer before guards could find him.
He died at the age of 16. The warden who supervised the prison where he died, abused and alone, unable to regularly speak to his mother (as he had while in TJJD facilities) because of his time in solitary confinement (for his own protection) retired with full honours, his record unblemished. Five of the most junior corrections officers plus one sergeant and one lieutenant at Joshua’s prison are under investigation and may be disciplined for failing to check on his condition with sufficient frequency. Reports do not include any official concerns about systemic problems, only a failure to monitor in this one particular case.
For over 5 years, about a third of his life, he was imprisoned with little and lessening contact with family because Texas insisted through the mouths of its officers and prosecutors and judges and even its public defenders that isolating and bullying a suicidal preteen was in his best interest, and then month after month, year after year, refused to admit their mistake.
Joshua Keith Beaseley Jr., you were loved by your family and friends, if not by the state of Texas, and many, many of us will miss you.