The NBC drama Game of Silence tells the story of four men set on revenge over the abuse they suffered in juvenile prison. The show is a remake of the Turkish drama Suskunlar, which appears to be based the book Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra, which had a movie of the same name. All four versions reveal the depth of cruelty that can occur in juvenile prisons. While the first two are fiction and there are some questions about the veracity of Carcaterra’s story, a recent case shows that this type of abuse does indeed happen.
Kevin Young went to Medomsley detention center in County Durham in 1977. There he endured abuse at the hands of a prison official:
The morning after he arrived at Medomsley, Young was lining up for breakfast when he was picked out of the queue by Neville Husband, the officer who ran the kitchen. Young later discovered that Husband had asked for his file – he wanted to know everything about him; most importantly, whether he had family who were likely to visit him. Young was one of a handful of new inmates sent to work in the kitchen with Husband.
“There are two things that are important to successfully sexually abuse somebody,” Young says. “By successful, I mean without being prosecuted. One, anonymity or silence – if you can’t carry out your act without people knowing, you’re not going to be at it very long. The second thing you need is a victim who’s ‘reliable’; a reliable victim is someone who’s already been abused to the point where, if they do speak out, who on Earth is going to believe them? And who on Earth is going to believe Kevin Young, the pauper’s son, who has been in and out of care, who’s a knife-wielding thug, a bully?” That is how a number of care home reports described Young, but he insists he was a quiet, over-obedient boy. “The truth is, nobody would have believed me.”
Abuse might be too mild a word for what Husband did to Young over the next two months. “I was raped repeatedly, tied up and ligatured [around the neck]. It was the worst of the worst.” That day after Young arrived, Husband took him to a storeroom above the kitchens that he had converted into a lounge. He locked the door, took out the key and stuffed the keyhole with tissues. “I thought I was going to be killed,” Young says. “I was told by Husband that you could easily be found hanged at Medomsley, and that that year, six boys had already hanged themselves.”
According to Young, Husband would take the boy to his house outside of prison and allow other men to rape him. One would think that people would notice an officer removing an inmate from the prison. As Young argues, the prison and police were not only aware of that, but aware of Husband’s violent tendencies yet still allowed him access to children:
Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of the Neville Husband story is that the detention centre, the prison service and the police all knew of his interest in boys. In 1969, eight years before Young was jailed, Husband was arrested at Portland borstal in Dorset and charged with importing pornography. The material seized included sado-masochistic images involving teenage boys.
Astonishingly, the charges were dropped. Husband admitted showing the material to boys in his care, but argued that he was interested in child pornography only because he was conducting research into homosexuality. Details of that arrest were written on top of his employment record and went with him throughout his career. He moved to Medomsley, the smallest detention centre in the country, where he abused boys aged between 16 and 19 until he was moved 16 years later. From accounts given by victims and former staff, he may have abused boys every day of his tenure there.
Young went to the police to report the abuse after he was released from prison. The police, however, warned him that “[…] it was a criminal offence to make such allegations against a prison officer because I was on licence. They were basically threatening to take me back to Medomsley, so I scattered pretty quick.”
That is similar to the situation described by Carcaterra. It was improbable that no one knew what happened at the reform school he and his friends were sent to. In the book, it is implied that everyone from Father Bobby to the judge who sentenced the boys knew they would be beaten and raped and that they would be sent to that prison for that purpose.
A similar situation happened in Florida at the Dozier reform school. That one ran for over a hundred years, and it appears that the abuse began as soon at it opened. The Florida reform school made news primarily because of the three dozen bodies of boys found on the premises. The White House, the building used to beat and rape the boys, still had blood stains on the walls in 2008 when the story first broke.
This type of abuse does not happen at every prison, yet it happens often enough that there seems to be a procedure for covering it up. This does not appear limited to one country either. This seems to happen wherever people incarcerate children, particularly for long sentences. The brutality of what happens is shocking, but it fails to compare to how many people know this happens and do nothing about it.
This does not appear to be just a desire to prevent a backlash or criminal charges. It appears to come from the attitude that these boys are useless, worthless creatures. No one cares about them, so it is fine to do whatever you want to them. Many of the people allowing this to happen to boys in their care would demand justice if they discovered any of their neighbors doing this to a random child. Yet for some reason, once a child is in the system people find it difficult to summon the same outrage.
Young eventually ran into Husband years later. Young turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. He lost his business, his girlfriend, and his home. Two years later, the police found Young and asked him to speak about the abuse he suffered at another location. He spoke to them about that abuse, but also mentioned what happened at Medomsley. The police were not surprised. They told him that they had sought to prosecute Husband for years. He had several complaints against him from two Churches, but the parents of the children chose not to pursue charges. A raid of Husband’s office turned up child pornography, but apparently no charges were filed.
Yet that was not the worst of it:
Young was taken to a safe house in York, where he was shown a film on an 8mm projector. “The film showed a young boy about 16-17 with a rubber thing across his head, being choked. And they asked me, who do you think it is there?” Again, his voice breaks and he takes a few seconds to compose himself. “And I said, ‘I don’t need to tell you who I think it is.’ It was me. So I had to sit down and watch 40 minutes of me being… He’d made films of many of his victims. Ccccrrrrrrrr…” Young imitates the sound of the projector. “When I was being assaulted, I could hear that. Remember the old wind-ups? Half my pain comes from listening to crrrrrrrrrrr.”
Young’s willingness to give evidence against Husband led to his arrest. It should have been a cathartic moment, a vindication, but it wasn’t. If the police had known about Husband for years, why had nothing been done? After all, they had evidence of his obsession with child pornography dating back decades, and Young had reported the abuse 22 years earlier. Young is convinced the police had held on to the film for 14 years without doing anything about it. “I believe the films and photographs were taken from the property of Neville Husband in 1985,” he says.
That’s the year the police raided Medomsley and arrested Husband’s friend Leslie Johnson, a storeman at the detention centre. Johnson was later convicted of abusing a young inmate, Mark Park, who, he said, had been “given to him” by Husband. Park told police that Husband had also abused him, but they took no action. Years later, at Husband’s trial, Park named several officers at Medomsley who, he said, had made comments to him about Husband abusing him and other boys. A former officer at Medomsley told the court, “Staff knew something was going on between Husband and the boys.” Another former officer said Husband used to keep a boy behind in the kitchen at night and “we always used to feel sorry for that boy”. Park himself was later convicted of a rape unrelated to Medomsley. He is now serving a life sentence.
If this is true, the police had all the evidence they needed to prosecute Husband in 1985. Instead of doing that, they allowed the man to roam from place to place for another 18 years before he was convicted of raping five boys in 2003. His sentence was increased from eight years to 10 years following more victims coming forward. The Crown Prosecution Service declined to pursue further charges in 2007, deeming them “not [to] be in the pubic interest”.
Despite all of this, there was never any inquiry into what happened at Medomsley. It appears the cover up continued:
Some senior figures who worked at Medomsley are reluctant to talk about their time at the detention centre. Tim Newell, a well-known liberal thinker within the prison establishment, was the governor from 1979 to 1981, when Husband was regularly abusing boys in his charge. According to David McClure, a former officer at Medomsley, who gave evidence at Husband’s trial, Newell “thought very highly of Husband”. McClure said search teams were banned from the kitchen on the orders of management, but that there were always strong rumours that Husband was sexually abusing boys who were working in the kitchen. “There was general knowledge about this – among staff and boys in the centre,” he said. But Newell and other governors wrote letters supporting Husband’s many applications to remain at Medomsley when the prison service suggested he be promoted and posted elsewhere. Newell was repeatedly asked to comment on Husband and Medomsley for this piece, but he failed to answer emails and phone calls over a period of months.
Martin Narey was director general of the prison service when Husband was convicted in 2003. He had been the assistant governor at Deerbolt when Husband was moved there after the arrest of Johnson, and the assistant governor of Frankland. He went on to become CEO of Barnardo’s, the charity for vulnerable children.
Why did Narey never call for a public inquiry? “For the simple reason that, at the time, I knew nothing about it,” he says. “That may sound very odd, with what we know now about Neville Husband. But the first conviction, which came just as I was leaving the director general post, was not brought to my attention. I suspect it was because, at that time, the magnitude of Husband’s offending was not known.”
Would he support a public inquiry now? “I have no objection to some sort of inquiry – whether a public inquiry would be justified, I don’t know. It is troubling that Husband was able, apparently, to hide his offending over such a long period. However, and speaking after having had long experience of child abuse issues at Barnardo’s, I am now very aware of the ability and success of such offenders in conditioning those around them.”
Narey admits that, when he was running it, the prison service dealt inadequately with sexual abuse in prisons. “As director general, I was intolerant of physical abuse and racism, and sacked a lot of staff… But at that time there was very little awareness of male-on-male sexual abuse, either in prisons or in wider society.” Neither Narey nor Newell – still two of the most respected figures in prison circles – has ever publicly apologised for the failure to spot Husband’s abuse.
This attitude of dismissal and apathy is the reason why Husband was able to get away with it for so long. It is improbable that anyone working in prisons would be this ignorant of male-on-male rape. This is such common knowledge that you can find thinly veiled jokes about it in films from the 1950s. These officials knew and chose to do nothing either because they did not care, thought it would not have lasting impact, or perhaps partook of it themselves. The notion that they were completely ignorant of something so many inmates knew from the moment they entered the prison strains credulity.
Of course, nothing ends with the conviction. The victims still suffer from their trauma, often reliving it as the trial goes on. Then there are the civil suits:
The Home Office fought every allegation. At one point, Steve says, a doctor was brought forward in court to claim that Kevin Young was genetically predisposed to being abused. Young received £94,000 to compensate for his suffering and lost fortune. He reckons he spent £40,000 fighting his case. Steve received compensation in 2009 – £40,000. “It’s not about compensation, it’s about understanding. I gave it away,” he says. […] Like Steve, Hall seldom leaves his flat, which he decorated with some of the £40,000 compensation he received from the Home Office in November 2009. It was part of a total of £512,000 the Ministry of Justice paid out to 12 men. Hall is bitter about the settlement, which took six years to negotiate. When the Medomsley victims first sought redress, the Home Office used the statute of limitations to avoid payment. It defended that decision in a costly legal fight that went all the way to the House of Lords. Even when the law lords ruled in favour of the claimants, the Home Office refused to back down and declared its intention of fighting the claim in court.
Through all of this, no one from the government issued an apology to the victims. These were boys placed in state care. It was the state’s job to care for and rehabilitate them. Instead, they horribly abused the boys. The least the government could do is offer an apology. Yes, we know it will be phony. We know that few people working in the government actually care that this abuse occurred, and even fewer want to do anything about it. It would still be a nice gesture, however, to at least say the words.
There is at least one person involved in the prison system who understands the situation:
Martin Narey, former director-general of the prison service, doesn’t know why or how those officers failed to report their concerns, but says he is outraged. “I feel angry about them. There is hardly a hair’s breadth of culpability between Neville Husband, who abused children, and any of the staff who, apparently, knew about this and failed to take their concerns forward. In my view, there is a case for the police considering whether their failure to protect children amounted to aiding and abetting.”
Curiously, he does not apply this to himself, despite doing nothing to address the abuse.
Yet the situation is much worse than aiding and abetting. All these officials are accomplices. They created and perpetuated the situation that allowed the abuse to occur. Without them, people like Husband could not go on abusing hundreds of boys for decades. That only happens because people with the power to stop it do nothing.
It is likewise ridiculous to look to the victims of abuse and expect them to come forward in these kinds of situations. People cannot blame victims for wanting to get on with their lives. As we saw in the article, even when they reported the abuse little was done to address until nearly 20 years later, and their barely spent six years in prison before being released in 2009. That will not happen in every case, yet it is common enough to be worthy of concern.
The people in charge — the people with power — bear the responsibility to prevent and stop any abuse. None of this helps anyone. Even if an abused boy becomes a better person as a result of what he suffered, it is not a fair trade. What he will live with is a far greater burden than anything he could have done to deserve to be locked in prison.