Suicide Square (Pt. 4)

Part Four

Suicide Square (Pt. 4)
The Lyman School, Chauncy Cottage

~ Chapter Seven ~

I’m driving now; the powerful reverberation of the 365 hp, 460 cubic inch engine stuffed under the hood of the Lincoln and the winding leaf and snow littered roads of south central Massachusetts, cold, dark, and vacant; provides brief, sporadic moments of quietude as the memories of the chaotic events that occurred earlier in Auburn quickly fade, only to be overwhelmingly replaced and drowned out by the deafening clamor of a mind possessed by an ungovernable rage, a rage that rises up within me without warning like volcanic bile. A rage inspired by very particular life experiences and behaviors, and which took on a life of its own. Toxic, unimpeded, and unhindered, my rage easily and quite readily transfers from one thought to the next, from topic to topic and ultimately from person to person; impacting all relationships with others. My rage is a highly skilled and masterful predator. I am the meal on which it insatiably feeds; it is the overwhelming and oft times devastating burden I place upon others. Critical, judgmental and extremely protective of me, it manifests itself in a variety of forms; from abject emotional, verbal, and physical violence to sheer inner terror and unsurmountable panic, anxiety, and stress. Ultimately and eventually, it subsides into a profound and profuse state of shame and guilt over being in such an untenable and uncontrollable mental condition and a great sadness over what it all means.

As I leave Auburn that evening, I weave my way over darkened back roads cast in icy blackness that ribbon their way thru pale, cold, lily whiteness and head towards Oxford and Rt. 52 (now I-395), and down 52 towards Webster… where up until this point and for a brief time afterwards; I would always head. Always. Years later, after much contemplation, I would become aware of the behavioral pattern that developed between the ages of 11 and 15 that culminated with me returning to Webster almost every evening, like a restless, wandering spirit haunting the location of its death and trapped in the existence of its untimely and unsettled demise. A pattern that ceased, however, when I could no longer look my Mom in the eye; something I believe that occurred to her, with me, considerably sooner… or maybe it had even always been that way, I don’t know or really remember. Maybe she was never able to look me comfortably in the eye. Maybe it was due to her unabashed and often expressed hatred for my father. Maybe it was so because of her personal feelings of responsibility and accountability over her inability to prevent what had occurred to me. Maybe it was due to shame or guilt or deep sorrow. Or maybe it was because she was remarkably afraid of what or who she might see if she dared to gaze too long or too deeply. I, myself, have never been able to look myself in the eye in a mirror for that very reason…. afraid of whom or what I will see… Even more gripping, however, is my fear over whether I will recognize who or what it is I shall see and ultimately, lays the fear of all fears; not being able to recognize who I see at all.

As I exit onto Rt. 16 in Webster from Rt. 52, there is a Webster police cruiser just sitting at the end of the off ramp, looking for speeders where the speed limit drops from 50 to 25 mph as you are coming into Webster from E. Douglas. The cops would sit just past the sign, hidden on the off ramp and catch folks while slowing down doing 40-45 in a 25. Pricks. Naturally, the sight of the cop waiting at the bottom of the ramp triggers a myriad of mental and physiological responses in preparation of the police pursuit that I am sure is about to ensue but the cop never even gives me a second glance as I stop adjacent to him at the stop sign, turn left and head unimpeded to Lower Gore Road onto the back side of Webster lake and the deep, secluded woods that span the Mass/Connecticut/Rhode Island border to spend the night in secluded but innocuous isolation, a mere half a mile from where I slept as a child.

Sitting there later with the motor running, heat blasting and the radio quietly playing The Doors, I reach into the inner pocket of my dungaree jacket, pull out a bag of weed and roll a joint. Without fail, even to this very day, the act of rolling a joint instantly triggers memories of my first experience with marijuana and the cascade of circumstances and events that led to it. The year was 1973. I was 12. These memories are remarkably salient; some horror filled, while others are amazingly and significantly delightful and gratifying... Hmmm, I wonder…? Should I start at the beginning of 1972, and divulge a revealing and striking piece of my personal tragedy…? I close my eyes and the weed spins and swirls me down the ravaged corridor of my mind in search for the door to the room where HE resides…

As I got older, the physical torture and merciless abuse inflicted upon me on throughout my entire childhood intensified in severity and frequency, with the years 1971-1972 being the absolute “worst” of it… or so I may have thought at the time, given what came after. I don’t know. Physical abuse in the form of beatings with various objects; being punched, being kicked, being violently thrown across rooms and down stairs while asleep; torture in the form of being made to ingest gross liquids (iodine, mercurochrome, gasoline, motor oil), prolonged kneeling on abrasive, gritty surfaces, the biting of my fingertips, thumbs pressed into my eye sockets, banging of my head on the floor, ripping out of my hair, the stretching my mouth to the point of tearing and objects jammed down my throat, choking me; continued unabated, with periods of daily occurrences. By mid-May, I had taken to sneaking a knife out of the kitchen and hiding it in my room at night, though I never used it; I was so terrified of Him. Sometime around the beginning of June, a couple of days before school let out for the summer, I broke the window on the front storm door of the rambler-style home we lived in, punching it in a compulsive act of rage after my mother screamed through the glass door that she hated me. Later that evening, when my stepfather arrived home, he asked how the glass in the door got broken. I will never, EVER forget the smug, “I’ll-fix-you-you-little-bastard” look on my Mom’s face as she stared at me and told him what had occurred, somehow failing to mention the fact that she had screamed “I hate you” at me which led to the glass getting punched by me in the first place. Without saying a word, my stepfather grabbed me with both hands, picking me up by the sides of me head and violently threw me down the basement stairs to his work shop.

Amazingly enough, I was on my feet before he reached the bottom of the stairs and was able to whip off his belt; only there was nowhere for me to run. His first swing caught me in my right ear and spun me around facing him. His second swing caught me across the face. Then… something happened…I was no longer experiencing the beating, but was watching myself not react to getting beat; I did not move, I did not flinch, I did not cry or cry out… I just stood there, void of presence, motionless, while he beat me. And he got ANGRY…angrier than I had ever seen him before, and he started to beat me with all his strength until he beat me to the point of exhaustion and could not swing his arm any longer, finally resorting to throwing his belt at me and punching me in the face instead, so he could at least knock me down and get some sort of satisfaction out of his efforts. Later, 106 belt marks, welts and lacerations would be counted on my 11-year-old body, 16 of which were on my face. It was the last time he touched me. From that night on and for years to come, whenever able, I slept with the knife or some weapon under my pillow. A couple of days later, I “ran away” from my mother and stepfathers house.

It was the last day of the 6th grade, June 1972. That morning, my mother had to apply heavy coats of makeup to my face to hide the bruises, welts and belt marks so I could go to school. By lunch time, it was all worn off and people were pointing and staring. At the end of the day, I received my report card. Straight “F’s.” Though I am sure I had many before this moment, I experienced what I believe to be the first of many, intense, paralyzing “anxiety attacks” that physically prevented me from getting on the school bus that day and going home. So, I just walked around town for hours instead, with absolutely no idea of what to do or where to turn. As it all turned out, it may have been better had it just stayed that way.

I would imagine it had to be around 8:30 or 9 o’clock or so, as it was starting to get dark, and I was starting to get hungry, tired, and really scared. I was sitting on a stone wall on School Street, feeling pretty fuckin’ helpless, without a clue as to where or even how to begin. After all, I was only 11 and never had to fend for myself. Also, as far as I knew, at that point, I was a “runaway,” and I had these crazy visions of traveling on the road with a hobo stick over my shoulder just like in the Warner Bros. cartoons. Other than cartoons, the only other “runaways” I was familiar with, up until that point in time, was “Dorothy and Toto” from the Wizard of Oz and when they got scared, they went back home. Anyways…so, here I am sitting on this wall, it’s about to get dark, I was coming apart at the seams, trembling violently, and I had nowhere to go. All possible solutions my 11-year-old mind could conceive seemed to end with me having to go back there. And then, I look up and across the street, is a house that has a placard in the window from a neighborhood watch program that we were told about in school which basically instructed us, if ever “lost, hurt, or in trouble” (what about all three??) go to one of these houses with the card in the window, which depicted a firefighter saving a small child, and the people inside will help you. So… I did. Walked up to the front door and knocked and was greeted by a woman about my mom’s age (late 20’s, early 30’s). The stark looks on her face told me that I did not look like I was doing very well, and she immediately became concerned, rushed me into the house and asked what had happened to me. I, dirty, battered and bruised, of course, lied profusely, making up a name and all kinds of bizarre stories but ended up settling on the story that I was from out of town, lost my parents, couldn’t get a hold of them and needed a ride to back Worcester. She and her husband, (An actual firefighter! Go figure!!), feigned agreement but decided instead, in private, to feed me, let me bath and wait for the Webster PD, whom they called, while I was in the bathroom. They were waiting in the living room for me when I came out.

Officers Frank Murowski and David Kapitulik had been partners on the Webster police force for about eight years when they first became acquainted with me that evening. It would be the first of many, many encounters I would have with these two over the years and in fact, I would come to owe them a great deal of thanks for being there during two particularly precarious situations that would occur years after that first encounter, both of which I will elaborate on further into the telling of this story. On this day, however, it would be Murowski who, in one single defining and divisive moment, would play an unforgettable and seminal role that set the precedent for every subsequent encounter I would have with the police that came after. However, in all fairness to Frank, I also honestly believe; Frank Murowski of the Webster Police Department spent the rest of his career trying to make up for what was about to occur…

After a few brief questions, Murowski informed me and the couple that he would take me down to the station and help me get a hold of my parents. (I have often wondered why, some 6 hours after school let out and my not returning home, the police were not already aware that I was missing). I then thanked the people who were really nice for helping me and then, me and the two officers left. Once in the police cruiser, Murowski continued talking to me about my story, asking for details and phone numbers and such so that by the time we arrived at the police station, he was fully certain I was lying through my teeth.

Once inside the station, the full extent of the injuries on my freshly washed face became clear under the stark, harsh whiteness of the overhead fluorescent lights and he asked me if I had any other injuries. I said I did, on my body and legs and he asked if he could see them. A gasp went out into the room from one of the four officers now present, as I took my shirt off and then my pants, leaving on my underwear. At the sight of what had been done to me, Murowski immediately called in Webster Police photographer, Officer Larry Geavry to photograph and document the bruises, lacerations and contusions that crisscrossed my face and body; some of which consisted of dark purple welts with breaks in the skin along my torso and thighs and a darkening bruise along my forehead and right side of my face where I had been punched. I was then asked to get dressed and taken to a room where Frank Murowski spent the next two hours, trying compassionately and patiently, to get me to disclose my name, the truth about what had actually happened to me and who was responsible.

I guess somewhere along the line in those two hours and because of Frank’s kindness, and genuineness, I decided to tell him what had happened but was overcome by an intense sense of dread and experienced terror that came spasm-like, in undulating waves, like I had never experienced before or since. We would talk for a few minutes, I would start to calm down and begin to tell him and I would get slammed again and overwhelmed with this paralyzing fear that would make me tremble violently, as my mind flipped through a myriad of images, spinning out of control. Finally, after two solid hours of this, Frank looked me directly in the eye and said,

“If you tell me who you are and who did this to you, I promise, Son, you will not have to ever go back there.”

So, I took a deep breath and I told him...

And he'd lied…

I heard my stepfather's voice when he arrived—-20 minutes after Murowski called him. I urinated myself, besieged by uncontrollable, violent shaking. Five people walked into the room where Murowski and I were talking; my Mom, my stepfather, the desk Sergeant, Paul Manarak, Officer David Kapitulik and Officer Larry Geavry. The conversation was direct and extremely brief;

Murowski: (To my Stepfather), “Are you this child’s father?”

Stepfather: “No. I am his step-father.”

Murowski: (To my Stepfather), “Are you responsible for the injuries on this child?”

Stepfather: “Yes.”

Murowski: (To my Mother), “Ma'am, would you like to press charges against your husband for the injuries suffered by your child?”

My Mother: “No.”

Murowski: (To me), “I am sorry son, there is nothing we can do, you will have to go back home.”

I presently possess a copy of the police report dated June 6th 1972.

The next thing I know, me, my mother and Don, (my step-father) are walking across the police station parking lot and climbing into the car. The ten-minute ride back to the house was excruciating and full of vivid, horrific descriptions of what was going to occur to me once he got me back to the house. I kept feeling myself slipping in and out of the present; in one instance I could see what is passing by through the car windows and in the next, I am sitting next to myself, behind my Mom, watching myself shudder and quake in the backseat behind my stepfather. All throughout this, my mom hadn’t looked at me, not even once, let alone says anything.

As we turned the corner from Sand Dam Rd. onto Indian Inn and then onto Elaine Street, the street we lived on, I found myself suddenly in the present and very aware of my surroundings; my vision had become acute; making things appear sharp, crisp, bright, sparkly, almost surreal. Massive amounts of adrenaline started to course (rush) through my body and as we pulled into the driveway, I became aware of my hand reaching for the door handle, the door flying open, and me diving out of the car before it stopped. Tucking and rolling, I sprang to my feet and at a dead run, I disappeared into the night before either of my parents knew what has occurred. As it turns out, they just went in the house and went to bed. I, on the other hand, spent the night roaming around the woods that surrounded Webster Lake, eventually crawling under a tarp on someone’s boat, parked on a trailer, in the backyard of someone’s house. Thank God for that tarp; along with everything else, the frickin’ mosquitoes were exceptionally vicious that night…

I awoke early the next morning and got out of the boat before being seen by anyone and spent the day down on Chase Ave. at the house of friend I knew from school, again without any inkling of an idea about what I was going to do. Unfortunately, that was all decided for me when I encountered Murowski and Kapitulik driving down Negus St. behind the high school later that day. Seems my Mom had enough concern or whatever to call me in as a runaway that morning, but with that call also came the instructions not to bring me back home because I was a ‘stubborn child’ and not wanted there. Murowski and Kapitulik brought me to the station and let me sit out front with the desk Sergeant, Paul Manarek, rather than lock me in a holding cell, until they could figure out what to do with me. They even went to McDonald’s for me and got me whatever I wanted to eat. As it turns out, however, the Webster PD had only one option that day and that was to arrest me and charge me as a ‘Runaway’ and being a ‘Stubborn Child’ and then take me to the only place that had an available bed that evening: the Lyman Center in Westborough, Massachusetts. They placed me in the Chauncey Cottage where they housed the younger boys.

Under an archaic, 300-year-old state law, a ‘stubborn child’ was one who “stubbornly refused to submit to the lawful and reasonable commands of a parent or guardian.” Although, just what defined “lawful and reasonable commands” in effect, was highly subjective and arbitrary. Indeed, at the time, children were considered the mere “property” of their parent/caregivers, and juvenile offenders in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts were not afforded any so-called Constitutional rights until they reached the age of majority. As a result, I spent most of my adolescence in and out of state institutions, secure treatment facilities and “therapeutic communities,” beginning with the Lyman Center. This law was abolished the following year in 1973, establishing the Department of Youth Services (DYS) and Lyman was permanently closed due to its profound, pathological brutality but I, I was committed to the “Youth Services Board” (YSB) as a “Ward of the State” under the old law and I retained this status until I was released from it in 1978 at age 17, when I was bound over to Superior Court for the first time, tried as an adult and sentenced to a year in the Worcester County House of Corrections for kicking the shit out of two Worcester cops and taking one of their service revolvers with me...

When I arrived at the Lyman Center, I was nowhere prepared; physically, mentally or emotionally, for what I was about to encounter over the next 31 days. I will not get into the details of what occurred, only to say; I was ferociously beaten and sexually assaulted for 31 days straight by both male staff and inmates. The pervasive and persistent nature and scope of the brutality and abuse was beyond my comprehension and defense. After a while, I was no longer ‘present’ for most of it but on those occasions when I was present, I only made the beatings worse because I began to resist and fight back… timidly at first but eventually with an insane rage that then kept most of the other younger kids away from me, leaving only the brutality of the older kids and male staff to contend with. Though nobody was ever formally charged; when I arrived at Lyman, it was under investigation for a myriad of allegations from children, parents and former staff members for excessive physical abuse and sexual misconduct and was slated to close officially…31 days after I arrived. As summarized by a 1962 graduate of the Lyman School, Richard Johnson, in his seminal work, Abominable Firebug, (1978) Johnson states when describing the pervasiveness of the abuse;

“Regardless of how it (the abuse) came about, there appeared to be an underlying principle of abuse at the Lyman Center. This principle was to make physical and sexual abuse so egregious that any such reported events would be unbelievable. Children sent to the Center were considered de facto liars anyway, so as long as the abuse was extreme, the Masters who perpetrated this abuse were unlikely to be caught and punished. As a child, I was careful not to tell anybody about this abuse, because I did not want to be thought of as a liar, or worse, if anyone believed me, somebody who did not defend his sexuality to the death, if necessary…”

I, too, have never spoken of the horrific abuse that was inflicted upon me while at the Lyman Center. In later years, I would be mercilessly haunted and tormented by those 31 days, besieged by flashing images, intrusive thoughts and unregulated, desperate and despairing emotion; triggered by the smells and sounds of the maximum-security prison at Walpole and the harm and horrors that potentially awaited me there. Up until that time, I had managed to bury the memories of Chauncey Cottage and the Lyman Center deep within my subconscious mind.

However, when I was removed from the Lyman Center on July 8th, 1972, as part of the “Massachusetts Experiment,” along with the rest of the kids that remained, I was not able to sequester or entomb the ruthlessly traumatized and devastated child who had been abjectly subjected to years of horrendous, inhumane, developmentally damaging, physical trauma and emotional abuse…and without having much to say on the matter consciously; He, this shattered, horrendously abused child with all his intemperate rage, became the dominant personality and there wasn‘t a damn thing I or anyone else could do about it, well… short of killing him (me). Would have spared me and others from being involved in my own personal, hell-driven excursion into self-destruction. Especially for some of those who dared to get too close…

My first foster placement had been in the home of one my classmates from school, Steve E. His Mom, Betty, we called her “The Betts,” heard about what had happened to me through a Webster cop named Val Noga (she was having an affair with him) and took an interest in my situation, having always “known” that something was not right in my home life. I had been to their house many times, sometimes daily, to include the day I got picked up as a ‘runaway’, but also on numerous occasions like birthdays and such over the years and after speaking with Steve and his older sister and given the fact that Steve and I were such close friends; she decided to take me in. 47 days later, she had the Webster Police pick me up at school for, according to Steve; holding the knife I now slept with, at his throat in a fit of rage, which I threatened to kill him with the night before. I honestly do not remember what happened with Steve and the knife. I woke up the next morning with vague memories of it what happened and behaved as if nothing had. Steve said he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to stay home from school. Next thing I know, I am being taken out of my 7th grade classroom in handcuffs and in the back of a Webster PD cruiser heading to the Worcester Secure Treatment Facility, wondering what the fuck happened. Years later, in a conversation with his sister Lynn, I would be made aware of the fact that Steve was gay and that he may have made a move on me while I was asleep. If that is indeed the case, I think he may be lucky to be alive. No charges were ever filed...

fact or fiction
J.K. Chenevert, BSCJ, CPS
J.K. Chenevert, BSCJ, CPS
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