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Wandervogel (The blog, not the story) - Teen justice in focus

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Wandervogel, the blog, is eccentric and out there, the blogger in charge proclaiming his dedication to non-conformity, anti-authoritarianism and the environment, but he seems to mostly post about justice for teens who kill their parents.

That seems like an odd crusade at first, but his primary argument is that juveniles get no justice when they are tried as adults and that prosecutors use the guaranteed convictions of these teens to grandstand by pushing for harsh penalties, with the effect of ruining the teen's lives. To that point, I'm well in step with the author. I've often felt that trying juveniles as adults was stage justice that did not serve the interests of society and Wandervogel backs up that idea with documentation of the experiences of teens in adult prison, the way the court system denies the teen suspects a proper defense and also how the public media is manipulated to create monsters out of what are most often scared, powerless individuals.

After that, the blog gets into territory where I'm not convinced, but I am sympathetic. The focus is not on gangbangers or even bullies or other violent youth. Teens who kill their parents Wandervogel claims are almost always from abusive homes or other dire circumstances and the murders should be treated as desperate acts of escape rather than heinous crimes.

This is all controversial and I wanted to bring up the blog for discussion for a couple of reasons. 1st is that we recently had the story 'Wandervogel' posted here at AD and so when the blog name Wandervogel showed up in my google search results I perked up and I think just the coincidence warrants a mention.

But second is that I think the issue of juvenile justice, whether you agree with the blog's analysis or not (or by half) is a worthy topic of discussion.

The first thing I'd recommend anyone read at the blog is the experiences of Nathan Ybarra, who killed his mother when he was 16 and claims he was abused:


I've only just skimmed the archives of the blog myself, reading about the famous King case from a few years back in Florida which I remember from the news, but there seems to be a deep vein of stuff there for cogitation.

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Stephen, I think you might be referring to Nathan Ybanez at the Wandervogel site.

Truly one of the most distressing stories I have read from a young person. If ever there was a case which showed that when juveniles are tried as adults, the possibility of unjust outcomes are quite high, if not probable, then it is Nathan's. His journey through his incarceration, however, is secondary to his story of growth as a human being. Here we can see him maturing beyond his familial influences had he continued to live under them. His writing is exceptional clear, insightful and cogent. That he has managed to convey his state of treatment and conditions with only a hint of their horror tells me that if he had been given the help he needed from child services, his mother would not have precipitated her demise at his hands. The authorities can make no claim to his rehabilitation other than to have stood by whilst he did what he could to survive, and grow.

In my opinion, Nathan deserves to be paroled and have his case re-examined with a view to assisting him back into society.

Moreover, from the circumstances which led to him killing his mother it should be realised that Nathan's punishment does not serve a purpose of either retribution or as a deterrent to anyone else faced with such a horrific childhood situation. The only winners in his case would seem to be the prosecutors who had lost any sense of compassion for his plight.

I was interested to discover the word Wandervogel; from wiki:

"Wandervogel is the name adopted by a popular movement of German youth groups from 1896 onward. The name can be translated as rambling, hiking, or wandering bird (differing in meaning from "Zugvogel" or migratory bird) and the ethos is to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom."

Very apt.

The psychology of youth's natural rebellion against parental authority, is germane to those cultural influences which demand unchallenged obedience to the dominant parent, and to the society itself.

In a sane society, both parents would assist their children to explore the ability to freely challenge and discover life's rich experiences. If the parents or the society make demands that remove or limit the child's capacity to freely explore those experiences with due respect for others, then violence may well seem to be the only recourse to escape the control and restrictions placed on the young person's life.

We can see the result of submission to those parental and cultural demands for obedience in many communities, particularly religious ones, in which each new generation is indoctrinated or belittled for simply being inquisitive about their existence. Historical doctrine and cultural taboos become the rule of law with no means of questioning or even validation except by circular argument.

This does not mean that every would-be rebellious child becomes a submissive, a recluse or a criminal with violent intent. Indeed the majority of us manage to survive with some degree of independence and freedom; realising a life which does make a contribution to the human condition.

Once again we see that if we want to encourage goodness, it needs more than complying with the demands of obedience or denying individuals the right to find themselves.

Our cultures have to become structured to permit each new generation the freedom to pursue happiness with the knowledge that we can never be truly happy if we subjugate someone else's freedom.

This is what so many parents and bureaucratic entities do; they demand obedience at the expense of the other person's freedom of opportunity to discover themselves and their own happiness. Mothers and fathers over-protect their kids or demand that the kids become the means to the parents' immortality, thereby stifling their children's development, maturity, individuality, and freewill.

In such cases rebelliousness may become violent and result in conflict. It's only a short step away from wars between opinions and cultures.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that, faced with the denial of their own existence, and their own freedom, the young teen snaps and lashes out violently. Sadly this violence is all too often turned on themselves as in the desperation of so many young suicides.

(Analysis such as these which are derived from the study of anthropology and the psychiatric model of human development are not popular amongst those who prefer to side step origins in favour of behavioural profiles.)

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How little we seem to care for the broken children in our society, Nathan is only an example among thousands of abused kids. A child who kills a parent is a disturbed individual and probably one whose cry for help has been ignored. You can read the full story of his crime and conviction here: http://www.pbs.org/w...e/nateerik.html

Parents are given extraordinary power in our legal system and yet they are hardly held accountable when their parenting skills are less than adequate or become violent. The images of abuse evoked by parents who lock their children in cages and closets, or chain them to the pipes in the basement is sickening. When caught they exclaim that their kids were bad or perhaps evil.

One of the things we focus on here in the forum are gay kids who under the severest of treatment rarely kill anyone but themselves. Child abuse by parents is little more than bullying and we have seen time and again how damaging that can be. So where do we find the answers?

In Nathan’s case there was mental and physical abuse that finally tipped the balance and pushed him over the edge. But his mother was an evangelical Christian and perhaps those of her faith should have been aware of problems in that family, but they were probably too busy protesting gay marriage. Violence ran rampant in that family so it is no wonder Nathan solved his problem with even more violence. After all, that is what his father taught him.

The authorities in Colorado come off as less than competent for the way he was tried and convicted just to solve their crime and make for good statistics. But justice in America is based upon how much money you have in the bank no matter what the laws say. This young man deserves a new trial with a real lawyer…and perhaps it should be moved to a different state, one with intelligent people.

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Rolling Stone did a story on Nathan about 7 years ago:


No question, it's a terrible tragedy. While I sometimes think it's right for a teenager to be tried as an adult, when I look at the facts in this specific case -- a child molested and beaten by both parents from the time he was 5 to the time he snapped at 16 -- I think there's extenuating circumstances, and the Colorado authorities did the wrong thing. I would've given him 10 years in a mental institution and tried to undo the damage with therapy and counseling, and hope for the best. Putting a kid like this in an adult prison is sheer horror.

A few years ago, while doing research on a prison segment of a novel, I read a few books on what it's like to go to prison (since I've only been arrested once, for making an illegal U-turn about 30 years ago, and was in jail a grand total of 30 minutes). Here's the references:

You Got Nothing Coming: Notes From a Prison Fish

Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man's Prison

Behind Bars: Surviving Prison

These three, plus Stephen King's Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile were enough to help me conjure up the environment of prison for a chapter or two. Scary, scary, scary stories.

I'm generally kind of a law-and-order kind of guy, but I'm also adamant that the punishment has to fit the crime. I'm totally against life sentences for relatively minor crimes, especially under extenuating circumstances; the number of inmates who are up for 20+ years in Texas for drug possession is a prime example. Horrible, horrible cases.

I'm particularly sympathetic to teenagers who are tormented for months or years and then fight back against their tormenters and wind up going too far. In Nathan's case, I think what he should've done is just run away and kept on going. I'm sure he'd agree, in hindsight, that would've been a better choice than to kill his mother. But I also grasp that he felt he had no choice, and at some point, cruelty and suffering for ten years will drive anybody crazy enough to do anything. I have nothing but infinite pity and vast compassion for people who go through horrible experiences like this.

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