That place was evil,’ say Glen Mills graduates
Two young men sent from Bermuda to an American reform school have told how they were beaten and humiliated by teachers, with one alleging he would lie in bed at night hearing students raping other children. Both were sent to Glen Mills Schools in Pennsylvania by the Department of Child and Family Services when they were in their teens, almost 20 years ago.
The men claimed government officials on the island knew about the mistreatment, yet boys continued to be sent there by the department until 2017.
The school was ordered to shut in April this year amid a raft of allegations about violence against children and cover-ups. One of the men, aged 33, said he spent “six months of hell” there when he was a 16-year-old.
“They used to beat us,” he alleged of the staff. “They used to take us in a room behind closed doors and tell us to square up and then they’ll punch us in our chests.”
The other, who went to the school aged 15 and is now 34, claimed: “Some of the kids were being raped by the older boys. We all knew about it. I never saw anyone being raped, but you heard it. We could all hear it.
“You could tell what was happening but we were not allowed to get out of bed or you get beat.
“That was one of the rules. So it wasn’t like I could have gone and stopped it. You would just have to lie there, even though you knew a kid was being raped. I am telling you, that place was evil.
“In the morning you could tell who it had happened to because the kid would be all sad and quiet and would keep to themselves for a while. The kids would all talk about it too. When I went to bed at night, I never knew if it could happen to me.”
The first man said he experienced first hand and witnessed physical and verbal abuse at Glen Mills but was not aware of and did not witness anyone being raped.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Legal Affairs, which is responsible for the DCFS, said yesterday: “The Department of Child and Family Services and the Ministry of Legal Affairs are deeply concerned with the allegations being raised through the media.
“We condemn any actions that would harm a child physically or emotionally. We encourage those individuals to come forward and file a formal complaint, to enable a proper investigation to occur.”
Like almost all children sent overseas as part of the department’s psychoeducational programme, the two former teens who spoke to the newspaper did not have independent legal representation when they were sent away.
Lawyer Saul Dismont, who has made repeated calls for youngsters in care to have attorneys and litigation guardians, said he was aware of “reports of sexual assault [at Glen Mills] and of ... Bermudians making such allegations”.
Mr Dismont added: “But I don’t know whether Bermudian boys were ever the direct victims.
“Anyone can understand why such offences are very difficult for the victims to disclose. Imagine how hard it is for children who feel they have no one and have been abandoned.
“If it is found that it was epidemic at Glen Mills then, unfortunately, I think it would be inevitable that a Bermudian child would have been a victim. They were sent there for decades.”
The department said in April that boys from Bermuda went to Glen Mills for more than 35 years until 2017 but it was too “time prohibitive” to find out how many attended the school.
It said it had not received “any information related to any children sent to Glenn Mills being abused or mistreated” and that it only became aware of allegations in February this year when it was informed by the school.
But the two men, during separate interviews with The Royal Gazette, detailed the violence they endured and said they knew before attending the school from other Bermudian boys who had been that it had a brutal reputation.
The 34-year-old said: “All that was done to me was being abused, hurt, humiliated — and it broke my spirit. Glen Mills has been the worst experience of my life.”
The 33-year-old man said he told the DCFS staff over the telephone about the violence but was made to retract the allegations under duress by workers at Glen Mills.
He also called his sister, whom he had told about the abuse, to retract what he had said.
“My sister was more the smarter one. She asked me ‘they are making you do this, right?’. I answered yes.
“It wasn’t on speaker phone. She called [the DCFS] and went ‘get him out of this place’. A couple of days later somebody called up and was like ‘we are coming to get you Sunday’.”
The allegations come amid a renewed call for an inquiry into the Department of Child and Family Services and its programmes.
Children’s rights campaigner Sheelagh Cooper said an independent public inquiry, perhaps even a royal commission of inquiry, was needed.
She said: “We need a complete overhaul in the way we address what has clearly become a serious situation.
“I suggest we take the bold step of a non-partisan, public, professionally driven and independent inquiry to look into the multiplicity of issues raised here, including the representation of children, the practice of utilising offshore ‘treatment’ facilities, the overall competency of the Department of Child and Family Services and the questionable location of the department within the Attorney-General’s Chambers.”
Her remarks follow a similar call made by Shadow Attorney-General Scott Pearman in Parliament in April.
The Opposition MP said then: “Enough is enough. If Bermudians are to have any confidence that these allegations are being treated seriously, the Attorney-General must appoint a well-respected, senior lawyer or judge to conduct a proper, thorough and independent investigation.”
David Burt, the Premier, told Parliament on May 10 he was “happy to discuss” making public the results of internal investigations into the DCFS conducted last year. He said of the findings: “Possibly, it might be something that a parliamentary committee may be able to request.”
The Royal Gazette asked the Premier and the Governor yesterday if either would establish a commission of inquiry into the DCFS.
Mr Burt said: “As per my statement in the House of Assembly, the best way forward is for the standing committees of Parliament to look into the matter.”
Deputy Governor Alison Crocket said: “The Governor is off island this week. We really are not in a position to comment at the moment.”
We put the allegations of violence and child on child sexual assault to Glen Mills Schools yesterday.
School spokesman Jeff Jubelirer said: “As this is the first time we are hearing of these troubling allegations, it is difficult at this time to comment further.
“We continue to co-operate with all agencies conducting independent inquiries.”
The school has denied allegations about the mistreatment of students in a detailed appeal filed with the Pennsylvania DHS Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.
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• This story was amended to include a comment from Deputy Governor Alison Crocket, received by email on Friday, June 14.