Number 11 Page Three Novembe
r 17, 1974
'Positive peer culture'
Benign or oppressive?
At nearby Maxey Boys Training School, administrators start
with a concept of 'positive values' and'negative values' and
then run a behavior modification program to instill the for-
mer and suppress the latter.
By STEPHEN HERSH
HANK'S HAIR IS DARK, straight,
roughly hewn, and shoulder
length. He's short and skinny and
wears a big, floppy blue hat. A
wispy shadow of a moustache is
just beginning to appear above his
lip. He's 15 years old.
He tilts his package of Marl-
boros, letting one fall into his
hand. For a juvenile delinquent, he
doesn't look particularly intimidat-
Hank - not his real name - is
an inmate of the nearby Maxey
Boy's Training School, a home for
12- to 18-year old offenders. He has
been convicted of crimes twice,
once for car theft and another
time for breaking and entering.
There's a Honda 750 motorcycle
waiting in his garage for him when
he gets out.
"I DON'T KNOW," he said, light-
ing his cigarette and inhaling
deeply. "I guess being here has
helped me in some ways. Like, my
sister died about a year ago, and I
used to think about it every day.
It used to really bother me all the
"But they convinced me that I
shouldn't let it bother me so much.
She's dead and nothing's gonna
bring her back, so I might as well
live my life and not feel down
all the time.
"So I guess that was good," he
continued. "And I guess I think
about doing things now before I go
ahead and do them. But they make
it seem like being in the group is
supposed to change you completely
The "group" Hank was referring
to is the family-like unit of nine
inmates which comprises the nuc-
leus of Maxey Training School's
behavior modification program.
The program is called Positive Peer
"Before the staff decides to let
you go home," he added, blowing a
smoke ring "you have to get all the
kids in your group to think you're
ready. So you end up kissing their
asses a little, and they kiss yours.
It can get pretty phony."
THE PPC GROUPS at Maxey live
in a scattering of squat, sterile,
dormitory-like structures on a
sweeping, grass - covered campus.
The school is located at Whitmore
Lake, about 15 minutes from Ann
Arbor on Highway M-36.
The PPC system was designed by
a psychologist named Harry Vor-
ath, and is in use by institutions
across the country.
The nine members of each unit
eat together, go to classes together,
take their recreational activities
together, participate in mainte-
nance projects together, and relax
together. Sometimes, when differ-
ent group members want to take
part in different recreational ac-
.tivities, the units are permitted to
break up - as long as everyone is
together with at least two of their
Perhaps the most interesting ac-
tivity of the PPC unit is the night-
ly group meeting. During these en-
counter sessions, the youths pre-
sent their problems to the others in
their group: by telling their life
stories, describing the crimes they
have committed and why they
committed them, and relating any
other difficulties that are troub-
W/HILE ONE PERSON takes the
role of presenting his prob-
lems, the other group members are
expected to help in any way they
can. They are encouraged to object
when they feel the person describ-
ing his problems is being less than
frank, to offer advice based on
similar experience, and to offer
The groups are supervised dur-
ing their meetings and during
their daily activities by a group
leader, a member of the institu-,
"We see these people as having
problems because they identify
with a negative value system," said
the state's director of Institutional
Services, Virgil Pinckney, last
week. "In other words, they are
lems. If they don't recognize their
problems, they're not going to be
able to solve them.
"Also," he continued, "we try
to make helping a high-status
thing. When a boy begins to help
his peers, he is going to feel better
about himself. When he begins to
feel that he would rather help peo-
ple than hurt them, we say that
he is beginning to identify with a
positive value system."
Some critics of the PPC program
claim that attempts to manipulate
the psychology of inmates are, by
their nature, wrong. But most of
the residents of Maxey have com-
mitted crimes that society does not*
tolerate. They have gone through
probation, halfway houses, or other
such programs, and have continued
to come into conflict with the law,
repeatedly getting arrested and
convicted. It's apparent that some-
thing has to be done.
They usually either get busted and
sent back or come back by them-
"If the kids in your group see
you running to go AWOL," he con-
tinued, "they're supposed to try to
catch you and stop you. But once
you get to the woods (on the peri-
phery of the campus), they're not
supposed to follow you any more.
"If you try to go off by yourself they call you
a loner and say you have a problem," one
young inmate said. But Maxey's director says
it's supposed to be that way. "We want to
keep that anxiety high," he remarked.
"Hopefully the group living situation will
create anxiety in all of them and as a result
things will get done."
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go off by yourself they call you a
loner and say you have a prob-
'HAT'S PART OF the idea. "We
want to keep that anxiety
high," Pinckney remarked. "We
want to keep them working on
each other. Hopefully, the group
living situation will create anxiety
in all of them, and as a result
things will get done."
From the PPC descriptive book-
let: "If the student decides he
doesn't want or need help with his
problem, the group leader may in-
dicate to the group that this per-
son cannot escape the conse-
quences of his irresponsibility sim-
ply by denying it."
So it's hard for PPC subjects to
find a way to avoid the therapy.
This is particularly distressing to
those few residents who are in for
repeatedly running away.
There are probably better ways
to treat someone who runs from a
rigid family situation than to put
him into what is usually an even
more constrictive family-like en-
While only a small number of
Maxey residents are there only for
status offenses, there are more at
predominately female A d r i a n
Training School in Adrian, Michi-
gan, where PPC is also employed.
"I've been busted for a .few things,
like stealing cars. But they say I'm
here mostly for a drug problem.
I was into downers a lot, and
smoked a little weed.
Asked if he will resume taking
drugs when he leaves Maxey Jim
says, "I know I will. They think you
take drugs to get away from your
problems, so they think if, they
make you look at your problems,
you won't take any more drugs.
"I don't take drugs to get away
from my problems," he asserted. "I
take drugs to get fucked up."
But for all of Maxey's faults,
how successful is the school in re-
forming its residents?
"Hopefully," noted Pinckney,
"we can forestall their going back
to being hurters once they leave
"EVERY YOUTH leaving here has
a community worker. The par-
ents, the community worker and
the youth work out a plan for what
the youth is going to do.
"There are 125 boys," he contin-
ued, "who have been out of Maxey,
for one year. About 39 of those
have been arrested again.
"Eighteen to 22 per cent of the
boys who leave here return here."
Hank asked his group partner
Jim, "When do you think you'll get
"I hope it'll be by Christmas," he
answered. "He (the group leader)
said I have a pretty good chance
of getting out by then. What about
"He said maybe by Thanksgiv-
Stephen Hersh is a Daily day editor
and staff writer.
"They think pretty badly
themselves. They are unwilling
face their problems. They need
WITH SUNLIGHT streaming in
through the window of his of-
fice on the Maxey campus, Pinck-
ney sat in his shirtsleeves, drum-
ming a pencil on the table. "One
thing we feel we have to do is to
make the people face their prob-
Said Pinckney, "Most of our peo-
ple are in for more than what are
called 'staus offenses' like running
away. (A status offense is an act
which is illegal for a juvenile but
legal for an adult.)
"We have people who were con-
victed for property offenses, like
car theft or breaking and entering.
And we have some who are in for
assaultive offenses, including mur-
der. Most of the-youths involved in
homicides were accessories to the
act, but we do have some who ac-
tually carried a homicide out.
"JF THEY WANT TO get out of
the institution," he remarked,
"they have to do what the staff is
asking them to do. Some will resist,
but most will at least tentatively
sav'okay, thinking that they'll see
what happens if they play along.
"The secret is, once they start
playing along with the game, to get
them to keep playing to the point
where they honestly feel that the
particioation is a good thing."
"And helping others gives the
people insight into their own prob-
lems. For example, if a kid with a
stealing problem criticizes 'some-
body else in his group for stealing,
he's going to be confronted with
the problem that if stealing is
wrong for that other person, it's
wrong for him, too."
The problem with trying to con-
trol the behavior of an institution
full of boys is that sometimes the
controlling influence gets out of
An extreme case of this was re-
"I ran one time, and my group
saw me and chased me. I got past
the woods, but they followed me
anyway, and brought me back to
"All eight of them," he recalled,
"jumped on top of me and pretty
much beat the shit out of me. I got
pretty bloodied up. And I had a
bad bruise on my elbow, and they
kent whacking it against the floor."
Did the staff punish those who
did the beating?
"THE STAFF KNEW about it, but
they didn't do anything. They
say everybody in the group is sup-
posed to care about everybody else,
and if you run that shows you don't
A source close to Maxey describ-
ed a similar instance, in which two
people who ran together were
handcuffed, throw to the floor, and
beaten and kicked by their group
partners. One of them suffered
broken ribs. So much for each
member working to help all the
Pinckney commented on those
cases: "They're not a functioning
group if they are hurting any of
their members. That's foreign to
the purpose of the program.
"I would guess that there have
been, there are, and there will be
times that a group will use violence
in dealing with its members. In
instances of that, the staff would
be both irresponsible and nega-
Even at times when PPC isn't
being obviously harmful, many
girls have a greater tendency
to commit status offenses over and
over, and to commit only status
Still, there are those inmates
who manage to find a way to avoid
Maxey resident Jim remarked,