By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
As a child, he endured more horrific abuse than most people could bear, according to his civil lawsuit – one of hundreds against the state and its contractors for decades-long mistreatment of children in state custody.
Years of beatings, solitary confinement, violent “take downs” by staff, constant anti-gay slurs, and rape – all while in the custody of the state of New Hampshire.
He spent seven years deemed a juvenile delinquent because he skipped school and smoked pot while acting out when adults didn’t believe the terrible secret he finally shared with a teacher – that an older relative sexually abused him for three years starting at age 7.
So, by age 11, John Doe 402 as he is known in the lawsuit, was declared a juvenile delinquent and spent the rest of his childhood at the mercy of the state in several different placements, including the Sununu Youth Services Center, also formerly called the Youth Development Center or YDC in Manchester, and three contract facilities.
Now as part of the lawsuit that will include upwards of 700 other men and women who say their childhoods were disrupted and horribly damaged by the state, John Doe 402 is looking to the future.
“For the future, I just want to be better,” he told InDepthNH.org during an interview on Zoom with his attorney David Vicinanzo, who formerly served as First Assistant U.S. Attorney before private practice with Nixon Peabody.
“I want to feel like I’d be able to live a life that isn’t burdened by trauma – memories of terrible, terrible things…That’s sort of what I would like my future to look like. I’d like to become something. I’d like to make something of myself,” he said.
John Doe 402 asked that his name not be used as it is confidential in the lawsuit, but was eager to talk about his future and his hopes for what the lawsuit will accomplish in protecting children in the future.
A personable and well-spoken young man, he’ll celebrate his 24th birthday this week and is anxious to leave the past behind.
“I’m working to recover,” he said. He wants to restore his mental health and overcome “some of the things that I still struggle with on a daily basis.”
He was starting to make headway in therapy, was working at a job he liked when he said the juvenile pastor he knew from YDC, Rev. Jose Luna, started frequenting his workplace.
He said Luna told him while he was at YDC that he would go to hell if he remained gay. Luna’s presence at his workplace forced him to leave the job, he said.
Luna, who still works at the Sununu Youth Services Center, didn’t return a request for comment.
John Doe 402 won’t give up on the future.
He wants to make sure no other child suffers like he did while incarcerated at the Youth Development Center and while placed with state contractors at Nashua Children’s Home, Mount Prospect Academy, and the Jolicoeur School.
One of the reasons he joined the lawsuit was to help those helpless children. He mentioned several times why the lawsuit can make a real difference.
“I think to build a better system for kids. As children we are kind of at the mercy of adults, right? We don’t have much say.
“So. When you’re a juvenile and you’re sent to these places to be able to recover from, from whatever trauma you’re experiencing. But then you go to these places, compounded by more trauma. This needs to change,” he said. “That’s ultimately why I got involved.”
Even before he joined the lawsuit, he had sought out therapy. It was his therapist who told him about Vicinanzo and the lawsuit that continues to grow every day.
“That just opened that door,” he said.
For today, he is willing to work hard at recovery.
“I know what I need to do. To achieve the goals that I want to get better. I have to do the things that are going to make me better,” he said.
Now, it is time for the state to take responsibility, he said.
“I read there was a statement that Governor Sununu had made that it wasn’t the state’s, but the workers’ fault. The state or the people that hired these people are the people that are supposed to provide a safe environment for kids. That’s not what we got,” he said. “I press the point that nobody cared.”
Every six months, he was brought before a judge in Manchester District Court, confidential sessions that always proved disappointing.
“I don’t have very nice things to say about court,” he said.
The sessions never included any discussion about him going home or any reintegration plan, just a sort of see-you in six months attitude, he said.
“These guys are supposed to be protecting kids and they are actually protecting the adults who abused them,” he said.
Vicinanzo, who is working with attorney Rus Rilee on the lawsuit, said there’s no doubt there needs to be more transparency in the system.
When he served as the First Assistant U.S. Attorney, Vicinanzo said he had no idea what was going on with children at YDC or even that YDC existed, that there were civil rights violations right under their nose.
Vicinanzo sees much of the problem as a money problem with the state being unwilling to pay for the needed services and to hire professionals who will keep kids safe.
“They want to spend as little as possible, pay as little attention as possible with blinders on,” Vicinanzo said.
The $100 million fund to settle the lawsuits signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu shows the state is more interested in saving money than making fair settlements, he said.
“We will be working with the legislature to ask them to change it,” Vicinanzo said. “We’re not recommending it now because it is certainly designed to pay as little as possible to victims.”
Vicinanzo worries that some abuse is still going on and pointed to a recent case in which a teenager was beaten and told to keep his mouth shut when taken to the hospital.
Vicinanzo worries too that there doesn’t seem to be the kind of community outrage he would expect by how the children were treated and how many have come forward with more coming forward every day.
“We love saying we love New Hampshire and it is a great state. We have the New Hampshire advantage, but none of that’s really true if we are not taking care of vulnerable children,” Vicinanzo said.
He said many of his clients have provided evidence of criminal behavior and still only 11 former state workers have been charged with associated crimes.
For today, Vicinanzo is committed for the future to helping the people who were harmed by the state as children.
As for John Doe 402, Vicinanzo said he sees a future for him, too.
“I see a kind, sensitive young man with a lot of talent but who has been dealt a poor hand in life through no fault of his own.
“The state made his life so much worse when it could have made it much better.”