New York Magazine gives Andre McCollins the kind of attention and respect he never got when he was at the Judge Rotenberg Center. Jennifer Gonnerman, who detailed the history of the JRC for Mother Jones in 2007, tells how the autistic teenager ended up at the Center, which uses electrical shocks to control the behavior of students-- he had been sexually abused at another facility and his mother Cheryl thought he would be safe because of all the cameras.
She did not know he would end up being shocked 31 times in a single day. She ended up suing the JRC and an getting undisclosed settlement. Andre, as one former employee recalled, seemed permanently damaged:
As new teenagers flooded into the facility, pushing its total population above 230, Andre McCollins was all but forgotten. But the events of October 25, 2002, haunted at least one employee: a case manager named Allen Gwynn. He’d been inside Classroom 15 that day—and he couldn’t forget how Andre had appeared when he was taken off the restraint board. “He looked like he was gone, like they’d beat him and broke him,” he says. “It just didn’t seem right.”
To clear his head, Gwynn wrote a brief essay detailing some of his misgivings about his job, including that Andre “went into a catatonic state.” He stored his writings at home and kept his mouth shut at work; he didn’t want to lose his job. But when his marriage collapsed near the end of 2006 and he moved out of his home, he left behind a box of student case files.
His wife told him to fetch the box or she’d take it to the Rotenberg Center. What she didn’t know was that it also contained his personal writings. He didn’t pick up the box; she made good on her promise; and after Gwynn’s bosses read his words, Israel ordered him fired. When Gwynn filed a complaint with a state agency protesting his firing, a lawyer for the Judge Rotenberg Center defended its decision in a letter, explaining “Gwynn was terminated for not sharing the JRC philosophy.”
The story is an important read, and I am moved by the portrait of Andre by Andres Serrano which illustrates it. Thanks to my friend Gaetano, who closely follows the JRC, for sharing this and many other important stories.