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Characters’ Stories


A loveable kid who had very few material things but loved to go camping with his family and help his dad work on cars. He looked forward to his first day of school but an undiagnosed speech impediment brought unwanted teasing from the other kids. Charlie came to dread school and struggled for years. One day his parents surprised him with a used red scooter. Charlie, now 14, took great care of the scooter and rode it every day.

One day, the police came to Charlie’s door. He immediately thought he was getting into trouble for riding it without a helmet, but soon found out that the scooter had been stolen. His parents unknowingly bought the stolen scooter from a family member. The police arrested Charlie and his parents but eventually dropped the charges against his mom and dad, Charlie however was arrested as a juvenile and sent away.

Charlie did not cope well within the Juvenile system and once in, he moved from one correction center to another. In all toll, Charlie spent 5 years in the system and was subjected to 8 placements, yet his love of poetry and family kept him optimistic about his future, which he felt, was bright. He looked forward to college and working with computers. But, confinement within the juvenile system did not prepare Charlie for the real world.

Now, at 21 years old, Charlie’s still that same lovable kid who remains optimistic despite the increasing odds against him in a world that will likely deal him more blows.


A smart, funny and creative high school student who grew up in a stable home with both parents. She created a MySpace page lampoon of her assistant high school principal, including a disclaimer on the page stating it was a joke.

But one day, Hillary’s mother received a call from the police letting her know that her daughter was about to be arrested and charged with terroristic threats. Finding the lampoon anything but funny, the assistant principal felt this was no simple school matter. At 14 years old, Hillary found herself convicted and sentenced to juvenile detention.

If not for her mother Laurene’s outreach to a national advocacy group called Juvenile Law Center, Hillary could have spent months or years in the system. Instead, her mom sparked an investigation by the group, placing Hillary’s case at the forefront of the “cash for kids” scandal. Hillary was freed after only 3 weeks and went on to graduate from both high school and college. She was the lucky one.


A child with a genius IQ, three brothers, and a single mom. Justin was only 12 years old when he was walking his little brother to a neighborhood school bus stop. There, he got into an altercation with a mother of another child. Justin’s offensive behavior was reported to the school police officer who promptly contacted Justin’s mother Lisa.

Lisa had been struggling with Justin’s use of obscene language for some time. Thinking that perhaps Justin needed to be “Scared Straight” Lisa agreed to allow the officer to arrest Justin, expecting that he would get into such a program. However, after being charged with terroristic threats, Justin began a 7 year journey within the juvenile justice system where he learned how to smoke pot, do heroin, and steal cars – all from within the walls of juvenile lock up.

Through it all, Justin never lost his love for music and has dreams of attending Berklee College of Music. Like Charlie, he’s now 21 years old and is attempting to regain his lost childhood. Unlike Charlie, Justin’s less optimistic about his future but good use of his intellect could turn his life around for real.


Always wanted to be “someone.” Amanda grew up with her father and struggled in school to overcome the social stigma of the single parent family. Lacking material things, her biggest wish throughout her young life was to have a mother, just like her friends.

When one of those friendships ended badly and the girl became verbally abusive, Amanda grabbed the girl and a fight ensued in the school gymnasium. At 14, she was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and would spend the next 5 years in the juvenile justice system.

Humiliated, frustrated and hopelessly fraught with anxiety after an attempt to re-enter the school, Amanda was diagnosed with PTSD and chose to be homeschooled. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school. Amanda still struggles with depression and anxiety but is still determined to make something of herself.


Ed was a spirited kid who channeled all that energy into wrestling. By his junior year of high school, he was an All-Star wrestler. Admired and respected by coaches, teachers and his peers, his single mother was proud of the fact her son would likely go on to college on an athletic scholarship. This was Ed’s dream.

The summer between his junior and senior year, Ed’s popularity at parties began to get him into trouble. He became part of the “party crowd” and began to drink excessively. His father decided to take matters into his own hands and with the help of his two friends who were local police officers, they would try to “scare him straight.” They decided that Ed would benefit from an appearance in Juvenile Court, and that going before a judge would scare Ed into staying on track. The group planted drug paraphernalia in Ed’s truck and arrested him. But instead of the expected slap on the wrist and a warning, Ed ended up being sent away at age 17 to a boot camp where he spent three months, missing out on his senior year of wrestling and losing his chance at a college scholarship forever. He never returned to school or wrestled again.

Ed came back a changed person. He was depressed and angry and consumed by rage, his life spiraling out of control. After another round in a juvenile boot camp, Ed ultimately landed in state prison for assault.

Juvenile Law Center

In 1975, Marsha Levick and Robert Schwartz were ambitious new graduates of Temple Law School who wanted to change the world. Recognizing the dire need for children’s legal advocacy, they founded Juvenile Law Center with two other colleagues. Since their humble beginnings in borrowed office space in a cardiology office, Juvenile Law Center has grown to become one of the most highly respected, non-profit children’s legal rights organizations in the world, working diligently, without fanfare, to protect children from being harmed by the very systems that were meant to protect them.

Laurene’s call to Juvenile Law Center shattered a wall of silence much larger than anyone could have imagined. That call triggered an investigation into what many now refer to as the “worst judicial scandal in U.S. history.” They worked quickly to secure Hillary’s release, realizing the case had broader implications. How many other children were suffering the same fate? They stood outside Ciavarella’s courtroom interviewing parents as they came out without their children, and were horrified to learn of the systemic violations of the children’s rights. Worse yet, there were numerous officers of the court who stood by, silently watching.

Juvenile Law Center petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to intervene and worked round the clock to expose the violations that took place in Ciavarella’s courtroom, ultimately getting most of the children’s cases cleared and their records expunged.

Juvenile Law Center fights these battles every day – far beyond the boundaries of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. While the cash kickbacks were certainly unusual, the treatment of the youth was not. Harsh zero tolerance policies, lack of legal representation and bad policies inflict an enormous amount of harm and trauma on children and families all over this country every day. Juvenile Law Center works to change laws and policies in every state in the nation to better protect the rights and welfare of vulnerable children, and has also contributed to several landmark United States Supreme Court rulings, including Roper v. Simmons, eliminating the death penalty for juveniles, Graham v. Florida, eliminating juvenile life without parole sentences in non-homicide cases, J.D.B. v. North Carolina, determining whether minors can reasonably believe that they are “in custody” and therefore subject to a Miranda warning, and Miller v. Alabama, ending mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles in homicide cases. To learn more about Juvenile Law Center, visit


Terrie was and remains a dedicated, professional journalist in her hometown. It was perhaps her inquisitive, caring nature that drew her to listen to the stories from families who ended up in Ciavarella’s courtroom over the years. She was long familiar with Ciavarella’s zero tolerance mantra, and knew he was true to his word. Terrie’s role as a journalist became a critical factor in breaking the silence that surrounded not just this scandal, but a much larger story affecting millions of children nationwide each year.

Terrie knew of Ciavarella’s clash with Juvenile Law Center around the violation of another child’s rights years earlier and had written about it. So when questions began to swirl again, she knew there was more to the story. Terrie has a memory like a steel trap and every question that was raised triggered more connections in her mind. She spent hours talking with families, combing through county files and records, and talking with attorneys at Juvenile Law Center to better understand how things were “supposed” to be handled. Terrie’s suspicions about connections between to the complaints from families and the growing furor over the new for-profit juvenile detention center were soon confirmed.

The role that Terrie and her reporter colleagues played in sounding the alarm, breaking the silence and giving the children and families’ a voice was paramount. In today’s 24 hour headline news cycle, true in-depth journalists like Terrie are a rare, yet invaluable commodity in fighting injustice and protecting our children. Terrie Morgan-Besecker is an award-winning journalist who now works for the Times Tribune newspaper in Scranton, PA.