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The Hidden Hand of Violence
 
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Cover Report


The Case of Spencer Day

His story sheds new light on causes of violence and crime in our society.

A Chronicle of Tragedy

In preschool, Spencer Day, a bright and gifted child, was labeled hyperactive; by the time he reached kindergarten, he was on Ritalin.

Day worsened and was placed in the school district’s Emotionally and Behaviorally Disordered (EBD) program. At the age of 9, he was sent to a psychiatric facility in Denver, where he encountered boys with sexual behavior problems.

Day was arrested for arson and again for vandalism and received further treatment.

At 12, Day was returned to his school district’s EBD program. Over the next few years he was committed to four different psychiatric facilities in Colorado, Arizona and Idaho.

Day was released with an ankle monitor and returned to school. He was given more treatment and drugs and tried to overdose on Elavil.

In October 1993, at 17, Day committed a series of sex crimes on boys which landed him sentences totaling 104 years in prison.

When individuals undergoing psychiatric treatment commit acts of violence and crime, blame is routinely placed on their so-called mental illness. The case of Spencer Day – a child literally raised in psychiatric hands – sheds new light on a microcosm of a system that creates violence.

S
pencer Day was described by his teachers as an exceptionally bright and gifted child. However, his tendency to wander out of the classroom landed him in the preschool counselor’s office. He was labeled “hyperactive” (before the label “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” was assumed in 1987).

By the time he reached kindergarten, Day had seen several psychiatrists and was being “medicated” with Ritalin, an addictive drug generically known as methylphenidate.

The drug did not improve Day’s behavior or his ability to study. He was booted out of elementary school and placed in the school district’s Emotionally and Behaviorally Disordered (EBD) program. His behavior worsened and, at the age of 9, he was sent to the Cleo Wallace Center — a psychiatric facility in a Denver suburb which specializes in children and adolescents.*

There, Day was assigned a bed in the room next to one which housed older boys with known sexual behavior problems. At night, the older children would engage in sexual activities and Spencer was soon included. Because these were his first sexual experiences, Day was later to say that he believed these encounters at the Cleo Wallace Center to be normal sexual behavior.

* A yearlong investigation by the Colorado Attorney General Office, released in August 1999, found that the Cleo Wallace Center illegally locked up dozens of children, charging taxpayers millions of dollars for doing so as part of a money-making scheme.

The stay at Cleo Wallace rendered Day even more unstable. He was soon arrested for setting fire to a gas station and again for vandalizing a local business. After more “treatment” programs, the 12-year-old boy was returned to his school district’s EBD program.

When he told a counselor there about sexual feelings caused by his stay at Cleo Wallace, he was taken to Charter Psychiatric Hospital in Denver, a facility which has since closed. After six months, Charter psychiatrists recommended he be taken to Desert Hills, a psychiatric facility hundreds of miles away in Tucson, Arizona.

A year passed at Desert Hills and Day was transferred to yet another psychiatric facility. There he became self-destructive; he punched staples into his arms, smashed out windows and once swallowed an entire bottle of iodine pills. He was “negatively terminated” from the facility in February 1991.

Day was shipped to the psychiatric ward at Denver General Hospital, and from there to a treatment center in Boise, Idaho, called Northwest Passages. “Treatment” at Northwest Passages consisted of placing a cup-like device called a plethysmograph over Day’s penis to measure its reaction while pornographic pictures were flashed on a screen. Later he was required to sit in a room with headphones on; when looking at pictures of young women, pleasant music would play. When looking at pornographic pictures of boys and girls, he was given intense electric shocks delivered through electrodes taped to his forearm.


With a regimen that was more torture then “treatment,” it is not surprising that Day was worse when he left one facility.
 

More torture than “treatment,” it is not surprising that Day was worse when he left Northwest Passages. “They indicated to me they were not successful in their treatment,” a probation officer testified later in court, noting that plethysmograph test scores indicated Day had indeed become worse, “and they considered him a risk, a high risk to the community.”

Nevertheless, Day was released with an ankle monitor and an agreement to see a counselor specializing in sex offenders. He also returned to school, where it was not long before he set fire to a classmate’s hair. More psychiatric treatment and drugs followed, including Elavil — an antidepressant that can cause confusion, delusions and delirium — which he attempted to overdose on.

Finally, in October 1993, Day committed the crimes which landed him in jail longer than he could hope to live. Day grabbed a 10-year-old boy, compelled him to perform a sexual act and choked him into unconsciousness. Six days later, he forced another boy to perform oral sex on him at knife point. And just a few days after that, he took another boy into his truck at knife point, drove up a canyon and forced him to perform oral sex. After being caught by police with his last victim, Day pleaded guilty to all three crimes. To ensure they never happened again, the judge added a 40-year sentence to his 64-year sentence.

At the time of his sentencing, Spencer Day was just 17 years old. His parents and their insurance companies, who had spent more than $400,000 for his “treatment,” were betrayed along with Day and the victims of his crimes.
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