The youngsters at Cal Farleys Ranch in Texas were subjected to years of abuse. But the institutions feeble response has been a slap in the face to survivors
Steve Smith was just eight when his mother left him in the care of Cal Farleys Boys Ranch, a Texas institution for at-risk children. From the moment he got there in 1959, the place didnt sit right with him.
I cried probably more than any boy that I know that came out [of] there, just homesick, and I didnt take it very well.
Almost immediately upon his arrival, Steve was subject to the first of many beatings. For the following decade, he endured regular and arbitrary violence at the hands of staff. He also had to watch helplessly as his younger brother, Rick, was beaten by adults until he couldnt stand.
Along with the physical punishment, Steves pets were killed, and his friends were worked to the bone in atrocious conditions. Some boys, including Rick Smith, were also sexually abused while under the care of the ranch.
The ordeal has permanently damaged their lives.
At the kitchen table in his immaculate home in the Amarillo suburbs, Steve, now almost 70, goes through all of the details of what happened to him without showing much pain. Hes a tough man he served in the Vietnam war and was wounded in the line of duty and his piercing blue eyes only sprout tears twice.
The first time is when he describes how a succession of dogs he owned, all called Boots, were killed by staff members. The other is when he talks about what happened to his younger brother Rick, and how powerless he was to help him.
Rick, Steve, and six other men the Guardian spoke to named staff members responsible for the abuse, which lasted from the 1950s until at least the early 1990s. They say the abuse went beyond them, and was systemic, affecting hundreds of others who went through the ranch.
They say Lamont Waldrip, a long-serving superintendent, was one of the worst abusers. Last month, at the behest of a wealthy donor who wrote a cheque for $1m to build a new dormitory, the ranch named the new building Waldrip House.
The ranchs current CEO, Dan Adams, acknowledged the weight of the accusations against Waldrip, who died in 2013, but he said that other boys had had very different experiences with him and admired and liked him.
For the survivors who want to make the ranch accountable for the abuse and have been encouraged to break their silence after Steve Smith brought them together in a Facebook group this is an unbearable affront.