14 year-old Eric Stefanski answered the door when our crew arrived at his Nanticoke, Pennsylvania home. He seemed like any other teenager – asking us about our trip from Manhattan and intrigued with all our equipment.
But until recently Eric was not living a normal teen experience. At the age of 12 he was hauled away to a juvenile detention center after he took his mother’s car for a joyride and crashed it. His mother Linda Donovan wanted to teach him a lesson and reported the incident to the police. She thought Eric would get probation. Instead, Linda was shocked when her son was sent away to juvenile detention.
“They just grab him like he’s some kind of hard criminal, like he’s a murderer, and they just rip him away. There’s nothing you can do.”
Eric became quiet and thought for a moment when I asked him what his emotions were that day.
“Scared, confused, helpless”
During the next two years, Eric was moved around from lockup to lockup. He was finally released last fall but soon after the family learned he was a victim of a countywide corruption scandal that has rocked this small section of Eastern Pennsylvania.
Two judges – including one that sentenced Eric – placed children in private detention centers, under contract with the court, to increase the head count. In exchange, the judges received kickbacks of more than $2.6 million. Both judges have pleaded guilty and will serve more than seven years in prison.
Linda told me the experience has made her question authority.
“All this time, I thought I’m blaming myself. It’s my fault. I should have never called the cops. And to hear a greedy judge is behind this. I’m irate.”