July, 20 2018

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Ferris' mission is to reclaim young lives

For "Pop" it started small, selling a little marijuana so he could smoke dope for free. Quickly, though, people began depending on him as their dealer, and others began working for him.

"I got into pills because a guy started trading pills for pot," says Pop, whose street corner was an overpass on Kirkwood Highway. "You don't mean to get into it. It just happens. It only takes three days or so and you're into it."

Yet "Pop," a recent Ferris School graduate whom The News Journal agreed not to name, has at least for now managed to escape Wilmington's street life.

Today, the Newark resident is enrolled in the transition PROGRAM at Ferris, a maximum security facility for young male offenders. Ferris seeks to rehabilitate youth struggling with drug abuse, emotional problems and violence.

Pop arrived after pleading guilty to robbery, burglary and criminal trespass. He's preparing to leave with a new set of clothes for job interviews arranged by a social worker.

Ferris, along Route 141 in New Castle County, doesn't look like a prison for the state's most TROUBLED TEENS. There are no bars on the windows. There are no cells, just spartan bedrooms with bunks made-up with military precision.

Ferris looks like a high school, though it's much cleaner than most public schools, and it's considered a PROGRAM rather than an institution.

Social service professionals and penologists from around the world regularly visit Ferris, considered a model for its innovative programming, the design of the facility and its approach to teaching.

The goals are simple. Children must be safe, live in a stable environment, learn, develop self-esteem and have a source of hope.

"Kids who don't have hope are the ones out there shooting other kids," says Cari DeSantis, secretary of the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families.

When a child walks in the front door of Ferris School, their clothes are exchanged and they're screened by a nurse and a psychiatrist.

"This is the first time a lot of these kids see any form of health care," said Ferris School Superintendent Greg Fuller. "When they leave, they can't get the services."

Many of the boys have substance abuse problems, and the school has a licensed drug and alcohol TREATMENT PROGRAM to help. Other PROGRAMS include conflict resolution, anger management, sex education and HIV prevention.

The boys live in clusters of rooms under constant supervision. Each cluster has its own full-time psychiatrist, with an office in the commons area. The psychiatrists have open-door policies for the boys, and they work with the child's treatment specialists.

Students march to class in military-style formation, with their hands clasped behind their backs. The walls are decorated with murals and paintings from the fine arts PROGRAM, which also teaches DVD production, music and poetry.

During the day, the boys attend school taught by certified teachers, and they can earn a GED or diploma. The school even helps its graduates find jobs.

DeSantis' department supervises roughly 8,000 children and their families. The most TROUBLED go to Ferris.

"If they're with us, they're redeemable," DeSantis says.

"Adam" certainly was.

The 16-year-old moved to Newark from Philadelphia when he was 12. Days later he was selling pot on the streets. Within a couple of years he was carrying a .38 revolver. The News Journal also agreed not to use Adam's real name.

Nearing the end of his six-month stay at Ferris, the TEEN is looking forward to returning to school. And he is hopeful about his future.

"I'm still young," he says. "There's a lot of opportunities out there for me."

"Adam's" dad works for MBNA. And, unlike many teenagers who pass through Ferris, he comes from a two-parent home.

"I know what I did was wrong and I'm going to try to change it," he says. "But for some people, smoking and selling is a life that they feel they have to go live. ... You can look at somebody wrong and they want to shoot you. It can even be over a basketball game or some dumb stuff. People shoot just to shoot now."

Contact Adam Taylor at 324-2787 or [email protected] Contact investigative reporter Lee Williams at 324-2362 or [email protected]


The Ferris School is looking for tutors willing to help students with homework. To volunteer, contact Glenroy Powell, volunteer and special events coordinator at the Ferris School at (302) 993-3816. A background check is required.

This poem was written by two teenage inmates at Ferris School. Their full names are not being used so that they can't be identified. Errors have not been corrected.


There go the cops

Stop acting so suspicious I'm holden these rock's

Look we got this bottle

That's good for us, so it's easy to swallow

See they might not come

I hope not cause, I'm scared of guns

Why you acting like a punk

I'm a punk, but I helped you when you was about to get jumped

I'm going to stop selling on the block

Why you talking stupid, you need to stop

I'm serious I'm about to have an kid

Look money coming through and all that we did

I'm getting tired of looking over my shoulder; I'm not trying to get locked up over small boulders

It's bad enough people be snitching

The fiends say the dope is poop I'm tired of them itching

We thought we would hustle till we make it with fame

Fame, look I want out of the game


I want out of the game


I want out of the game

Tales of a hustler

By Dana L. and David S.

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Fostering Requires Firm Rules and a Warm Heart 2/19/05
Complaints of abuse prompt probe 2/17/05
The other face of meth 2/11/05
Teens Protest City's Funding Cut To Teen Center 2/9/05
Canada Pulls ADHD Drug 2/9/05

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