A Nebraskan town offers children in trouble with the law a last chance at redemption.
“These young people are about to become citizens of the most famous village in the world,” Father Stephen Boes said at a swearing-in ceremony, CBS News reported. “In this town, almost every kid is at a crossroad.”
Founded by Father Edward Flanagan in 1917, Boys Town is located 10 miles outside of Omaha, Neb.
One of the residents is 18-year-old Chase Pruss, from Dodge, Neb., who faced 80 years in prison for two burglaries and theft, until a judge sentenced him to Boys Town.
“I took the school safe,” said Pruss. “Just for money. For beer money. And gas money. And buy cigarettes.”
Without Boys Town, Pruss said, “I’d be in lockup.”
For Chase’s parents, Dan and Trish, Boys Town has been a miracle. His mother said, “He was dishonest, disrespectful, a thief. And now he is the Chase I always wanted him to be.”
The Boys Town approach is to integrate its residents into a family. “This is a large part of what makes Boys Town so powerful: all 360 kids living here have paid Boys Town parents like Tony Jones and (his wife) Simone,” CBS reported.
“It’s a professional, full-time dad, brother, uncle, cousin – whatever my boys may need me to be at that particular time in their life, that, then, is who I become for them,” said Jones.
The Joneses share their house with eight Boys Town children and three of their biological children.
For Jones, being a Boys Town parent is personal, because he was also once a Boys Town kid himself. Born to a dysfunctional family in Detroit, Jones said, “I can recall my brother and I standing at a bus stop, and it was in the dead of winter. And we only had one pair of socks to share between the two of us.”
Then a priest offered the Jones brothers a chance at Boys Town, which Jones recalled as “a total transformation.” Without Boys Town he said he would either be incarcerated or dead.
To operate Boys Town, it costs Nebraskans $65,000 per student a year.
“But taxpayers pay for prisons, too – more than $39 billion a year nationally. Boys Town says it can help keep those prison cells empty, while nearly doubling the chance that these students will graduate from high school,” CBS reported.
One example of success is 17-year-old Andre Harris, who came to Boys Town for stealing a car.
“It’s not even the same person,” Harris said. How is it different? “My actions, the way I speak. I’ve grown up. I’ve become a young man,” said Harris.
“He’s a school leader now, a star on the track team and he’s just found out he’s headed to college next year,” CBS reported.
“There are no bad boys,” said Father Flanagan, “His bruised and tortured heart and mind must be nursed back to normal health through kindness.”