Interview With Dean A. Shute

From the interview with Dean A. Shute of Rochester, WA conducted by Rick Martinez at the Fort Worden History Center on July 17, 2003.  Mr. Shute worked at the Juvenile Diagnostic and Treatment Center from 1968 to 1971.  Here he describes the first time he faced a potentially dangerous situation:

“ A young man named Russ in the boys’ cottage had been put in isolation.  He was breaking some windows in the isolation room.  They called me down there because I had kind of a good relation with this kid.  I didn’t know at the time that this kid fluctuated in and out of psychotic episodes.  My first indication was when the staff said, ’You’re going to have to go deal with the psycho. He’s breaking out windows and we’re going to have to move him into the cube in the center of the room.’  The cube was a big cement block just big enough to have a bed in it and nothing more.  It had a locked door and a wire mesh grill above it, there was wire mesh in the vent on top and a single bulb for light.  This kid was claustrophobic, fantastically claustrophobic.  He’d become very frightened and very combative.  So I knocked on the door of the room they had him in and said, ‘Russ, it’s me, Mr. Shute.  He had his bed against the wall, the mattress lying on the floor and I had to force the door and let the mattress roll up a bit.  There was glass everywhere in the room.  He had broken quite a few windows.  He had no shoes or socks on.  When I stepped into the room, I gestured to him to sit where he was on the window sill.  He started to slide off, and I said,’ Sit, sit, don’t get down on the floor, Russ, don’t get on the floor.  This is broken glass—that stuff is going to hurt.’  This had nothing to do with his behavior, didn’t touch on anything other than to make him aware that the staff was concerned for his safety.  He was holding a large piece of glass the shape of a curved dagger with a sock wrapped around it.  He held it up and I said, ‘Just hold on to that but don’t get your feet on the floor on this stuff.’  I was not trying to take his weapon away but I was trying to stay safe.  I asked the security to get me a broom.  I started sweeping and said, ‘Sit there, but don’t throw that at me.’  I had learned very early to get the student talking, and to lay down a rule.  This time the rule was:  I’m not going to fight you and you can hold onto this piece of glass but you can’t throw it at me. So, that was the agreement and it gave him a little bit of power.  I swept that room four times while we were talking and it was super clean. At one point while he was still sitting on the ledge, he took the dagger and said, ‘Here, you might as well have this,’ and he threw it in the pile of glass and I swept it right out the door.’  Then I asked Russ to hop down and give me a hand with the mattress.  I could have handled it by myself, but I was trying to build a sharing experience about doing something together.  We set the mattress up and he sat down. ‘Now, tell me what happened,’ I said.  He came right to the point and told me that he was very frightened about being locked up because he was claustrophobic. This kid was not in real good shape emotionally.  Jack, the security man I knew, was on duty.  God bless his soul, Jack agreed the kid should stay in the room where he was but he had to promise not to break any more windows.  That was my first real experience (with violent behavior). I remember it because I’d never had the occasion before to get one of the kids to stop and listen and start talking.  When they’d start talking, they’d start to defuse, and this was very good.”

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