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Reformatory CP - June 2005

Corpun file 16118

The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington State, 30 June 2005

Ex-boys' ranch staffers urged end to beatings

By Benjamin Shors
Staff writer


Two former counselors say they urged the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner to end physical discipline at Morning Star Boys' Ranch in the 1970s.

"We made waves, but his word was the final word," a 53-year-old former counselor said Wednesday. "They had this attitude that, 'This is the way we have been doing it for years, and this is the way we'll continue doing it.'"

The counselor said Weitensteiner, now 73, and other Morning Star officials took the boys behind closed doors to administer the "hacks" - a form of corporal punishment administered with a 2- to 3-foot wooden paddle. The counselor, who now works at a Spokane middle school, remembered one boy who was so embarrassed by the bruises on his buttocks he refused to change clothes for gym class at school.

"I'm appalled that I ever let it happen," the former counselor said.

Both former employees, who knew each other, provided The Spokesman-Review with their names but asked to remain anonymous, saying they did not want to challenge "Father Joe" publicly.

The employees were interviewed separately.

In the 1970s, Washington's administrative code prohibited corporal punishment that bruised or harmed a child.

Morning Star spokeswoman P.J. Watters said Wednesday she had received numerous calls from media - as well as supportive calls from ranch alumni. She declined to say whether Weitensteiner would issue a statement or hold a news conference. Watters did not say when Morning Star ended corporal punishment, but a former counselor said it stopped in the early 1980s.

In a letter to supporters, Weitensteiner, Morning Star's director since 1966, released a statement that said, "Despite recent stories in the media, we assure you that your trust and confidence in the staff here at Morning Star has never been more deserved."

Watters declined to confirm the letter.


One counselor, now 69, said she spoke with several other counselors in the late 1970s to urge them to end the practice of "hacking."

"I didn't like the physical discipline," she said. "I didn't think that it was working. I think I started to make headway with some of the guys, but Father Joe ran the place. When push came to shove, I think he thought the physical discipline helped."

The counselor, now retired from social work, said she felt conflicted discussing the discipline because "Morning Star did lots of good things for lots of boys."

One of those boys, now a 45-year-old businessman in Spokane, said he continued to support Morning Star, which he said helped him turn his life around. The man, who lived at the ranch in the 1970s, said without the ranch, he believes he "would be in prison or dead."

But he also said he was physically abused at the ranch on one occasion, when a counselor beat him so badly that bruises covered his buttocks. He asked not to be identified because he fears it would affect his business.

"Some of this stuff really did happen," the man said. "The reality is there were things that happened up there that shouldn't have happened. Times have changed. I'm not saying that makes it right."


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