Little Joe lurks in the backstreets of Torrance — a middle-class beach city on California’s Southern Coast. It’s here that the 15-year old begins his career of crime, accelerating through the ranks of local jails, juvies, camps, and rehabs, before earning a formal education in survival at YTS.

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Gladiator School

David Reeve | United States

Welcome to a new series of difficult but important testimony. “Gladiator School: Stories from Inside YTS” is a history of life inside California’s most notorious juvenile prison. Closed in 2010, Youth Training School (also known as Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility) had a reputation for mayhem, violence, and murder that earned it the name Gladiator School. It was there that juveniles would harden themselves for survival, only to be returned to the streets — more troubled and volatile than when they arrived.

Survivors of YTS have come forward to tell stories of daily life inside. This series will relay and respect their stories: Juvie told by the ones who were there.

"Gladiator School" is a street term given to the most dangerous juvenile prisons in the country, where wards became hardened for survival in men's prisons. The most notorious Gladiator School in the nation was the Youth Training School in Chino, California - the "flagship" institution of the California Youth Authority, holding 2,000 wards. It boasted state-of-the-art security, classrooms, and counseling.

To the outside world, it was a school for troubled youth. But inside, its secrets were tightly held.

With each photo essay, viewers experience life inside and outside of the California Youth Authority – a collection of juvenile prisons spanning California from the early 1960’s to current day. Viewers see first-hand, immersive stories, prison sounds, and Latino love songs as they float through juvenile halls, fire camps, and solitary confinement. They’ll sleep on the streets as homeless kids, steal cars, and defend neighborhoods from gang ambushes. They’ll run the streets of Echo Park, Pico Rivera, 18th Street in South Central, the white neighborhoods of Sherman Oaks in the 80’s, and Tijuana, Mexico when there was nothing but desert sand. They’ll have run-ins with Internal Affairs, corrupt cops, heroin dealers, Westside Crazies, and even Freddy Krueger.

David Reeve
(714) 514-3971

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