Juvenile

INDEPENDENT LENS
They Call Us Monsters

 

This film takes viewers behind the walls of the Compound, the facility where Los Angeles houses its most violent juvenile criminals. To their advocates, they’re kids. To the system, they’re adults. To their victims, they’re monsters.

 

FRONTLINE
Second Chance Kids

 

FRONTLINE details the fight over the fate of juveniles in prison for murder, following a landmark Supreme Court ruling. The episode examines the impact of the order to reevaluate thousands of juvenile murder cases and follows two of the first convicts to be released.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Karen Radius

 

Growing up in Chicago, Karen Radius learned values from her working class parents, neither of whom attended high school. After passing the bar exam in Hawaii, Radius’ first job was with Legal Aid, serving some of the poorest people in Hawaii. As a Family Court judge, Karen Radius learned that juvenile girls who haven’t succeeded on regular probation needed a different type of juvenile justice system. So she created Girls Court. “Girls Court is all about…working on the relationships…within the family,” Radius explains. “(it’s) not just, ‘Did you comply with the court’s order and what the court told you to do’ … but let’s figure out your life and let’s come up with a life’s plan for you.”

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Nov. 1 at 4:00 pm.

 

Karen Radius Audio

 

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Transcript

 

You know how bad things can be.

 

And I also know how good they can be. If we only focus on the things that have gone wrong, life gets to be pretty heavy and unhappy. And if you don’t see the potential in things, it’s just not right. I still get, when I’m out in the shopping center, I’ll get a girl who will come and say, Judge Radius! And I’ll say, Oh, how are you doing? What are you doing? And she’ll say, Oh, I’m graduating from Windward Community College next week. And so, we show up and give her a lei. Because those kinds of stories keep you going.

 

Judge Karen Radius, a resident of Windward Oahu, has spent her career seeking the potential in people facing troubled situations. Family Court Judge and the founding judge of Girls Court, Karen Radius, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Family Court is often regarded as a place of pain and anger, filled with divorces, child custody battles, families in crisis. Judge Karen Radius has spent decades there. She retired, but returned to serve on a part-time basis. The judge is no softy; she’s regarded as tough, but fair. In her juvenile cases, she tries to look past the pain, toward the potential good within the youth offenders who come before her. To help Hawaii’s troubled young people, Judge Radius in 2004 was the driving force behind Girls Court, an innovative program designed specifically for at-risk girls on Oahu. The judge and others in the field say that juvenile court is framed around boys, who tend to commit different offenses than girls, for different reasons. Judge Karen Radius knows firsthand about life struggles, having grown up on the south side of Chicago.

 

My mom is the oldest of ten. By the time she graduated from eighth grade in 1932, there were seven kids; the seventh child had just been born a couple of months before. So, her mom said to her, We just don’t have the money for you to go to high school, you need to find a job. My grandpa was a janitor, and finding a job, for him, depended on what manufacturing plants or what buildings were open, and what businesses could hire him. So, he was getting piecemeal work at about a dollar a day. So, my mother found a job being a maid and mother’s helper for a lawyer’s wife who had one son. So, after being the oldest girl of seven kids, that was a walk in the park, quite frankly.

 

But she had to be away from her family.

 

Absolutely. So, she earned a dollar a week, and she had Sundays off, so she’d come home on Sundays, bring her dollar, and her mother would give her a dime.

 

Tough times.

 

Yeah, yeah; absolutely.

 

People had to really pull together and sacrifice themselves.

 

Right; right. And so, the theory was that her younger sisters would all take a year off of high school, but it didn’t turn out that way. She stayed working at that job.

 

Never graduated from high school?

 

Nope; nope. She took a typing and a bookkeeping class at night school, but other than that, she didn’t go to high school.

 

Did she talk about that, her regrets at that?

 

Not so much her regrets. That’s the generation that doesn’t focus on themselves. But my sister and myself, there was no question; we were gonna get every ounce of education we could.

 

She was gonna do for you what she couldn’t do for herself.

 

That’s right; that’s right. My dad had been in the military, actually, here in Hawaii, and had gone back to Chicago and was a bus driver. And he saw her walk on his bus, and he said, That’s the most lovely pair of hands I’ve ever seen somebody putting fare in my farebox.

 

He said that to her?

 

To her. And she fell for it.

 

And the rest is history. Yeah; yeah.

 

Wow. And he stopped being a bus driver after that?

 

Right. When I was about three, he became a life insurance salesman, and did that ‘til he died.

 

So, he was a good salesman, charming?

 

Oh; yeah. He could tell a joke and a story. He was a schmoozer; yeah.

 

Judge Karen Radius became the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Her mother believed that Karen should receive the best education possible, even though money was scarce. She was accepted into George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and left the Midwest for the first time in her life.

 

I found George Washington. My mom said, Okay, we’ve got enough money for one semester. Go, see if you like it. We’ll do what we can; you gotta work. I went to GW ‘cause I thought I was interested in international affairs. I had read some books about Russia, and that was when the Cold War was big. And Russia seemed such a fascinating place. So, I went to study international affairs. But in my sophomore year, when you begin to think about what major you’re gonna declare, and the counselors are talking to you, I told them that that’s what I was interested in, and maybe the State Department or some kind of foreign job. And he says, Do you know what women do in the foreign service? I said, No, that’s what I’m here to learn. And he said, They stamp passports. And I was silly enough to believe him. So, I switched to political science.

 

So, that wasn’t true; he was just trying to … what was the point of that, of dissuading you?

 

I think that was probably true back then, so that would have been 1968; ’67, ’68.

 

So, he was trying to let you know that it may not be—

 

In reality, if I wasn’t willing to stamp passports for the rest of my life, which is probably what women mostly did back then, but things, as in all fields, has moved quite a bit.

 

So, you could have done it and broken those barriers.

 

Maybe. But I didn’t listen. I mean, I listened, but should have not listened. I kind of wonder what would have been, had it taken different turns. So, I went into political science. My junior and senior years, the Vietnam War booming, literally and figuratively. The protests were beginning. You know, being in campus only five blocks from the White House, there were tanks rolling down the street sometimes, and tear gas being thrown on the campus, which wasn’t fun. So, I decided, okay, I’m gonna work on The Hill, because that’s where change could come from, through senators and congressmen.

 

Who did you work for?

 

Senator Charles Mathias from Maryland; he was a progressive Republican at the time. People wrote to their senators and congressmen, and we’d get bags, and bags, and bags full of mail. And we had to respond to each piece. So, my job was, when there were over ten letters about a single topic, you’d write a form letter that sounded like you were talking directly to that person. And then, there was a machine that would … way pre-computers, but there was a machine that would match the address of the writer and the body of the letter. And then, it’d be signed, and you thought you got your own personal letter from the senator. Which he read the generalized …

 

M-hm.

 

So, he knew, and he knew how many. We kept count of X-number are in favor of this, and Y-number are against that. But it didn’t feel like democracy like I had studied it as political science, and I didn’t feel like we were making the kind of change that as a Baby Boomer, I thought we needed.

 

Oahu judge Karen Radius did not want to get channeled into a typing job, as were many women of the time. She wanted to be part of bringing change. So, she set her sights on a new career path.

 

One of the young male staffers who was an attorney said to me, Karen, just take the LSAT. Which is the law school admissions test. Don’t tell anybody you’re gonna take it, don’t send the scores any place. If you totally bomb out, you’ve wasted a day, fifty dollars to sign up for it, and two Number 2 pencils. So what? If you do well, send the scores some place. And so, I followed his advice, and here I am.

 

You hadn’t considered law school?

 

No. No.

 

That’s really open. So, you went and took the test, and did well. It’s a tough test.

 

Yup.

 

And what proportion of students in law schools were females then?

 

About three or four percent.

 

Is that right?

 

Yeah.

 

So, you were an oddity.

 

Right.

 

Did you feel like you had to prove yourself?

 

There were still professors who would do things like say, Can you please stand up as you give your answer, because I like to see the proportions of my opponent. And you walked in the library, and people closed the door as you entered. So, it wasn’t blatant. You didn’t get worse grades ‘cause you were a woman. You didn’t get worse classes.

 

It was a social atmosphere.

 

I had one young man say to me, You know, my friend didn’t get in; you’ve got his seat. But generally, people were nice, and I just stayed, and as more women came in, life went on.

 

After her second year at George Washington University Law School, Judge Karen Radius joined her college roommate Judy Sobin on a trip to Hawaii for the summer. She didn’t know it at the time, but Hawaii would become her permanent home.

 

I had come here to Hawaii between my second and third years of law school for a summer job, ‘cause there was no UH Law School at the time, and my college roommate had come here with her husband, and he was going to UH master’s in urban planning program. There was something about Hawaii. I just felt at home when I got off the plane.

 

What made you feel at home when you got off the plane? I mean, you hadn’t seen it yet.

 

I don’t know; I just did. I worked for Brook Hart’s firm the summer between second and third years of law school. They were doing a lot of law reform cases, they were doing a lot of criminal cases, but doing them very well, and lots of interesting cases. So, the work seemed exciting. I was meeting a lot of younger lawyers. The racial and ethnic makeup and background of so many different kinds of people. And the mountains and the ocean. You know, it just felt good.

 

A year later, after graduating from law school, Judge Karen Radius returned to the islands to take the Bar Exam.

 

I came here to take the Bar, ‘cause I had a federal job offer in North Carolina, and you could be licensed any place. So, I came here to take the Bar, hedging my bets that while I’m here studying for the Bar, I could still be looking for work here.

 

Because you didn’t want to go to the safe federal job?

 

I might own that horse farm in North Carolina now if I’d done that safe job. I don’t know. Oh; as opposed to my little plot.

 

But this was where you preferred to be.

 

Oh, yeah. I got offered a job two weeks before the Bar. Legal Aid called two weeks before.

 

How’d you feel about working for Legal Aid?

 

It was fine with me.

 

Yeah?

 

Yeah.

 

So, that means you served many of the poorest people in the area.

 

Absolutely.

 

Lots of family law.

 

No; actually, at that point, we were divided into divisions, and I was doing welfare law. So, I was doing your benefits were stopped, or the State wasn’t complying with the Federal laws about welfare benefits, food stamp benefits, Medicaid. So, I was doing more the keep your life and soul together …

 

So, that means you met people and saw individual stories of things that had happened which required government assistance.

 

Absolutely; yeah.

 

So, in two jobs, then, with the defense law firm, Brook Hart’s firm and with Legal Aid, you’re basically on the other side of the State; right?

 

I’m meeting the real people; yeah.

 

Yeah; yes.

 

Absolutely.

 

Underdogs, is what I would call it. How’d you feel about that? And it’s not big money jobs, either, necessarily.

 

Correct; right.

 

So, is that what you were looking for? You didn’t care about the money, and you wanted to help people who needed the help, who didn’t have much? Was that a goal, or just how that unfolded?

 

I didn’t become a lawyer to make money. I became a lawyer because … I didn’t want to type. And because I believe that some of the most resilient people I’ve met are people who have been, quote, underdogs. And they had potential, and good things to add to the state. So, doing that kind of law was perfectly fine with me.

 

You saw a lot of misery.

 

Yes; yeah. But the people who are in the midst of their problems don’t come in with, I’m in the midst of a lot of misery. They come in with, I’ve got this problem, and I gotta solve it because I’m getting evicted, because I can’t feed my kids, ‘cause … they weren’t drama queens. Let’s put it that way. So, they had resiliency, despite the fact that they lived in situations that were really challenging. When I left Legal Aid, you knew when it was time to leave. Because I used to keep graham crackers in my desk, because the people would come and they’d always bring their kids, and their kids were always hungry. So, I gave the kids coloring stuff and graham crackers while we talked about the case. And you knew it was time to leave when you just got a little bit tired shopping for graham crackers.

 

After five years, Judge Karen Radius left Legal Aid for private law practice. Along the way, she married future court administrator, Russell Tellio.

 

So, I worked for about nine months for Harriet Bouslog, who was a legend in her own right. And then, Norman Lau and Susan Arnett and I, all three of us at Legal Aid, decided we were gonna open our own firm. So, we did that January 2, 1980. And the three of us worked together for a while, and then Susan decided she wanted to do criminal stuff, and Norman and I didn’t. So, we became Radius and Lau, and stayed that way for thirteen years, until I got to be a judge.

 

Why did you become a judge?

 

This is gonna sound really silly. When my kids were born in 1985, I had twins. And Norman and I were doing a real varied civil law practice. So, you’d have to always be one step ahead of the clients, and learn a lot of different things all the time. So, having children, I knew that I needed to specialize in something, because trying to be such a generalist was … I needed time at home with the kids.

 

And you had two at once.

 

Yes. Yeah; yeah, yeah. Yeah. You know, you have to sleep once in a while.

 

In 1993, Karen Radius was appointed as a judge to the First Circuit Family Court on Oahu. She presided over cases involving divorce, child custody, domestic abuse, and juvenile law. Much like her time at Legal Aid, she matter-of-factly looked for the up-side in people facing tough situations.

 

It’s a place you could be a peacemaker. You may not be able to stop the divorce, but if you can focus the parents on the children and on preserving the assets they have for the children’s best interest, and coming up with a visitation and custody plan that’s in the kids’ best interest, you can bring peace. Or if not total peace, at least ratchet things down. If you’re doing an adoption, that’s the fun part of family law. So, you leave the stress and the sweat in the waiting room and come into the courtroom, where there’s balloons and happy people, and pictures and congratulations. The other thing about being a Family Court judge is, if the judge can portray some kind of calm and can manage the courtroom in a way that it’s not just total havoc, the people can focus a little bit better about what they need to do, and what’s next, and how to bring some kind of resolution to the problems that are there. And sometimes, you can’t bring peaceful resolutions; you just make a decision when it happens, and they’re unhappy with you, and they’re unhappy with their life.

 

While working as a Family Court judge, Karen Radius began to notice an alarming trend within the juvenile cases. The number of girls who were arrested and brought to court was dramatically increasing. In 2004, she confronted the problem head-on by creating a new program called Girls Court.

 

In the days that I was a Legal Aid lawyer in Waianae in the 70s, there was hardly ever a girl brought to juvenile court. Girls weren’t arrested. It was all boys. And over time, the programs and the method of dealing with things were built for boys, ‘cause that’s who the system was. But as time went on, more and more girls started to be arrested. And the programs weren’t built for them, and juvenile court really wasn’t helping the girls at all. So, in about 2003, I was sitting at detention home, where you go every morning for a week in a row, every four weeks. And all of a sudden, there’s just so many girls appearing in front of me. And I’m thinking, Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, ‘cause that’s based on who got arrested. You gotta see a judge within forty-eight hours of getting arrested. And so, I went back to the courthouse and I’m saying, you know, Boy, out of thirteen kids, ten were girls. Is it just me? Am I somehow a girl magnet? What is this? And they said, No, no, no, we still have to do some research. And at that point, forty-two percent of the arrests in Honolulu were girls. Nationally, it was about between twenty and twenty-five percent, but Honolulu was forty-two percent.

 

I wonder why?

 

We arrest a lot for runaway, and we have a lot of runaway girls. And girls tend to act out not so much against other people, although there are some assaults on unrelated people, et cetera. But there’s a lot of act out against the boyfriend, act out against the mother. And then, drugs are a problem. Act out against themselves, by taking or possessing, or dealing drugs. So, I talked to Judge Wong, who was then the lead judge of Family Court, the senior judge, and she was doing some rearrangement of people’s caseloads, and so, she wanted to move some of my cases. She says, I know you’re gonna be mad. I said, No, I’m not gonna be mad if you let me do Girls Court. She said, What’s that? And I said, I don’t know, but we gotta do something. And she said, Okay.

 

So, you were convinced you couldn’t fix it by transforming juvenile court.

 

Well, it’s still a part of juvenile court. It’s a transformation of—not every girl who gets arrested in Honolulu goes to Girls Court. Girls Court is the girls who aren’t succeeding on regular probation. So anyway, we looked at what’s going on in the girls’ life, not just what she did. ‘Cause often, a sentence or a disposition is based on, You did X-crime, X-thing, and therefore, you must do the following community service, you must do the following anger management, et cetera. But what else is there going on in her life that gets her in the situation that make it that she’s acting out like this?

 

And she’s a revolving door.

 

And she’s a revolving door. You know, she’s not going to school for long periods of time. The old days, you would put her in detention home for two weeks and say, Okay, write an essay on why education is important to you. She didn’t know. And she’d write the essay, and she’d be scared for a while, and she’d go to school for maybe two, three weeks, and then the whole thing would start again. And the next run would happen or the next truancy would happen; back and forth. So, we weren’t looking at the underlying causes. So, Girls Court is all about getting, you know, the whole family working on the relationships within the family. And the probation officers are still probation officers, but they’re also not just, Did you comply with the court’s order and what the court told you to do, but let’s figure out your life and let’s come up with a life’s plan for you.

 

In 2010, Judge Karen Radius retired as a fulltime judge to help take care of her aging mother and her mother-in-law. At the time of our conversation in 2015, she’d returned to work as a per diem or part-time Family Court judge.

 

Let’s say the top three things you’ve done in your life that you really feel proud of.

 

My kids, number one. And watching them grow and develop, and lead their lives, and make the choices they make, one way or the other. Girls Court … jeez.

 

Well, top two is good.

 

We narrowed it down to two.

 

I don’t know.

 

I’m just thinking from a balance of power situation. You know, this is not the old model of husband and wife, where the wife is the judge. Was that hard to handle sometimes?

 

Not for me. No. We didn’t bring our work home. And those times that I would say something that I wasn’t happy about something, Russ would say, Slavery ended in the 1860s, if you don’t like the job, find another one. So, okay, I’m not gonna complain at home.

 

And you have twins.

 

Right.

 

Tell us a little bit about them, about how they were influenced by two parents working in the law.

 

My son’s a lawyer, although he has a sticker on his bike and it said, Born to fish, forced to work. So, in a perfect world, he might want to fish. But no; he’s a lawyer, he’s a good lawyer. My daughter, when she was probably about five or six, I said to her, You know, are you going to work when you get married and have children? Because being old school, I still felt a little bit of guilt about, I’m working. And she says, Of course, I’m gonna work. But I’m not gonna be a lawyer; that’s boring. So, at six, she already decided it’s boring. So, she’s a scientist; she’s a biomedical engineer, and smarter than me.

 

Did you think of your kids as you were in court, you know, passing judgments?

 

Yeah; I thought about my kids. Because of confidentiality of the cases, I couldn’t talk about the cases to the kids. But I’ve said things sometimes to the kids, and my son when he was little, used to say, Mom, you always know that all, and you’re all so worried about evil stuff. You know, you just don’t know the real world.

 

And I said, Oh, Andrew, your father and I have worked so hard so that you don’t know about the real world.

 

Founding Judge Karen Radius’ concept of Girls Court has now spread to several states on the continent. At the time of our conversation in the summer of 2015, she continues to be an advocate for at-risk youth inside and outside the courtroom. Judge Radius volunteers for several nonprofits, and is the president of Surfrider Spirit Sessions, a nonprofit that uses the lessons of surfing to help transform the lives of at-risk youth. Mahalo to Judge Karen Radius of Kailua, Windward Oahu for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

What did your mother say to you after she saw you become a judge?

 

She wished I’d been a beautician, ‘cause I’d be home more.

 

Truly?

 

Yes; yeah, seriously.  When I first went off to college, she said, Do this for you and for me. And I was, quite frankly, a little bit … It’s for me; what you do mean for you? But having a daughter now myself, I understand.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Victor Marx

 

As a young boy growing up in Lafayette, Louisiana, Victor Marx was beaten, electrocuted, and tortured by his stepfather. By the time he graduated from high school, he was “using drugs, fighting and stealing.” It took the discipline of the United States Marine Corps and faith in God to help him recover from his traumatic childhood. Today, Victor Marx dedicates himself to helping troubled and abused youth and traumatized war veterans.

 

Victor Marx Audio

 

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Transcript

 

You know, most people who are victimized as a young kid will feel an X on them, ‘cause it doesn’t stop. It’s typically not an incident. And for me, the instability of fourteen schools, seventeen different homes, all the different stepfathers coming in. You know, one’s a murdered, one was in prison. I mean, just the craziness of it, you believe, that becomes normal as a kid. Again, you can’t process as right. But for me, I will say this. I never wanted to give up, because I just kept thinking, When I’m older, when I’m older, I’m gonna have a good life.

 

Victor Marx survived the upheaval and abuse he suffered during his youth, growing up to become an excellent shooter in the U.S. Marine Corps, a martial arts master, and a weapons instructor. Now, he uses his lethal skills to heal troubled youth. Victor Marx, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Victor Marx is known for many things, including his seventh-degree black belt in Keichu-do karate and Jiu-jitsu, fourth-degree black belt in weapons, and a record time in fastest gun disarm. A resident of California, and the founder and president of All Things Possible Ministries, the Louisiana-born Marx once operated a martial arts business in Honolulu at the Ward Warehouse. At the time of our conversation in 2015, Marx travels around the world, offering hope to young people who are suffering from abuse. Before he was able to become an inspiration to others, though, he had to first recover from the severe trauma of his own childhood. In a way, it started even before he was born, in Lafayette, Louisiana.

 

I was born in the 60s, and I had three siblings already. My mother, who was young, she had her first child at sixteen. Their marriage didn’t make it, and they were divorced when I was born. My father actually became a drug dealer and a pimp. And the night that I was conceived, he actually put a gun to her head. Didn’t claim me when she was pregnant. He actually told her, That ain’t mine. Didn’t call me a kid; he said, That ain’t mine. Because she had gotten into other relationships already. And the next man she married we call Mr. K in the book. You know, this wasn’t like some drug dealer on a street corner. This was an educated man who had served in the military, who had been in counterintelligence.

 

So, he seemed like a respectable man.

 

Correct. And at the time, he actually even owned a bookstore, a college bookstore. Hemmingway was one of his favorite reads. And you know, my mother—I think she was twenty-two at the time, four children. You know, she’s thinking, Ah, okay. But something intuitively knew he was kinda messed up.

 

He was horrifying. He would torture you.

 

Yes. Yeah. Yeah; you know, there was perversion, but there was also intentional, what the experts would say, torture. You know, being electrocuted, being dunked in a tub until I would pass out. I remember waking up on the cold bathroom floor to him breathing into my mouth. And I’m sputtering. And he just said, Boy, don’t ever forget I’m the one that gives you life. And those are what I call lies based on reality. And until you really come to exchange those out for what the truth is, a person will remain really hamstrung by what’s happened in his childhood, ‘cause that’s implanted into you, becomes part of your fabric. ‘Cause as kid, all you can process is … I wasn’t breathing, I am now, he was the one dunking me in the tub, holding me in. I guess he does give me life. Actually, I thought he was my biological dad. I wasn’t told, you know. But I want to share this publicly. He wanted to seal to what he had done to me. And the way of protecting themselves, abusers will always use fear. Fear of death, or whatnot. And he actually had brought me to a house one night out in the country, early morning. It was a little wooden house, and there was single light in it. There was another guy, and there was a hole in the floor. It was wooden floor. And then a hole had been dug. And I thought at that point, This is when I’m gonna die. And you know, fear is a different thing. When you’ve experienced terror for a while, your mind associates. There’s no fight left in you. You just yield. And for him, he was having a conversation with man. And I remember hearing the guy say, I don’t want to do this anymore. And my stepfather was a very good communicator. He made him relax. He said, Oh, I understand. When the guy relaxed, he hit him. He cracked him and knocked him unconscious. And he was a fighter. But when he drops, he handcuffs him and he drags him up to this hole, pulls him up on his knees, handcuffed. And he pulls out a pistol, his pistol. He said, Come here, boy. And then, he put the gun in my hand said, You’re gonna shoot this man. And he raised my hand. And the guy is semi-conscious, and he sees what’s going on. Because I think he thought this was what was gonna happen to me, and now it’s happening to him. And you know, I have the pistol to the back of his head, and I remember trying to pull the trigger, and I couldn’t. And I don’t know if it was the pounds per square inch. You know, I was seven. But I’m squeezing, and I can’t pull it. And I feel his hand come over and grab my wrist, and then his right hand comes around and he slips his finger over mine, and he presses until the revolver goes off. When it fired, it hit the guy in the back of his head, and it killed him. And then, you know, he pushed his body into the hole. And then he told me, Boy, you know, this is your first kill.

 

Wow.

 

And he buried him, and he took that pistol and wrapped it in a handkerchief. And he said, If you ever tell anyone what I’ve done to you, it doesn’t matter how old you get, he said, I’ll tell the police that you killed this man, and I have the pistol with your fingerprint on it. And he said, They’ll electrocute you. And I knew what electrocution was, ‘cause he’d done it a few times. And so, it sealed and instilled in me a fear where I never talked about that ‘til I was an adult.

 

What a horrible thing. And your mother didn’t know this, any of this stuff was happening?

 

She did not know.

 

Victor Marx acknowledges he can’t substantiate this account. He said he as a kid did not know the location, the body was never found, and the crime was not reported. Marx’s mother finally escaped from her marriage to Mr. K, but she continued to marry men who were abusive to her children. By the time he finished high school, Victor Marx had already been in trouble with the law. Rather than go to jail, he made a decision that took his life in an entirely new direction.

 

You didn’t join the Marines ‘cause you wanted to.

 

Well, yeah; it was … again, at that point in my life, I’d just graduated high school. Hallelujah. But I was spiraling, using drugs, fighting, and stealing. And again, for me, stealing was my way to say, This world owes me, and they’re gonna start paying me back. And every opportunity that I could take advantage, I would. But I got caught, and I was looking at being sentenced because of my stealing and getting in trouble. So, my best option at that point was to join the United States Marine Corps. And I did, and that’s what really kept me from going to jail, ‘cause they would have prosecuted me. And the Corps was a very good thing for me, ‘cause, one, it was structured, disciplined, and it showed me that life isn’t about being fair. So just, you know, suck it up, buttercup, and time to do the deal. And it worked for me tremendously. And I really like the Marine Corps. Never loved it, but I liked it. So much, I put ink on my shoulder. And you know what? They were able to teach me skillsets I didn’t have before, which gave me a level of confidence, including starting to train in the martial arts, shooting. You know, I hunted as a little kid, but when they taught me how to put ten rounds into a target of a man from five hundred and forty-six yards without a scope—

 

Wow.

 

–that gave me a skillset that, you know, felt good. And again, there was there, ‘cause you know, I’m training, martial arts, karate, jujitsu, kempo, judo, anything I could, boxing. ‘Cause I said, If I can’t beat a man this way, I’ll beat him this way, ‘cause I never want to get hurt again. So, that was kinda my driver.

 

And you did well. But you didn’t want to stay in; you left after, what, three years?

 

Yeah; I did one term of enlistment. And I had actually got in trouble while I was in, which I was facing, you know, brig time. Again, there was a pattern. ‘Cause you can only do things for so long, but your character and your baby’s gonna tell on you. And I was in trouble, was facing some stuff. And actually, this was when my biological dad came back into my life, which is really the redemptive aspect of this whole deal. You know, really, an absentee father all my life. At that point, I’m twenty. But really engaged me, apologized for not being a father. Which blew me away. He wanted to call me son in a letter, which made me mad, ‘cause I thought, You don’t have a right to call me son. But he told me had a spiritual encounter that really changed his life, and it’s not about perfection, but the direction of his life had changed. So much so that he said, Why don’t you come visit me?   And the Marine Corps actually let me go visit him, ‘cause they knew the circumstances, you know, I’d never known him. And they just said, You come back to face your court martial. I said, Okay. I said, I’ll be back. And I went, and it was interesting getting to really spend time with him in depth.

 

This was the pimp. This was the guy who held a gun to your mother’s head.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

The guy who wouldn’t claim you.

 

Yeah; by all means, he was a loser. He was a loser as a father, and had justified his own absentee. And so here he is; his life, I can tell is different. And okay, not perfect, but different. He cared about me, and I knew he wanted to make a new start. So, I gave him an opportunity, and it was really through seeing his faith of a life change that, you know, really impacted me so much that I had a life change through faith. And you know, I told him; I said, Well, I’m going back to face court martial. What should I do? And I had developed an elaborate lie—it was a pretty good lie, to try to get me out of it. Which it wouldn’t have, but your mind thinks it will. I’ll never forget; he looked at me and he said, Son … learn from me. Just tell the truth. ‘Cause a lie, you gotta keep it going. And I was like, Okay. I went back, and I actually told them the truth. You know, I didn’t fight it; I said, I’m guilty. You know, I told them; I said, I was gonna lie. You know, I said, but here’s the truth. I did this, this, and I deserve my punishment. And they were actually so taken back, because my nickname, my handle on the Marine Corps was Thumper.

 

‘Cause you were a hothead?

 

I was a hothead. I tell people it was because I like the little Bambi bunny.

 

 

 

You know, in the movie, the little bunny, Thumper. But it’s because I liked to thump people back then. And so, they were all shocked, and I’ll never forget the commanding officer who presided over it, he said, Well, this is a shock. And he goes, You are gonna pay the price for the crime, you’re breaking the code of military justice. He said, But I’m gonna suspend the sentence; you won’t have to do brig time, but I’m keeping you to your barracks. Which was unbelievable. And it really was the first time in my life, first time, that I thought, Telling the truth is a better way to go.

 

And was your dad for real? Had he really had a conversion?

 

He did.

 

He changed?

 

He did. Which, it stuck all the years until his passing. You know, twenty-something years. And again, I’m grateful that coming to faith or you know, finding a higher power, it’s not about perfection. But the direction of your life changes. And you know what? It not only worked for him, it worked for me.

 

Victor Marx’s acceptance of his father didn’t turn his life around immediately. He would still have to come to terms with the trauma of his childhood before he could start to put it behind him. And his newfound faith would play an important role in his healing.

 

I can see you saying, Why did God allow all that to happen to me? Why couldn’t He have kept me from some of it and distribute it equally?

 

Right. You know what? That is such a great question, and one that anybody who’s suffered, it’s an honest question.

 

Right. It’s the old, Why me?, question.

 

Yeah.

 

A variation of.

 

Right. And for me, it came in a dramatic form where, you know … because you know, I’d been to church as kid, and those things. You know, Jesus loves all the little children of the world. And I’m like, Yeah. No, I believed that, ‘cause He’s good, so He loves all the kids, just not me. That’s how you start to process it as a kid, because bad things happen. And I’ll never forget when it changed for me. And it was actually a counseling appointment, as a result of it. This old country boy counselor, boot-wearing Texas guy. And he was just like, Hey. But he had all kinda degrees on his wall, so he knew what he was doing. He just said, Well, you know, where was God in all this? If He’s so loving, and He can stop evil, why did He allow it to happen to you? He said, Why don’t you ask Him? And I remember telling him, You need to shut up. That you need to just stand down; that’s not a question I need to ask God. And he’s like, Why not? Because … and this is real, and it’s deep, but people who’ve been … people who over a lifetime or a number of years have experienced disappointment and failure again, and again, and again, and you assign it to God, you know, Why don’t you give me a better break, why don’t you give me better parents, I mean, I’m stuck in hell, or whatever it is … to ask God that question, for me, I’d rather have a false hope than not have … the right answer, and have my hope dashed forever. And people in their heart know if they’re living off of false hope. Well, He’s—oh, and it’s okay. But the reality is in your heart; you’re just too scared.

 

Well, I can also see you having a really difficult time with this, because if God is your Heavenly Father … you know, the fatherhood record was really bad on this Earth.

 

Exactly. And it is hard not to assign that. I remember when someone first told me, Oh, God is your Heavenly Father. It was so offensive to me. I thought … uh, negative. You’re kidding me? But in my mind, I thought, Well, He must be some sadistic, crazy, unloving God. Maybe somebody else. You know, I’m the stepchild. You know, I’m getting the leftovers. But what changed my life and the lie that I believed is, I finally asked God that question.

 

What were the circumstances of asking Him?

 

I was in a counseling appointment, and I just said, God, where were you? You know, Jesus, if you’re so loving and you love the kids, what about me? Why did you allow it to happen to me? I’ll never forget, I remember my eyes were closed, and I saw the room, a room where a lot of abuse had happened. And I saw it so clearly, and I saw my stepfather, had a beer in his hand, he had a belt wrapped around his hand. He was getting ready to, you know, beat me with it. He had me lay down on the bed in my underwear; he would just—you know. And I saw everything so clearly. And then, I saw what I knew to be an image of Christ, a spiritual being appearing. And I thought, Okay, great; now turn and touch my stepfather’s heart and blow it out, kill him right now. That’s what I wanted, remembering this. But it would have been the truth. It would have been my own fantasy. The reality of what really happened to me was, right before he got ready to hit me, my stepfather is rearing back, I’m grabbing the sheets. ‘Cause the way he would hit you, he would hit you, bam [SLAP], and then he would wait. He’d wait ‘til all your little muscles relaxed from being tense in anticipation, you relax, and boom [SLAP], he’d hit you again. And he’d do it slow, until you gave up, ‘til there was no more fight in you. And right before he hit me, this image of Christ turned, kneeled, and placed his body on top of mine and sunk into mine so that He would take the greatest part of the beating for me, to allow me to survive. And I knew, if that’s a God who loves me and will share my suffering, that’s a God I can trust. I think God’s heart breaks for all the injustices that happen, all the evil. That’s not what He wants; it’s never what He’s assigning to children. You know, it’s the choice of evil people making horrible choices.

 

Victor Marx turned his skill in martial arts into a business, and he started teaching karate. He met Aileen, another believer, and a nationally recognized fitness instructor. She was at the leading edge of fitness kickboxing. And soon, they began working together, opening their own gym after they were married. An invitation from a youth pastor in Honolulu to teach a Christian karate school brought Marx and his growing family to the islands. Despite all the good things happening in his life, he still could not shake the horrors of his past.

 

I like that martial arts, good martial arts, does have a way to teach a person a code of honor, and understand the impact you can make on someone. So, I’ve used it for good. When we had our martial arts center here underneath, you know, the Spaghetti Factory at the Ward Warehouse as one of our locations, we had so many people come in to fight me because I’m this Haole from the mainland, and you know, what are you doing here? And, you know, some things got physical, which changed some people’s minds or hurt some people’s feelings, because they tried to get physical. But I made more friends. You know, I was able to use my words, not necessarily my fists or chokes, or cracking somebody. But it gives you a level of confidence that in a situation. You know, I’m looking at young guy who’s like, Oh, you’re so good. I’m thinking, Oh, my gosh.

 

You sound like you speak Pidgin. You’ve got that inflection.

 

Hey, we were here long enough. My children were raised here, my first three. When we went back to the mainland, I’ll never forget; my son’s out playing in the yard. He comes back, he’s playing with kids there. He goes, Dad; he said, there’s so many White kids here.

 

I said, Come here. I said, You are white. And he’s like, Oh, oh! So, you know, he got his Pidgin, still talks Pidgin. So, I love the islands. I have a little home here. We consider this home. We spent so many years here, through good and bad times.

 

How many years here?

 

We were here ’95 to ’01.

 

And you say some of them weren’t good years?

 

No. I mean, I had challenges emotionally that people didn’t know about.

 

Ah …

 

Right? It was part of my healing. You know, in martial arts, in many ways, I’ve reached the pinnacle. At least for myself. Here in Hawaii, huge student enrollment, you know, large staff. I mean, we were making an impact. ‘Cause after we got over the few things, people realized, Oh, you care about our keiki. And then, training adults. Yeah. And you know, we brought the fitness kickboxing here; it was just great. It was a great time. But I was having emotional problems hidden, and I would never tell anybody. Nobody knew that I was at Queen’s in an observation room, because I had horrible thoughts about hurting myself, or other people. You know. But I chose in that moment to go, I’m so unstable at this moment. You know. We lived at the top of Tantalus, you know, and man, I was having bad thoughts about, Oh, I have a good insurance policy, and I’m causing so much pain for my wife, you know, through my behavior, and all this. I’m like, you know, Maybe I should just end it, let her take the money and go. And I tell people, when someone wants to commit suicide, it’s not always just a rash deal. Sometimes it seems like a logical answer. I tell folks, it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Don’t give up; get help. And I did, particularly that night by driving down, checking myself into Queen’s, and I’m glad I did.

 

So, you’re saying that when you accepted God, accepted Jesus into your life, it wasn’t like it took away all your pain and problems.

 

No. It took away my past sin, because that’s what He promises, to lift the burden; that’s what the scriptures say. But it didn’t take away the challenges I would have because of my past. But the greatest thing is, He promised me He would redeem it. And I love redemption. You know, redemption is when somebody drinks a soda, throws the can side of the road, someone else comes by and says, Eh, this trash to you, but it’s money to me. And that’s what God did for me; He picked me up. He said, Other people consider you trash; I’ll redeem your life, watch what I do. And again, sometimes the greatest faith is just never giving up.

 

Do you have flashbacks?

 

Seldom anymore, because of the counseling and therapy I’ve gone through. But I still feel deeply. And what I’m glad about now is, my suffering has been turned. That purpose; I’ve learned the purpose. There is a purpose in the pain, is to help others who are still suffering, you give them hope. And that’s what I feel like I’m called to do.

 

Through their All Things Possible Ministries, Victor and Aileen Marx have dedicated themselves to advocating for youth who are troubled and abused. They help people, including war veterans who’ve suffered trauma, and they travel around the world to facilitate the rescue of children who’ve been abducted and trafficked. Mahalo to Victor Marx, now of Marietta, California, for sharing your stories with us. And mahalo to you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

My story is one of redemption. ‘Cause a lot of people experience abuse and injustice in their life, but I’m pretty happy to share. That’s why we do it so much. And actually, I didn’t do it ‘til later in life. I was in my late thirties before I started telling my story.

 

Is that because you didn’t want everyone to know the gory details?

 

Yes. You know, I stayed away from it because, really, in a lot of ways, I hadn’t healed from some of the trauma of the past. So, you use coping mechanisms, whether it’s excelling at a certain thing or staying away from other things so you don’t get triggered, or never wanting to revisit any of that. I kinda used all of ‘em in that way to protect myself. But when I took time and really trusted that the process of going through healing and counseling would make the greater difference in my life, it’s turned out really good, not only for me, but helping others.

 

[END]

 

PBS HAWAII PRESENTS
Fixing Juvie Justice

PBS HAWAII PRESENTS Fixing Juvie Justice

 

Young people are entering the juvenile justice system in surprising numbers, and they seem to emerge worse than when they entered. In this film, a co-production of National Geographic and Pacific Islanders in Communications, we see how a group of innovators applies the restorative justice principles of the Maori people of New Zealand to the mean streets of Baltimore.

 

In Maori villages of the past, a crime would put the community out of balance. Traditional Maori justice turns on the idea of restoring that balance. This film crosses the globe to a culturally sacred marae (meeting ground) where Judge Heemi Taumanu has established an alternative youth court that draws on these principles. Viewers see how people come together to resolve conflict in their own communities and all of the drama that unfolds when everyone is given a chance and encouraged to let emotions out. Can a community-based approach to justice derived from a structure conceived centuries ago in New Zealand give hope to the mean streets of the United States?