Ryan Crotwell's memories of growing up in French Settlement are filled with mental snapshots of abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father. First he remembers kneeling on rice. Then the whippings started — "switches, belts, whatever was within reach."
Crotwell, 34, recalls acting out in school and receiving brutal punishments at home. He was institutionalized for psychiatric treatment twice before his 10th birthday and diagnosed with various psychological conditions including attention deficit disorder and depression.
He was arrested at age 15 and accused of killing an aunt's brother-in-law — a man he described as "someone who did me no wrong" and whose death will haunt him forever — then convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison the following year.
"I think about it every day and I still wonder why," he said. "I killed a guy for no real reason, just no regard for human life … and I can never take it back."
Crotwell was one of more than 100 inmates in the Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility at St. Gabriel who attended a presentation on childhood trauma Wednesday morning. The program, presented by Judge Blair Edwards, is aimed at helping prisoners understand how experiences early in life could have shaped their decisions and behavior as adults.
Edwards, who presides over juvenile matters in the 21st Judicial District, emphasized that learning about childhood trauma has changed how she approaches the children and parents who pass through her courtroom. Her district includes Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes.
"It's about asking them 'What happened to you?' and changing the dialogue from 'You did something bad' to 'How can we help you?' — focusing on the solution," she said. "This is absolutely about changing the criminal justice system to better understand the incarcerated population."
To read the rest of this article by Lea Skene in The Advocate, click here.