Local Premiere of Kids for Cash Documentary

WILKES-BARRE — More than 500 people gathered for the local premiere of “Kids for Cash” at Movies 14 in Wilkes-Barre just about a half mile from the courthouse where the scandal unfolded.

Many of the people who went to see the film were somehow touched by the real-life “Kids for Cash” scandal. Journalists, attorneys, advocates, parents and even some of the kids themselves showed up, their sometimes heartbreaking stories immortalized on the silver screen.

“You trust the system that justice is going to occur in that room, and your child disappears in handcuffs and gone from your life with no explanation,” said Laurene Transue, a parent.

Filmmaker Robert May, who lives in Luzerne County, has won awards for some of his previous documentary work.

However, “Kids for Cash” is the first time he produced a movie about a drama that unfolded in his own hometown.

“It’s an exciting time, but I think it’s an exciting time for a new chapter for Luzerne County, that’s how I really feel about it,” said May.

May’s movie shows the scandal from its very beginning.

He talks with some of the kids who were thrown into detention.

We hear from their parents who were at first disillusioned, then outraged by the treatment they received in juvenile court.

The strongest segments are the interviews with the judges themselves.

May spoke with a reserved Michael Conahan at the now infamous Florida condominium that was at the center of the feds case against them.

Mark Ciavarella speaks freely, defiant until the end that he never jailed a kid for cash.

May even interviewed Ciavarella on the morning before he was sentenced to prison.

The ex-judge broke down in tears at one point, worried that his grandchildren would consider him to be a “scumbucket.”

Folks at the premiere were obviously moved by its powerful story.

“It’s absolutely powerful, and it has the power to create the change we need here and around the country,” said Sandy Fonzo, a parent.

Reporter: “You got to hear from Mark Ciavarella in the movie, what do you think of him now?” Amanda Lorah, who is featured in the film: “Nothing different, I don’t like him. I don’t think I’ll ever like him. I don’t think he’s sorry, and as far as him saying he didn’t do anything wrong, we all know he did.”

5 comments

  • Desirae

    I was a scared 16 year old girl who was told I would have a psychological evaluation and be sent home. I was told my evaluation would take place within a week. I waited 3 months for that evaluation and was in pa child care and northwestern for a total of 8.5 months. During my time incarcerated sexual abuse and promises by guards took place amongst inner drug deals between kids. I’m now 26 and in college, with a son and another baby on the way. You can overcome any obstacle set before you.

    • Jason

      Your experience must have been horrible. I am on my personal quest on a different matter. Can you tell me if Dr. Arnold Shienvold’s name was used at all during your experience?

  • mike ference

    Kids for Cash? That’s a Helluva Court System.
    By Mike Ference.

    If Luzerne County is not literally Hell, it is surely a jurisdiction of which Beelzebub would be proud, if not downright jealous.

    I’m referring to the kids-for-cash scandal in which two Pennsylvania judges received $2.6 million in kickbacks for sending more than 6,000 pre-teen and teenage children to profit PA Child Care juvenile detention centers in Pittston Township and Butler County.

    Sadly, little was done to address the system-wide corruption that effectively resulted in Pennsylvania children being sold for less than $450 a head. Yes, Judge Michael Conahan plead guilty to several charges as part of a plea bargain, and in February Judge Mark Ciavarella was convicted on 12 counts by a jury. But Pennsylvania’s hellish shortcomings in protecting children are not limited to two “rogue” judges or even the owners and builders of the profiteering detention centers.

    We have to ask why so many of these children and their families waived their right to an attorney, and why years went by before pleas for help were heard. It’s hard not to conclude that the system was rigged — intentionally or not — to make such child trafficking easier. Allegations have also been made that the mob was involved, and intimidated both victims and potential whistleblowers to keep quiet.

    Whether a group of judges, mob members, business owners and politicians actually sat in the same room hatching this plot or not, something this complex can only be called “synchronized crime.” And when something this horrific can happen, we have to say — as with the systemic child abuse and cover-ups involving Catholic clergy — that anyone not actively working to fix the system shares in the guilt.

    However many years Conahan and Ciavarella serve in jail, the toll on many of the victimized families will go on much longer. In one of the many perverse details of the kids-for-cash scandal, it was revealed that families of the victims were forced to help finance the cost of room and board for their wrongly incarcerated children. Some parents and guardians who could not keep up with payments were also sent to jail. One fellow spent three months in jail and lost his job — while his daughter ultimately spent four years in and out of juvenile detention centers. According to newspaper accounts, the young lady has never recovered from her incarceration. Other affected families lost homes in foreclosure or simply fell apart. At least one wrongly incarcerated young man killed himself. And all will bear the scars and stigma of having “served time.”

    The kids-for-cash tragedy is not the only evidence of system-wide corruption in Pennsylvania — not by a long shot. It is an open secret, for example, that organized crime, corrupt elected officials and even members of law enforcement have colluded on everything from protecting abusive priests to allowing illegal drugs to flow into the state’s poorest (and typically African American) communities. The end result? Devastation for individuals, families and entire neighborhoods — and, in a disturbing parallel with the kids-for-cash scandal, a thriving prison industry. In fact, Pennsylvania’s prisons were running at peak capacity and we had to export inmates to other state prisons.

    One can only guess at the extent of the unholy alliance between the mob, elected officials and other corrupt individuals in Pennsylvania. But anyone paying attention can see the harm and damage the system has done to decent human beings, especially children whose greatest sin, in most cases, was to be born in a place where the devil takes his holiday.

  • jay

    I thought the movie was all about Steve Corbit. How come he ain’t being interviewed? I wonder what Steve Corbit wore to the premier while he walked down the red carpet. Steve Corbit hopes this makes him famous. What about the victims, Steve? It ain’t about you.

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