BELOIT — Many were broken, and many were saved here.
Beloit's name became synonymous with its girls' reformatory, one of the longest-operating in the country, which for more than a century mirrored the most enlightened reforms but also the cruelest horrors of such places.
Now, at its closing, residents and staff members are wrestling with the contradictions.
Beloit was where "bad girls" were sent: That's what Diane Roles had heard as a child. A friend's sister had gone there.
Growing up in the 1960s, Roles endured a seriously dysfunctional family — a chronically violent father and a fearful mother. People didn't talk much about child abuse then, and Diane's solution was to run away from home to escape beatings.
The offense that landed Roles in the juvenile court system was taking her brother's car for a joy ride. After fleeing a foster home, she was offered placement in a "trade school," and she grabbed it.
It wasn't until the frightened 13-year-old was riding across the wind-swept prairie of rural north-central Kansas that it dawned on her the school was Beloit. "I mean to tell you my heart dropped clear down to my toes," she said.
Looking back now, she sees it differently. "Going to Beloit was a safe haven for me," she said. "Basically, I was an abused kid. Back in them days they didn't do anything. They shook their heads."
No barbed wire — no fence at all — surrounds the complex of limestone and brick buildings that came to be known as Beloit Juvenile Correctional Facility.
The institution, right down to its rural setting, is typical of the ones that began opening in the middle part of the 19th century as rehabilitation-focused reformers sought to end the practice of housing juveniles alongside adults in deplorable conditions.
But with the high-minded ideals of the reformers, there was a dark side as well, said Ned Loughran, executive director of the Council for Juvenile Correctional Administrators, in Braintree, Mass.
"These kids were an eyesore for the upper classes of society," he said. "The solution wasn't to change the conditions they were growing up in, the poverty and lack of parental supervision. The view was to get them out of sight. Then people forgot they were there, and abuses crept into the system."
Under some administrations, girls were punished with huge doses of vomit- and diarrhea-inducing castor oil, or humiliated with forced hair clipping. In the darkest period, dozens underwent involuntary sterilizations.
"It totally infuriates me," said Katrina Pollet, pausing at a box of yellowed photos from years gone by as staff sorted and packed up late this summer. The last superintendent, she's passionate about helping the girls who've left Beloit for good.
"It's so important to me because I could have easily been here," said Pollet, who was once a pregnant 16-year-old high-school dropout.
When the reformatory was founded, girls "were really viewed in our society much more as property," said J. Russell Jennings, commissioner of the Kansas Juvenile Justice Authority. "And the expectation for behavior of girls and what occurred with them when they didn't meet those expectations really provided an open door for young girls to be institutionalized for non-crime events. Not even running away, but just kind of being a pain in the neck."
The treatment they received varied, as it was not uncommon in the early days for entire staffs to change after elections. Some administrations taught the girls to play musical instruments and barred corporal punishment, while others relied on draconian forms of discipline.
The most infamous superintendent was Lula Coyner, whose cruelty caused the girls to march to the sheriff's office and demand an investigation.
In 1935 and 1936, Coyner undertook a campaign of forced sterilization after becoming enamored with an international movement known as eugenics, a philosophy also popular among the Nazis that sought to prevent those deemed mentally disabled or otherwise genetically inferior from having children.
During her tenure, 62 girls — almost half of her charges — were transported about 175 miles away to the Women's Prison Hospital in Lansing to have their fallopian tubes removed.
The harsh treatment had been swept away by the time Diane Roles arrived. Beloit became a training ground for workers from the Topeka-based Menninger Clinic, which became known internationally for humanizing treatment of the mentally ill.
One young woman who arrived a decade later said she and her sister had suffered incessant sexual abuse at home, but no one believed them.
"I wasn't a criminal," said the 50-year-old now living in Fayetteville, Ark., who asked to be identified by her maiden name, Kathy Mounce.
"I will always believe that because of Beloit and the staff, I am where I am today," said the mother of three who has been married 32 years, worked as a radiology clerk at a hospital and even counseled sexual abuse victims. "They saved the lives of unwanted children."
Roles recalls softball games with the staff and cooking meals with her housemates. The school had a cosmetology program, and Roles chose to receive training as a nurse's aide. Well-behaved girls even were permitted to have jobs in town.
The Beloit facility averaged just 21 girls in the 2009 fiscal year, down from 103 in 1999; because of the low numbers, the state was spending an average of $200,000 a year on each girl.
It closed in August, a victim of deep state budget cuts.
Although the reasons for the closure were clear, residents and staff were misty-eyed when they talked about the decision to transfer Beloit's remaining occupants to unused space at a Topeka facility that previously housed just young male offenders.
Roles, who married, had three children and worked as a mental health aide, stayed in touch with one of her housemothers and with former superintendent Dennis Shumate.
"They were great role models," she said. "They were like family."