Can Teens Who Burned Boy Be Rehabilitated?

Can the teens who burned a boy be rehabilitated? In the photo, from the left - Jesus Mendez, Denver Colorado Jarvis and Matthew Bent - three boys accused of burning Mikey Brewer.

Can the teens who burned a boy be rehabilitated? In the photo, from the left – Jesus Mendez, Denver Colorado Jarvis and Matthew Bent – three boys accused of burning Mikey Brewer.

The following is a transcript of Russ Morley, host of 850 WFTL radio interviewing Celebrity Life Coach and Human Behavior Expert, Patrick Wanis Ph.D. and Dr. Vicki Panaccione, founder of the Better Parenting Institute about the five Florida teens who allegedly doused a 15-year-old boy with rubbing alcohol and set him on fire as an act of revenge. This is a second interview given by Patrick Wanis on this topic; the first aired October 15, a few days after the incident. Click here to read that interview: “Teens burn boy – psychopaths & violent behavior”. This second interview deals with the topic of the troubled past of these boys and whether or not they can be rehabilitated and whether or not they will continue to commit these sort of crimes.”

Good Morning on the WFTL Morning News. Now here’s your host, Russ Morley.

Dr. Nick Namias:     The last time I spoke to you all, we said that we weren’t in the woods yet and I would say at this point, we’re now into it and we’re continuing critical. But it’s going the way we expect someone with this big of a burn to go. And we’re still in, you know, respiratory failure on the ventilator. We have done one operation to remove the burns surgically. He has got the burns covered now with cadaver skin.

Russ Morley:         That’s Dr. Nick Namias, Medical Director of the Burn Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital updating the condition of 15-year-old Mikey Brewer, the Deerfield teenager. Those – you know the story. Back in October 12, doused with rubbing alcohol, set on fire by his schoolmates after an argument. Now, they’re trying to figure out what to do with these kids. Are they going to try them as adults? Are they going to try them as kids? Are they going to charge them with – what crimes they’re going to charge them with? One that supposedly doused him; one set him on fire; the charges will be different.

But the questions remain this morning. What motivated these kids? What was happening to them? What was in their heads? What was happening at home that would even open their minds up to something like this? Joining us this morning is Dr. Patrick Wanis, human behavior expert and celebrity life coach out of Miami and one of his colleagues, Dr. Vicki Panaccione, child psychologist and the founder of Better Parenting Institute. And Vicki, I’ll let you guys, you and Patrick work it out as to who answers these questions this morning.

And you’re based out of Florida too, aren’t you Vicki?

Vicki Panaccione: Yes, out of Melbourne, Florida.

Russ Morley:           Out of Melbourne. Okay. Just off the coast from us. Patrick, good morning. Thanks for being with us.

Patrick Wanis:        My pleasure, Russ. I guess the first thing we want to say –you’ll recall that in previous interviews discussing this case with you, I said that you would find out that these kids came from a really bad background. And in almost every case, there was a whole heap of crimes committed by the parents. There was domestic violence. There was child abuse. There was DUIs. There was shoplifting, impersonation, fraud, aggravated assault, battery, et cetera.

The parents are not involved in the kids’ lives and the kids grew up with a really, really bad example. Now, Vicki is going to talk about another aspect of what they also missed. But I guess my first point is to say there is an explanation for why these kids have turned out the way they have.

Russ Morley:           Okay. Vicki?

Vicki Panaccione: Well, there is an explanation. Everybody can go back and look at the horrible history they’ve had and how they were raised. My concern is that you can explain away all day long but the kids are at a point now in time where the kinds of behaviors that they’ve shown indicate that they really don’t have a sense of remorse, empathy, and even a conscience to care about other people.

Patrick Wanis:        And this is one of the things we’ve been discussing; that they don’t have the ability to express compassion and empathy so they don’t even have guilt for this because of two reasons. One, they didn’t have a moral compass from their parents and Vicki and I were discussing this last night. Obviously, they missed out on a very important developmental stage of their life.

But the second thing is that they haven’t been taught to feel so they don’t even – they’re not even fully aware of the consequences of the harm that they’ve created.

Vicki Panaccione: Well, I think that these kids have not developed a moral conscience and it’s a developmental process and it starts when the kids are very young. And early on, they’re taught, “okay I better not do things or I will get punished.” And that’s very primitive in the developmental process. And as kids get a little older, they become aware of empathy, compassion and guilt, “I just shouldn’t do this because it will hurt somebody else.” And that’s how your conscience develops and then guilt. These kids don’t seem to have any conscience.

Patrick Wanis:        Right. They have no conscience. And the other thing too is that there’s also a lot of underlying anger and resentment and almost rage for the way they’ve been raised because they’ve never experienced any sort of love. They probably haven’t experienced real nurturing, affection, attention, validation, recognition, identity, sense of belonging, et cetera. And I think your big question to us is, “Can they be rehabilitated?”

Russ Morley:           Yes. And hold on to that for just a couple of seconds here because we’re going to get to that after the break. But if you just tuned in, we’re talking to Dr. Patrick Wanis, human behavior expert out of Miami and Dr. Vicki Panaccione, the founder of Better Parenting Institute.

And now, I know you guys aren’t attorneys but under the law, the defendants cannot face charges as an adult, the youngest of the defendants, because he’s under the age of 14. Jeremy Jarvis is 13. That would change though if Michael Brewer does die. The other defendant Steven Shelton, 16, Matthew Bent, 15, Jesus Mendez, 16 accused of lighting the fire.

In your opinion as human behavior experts and child psychologists, can – does it make sense, not legally, but does it make sense to try somebody this young as an adult. Vicki?

Vicki Panaccione: I think so for the older children because it seemed that they were very mindful of what they were doing. This wasn’t an impulsive thing. It wasn’t out of an immediate argument and somebody did something really dumb. This was purposeful, revengeful and they knew what they were doing and did not have any feelings about hurting another child.

Russ Morley:           Patrick?

Patrick Wanis:        And I would say the opposite. I would say no for two reasons. One, that, they haven’t fully developed. They’re not adults; their brain hasn’t fully developed. And then the second part is the consequences of them being tried as adults, which means they’ll end up most likely or potentially in some sort of prison system. They will be around adults who will only teach them worse things than what they already know.

Russ Morley:           Alright. Hold on a second you two and we’re going to come back and pick up that question, “Can these kids be rehabilitated or do they face a life in prison pretty much for the rest of their life?” If they get off of this, will they be back in before you know it? We’ll pick that up coming off the other side of the break on News Talk 850 WFTL.

Russ Morley:           Alright. Dr. Wanis and Dr. Panaccione here this morning. Do we stand a chance of turning these insensitive hoodlums around in their lives or are they destined to become – or be criminals for the rest of their lives? Dr. Panaccione; ladies first.

Vicki Panaccione: Thank you. I think that these boys have not developed a moral conscience and therefore it is more difficult to actually rehabilitate them to have compassion and empathy. However, I think that they can be turned around in the sense of learning strong behavioral skills. Basically, “if I do this then I’m going to get in trouble” and be in a program that can have them see that on a continuous basis. What they’re doing now is really what they learned in their environment. So if we put them in a different environment, that’s very behaviorally-structured. I think that there’s a chance for them to learn to do right or wrong even if it’s from a very primitive sense of conscience.

Russ Morley:           Dr. Wanis, same question.

Patrick Wanis:        Yes, I agree that they definitely can be rehabilitated. There were two points Dr. Vicki mentioned. One which is “Can they learn to control and manage their behavior?” The second is “can they actually learn what they didn’t learn as children which is not just the moral compass but empathy, compassion and a depth of emotions and a connection to the outer world?” I believe they can but yes, it takes years and it’s not a one-on-one therapy; it’s not one-on-one counseling. It means putting them in a program where they’re going to be with a group over a period of years where – and some of these programs, Russ include getting them to work with animals and getting them to tend to gardens.

So they learn to be more gentle, to be tender, to be more compassionate particularly if they can learn to work with animals and learn to release whatever anger and resentment and rage that they’re carrying with them as a result of not being loved as children.

Russ Morley:           Well, let me ask you this. Is the state criminal justice system set up to do that?

Vicki Panaccione: No.

Patrick Wanis:        It’s not. And there are very few places that are because most of the systems are set up, Russ, purely and simply, to try and keep society safe; to try and just punish and not truly rehabilitate. Simply put, [the system is set up to] “let’s lock them up. Let’s keep them away from people. Let’s try and control their behavior. Let’s manage it but let’s not actually spend all the real work as it does require real work to truly rehabilitate them.”

Russ Morley:           Lady and gentleman, we thank you for your time this morning. I wish we had more time with you. You always leave me wanting more, Patrick. That’s for sure. is your website and Dr. Panaccione, give us yours because I think this is the first time we’ve had you on the radio program.

Vicki Panaccione: It is. It’s Better Parenting Institute and I thank you for your invitation.

Russ Morley:           Well, we’ll have you back for sure. Dr. Patrick Wanis, human behavior expert, celebrity life coach out of Miami and Dr. Vicki Panaccione, child psychologist and founder of Better Parenting Institute at News Talk 850 WFTL. We thank you for having us on this morning. It is 6:58.

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