Blunt Research Group, Lost Privilege Company

The Whittier State School was one of the earliest youth prisons in California, opened in 1891 and operated from 1941 until 2004 as the Fred C. Nelles School. The poems featured in this video are from an ensemble entitled “Lost Privilege Company,” composed in 2015 entirely of phrases drawn from the case files of inmates, disproportionately Latino and African American, of the Whittier State School between 1910 and 1925. Eugenics fieldworkers used Whittier and other juvenile prisons as laboratories to identify “ungovernable” teens as mental “defectives” and to construct genealogies of “degenerate” families. These diagnoses were used to determine whether the teen ward (called the “propositus”) should be recommended for compulsory sterilization—a policy legalized by the California legislature in 1909 and pursued until the early 1940s, often without parental consent. The Blunt Research Group, an anonymous, contemporary constellation of poets, activists, and scholars, created these poems, which are collectively named for the solitary confinement unit at Whittier State School. The poems are combined in this video with images of other youth from the school during the same period, reproduced from the inmate registers at the California State Archives. They are read by UCR students.