Luis Ortega as he appears today, photographed at his home via Zoom by David Reeve

“Fifty-five fights”

Edited and photographed by David William Reeve

Editor’s note: This is Part 8 of “Gladiator School: Stories from Inside YTS” — an oral history of life inside California’s most notorious juvenile prison. Youth Training School (known formally as Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility) had a reputation for mayhem, violence and murder that earned it the name Gladiator School. It closed in 2010. Children were hardened for survival at YTS, only to be returned to the streets.

Since publishing the story The Closing of California’s Most Violent Juvenile Prison, survivors of YTS have come forward to tell stories of daily…


Edited and photographed by David Reeve

Welcome to a new series of difficult but important testimony. “Gladiator School: Stories from Inside YTS” is an oral history of life inside California’s most notorious juvenile prison. Closed in 2010, Youth Training School (also known as Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility) had a reputation for mayhem, violence, and murder that earned it the name Gladiator School. It was there that minors would harden themselves for survival, only to be returned to the streets — more troubled and volatile than when they arrived.

Since publishing the story The Closing of California’s Most Violent…


Bruce Lisker is photographed outside the Van Nuys Police Department in Los Angeles County where he was arrested for the killing of his mother in 1983. (Photographed by David Reeve)

“That hell they put me in.”

Edited and photographed by David William Reeve

Editor’s note: This is Part 7 of “Gladiator School: Stories from Inside YTS” — an oral history of life inside California’s most notorious juvenile prison. Youth Training School (known formally as Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility) had a reputation for mayhem, violence and murder that earned it the name Gladiator School. It closed in 2010. Children were hardened for survival at YTS, only to be returned to the streets.

Since publishing the story The Closing of California’s Most Violent Juvenile Prison, survivors of YTS have come forward to tell stories of daily…


Chris M. is photographed on the rooftop of the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles. (Photograph by David Reeve)

“We were young. We were not afraid to die.”

Edited and photographed by David William Reeve

“Gladiator School: Stories from Inside YTS” is an oral history of life inside California’s most notorious juvenile prison. Youth Training School (known formally as Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility) had a reputation for mayhem, violence, and murder that earned it the name Gladiator School. It closed in 2010. Children were hardened for survival at YTS, only to be returned to the streets — more troubled and volatile than when they arrived.

Since publishing the story The Closing of California’s Most Violent Juvenile Prison, survivors of YTS have come forward to tell stories…


Adrián (not his real name) exposes his black hand tattoo - a symbol of his gang affiliation with the Mexican Mafia. (Photo credit: self portrait)

“The only way out”

Edited by David William Reeve

“Gladiator School: Stories from Inside YTS” is an oral history of life inside California’s most notorious juvenile prison. Youth Training School (known formally as Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility) had a reputation for mayhem, violence, and murder that earned it the name Gladiator School. It closed in 2010. Children were hardened for survival at YTS, only to be returned to the streets — more troubled and volatile than when they arrived.

Since publishing the story The Closing of California’s Most Violent Juvenile Prison, survivors of YTS have come forward to tell stories of daily…


John (aka Cool Breeze) photographed at the scene of his crime along a railroad track in Ontario, California (Photo by David William Reeve)

“How soon will I know?”

Edited and photographed by David William Reeve

“Gladiator School: Stories from Inside YTS” is an oral history of life inside California’s most notorious juvenile prison. Youth Training School (known formally as Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility) had a reputation for mayhem, violence, and murder that earned it the name Gladiator School. It closed in 2010. Children were hardened for survival at YTS, only to be returned to the streets — more troubled and volatile than when they arrived.

Since publishing the story The Closing of California’s Most Violent Juvenile Prison, survivors of YTS have come forward to tell stories…


“Remember what they taught us?”

Edited and photographed by David William Reeve

We continue this next episode of difficult but important testimony. “Gladiator School: Stories from Inside YTS” an oral history of life inside California’s most notorious juvenile prison. Closed in 2010, Youth Training School (also known as Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility) had a reputation for mayhem, violence, and murder that earned it the name Gladiator School. It was there that minors would harden themselves for survival, only to be returned to the streets — more troubled and volatile than when they arrived.

Since publishing the story The Closing of California’s Most Violent…


Chris R., aka “Savage” was first incarcerated at age ten, serving time in local jails in Southern California before graduating to multiple juvenile facilities, including the time documented here at Youth Trade School (YTS) between 1973–1976. (Photo by David William Reeve)

“We couldn’t show fear”

Edited and photographed by David William Reeve

Welcome to a new series of difficult but important testimony. “Gladiator School: Stories from Inside YTS” is an oral history of life inside California’s most notorious juvenile prison. Closed in 2010, Youth Training School (also known as Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility) had a reputation for mayhem, violence, and murder that earned it the name Gladiator School. It was there that minors would harden themselves for survival, only to be returned to the streets — more troubled and volatile than when they arrived.

Since publishing the story The Closing of California’s Most…


The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department now uses the empty prison as a training center. An orange jumpsuit clad, tattooed, mannequin is used to practice handcuffing and takedown manoeuvers in the gym.

Photo Essay: “Gladiator School” : Stories from Inside YTS Part 1

Written and photographed by David William Reeve

Gladiator School depicts the Heman G. Stark Juvenile Prison, previously known as YTS or Youth Training School, as it stands today, years after it was closed by the State of California. My grandfather was a respected warden and consultant to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, including a stay as Associate Warden at Atlanta’s Federal Prison in the 1940’s. He served as a consultant at Stark for a brief time in the 1970's.

David William Reeve

DAVID WILLIAM REEVE is a writer + photographer from Southern California who documents the lives of young people at risk. Contact: davidwilliamreeve (at) gmail

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