March 23, 2005 by

Mark Devlin


Categories: Writers/Editors

Mark D. Devlin, a homeless man who published a critically acclaimed memoir, died on March 10. Cause of death was not released. He was 56.
The Boston native was frequently beaten by his alcoholic father. At 7, Devlin was deemed a ”stubborn child,” and locked up. Under an archaic state law, a stubborn child was defined as one who “stubbornly refused to submit to the lawful and reasonable commands of a parent or guardian.”
Original provisions allowed the court to whip or incarcerate disobedient children. But during the 19th century and most of the 20th century, the stubborn-child law in Massachusetts was used to remove troubled and abused children from their homes. Placed in reformatories and detention centers, these children were then subjected to strict discipline, verbal and physical abuse, a prisonlike regimentation, little or no health care and minimal educational opportunities.
Devlin spent the rest of his childhood in state institutions. He later told the press that growing up in the juvenile justice system turned him into a criminal.
As a young adult, Devlin fell in love with a former girlfriend of one of his cell-block mates. They decided to move to a different state and start a new life together, but en route, Devlin was arrested for driving a stolen Porsche across state lines. He spent three years in a federal reformatory in Petersburg, Va., then married his girlfriend while on parole. Their first child, a son, was placed up for adoption; their second child, a daughter, was raised in several foster homes before being adopted by Devlin’s sister. The couple later divorced.
Unable to find a job and ill prepared to function in society, this self-described “road scholar” decided to become a writer. While living on the streets, Devlin’s worldly possessions consisted of a bag filled with clothes, a dictionary, a thesaurus, pencils and a few reams of paper. His first publishing success was a letter to the editor of the Real Paper. The editor was so impressed that he published Devlin’s letter as an article in the now-defunct alternative weekly.
When Devlin’s dark memoir, ”Stubborn Child,” was published in 1985, it received national attention. He kept in touch with his publisher using public telephones and gave interviews from park benches. Two years later, the movie rights were sold to director William Friedkin for $10,000, but the film was never produced.
For the next three decades, Devlin slept in homeless shelters and wandered the streets of Boston and Cambridge. He suffered from numerous health problems, including bipolar disorder, diabetes and heart disease, and occasionally sought alcohol rehabilitation. His body was found in a motel room in Braintree, Mass.

25 Responses to Mark Devlin

  1. Mark Zanger

    Mark was my friend for about 30 years. I would like to hear from this author, who knows some details that were not in published obituaries. Please email me at I would add that despite the awful facts, Mark was a person of charm who is remembered fondly by all who dealt with him. When I went to his bank branch to settle some accounts, two different people expressed regret at his death and told stories about his visits.
    –Mark Zanger

  2. joanne griffith

    Mark and I have loved each other for 41 yrs. I knew a totally different Mark than most of the reports I have read. He was a sensitive, kind, caring and loving man that I will forever keep in my love Til the mediterranean Joanne griffith

  3. Alfred

    My friend Al lived with Mark at Lyman house & experienced 4 horrific years of rape and abuse…he recalls huddling w/Mark in fear in corners, afraid from the housemasters. In searching for Mark in hopes of connecting w/him, we discovered he has died. If anyone else reading this wants more information or attended there….you can reach him through my email
    be well…..

  4. william niland

    Mark was a friend of mine for close to twenty years. He stayed with me at various times, we drank alot, talked alot, played chess, he always won and that was ok. I saw Mark about three months before he died and he was kind of lost in his own world, the booze had a good hold on him but at times he was his old self. He will be missed. I hope he is finally happy.
    Bill Niland

  5. Richard B. Johnson

    Mark and I both attended Lyman School. We were both the products of a corrupt Juvenile Court System. If there had been Lyman School year-books like those in High School, Mark would have been voted most likely to succeed. Now Mark is dead and
    I am alive and “successful”. I am writing a book about my life as a child and it is being dedicated to Mark. I have been working on this book for 30 years! It is going to be a show-stopper! The State of Massachusetts should have been tried for crimes against humanity.

  6. Corinne DeSimone

    I didn’t know, I’m just learning this now as I googled him. He was a good man. We also played a lot of chess. He inspired me to search my soul and find my voice. Sometimes I’d find my voice yelling at him. He was definately a character.
    I feel for you my friend, no matter how we ended. You still were a part of my growing up.
    You always said to me that when you died, you wanted your tombstone to read, ” HIS ONLY CRIME WAS THAT HE WAS HUMAN”.
    Your Buddy Girl

  7. wagner rios

    Mark and I were roommates after I divorced. Very entertaining, kind, and gifted guy. He left a son, Michael I think is his name. I lit a candle most days to the souls that protect me from upstairs. Mark is one of them now.

  8. Carolyn Argeris

    I spent 24 years with a man who spent years at Lyman and other institutions from the ages 6 to 13 with his older brother in Massachussetts. He has now passed away two days before his 52nd birthday. I would like contact with anyone else who may have attended or has info about the reformatory. My daughter plans to write a book about her father Steve (Stephen). Email or

  9. Richard B. Johnson

    My book, Abominable Firebug, dedicated to
    Mark Devlin, was released May 16, 2006. It
    is available everywhere. It can be ordered
    on-line from my websites:
    It is important to destroy the YSB Detention
    Center building, which was designed for child
    abuse and child rape. We need to get the politicians to read my book so I can be on-site and push the button when the building is destroyed. Only then, will this entrance to hell be removed from the face of the earth.
    Richard B. Johnson
    Author, Abominable Firebug

  10. Mary

    I met Mark in a Boston park through divine guidance when both of us just had books published! I immediately went to Barnes & Noble, bought “The Stubborn Child” and went to meet Mark at his local pub. Of course, he never showed up, but I felt blessed to have met him, if only for a brief moment. I was raised by an Irish woman and have an Irish boyfriend, so I felt an immediate affinity with Mark. His book was mesmerizingly sad and poignant and if money were no object, I desperately wanted to buy the movie rights. I see that William Friedkin bought them and only hope that the movie gets made so more people will know why Mark became who he was to become. I have thought of him often and will say a prayer that he has finally found peace at last.
    Mary Schwartz

  11. Joe Perkins

    My daughter found this site and told me of Mark’s death. I ran into him of and on for 40 years. A gregarious friend with a deeply screwed up life. We were roomates in the back bay in the sixties when we sold encyclopedias door to door. when I saw him again in the 70’s he was a car salesman ( he sold me an mgb roadster) And then in the 80’s He lived in a room in my house in bay village. He had lost a job as a cook & locked himself up in the room and wrote the book. He had a chinese girlfriend then (yoshi)& he spoke chinese. One day years later I gave him a ticket to california to meet Friedkin for the movie deal but at the plane change in new york , he went to the bar and never got back on the plane. The last time I saw him, he lived in vacant buildings I owned in South Boston. It has always amazed me that such an intelligent, charming and optomistic person could be kept from his full potential for enjoyment and happiness by alcohol. The outrageous hell of his upbringing was not enough to break his spirit, the liquor killed the man. The angels will embrace him, A kind GOD will console him and peace and happiness will be eternal for Mark.

  12. Bill Berry

    I must agree with what Richard Johnson said.. The state of Mass. should be held accountable for crimes against humanity. I have not read his book as yet but i will. In reflecting on my own life i came across this blog. I spent over 3 years at Lyman School in the mid sixties. At the time i left it was believed i held the record for time spent at Lyman. I won’t even get into John Augustus Hall {Oakdale} in West Boyalston Mass.
    I can’t say that i recall meeting Mark, I saw so many come and go. I wish i had met him, I’m sure we had so much in common and would of had many stories, good and bad to exchange. I was in the “system” from the age of 9 until 16. Stubborn Child…

  13. Lightning

    Why don’t you guys get together & find a lawyer that took on the Boston Catholic Church & sue H out of the state of Massachusetts.
    Lightning & the Lyman School History web site!

  14. Bill Berry

    I’m not interested in digging up old bones. I just don’t like seeing the state preaching morality when they have a history of abuse. I read Jerome Millers Book,Last one over the wall and Mark Devlins Stubborn Child. They told it as it was. Mark was a few years ahead of me. Im sure my brother probably knew him but I can’t ask him now, he lived and died the same as Mark. I was just leaving as Jerome Miller took over. I was placed in a Halfway house in Springfield. Probably one of Millers Programs. The Richard Johnson book was interesting, some of it I could relate to. He was several years ahead of me.
    It wasn’t all bad at Lyman all the time,I will admit that. And I can remember a day when some of us{all dead except myself} would sit and laugh about some of the crazy things that went on. If anyone that reads this remembers…The rawhide keychains with the knots in them that were used to whip across the top of your head. How about, shine shine your doing fine, you miss one stroke, your ass is mine.
    And we must not forget Mr. O’C.. Lay thy head in thy hand and take it like a man. Another odd thing I remember is the really big ex football type cottage masters, mostly with Italian names were the ones that nobody dared cross, yet they were the ones that never lifted a hand to anyone.

  15. Michael King

    I met Mark Devlin many years ago thanks to our mutual friend, Wagner Rios. Wagner, himself the product of a highly literate Uruguan family, was in a position to truly appreciate and foster Mark’s huge intellect, and also to appreciate the very rough road Mark had to navigate through this adventure we call human life. Was saddened to learn of Mark’s death, but, please God, he is in a place where the full glory of his kind, super-intelligent will be truly glorified. M II K

  16. bob webb

    i rember mark at lyman school andbridgewater and the mass halfway house in the south end in 1969 he had ajob with atrucking co making boxes that fit on trucks that was the last time isaw him in person but i read about him over the years and iread his book also and itmademe want mwhat to do about this iwould like to talkto someone about this and mark and thosereform schools

  17. Michael

    I am Mark’s son Michael. I never knew him like I should have. Anyone interested in chatting about him, please email me.

  18. al

    Congratulations to all who made it. I spent months at YSB and then about a year ( my memory ,fortunately, seems to have dropped some things) at Lyman with a very short stint at Shirley. I do remember some severe beatings (after all, i was a stubborn child) both at YSB and at Lyman. How many of us remember the center guard rooms at YSB next to the “day” rooms with a long hallway of cells on each side and the line up and walk 3 times a day down to the cafateria.
    I wrote recently to Richard Johnson but then did not mail it as the memories became to strong and depressing.
    I did contact that attorney in Mass who went after the catholic church. To me, he was rude and obnoxious and only interested in the money. He did say that there was no money in suing the state. I am not sure that i do want to talk but it may be helpful. email and we shall see.
    Live well in spite of the bahstads!

  19. Susan

    I can’t believe there is a blog for mark,. I have written a book and he is in it. We dated for a year around 1973, he was working as a car salesman. He lived with me for about a year in Newton Upper Falls, where he started writing his book at that time. It was more like a diary. I am mentioned in Stubborn Child, in the book, I am the woman he met at the car dealership. I remember one Christmas he brought me several gifts and said that Christmas was very important to him since he never got any gifts. He was truly a troubled person but had his life been different I think he would have been able to put his gifts to better use. Mark may your soul rest in peace.

    • paul topping

      i was in bridgewater with mark and am sorry to hear that he passed away. i to am still troubled by the past but have overcome to succeed in life and use my experiences there to help many troubled people be cause of where i work. please contact me if you want

  20. A LeBlanc

    Hi Paul, I to was in Bridgewater with Mark around 63? I remember his first name so you know I liked him. I was in his wing 2 or 3 doors down for 3 or 6 weeks until I left my guitar under my blanket and went over the wall. A short vacation but worth the price. Was wondering what outfit you worked for? M son in law works with troubled youth.

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