Mark Babitz is 50 years old and he can’t get the memories of his year at the Elan School out of his mind.

So, several weeks ago, this Chicago man traveled to Maine to visit former Elan sites in Sebago, Parsonsfield and Waterford.

“I had to get it out of my head,” Babitz said, and visiting Maine was the only way he could think to do that.

The tour brought back some ugly memories.

Enrolled at the school in 1975 by order of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Babitz was one of 11 students withdrawn from the school by that agency in response to accusations that children were being mentally and physically abused at the Poland school.

Babitz was one of three children who returned to the school, but he didn’t go back because he liked it there, he said. He went back so he could disrupt the place.

And he did.

Before Elan, Babitz had a long history of running away from home and stealing cars. “I was a wild, stupid kid who just had to learn on his own,” he said, and that defiance didn’t ease at Elan.

One day, he ran away from campus and stole a car in Lewiston. He drove to Augusta where a police officer saw him driving against traffic in the rotary. The officer gave chase and Babitz said they were soon zooming up to 100 mph, but he was never charged in that incident. Instead, he was taken back to school where students and staff worked to change his behavior. Babitz calls the program abusive.

He did not graduate from Elan, but left the school and stayed for a while at another home for troubled youths before he ended up serving time at the Illinois State Penitentiary.

“Elan prepped me for prison,” he said. “When I got to prison, it was absolutely a walk in the park compared to Elan.”

When he was sent to Elan, Babitz said, “it was a time in my life that I needed more hugs than punches. And I went to a place where there was nothing but punches.”

To read more stories about the Elan School and students’ experiences there, visit sunjournal.com/elan.