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In the summer of 1967, four boys, Tommy, John, Michael and Lorenzo are sent to the juvenile correction facility, the 'Wilkinson Home for Boys' in upstate New York, after causing a prank that nearly killed a man. While at the facility, the boys are systematically abused and raped by the guard Sean Nokes and his friends, Henry Addison, Ralph Ferguson, and Adam Styler. The horrifying abuse changes the boys and their friendship forever. Out of shame, they urge their parents in letters not to visit during their stay at the home.
Not even to Father Bobby, who insists on visiting, can they speak openly about these events. During the boys' stay at the facility, they participate in Wilkinson's annual football game between the guards and inmates, and usually it is clear which team will be victorious. Michael convinces "Rizzo", an intimidating black inmate, that this time the guards should not win out of fear of consequences if the boys withstand, but instead they should hit back as hard as possible.
Rizzo agrees and the five and a few more fight on and beat the wardens in front of all others watching their disgrace. As a result of this, Shakes, Tommy, Michael, and John are all beaten and thrown into solitary confinement for several weeks, and some of the guards who lost (including Nokes and his friends) brutally beat Rizzo to death. Through their entire year at the Wilkinson Home for Boys, all four of the children are subjected to severe physical, mental and sexual torture by the guards, especially Nokes.Fourteen years Later, two feared notorious gang leaders enter a bar. One of them goes to the back of the building to use the restroom and recognizes a much older Sean Nokes sitting at a table, eating his dinner. The man returns to his friend, who also recognizes Nokes.
They confront Nokes, who does not remember them and is clearly not sorry for what he has done. They reveal themselves to be Tommy and John, two of the boys that Nokes regularly raped and beat.
Despite there being many witnesses, the two are unable to contain themselves and Nokes is then brutally shot multiple times, getting revenge and justice for the horrible treatment he put them through.
- Lorenzo Carcaterra, the author of the book the film is based on, maintains that it is a completely true story and that Sean Nokes is a different name for a real person, but the person's real identity has been kept secret by the judicial system.