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Some time before the events depicted, Mayor van Eyck appointed Snyder warden of the Refuge. But he spends none of the money he makes from salary or donations on improving the living conditions of the boys there.
When Jack was arrested for stealing food, Snyder made sure he was sent to the Refuge. When he kept asking that Snyder give more satisfying meals, he sentence was extended. So when Teddy Roosevelt visited during his campaign trail for governor, Jack escaped on his horse carriage without his knowledge. He later got a job selling papers for the New York World.
The day before the strike, Jack has a run-in with Snyder on the street, he flees, along with David and Les, and they find themselves at Irving Hall, an entertainment hall owned by a friend of Jack's father, Medda Larkson, the vaudeville star who also performs in the hall. After leaving, they witness a particularly violent segment of the trolley strike, and in order to escape the rioting, David invites Jack to his house to meet his family, including his sister, Sarah, whom Jack becomes taken with. After declining to spend the night, Jack confesses his desire to reunite with his family in Santa Fe.
As the strike begins, Crutchy Morris, a newsboy who bears his nickname due to his permanently injured leg that causes him to walk with a crutch, struggles to escape the police raid and is taken hostage by the Delancey Brothers. Jack and David vow to rescue him and go to the Refuge that evening, where Jack locates Crutchy and discovers that he was so badly beaten by the Delanceys that he can no longer walk on his own, which ultimately foils their rescue mission.
When the rally was announced, Snyder stepped in and relayed to Pulitzer that Jack was an escaped convict from the Refuge, and that this is enough legal cause to stop them. Jack discovers that the police are trailing him after Snyder drops by the newsboys' lodging house, and Jack opts to spend the night on David's fire escape to throw them off.
The rally goes off a success until the police barge in unannounced. The boys are mercilessly beaten, and although the newsies try to protect Jack, he is captured and taken hostage after a struggle. The other newsies, now without their leader, are also arrested and taken to court, where they are all fined five dollars, a fee none of them can afford. Denton steps in and pays all their fees. As the case proceeds, they discover that Jack had been lying to them about his identity; Snyder, who happens to be a friend of the judge, testifies against Jack, revealing that Jack's real name is Francis Sullivan and his family is not really in Santa Fe. Jack is sentenced to four years of rehabilitation in the Refuge and taken to Pulitzer's mansion to be a scab.
Jack ultimately defies him and he and the Jacobses find Denton, where they learn that the strike has not proved as effective as they'd hoped, as the city thrives on child labor for its businesses to function - therefore caring little for the protesting of a few hundred newsboys.
At this news, David and Jack realize they must recruit not only the newsies, but also every child worker in the five boroughs. To spread the word, they decide to turn the tables on Pulitzer and print their own newspaper, using Pulitzer's own printing press, which Jack now has access to in Pulitzer's basement. The newsies distribute the "Newsie Banner" to every working child in New York, and as the kids begin to discover the injustices against them, they band together and join the newsies in Greely Square, leaving the city's child workforce at a standstill. Meanwhile, Roosevelt read the Banner and burst through the front gate, angrily waving his cane at Snyder for lying to him about the Refuge's conditions and mistreating its tenants. He ordered that Crutchy and the other boys who were captured be immediately released from the Refuge, and Snyder was publicly arrested.