About The Author

Irv and a LlamaI began my work with stressed youth as a counselor in a drug rehabilitation program in New York City. Later I served as senior counselor at a shelter for battered women. But it was not until I accepted a position as counselor at a detention facility for youth that I realized the extent to which the current system is failing the youth court mandated to their care.

I did not do well there. I often left at the end of my shift in a rage or in tears, and was frequently accused by the director of being “too responsive.” She often told me that there was nothing that we could do for the kids because they were there for so short a time. “All we can hope to teach them is how to follow rules.”

I raise llamas. There is something magical in the relationship between a large animal and a stressed child. I once asked a group of youngsters who had difficulty maintaining appropriate behavior with adults, how they can be so gentle around large animals, but have problems relating to adults. Without exception, each child told me that the animals don’t judge them like people do.

Judgment closes doors!

I live in a park surrounded by beautiful mountains. In wilderness can be found peace. I have taken the most aggressive youth on a hike and the problems momentarily fall away. It seems to me that, as we absorb more of the modern technological ways, it is at the expense of the simple means to clear our mind and renew our connection with nature . . . with inner peace.


“Breaking the Rules” opens our hearts and minds to what is possible if we listen to, rather than suppress, the deep richness of our struggling youth. A beautifully written and very moving testament to the human spirit of both the author and those with whom he has worked.”
– Bernice Mennis, author of “Breaking Out of Prison”

“I know few more passionate advocates for youth-at-risk than Irv West. Their stories are his stories, and he shares them here in “BREAKING THE RULES” along with the hard won harvest of the bitter-sweet fruit in these pages.”
– Paul Pines, author of “My Brothers Madness”

“Profound, provocative, and ultimately persuasive, Irv West’s Breaking the Rules is essential reading for professionals seeking an empathetic approach to working with youth in institutional settings.”
– Frank Pelky, Research Librarian

“Breaking the Rules” reminds those of us in the profession of helping wounded youth, that no child is like another or carries the same life story. Here, we learn how to really listen to our youth, treat them with respect, and give them hope by building on their strengths and passions, which may be hidden beneath layers of pain and mistrust. “Breaking the Rules” teaches the reader how to think outside the box and avoid falling into traps like treating each symptom singularly or failing to collaborate with other providers.
– Michelle Aleva, School Psychologist