Twelve-year old Maxwell Schollenberger was found dead in a home in Annville, Pennsylvania, in May 2020, where he had been starved, imprisoned in a dark room, and beaten for years.

A child was deprived of everything;
He spent his life in darkness, all alone;
Without the love that from a heart should spring—
But he had none; a normal life unknown.

They found his body lying on the bed,
Covered in excrement, no clothes to wear;
He was not sheltered lovingly, nor fed,
And not a soul to give him any care.

The room was dark, the windows boarded up,
And not the semblance of a shaft of light;
The only drink, a dirty plastic cup—
A bit of water, and no food in sight.

For he was so deprived, his body weighed
A fraction of what it was meant to be;
His muscles never moved, he never played:
How great the state of his infirmity!

This was not but a day, but it was years
That he was held, a prisoner of Hell;
And no one cared to wipe away his tears:
The very air possessed a putrid smell,

And there he lived, if you could call it life.
Day after day, year after wretched year,
Alone in stinking darkness, a state rife
With such abominations and such fear—

For he would cry and scream if someone came;
He knew the source of all his hurt and pain.
These demons from the molten pit became
His torturers, and there he would remain

In living, dying Hell! Oh, precious boy!
You never got to live, to run and play!
You never even had a simple toy
Or got to see the brightness of the day!

And as I think, what most surprises me
Is that for twelve long years he lived somehow;
He lay in dark and filth, in misery!
Oh, how I wish that he were cared for now!

For he was starved and beaten on the day,
And he was at the end killed by a blow,
Combined with body weakness, passed away:
The only human contact he would know.

At least it seems that justice will prevail,
And these two monsters that imprisoned him
Are now in turn imprisoned in a jail,
Where I do hope their punishment is grim!

Oh, dear, sweet boy, I do expect you know
The joy of love now; with the angels bright
You are abiding, where young children go,
And such past wrongs in Heaven are made right!



Theresa Rodriguez is the author of Jesus and Eros: Sonnets, Poems and Songs, Longer Thoughts, which has just been released by Shanti Arts, and Sonnets, a collection of sixty-five sonnets which has also just been released by Shanti Arts. Her work has appeared in such journals and publications as in the Wilderness House Literary Review, the Midwest Poetry Review, Leaf  Magazine, Spindrift, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship, The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry, Mezzo Cammin, The Scarlet Leaf Review, The Epoch Times, and the Society of Classical Poets.  Her website is

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19 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    This, too, is an incredibly good poem.
    I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must have been to write, well beyond the likes of me to even consider attempting it.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you very much, Joe. After I heard the story (which hits home for me, because I used to teach in Annville, the town where Maxwell lived and died), I couldn’t shake the gut feeling that I needed to write a poem about it. It wasn’t easy, but I am glad I was able to help tell his wretched story.

  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    I’m glad you were able to write this compassionate poem, Theresa. I hope many people get to read it. What a dreadfully sad story.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you Cynthia. I hope many people get to read it, too. It wasn’t easy to write, but for Maxwell’s sake, I am glad I did it.

  3. James Sale

    Thanks for this moving poem, Theresa. It’s an apt reminder of real evil in the world. So many ‘snowflakes’ trumpeting across the land that their feelings and sensibilities are hurt because so-and-so said this, or said that, and here we have real agony, real hurt – worthy, as you say, of Hell itself. Why, as Mephistopheles said in Marlowe’s Faustus, ‘this is Hell’. I see the incident was in Pennsylvania, where of course you live; so this always hits home even harder.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you, James. It did hit harder because I used to live near Annville and teach in Annvile, where Maxwell lived and died. I kept thinking (and still do think) about how I would have driven through Annvile many times over the years, while at the same time that poor boy was locked in that room, all alone. Makes my guts sick.

  4. Jeff Kemper

    A truly horrific story that is well told. I lived for short stints in nearby Palmyra, Lebanon, and Mt Gretna. It’s hard to imagine such atrocities occurring in places that have generated such fond memories for me. But hell is hell, even in heavenly places.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you for your kind comment, Jeff. I also lived in Lebanon, as well as Myerstown, and Bethel, at different points, so I know Palmyra and Mt Gretna well. The whole Lebanon Valley region is quite beautiful, so it is indeed hard to comprehend such depravity within such a pleasant, bucolic part of Pennsylvania.

      • Tamara

        Thank you, it is so important that we know there are other people in this world who loved Max, who feel his pain and wish for his healing in spirit. I read his story and just wish I could know him more somehow and that it wasn’t so bad for him. But I realize sending these thoughts of love for him out into the universe is all that, us caring strangers can do.
        Thanks again

  5. Andrew Benson Brown

    A fine poem on a horrifying subject, Theresa.
    One wonders at the motivation behind this, and the total lack of empathy on the part of the monstrous parental torturers. After reading this I looked up some articles on the case. What makes it even more heartbreaking is that there were other children in the house who were physically well-nourished and taken care of, and said that they didn’t even know that Max existed. Those kids are going to need years of therapy.
    While I’ve never encountered anything this extreme in my line of work, I have dealt with cases of physical/emotional abuse. Often the children suffer from a mental disorder and get blamed by the parents for the way they are, because the parents are easily frustrated and don’t know how to deal with the kid’s behaviors. Very sad, but at the same time it makes me thankful for my own life.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you for your kind comment, Andrew, and your observations. Yes, I knew about the other children in the home– it’s positively mind-boggling. I think they started locking poor Maxwell up because they had begun to abuse him, and didn’t want to get caught– hiding the evidence so to speak. Then they got so enwrapped in the abuse/deceit that they continued to keep him there. Just a theory. They also are simply depraved souls!

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    Read this poem, along with the full story of the innocent Maxwell Schollenberger’s torment, and then contemplate the fact that the Argentine Jackass in Rome says that we cannot have the death penalty.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      I would certainly like to see these two monsters cease to breathe air!

  7. Norma

    Mary Shelley described the Frankenstein in people. These monsters displayed. Thank you for paying tribute to a soul that did not make it.

  8. Margaret Coats

    Theresa, what you took up was the very difficult task of showing that the criminals in this case attempted to destroy not only a body but a soul. You manage to tell the facts in simple, measured stanzas that, over and over again, go beyond horror at extreme child abuse to depict this child murder as hellish. In doing so, you succeed at saying that “normal life” for human beings involves love, a necessity that must be provided along with nourishment for the body. Thus your faith that the unnatural parents in this case did not have the power to destroy a soul, even in the earthly hell they created, rings true. Saying “I do” twice in the last two stanzas recalls to me the responses of a godmother at baptism, and in a way places you in that relation to Maxwell in this poem where you use his full name as title.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      What a beautiful analysis, Margaret, thank you! It would have been an honor to be Maxwell’s godmother. I like the term “unnatural parents”– it reminds me of the phrase “without natural affection” used by Paul to Timothy to describe the “perilous times” that were to come in the last days.

  9. C.B. Anderson

    I do not think, Theresa, that you overlooked a single aspect of the horror of the situation. Strangely, this poem reminds me of a short story (“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin) I read decades ago. As it happens, the story is easy to find online.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you, C.B. “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” indeed has eeire parallels to the life of Maxwell Schollenberger. I’m glad you mentioned it.


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