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After Jimmy Mason's mother is killed in a hit-and-run accident, he goes to live with his aunt and uncle, Emma and Henry Clark. There he meets their boarder, Kelly, whose bragging and apparent civic connections impress Jimmy. In fact, Kelly is a notorious bootlegger, and when Jimmy asks him for a job, he puts the boy to work taking orders for bootleg booze. The police raid Kelly's office, and because Jimmy will not name Kelly as his boss, he is sentenced to three years in the state industrial school for boys. At the reform school, Jimmy is forced to do hard labor in the brick yards but makes friends with Shorty, a sickly boy who tries to help Jimmy sneak a letter out to Kelly. Shorty gets caught, and when he keeps silent for Jimmy, he is sentenced to solitary confinement. When Jimmy learns that Shorty is seriously ill, he escapes and goes to Kelly and Kelly's girl friend, Peggy Gardner, for help. Kelly tries to evade his responsibility toward Jimmy, but Peggy calls newspaper columnist Frank Gebhardt, who has been desperately trying to expose the brutal conditions at the boy's school. The authorities follow Jimmy to Gebhardt's office and are about to take him back, when at the last minute, Kelly has a change of heart, confesses his guilt, and admits the boy's innocence. Shorty, however, has already died due to the heartless abuses of the system.