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In Harlem, parole violator Freddie Gordon, who is unsuccessful at finding a job because of his reform school record, turns instead to crime. After robbing a gas station, Freddie is caught by the police and sent back to reform school, where he becomes a victim of the brutal superintendent, Mr. Stone, and his corrupt guard, Jackson. The cruel treatment Freddie suffers at the school leads him on the road to becoming a hardened criminal, until his case is brought to the attention of Mother Barton, a probation officer. Seeing the abhorrent conditions at the school, Barton forces Stone's removal and begins a crusade to teach the boys honor and respect for the law, while putting them on the honor system. At first, the boys are less than cooperative with the new humane approach, and they take advantage of Barton. However, when Freddie and his pals feign illness one day, Barton fixes things with her castor oil remedy. Barton's efforts are almost ruined when Jackson robs the school safe and plants the deposit box under Freddie's mattress, which puts Freddie under suspicion and casts doubt on the effectiveness of Barton's policies. The boys rally behind Freddie and Barton, however, and, after escaping from the reformatory, go after Jackson and spend the night in town. When Barton is informed of the escape, she finds the boys at Jackson's rooming house, where Jackson confesses and makes an attempt to flee. He is soon caught, however, and taken into custody by the police. With her vindication, a new order is instituted at all the state's reform schools, and the boys look forward to getting good jobs when they are released.