Posted by parhad on June 27, 2001 at 11:23:55:
I'm sure I've mentioned the time back in the early 70's when I took five darling delinquent boys to an island off the Seattle coastline and stranded us there for six
weeks. Those boys weren't all that different from normal kids and people. I imagine any one of us would have been about the same in life had we been born into
those circumstances. Who knows, many of us might have proven to be far worse at coping than they were. The idea for such an adventure evolved from watching
them, from living around them for 24 hours a day seven days a week. Most social worker types saw their "cases" an hour or two a month. These kids lived with me
in a huge house I'd rented in what passed for a ghetto in Seattle. I noticed things about the boys (in three years there was a total of about twenty kids)you would only
have seen by being around them so long.
I noticed for instance that they had almost every right to be bored, unhappy, frustrated etc. You can't expect a kid to grow whole and healthy with the number of
limitations these ones had since birth. Many times I found myself thinking I 'd have acted the same way...even knowing it was wrong. They hurt themselves more than
anyone else. Their own bodies and minds were the battlegrounds they fought back on. Fought back at parents and all the proxies they could find, authority figures
such as teachers, cops, store owners, other people, people who owned things they were "denied" and would be the rest of their lives cause they had no clue how
you go about getting things except by stealing. In fact any gratification they got in life was "stolen" somehow. You have to be shown how to "earn" things, even things
like love and respect and friendship...even self-respect.
In one regard kids like these, criminals, dope addicts, prostitutes etc. speak the horrible truth. Often they don't realize how perceptive they are...it's a sort of a
by-product of being rubbed so raw by life that their nerve endings tingle and vibrate where the rest of us are lulled and numbed. They may not know how to analyze
or categorize the feelings, but they say things sometimes, or act in ways which are more revealing than any ten pros could figure out to say.
They gave me the idea for an island experience such as we had. They gave me the idea by presenting me with enough clues as to why the present system (and it's still
the same system) failed them, casuing them to grow more violent, more sullen, presenting a greater threat to everyone, and having babies who would grow along the
same path and on, and on.
I couldn't help but notice, for instance, that they were very capable when it came to securing any comfort or advantage for themselves. Like most people they
prefered comfort to pain. What the "System" didn't realize when it punished them, thinking it was inflicting "pain", was that it was still providing something they valued
far more, which gave them more "pleasure" than any immediate pain through being locked up, deprived of freedom etc. The system was at least paying attention to
them, "caring" about them in its own clumsy way. It was some form of the thing they'd missed most in life...someone to take an interest, to bother with them.
In place of loving, caring parents, these kids were presented with police, lawyers, jailers, social workers and psychologists all taking an interest in them. Only
problem was they had to steal, attack people, overdose on drugs, break into property, and eventually kill people in order to get that attention. The attention they
received for doing these things was the only and the most intense and "dedicated" and consistent sign of any value and worth they'd ever experienced. THEY were
the ones in control, taking advantage of the ways social workers and police and judges taught them were the things which would get them attention...and this type of
attention was the closest thing to "love" many of these kids ever experienced.
To go "straight" and be good would have meant losing all of this and they weren't certain at all that it would be a preferable way to live cause they'd never received
any attention at all when they'd been "good". When they'd been good it had simply meant they could be safely ignored, and no one wants to be ignored by
everybody...you want SOMEONE to care, to show you how important you are.
These kids weren't about to risk losing all the attention they'd ever received in life just to be "good" and stop annoying people. Would any of us take that risk?
Would any of us stop doing the things that won us attention and love and reaffirmation in the hopes that there would be something "better"? What's better than
mattering to someone, being important, being "seen", having a cop car limousine "sent" to pick you up? As the system is still structured it doesn't realize that it is
providing the one source of love and attention these kids ever got and they aren't about to give it up, they can't AFFORD to give it up, no matter how nasty and
unpleasant the system becomes, because it's still all they've got. The trouble is that these kids have to go on being a threat to society and harming everyone around
them including themselves in order to qualify.
No matter how much I tried not to be the "Man" in the group home we shared, still I was the adult and it was ultimately my responsibility. They knew that, and
though I was there to give them lots of attention, they had formed habits of how to maintain themselves through negative ways that I wasn't about to change so
easily...I was stuill caught in THEIR web, having to give them attention for mostly negative things, things I couldn't ignore for all our sakes.
There were few house rules as such. They were even allowed to smoke their weed and whatever else they did, so long as I didn't find out. There was no point in
sending them back to prison since they got the stuff there even more easily. I wanted to work things out with them and given the fact the entire nation is now drugged
up on something legal...it doesn't seem so awful that these kids were getting high back then. My only concern was that we not present a danger to innocent people,
but then my notion of how "innocent" people really were for locking these kids up and away from their sight, was changing rapidly.
I realized gradually that as long as we were in the city they had me at a disadvantage cause sooner or later I'd have to lay down a law, and they'd have me then cause
we could all go fooling around with this "law" and breaking it, and me figuring our what to do about it, and imposing useless "consequences" and punishments, and
then negociating etc until it was the same old madness all over again.
As I mentioned earlier I had noticed little signs which indicated these kids were pretty clever at securing their own pleasures and making life as pleasant as they could
under the circumstances..it's just that part of the definition of "pleasant" meant turning me into a cop/parent/judge/jailer surrogate and I didn't enjoy that...and, it was
them running the show according to their dictates and not in ways which would provide any long term benefit.
I thought to myself that I needed a different setting entirely, one in which there would be a bigger cop than me...LIFE itself. A place where they would suffer the
consequences of their own folly...a place where there were no adults forced to step in if you decided to have a complete breakdown and be packed off to solitary or
a ward somewhere. A place where the rewards and punishments would be of their own doing...where I could afford to step back and set healthier conditions for
winning my attention...on MY terms not theirs. And finally a place where if something went wrong..if it HAD to go wrong, it would be my word against theirs, and
they KNEW that. Nature was going to be our cop, as she really is, without the intervention of anyone else. As things stood I had placed myself in the direct line of
fire between these kids and the parents/cops/teachers etc that they hated, and they were shooting at each other through me. I was going to remove my head, remove
the cops and judges and all of them...leaving just the kids, each other and me...with a whole lot of Nature around us, and anyone stupid enough to fight with Nature
will come up real short, real fast, with no one to blame but himself, and no one set things straight but himself as well.
Cypress Island was a fairly uninhabited island rising to a tall peak with a beautiful clean water lake at the top. Rich dense forrests all around and not a sign of people
at the top. I wont go into all the details now except to say we were dropped off there by a charter boat and the captain promised to come back in six weeks and
pick us up. We had all the equipment I could think of that we might need. I read Robinson Crusoe. Nothing was new, all was army surplus...we weren't going to
start out on the wrong foot, though I'd been offered all the gear we could have used by James Whittaker, first American on Everest who started REI and was very
involved with youth programs. No new shiney stuff for us, and no fancy dehydrated food either. I bought in bulk... beans, brown rice, wheat flour, five gallon can of
peanut butter, lots of jars of grape jelly, sugar by the sack, cooking oil, cans of tuna and tomato paste, dried soup packets, oatmeal by the sack and dried milk. No
milk except powdered, hot chocolate mix, instant coffee, salt etc. All the food went into the one new tent we had and I had the only axe and the biggest knife. We
lugged all this stuff up three miles to the top by the lake where I established my own camp near the supply tent which no one was allowed into cept me.
I doled out provisions into plastic containers for each kid, as I would do once a week, and told them to get lost. They each had an army surplus sleeping bag, bullet
holes and all, and a plastic tent which was no more than a long garbage bag open at both ends. It was made of thicker plastic though and you made a tent out of this
glorified tube by simply propping a stick at either opening. It was very slippery and one kid slid into the lake the first night cause he camped on a hillside...slipped out
in the night.
Back in the city the kids had always wanted to run away, be on their own, get away from me and my dumb ways. As it got dark on the island and there were no
signs of light or civilization and a whole lot of noises and mice scurrying around sounding like bears looking for you, the boys got more and more "friendly". I chased
them away and set up my own camp. I'd never camped like that before and none of the boys had ever camped at all, and none of us had been this isolated.
Next morning they straggled in from hillsides and swamps where they'd fallen down, their jars of food and all dumped in heaps, too tired to care about anything.
Most awoke with ants swarming over them, they had a nasty strain out there. They were allowed to come in and cook meals at the main campire where I was but
only if they remained reasonably pleasant, which they soon learned to do.
I'll continue later...