Posted by parhad on June 28, 2001 at 10:36:42:
Weather in the
days. I passed out food once a week and if a kid lost any it was his tough luck. Most of them smoked but I'd taken away their own clothes the night before they'd
been baisically kidnapped to the island. I didn't want them tripping over any one of the drugs they had cause there was nowhere to go for help. Instead of cigarettes
each kid got a large can of Bugle Boy tobacco, which you get from underneath a cows hoof, and a corn cob pipe. They were mightily offended that there wasn't
even any rolling paper and they all initially refused to be "seen" smoking the corny pipes...but habit is a powerful thing and soon they were knocking me over into
gales of laughter as these once too cool kids sat around the campire sucking on the cheapest pipes made and trying to look like it was the neatest thing...that's how
To camp for six weeks in such a remote area is closer to being a refugee than to REI. When you have to wash clothing and hang it up, you aren't camping any more.
The first week was rough. These guys weren't used to working at anything. Ever since becomming a "problem" the State had stepped in and did most things for them
in the name of "therapy" or punishment. It was the worst thing they could have done to 13 and sixteen years olds. Once on that sort of gravy train...,though I realize
most of us would find it unsettling...it was tough to get off, especially as you had more people bothering with you and fretting over you than those kids ever had.
They didn't know how to cooperate, form working relationships in which there has to be give and take etc. They'd been used to standing in line to get fed and
ragging on everybody else for doing such a lousy job taking care of them. The authorities had cooperated by becomming "The Man"...the hated "other" the kids
could bond over in their mutual dislike of any authority figures. On the island there was no "Man". Blaming me wasn't going to get them fed or anything else. I gave
them what little experience I had but for the most part we were all one step away from disaster each minute.
The kind of food we had required a lot of work, even if you prepared ahead of time. On the day rations were handed out, the simple stuff would get eaten first,
usually the two cans of tuna which were the only meat except fresh trout we had. We didn't have fishing rods or anything else, except twine. After a lot of frustration
they fashioned poles and bent some wire they found for hooks and got pretty good at catching fish. But that took work and still they were conditioned to take the
easier way at first.
Breakfast was usuually oatmeal with dry milk and sugar, and it WAS good...but after three weeks got a little tiresome. Most meals revolved around either beans or
brown rice. To cook beans you had to soak them overnite and these kids had never cooked anything. If you were lazy and didn't get your water jug filled the night
before, and soak them beans...you spent the better part of the next day boiling the rock hard beans, which meant trips for water and firewood. The rice was easier
but brown rice isn't that easy to cook over a fire. We learned quickly that you do NOT cook over a roaring inferno. Some of the wood needs to be shoved aside
and allowed to turn to hot embers for real cooking, not "welding", to take place.
Tomato paste became a real treat cause it could transform plain food to something more exotic. One of the kids found something very like wild onion and another
plant which was either garlic or a good enough substitute. This boy had come to the home from a woodsy background and he knew pretty much what we could eat
and what should be avoided. We nicknamed him Huckleberry cause he found bushes filled with a red berry he said we could eat without dying. Turned out to be
very good indeed. We had found a
way to make bread over a campfire and the
course, just water, oil and wheat. We patted it flat and put it on the grill, sort of a big burnt pancake. One kid figured out how to make turnovers. He cooked the
berries in a pot with honey till they were nice and sticky. Patted out a flat piece of bread dough, put some of the fruit in the center, folded over and pinched the
edges, then tossed it on the grill. With a cup of tea or instant coffee, especially under a canopy with a fierce rain pouring down...made one of the best breakfasts I
They had to learn about keeping clean, washing dishes etc. One kid made a pile of garbage which he all but slept on top of till he got awful sick and his camp
became a hellhole. Eventually they learned to stash the garbage, wash dishes clean.... and each made his own latrine far from camp.
They discovered it was a lot easier to form teams and do stuff for each other and with each other. Kids would make a camp together, have a falling out and move
over to another guys camp. Sometimes three or four would go it together for days at a time.
Some of their bad habits they carried over to the island and found themselves stuck in the role of having to prove the guilt of and punish each other. They all thought
nothing of helping themselves to whatever they needed, but on the island this took on a whole different aspect. For one thing we didn't have that much. I wasn't sure
we wouldn't run out of food before our time was up. To steal from anyone now was to steal from all of us. They also didn't think it right that THEY now had anything
worth stealing, esoecially as all they had was what they needed to live on. We had no frills, everything...even the tobacco was a dire necessity. One kid continued his
old ways till he was caught one too many times. They tied him to a tree in a swamp and smeared peanut butter on his bare chest. It took him four hours to get loose
and the in the meantime he'd been forced to mess his pants. he was covered in the most hideous bites as every creature in that swamp had fed on him. Learned his
lesson though. I didn't have a thing to do with it. As a matter of fact it was almost as if I wasn't there, not as an adult anyway. I was just as much lost as they were
and we woulnd up helping each other.
Our first week there the Parole Officer assigned to my group home had stayed with us. He was a good man, willing to try new things. The day he left he expressed
some concern that we wouldn't all be dead in two weeks. He returned for another week's stay at the end and was shocked to see what a community the kids had
made. By then they had all moved into one large camp. They had bent all their talents towards making it cozy and practical. Food was stored in bags hoisted up tree
branches to be let down when needed. Water cans were kept filled at all times and fire wood stacked in an appropriate place. They even fashioned a table out of
odds and ends. The useless tent tubes had been opened flat and strung around the camp like walls on branches and trees used for support. There was a door and a
covered area in case of rain. We had spent a major part of each day swimming nekkid in the lake. Ordinarily these guys were prudes...except when it came to the
obvious, but we were so alone up there and it just seemed stupid to wear bathing suits. It was amazing how "natural" they became, how easy going and mellow, yet
this six week camp cost a fraction of what the system spent on locking them up, driving them nuts, AND allowing them the luxury they didn't need of remaining idle in
terms of any useful growth while providing a ready target, The State, against which they could aim all their disatisfactions and plan revenge, with the ultimate effect
that they only hurt themselves more.
They had changed several ways of acting and talking. I was certain their thinking had changed as well because there was no way to fake it...life there was too
demanding, the potential for ruin and disaster too real, for them to engage in the endless rounds of bullshit and "jive" talk they used to indulge in. The pay-off to all
this came the last night on the island. They invited us over to their camp for dinner. They'd made a big pot of stir fried rice, wild onions and garlic, fresh mountain
trout and crab they'd gotten from a fisherman down by the coast. Any run away risk they posed had disappeared the same time they got venturesome enough to hike
down that mountain.