Islands 3


Posted by parhad on June 29, 2001 at 11:50:49:


On the last night, after six weeks of living side by side on a mountaintop, the parole officer assigned to our home (who is still a friend) and I went to the compound

the boys had built on a hill above the lake. We sat around a campfire, ate a very good meal followed by fresh fruit tarts and coffee. I'll give the officer the name of

Bob. Bob had mentioned to me on first returning to the island that all the boys had changed in ways he wouldn' have imagined possible...most impressive was the

way they dealt with each other.


Every social worker type who'd come to our home over the years had been struck by the degree of familiarity I had with the boys.


Often I had fought with them, cursed them etc. I lived with them 24 hours a day and was in almost every way just another lodger. Once a case worker had taken the

liberty of talking "down" with them and had been brought up short by a kid who told her that "Fred is the only one talks like that with us." He meant I'd earned the

privilege and if you wanted to get anywhere with them, it WAS a privilege.


Their defenses were all down that night. They wanted to return badly, but something had happened to them on the island, something they knew could not be

sustained back in the city. They were very perceptive about their status, their position in a world where they'd been born unprotected, uncared for and would spend

the rest of their lives suffering the consequences AND making us suffer right along with them.


The big question on everyone's mind was "what now"? How would we deal with the old routines, the old dreary expectations of going to alternate schools to get

GED's and taking one of the several "make work" jobs the State handed out. Their future was as bleak as it could be...I'd stay stoned all the time too (as today

everybody and their children need to be drugged in order to "maintain"). One boy had turned 18 on the island and could technically no longer live at our home. I

wasn't about to turn him out since in his whole life he'd learned very little of what society would call useful. He even joked that night that he'd just go out and steal a

car so he could graduate to the "Adult" system. When Bob blew up at him for saying such a thing, another boy explained the reality of their lives and how silly were

the State's expectations of what it took to "go straight". There was no arguing with argument Bob or I could make...we just listened and drank coffee till

early the next morning.


Before heading off to bed...I shared with Bob and the boys a new idea I wanted to try. I wasn't looking forward to life back in the city. There whatever discipline

they would get would come from rules and cops and punishment. For these guys especially it was an artificial existence..they needed to learn by being forced to try

things, healither things, things which would provide their own punishment, without the "system" becomming the hated bad guy.


My idea was to engae some of the old salts I'd met, grizzled old men who knew a lot about life and nothing about Social Work. There were a couple I was thinking

of, both of whom repaired old sailing vessels which were strewn around the old docks along that coastline. These guys were naturals around tough kids. They got

respect immediately and would just as soon lay you out cold as share a was up to an ass and they'd kick it for you...behave decently and they'd

give you anything you needed.


I wanted to get the funds to buy an old sloop, two masted at least. I'd get about ten kids from the State (they were happy in those days to get rid of them and it took

me a while to figure out they always gave me their "worst" cases)and we'd work and learn by repairing the sloop. With one or two old salts we'd sail up and down

the coast as far as Baja in Mexico. We'd fish for food, camp for periods of time on any uninhabited islands...but mostly we'd learn how to live, how to work and

trust and be there for each other. The book learning stuff wasn't getting anywhere with these guys...they were bored with the dummer and dummer lesson plans the

State dreamed up just to be able to say they were in "school". You couldn't fool these could ruin them, but they saw right through you as you did it.


Now, not one of them..even after our island camp, would have signed on for such a thing, though it would have done them worlds of good and they'd have enjoyed

it. They were hyped up and raring to get back on the streets..but tough shit for them...I'd just shanghai them all over again.


As Bob listened he became dreamy-eyed himself. When I was done spinning my wool, he said it would never work. "Why not" say's I...I could pull it off.


"I've no doubt you could, that isn't what I meant." He said. "It wouldn't work cause they couldn't let it happen. If you set up such a "treatment program" it would

empty out the high schools...hell, I'd quit my job and come along too."


And there it was. The simple truth that whatever was passed off as "therapy" or "treatment" had to have a strong enough element of plain old pain and punishment to order to keep the normal people normal. We had to go on making jails a miserable place to be, just like Hell was gonna be...that way people were too afraid

to be "bad". That's why Alcatraz Prision was such a neat idea, there in that beautiful Bay by San Francisco, a constant reminder to the normal people of what

awaited them if they slipped up.


I had gotten away with the island because to most people it sounded like hell...none of them would have dreamed of going to a deserted island with THESE kids.

But a sailing vessel was a different thing...even this island would have sounded like great fun to any kid almost. My idea didn't have enough punishment in it, that's all.

I was supposed to be punishing them even by what I had done so far, and if you'd visited other homes or institutions you'd have seen the "punishments".


He was right, but I didn't accept it at the time...couldn't. In many ways I was one of those boys, as lost as they were, trying to make my way as they were...and I

easily could have been one of them in crime as well. That's why we got on so well...we were kindred spirits.


The next morning we began our trek down the mountain. We made it our goal to leave not a trace behind that we'd been there. All garbage was buried deep, all

signs of campfires erased. Every item brought was taken back. One kid had seen a movie in which Indians built a trevass, two poles with a tarp or skin slung

between, kind of like an old stretcher. We'd built one only it was huge. Early the last day we piled all the gear onto it...then like dummies picked the whole thing

up,spread around the perimeter like fireman ready to catch someone jumping out a window. After about 100 yards of struggling with the weight(the "poles" we used

were trees practically), some of us having to walk sideways and backwards...yet no one complaining cause we didn't seem to have any other choice...we dumped

the thing and sat down to rest. On questioning the fellow who'd seen the movie we discovered that you don't CARRY a drag it behind a horse.


There were no horses on the island so we made some harnesses and pulled it the rest of the way. Sometimes, in steep places, it chased US down the road but we

got to the bottom in one piece mostly. Then the wait began and you could see mixed emotions in all their eyes. What if the boat didn't come and we were really



He came eventually and I made my mind up I'd double back for another island as soon as I could.

I lived to do it, and regret it...