Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Thoughts From The Field

So, way back when, I was a counselor at a therapeutic wilderness program for troubled youth. It is a program that is still going and was actually broadcast as reality TV recently as ‘Brat Camp.’ (I couldn’t watch it—no thanks.) It is in southern Utah way, way out in the middle of the desert. (To make it undesirable for the kids to “run.”)

The kids who go to a program like this are usually either in custody of the state—juvenile delinquents, or “private” kids, whose parents have come to the conclusion that they don’t know what to do next to help their children, so they send them to a program like this. It usually goes down something like this: the kid is told at the last minute where they are going, and they are sent with strangers, who now have custody for a period of time, out to the middle of nowhere. They are given a backpack, a sleeping bag, and other necessities one may need to spend the next 30 to 90 days living in the desert. (And they are NOT happy about any of this.)

If you haven’t noticed, I have a link, 63 days, on my sidebar. This is not light reading. It is a tragic, horrific story of a girl who was sent to Challenger, one of the first “survival” camps. This was before there were many rules and regulations, and, Ally’s story is heart wrenching. Full of abuse and neglect.

At first, I was full of guilt, reading what she went through as a student at a wilderness program. I felt like it was me personally who had mistreated her and the kids in her group. But I worked for a different company with a different philosophy and much more stringent rules and regulations. My experience was not hers, and I don’t believe my students’ experiences were hers either, although after reading her story, I have wondered if I am too na├»ve. I was full of love and hurt for these kids and their lives and what they had gone through. Most of them had horrible family lives, or had been abused in some way—there is usually a reason when one acts out.

I am at peace now, remembering my role with these kids. I treated them with kindness, and sat and listened as they spoke of their struggles. I cheered and laughed with them as they celebrated their successes. I would shed tears driving home after my eight days in “the field,” needing a release of all the stress and sadness of seeing these good kids who had made bad choices struggle with where it had put them in their individual lives. I know I helped. I know that I made a difference.

I led hikes, ate what the kids ate, slept under the stars, and witnessed the beauty of the desert and changing lives. So, although it sounds harsh to pull kids out of their surroundings and plop them in the middle of nowhere, give them oats and rice to eat, and make them learn to make bow drill fires, I can see the good in it. I carried my belongings on my back and thoughts in my head, and hopefully, the kids who were there while I was their counselor, didn’t experience the same things that Ally did. Perhaps they were healed in small ways and think fondly on their experience in the desert with all the other dirty wanderers.


Anonymous said...

I bet you were a great counselor - YOU STILL ARE (Dr. Soucy). It's so meaningful to have a friend you can pour your heart out to anytime of the day.



Tori said...

Those kids were so lucky to have you with them. My heart aches for Alli for what she went through, but knowing her now after all of these years have passed, she is one of the strongest people I have ever known. If only she had had a counselor like you while there.

MiandMiksmom said...

My sister was in a "Wilderness Program"...AYA if I remember right. It was horrible to have her gone. I was very pregnant and just wanted my sister home with us. It ended up a good experience, maybe because she had someone like you to help her.

Alli said...

Thank you for this...I just found it. Those kids were indeed lucky to have you. Things have changed and if I didn't have lots of kids and a husband, I'd probably be there trying to help too.

You should sleep well knowing you helped, not many do.