tirsdag den 28. oktober 2014

Does wilderness therapy work? A friend of an attendee looks back

A friend to a former attendee reflects over the ordeal his friend George (Name invented) went through at an unnamed camp and the later life George had after he returned having lost important time in school.

Throughout elementary school and into high school I mainly hung out with a guy named George and one other kid from the neighborhood. George was a smart kid with a physically abusive older brother, an absentee/overworked dad, and an emotionally abusive mom. Whenever I stayed over at his house, we were completely unsupervised in the basement and did whatever we wanted to do. As we got older, we were harmless teenagers who occasionally smoked pot, had "girlfriends", occasionally got invited to parties with booze, and were generally fairly harmless suburban kids. We had never gotten into any real trouble and all did well in school.

One night when I was around 16 I found myself staying over at his place. I could tell something was odd; his mom practically insisted I stayed over, and she took us out to eat junk food (which never happened). We spent the night playing video games. We didn't have any pot, but I remember I had just obtained a new (crappy) pipe to smoke out of, so I had it on me that night. I left it sitting in his nightstand drawer so I wouldn't have to sleep on it in my pocket.

We were woken up by several men crowding into his basement room. The first thing I remember was them going straight for the night stand and taking my new (crappy) pipe, and holding it up triumphantly like they had found the grail. As George's mom was bitching him out, I calmly explained it was my pipe, and I'd like it back.

In response, we learned what was going on: these strange men (3 of them, 20s-30s, well built) were going to take George to an outdoor program in southern Utah for like 6 months. I didn't know what to say. I looked at his mom in disbelief and asked to call my parents who lived about 5 minutes away for a ride. Normally I'd walk, but I wanted to get out of there immediately.

When I explained to my mom what was going on over the phone, she suddenly became very terse and asked to speak with George's mom. I didn't hear the conversation but his mom went a little bit white, held her hand to her mouth, and started apologizing to my mom. My parents were not impressed that I had been put in the middle of their shitty parenting decisions (to send George away to a camp) and were appalled at the fact she even let me stay over that night, knowing this was happening the next morning. My parents never thought very highly of George's parents, even though all 4 of them (my parents and his parents) were doctorate-level educated professionals.

George was led out of the house and into a car. I followed him and waited outside. We both ignored the men from the program and his mother telling us to be quiet, and George gave me a big list of social things to do for him as he way being led away. My mom showed up a few minutes later and I quickly left.

George was gone for nearly the whole school year.

When he got back -- and I remember the day very clearly -- he talked the taxi driver that his parents had paid for to drive him from the airport into dropping him off at my house instead. He had lost about half his body weight and looked like a different person with his extremely tan skin. He had a duffle bag full of very dirty clothes and -- wait for it -- tons of booze that he had bought at the airport. Obviously camp was effective.

Since he had missed almost a full year of school, he was being held back. One of the smartest people I knew (he had been in the "gifted kid" classes) was being held back. He found it so insulting that he immediately dropped out of school, moved in with his girlfriend (her parents were huge enablers), and didn't speak to his parents for several years. George's dad was a lawyer and pulled every string possible to legally force George back into their house, but he always chose the street (and slept in the park several times) over going back to his parents. His parents got divorced shortly after he turned 18.

George had stories about being outdoors for days. He taught us all how to make a fire using sticks (but he was the only one who could reliably get a fire going). When we went on hikes in the mountains, he suddenly knew all this stuff about the plants and animals. It was actually pretty cool, except that... he was a different person -- infinitely more bitter and full of hate. He started to act out in weird, violent ways -- taking jokes too far, accidentally physically or emotionally hurting friends of ours. He started to lose friends and people kept their distance from him, scared of him. He started hanging out with much older people (late 20s) that were weird, always pushed drugs on us (including cocaine), and, in hindsight, were probably child molesters. Eventually he faded away from our social scene.

As the years went on he developed a significant drinking problem, was never able to hold a job, and got a couple girls pregnant. Last I heard he was doing alright, living with his wife and their kid, and working some deadend job.

This kid had a lot of potential and it was ruined by one gigantic act of stupid parenting. People who knew him as a kid are amazed to hear this story -- they never thought it would happen to George -- the kid who showed so much promise.

I continue to be thankful that my parents are reasonable people. I got an informative lecture on how smoking pot stunts a growing brain (who knows if its true, but when it's coming from your doctor parents, you tend to believe it as a kid). It actually made some sense to me and I smoked significantly less pot until my 20s. I probably got grounded too. My parents gave me a long leash, but still stepped in to be parents when it was appropriate. Also, I was forbidden from going over to George's house, but not because of George -- because of his parents. They would turn a blind eye when George would stay over for a few days.

Hopefully some parent out these reads this and has their perspective changed for the better. And I feel so fucking sorry for kids that are put through this shit.
PS: there was zero religious influence in any of this. His family is agnostic as far as I know.

When I was a teenager growing up in Salt Lake City... (The original testimony)