Saturday, January 29, 2005

All the New Dudes

First off, I want to apologize for the fact that this post is not as organized or thematic as I generally like to make them. The last couple of weeks have been relatively momentous but... I don't know, so I'll just tell the story.

Three new guys on the island and one leaving. One of the kids, the Napoleonic kid I mentioned in my last island report, it was decided that our program might not be the right one for him. (That is to say we decided to arrange for him to be kicked out.) There were a great many problems with his behavior but, more importantly all of our treatment plans for him were being sabotaged from his home. The threat of getting kicked out had interesting effects on his behavior. They represent something quite common to most of these boys. Given certain conditions for not getting kicked out early on he began with an attitude that he was going to meet the requirements. However, in his decision making processes he consitently betrayed his stated intentions until a point of crisis arrived. When the difficulty (yet existent possibility) of succeeding in the goal reached a certain level, the boy determined that the whole thing was hopeless. Deciding that it was hopeless he let his behavior run in exactly the wrong course.

The three guys who've showed up: I'm finding that most of the kids when they are new and not yet secure with the situation tend to have pretty good behavior. They aren't comfortable enough to take more risks than they've already taken by just going to the island. Nonetheless, compared with the kid leaving, the kids coming are to me a breath of fresh air. There are of course many problems but they seem a lot more manageable from a sort of teacher type perspective.

The first of the three to come out is a kind of pot-head or at least that is how he presents himself. A lot of it may be due to the fact that he's on a plethora of medications, something someone referred to as a chemical restraint. Sleeps a lot. Hasn't been a stellar student in the past but for my money he's demonstrated the capacity to be. Imagine Brandon Rogers NOT on speed. (That's a joke.)

The second of the three new guys was just previously in a program in Magna. Yes, that's right. Magna, Utah. The place is called Vista and from what he said it sounds pretty awful. Someone might check it out for me. He ran away from there and they put him in the U's mental hospital up in Research Park near Fort Douglas Cemetery if you know where that is. Anyway, he's a great kid so far. Much more mature than I'm used to dealing with out here. Actively involved, hardworking, even volunteering in every part of the program.

I've been made the advisor to the third kid. That means I'll be in charge of helping make sure he meets all the graduation requirements for the program and so forth. There is something about him that kind of creeps me out a bit. He reminds me a couple of kids from the ancestral village. These were kids who had serious issues of substance abuse and physical abuse in their homes. The sign was a slightly awkward means of trying to be ingraciating. There is also a certain fragility to the body and an intangible quality to facial expressions. He's told me of certain anger problems but I think they are founded in some form of anxiety. He is definitely a little over anxious.

Anyway, all the new people have an interesting effect on the kids we already have. For one, they are not getting as much attention as they used to so... they are acting out in some ways to get some. Also, they have different behavioral patterns that are dampened or intensified where they have things respectively uncommon or common between them. All in all I expect a good effect. It seems some infusion of some more positive attitudes.

Due to libraries and timed internet use you will have to wait for the story of my week off island. There's my teaser trailer.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Letter to Anonymous

Greetings Anonymous,

I should like to respond to your comment. It has not to this point occured to me that the picture I paint of my life on the island here would not come off as a very good thing. In fact it is reasonable to wonder why in the world anyone would want to do this. But somehow, for me the events I've so far written about have been to me more descriptive than evaluative.

I am having a good time. Part of what's good about it is that it is a real challenge.

I had a conversation with someone who used to work here recently. He was telling me about how he was trying to help one of the program's graduates get a job. He had already set him up with some good work before but the kid had flaked out on it. So this former staff member's wife asked him why he did all this, why he bothered. His words were, "to give him a chance."

Giving these guys a chance is about all we can do at this juncture. So that's what we do. Give them a little separation from the kinds of things that usually get them into real trouble so they have time and space to learn what they need to function in the so-called real world.

There's a lot about it that is like doing missionary work. The simple fact is that no person can be forced to change anything about themself except to some extent by nature. The kids are growing up and there is a body of research that indicates the development of the brain's architecture continues well into the late teens. This will force some changes on the boys' behavior. However, we can do nothing to force them.

The result is that you sympathize with undeveloped perspective, rejoice in small changes, plant seeds when you get a chance, and hope for the best. Building relationships is pretty important in all of this. A kid doesn't confide if they don't trust you. If they don't feel like you care, the seeds you may scatter will fall on hard ground. So you earn their trust. For a lot of these kids trust have been a rare thing in their lives where they've been abandoned by parents, their friends have led them into crime and have left them to deal with the consequences alone, and their teachers and social workers have demonstrated that the paycheck really is the only reason they care about them. That is assuming teachers and social workers actually do care.

So doing this job feels kind of like being a life-line. I get to help create a path to a better life for these guys if they will choose it. But whether they choose it or not, the path is there.

Maybe that is kind of an answer.

I think all the negative stories is another part of the answer of why I'm having a good time. I am most at heart an anthropologist. These kids' behavior fascinates me. Seeing what they do and learning about the hows and whys of it is why I started this in the first place. The idea is that by learning more about them better ways of helping them may emerge.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

As the island turns... or something.

This last week on the island a couple of experiences sort of stick out.

One of our kids speaks frequently and braggingly of elements of his life off the island. He talks a lot about his sexual practices. He also talks a lot about drug use and related phenomena. All of this can build an impression that he has by whatever force been pushed into roles that are quite adult if not mature and that he himself has this degree of maturity. But this same kid one night this last week asked to be tucked into bed and told a bedtime story. There was a bit of jocularity in it but, at the same time he really did appreciate it. The experience sent him into a long explanation about how he feels like the program is affecting him and what he feels like he needs to get from it. The insightful explanation also revealed unsatisfied needs in the Maslowian sense, the kind of things that should have been met much earlier in his life.

Another of our kids... As I've been working with and watching him he has developed a perspective on the universe that is quite odd to me. All things must predictably go his way. He seems to be the case which is traditionally called spoiled...maybe. For example, he has a very strong habit of ordering people around. It doesn't matter who, why, or what about if he thinks something should be done he orders it. And I say orders it in the sense that nine times out of ten he yells the order in a most hateful condescending tone of voice. When he doesn't get what he wants 99 time out of 100 (this may be to generous) he uses explitives to vilify the person who refused to comply. A new experience for him is playing ping-pong, since the school recently obtained one. Having never really played it before, he isn't very good. In fact he's the worst of any I've seen play on the island. So, he consistently loses. Now the normal person who takes up a new game and plays against experienced players expects to lose and learn something about playing it. Not with this kid. He knew before he began that he must be able to win without trying. This belief has led to the most interesting tantrums at the table. His commands and orders have extended to ordering his opponents to not play according to their ability. In effect: "Stop hitting the ball back and scoring you f***er." This kid also has the belief that it is perfectly reasonable to ask other people to do for him things that he is perfectly capable of himself.

"Throw a log in the fire."
"Because it's going out."
"So, why don't you do it? You're standing as close to the wood as I am and I'm doing something."
"I don't care. Just do it."
"If it's so important to you, do it yourself."
"F*** you!"

This kind of thing has occured with so many things. "Tie my shoes." "Get my jacket." "Rack up the pool balls."

It will be interesting to see how long it will take for refusals to culminate in his getting a clue.