Recently, I was asked in an interview if I could recall a moment in my life that changed me. The story I recanted to that young woman has left such a residue on me, I feel compelled to share it with you.
A fresh graduate from high school, I took a summer job at a camp for the hearing-impaired teaching deaf kids to play all different kinds of sports. The best job someone like me could have ever asked for—even if I didn’t know sign language at the time. I figured I could mime my way through any game. After all isn’t “kick the ball” pretty self-explanatory when your swinging your leg back and forth? When I got there, I realized how naïve my thinking had been. Let’s just say, I learned the sign for “potty” real fast.
Throughout the summer, kids flowed in and out of this camp in sessions that lasted for weeks. By the time the final session came, we had run the schedule enough times I felt confident in my position and the program. Everything should have run smoothly, but with a child like Forest (named has been changed), a violent bully, you can forget smooth. Instead, brace yourself for destruction.
After only a few days of wrestling Forest off other kids and sending others to the nurse with teeth marks in their arms, I can honestly say I hated this boy. The therapists at the camp refused to punish him for his behavior. “Be patient with him,” they’d say. Patient? Patience wasn’t what this kid needed—try a firm spanking. But they tiptoed around this boy and gave him special privileges—like being allowed to wear a t-shirt in the pool and lake—though none of the other boys and girls were allowed to do this.
Rather than deal with him, I isolated him. For days, Forest watched the activities from a spot I designated for him—even at meal times. The other kids soon noticed this and a group taunting began to happen. I did nothing to stop it. After all, Forest was a pill who deserved everything he was getting.
One afternoon, while in the pool, the kids grew bold enough to attack. Again, I did nothing to stop it. In the scuffle, the shirt Forest always wore in the water came off revealing his back. Line-upon-line of puckered scar tissue stared back at me. This boy had been whipped! And from the look of his mutilated skin, not just once. Guilt more powerful than I can describe stabbed my heart. This boy had already endured more punishment than most of us could, yet I had demanded more. My thirst for justice had left me callused and blind to the faults of my own actions.
Though years have passed since that fateful day, the effect it had on me hasn’t. I hope by reading this you’ll be changed as well. Be careful not to judge too quickly the actions of others, you may never know the ‘stripes’ they carry that provoked it.
“…you may never know the ‘stripes’ they carry that provoked it.” Powerful words, Janell. Thank you for sharing this story. I’m so happy to find your blog site … very nice! 🙂 Can’t wait to read your book. Best of luck 🙂