I wrote this piece in 2007, after working at a summer camp at the Sanctuary on 8th Street. That summer completely changed my life. With all the talk about #blacklivesmatter, and the issues of the day, I thought I’d share this piece as an introduction of sorts to my thought process.
“Soft-hearted people can’t work with kids like that.” She’s right. A dear friend of mine said that to me today when I told her this story.
On the first day of summer camp Angie was having problems. She is eight and in a large group of girls her age. Angie’s new at the Sanctuary on 8th street. Many of the kids from the center go there during the school year, others are returnees from last year’s camp. These kids have formed a bond, so from the start Angie was on the outside. She is a fighter. Doesn’t like the view from the other side of the glass wall. She wants in and will do what’s necessary to get in. By the end of the first day, she has fought, argued and pushed anyone that did the same to her. Sometimes she started a fight, sometimes she was the recipient, but it’s obvious to the staff that she needs some extra attention.
Fast forward two days. Angie’s had problems but nothing major. Towards the end of the day, I had to organize my group. In doing a sweep of the building, I walked in on another counselor having a hard time with Angie. He was yelling at her, trying to get her to listen, which only put her in a “I don’t care” mode. I told the counselor to get the head of the camp Ms. Vicky. He agreed. The young counselor is a good guy. Does well with the kids, I like him a lot, but the situation had gotten out of control. When Ms. Vicky came in, I decided it was best to let her handle it. I went to check on my group, then returned to help Ms. Vicky. I was a little shocked at what I saw.
When I walked in the door, Angela was on the floor, and a junior counselor, ’Zo, was holding her down. ’Zo is a big kid, but a teddy bear on the inside. Angela was struggling like a mad woman, screaming and hollering at the top of her lungs. Her movements brought to mind a scene from The Exorcist where the little girl is being tortured by the demon inside. Ms. Vicky, was leaning down talking to her, calmly trying bring her back to reality, but the little girl was having none of it. I decided to get on the floor and help out. I spoke quietly and gently, trying to calm her, but she refused to hear me. This little eight year old girl, gathered so much strength, she was actually moving ’Zo. Through the strength of her will, she was able to readjust herself, and sit flatly on her behind, legs out, with ’Zo holding her arms behind her back. To stop her from kicking, I moved to grab her legs, which put us face to face. I told her to calm down. She looked at me with such anger in between her quick movements, struggling to bite ’Zo and get free.
In the middle of it all, she screamed, “I want to die!” My daughter is the same age as Angela. They are the same height, complexion, with similar hair style. I could never imagine my daughter saying something like that at her age. Watching Angela, I couldn’t help but think of my daughter. Couldn’t help but wonder what pain she hid beneath her tough exterior. It hurt my heart to hear these words. Hurt in a way I can’t really put into words. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and cry. I wanted to cry for her, her parents, the world at large, hurting children in every corner of the globe that felt like she did. But there was no way in her state I could hug her. So instead I said, “No baby, don’t say that. You don’t want to die.”
By Al Letson