Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Parting Shots from 2008

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Fourteen-year-old Shannon Smith of Phoenix died in her backyard one summer evening in 1999 when a wayward bullet fell from the sky and struck her. Shannon's parents were horrified to learn that the indiscriminate firing of weapons in the city of Phoenix was only a misdemeanor. Her parents and classmates worked to get a state law enacted that would make it a felony to fire a gun randomly in any city in the state. A special session of the legislature was called primarily to get Shannon's Law passed before the much anticipated 2000 New Year's celebration.

But the National Rifle Association immediately rallied their lunkheads and managed to get the special session adjourned without action. The following year the reformers were able to prevail over the know-nothings and the law was finally passed.

May the Arizona cowboy culture take at least this one night off, and may the holiday revelers be as safe in their own homes as they would be out on the mean streets of Phoenix. Surely there is a right to safety that supersedes the right to play with guns.

And while I'm on the subject of guns, here are three recent tidbits from the national press:

Assault weapons aren't really practical for hunting, so how does a slobbering redneck justify the urge to purchase one of these weapons of mass destruction? Well, they can be useful in criminal activities. Last November robbers used an assault rifle in Salt Lake City to hold up a taco stand. They also seem to be the weapons of choice for the drug cartels. So I guess that any heroic bastard who wants to drive down to Tijuana, Nogales, or Juarez and mix it up with the drug lords should have a right to die clutching an automatic weapon - but why in the hell should anyone else want, need, or be allowed to own one?

An elected official in St. Louis, angry about the ineffectiveness of the local police, is encouraging people in his district to arm themselves. Scared people with more guns: yup, that sounds like a wiener!

And then this past week in Philadelphia a man pulled a pistol in a crowded movie theatre and opened fire on members of a family who were talking during the movie. Somewhere an NRA lobbyist is drafting legislation to require all movie-goers to arm themselves! (For those too naive to know better, the NRA is primarily funded by gun manufacturers - not gun owners.)

Here are three really big lies:

More guns and bigger guns make the world a safer place. (Nope. More brains and bigger brains might make the world a safer place, but more guns equates to more danger.Let the police carry the guns and let them fire at the bad guys. If we are all firing at the bad guys a lot of innocent people are going to be needlessly hurt or killed.)

A gun in the home makes that home safer. (Nope. A gun in the home gives criminals a reason to break in. If you have a gun, you have to be ready to use it, and most ordinary people wouldn't have the stomach for it. And then there is the subject of accidental shootings...)

Concealed weapons increase personal safety. (That fool in the theatre in Philadelphia had a concealed weapon. How safe was that? What if several other people in that theatre had concealed weapons and decided to take the shooter out? Several people firing in a dark theatre would have really been a riot! And remember the last raging pissed-off driver that you encountered on the road. Do you honestly want to increase the chances of that hot-headed idiot being armed because some backwater county clerk gave him a permit to carry a concealed weapon?)

Yes, people do kill people, but they would have a lot harder time of it without guns!

In Memoriam: Eartha Kitt

by Pa Rock

Eartha Kitt, described by one writer as “a biracial child born out of wedlock in 1927 small-town South Carolina” overcame the circumstances of her birth and went on to become a truly legendary singer and actress. She died of colon cancer at her home in Connecticut on Christmas Day.

Ms. Kitt became a professional dancer with the famous Martha Graham troupe at the tender age of sixteen. She went on to achieve wide acclaim as a jazz singer and film personality. Kitt’s sultry vocal rendition of Santa Baby has long been a musical staple of the Christmas season, and during the 1960’s the petite actress became a national icon with her regular portrayal of “Catwoman” on the television series, Batman.

My clearest memory of Earth Kitt, however, is political. In 1968 she was invited to a conference at the White House that was sponsored by Lady Bird Johnson, then mistress of the palace. The conference was focused on the views of women of achievement, and Ms. Kitt was not intimidated by the setting, the other attendees, or the hostess. When the opportunity arose she cut loose on the First Lady with her views on the Vietnam War, leaving the inimitable Mrs. Johnson in tears. The press ate it up!

In the parlance of the times, Eartha Kitt had come a long way, baby!

(Note: Eartha Kitt was on my Dead Pool list for 2008. 19 points.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Take the Money and Run!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston was born this past Saturday to Bristol Palin and Levi Johnson in Palmer, Alaska. The lead-up to Baby Tripp’s birth was the grist of gossip magazines and cable “news” for months, making him one of this year’s most anticipated arrivals.

Tripp was awarded instant celebrity status due to his notorious family connections. (As the old saying goes: you can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family!) His father is a self-described “fuckin’ redneck” who dropped out of high school and likes to party. One of his grandmothers ran for Vice President of the United States on the Neiman Marcus ticket and believes that Africa is a country and that dinosaurs and man walked the earth at the same time – a couple of thousand years ago! His other granny was recently arrested for drug dealing.

So with all of those cards stacked against him, little Tripp deserves to get a couple of breaks in life. There was a report in the news today that his mother will be offered up to $300,000 for his baby pictures. That’s great. I, for one, hope she gets that much or more. She could use that money to raise her son on her own without feeling forced to marry her “fuckin’ redneck” boyfriend. She could set a good chunk of it aside in order to guarantee a college education for Tripp – and perhaps use some of it for her own college education. She could also use the money to slip from the public eye before the behaviors of either of Tripp’s grandmothers begin to escalate.

Take the money, Bristol. Put it in the bank and spend it judiciously. Don't let the grammies use to it hire campaign help or defense lawyers. Don't let Baby Daddy have it for fast cars or fast living. Use it to build a secure life for yourself and little Tripp, and let his whack-job relatives take care of themselves. Tripp needs you, and you need the security and independence that $300,000 can offer.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

William Shatner Should Be Ashamed!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It's been one of those days when I would have been better off just staying in bed. This morning I replied to an email from a friend only to realize just after hitting the send button that I had spelled his name wrong. Then I sent a follow-up to acknowledge my mistake, and flubbed that one as well - only with a different error. That should have been enough to warn me away from doing anything as complicated as ordering airline tickets, but no - stupid is as stupid does- on a triple stupid day!

Let me begin by saying this: Priceline sucks! There, I feel better already!

I needed a flight to Kansas City on Saturday, January 10th, with a return flight to Phoenix late on the evening of Sunday, January 18th. I wanted to book it with Northwest Airlines if possible, to save some running at the airport in KC. It was a task that any seventh grader with a laptop and a credit card could have done in ten minutes - but for me it took an entire afternoon.

As I completed my ticket order and hit the send button, I realized a micro-second too late that I had bought a ticket for Sunday the 11th instead of Saturday the 10th. Okay, I screwed up - it's an age thing.

The fix, of course, could not be simple. First, I perused Priceline's website and found that they have no readily apparent telephone number. Then I called Northwest Airlines and talked to a very nice young man who said he could make the change for a price, but Priceline should do it for free. Wanna bet? He did supply me with a telephone number.

It took fifteen solid minutes of automated trash talk before I was finally connected to a human at the Priceline Bangladesh office. The young man that I visited with there could cancel my flight - not change it. If he cancelled and if my credit card had already been billed, the airline would send me a refund in 10 days. And just to make sure that I knew, the trip insurance that I stupidly purchased from Priceline was not refundable. I stayed polite and finally asked to speak to a supervisor. This fellow was very important because he had no supervisor. He also let me know that William Shatner was not on duty!

So, I called Northwest Airlines again and talked to Jim. Jim solved the problem quickly. He saved me forty dollars by flying on Saturday instead of Sunday, but the fee that he had to charge to make the change was fifty dollars. (I told him that I would happily pay a hundred not to have to deal with Priceline again!)

Jim told me that the best way to buy airline tickets is to shop over some company website like Priceline to determine the best deal, and then contact the airline directly. That is an option that I will always take from this day forward!

Oh, and Priceline sucks!

Dead Pool Reminder

by Pa Rock

This coming Wednesday, December 31st, at midnight is the deadline for entering the 2009 Pa Rock's Dead Pool. Complete rules are listed on the December 18th posting of the Ramble, but basically it's this simple:

Choose ten individuals who are at least semi-well known celebrities, sports figures, politicians, royals, etc, who are currently in seemingly good health. Email your list to me before the deadline at - and then sit back and wait on nature to take its grisly course. Points are awarded for each selection who expires during 2009. Points are equal to 100 minus the person's age at time of death. The younger the deceased, the more points awarded! Only one entry per person, please!

There are three great prizes for 2009: 1st place receives a $100 savings bond, 2nd place is good for a $50 savings bond, and third place will receive a new DVD of the Clint Eastwood 1988 film classic, The Dead Pool.

I will place a recap of entries on the Ramble during the first week of January so that all entrants can track their progress in relation to everyone else.

Enter today...spread the word...and good luck!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


by Pa Rock

My friend Benson is a senior airman in the Air Force. She is a mental health technician in the unit where I work. Benson was born in the Philippines and arrived in the United States after residing for awhile in Canada. She recently received her United States' citizenship.

Occasionally Benson and her husband, Bobby, and their housemate, Jeremy, drag me out of my apartment to share an adventure. We have been to a couple of very good plays and also taken in the activities of two First Fridays in downtown Phoenix. Last night was another Benson adventure.

Benson (her given name is Giovanna - which is very pretty, but she goes by Odessa - which is very Texas) plans on becoming a social worker. To strengthen that effort she does volunteer work that will eventually shine on a resume. Benson is currently a volunteer with the International Rescue Committee, an organization that helps refugees get established in this country. She is a sponsor for a large family from Burundi.

Last night Benson had plans to take her refugee family to see the Christmas lights in Glendale. I got invited to go along because she wants to get me involved with the IRC and figured that some first-hand involvement would get me hooked. She also needed an extra car and driver to get her trip on the road.

I arrived at Benson's half-an-hour early and played with their dogs (or did the dogs play with me?) while she and Bobby and Jeremy got ready. They were wrapping some last minute holiday gifts for the family from Burundi, and Bobby was experimenting with their new camera - something that would become an important part of the evening to come. When things were finally organized, we convoyed over to the apartment of the refugees.

The Burundi family was delightful. The father, Emanuel, and the mother, Justina, appeared to be about the age of my children. They had five children (four boys and a girl) ranging in age from twelve down to around two). They had arrived in Arizona several months before from Burundi by way of a few years in Tanzania. Getting into their home required hugging everyone and shaking several hands. We were immediately offered some non-alcoholic cider that was shortly followed up a large hot and spicy omelet prepared for the group. I passed on the cider, but accepted a portion of omelet for the specific purpose of not offending our hosts. It was delicious!

The excessive holiday lights of old town Glendale were a hit, especially with the kids. Every palm tree (a couple of which had to be sixty feet tall) had their trunks wrapped in colored lights, and many had their fronds outlined in lights as well. Every building and bush was also aglitter. The kids eagerly posed everywhere and then crowded around Bobby to see their digital images on his camera. Before the evening ended, we stopped in a local cafe and had hot chocolate for ten.

I think that Benson has sold me on the International Rescue Committee. It was obvious that she and Bobby - and Jeremy - were getting as much out of the experience as their Burundi family. Everybody was benefiting, and everybody was happy!

It was a beautiful evening.

Friday, December 26, 2008


by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This year's Oscar wannabes have finally made it to Goodyear, Arizona. Two weeks ago I had to drive across Phoenix to see Slumdog Millionaire in toney Scottsdale. Last weekend I was able to catch Milk in the much more accessible community of Peoria. Last night I only had to drive a couple of blocks to my local Dickinson Palm Valley Theatre to complete the trifecta of the year's most talked about movies with a viewing of Doubt.

I approached Doubt with every intention of not liking it. As an ex-Catholic with my own doubt as to the relevance of the Church in the modern world, I expected to have all of my beliefs regarding the moral shortcomings of Catholicism validated - which, of course, they were. But the history of the Church aside, this is still one gripping tale.

Ninety percent of the plot was evident from the previews. The action is almost entirely verbal and revolves around two characters who deliver blistering dialogue that rattles the heavens and occasionally blows out light bulbs. Father Flynn, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a priest who may or may not have been taking advantage of a troubled black youth with sexual identity issues. Father Flynn is trying to bring his parish into the modern world, a course of action that sets him in direct opposition to the parish school's principal, the iron-willed Sister Aloysius, menacingly portrayed by Meryl Streep. Sister Aloysius controls her teachers and her students through raw fear. She is hell-bent on preventing change, even if it means destroying the priest and his alleged victim in the process.

This movie belongs to Meryl Streep. When she walks down the aisle during mass thumping and snarling at the children who aren't paying attention, it is as if the worst witch ever envisioned by the Brother's Grimm has slipped into a habit and is selecting which youngsters she will boil for supper. She is secure in her certainty that she alone knows what is best for her school and parish, and she is not restrained by ethics or her religion when she feels the need to act on her convictions.

There are two other standout performances. Amy Adams is the young teacher who knows that while fear may be used for control, it will never serve to motivate. She sees the good in people and becomes highly conflicted when the principal pulls her into her campaign to drive the priest from the parish. Viola Davis also gives a powerful portrayal of the mother of the child who may have been molested by the priest.

This tale originated as a stage play written by John Patrick Shanley. Shanley was given the task of writing the script for the movie, and then in a stroke of daring genius, he was also selected to direct his work for the screen. The result is a strong and tight production that is, of course, faithful to the playwright's highly original vision.

Doubt is an emotionally draining movie, a wicked hard ride through through the dark hell of child maltreatment at the hands of creepy priests and viscous nuns. It is tough to experience, but true life often is.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas At Denny's

by Pa Rock

It's hard to be overly festive on the holidays when one is celebrating alone, but I have managed to keep myself amused all day. Over the past twenty-four hours each of my children and grandchildren have phoned in to check on their desert rat dad, and I have called my Dad to see how his holiday is going is going. My sister and niece were at his house when I called, and he had had several visitors.

The first order of business this morning was to open the present sent by my good friend from college, Carla Turnbough Brown. It arrived a week ago, and Ms. Carla had been quite specific that it wasn't to be opened until Christmas. The present was a beautiful glass Christmas tree ornament of our old alma mater, Southwest Missouri State of Springfield, MO. (Don't try to find it on a map, it is now Missouri State University.) Carla and I talked quite a while on the phone discussing Christmas ornaments, college days, our kids, and our upcoming trip to New York City in January. (It will be the first time that we have seen each other in nearly forty years!)

My next project was to re-pot some cactus and clean up some of the mess on my balcony. Cactus, of course, can stay out year-round in Arizona. I didn't get completely done with that project, but I did make noticeable progress. I also started cleaning out closets. I would like to get rid of all of my piles by the time this weekend is over.

After the cleaning spurt subsided, I got in the car and drove off looking for a movie or a place to eat Christmas lunch. Lunch happened first when I discovered that the local Denny's was open - and packed! I sat at the counter and ordered one of their Damned Slams - 4,000 calories when 400 would have been sufficient! From my stool I was able to see the entire kitchen operation where six cooks spun around and weaved in and out of each other's work spaces with the skill and determination of ballet stars. It was kind of watching Holiday on Ice, much better than television! There must have been fifteen waiters and waitresses doing their dance across the restaurant. I only saw two plates dropped, and one of those was the fault of the manager. The most amazing aspect of this experience was how well everyone seemed to be working together, and how happy they all appeared to be. I guess if you have to work on Christmas, you might as well get jolly! I tipped very well!

This afternoon I went to the gym - to work off some of that Damned Slam. Tonight I have a ticket to see Doubt, so by tomorrow I should be raging about pedophile priests and hateful nuns!

Feliz Navidad!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Wonderful Christmas Gift!

by Pa Rock

I received a very special Christmas gift - something that I will treasure always. It is a book entitled The UFO Battle, and it was written and illustrated by my grandson, Boone Macy. Boone created this science fiction masterpiece as a part of the Young Author's Program at his school, and then his Dad had it professionally bound and helped Boone to send me a copy. It came as quite a surprise for his proud grandpa!

This story is about a retired army general living in Florida who is captured and kidnapped by aliens. The FBI tries to keep the kidnapping a secret, but the general's neighbor who runs a laundry mat gets involved and lets the secret out. The neighbor himself is soon confronted by aliens, and...well, if you want to know more you will have to wait until it hits your local bookstore! I will give you this morsel, though - it is a very exciting plot!

Boone, Pa Rock is very proud of you - and I am proud of your Dad, too!

Much love!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Come on Baby Light My Fire!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

This recession (depression?) doesn't have many bright spots, but one small one is that I don't seem to be receiving nearly as much junk mail as I did even just a year ago. And the unwanted stuff that does land in my mailbox seems to be of a higher quality, or at least more interesting, than the crap that used to be wadded up with my first class mail.

Yesterday, for example, I received a very neat little piece of mail from an organization called The Neptune Society. The small envelope looked expensive, like something that might hold a formal invitation to something special. There was a notation on the front that read "Take care your your New Year's resolution today!" The backside had the return address of The Neptune Society in Tempe, AZ, along with a logo of a large ocean wave.

In my hand I had an unopened fancy envelope that looked like it contained an invitation, a notice that I was going to get something worthy of being a New Year's resolution, and a company name and logo that strongly implied a beach setting. It was so obvious: I was going to be invited to buy a condo on the seashore. The clues were all there!

Imagine my surprise when I opened this missive and learned that the Neptune Society was focused on fire rather than water. It was a crematorium service selling pre-paid cremations. I have a philosophy on body disposal that is not conducive to cremation, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Anticipating that not everyone who opened their mailing would be amenable to parting with their cash for a barbecue in the sweet by-and-by, the Neptune Society dropped a baited hook into their offer. Anyone who would fill out an information card and request more details would be entered in a sweepstakes. Once each month a winner would be drawn from all entries and that winner would receive...are you ready for this?...a pre-paid cremation! Last month's winner was George C. Bryson!

I plan to partake of a green funeral when my time comes. Green funerals, like cremeations, are much cheaper than the morbid shows that the funeral industry has foisted into state laws and onto grieving families who feel to ashamed to haggle over prices when discussing the eternal comfort of the dearly departed. States with green funerals are allowing people to be buried unembalmed and in cardboard coffins that will quickly decompose. That way corpses become compost feeding nature instead of bloated poison meat locked in mahogany and concrete just taking up space - for eternity. And cremation? Well, that's just a waste of good plant food!

So, I'm still debating whether to give the Neptune Society my personal information or not. I hope to never have a need for their services, but a certificate for a pre-paid cremation would be a really unique gift that I could pass on to someone special for a birthday, or Christmas, or just to say "I'm thinking of you today!"

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hogs at the Trough
(with balls the size of planets!)

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A couple of months ago the United States Congress, an organization that routinely sinks to the IQ level of its dumbest member, gave the worst Treasury Secretary in our nation's history, Hank Paulson (who is possibly too dumb to serve in Congress), a blank check for $700 billion to help him prop up our national economy. Congress literally threw the money at Paulson with nary a string attached, begging him to shovel it onto the problem.

For those of us who can't comprehend the enormity of $700 billion, look at it this way: $700 billion is the equivalent of winning one million dollars - 700,000 times! Or, to put it on a more personal perspective, $700 billion spread equally among the almost 306 million inhabitants of our country would come to nearly $2,300 for each man, woman, and child.

That sort of bailout might have worked, but the one engineered by Secretary Paulson has been a dismal failure. Half of the money, $350 billion, has already been spent - but with what result?

The Associated Press decided to poll the 21 banks that received at least $1 billion of bailout money. The AP asked four very simple questions of the banks: How much has been spent? What was it spent on? How much is being held in savings? And, what is the plan for the rest of the money?

Those questions should be no problem for America's largest financial institutions to answer. They routinely manage large amounts money, and they certainly expect their borrowers to be able to answer those same types of questions. The money does, after all, belong to the American people, so the big banks should be eager to let the taxpayers know how it is being spent.

Yeah, right.

None (zip, zero, nada) of the 21 banks gave specific answers to the Associated Press. Some of the banks said that they couldn't track where the money was going because they mixed it with their money! (I'm betting they said that with a straight face!)

When an employee of Bank of New York Mellon was asked about the $3 billion received by his financial institution, he replied, "We're choosing not to disclose that." Then trying to minimize the arrogance of his response, he added, "I just would prefer if you wouldn't say that we're not going to discuss those details."

So, $350 billion into the giveaway, there is no evidence that any of the money has been pumped back into our ailing economy. Homes are still falling into foreclosure, young people are still staying away from college because they can't afford the skyrocketing tuition, millions are still suffering from a lack of affordable health care, factories are still closing, people are still being laid off, and most of America is spending considerably less this holiday season.

We're in the crapper and Hank Paulson is leaning on the handle. If there's a bright spot beyond the bowl, it is the likely ability of bank executives to fund their bonuses this year. But they would probably prefer it if we wouldn't say that!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Civil War According to Ken Burns

by Rocky G. Macy

(Note: There was a time in my colorful past, definitely pre-Internet, when I wrote a regular genealogy column that appeared in over a dozen small newspapers - - and also did quite a bit of freelancing. One of my primary writing outlets was Heritage Quest Magazine, a national publication that focused on history and genealogy. The following piece was suggested by the HQ publisher, Leland Metzler, as something that I ought to tackle. I remember spending several days in the basement of our home in Neosho, MO, poring over tapes of the PBS series and taking notes. When I finally shipped the piece off to Metzler, he published it as the magazine's lead article in the May-June 1991 issue. Enjoy.)

The American Civil War: Ribbons of pride, and glory, and anguish woven into letters from home and songs around the campfire. It was blackened skies above burning farms laced with the ever present pall of disease. And it was the noise of crickets, and cannons, and the Rebel yell competing vainly against the unrelenting silence of death. The Civil War was, in fact, so complex in its grandeur and awfulness as to almost defy and adequate retelling.

Almost...but not quite.

Popular historian Ken Burns stunned America last fall with his unique and panoramic vision of our single greatest national catastrophe. The eleven-hour documentary that Burns so skillfully crafted soon became a near legend as the the most widely watched program in the history of the Public Broadcasting System.

Blue against gray, black against white, brother against brother. The story has been told time and again, ad infinitum, but never this well. Burns' work is a collection of facts, images, and recollections blended with such care that the finished product might be more properly thought of as art than history. As with art, the film taps the emotions of the viewers and draws them into the experience. That is no small feat because Burns did not use any live-action footage in his work.

There are facts a plenty in The Civil War. Those little signposts or markers are necessary to guide us through an ordeal that was fought in over ten thousand locations and last four years. All of the major battles, from Ft. Sumter to Appomattox, are explored, experienced, and tallied. Victories, defeats, and casualties, all reduced to numbers. The seven thousand deaths in a twenty-minute period at Cold harbor become but a footnote of minor significance when compared to the six hundred thousand fatalities of the entire war. Each death was a husband, son father, or brother gone forever, a fragment of history, a number, a fact.

(The last entry in the diary of a young Massachusetts volunteer found dead at Cold Harbor read simply: "June 3rd, Cold Harbor, Virginia. I was killed.")

Of course, any good textbook on the Civil War will enumerate facts. By using film as his medium, Burns has a flexibility that is unavailable to historians who limit themselves to the typewriter. The key to this project's success is its vivid imagery.

The written word does convey images, and any able author can supplement a text with photos. But the way that Ken Burns creates compelling images by weaving together photos, sounds, voices, and unusual camera effects borders on being mystical.

Photography began to come of age during the Civil War. Though an experimental oddity only a few years before, the state of the art had expanded by the 1860's to a point where artisans with cameras were able to take over a million photographs of the war. Everything from festooned generals to decaying corpses was fair game for the battlefield photographers. Unfortunately, the interest in those was images soon waned, and most of the glass plate negatives were broken, lost, or sold to gardeners to serve as greenhouse panes.

Of the photographs which did survive, however, many found their way into the Burns' documentary. And, as a part of that film, they do more than just stare coldly back at the television viewers. Burns shows many of the images through a moving lens, scanning from side to side or moving in on a particular subject in the photograph. This technique, coupled with an extraordinary soundtrack of such diverse elements as battle noises, fiddle music, and babbling brooks, brings still photographs to life. The net effect is more than just the curiosity which might result from leafing through a scrapbook or family album - it is, indeed, an emotionally draining experience.

Voices, too, pervade this documentary. Many of the photographs are given speech by modern celebrities. Morgan Freeman reciting the words of Frederick Douglass becomes Douglas. That marvelous voice stirs many of the same feelings in the viewers as those which must have beset Abraham Lincoln when he listened to the great abolitionist. Julie Harris, Jason Robards, Sam Waterston, Charles McDowell, Jody Powell, Paul Robling, Garrison Keillor, Arthur Miller, and a host of others vocalize eloquent dialogues from an age gone by.

And what words they speak! Heroic, pithy, insightful, treasonous - all a part of the Civil War tapestry. Some are familiar such as Admiral David Farragut's blistering declaration at Mobile Bay, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" Others tug at the cynical side of human nature as with William Tecumseh Sherman's definition of military fame as being "killed on the battlefield and the next day having your name spelled wrong in the newspaper." (Sherman regarded newspaper reporters as little more than spies, and was once quoted as saying that if he killed them all, there would be news from hell before breakfast!)

The words of lesser known individuals also ripple across the length and breadth of this film. Spotswood Rice, a slave who escaped and later enlisted in the Union army at Glasgow, Missouri, wrote this stern warning back to Miss Kitty Diggs, his former owner: "You may keep my Mary, but the longer you do, the longer you'll burn in hell and the quicker you'll get there!"

It is, however, the work of several diarists that make this masterwork so unique and personal. Mary Chestnut, whose Diary from Dixie has long been a staple of Civil War researchers, shared incidents from the fall of Ft. Sumter to the siege of Richmond and beyond. She expressed pride, dread, and then bitterness as her homeland slowly unraveled in spirit and in fact.

Another source familiar to historian is Sam Watkins' Co. Aytch: A Side Show for the Big Show. Watkins, a Confederate private in Company H of the 1st Tennessee Regiment, saw service at some of the bloodiest engagements of the war including Shiloh (where he observed General Albert Sydney Johnson dying), Murfreesboro, Shelbyville, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and Atlanta. Expressing a concern that only the "big bugs" write history, he determined to keep a journal of his experiences in order to show war from the foot soldier's perspective. His observations, often witty - always penetrating - give the Burns film balance and character.

A source not yet as common to historians is the diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, a Union volunteer who rose from private to colonel during the war and later went on to attain the rank of brigadier general. Ken Burns discovered the diary of Rhodes almost by accident in his hometown of Walpole, New Hampshire. Rhodes' grandson had published the work through a local historical society, and Burns purchased a copy with a sense of duty to his community. It wasn't long, however, until her discovered the story of Elisha Hunt Rhodes would play an integral part in The Civil War.

Elisha Hunt Rhodes saw Lincoln standing on the White House lawn as his unit marched through Washington, D.C. en route to Bull Run. He also fought at Antietam, Gettysburg, and Petersburg. He saw Lincoln on one other occasion and was destined to come into contact with U.S. Grant and Stonewall Jackson. Rhodes' words show that "common man" element of the Union activities in much the same manner as Watkins' notations did for the South.

But if there was a poet laureate among the diarists, it must have been Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, an officer with the 20th Maine. Consider these words which he penned about a cold night among the dead of the battlefield of Fredericksburg:

"But out of that silence rose new sounds, more appalling still. A strange ventriloquism of which you could not locate the source. A smothered moan as if a thousand discords were flowing together into a keynote - weird, unearthly, terrible to hear, and bare - yet startling with its nearness. The writhing concord broken by cries for help - some begging for a drop of water, some calling on God for pity, and some on a friendly hand to finish what the enemy had so horribly begun. Some with delirious, dreamy voices murmuring loved names as if the dearest were bending over them. And underneath, all the time, the deep bass note from closed lips, too hopeless or too heroic to articulate their agony. At last, cold and depressed, I move two dead men a little and lay down between them, making a pillow of the breast of a third, drew the flap of his overcoat over my face and tried to sleep."

(Robert E. Lee undoubtedly had these same types of images in mind when he said, "It is well that war is so terrible. We should otherwise grow too fond of it.")

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a Union colonel at Fredericksburg. At the war's end it was Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain who officially received the battle flags and weapons fo the defeated Army of Northern Virginia. Chamberlain sustained several wounds during the war and went on to receive the Medal of Honor. After the war he was a four term governor of Maine and later President of Bowdin College. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a participant in the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913. He died the following year, reportedly from complications of a wound received half a century earlier.

While depending upon the journal accounts of lesser-knowns for much of the grit and substance of the war, Ken Burns does not neglect those whom Sam Watkins humorously referred to the the "big bugs." War is, after all, directed by the strategies and vagaries of politicians and military leaders.

General George McClellan, for example, is depicted by the Burns' work as being a showboat, eager for glory but reluctant to earn it. Lincoln's greatest frustration during the early years of the war, it would seem was his inability to get McClellan to act.

Young George Custer, on the other hand, is seen as a different type of showboat. He acts to excess, often with little concern for the well-being of those around him - certainly a foreshadowing of Little Big Horn.

And the Confederates had their glory seekers as well. Nathan Bedford Forrest rose from private to lieutenant general during the Civil War. Said by many to be the most dangerous cavalry commander in the war, Forrest had thirty-one horses shot out from under him and killed thirty Yankees in hand-to-hand combat. Not content to slip into seclusion, Nathan Bedford Forrest became the first Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan after the war ended.

Ulysses S. Grant is portrayed as a cigar-smoking, hard drinking, brilliant strategist who grew melancholy (and drunk) whenever a lull in the fighting allowed him time to yearn for his family. Grant was regarded as impervious by Mary Chesnut who noted that he had "the disagreeable habit of not retreating before irresistible forces." But it was a more gentle Grant who rode up to Appomattox Courthouse clad in a soiled uniform to accept an unconditional surrender from the resplendent General Lee. Instead of framing the moment with invective, Grant chose to treat his defeated opponent with compassion while he made plans to transfer Union rations to the starving Confederate troops.

There is also a bond of brotherhood between Grant and General Sherman which surfaces throughout the documentary. At one point, Sherman related, "Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk. And now we stand by each other, always."

Robert E. Lee, a West Point graduate and Virginia aristocrat, was the son of "Lighthorse" Harry Lee and the husband of Mary Custis, a grand-daughter of Martha Washington. Lee was perhaps the only man in history to be offered command of the military of both sides in a war. (He declined Lincoln's entreaty to head the Union forces because of an obligation which he felt toward Virginia.)

As the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee displayed an uncanny knack for always being able to predict the moves of his opponents - that is, until the arrival of General Grant. And the Union boys were perhaps mixing admiration with fear and contempt when they made references to the fighting abilities of "Bob Lee." As one measure of disdain toward Lee, the traitor, Union forces began using the grounds of his plantation in Arlington as a cemetery for Union troops so that his family would never be able to inhabit the house again. Today, of course, that site is the Arlington National Cemetery.

It was Robert E. Lee's studied approach to warfare that gave the South its best hope for victory. Unfortunately for Lee and the Confederacy, southern forces were not "irresistible" as described by Mary Chesnut. In the end they threw everything they had at the Union, and it simply wasn't enough.

And the defeat was bitter. Edmund Ruffin, an old secessionist who had taken part in the attack on Ft. Sumter, chose to wrap himself in the Confederate flag and end his life with a gunshot rather than "live with the Yankee race."

If the Civil War were reduced to one individual, that man would be Lincoln. Seen by many as a bumpkin and inept politician, his stature rose as the tide of war began to turn in the Union's favor after Gettysburg. It was Lincoln who calmly and permanently changed the nature of the war and the future of the country through the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. What had once been a war for Union was suddenly a struggle against slavery. Those human beings who were the personal property of others were en route to becoming citizens.

Perhaps more than anything else, this film by Ken Burns depicts the Civil War as a bloody test of philosophies. Was the United Stated a nation of many states, each subservient to the federal government? Or was it just many states, each a sovereign entity, bound by choice to a loose confederation? The issue had always been a cause for strenuous debate, and it took a civil war to provide the answer. Correct grammatical usage before the war had been "the United States are." After the war that changed to "the United States is." And so it remains - one nation...indivisible...for all.

The Civil War draws viewers into the national catharsis which spawned modern America. The concept of the film was epochal, the task almost insurmountable, and the result marvelous. The Civil War by Ken Burns is destined to become history in its own right!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

If you are planning on entering an Oscar Pool this year, here is a freebie: Sean Penn will win Best Actor for the title role in Milk - and Josh Brolin will be a strong contender for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Harvey Milk's assassin, Dan White.

I took in this amazing film earlier today expecting to see little more than two hours of something like a History Channel presentation. I knew the story, in fact, the actual murders of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone of San Francisco occurred after two of my children were born. Director Gus Van Sant weaved thirty-year-old news footage and exemplary contemporary acting into his dramatic retelling of a chaotic episode in America's past. And the timing of his film's release could not have been more poignant: it dealt with the defeat of a California hate law that targeted gays and lesbians - and its release came on the heels of the passage of anti-gay hate legislation in California just a few weeks ago. Comparisons between the two measures cannot be avoided, nor should they be.

The primary hero of this true tale is Harvey Milk, a San Francisco city supervisor and the first openly gay male elected to a major public office in the United States. But beyond that individual, the activist gay and lesbian residents of San Francisco and their relatives andc friends give heart to this important historical era. Milk's fellow supervisor, Dan White, is the front-line villain, but it is Anita Bryant, a bitter crone and shill for the orange juice industry, and a nation of Christian Fundamentalists, who are the overarching villains.

Knowing the story of the events that led to that awful day in San Francisco didn't spoil the magic of this movie. Van Sant and his stellar cast brought the events of the early days of the gay rights movement to life. Sean Penn was Harvey Milk, body and soul. He skillfully moved from a closeted insurance administrator in New York City to a successful businessman and political dynamo in San Francisco's Castro district. His flaw, an addiction to power, was only starting to present itself as problematic when he was gunned down by ex-policeman White.

Josh Brolin played Dan White as a deeply closeted male who was struggling to support his family on a meager supervisor's salary. There was a point in the tale where White reached out to Milk with some potential political deal-making, but the gay supervisor reneged at the last moment, earning him the fateful enmity of White. Brolin bestowed more humanity on Dan White than he probably deserved, and definitely more than the press did three decades earlier.

James Franco also gave a standout performance as Scott, Milk's partner throughout much of the period covered by the film. He is shown as the anchor in Milk's life, and the foil for his occasional bouts with grandiosity. It is Scott who clears their apartment of all of the political operatives and campaign workers so that Harvey is able to eat supper in peace. As Harvey becomes more consumed with politics, Scott quiety and peacefully withdraws from his life.

Milk chronicles a turbulent time in American society, a time that should be behind us, but unfortunately still rises occasionally like a festering boil in need of lancing. Dan White is dead (presumably), and Anita Bryant has been silenced and is probably drooling in a home somewhere, being spoon-fed gruel three times a day by a gay orderly too young to know just what an awful person she was in her prime. But the Christian fundamentalists still rage on, consumed by the fear that somewhere people are laughing, loving, and enjoying life on their own terms. Until these hate-riddled zealots figure out what Jesus was really about, civilization is doomed to be mired down in their intolerance and bigotry.

"There are few things in life more evil than a 'good' Christian." ~ Pa Rock

Milk is serious history wearing the cloak of exceptional drama - as history so often does. People who see this movie will not leave the theatre unaffected, of that you can be certain.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Calculated Exit?

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Two Presidents of the United States died on the same day. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both expired on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence - a document authored by Jefferson and signed by himself and Mr. Adams. There are more than a few historians who feel that the two elderly statesmen held death at bay until the nation reached it's fiftieth birthday.

Another fiftieth anniversary of an important event will occur this January 1st, and another sickly old man seems to be hanging on just to celebrate the half-centennial of his greatest achievement. It was on January 1st, 1959, that Fidel Castro and his small band of patriots overthrew the corrupt Batista regime in Cuba.

For fifty years Cuba has been a constant military and political thorn in the side of the United States. From the humiliation of the ill-advised Bay of Pigs invasion, to the Cuban Missile Crisis, to Mariel Boat Lift, to military meddling in places as divergent as Bolivia and Angola, the should-be-insignificant Cuban leader has proven himself to be a viable and startlingly effective player on the world stage.

But Fidel is old, and he is ill. He resigned the Presidency of Cuba in February of 2008, and turned power over to his barely-younger brother, Raul. Since that time he has rarely been seen by the outside world - and always in the confines of his hospital room.

In yesterday's column about the Dead Pool I labeled Castro as low-hanging fruit because his death is imminent. If he didn't know that the Grim Reaper had him in his sights, the old revolutionary would have never stepped down as the political and military leader of the country that he created. He is holding on, only just holding on, awaiting the perfect moment for his last hurrah - the day that all Cubans and much of the world, will look back and remember that ragtag group of revolutionaries who spent two years in the mountain wilds slowly defeating a despot. It was his grandest moment, a moment destined to lift an insignificant island nation to the heady heights of international significance.

I predict that, like Jefferson and Adams, Cuba's remarkable el jefe will choose that day to set out on his next great adventure.

Somewhere Che Guevara is waiting.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pa Rock's Dead Pool: 2009

by Pa Rock
Dead Pool Manager

Last year we initiated a “Dead Pool” on The Ramble to stir some interest in this blog and to test the powers of our readers’ prognostication. And while we generated several entries and a wide range of guesses on which celebrities, politicians, and other notables would expire in the year 2008, as of yet none of the proffered selections have succumbed to the prolonged solitude of a permanent dirt nap. The names put forth last year were:

Billy Graham, Fidel Castro, Mickey Rooney, Nelson Mandela, Kirk Douglas, Osama Bin Laden, Jerry Lewis, Art Linkletter, Miley Cyrus, Walter Cronkite, Betty White, J.D. Salinger, Mick Jagger, Larry King, Barbara Bush, Kirk Douglas, Bea Arthur, James Gandolfini, Jerry Stiller, Rosie O'Donnell, Amy Winehouse, Courtney Love, Dick Clark, Eminem, Ozzy Osborne, O.J. Simpson, Keith Richards, William Barron Hilton, Chuck Berry, Bob Barker, Prince Philip, Woody Harrelson, Betty Ford, Rudy Giuliani, Jack Lelane, Eartha Kitt, Angela Lansbury, Britney Spears, Bob Dylan, Phyllis Diller, Artie Lange, Michael Vick, Dick Clark, Dom DeLuise, Brian Dennehy, John Goodman, George Wendt, Jack Nicholson, Rose Marie, Nancy Reagan.

If any of the above have expired, please let me know.

Prizes for the 2009 Dead Pool!

This coming year, in a move to stir more interest in this morbid endeavor, we are adding some serious prizes: 1st Place: One $100 Savings Bond; 2nd Place: One $50 Savings Bond; and, 3rd Place: One DVD of the 1988 Clint Eastwood / Jim Carrey film classic – The Dead Pool.

Rules for 2009:

1. Each entrant will submit a list of ten names of individuals (world-wide) whom he or she predict will expire in 2009.

2. The list should be emailed to:

3. There is a limit of one entry list per person, and there is no entrance fee.

4. The persons selected should be prominent enough to be recognizable by most of the general public.

5. No low-hanging fruit. The following individuals are not eligible to be selected due to their known serious health issues: Ariel Sharon, Fidel Castro, and Patrick Swayze.

6. Points will be awarded for each selected person who dies in 2009.

7. Points will be determined by subtracting the deceased person’s age from 100. (Someone who dies at a younger age will be worth more points than an old coot!)

8. Points will be tallied at the end of the year, with the top three totals receiving a prize (see above).

9. The deadline for entry submission is midnight on 31 Dec 2008.

10. Entrants are prohibited from doing anything to hasten the demise of any of their selectees! (Hey, that happened in the movie!)

So, get to studying those actuarial tables, risk factors, and Ouiji boards - and get your predictions in for the 2009 Pa Rock's Dead Pool! Have fun!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Molly's Birthday!

by Pa Rock

The word “interregnum” is a Latin term that means “between kings.” It is also the term generally used to describe the time lapse between the time a new President of the United States is elected and the time that person is actually sworn into office. For about a ten-week period every four or eight years this country goes through an interregnum. They are generally times of excitement and change.

My daughter, Molly, was born in the interregnum between President Ford and President Carter. During her lifetime she has celebrated birthdays during the interregnums between Carter and Reagan, Reagan and Bush I, Bush I and Clinton, and Clinton and Little Bush (Shrub). Today she is celebrating another birthday during yet another interregnum.

The current interregnum of Little Bush and Obama will hold special significance for Molly, because she was also married during that unique historical period. Each succeeding Presidential transition period will now encompass her birthday and her wedding anniversary!

Happy birthday, Molly. You are a wonderful wife to Scott and a terrific mother to Sebastian – and my favorite daughter! I grow prouder of you with each passing year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Holidays, Mr. Madoff!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Bernard Madoff, the former Chairman of NASDAQ and an international financial investment wizard, is tonight begging his friends for money so that he can post a $10 million bail and stay out of jail. The trouble is that poor Mr. Madoff does not have that many friends left - and especially friends with money.

Until recently the amazing Mr. Madoff had been busy managing the savings of some of America's most privileged individuals and charities. His investments always made a good return, and he reported earnings on statements that no one could understand but everyone could appreciate. People literally begged him to take them on as clients. A person had to be somebody or know somebody before Mr. Madoff would agree to manage their money. Greed ran rampant, and everybody had to have a piece of the action. When the stock market started its dive, Bernard Madoff was still reporting profits to his clients, and the money kept rolling in.

The money kept rolling in until this week, that is, when Madoff's massive ponzi scheme finally went belly up. It looks as though all of his clients lost everything, to the tune of over $50 billion!

This holiday season was already going to be thin across much of America. Now, thanks to a solid gold con-man, it will be less merry in some of the pricier zip codes as well.

Not to sound like Scrooge, but my vote is for letting Bernard Madoff spend the holidays behind bars, dining on bologna and sleeping with one eye open. And even that is better than he deserves!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

Okay. I made the maddening drive to Scottsdale yesterday just to see a movie that wasn't preordained to be drivel, and while I deeply resent having to drive across the Valley for the privilege of watching something good, the movie justified the gas.

I arrived in plenty of time to make it in to see my selection, Slumdog Millionaire. I parked my ragged convertible in a lot next to the one that was reserved for Neiman Marcus Valet Parking (just so you get an idea of what the neighborhood was like!), and with time to spare I sat out in the car and made a couple of calls. Each of the five movies at this theatre was an "art" type of show, so crowding shouldn't have been a problem - but it was. I bought my ticket fifteen minutes before showtime and learned that I would have to take a seat in the front two rows. Lucky me - I managed to get a center seat in the second row. (So today my neck is still stiff!) The place was packed with rich old toadies who were all there to learn about life in the slums of urban India while collecting cultural tidbits to be shared at cocktail parties. As it turned out, me and the other old toadies made a good decision in selecting that particular movie.

Dev Patel is an amazing young actor who has been a featured cast member in the BBC comedy/drama Skins during its first season. And while the face of this eighteen-year-old is becoming familiar to many viewers of British television, the role of Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire is destined to lift his star much higher.

Jamal, the central character in this movie, is a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. His run on the show is so successful that he is picked up by the police before the final round. The police beat and torture him to find out how a poor Indian with almost no formal education managed to get the answers to the difficult questions. In explaining how he acquired the answer to each question though his life experiences, Jamal provides deep insight into the lives of poor Indians in the teeming mass of humanity that is Mumbai.

Slumdog is the story of two brothers, orphaned as little boys and growing up by their wits, and an orphaned girl who becomes a significant part of their lives. This movie shows it all: pollution, corruption, cruelty, gangsters, fear, jealousy, sacrifice, and love - all tied together in the emergence of a modern state. As the characters grow, so grows the nation. It was easy to leave the theatre feeling positive about Jamal's future and the future of his country.

Slumdog Millionaire was a very emotionally satisfying experience, even from the second row!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Where Have All the Good Films Gone?
Gone to Scottsdale Every One!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

A couple of weekends ago I was driving through Goodyear or Avondale one evening when a young man (high school young) passed me in a small red car. Printed across his back window in six-inch tall Old English Script was this bit of personal vitriol: "Fuck Scottsdale." It wasn't overly eloquent, but Shakespeare probably wasn't either when he was this lad's age. I assumed the boy had probably lost his lady love to some yuppie spawn in the East Valley who was born with a silver spoon up his nose.

The longer I live in the Valley of Hell, the more I come to realize how things here really work. The proletariat lives in central Phoenix and in the West Valley, while those who are not so frantic to make a living (including university students), gather in the coffee bars, art galleries, and outdoor cafes that border their comfortable neighborhoods in the East Valley. Later this month they will also have the Valley's first Light Rail which should help to lessen the horrendous bicycle traffic and save on valuable Birkenstock leather! (The West Valley, where the workers live - and necessarily drive - has been told that they can expect their own Light Rail in twenty years.)

But, I digress. My purpose today is to talk about movies. Recently there have been a spate of advertisements on television for what appear to be some really great films. The problem is that when I pull up the movie guide for a twenty-five mile radius of where I live, all of the films that are available in the local theatres are crap. The really good shows are beyond the twenty-five mile limit - in Scottsdale! If I want to drive twenty-nine miles (forty minutes) to Scottsdale this afternoon, I can see: Doubt, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, I've Loved You So Long, or The Boy in the Striped Pajama's - none of which are playing any closer. The film distributors seem to believe that the intellect of the East Valley hasn't seeped beyond Central Avenue. People in the West Valley should be content with movies that they are capable of understanding: Christmas comedies, cartoons, and violent action flicks.

The more that I think about it, the more I agree with the philosophy of the kid in the little red car!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Juvenile Boot Camps

by Rocky G. Macy

(Note: The following paper was written in 2001 while I was doing graduate work at the University of Missouri. The content is somewhat dated in places.)

Juvenile Boot Camps: The Utilization of Dual Perspectives in the Quest for Good Public Policy

by Rocky G. Macy, MSW

The creation of public policy flows from several sources. Good research should be, and usually is, a significant contributor to the formation of policy by public entities and their officials. There are some issues, however, that lend themselves more readily to public consumption and thus may alter or even void the impact of appropriate and sound research as political pressures emerge. This paper examines that phenomenon as it relates to the evolution of public policies regarding juvenile boot camps.


There was a time in a more innocent America when “going to camp” meant that some lucky children were about to embark on a holiday. They would spend their days canoeing or riding horses, and evenings around a campfire telling tales and putting on skits. The campers would be guided and cared for by adult counselors who were there to cultivate enjoyment and learning, and to ensure that the kids were safe. That image of the phrase “going to camp” may still be dominant throughout much of society, but its idyllic connotation is now being challenged for preeminence by a more insidious, meaner definition.

Today when children go to camp, it isn’t always for pleasure, and it isn’t always safe. News accounts over the past decade, in fact, bear witness to the reality that many “camps” for children and young people are little more than punitive holding pens where youth are beaten, tortured, and even killed. As these tragic, and often bizarre, stories play out in the popular press, public opinion starts to shift, opportunistic politicians change positions in mid-sentence without missing a bleat, and government entities begin the process of redirecting policies. The forgotten irony is, however, that it was the popular press that initially portrayed these camps in so favorable of a light that they proved nigh irresistible to the general public and their elected officials.

The term “camp” as used in this paper includes two separate, but not overly distinct, concepts. First there are the military-style juvenile “boot camps” that began in the United States in the mid-1980s and proliferated widely during the next decade. These are generally governmental operations sponsored by counties or states, and are a part of their juvenile justice programs. With an exception of programs run by the National Guard, these governmental boot camps do not accept parental placements.

The second type is the “behavior modification camps,” “therapy camps,” and “wilderness programs” that are usually privately owned and run on a for-profit basis. These programs solicit parental placements of troubled kids through advertisements in national magazines and referrals from therapists. Occasionally the private camps will even enter into contracts with government entities to supplement their juvenile corrections systems. (Sanchez, Davis, & Grover, 1998) These private enterprises tend to be especially prolific in states that have little or no governmental oversight. (Janofsky, 2001c)

This paper examines America’s evolving reaction to the use of boot camps for taming troubled or troublesome teens. A history of this phenomenon is presented, and the current boot camp movement is explored in terms of its rationale, basis in professional research, and changing image that is espoused by the popular press. Discussion follows regarding the intertwined roles the press and professional research in shaping public policy.


The idea of placing children in camps to acquire self-discipline can be traced back to the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta. The sons of Spartan citizens were removed from their families and placed in military barracks at the age of seven where they began rigorous military and physical training. At the age of 20 the young men were allowed to marry, but they still had to continue residing in the barracks, sans spouse, until they reached the age of 30. (Talbert, 1988)

The concept of using a military approach as a corrections method in this country dates back nearly two centuries. A “deputy keeper” at the Auburn prison was concerned with the high rates of suicide and mental breakdowns at his facility in 1821. He instituted a military regimen that included, among other things, lockstep marching and constant activity under close supervision. (Morash & Rucker, 1990)

The state of New York used a military model in its state reformatory at Elmira from 1888 until 1920. The program at Elmira consisted of five to eight hours a day of marching and executing the manual of arms. (Osler, 1991)

After a retirement of 60 years, the idea of incorporating a military model in the field of corrections was revived in 1981 when officials in Georgia began a dialogue about its feasibility. As Georgia was constructing its plan, the state of Oklahoma seized on their work and managed to open the first modern boot camp in October of 1983, two months ahead of Georgia’s first boot camp facility. The nation’s third boot camp for adult offenders was inaugurated in Mississippi in 1985. (Osler, 1991)
1985 was also the year in which the first government-run boot camp for juvenile offenders opened its doors. That facility was located in Orleans Parish, Louisiana. (Zaehringer, 1998) (Tyler, Darville, & Stalnaker, 2001)

The federal government entered this arena in 1990 when the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) announced a demonstration program “to develop boot camp models for the juvenile system and to test the feasibility and appropriateness of their implementation.” (Bourque, Felker, Han, & White, 1999) The following year three groups in three diverse locations (Cleveland, Denver, and Mobile) received grants to develop juvenile boot camps. At the same time, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) sponsored evaluations of those camps focusing on the young people who entered the programs during their first year of operation. (Bourque et al., 1999) The number of boot camps that served the various state juvenile justice systems rapidly expanded to a total of 75 in 33 states by 1997. (Moore, 1997) (Tyler et al., 2001) The trend toward the use of juvenile boot camps as a piece of the juvenile justice systems peaked in the late 1990’s and has now begun to decline. (Koch, 2000)

Little is officially known of the history of the private, for-profit camps. Wilderness therapy camps for troubled teens have been in existence for over fifty years (Janofsky, 2001c), and while not all are run in boot camp fashion, many are. (Collier, 2001) Some states do not require that these operations go through any certification or registration process or provide any other information that could be used in an oversight function. (Janofsky, 2001c) The existing history is basically information that the private camps put out through advertisements and the occasional grim stories that surface in the popular press. Today the industry has increased to somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 such facilities. (Janofsky, 2001d)


“Boot camps sounded like a great idea. Stick young, nonviolent first offenders into a rigorous, military-style setting and teach them self-discipline, respect for the law, and the value of work. Consigning them to overcrowded prisons, proponents argued, only increased their chances of becoming career criminals. Taxpayers would benefit from the camps, too, since they promised a lower-cost alternative to expensive prison cells.” (Katel & Liu, 1994)

The correctional boot camps that are run by various levels of government, whether they are intended for an adult population or juveniles, have five basic goals. First, they are intended to deter individuals from committing crime, both through their perceived conditions as translated via the media, and as a comparison to prison that is to be presumed as even worse. Second, boot camps are intended to rehabilitate, or to decrease recidivism, as they actually place young felons on a different, more acceptable life path. A third goal of boot camps is to punish, to deliver some actual retribution on the offender. Incapacitation is a fourth goal. The short period of time that an offender is confined in a boot camp is time that he is unavailable to be on the street participating in criminal activities. The fifth goal is to reduce overcrowding in jails and prisons and thus cut costs. (Osler, 1991)

The primary reason that parents cite for placing their children in private boot camp facilities is the need for the child to learn discipline. (Spencer, 2001) There has been virtually no independent research on this private industry (other than horror stories in the popular press), so their rationale may be best illustrated through advertisements. One facility in Jamaica that is owned by a U.S. company sells the benefits of being located on foreign soil. Although the company presents several reasons for selecting their facility, three of the selling points resound especially clearly as justification for packing a youth off to either a foreign or a domestic camp. The first selling point centers on the benefit of remoteness, or being far removed from “the negative friends and influences that have adversely affected (the teens) lives.” The second is pliability. Due to being in an “unfamiliar culture, (the teens) are more teachable and open to change and direction.” Selling point number three is hindsight. Being in a foreign or unfamiliar environment is “much more impacting and instills a greater appreciation for home and family.” ("'Tranquility Bay: Growing and winning'",2001b)

Research: The Professional View

As previously noted, there is literally no extant research on private behavior modification camps other than grim, anecdotal news accounts. There is, however, a growing body of research on camps that are run under government auspices with public funding.

The early expectations of boot camps for young offenders landed on both ends of the spectrum. Proponents hailed the idea as the ultimate answer to juvenile delinquency and crime. Opponents saw juvenile crime as socio-economic in origin and believed that boot camps had more to do with political considerations than they did with the welfare of children or dealing with the root causes of crime. The concept was new, and therefore not much research existed that had direct relevance on the issue.

One area from which inferences could be drawn was earlier research that had been conducted with military inductees as they progressed through training. Morash and Rucker (1990) examined research on the effects that military basic training had on recruits. Their review of the literature on basic training noted that, “Although correctional boot camps do not provide training in the use of weapons or physical assault, they promote an aggressive model of leadership and a conflict-dominated style of interaction that could exacerbate tendencies toward aggression.” The reviewers also found indications that shared misery seemed to create a bond between those going through the training. “Increased aggression and a bond among inmates,” they observed, “are not desired outcomes of correctional boot camps.” (Morash & Rucker, 1990)

Ekman, Friesen, and Lutzker (1962) (as reported in Morash and Rucker, 1990) cited shifts in the MMPI profiles of recruits (age 18-22) after basic training that showed a slightly increased prominence in aggression, impulsiveness, and energetic features. Eckman et al. cited changes on the MMPI subscales that implied recruits were more prone to have callous attitudes during basic training, ignore the needs of others, and exhibit feelings of self- importance. Eckman et al. further noted that “The recruits appear less prone to examine their own responsibility for conflicts, and more ready to react aggressively.” The most damning finding, though, as it relates to the subsequent juvenile boot camps, was the MMPI information that revealed “no increase in scores on ego-strength, or any other evidence of beneficial psychological effects accruing from basic training.” (Eckman, Friesen, & Lutzker, 1962)

Crawford and Fielder (1982) completed structured interviews of two matched sets of 25 air force basic trainees. The first group was being dismissed from the service during basic training due to mental health reasons, while the second group was progressing appropriately through basic training. The researchers found that of the set that had proved unable to complete basic training, 40 percent (eight individuals) reported being the victims of sexual or physical abuse before reaching the age of 18. Of those in the other set who were moving successfully through basic training, only one reported a history of sexual or physical abuse prior to the age of 18. In discussing their findings, Crawford and Fielder had this to say:
“Childhood abuse may well predict decreased ability to tolerate the stresses of adult life, such as those encountered in military basic training. Basic training is intentionally designed to be a stressful environment, in which training instructors who are mostly men disperse orders in a manner that can be perceived as harsh and aggressive. Those recruits with a history of abuse may respond to such a style as if they are being abused, and therefore may be unable to withstand the emotional pressure of military training.” (Crawford & Fielder, 1982)

Nearly twenty years later Tyler, Darville, and Stalnaker (2001) reviewed the literature on boot camps and came to a conclusion that seems to bear some relationship to findings of Crawford and Fielder (1982). Tyler et al. noted that juveniles who had suffered a history of abuse were more likely to recidivate after the boot camp experience unless their aftercare programs took that previous abuse into account and offered appropriate counseling.

MacKenzie, Wilson, Armstrong, and Gover (2001) reported a similar finding with regard to juveniles who had been abused. The researchers found youth who reported prior abuse also reported higher levels of stress, showed less improvement overall, and experienced more success in traditional facilities. The authors also suggested that abuse by staff might be especially contra-therapeutic for girls who had been victims in abusive relationships.

Osler (1991) provided an overview of the boot camp program as it applied to adult offenders. The article, which appeared in Federal Probation, had an intended audience of “sentencing judges, program planners, and other sentence creators”. Osler used that forum to argue for “bridge” services to guide boot camp graduates in their transition back to the community, a move that he saw as necessary if recidivism was to be decreased. He argued that sentencing should be based on two components: punishment value and therapeutic time. Punishment time would be based on severity of offense and be used in determining length of term and place of incarceration. Therapeutic time, or time needed to complete therapy successfully would be a factor in the rehabilitative elements of the sentence such as the requirements for probation.

Osler (1990), commenting on the goals of boot camps, stated that the only one of the five (mentioned previously) that had thus far been achieved was that of cost savings relative to traditional incarceration. He noted with caution that the cost savings would remain only if the boot camp sentences replaced longer sentences in traditional facilities,and at that time (1991) “figures” did not show that boot camp programs brought about a decrease in recidivism or an increase in rehabilitation.

The federal government through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs (OJJDP) authorized three pilot demonstrations of juvenile boot camps in 1981 to be coupled with evaluations sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Those programs were located in or near Cleveland, Denver, and Mobile. (Bourque et al., 1999) Researchers Polsky and Fast (1993) were given the opportunity to evaluate the facility near Cleveland, Camp Raulston located at Hudson, Ohio.

Camp Raulston, like the other two pilot boot camps, was to house 30 recruits for a term of three months, a term that would be followed by a nine-month aftercare program. The camp was managed by a non-profit organization that had twenty years of experience in the design and operation of residential programs for disturbed and delinquent juveniles. The researchers were given complete access to a group of recruits as they went through the program. The researchers also interviewed graduates who were in the aftercare program as well as staff at all levels. Their qualitative research accumulated to more that 100 accounts of recruits in all phases of the program. (Polsky & Fast, 1993)

The findings of Polsky and Fast (1993) leaned to the positive: “Boot camps are perceived in a positive light by staff, the public, and politicians alike. The military model substitutes pro-social norms for those negative norms that offenders have learned on the street. Self-esteem is significantly enhanced, and most recruits graduate with a sense of accomplishment at having finished the program. However, high recidivism rates indicate that the boot camp alone is not enough.”

The researchers characterized boot camps as a “first step” in a rehabilitation program for youth. They suggested that more challenges were required in the areas of education, life skills, and self-realization. They also proffered a need for a more comprehensive aftercare program that would utilize alternative schools and group homes. (Polsky & Fast, 1993)

An interesting aside to evaluation of Camp Raulston by Polsky and Fast (1993) appeared in the popular press. The Mobile boot camp, another of the three programs that were originally funded by the federal government, had to be shut down for three months during its first year of operation. The closure was reportedly to deal with allegations of participant abuse by staff members. (Krajicek, 1999)

Bourque et al. (1996) conducted a process evaluation of the federally funded camps near Cleveland, Mobile, and Denver. Their report referenced a “disruptive factor” at Mobile and Cleveland of having to replace and train new instructors due to burnout and low salaries.

The study by Bourque et al. (1996) highlighted ways in which the three related-by-birth federal programs differed from one another in a philosophical sense. The Cleveland site “stressed building healthy, pro social norms in a safe, comfortable environment that was given order through military regimentation.” Cleveland was the only site to incorporate therapeutic counseling as a central part of its program. The sites at Denver and Mobile focused on more militaristic models “that taught socially acceptable behavior while emphasizing the consequences of deviance.” Mobile included some educational opportunities in its program, while Denver practiced the most comprehensive military model.

Staff was selected to enhance the program designs. The Cleveland program looked for staff with both counseling and military backgrounds “as a check against unhealthy bias toward unstructured treatment or overstructured military drill.” Denver and Mobile looked for staff with military backgrounds, especially drill instructors, and Denver shied away from applicants with counseling or therapy backgrounds “for fear they would have difficulty with the more militaristic aspects of their programs.” (Bourque et al., 1996)

Aftercare, a stipulation of the NIJ grant, also proved to have a philosophical bent. Cleveland, with its emphasis on counseling and rehabilitation, offered the most comprehensive aftercare program. Of the three sites, only Cleveland employed a full-time vocational services counselor and a family services counselor. Denver and Cleveland utilized aftercare centers. Denver’s aftercare center resembled a “small private school” that offered only academic instruction. Other services, like drug counseling, were contracted to outside agencies. Cleveland’s center included an alternative school as well as daily counseling and support services. Mobile, which had no centralized aftercare center, met the requirement by mainstreaming their graduates into the seven local Boys and Girls Clubs. (Bourque et al., 1996)

Bourque et al. (1996) concluded that the demonstration projects failed to show that the boot camp programs were effective. None of the three sites graduated more than 50 percent of the participants in their aftercare programs, and half of those terminated during aftercare occurred as a result of new arrests. Absenteeism was a problem at each site, due in part because none of the sites were able to find effective incentives to promote attendance.

Some states avoided the messiness of negative concerns raised through evaluations by neglecting to have their programs stand for evaluation. The General Accounting Office (as noted in Colledge and Gerber 1998) conducted a survey of 26 states that ran boot camps for adult offenders in 1993. Only five of the 26 reported having completed any formal evaluation. ("'Prison boot camps'"1993)

MacKenzie, Wilson, Armstrong, and Gover (2001) conducted a comprehensive comparison of juveniles in boot camps with juveniles in traditional facilities. One of their conclusions was that the boot camp group viewed their environments more positively than did their counterparts in the traditional facilities. They also found that the youth in boot camps did not appear to have higher levels of anxiety and depression than did those in the other facilities. As noted previously, these researchers found some evidence to suggest that juveniles who had experienced abuse prior to entering boot camps were less likely to exhibit desirable change than those who had not experienced abuse before entering the program. One of the most intriguing findings of MacKenzie et al., however, was regarding African Americans: “For African Americans, there was virtually no relationship between the characteristics of the facility environment, as measured by our single factor, and change in social attitudes, whereas non-African Americans exhibited greater change in the desired direction as the environment became more positive.”

The authors noted that the finding could be due to sampling error, and that if it was confirmed by subsequent research more attention would need to be paid to environmental factors and how they relate to positive change within racial groupings. (MacKenzie, Wilson, Armstrong, & Gover, 2001)

As mentioned previously, Osler (1990) noted that the only one of the five general goals for boot camps that seemed to be being met was the cost savings over traditional facilities. Tyler, Darville, and Stalnaker (2001) compared costs of boot camp programs to costs of maintaining the juveniles on a probationary status, even supervised probation, and found, not surprisingly, that probation was a much more economical option.

The possibility of creating victims in boot camps, either at the hands of abusive staff or through abuse from older and tougher youth, has also been a significant concern to researchers. As already noted, the federal program in Mobile was shut down early on for a period of time due to allegations of abuse by staff. One researcher cited a case that he personally knew about in which a 12-year-old male was a victim of sexual assault in a juvenile boot camp. (Tyler et al., 2001) That same researcher and his fellow researchers observed that “…we now have 12 and 13-year olds frequently thrown together with older juveniles.” They cautioned, “This situation can lead both to physical and psychological harm to the younger inmates and to the latter’s learning of more violent behavior from their older colleagues.” (Tyler et al., 2001)

The United States Justice Department conducted a one-year study of three juvenile boot camps in Georgia in 1998 and found several areas of concern.
1. Guards routinely used extreme forms of corporal punishment under the guise of providing on-the-spot correction, resulting in serious injuries to youths.
2. Mentally ill and disabled youths received inadequate care and services.
3. Inadequate screening allowed youths with injured legs and feet or with serious medical conditions to be admitted into the program.
4. Younger children who had difficulty understanding boot camp commands were being psychologically and physically harmed.

A representative of the Justice Department concluded, “It is our experts’ opinion - and the opinion of many of the boot camp staff and mental health professionals with whom we spoke – that the paramilitary boot camp model is not only ineffective, but harmful to such youths.” ("'U.S. Justice Department says boot camps do more harm than good'",1998)

Two problem areas that stand out prominently and consistently in a review of the research on boot camps are the related issues of aftercare and recidivism. Osler (1990) noted early on that recidivism was a problem. Polsky and Fast (1993) found recidivism to be problematic and went on to argue that boot camps should only be the first step in a process toward rehabilitation. Bourque et al. (1996) showed that the aftercare programs at two of the three demonstration sites were woefully inadequate, and that recidivism was a problem at all three juvenile boot camps. Styve, Mackenzie, Gover, and Mitchell (2000) found no difference in recidivism of youth who attended boot camps compared to youth who were incarcerated in traditional facilities. They felt even though kids in boot camp group tended to view their environments more positively than the other group, “the specific components necessary for changing behavior are no more available in the boot camps than in traditional facilities.”

The research leaves in question the future of juvenile boot camps. High rates of recidivism are a continuing problem, and good aftercare programs, like many other social programs, will be costly and not show immediate results. Clouding the issue even more are the numerous private facilities that seem to proliferate across the landscape like a resistant strain of thistle, scattering seeds of abuse and injustice with an arrogance and impunity that is almost an expectation of an under regulated industry.

Photo Ops, Sound Bites, and Horror Stories: The Public View

The public got on board with the idea of juvenile boot camps early in the process. Violence in schools and on the streets filtered through a sensationalized press and the rabid rhetoric of politicians left many with the impression that the younger generation had run amuck. The call for retribution reverberated loudly through the media and was quickly seized upon politicians hungry for positive attention and votes.

The idea of sending these juveniles to correctional boot camps quickly garnered favor with politicians, even though the same concept when used with adults during the preceding decade had shown disappointing results, especially with regard to recidivism. (Krajicek, 1999) Georgia Governor Zell Miller stated emphatically, “Nobody can tell me from some ivory tower that you take a kid, kick him in the rear end, and it doesn’t do any good.” (Selcraig, 2000) South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow was quoted as referring to some of his state’s juvenile delinquents as “scum” and declared that South Dakota would make a success of juvenile boot camps because South Dakota had always been able to “make things work.” (Selcraig, 2000) Even President Clinton championed the idea of boot camps for delinquent juveniles, and his administration sent a request to Congress to $172 million to aid in the development of such programs. (Simons, 1994)

The political support for juvenile boot camps crossed political philosophies. “For conservatives, they seemed to be a can’t-lose, get-tough solution. For liberals, boot camps represented a palatable alternative to traditional punishment.” (Krajicek, 1999) Seldom noted, but also a factor influencing some national politicians, was the economic and political need to put recently closed military bases to use. (Polsky & Fast, 1993)

Not too long into the age of juvenile boot camps, however, the media found something new to report in dramatic fashion: abuses at the boot camps. Headlines like the ones that follow caught the public’s attention and began building pressure for policy changes:

“Camp Fear” (Mother Jones, 2000), “States pressed as 3 boys die at boot camps” (New York Times, 2001), “Child handcuffed for three days: Boot camp for troubled kids closed” (Associated Press, 2000), “Florida camp delinquents get red ant punishment” (Yahoo News, 1999), “Children were isolated and hogtied, they report” (Rocky Mountain News, 1998), and “A noisy, obvious, gruesome, extended death: Arizona Boys Ranch charges” (Arizona Daily Star, 1999).

The stories all too regularly lived up to their horrific headlines. The vignettes that follow have been taken from the popular press. They deal with three different young people at three different types of facilities: one government, one private, and one private that had contracted its services to a government entity. The vignettes tend to be dramatic in nature. However, no apologies are offered for the dramatic overtones that carry forward into this paper because child abuse and the death of children are tragic events that resonate dramatically across all levels of society and all manner of press.)


Gina was fourteen-years-old and in the eighth grade when she was sentenced to a term in the South Dakota Training School at Plankinton, a disciplinary, state-run “boot camp” for delinquent girls. The incident that brought about Gina’s committal to Plankinton was the theft of a Beanie Baby. (Parenti, 2000) The short and heavy girl (5 feet, 4 inches tall, 224 pounds) arrived at the Plankinton facility in mid-July of 1999. Less than a week after her incarceration began, Gina was pronounced “dead” in an ambulance that was racing to a local hospital. Cause of death: hypothermia; cause of hypothermia: a 2.7 mile forced run on a humid morning, and a significant lack of medical attention. ("'Teenage girl run to death in SD boot camp'",1999) Eyewitnesses stated that by the time Gina finished the run, she was “lying in a pool of her own urine, frothing at the mouth, gasping for breath, twitching, and begging for ‘mommy’”. (Parenti, 2000)


It was another hot July day two years later when Tony’s mother packed him off to a private disciplinary boot camp. His mother, a desperate single parent, felt that she was losing control of her son after he slashed the tires on her car and shoplifted an inexpensive action figure. Tony, like Gina, was fourteen years old when he arrived at the boot camp near Buckeye, Arizona, and, like Gina, he was dead less than a week later.

Tony’s camp was run by America’s Buffalo Soldiers Re-Enactors Association (ABSRA), and was under the direction of a former Marine lance corporal who liked to be referred to as “Colonel”. (Janofsky, 2001b) The “Colonel” had two prior confrontations with law enforcement for domestic violence that included using a sledgehammer to bust in the door of an ex-girlfriend’s apartment, and on another occasion punching the same woman in the face with his fist. ("'Director of boot camp said faced probe'",2001a)

The final autopsy report on Tony listed the cause of death as an accident that “resulted from complications of near-drowning and dehydration from heat exposure” after being forced to stay in direct sunlight for one to five hours in 111-degree heat. (Janofsky, 2001b) The near drowning was not elaborated on in the findings, but news sources said that came about after Tony had passed out from the heat. Camp staff took him to a motel in nearby Buckeye where they placed him in a bathtub and turned on the shower. He was in the tub, unconscious, when staff inexplicably left the room for some reason. When they returned, Tony was face down in the water. Instead of proceeding to a hospital with Tony, the staff, who believed he was faking, returned him to the boot camp. Tony never regained consciousness. (Janofsky, 2001b)

Another indignity that Tony was forced to endure during his week at camp involved being handcuffed and shackled, and having his pants pulled down by staff. He was then beaten on his bare buttocks by a staff member wielding a boot, all the while being kicked repeatedly and having his mouth packed with mud for screaming during the ordeal. (Janofsky, 2001a)


Nicholaus died at another Arizona camp for delinquent teens. The sixteen-year-old had been busted for joyriding in a stolen car in California, and after being adjudicated he was shipped to Arizona to serve his time at a contracted facility. Nicholaus became ill while at the boot camp and complained of nausea and diarrhea. The staff at the camp considered him to be faking, and over the next two months they heaped abuse, both verbal and physical on the youth as his condition worsened. At one point after Nicholaus had begun vomiting regularly and soiling his sheets, staff made him carry around a bucket full of his own vomit, feces, and soiled sheets. It was also alleged that he had to do pushups with his face just above the bucket of “acrid slop”. (Parenti, 2000)

Finally, at the end of a day in which staff allegedly spent a great deal of time throwing Nicholaus to the ground, bouncing him off of a wall, and making him do pushups, the teen collapsed to the ground. When a staff member bellowed for him to get up, “no,” was all that Nicholaus said. He died in the dirt. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest, but the autopsy also detailed that the boy’s stomach was distended and flooded with “more than two-and-one-half quarts of pus from a virulent hybrid infection of staph and strep.” Nicholaus’ lungs were filled with fluid, and his body was “covered with seventy-one cuts and bruises.” (Parenti, 2000)

And So Many Others

Gina, Tony, and Nicholaus are just the tip of an iceberg that has been forming for over two decades, and the stories of children who have suffered and even died in these stark settings just keep coming. In February of 2001 fourteen-year-old Ryan hanged himself in a West Virginia wilderness therapy camp. (Janofsky, 2001d) That same month Michael, aged 12, died at a camp for troubled boys in Florida after being restrained on the ground by a 320-pound counselor for nearly half-an-hour. (Janofsky, 2001d) As many as 31 teens in 11 states have died in these camps since 1980, and 10 of those were in Arizona alone. (Janofsky, 2001d) With an estimated 400 boot camps in operation nationwide (Janofsky, 2001d), the potential for the abuse and deaths of more children would appear to be staggering.

New Directions

In looking at the reality of juvenile boot camps, both governmental and private, through research and the popular press, two things are readily apparent. First, the “in-your-face” methodology of drill sergeants, as measured by recidivism, isn’t working, especially if there is not a strong therapeutic component attached to the programs both integrally and as aftercare. Second, there is an urgent need for stricter oversight of all programs. Both of these situations are changing, but changes in social policy can often be heartbreakingly slow.

Two places where changes appear to be occurring are Maryland and Arizona. Governor Parris Glendening and Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend of Maryland were facing a tough reelection bid in 1998. Their public relations people approached the state’s largest newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, about running a piece on the state’s juvenile boot camp program that would hopefully portray the team of Glendening and Townsend as tough on crime. The reporter chosen to write the article decided that there was more of a story in the boot camp program than the “puff piece” that the state’s leaders hoped to generate. The reporter and a photographer followed a group of 14 juveniles from the day they entered the program through their graduation and first few months back on the streets. When the four-part series finally went to press over a year later, its tales of almost constant physical and verbal abuse perpetrated by the staff brought about investigations, forced resignations, and firings. (Richissin, 2000) One of the state’s three juvenile boot camps was closed, and the other two dropped their military regimen. Governor Glendening appointed a task force to examine aftercare, which had been described in the newspaper series as being “in shambles with probationers routinely skipping drug treatment and other follow-up therapies.” (Marks, 1999) Maryland’s programs are now called “youth leadership academies”, and they include equal parts of classroom work, therapy, and aftercare. (Krajicek, 1999)

Arizona holds the dubious distinction of being the state with the largest number of juvenile boot camp deaths. Tony (described above in a vignette) brought the state’s total to 10 when he died in July of 2001. The fact that Arizona has no regulations or laws governing camps that cycle kids through in less than a year is undoubtedly as attractive to the teen camp industry as it is abhorrent to the parents of those 10 young people who died. (Janofsky, 2001d)

Chris Cumminsky, a state senator from Arizona, commented on his state’s lack of oversight of this industry by saying, “You have to provide more documents to get a fishing license than to run a camp for young boys.” Cumminsky added, “We require nothing to demonstrate that you have the qualifications to engage in this type of activity.” (Janofsky, 2001d) The national spotlight has begun to wither Arizona’s conservative resolve to keep “hands off” of private enterprise, and Governor Jane Hull believes that the legislature has been backed into a position that will force them into action. (Krajicek, 1999)

The unique blend of professional research and stories in the popular press may work together to address the deficiencies of aftercare and oversight, and through that odd union perhaps a solution that will emerge that can truly serve the needs of troubled youth and society. Doris Layton MacKenzie, a researcher with an impressive background in the study of boot camps, took aim at the current situation in America and fired off this summative salvo:

“When boot camps are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad they are horrid – and that’s what’s scary.” (Marks, 1999)

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(2001b). Tranquility Bay: Growing and winning: Teen Help Adolescent Resources.

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Collier, L. (2001, May 27, 2001). The last resort: As desperate parents try boot camp, critics claim that alternative is laced with problems. Chicago Tribune.

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