Clayton has run away. With only three months to go before finishing his drug court program, he decided to run with two other kids from his group home.
It leaves a big empty space in me--the same as it did when Hannah left the farm suddenly a few weeks back and we didn't know if we'd see her again. We're like an organism, at the farm. Maybe others don't feel it, but when one person leaves unexpectedly in this way, I feel their absence like a huge gap, an important part missing.
It was such a surprise to all of us that Clayton took off. Clayton, of all people! everyone said. He was the most dependable!
We found out a few days later that Clayton and his friends stole a car. Clayton was arrested for drunk driving and grand theft auto and is now in jail..
I worry so much about these kids. They are called "at risk" teenagers. I was wondering, initially, what that really meant. Over the summer, I've realized that they seem to share a certain inequilibrium that I'm not accustomed to seeing in people. I mean that they appear to be stable in themselves to some degree, but then they make choices that completely and very suddenly change the course of their lives.
There is a lot going on inside them that is hidden. There is a lot going on inside all of us that is hidden. I wish they wouldn't put on their best face for us while so much is bothering them underneath. They don't easily trust others. For as much as rehabilitation programs focus on communication, I feel like we still fall so short, in general, in our abilities to communicate what is really going on for each of us in our lives. We each have certain issues we share with coworkers and friends, others we keep hidden. We say they are too personal? Irrelevant? "The System" in which these kids are being "rehabilitated" fails to break that barrier. It unfortunately maintains the possibility of leading a double identity--the face we show at the farm, the person we really are inside. What is it about all of us that resists intimacy, that prizes privacy? For what ends?
Though I know there is nothing I could have done to prevent the course of events in Clayton's life, his predicament enlightens the limitations in my own ability to communicate and create intimacy between myself and these kids. Was Clayton's decision as sudden as it seemed? Or was he really troubled with no real friend to talk to for a period of time beforehand?
I have tried, in my way, to build friendships with each of the kids, but I think there is that same something in myself, and maybe in them, that resists intimacy. The kids don't necessarily trust the sincerity of those around them, either, and often just say what they think I want to hear. I've try to have candid conversations with Jordan about how he feels being taken away from his family and placed in a group home against his will. He says he wants to go--"it'll help him stay out of trouble and create certain changes in his life." That's what he says. It's like he knows the lines that the "grown-ups" want to hear. He's very good at simulating the transformation he thinks they are looking for. But I'm never sure how he feels.
On a hopeful note, I have seen that in some small way, the farm has had a positive influence on each of the kids. They have each had their beliefs challenged, have learned to like things (and people) they never expected to like, and have each expressed that being accepted by everyone on the farm has made a big difference to them.
Donny, while we were pulling weeds one day, started asking questions about how to apply for college. He said his family and friends had been unable to answer his questions. It was one small moment of satisfaction for me—knowing that the farm, and Donny’s new relationships there, were providing something that he needed.
The experience on the farm has helped me to remember not to expect big changes. Working in any capacity where the expectation is a change in the lives of others requires a lot of patience and true humility. One problem with rehab programs is that the change is predetermined; a particular change is expected. When we don't see the desired results, we can feel that no impact has been made; no result achieved. But considering Donny's question, I realize that the response to one question, asked because Donny felt at ease and felt he could get an answer, could possibly change the course of a whole life.
In terms of the therapeutic benefits of farm work, they are impossible to quantify. We cannot look only for revolutionary change in the behavior of an individual--a drug addict reformed and rehabilitated. The farm has left its mark in all of our lives. It may be, in Donny's case, the realization that women with hairy legs can be nice people. It may be, in Jordan's case, the discovery that he really likes to cook. It may be, in any case, the response to a question we raise, or the question that raises itself in response to our work that begins to guide our lives in a slightly different direction.