Sunday, June 7, 2009

Why You Wrote Boot Camp

Some of the research for Can’t Get There From Here involved speaking to homeless teens on New York’s lower east side. During one interview, a young woman mentioned that she’d run away from home when her parents threatened to send her to a boot camp.

A short time later you read an article about “transporters,” professional kidnappers who parents hire to “grab” their children and “escort” them to boot camps. It sounded shockingly excessive, but you knew from your own experience that sometimes a young person can be so angry, rebellious, and out of control that it is impossible for a parent to force him or her into a car to take them somewhere they don’t want to go. And probably impossible to keep him or her in that car/plane/train long enough to get him or her there.

But there was another aspect of boot camps that you found equally disturbing – the idea that until a child reaches the age of 18 he or she has no legal right to prevent parents from sending him or her away.

You do believe that in the vast majority of cases, sending a child to a boot camp is an act of utter parental desperation. Parents do it because they absolutely believe that it is the only avenue left to prevent a child from self-destructing, either from drug use or some other unlawful and dangerous activity. You have heard a number of stories about young people whose lives were turned around for the better after being sent to a boot camp. But, as you point out in the book, you have also read about young people who have died in such camps.

Among the many problems with boot camps is that most are run on a for-profit basis. In other words, their purpose is dual-fold: 1) To save young people from themselves and 2) To make money for their owners. Like a hotel, a boot camp has a certain number of beds it needs to fill to make this money. And also like a hotel, it can’t make money by turning people away.

So who can really judge who should be sent to a boot camp and who shouldn’t? Should a young woman be sent away because she insists on making “an unacceptable choice of boyfriends”? Should a young man be sent because he refuses to accept his parents’ choice of religions?

One thing you discovered during your research: there are plenty of boot camps that would accept both.

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