Author Topic: Riot experience at Three Springs  (Read 18285 times)

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Offline Hedge

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Riot experience at Three Springs
« on: August 28, 2010, 04:40:28 PM »
Hi folks,

Che asked me in another thread about what happened during the riot I mentioned, and I thought I'd post it under a new topic.

I wrote about the riot during college, working on it over the course of a semester with a very patient and brave teacher.

Names (and genders) have been changed, but everything that happened is fact.


I still dream of the war. Battles, so many battles, and memories of exhaustion and defeat fill my head. I don’t know, though, what you might call what happened to us. A struggle, maybe, a conflict? Those words almost start to fit, but can’t begin to cover the whole story. War is the only thing that comes close. It’s how I’ll always remember what happened.

I remember the night before the riot. Everything was crazier than usual anyway because a boy had successfully run away, he was gone for two weeks, and they hadn’t found him until he had already overdosed on cocaine. We were all responsible for each other, even though we were all there for behavior problems and obviously couldn’t control ourselves: not for ourselves, and definitely not for some group of boys we just happened to be thrown together with. But we had to be punished anyway, so they put the treatment center on lockdown as soon as he escaped. They took all the furniture out of our day room, and then we were supposed to sit there in absolute silence 24 hours a day, for an indefinite period of time. We couldn’t sleep in our rooms or eat in the cafeteria; we had to just sit there in a circle, staring, and our backs weren’t allowed to touch the wall. Most of us had been through worse, but the pure endurance of it all left some of the boys’ resolves to crumble, and they started to cry.

But it was that night, the night before it all happened, that I first knew there was a battle looming in the air. Many of us sensed something, I think--we were more fidgety and glancing around more than usual. It was the looking around that seemed most pointless to me. Most of us had been there at least six months, and the surroundings never really changed much. Four empty beige walls of day room--the one straight back led to the staff room, the two on either side led to our rooms and bathrooms, and the last wall had a corridor that led to the Outside. Caged windows gave us a glimpse of our back yard, some grass and a log to sit on, enclosed by a barbed-wire fence. It was exactly the same every day, and I guess it got to be comforting after a while. Before we were sent here, most of us lived in foster homes and group homes and we never knew if we’d be sleeping in the same bed two nights in a row. At least here, in this dumping ground of forgotten children, we knew that much. Yep, we’d be there tomorrow.

But that night before, we were all more uneasy than usual. Five of the guys had congregated in the middle of the circle, speaking in hushed tones so the adults in the staff room wouldn’t hear them and break up their conversation. It had been so long since I’d talked to anyone... but I was afraid of getting caught. I’d have to start the program over for violating the lockdown conditions, and that would be seven months of my life down the drain. Do you know how long seven months is when you are fourteen years old? An eternity, that’s how long. I had too much to lose to talk then, but seeing those other boys talking to each other shot jealousy running through me. You know, if I was allowed, I would have asked some of the crying boys, “Hey, how ya holdin’ up?” Or I would have mumbled something reassuring to the group: “It’s going to be okay, guys, it can’t be for much longer.”

You might not have ever been in a place like this, so it might seem weird for me to want to talk like that. So open, so concerned. But that’s what they teach us here: empathy for others and allegiance to the group. I would have known I was lying, and they would have known I was lying, but I just wanted to say the words anyway.

I didn’t know what those boys were talking about was battle plans. Nobody knew until the next day: Thanksgiving.

The kitchen staff cooked us a different meal that day. We had turkey and green beans and cranberry sauce, but none of it seemed relevant to us. Thanksgiving, turkey... It was like ghost food--an afterthought of some tradition somebody else followed. We could almost taste the insult.

The higher-up staff, the administration, wanted us to feel like they had been thinking about us in some special way that day. But all it did, all that cardboard Thanksgiving stuff did, was to make the day seem even more eerie, more off.

The battle plan boys only talked once that day, as opposed to their relatively consistent discussions the day before. They crawled to the middle of the circle, and one of them whispered something. Then, the rest nodded with deadness and sparks in their eyes, and that was it. They crawled back to the larger circle, trying too hard to look calm.

Night rolled around and the staff gave us our mats and pillows and we all lay there, arranged in lines across the day room.

I couldn’t sleep. I just lay there swirling in the afterimages of the day’s anxiety, staring at the ceiling, trying to soothe myself somehow. Shift change was at midnight, and I saw two of the newest staff members walk in and look at us lying there with some sympathy in their eyes. They hadn’t learned yet that they were supposed to see us as something other than human, something less, something insignificant. The afternoon staff left at about 12:15, and it was just the two of them and us.

And I just can’t help but think that everything that happened that night from that point forward was my fault.

See, I was on a high enough level in the program that I was allowed to have my shoes, and I’d laid them next to my mat without even thinking. I can’t even believe it now. God, I can’t believe how stupid I was! Because Steve, the perpetually suicidal, was lying next to me on his mat.

I glanced down at my shoes in a fleeting way. I was just checking them, checking to make sure they were still there, hadn’t been stolen or anything. But when I looked at them, I saw that the shoelaces were missing. I was confused for a second, not sure what was going on. But then I had a flash and instinctively, I just knew it was him.

“Steve?” I whispered, and when he didn’t answer, I was on top of his mat in half a second pulling back the blanket, and then I saw him--his face was blue, so blue I could tell even in that dark room--and there he was, with my shoelaces wrapped many times around his neck.

The laces were knotted it seemed like fifty times, and I tried to get them untied but I couldn’t. I pulled at the knots desperately but my clumsy fingers couldn’t maneuver between the tightly-wrapped cords. I yelled out to the staff, “I need scissors!” and then I stuttered something about my shoelaces. I felt like I was choking and my head was going to explode--I never was good in a panic. The new staff guy looked at me piercingly, trying to assess my trustworthiness in a five-second glance, trying to decide whether to get the scissors, and then saw Steve and went to get them.

He gave them to me, office scissors with orange handles. As soon as the scissors were in my hands, I heard the rustle of moving bedsheets and then a sudden silence that told me that a boy or two, at least, had gotten out of their makeshift beds--but I didn’t think much of it. My eyes couldn’t see anything but Steve just then. The staff guy was standing close by, but he had stopped watching me with the scissors and was looking into the darkness of the room at something.

But I had to cut those laces. He probably wouldn’t have died, just passed out, but I didn’t know that. I was only fourteen, and all I knew was that someone had to help him. If the only one willing to be that someone was me, then so be it. So, I forced the end of the scissors under the top layer of laces. I was so busy trying to cut through them that I wasn’t paying attention any more to the other motion in the room, the sounds of the other boys who’d gotten up from the mats. I didn’t look up until out of the corner of my left eye I saw one of the guys from the middle pull one of the phones off the wall and throw it to the floor so that it smashed into a thousand pieces. I glanced to the right--another guy had ripped the other phone out of the wall. A third guy, a smaller one, ran quickly to the staff room and smashed the phone there, the only one left.

I heard breaking glass, but I couldn’t look up again. I had to get the shoelaces off. I cut them finally, and was shocked by the deep purple and red welts the laces had left in the tender white flesh of his neck. I don’t know what I’d expected, but it certainly wasn’t that. I tried to see if Steve was okay, to see if he was breathing, if his coloring was starting to return to normal, when I heard this weird noise and the room was getting filled with some kind of smoke. Everyone was coughing and choking and people were yelling “I can’t see! I can’t breathe!”
and the boys had run into one of the side doors, with enough force that it was broken open. The door alarms were piercing and the fire alarms were tripped and
I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t breathe, and I realized the smoke was from the fire extinguishers.

They’d sprayed them into the air and no one could see anything.

And I’d lost track of Steve in the sudden fog.

I tried to get to the staff--they were the only people I knew I could turn to in an emergency. The rest of the time, well, their kindness to me was up in the air. But they were always running to the rescue in one way or another: restraining kids, tying them to the board, putting them in the time-out room, just whatever needed to be done.

But not then. Not then. I ran to the staff room and I knocked on the door and I begged them to let me in, but they wouldn’t. They saw it was me... it was just me! They KNEW I wasn’t trouble! But still, they wouldn’t let me in. I saw his face, the new man’s face with big scared brown eyes, looking out at me. They looked out at me and saw me there and just kept the door locked.

And no one could see anything, and no one could breathe, and everyone was panicking at once.

The five kids who’d done this had gone out a door, but we didn’t know where to go to get out.

Everyone was screaming or crying or calling out the names of the people they knew well. I heard name after name called out, no answers: no one was locating anyone. There were kids crawling through the maze of abandoned mats and there were kids running like panicked animals without getting anywhere, and I was frozen.

Finally I got up the courage to start looking for an exit or other kids who might have been in trouble, so I felt along the walls until I found the hallway. I walked down slowly, calling out for anyone who could hear me.

I made it to the bathroom and I found Jim crouched on the floor, wheezing heavily. I saw the panic in his eyes, he was like a dying animal. “I ... can’t... breathe... asthma..”

“Okay, I’ll try to find an exit. Stay here, and try to get close to the vents. Maybe there’s better air down there.”

It wasn’t just about me any more.

Adrenaline pumped through me and I felt my way along the walls. The smoke seemed to get thinner as I went down the hall, and finally the smoke cleared enough that I could see the end of the hallway: the door was open.

I panicked again. Looking back, I can’t believe I did this. I mean who the fuck CARES? But I was standing there looking at the broken open door and I was thinking, “If I step outside without staff’s permission, I automatically get on the lowest level. I have to start over.” My heart was beating so fast and I could feel the blood rushing to my extremities. I didn’t want to give up everything.

But Jim was there, inside... and all I really knew at that moment was that he needed to get out of that building.

So I went back in. He was still gasping on the floor and I just said “Come on! I found a way out!” and helped him up and out the door.

And that was it, I was outside. I’d broken the rules and I was fucked. That was it, that was just the end. So I figured.... I’m still in okay shape, I need to see if anyone is still inside. And as soon as that thought crossed my mind, I remembered: I needed to find Steve. I started to head back in when Jim stopped me.

“The fence... we’re trapped... we have to... find a way out... through the building.”

Fuck! Why hadn’t I thought of that?

We were in fresh air, but we were still trapped by the fence. No one would come get us out there any time soon--they’d have to go through the building to get to us. Should I leave him to find a way out of there? Should I stay with him to make sure he didn’t pass out? What was I supposed to do? Even out of the fog, his breathing was growing less regular, more forced. I just didn’t know what to do.

Fear threatened to paralyze me and in that second I just wanted to curl on the ground next to him and give up. I would have stayed there and comforted him, hoping that someone got to us before he died. Before my heart was completely buried inside me and my mind was disconnected from reality.

But I just moved. I let my instincts take over and I left Jim in the fresh air, went back inside, looking for a way out and looking for more people. I followed the walls to the day room, shutting my eyes to the stinging fire extinguisher fog, and stepped carefully around the perimeter of the wall since the place was in such a mess.

I found another open door: the door to the hallway to the Outside. I didn’t know if an outside door was opened... I just knew if there was a way out--and there must have been, because there were a handful of people still in the building instead of the original thirty--that was it.

That was the only other way out of the building.

I didn’t check to see. I didn’t know anything about asthma but I knew people died from it if they couldn’t breathe, and I knew I had to get Jim to safety.

I went back to get him, and led him back to the door where I’d turned around.

We walked down the long hallway together. I was holding him up, helping him walk, and finally at the end of the hallway I could see:

The door was open. The door was open!

There were police cars lined up outside and ambulances, and I was never more glad to see adults in my life. Everyone was so busy, but the chaos out here was close to being comforting: it wasn’t my responsibility any more. The battle was over.

A paramedic came and got Jim and then I was standing there, alone. I took a sharp breath of fresh air and began to sob with relief. I felt myself come back, alive again instead of just moving, for the first time in an eternity that couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes long. I collapsed on the cool concrete and stayed there on my hands and knees, dazed, until someone came to get me and led me to the adjacent group home.

A few kids other than Jim went to the hospital that night. Two kids had been temporarily blinded because the runaways sprayed them directly in the eyes with the fire extinguishers. Another kid had been assaulted--they broke his arm on the way out. In places like this, there are longtime feuds and rivalries, and this time, the revenge had been bigger than any one of them.

Steve was okay too, I found out later that night. I feel so angry now, talking about him--why was taking care of Steve always my job? I guess it had to be, though. I suspect that those new staff had been instructed to just ignore Steve’s “attention-seeking behavior,” and the new staff guy’s reluctance to help me was because he didn’t want to get in trouble with the shift supervisor, who would have issued that order. My philosophy on the matter was that if a boy needed attention so badly that he was fast on his way to becoming septic because of all the staples and other metal objects he’d shoved under his skin and left there, for Christ’s sake, give the boy whatever attention he needs. He had to start the program over again, but my relaying of that information seems redundant, obvious. It was his twentieth or so suicide attempt in the four months he’d been there, and he never got past that lowest level.

The middle-of-the-circle boys were caught, but not punished very much because they were afraid of another revolt.

One battle, that night. One battle in a war too enormous for me to comprehend. I still can’t. I just can’t get my head around it. I mean... this stuff just doesn’t HAPPEN to people. The harder I try to understand it all, the further I get myself entangled in my own confusion. I can’t get a handle on it, thinking about it while I’m awake.

So I dream about it.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by Guest »

Offline Che Gookin

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Re: Riot experience at Three Springs
« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2010, 08:49:50 PM »
Very good read, I remember a riot out at the Boy's Choices program. The police that were called flat out said they couldn't press charges, wasn't in their jurisdiction.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by Guest »

Offline mbnh31782

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Re: Riot experience at Three Springs
« Reply #2 on: July 16, 2011, 03:42:58 PM »
Reading that reminded me of the riot we had at our TS Facility.  There was one about a month before I got hired and sent to work at Three Springs Wayne County.  It resulted in one of the cabins getting shut down and other kids being shuttled to the remaining two cabins, overstressing the staff, packing the cabins to more than their maximum capacity and fueling even more problems.  

While I was there, there wasn't a riot, but there WAS an incident where we needed to involve the police and effectively place the campus into "lockdown".  Two girls jumped into the nearby lake, infested with alligators and insisted on staying in the water for several hours.  We were told to largely ignore the two, but when they wouldn't come out, the administration told us staffers to go in after them.  We ALL said NO!  It was probably the best decision I ever made while working at TS.  They ended up calling out the sheriffs office and placing all the kids on isolation lockdown until the two offenders could be forcibly removed from the campus.

Some of the things I witnessed there was insane.  I only wish and hope the kids know that I only meant to help, not hurt, and that I'm sorry.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by Guest »