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Found this from 2008:

Focused Monitoring Report
State Supported/Operated Programs

(Retrieved from http://

The report appears to be focused on whether kids' educational needs are being met at Three Springs New Beginnings. I am completely unsurprised that the answer is no.

Of note from the report:  "Parents are involved in such activities as Family Support Day."

This leads me to believe that the facility staged some sort of visitation day during the period of the monitoring. (April 28-May 2, 2008)

"The staff maintains certification in the Satori Alternatives to Managing Aggression methods of managing behavior." Che, I remember that you mentioned this SAMA restraint method.

Here is a description of the training: http://

History of SAMA: http://

This program has emerged through a number of transformations. The original program was designed and piloted at Rusk State Hospital in 1980 and was called "Foundations of Verbal and Physical Intervention," or FVPI. Rusk was the ideal site for developing the program because it served literally every client population in Texas, including children and adolescent, geriatric, people with acute and chronic mental illness, chemical dependency, mental retardation, and the criminally insane.

To see whether the program was achieving our goals of safety for our clients and staff members, I checked data on the number and severity of injuries to staff and those we served as well as the number of worker compensation claims filed related to aggressive behavior. The data showed that injury rates went down as more people were trained to use the program. Because of its positive results, on September 29, 1981, the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation adopted the program, and it became required training for all service staff as "Prevention and Management of Aggressive Behavior," or PMAB®.

This trend of fewer and less severe injuries from aggression continued, and in 1985 the Attorney General of Texas presented a special citation to me acknowledging the program's benefit to the citizens of Texas. That citation reads in part:

Mr. Larry Hampton of Rusk State Hospital has earned the Attorney General's Meritorious Safety Award by having met all necessary requirements.

Mr. Hampton was the principal author and training director of the Prevention and Management of Aggressive Behavior (PMAB®) Program, which was implemented within the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (TDMHMR) system in 1980.

The program's primary intent was to minimize both client and employee injuries as well as reduce Worker's Compensation claims. During the last five years, this goal has been realized by achieving significant reductions for client and employee injury rates as well as Worker's Compensation claims.

From 1981 to 1985, while serving as Director of Special Programs at Rusk, I certified all Instructor Trainers for the TXMHMR. I had the responsibility of assuring the competency of these people, who in turn certified instructors at their state hospitals and state schools, but I had no authority to provide oversight or to remove those who did not present the program according to its principles and practices.

In 1985, I assumed the position of Supervisor of Training for the department at Central Office in Austin. Part of my job was to continue certifying Master Trainers formerly called Instructor Trainers. My supervisor and mentor was a person I had taught to be a Master Trainer in the second course I ever taught, and she gave me the assignment to redesign the program and replace the crude original videotapes with up-to-date ones and support them with a comprehensive Instructors Guide. The project was completed and then revised in 1991 as the 2nd edition of PMAB®, which became a registered name that year.

That was also the year I left state employment after 17 years to head Satori Learning Designs, Inc. I had envisioned designing new programs and leaving PMAB® behind. The state held the copyright to the materials I had developed and there was no reason for my further involvement. Then I started getting calls from people who had purchased the program and found that they could not get instruction from the state in how to implement it. Somewhat reluctantly I agreed to instruct people from private and public agencies to use the materials properly and, as important, to understand the meaning of the principles that were its bedrock.

In 1999, the state revised the materials without my official input and took a heavier institutional focus. They also made the materials more instructor intensive and continued to teach elements that I considered outdated. The new materials were understandably focused on the needs of the department and not the needs for risk management of aggressive behavior of the community at large.

Satori Alternatives to Managing Aggression is the response to the needs left unmet. Facilitators and the groups using SAMA are the beneficiaries of the years of development and refinement of what began in 1980 and has been validated by the state of Texas and by facilities throughout the United States and overseas.

When I designed the original PMAB® program it was something I couldn't not do. I saw well-intentioned staff members who were miserable. They were afraid of the people they were supposed to serve. They did not have the tools necessary to keep themselves or their charges safe from the effects of aggression. Now, after all these years, I find I can't not provide the SAMA program to a broader audience, for the same reasons. My hope is that the program's benefits of peace and safety will reach even farther than its predecessor.

Three Springs / Dead ends...
« on: February 25, 2011, 08:26:16 PM »
I'm frustrated tonight.

I found out recently that the lawyer who had the pictures of the bruises I got at Three Springs passed away. I made an inquiry to the Alabama Bar Association to see who got his case files. I was hoping to get my hands on them - not to do anything legally, the statute of limitations is up, but I felt awkward about something so personal being out there in the ether. Would have been nice to put them in my filebox of crazy, or at least destroy them myself. Or, in my fantasies, put it on the internet: "Here's what your kids can expect to get out of their stay at Three Springs."

I haven't heard back from them, so who knows where they are.


I wish I'd known to keep everything. Not to trust my parents or even my mom's lawyer to have the only copy of things. But, hell. I was a kid, and there was no Fornits.


The Troubled Teen Industry / Boxes of Crazy
« on: January 04, 2011, 09:45:39 PM »
Hey folks,

I was just reading in another thread - http:// - where someone referred to their program stuff as a box of crazy.

I have a box of crazy too - a filebox, specifically, which is full of my diary sheets, notes other girls passed to me, magazine cutouts and song lyrics I used to look at when I was depressed, and worksheets, all grouped by facility or time period. I keep it in my closet, or under a side table if I've been going through it recently.

I've been thinking about my box of crazy lately. What is my plan for it? Will I destroy it eventually? Put it in my will for someone else to destroy it?

I haven't figured that stuff out yet for myself. So I wanted to ask you - do you have a box of crazy? What do you do with it now, and what do you plan to do with it in the future?


In my facility, the mantra was dead-or-in-jail. Maybe because the "insane" was already presumed to be true.

It's been hard for me to recognize this mantra as being an untruth. After all, many of us were already almost dead, and some of us had already been in jail. That's what made it look like a fact.

I can see now how it was used to manipulate us. But I was wondering: how have other people dealt with this mantra as adults?

How have you been able to get it out of your head, away from your expectations for yourself and for the other kids who were in programs with you?

Open Free for All / Offa!
« on: September 20, 2010, 02:48:57 PM »
Since this is a section for randomness as well as freedom of speech,

I just have to tell you guys that typing in the password gives me the tiniest bit of joy.

I always think, "Offa!" as an exclamation of joy, like the Greek "Opa!"

Just wanted to share.



Three Springs / Three Springs Documents
« on: September 13, 2010, 03:05:25 PM »

I have a file, about two inches thick, of documents from my time at Three Springs. I'm going to go through them, and post things here that I think might be relevant to other people.

This is the Application for Community Membership.

Application for Community Membership
(Use additional paper and answer each question listed below.)

1. Introduce Self
Where you are from:
Why you are at Three Springs:

2. List the crimes or inappropriate behaviors you have committed:

3. List the victims of these crimes or inappropriate behaviors by name:

4. What was the effect of your crimes or inappropriate behaviors on each of these victims? List each victim and the effect. Be very specific.

5. What has been the effect of your crimes or inappropriate behaviors on your family?

6. What is the current effect of your crimes or inappropriate behaviors on you today? What have you missed out on or lost as a result of your crimes or behaviors?

7. What are the responsibilities of a community member? List them.

8. What is the Positive Peer Culture?

9. Why do you want to be a Community Member in the Positive Peer Culture?

10. What can you bring to the PPC?

11. State the Three Springs Creed or as much as you can. State what these statements mean to you and about you while you are at Three Springs.

12. Be prepared to list specific norms to your group.

The Melting Pot / Cool links thread
« on: September 12, 2010, 04:12:44 PM »
What websites do you visit when you're bored?

Here's a few:

http://   Postsecret is a website where people send in anonymous postcards. Updates weekly, on Sundays.

http://    Dooce: Don't hate her because she's a mommyblogger. She's an ex-Mormon, bourbon-quaffing firecracker with incredible photography skills. (And she has a cute dog whose talent is balancing stuff on his head. Not to be missed.)

http:// and http://   Webcomics by Drew and Natalie. Good for a daily chuckle.

Entertain me!!!

The Melting Pot / What are you munching on?
« on: September 06, 2010, 12:00:55 AM »
Whatcha eatin'?

I'm eating: apple pie flavored ice cream with cinnamon

Three Springs / So, what happened next?
« on: September 01, 2010, 06:19:11 PM »
A lot of us here had experiences in programs, and I was wondering: what does life after the program look like?

For me, before TS I was a total computer geek. Chess club, scholar's bowl, all around geekiness. I was into reading computer manuals in my free time: seriously.

Then, after what happened, I realized that people were more important than staring at a screen 20 hours a day.

My fourteen year old self wanted to be a psychologist so I could go undercover and expose the abusive facilities.

My eighteen year old self wanted to be a psychologist so I could work with families, looking for alternatives to placement.

My twenty-two year old self realized she wasn't going to be of any help to anyone until she got her shit together.

I dropped out of college after five years. Got some really good therapy.

Now I work as a peer support counselor, and I love my job. I work with adults, many of whom were in a local state hospital that closed, helping them to adjust to life on the outside and being a part of their daily support system.

I love my neighborhood, where I can walk to a library and the grocery store and two (!) fantastic Thai restaurants. I still usually have my nose in a book, but computer manuals stopped being my style a long time ago.  ;)

I'm pretty much okay. I have a support system of my own, a family made up of sweet friends. I play guitar and Phase 10. I'm weird, and kind, and grateful I made it to adulthood.

What's your story?   :cheers:

Three Springs / My experience at Three Springs New Beginnings
« on: August 31, 2010, 09:11:28 PM »
I was a resident of Three Springs New Beginnings (and briefly, Three Springs Turning Point) from May of 1997 until the summer of 1998.

I remember that shortly after I arrived, there was a pizza party celebrating the facility's certification for mental health. Before then, according to the other kids, the facility had been more like a correctional facility, and retained that structure during my time there.

The Three Springs "bible" was called PPC, or "Positive Peer Culture." It was basically a rulebook, listing the "norms" that we were to follow, like counting through the doorways and having hospital corners on our beds. It also detailed the level system. On entering Three Springs, we were placed on Orientation Level. Peer level was the highest that most people got, Pledge and Honors being the two that were most unattainable. Many people never got past Orientation Level, and spent most of their time on ROL (Reorientation Level) for "acting out behaviors."

There were certain people who were restrained all the time, who it seems like they spent more time tied to "the board" than they did standing up. There was one staff member in particular, whose initials were B.W., who would beat kids pretty regularly during the restraint process. (He also probably weighed over 400 pounds. No kid stood a chance.)

To say that I felt hopeless during my time there would be an understatement. I had very little contact with anyone on the outside world. I had no contact at all with my parents during the first few months, and then over time I was permitted to have more contact with my mom and sister. All contact with anyone was monitored. If you tried to send a letter mentioning the abuse, it was censored and unsent, and you would be placed on ROL. If you tried to tell someone about the abuse during your 8-minute phone call, the phone was disconnected immediately. Theoretically, our guardians ad litem and our social workers would have been able to have uncensored contact with us, but like most of the kids, I never had contact with my social worker or lawyer during my time at Three Springs.

I was only on ROL once, for a suicide attempt. If you take a fourteen year old kid with an abuse history who has depression, and put them into a facility where kids are abused more and they threaten to keep you until you turn 19... well, I wasn't the only one to think that life wasn't worth living.

One of the punishments that often went along with ROL was "non-com," or "non-communication." That meant you were not permitted to speak to anyone. You also lost clothing privileges and furniture privileges with certain offenses.

Groups also gave punishments to individuals, and groups were punished together for the behavior of one individual.

"School" might as well have been playtime. Since I had the privilege of attending magnet schools before entering Three Springs, I was academically ahead, and the "teacher" didn't know what to do with me, so I ended up teaching other students. Because of this, I was held back a grade in school when I left Three Springs.

The glimmer of hope in this whole mess, for me, was the relationships with particular staff members. Not all of them got sucked in by the systemic culture of abuse at Three Springs; many of the people who worked with us were idealistic, young, and just out to help kids. Unfortunately, they were few and far between, in a sea of adults who had become power-hungry tools of the system that created them.

I remember the moments of goodness, but mostly I feel sick when I think about this place. I remember the screams, the shit-smeared walls, the sound of beatings, pretending to be asleep while my roommate was being sexually abused, the caged windows, the riots. "One, sir. Two, sir. Three, sir," as we walked through doorways. Pleading with group members to conform so they didn't get beaten again. Sneaking to the kitchen in the middle of the night (at Turning Point) to eat uncooked rice because I was starving. I reported the abuse to my judge by smuggling a report out during a day pass, and that resulted in the only time I got beaten. I remember how my glasses were thrown across the room, how a staff member blocked the doorway so I couldn't escape.

It was too much to handle at 14, and it's too much to think about now at 27.

Coming to this website in the past weeks has triggered a recurrence in nightmares.

But being in a community of people who understand makes skipping over all the flaming and bullshit worth it. I think our stories are so important. What happened to us is important.

I'll try to write more soon, but this is all I've got for tonight.

Three Springs / Three Springs, Inc. --> Sequel TSI
« on: August 29, 2010, 07:14:19 PM »
I noticed that redirects to the Sequel website now, and the two sites are very similar (exact same "Parent Questionnaire," program BS, etc.) so I wanted to post some information here from the two websites in case any of it goes missing.

TS History
From the Three Springs August 24, 2007 website (accessed through

Three Springs, Inc. began in 1985 with the establishment of our first outdoor program at Paint Rock Valley in pastoral Trenton, Alabama. At that time, three coldwater springs were discovered on the newly-acquired property and provided the inspiration for our name.

The Paint Rock Valley springs symbolize our belief that residential adolescent behavioral care should offer children an environment, programs and services that work together to strengthen mind, body and spirit.

Since our modest beginning over twenty years ago, Three Springs has experienced steady growth and now enjoys a national reputation for quality services and the successful treatment of troubled adolescents.

Today, Three Springs successfully operates over twenty distinct programs throughout the United States. We are proud of our achievements and are dedicated to continued growth. However, we will never lose sight of the path that led us to success: A steadfast adherence to our Mission Statement and Creed. We also remain unshakable in our belief the children in our care possesses the ability to reach their full potential and grow into happy, healthy, productive young adults.


About Us

Sequel TSI, formerly Three Springs, Inc., started in 1985, in Huntsville, AL as a haven for youth that need a place where they can feel accepted in all their struggles, challenged to grow, and nurtured in their strengths. We have successfully helped boys and girls for the past 24 years.

Sequel TSI, like its parent company Sequel Youth and Family Services, believes that our programming and services are among the elite for youth and families in the country. We maintain a close professional working relationship with our customers, clients, and communities

Today, Sequel TSI successfully operates over 17 distinct programs throughout the United States. We are proud of our achievements and are dedicated to continued growth. However, we will never lose sight of the path that led us to success: A steadfast adherence to our Mission Statement and Creed. We also remain unshakable in our belief the children in our care possesses the ability to reach their full potential and grow into happy, healthy, productive young adults.

The mission of Sequel TSI is the healing and restoration of children and their families. Every resource at our disposal be it financial, human or operational is directed toward this purpose. Our efforts will always be governed by the principles of honor, respect, teamwork, responsibility, accountability and honesty.

This is truly the driving force behind every decision we make as a company.

Beyond the personal reward of helping troubled children and their families Sequel TSI offers competitive compensation and affordable benefits, which are enhanced with each successive year of service.

Our full-time employees enjoy:

•Choice of Medical Plans
•Discount Prescription Drugs
•Wellness Dollars
•Medical Spending Account (non-taxed)

Financial Planning

•401(k) - Vested in 3 years (matching and discretionary contribution)
•Access to investment advice

Meeting Career Goals

•Job-Specific orientation
•Continuing Education
•National and regional conference attendance
•Certification and license accommodation
•Tuition assistance
•Recognition awards
•Company-wide promotion opportunities

Balancing Career and Home

•Paid Vacation
•Paid holidays
•Accommodating scheduling with advance notice

Facing Tough Times

•FMLA-Extended Leave
•Short-term disability insurance
•Long-term disability insurance


So, just in case anyone thought something could be improving there: nope.


And the beat goes on.

Three Springs / 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.

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