|Posted by Roland R. Hansen on May 24, 2020 at 5:35 PM|
This testimony was found on another blog. Praise the author for telling his story
It was late, at least 3 in the morning. Everyone was still awake and I heard them talking about people arriving soon. With that I looked out my window to see a taxi pulling into the parking lot, leaving its mark in the uniformly white snow.¨I watched it as it slowly crept by each building, only stopping when it found its target. Both passenger doors opened up and two large men stepped out. They surveyed the building for a second, glanced at each other, and started walking towards my building and out of site. My heart started racing as I awaited the now inevitable. I would have to play along with whatever I was dealt with. I could handle it, its just rehab right? I walked out to the living room where my family seemed to realize the two men were on their way up. My mom couldn’t look at me, seemingly on the verge of tears. Then the knock came. A flurry of nervous activity erupted, as nobody seemed to know how to act at the moment.
My grandfather opened the door, and the men asked him where I was. Two very large Jamaican men, representing themselves as private detectives from Miami, came straight over to me. I was put in handcuffs, and they asked my family if they wanted to say their goodbyes. My brother came up to me again and gave me a hug, as did my father. My mother was sobbing at this point, and kept telling me she didn’t know they were going to handcuff me. I reassured her, contrary to all my feelings surrounding the day; a son does not look at his crying mother with any satisfaction, even if he was cursing her just moments before. At least I didn’t think so then.
The goodbyes were said, and the men grabbed me by both arms and escorted me to the waiting taxi. My father, brother and grandfather followed. I was put into the back seat with the larger of the two men. I glanced over as the driver shifted into drive. The image I saw has never left my mind. My grandfather in his trench coat and fedora stood in the middle of my father and brother. They were side by side staring at the cab, the snow gently easing its way down flake by flake. I focused on a single snowflake, drifting from above the streetlamp, meandering down through the orange hue, and finally coming to rest at my grandfather’s feet; no more an individual, just a single color spread as far as I could see.
We arrived at the airport. I had learned, during the trip, that I was being sent to a program located in Jamaica and would probably be there for a couple weeks if I “worked” the program. I was taken aback by the location, but two weeks didn’t seem too bad at all. A trip to Jamaica, I was sure this was going to be interesting. The handcuffs did concern me, though I brushed it off as a precautionary measure. And besides, what a badass I must have looked like getting escorted through airports in handcuffs. I even gave some nasty glances to older ladies staring curiously at the blond hair blue eyed boy sandwiched between two large Jamaican men.
First we flew to Atlanta and then onto Montego Bay, Jamaica. As we got off the plane, Jamaican women lined up in the aisle that led to the lobby, singing native songs and shaking everything they had for the tourists who were at the heart of the country’s economy. I almost felt like I was cheating, not intending to spend a dime there, and yet getting a free show anyway. Oh well, it wasn’t my choice, but my mood was elevated by the women, and the temperature too. It was a hundred degree difference from my city, and in February that made me pretty damn happy.
We were met by a driver from Tranquility Bay, the program I was headed to. We exchanged pleasantries, and in my naivety I thought this could actually be fun. Everything so far indicated that it could be alright. Well everything except the handcuffs. But I knew my mom, and she would never put me in harms way; there was nothing to worry about.
The drive to Tranquility Bay was amazing. We drove through the heart of Jamaica’s jungles and hills. People lined the roads in certain parts, barbequing and smoking what I could have sworn were large spliffs. The driver instilled visions of Grace Kelly’s final minutes as he darted around slow moving trucks while turning a corner or speeding 50 mph on a road no larger than a car and a half. It was exhilarating though; knowing that despite the normalcy of the grass, the familiarity of the sky, and the common traits of the people here compared to people I knew at home, I was actually in the middle of Jamaica’s jungles. A place you heard stoners idolize, a Rastafarian hideaway, the heart of the Caribbean.
A sudden realization of my situation was brought about as we entered the Tranquility Bay compound. There were lines of American boys, all dressed in brown shirts and khaki shorts, nobody moving a muscle and all looking straight ahead. Every single head was shaved down to a stubble. Behind them was a clothes line that had more of the shirts and khakis, hanging lifeless while they gestated to their owner’s desired form. Thick, boisterous Jamaican accents directing the boys into their proper positions echoed in my mind as I surveyed the rest of my new home.
Barbed wire surrounded a two story whitewashed building which comprised the majority of the area. The upper level was used as sleeping quarters, and the bottom as the administrative area with a cafeteria and bathrooms attached. Behind the building I noticed more boys; they were lined up side by side in their swimming trunks while a Jamaican staff member tested the pressure of water pouring out a hose. He then turned to the guys lined up and started spraying them down. Most of them jumped as the cold water jolted their senses awake, and then squirmed as the staff member held the water on each one for a minute as they used their soap to wash off. The only voices I heard, though, were those of the Jamaicans. No verbal protest from the cold shower just administered, no adolescent jabbing as the boys stood around doing nothing but what they were told. This was what I had to look forward to.
It was a numbness that the boys were feeling; something I can only imagine is referred to in military personnel’s infamous “thousand yard stare.” A hopeless state that you become resigned to amidst confusion, pain and practice. And as soon as I realized this, I too was immersed in the anxiety and nervousness that seemed to prelude the absence of it all.
That was the life at Tranquility Bay, as I came to understand it; a complete separation from everything and everyone you ever knew. I could go on to describe the individual activities that we participated in everyday, or the abuse that was rampant throughout the facility, or the food that was so sparse; however a much simpler explanation is what there wasn’t. There were no calls home, no objections, no talking, no hot showers, no sugar, no shoes, no hair; there was nothing except you and your consequences; consequences seen and heard nearly everyday. From trying to fall asleep while listening to a 15 year old kid thrown to the ground off his bunk bed, and then dragged out into the hallway and beat for 30 minutes; to being forced to lay absolutely rigid, face first on the ground for a solid week, under the threat of physical punishment if refused.
For the first few weeks I told myself that as soon as a letter got home, I would be taken out. My mother would never approve of a place that treated kids this way. You can only hold on to hope for so long though. Other guys had been in for two years or more, and they all knew what was happening. The parents, families and authorities were all told that we were “manipulating” them. Every time a kid would get out and talk about what happened, or write home with the nasty accounts of the week, the program would counter with their one and only excuse, that kids are manipulative. And it worked. I only received two letters back, and they were not empathetic to the situation. Nothing I could say or write would ever change the stigma attached to a “troubled youth.” Hope, it seemed, was for another time and place. With little choice, I continued the daily routines, and delved deeper into my own void.
Every single day mimicked the last. Every single back of a shaved head looked the same. Every foot was in step while our lines walked; every mouth was shut. And the daily screams were just as desperate as yesterday’s. Hours turned into days and days into weeks.
I turned 18 in July, and demanded that I be let go. I was threatened with only receiving 20 dollars and a plane ticket to Miami if I did not stay and complete the program. So I made a deal to be transferred to a program in Montana that was alleged to not be as harsh. I was supposed to complete the program while in Montana. Two more months of the same numbness though, convinced me to leave the program no matter where they left me.
I was driven to Thompson Falls, Montana where I was given 50 dollars and a train ticket to Seattle. There I was, standing outside a small train station in the middle of Montana, in the dead of night. I stood there, as if I was still standing in line listening to orders barked down at me, but with a sliver of anticipation growing. Anticipation? It was alien to me at that point. It almost felt as if I was scared. Maybe I was scared. In 7 months I went from just another kid about to graduate high school, to a person who doesn’t even know his own feelings. My family had disappeared, my personality was dormant, and all that was left was the train to a city I didn’t know and the odd feeling of anticipation.
In reality, I learned a great deal from my experiences. People, places, and languages, that I had never known, demanded my attention. An understanding of how to internalize and introspect was gained. And I’ve heard that whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you tougher. I didn’t turn out the way the program or my family envisioned I would. It was hard going to a city I had never been to before, and trying to figure out how to get started again. I got into some trouble here and there, but I kept the lessons I learned with me. Life wasn’t as hard anymore; situations could be put into perspective. I had learned about life’s bottom, or near to it, and I looked forward to the rise up.
More information about Tranquility Bay