Monday, April 13, 2009

A Troubled Youth

He was just a kid, but he was a big kid; much taller and broader than any of the other boys in our Scouting group. At age 13, he was already as large as most of the adult volunteers involved in the program. Occasionally he inadvertently caused damage because he didn’t know his own strength.

I could tell right away that there was something odd about this boy. He seemed much less stable than other boys his age. He alternated between being a bully and a wimp, almost within the blink of an eye. Even the boys that were closest to him had difficulty carrying on normal conversations with him. Based on the interactions I have had with hundreds of boys this age, I must say that this boy’s behavior was sometimes bizarrely abnormally antisocial. While he was intelligent and was often quiet and respectful, he seemed to have difficulty separating reality from fantasy.

This boy had been adopted by a kindly couple when he was very young after the courts had taken him from his natural parents. His adoptive parents had provided a good home for him, but they occasionally sought professional counseling in dealing with him.

Two of the most popular boys in our Scouting group lived near this boy. They worked hard to befriend him. He came to our meetings because they brought him. He basked in the attention these popular boys gave him, but he would occasionally treat them harshly for no apparent reason whatsoever. Other times he would follow them around like a lost puppy dog, although, they sincerely just wanted him to be their equal.

Eventually, the boy stopped coming to our meetings because he temporarily relocated. By the time he returned, I had relocated and was involved with a different Scouting group. A few years later, I moved back to my previous area. The boys I had worked with in Scouting had moved on. Occasionally I would run into one of these young men. On one such occasion I asked what had become of the troubled boy. The report of self destructive behavior was not good.

Then one day the news reported that this large young man had been arrested for murder. He had apparently killed a friend so that he could steal the friend’s dilapidated worthless automobile. I felt deeply sad, but I was unsurprised by this turn of events. It seemed to be part of a pattern.

The young man’s parents soon moved away. Many years have passed since then. I have no idea what has become of this man. He may still be in prison. If that is the case, I have no idea where he might be incarcerated. Whether in prison or not, I wonder what condition he is in. I’d like to hope that he is being successfully treated for mental illness so that he is not a danger to others, but that may be too much to ask for. At any rate, I hope that he senses something positive about the time he spent with our Scouting group.

When you work with young people, you don’t get to determine the course they will take in life. The best you can hope for is to have some kind of constructive effect on their future choices, given the circumstances they face in life. Among my former Boy Scouts I count doctors, soldiers, teachers, engineers, architects, musicians, craftsmen, builders, salesmen, entrepreneurs, correction officers, social workers, and many other productive people. But I also count at least one murderer.


Bradley Ross said...

Wow, that is a sobering account. It caused me to try to find an article I read a while ago about the fall of the asylum. I couldn't find it. Essentially, it talked about the backlash against the horrible treatment people received in asylums that resulted in them being eliminated.

Instead, I found this statistic. (The follow up comments were also very interesting.)

Percentage of American adults held in either prison or mental institutions in 1953 and today, respectively: 0.67, 0.68

Percentage of these adults in 1953 who were in mental institutions: 75

Percentage today who are in prisons: 97

Travis said...

While I can't go as far as remorsefully knowing a scout that became a murderer. I to have seen a similar failure. I couldn't write about him as eloquently as you have, but I know a boy is is currently in jail for possession of an illegal fire are, and possible for intent to use it in a hostile way.

Thanks for share with me, it helps to know that I am not the only one who was unable to help a boy when he needed it.

Reach Upward said...

There were many abuses in the asylum system. In many ways it was dysfunctional and failed to fill the needs of those it aimed to serve.

But completely getting rid of the asylum has left us worse off in many ways. The replacement system of state mental hospitals and prisons is also dysfunctional. Prisons suffer from constant overcrowding and state mental hospitals nationwide are crumbling.

This inadequately meets the needs of those suffering from mental illness at the same time that it fails to adequately serve the public.

As a society we deal poorly with mental illness. It is not well understood and we are frightened by it. Although we lack asylums today, we often want to get the mentally ill out of sight so we don't have to think about the problem.

We must have ways to keep the public safe from those that pose a threat to others, whether they are mentally ill or not. But it would be nice if we could better help those that bear less culpability for their acts as a result of their condition.