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Opinion & Essays - Dec, 1996 Issue #43 

By: Mike Weland 
(208) 267-3856
for: Kootenai Valley Times 

(The following recently appeared in a local paper in Bonners Ferry, Boundary County, Idaho, a small rural county in North Idaho. Via’s Place sounds like many places throughout the country where children can escape from responsibility, support, and those who love them, and find adults who will help them escape from accountability in the name of freedom and children’s rights. Since this article was originally published, to help Sarah and her parents, the Catherine Freer wilderness program, 541-926- 7252, granted her a generous scholarship. The results were positive, and she is now in a long term follow-up program. Woodbury Reports is also helping create a FUND FOR STRUGGLING TEENS to help other out-of-control teens in Boundary County.-Lon) 

There is a cancer growing in Boundary County, a cancer that threatens the futures and very lives of children in the community. Like most cancers, this one has grown slowly. When the symptoms first began to show, those who saw them went into denial, refusing to believe the truth in what they were seeing. When they finally began talking about it, few believed. That cancer has grown, gaining strength. It has already claimed one life, though perhaps indirectly. It could threaten many more. 

The full scope of the disease is unknown - much remains hidden. There is much speculation about its spread, but few facts. So far, little has been done to check the growth of the cancer, let alone destroy it. But the symptoms, only now being revealed, indicate the disease is far advanced. The facts are these: 

A 15 year old Bonners Ferry boy lies in an early grave, an 18 year old faces a possible death sentence on a charge of first degree murder, allegedly motivated by a drug deal gone bad. A rebellious 13 year old girl bides time in juvenile detention in Coeur d’Alene, safe for now, but still longing to return to the source of her troubles and her parents’ heartache. Another young former runaway, now putting the pieces of her life back together, reveals a sordid tale of a place she once saw as a haven. 

In looking into the stories behind these four young lives, a single name continuously arises. It is feared they are not the only ones. 

While there is no firm proof and no legal actions have been taken against her, there is little doubt among the concerned parents of those involved that she is an inextricable link to a lifestyle that is destroying the lives of their children, children on the edge. That name is Via _____. Jim and Margaret _____ were in church with their 13 year old daughter Sarah on Sunday evening, September 8. Midway through the service, Sarah rose and quietly walked to the back of the Church, where she slipped out the back door and into what is believed to be a blue Chevrolet pickup truck driven by a young adult male. Unknown to her parents, she was driven home, where she retrieved her belongings. She then disappeared for nearly a week before she was found and placed under arrest high on marijuana and possibly other drugs, from “Via’s Place” at the end of Camp Nine Road. 

Sarah is now incarcerated at the Region 1 Juvenile Detention Center in Coeur d’Alene on a warrant issued for failure to appear in court on a minor in possession of alcohol charge. Surprisingly, that warrant may prove to be Sarah’s salvation. It gave sheriffs deputies the justification to take her into custody and to take her away from a way of life she longs to return to even now. It provides the justification to hold her in detention, providing time, once again, for Jim and Margaret to attempt to reach their daughter. Their greatest fear now is that the law will require her release before that can happen. “

It’s been pure hell for us for about the last year and a half,” Jim said, “Sarah’s not Sarah now, she’s another person entirely. She used to be a smart, sweet little girl, but she’s completely changed. Finding her after she ran away was a joy, and we’ll never stop fighting for her. I still love her, and I always will. I’ll always fight for her. I want to see these dope dealers in jail, I want to see an end to this.” 

Sarah’s classmates agree. The bright, pretty girl they remember is gone now. “Sarah used to be my friend,” one junior high classmate said. “But then she started hanging around with the ‘druggies’ and she really changed. It’s sad. She used to be so pretty. But then she began letting herself go. It’s like she gave up on everything that once meant a lot to her.” 

Known as strict parents, Jim and Margaret have done everything they know to reveal the life Sarah’s fallen into for what it is —a one way ticket to hell. In the past year alone, they’ve spent over $20,000 on counseling and psychiatric help for Sarah, money long saved and hard earned. Nothing thus far, however, has worked. Even as they tried, Sarah grew more rebellious, inexplicably drawn to her perilous new lifestyle despite its heavy costs. Even from detention, Sarah tries to arrange a return to Via’s Place on Camp Nine Road, tries to bring about the promise of false identification and a new life and good job in Oregon or Montana, a life she was offered during the week she was there. 

What they’re doing, ” Jim said, “is getting kids high, talking them into the mind set that they don’t have to have any authority or responsibility, and then putting them on the streets in the big cities.” That of course, is only speculation. If true, however, the implications of an authority far beyond the strength of loving parents bodes a dismal future. The law of the street is unforgiving. It’s hard to imagine what draws young teens into that dark world, ultimately devoid of hope, until you remember the need for independence and the longing for acceptance common at that difficult age, and the naive outlook that life would, and should, be easier without the restrictions posed by parents, school, the establishment. 

Yet despite the longing for freedom, there is still a need for adult approval. And always, it seems, there is an adult willing to say what teens seem to want to hear, and to give them the things they think will make them seem more grown up. According to those who’ve watched and seen what’s happening at the end of Camp Nine Road, Sarah is not alone. “One of the people who helped us find Sarah told me that they’d seen two or three different kids a month at Via’s Place,” Margaret said. “They’re there for awhile, then they’re gone. No one knows where they go.” 

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