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Opinion & Essays - Jun, 1996 Issue #40 

"Love bears all things;"
-1 Corinthians 13
by: Jackie and Dave Morrow
Riverside, ILL. 

(The following is from one of my first clients to find me through my Homepage on the Internet's World Wide Web. Sharing their experiences might be reassuring to other parents facing the same hard placement decisions. -LON) 

It was then, when there seemed to be no answers, that Dave tapped into the Internet to discover "WILDERNESS" treatment centers. That was the beginning of our own investigation for which I believe Dave receives full credit. With the help of an Idaho consultant, two wilderness programs were selected. 

The first program was the Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Treatment Program which operates out of Oregon. Their main objective is to have small groups of troubled teenagers, groups numbering about six-seven, survive backpacking (each carrying fifty-plus pounds of food, clothes, tents) in the Cascade Mountains or deserts. Each teenager is responsible for themselves and their team members in food preparation, daily camp set-up and take-down. They must start their own fires for food preparation and locate their water for washing and cooking. The kids write daily in their journals of their personal feelings, their reactions to nature and team members, their lessons on philosophy, religion, and experiences surviving the wilderness. Each is also to focus on their main problem, the reason why they're there, and write a recovery plan for themselves. Mike had a "jump-start" for this particular program.... 

We flew out to Portland on Good Friday, rented a car and immediately started driving south four hours into the mountains. On Saturday morning at 9 A.M. we joined Mike for the first time in a month and met his teammates and their families. It was a beautiful, sunny, brisk day and the setting for this meeting was breathtaking. On a floor of pine needles in the pine woods of the Cascade Mountain Range all six families formed a ring around a continuously burning wood fire for nine hours talking and listening to each other's stories. It was directed by the three therapists who were the supervisors of the six kids on the trail and one of the doctors of the program. The focus was directed on the kids and their problems, and their personal growth through this trek. There were many tears and there was laughter...but more importantly understanding, respect, and pride of their survival. 

Our impressions of Mike were these. He seemed the best one going through and coming out of this journey of six. He and one other, I believed, best persevered this trek. They were the only ones who could build and start a fire. He was the first one to initiate a very articulate written plan for his recovery when coming home. When talking, he was clear, focused, and articulate. He answered all of our questions honestly and sincerely. He told us of certain actions that he was ashamed of and said he was sorry. Dave and I were very moved. It was a tremendous healing experience that I'll always embrace and cherish. He told us what he liked best and that was reaching a pinnacle of a mountain and looking out over the panorama of the plains below. I believe that was near the end of the trek and they had covered at least two hundred miles. The climax was each teen spending three days totally alone to think and write about their life. This was at the end. He told us what he hated the most...THE FOOD...he was sick and tired of eating oatmeal or cream of wheat for breakfast and pinto beans and rice for dinner at night...every day...for three weeks. The "good food" was their lunch with cheeses, crackers, oranges, and apples. They were supplied every week and the kids would carry their lunch supplies and ration it to themselves. Well, you know what happened in the first week...the kids pretty much ate their week's supply of lunch in the first day or two.... 

[After leaving], We took the scenic route through the mountains. We stopped for breakfast and THAT WAS A RIOT! Mike ate three huge breakfasts. He started off with pancakes and country ham...then eggs, hashbrowns, and toast...then went on to sausage gravy over biscuits. We thought he wouldn't be able to finish eating...he did. Then we thought he'd be sicker than a dog...he wasn't. By the time we were in the airport and after buying tennis shoes there, he was ready for lunch. After we arrived in Las Vegas and in a rental car about 8:30 P.M. he asked about the possibility of Chinese food. No problem. We watched him shovel down a couple thousand calories before we were back on the road at 11 P.M. for two more hours of driving before checking into a motel in Utah. 

Checking Mike into Brightway, which was a holding hospital until he flew out to the Pacific, was the hardest and most heart-breaking part for me and Dave. Mike wanted to come home with us. We knew he couldn't have tried harder to show us that he'd changed. It was there in the hospital after the tour that I "lost it." I told the director that I didn't think Mike belonged there and he was a fine kid who wasn't at all like some of the kids I saw there. We had handed over the checks, the two twenty-page packet information sheets, the luggage, the medical information and the endless number of release forms... AND I WANTED TO TAKE MIKE HOME. The teacher of the kids there and two therapists talked to me. They told me Mike would definitely benefit and love being in Western Samoa but he had to get his passport and be medically checked out, etc. I finally walked away with David but with a lot of tears. The hardest loss of my life has been that of my mother...this is a close second. It's been about two weeks now since we last were with Mike. 

We talked to him a week ago last Sunday. He arrived in Western Samoa a week ago today and we've talked to his caseworker last Thursday evening. He was adjusting and told her to tell us that this was better than the last place (Brightway.) We will be in contact with his caseworker once a week on Thursday evening. We've already sent one letter by fax on Sunday night and two packages containing underwear (would you believe we forgot to pack underwear?), snorkel/mask, miscellaneous things.... 

Dave and I are adjusting to the change in our family dynamics. We miss Mike. This week has been our first normal week without working out some major problem. Taxes were sent out on time and we're meeting all our obligations. We've been going out together which is almost a new and strange experience. AND WE ARE RELAXING. We have changed through all this for the better.... 

Thank you for being patient with this letter. I'm enclosing some pictures of Mike. I know your prayers are with him and our family. 

Thank you. 

Copyright 1996, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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