By Ted Werth
I work with foster kids. This last summer while working at a Teen Reach Adventure camp I was helping some kids catch crawfish in the creek. Most of the other campers were hanging out a short way downstream in the swimming hole. Suddenly what had been a relaxing time of fun in the sun for everyone erupted into fit of anger with screaming and the foulest of foul language on the part of one of the more easy going campers. I’ve been to several of these camps and was a little shocked but not as badly as some other adults were.
It was simple enough, someone had sprayed the young man with water which he asked them not to do. He was sprayed again and tried to suppress the anger that was building. But then some of the others around him started laughing and ridiculing him about it. At that point he had what could be referred to as a LaGarrette Blount moment. Yeah, that guy, the Oregon football player, the one who was splashed all over the national news after punching out an opposing player who was taunting him after the game. The same player that tried to go after some fans who were calling him the N-Word and slapped him in the face as he was being taken out of the stadium.
It appears that LaGarrette Blount will be reinstated today and will return to play some more football after all. I’m sure that this will cause great controversy about him being let off the hook for such awful behavior. I’m actually glad this is going to happen and I’ll tell you why. From the time I saw the full video of what happened I have thought back to that incident at camp last summer. And also a previous camp where another preteen boy lost control and punched a counselor in the groin. Yikes, you would think that would get you a ride home. But we kept both young men at camp and things turned out well. Despite all the pressure to toss LaGarrette Blount off the side of the ship and label him a permanent loser I’ve never felt that would be the right thing to do. I’m probably one of the few.
I used to see things really black and white. You know, you do the crime you pay the time; no excuses. But while I still believe in appropriate punishment I see life as a little more gray. I guess you could say my philosophy now is more along the lines as “what can be done to help restore this person?”
My wife and I volunteered for several years at the Hillcrest Correctional Facility here is Salem. It is prison for juveniles. Somewhere along the way I learned to read the dry-erase boards that listed each of the girls we worked with. There was a column that had one of two designations. It turns out that one designation indicates they are under the authority of the adult system. In other words they committed a Measure-11 crime. In Oregon the Measure-11 initiative passed by voters requires that certain crimes have a minimum sentence regardless of the circumstances. You could say that it was passed as a way to make people pay a minimum appropriate sentence. But I think that voters passed this more to protect society from lenient judges like the one I saw a story about this week that gave probation to a man who molested, on a regular basis, a girl from age 8 to 14. One girl I spent some time talking with is in prison for life. After they moved all the girls to Albany and we no longer were working with them I did a little research out of curiosity. She had seemed like a decent young lady despite her bleak future. That could not be said of many of the girls and prison, unfortunately, is probably the best place for them. What I found out from news accounts is that when she was fifteen she took a phone call from a friend during spring break. And then she took the invitation to hang out with her friend and a couple of older teen boys she didn’t know. Within a day things went really bad and one of these guys killed the other boys mother for her car. Since she was there and fled with them this girl, who never had been in trouble before, received a mandatory life sentence and will have to move to adult prison in a couple of years. Effectively tossed away as a permanent loser. Something has never seemed right to me about that.
So back to camp last summer. At any other camp I suspect these two boys would have been sent home so that everyone could get back to having a good time. But we don’t do that at these camps. Instead everyone went on about their afternoon while this young man explained what set him off. These kids grow up in some pretty awful situations; he didn’t learn the awful language on his own after all. And he knew what he did was wrong. But for maybe the first time in his life, he was given a second chance. Instead of treating him like a loser we accepted him back into the camp and showed him the same love as before his incident. Soon he came out of his shell and had a tremendous camp. He learned there are other ways to deal with anger. And the message to him and the other campers was that we care about you and believe in you. I’m am still amazed at the difference this attitude brings to so many of these kids.
It looked so much like what I saw with LaGarrette Blount. He had his head down trying to suppress his frustration and leave the field when he was hit on the shoulder and mocked. And then he snapped. Many of the kids that come to the Oregon football program come from some of the same awful backgrounds as these kids I work with. Many are attracted to, and respond to, the family atmosphere that Oregon tries to instill in their football program. While many respond in a positive way some don’t and when they don’t respond to discipline they are often quietly let go.
LaGarrette Blount strikes me as a young man who deserves another chance. He has done everything the football program has asked of him including counseling and discussions with former NBA player Kermit Washington who went through a similar incident years ago; overcoming his bad episode to become a productive citizen. I don’t know what LaGarrette Blount’s future holds but I’m hopeful that one day he will look back at this as a positive turning point in his life.