TITLE: The Pitchfork
By Lucas Fyeld
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The day started out fine. I was in charge of recreation time for the boys, but I didn’t know it until lunch (Joe called in sick). Rec. time went well until Todd and Mandy’s girls came through to go into the weight room (and several of the boys followed them). It was uncontrolled after that. I had too many high-spirited boys to handle, and not enough experience or confidence. Other staff were close by, knowing that I still qualified as … “the new guy” on staff. After that, I watched Allen and Fred working off some of their “consequences” time cutting wood at the dorm. Until Allen ran off, that is. I searched the facility for him for about an hour, then (Randy found him) I took him to the spreader. I am very certain … that I do not know how best to describe … several things that happened next.
The “spreader” is a piece of farm equipment. It’s a trailer that you pull behind a tractor. You fill it with manure … and the spreader … “slings” it out across the field as you drive. Allen tried to run away. That action got him into trouble, and the staff in charge assigned me to watch him while he was doing his consequences – shoveling buffalo manure. I restrained Allen several times while he was on this work project. He bit and kicked and screamed and swore … numerous times. At one point he showed depression and fear and loneliness and tears – although usually it was anger or aggression. I gave the boy plenty of warning that I was going to squeeze him if he didn’t start working. That’s the policy at this place. I put my arms around him, holding his arms folded across his chest... and then I squeeze. He said “okay” or something and just waited. It would have liked to have broken my heart… to come to a dejected eleven-year-old boy and wrap him up in my arms and squeeze intentionally to make him hurt. I did it, because I knew of no other options for getting him to do his consequences.
Here’s an amazing thing. At one point I was leaning on an inside wall of the barn (he was supposed to be shoveling manure, right?) and squeezing Allen. He’d been screaming and cursing and kicking at me. He did not calm while I was restraining him. Yet, as soon as I let go, he stayed in physical contact with me, and the contact instantly turned into a snuggle. I still haven’t entirely come to grips with that emotion shift.
Not many minutes after this (after which there’s better than even odds that he’d kicked and screamed some more) he wanted to rest. So I sat on some clean hay … to show him that it was clean enough – manure-less enough – to sit on… and he chose to sit on my lap. And lean in for a good snuggle. Next, he picked up both of my arms, and pulled them around him, so that I was hugging him while he snuggled. I’m sitting very close to lots of manure with very little light (flashlight headlamps) and an often-happy, often-angry, but hardly ever sad, but sad now – boy falling asleep in my lap.
Ten minutes after that we both fell down into the cow manure because he tried to kick me while I was restraining him and we lost our balance.
This boy has got challenges so deep that many rational adults believe that he is possessed by a demon. And obviously … it’s a distinct possibility that he’s picked up on that idea and uses it for his own entertainment. There’s also the possibility that he has done that, hoping to get out of work – when he’s stuck with a “new guy” staff like he was when my “demon possession” story took place. Okay, so here, I’m still “new guy” but there are staff that are newer … and I’m not as new or as green as I was two months ago. Anyway….
This is the day he spit in my face, threw rocks at me, tested me to see if he knew any curse words that I didn’t (including using his favorite curse word on me what I would guess to have been at least fifty times),
He wasn’t that good of an aim with his throw, but he threw enough that some of them did hit me. A couple of rocks, as big as softballs, if I recall, hit me in the leg. No real injury, just bruises. I could have charged him and caught him easily. And restrained him easily. But my task was to get him working, and he can’t work if he’s restrained. So there had to be some risk-taking on my part. I had to occasionally let go to see if he would start working again. In essence, I had to trust him. I had to give him the chance. When Allen said to me “Okay, this time I really will start working if you let me go,” I had to walk in faith. I had to act like I believed he would start working…. And then he’d call me an “f- faced sucker” or something. And he’d wield the pitchfork like “come one step closer and I’ll stab you with this!” Or he’d run off. And I’d go after him again.
I’d talk to him calmly. He’d curse at me. I’d ask him to go back to work. He’d threaten to kill me. I’d tell him that the sooner he would be productive the sooner he’d get to go to bed. He’d threaten me again. And on and on. I’d be very specific about how long he had to start working again, or I would put him in a restraint. I would say something like “I’m going to count to three. As soon as I start counting, I’m going to count straight through, and when I get to three, if you’re not working then I’m going to restrain you, do you understand?” He’d swear at me. I’d count. He’d wait until I’d said three, and was walking towards him, and then he’d quickly pretend to start working. I’d explain to him that he’d not started in time, and I’d put him into a restraint position and squeeze him.
He’d cry. He’d curse and scream and cry. I’d try to get a real promise of work out of him, and eventually, I’d let him go and the cycle would repeat. And, of course … the pitchfork. Somewhere in the middle of that whole mess he threw the pitchfork at me. About three hours, Allen and I spent on this task that cold night.
He grabbed my glasses and threw them on the ground and stepped on them once. Amazingly no damage was done, or that expense would have been added to his account. He wouldn’t have cared about the money. Money grew on trees as far as he was concerned – I’ve only got theories as to why he thinks that.
Todd came out to check on us a couple of times, I think. Actually, now that I think about it, Bill came out to check on us once also. And I think now, Allen didn’t behave any better for Bill than he did for me. That made me feel better. It made me feel that it wasn’t my fault that he wasn’t behaving properly – that it wasn’t that I was allowing him to be unaccountable by my actions.
What else happened? I guess it really doesn’t matter. We both got a bit of cow manure on our clothes. We were both cold and tired. We both got some bruises (surely he was bruised by all my squeezing, or possibly by falling down, but I never hurt him intentionally, as a matter of fact, I don’t recall any feelings of anger during the whole thing. I remember frustration, but not anger. I only remember one time that I let my anger control any of my actions. That was with a boy named Jerry, and you’ll get that story later. I was looking for these situations (of my anger)during all the time that I was at this facility, because this very thing is such a big deal for men and boys.
In fifteen minutes after Bible Study that night, Allen actually got more work done than he had (twice as much, easily) in more than two hours after dinner and before Bible Study.
I love Allen. I’ve had him fall asleep in my arms. I’ve had him crying and hugging me. He’s asked me not to leave his room after I’ve tucked him in at night. I love him. It breaks my heart to see him on a road that isn’t leading him towards healing. I love him. But he’s also spit a loogy in my face, and he’s thrown a pitchfork at me, intending bodily injury. His aim (and range) wasn’t accurate enough that I needed to dodge it (not to my recollection), but he did throw it cow-manure-covered, fork-end first, at me. He’s thrown rocks at me. He’s angry and he’s a risk to whoever is his guardian.
The whole experience tested me. It … purified me … or something. It took me quite a while to get it all worked out in my head and my heart after that night, but I came out stronger and more dedicated to working to help boys with their challenges. I’m sure that I’m learning and growing from that experience, still today.
Months later, after Allen had probably forgotten the pitchfork incident entirely, the boy was on an extended “home-visit” (with his legal guardians – not his real parents). I told another staff member - Karen that I missed him. She said “that’s insane.” I shrugged and said “I’ve snuggled with him in a barn full of cow-manure. Most people don’t get that kind of bonding with him.”
I laugh out loud now, thinking about Karen saying that. Surely, she sees a demon when she looks at the angry and desperate boy. I can still hear her saying “that’s insane” to me. It is not insane. It is the love of our Creator. If it were just me then I would be angry at Allen, and selfishly avoiding him as much as possible out of fear for my own safety and sanity. No, it’s definitely the love of Christ that I feel for this disturbed young boy. My heart breaks for him in his pain. It is the heart of Jesus Christ shining through me, when I show him peace, because it surely isn’t me.
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