No matter if you were a camper or staff, going to camp provided a remote oasis to eschew the responsibilities of city life for literally greener pastures—open water, hiking trails and ropes courses. But camp was also a pressure cooker of pubescent proportions: when you jam dozens of young people into an enclosed space for months at a time, any semblance of responsibility is replaced by unbridled lust, provoking teens into doing whatever they could to impress their peers and love interests.
That's why it was never a surprise when campers and staff alike would abruptly disappear over the course of the summer, unceremoniously kicked out or fired for one transgression or another, from blowjobs in sheds to getting caught joint in hand. One notoriously rule-breaking summer, my camp directors inserted a "List of Fallen Comrades" in our year-end slideshow, a reminder of the many staff who were axed. But while their time at camp was cut short, their presence lingered in the form of rumours and whispers. The exile to the city ensured there was no chance for the besmirched to defend themselves.
With camp in full swing once again, I spoke to banished campers and counsellors about what happened to them during and after their firings, and allow them to tell their sides of the story.
Rick, 30, Counsellor-in-Training
VICE: How and why did you get kicked out of camp?
Rick: When I was a rebellious 16-year-old, I went to an inter-camp baseball tournament. My team lost the first match; while we had to hang around to watch the rest of the tournament, I decided that I had better things to do, like smoke the hash I brought from home. I'd been smart about the hash, only smoking it a couple of times in the shower house, but I couldn't resist toking up here to kill the boredom.
A friend and I tried to go to the cabins so we could meet up with our buddies from home, but we were told that, due to past theft issues, visitors from other camps weren't allowed in the units. We found some secluded cabins on the way back and decided to covertly smoke inside one of them—a quick in and out ninja stealth mission—and then return to the baseball diamond to enjoy the rest of the tournament and our summer.
If only we were actually stealthy. Within minutes of bottle tokes, we heard people approaching the cabin. We panicked, waved the air and left the cabin to find a counsellor and some kids waiting around. By this point, I was high as a kite. Obviously they asked us what we were doing, and we just said some bullshit about looking for our friends at camp, then went back to the baseball diamond.
A little while later, the director of the other camp came up to me and asked me to go back to my camp's bus so he could talk to me about my little trip to the cabins. We got onto the bus, he asked me some questions, I covered for my buddy (which earned me street cred) and then he searched my pockets... and found the hash. I had to sit in the bus until it was time to go, and the camp director essentially said to never come back. Thankfully, my camp allowed me to have one last supper and sleep in the next day before sending me packing 12 days into a wonderful summer. I got kicked out of two camps at once!
By the time I went to overnight camp, they were searching campers' bags on the first day of camp. How were you able to smuggle the hash up in the first place?
They weren't really checking back then, but this was the summer when all the big name camps started clamping down hard. A friend got busted for smoking weed for the first time on a canoe trip, and later in the summer, the staff checked the CIT cabin at another camp and 13 guys were sent home.
What were the repercussions once you got home?
There's so many different ways I could answer that question... essentially, not good. I'm not joking when I say that my punishment didn't end until I moved out at 28. [My mom] never brought it up directly, but I could tell that getting kicked out of camp was a turning point with us for sure. I learned how to become more independent as a result because her answer for anything after that was a hard "no." That lasted well into my 20s.
Was the independence the biggest thing this incident taught you?
I wouldn't have realized back then it taught me that but, in hindsight, yes. Becoming independent is inevitable for everyone at some point. But the most obvious thing I learned was don't do stupid shit you know you have a slim chance of getting away with.
Katie, 22, Counsellor
VICE: What's the story?
Katie: I worked at a day camp and the owners also owned an overnight camp, so they would send some day camp campers up for weekend trips to see what overnight camp was all about. I went up four times as a counsellor for those trips, and each time I got to know more of the overnight camp staff. Every time I returned, I would be introduced to more staff, and one of them was this guy, Alex.
The fourth time I went up, Alex brought my co-counsellor and I back to his cabin to play video games—yes, we actually played video games! And then my co-counsellor left because it was our turn to look after our campers, but I stayed. Then, Alex and I started making out, but one of his friends went back to the cabin and said, "Katie, they're looking for you." So I go back to my cabin and my supervisor pulls me aside and then I told my story, then they questioned Alex, then they questioned us together, and then we both got fired. The director spiraled it off in that a camper could've walked in on us, and that's a liability.
Did any rumours spread about you getting fired?
People thought that the director had walked in on us having sex. Another counsellor found us and warned us, that's how we got caught. And we never had sex. I was like 17 at the time, I wasn't "active." One of the directors actually called my mom and told her that we had sex!
You mentioned earlier that the director said you could work at the camp again the next summer. Did you ever consider it?
As soon as he said that, I was just like, "Yeah right!" Even at the time, I was like, "I'm never showing my face there again." I was like, "Eff this, I'm never coming back."
Was the hookup worth getting fired over?
No! And he tried again back in the city but I haven't hooked up with him since.
Roscoe, 21, Camper
VICE: What happened?
Roscoe: I'd been to a lot of camps before this, and they never searched my stuff. People would turn in their candy or whatever and that was it. It was my first time at this camp, and on the first day, they really search you: they unroll your bags and unpack you, and that's how it all came to light. I didn't even hide it that well, I wasn't planning on people rummaging through my shit. I had some weed brownies, but the biggest thing was that I tried to bring whiskey in a mouthwash bottle. I put food colouring in it to disguise it.
They have to maintain a zero-tolerance policy for the sake of parents and their legal protection, so I got rushed to the office and had to sign a contract to them that acted as a confession of sorts, so there could be no reason to refute it. It wasn't the warmest experience but I had no one to blame but me.
They drove me to a train station, and I'm walking to buy my ticket and there are all these kids my age smoking joints. I was just sitting there almost giggling. Look at all these kids doing exactly what I tried to do out in the open and here I am on my way home.
Did you ask them for any?
No! [laughs] It definitely crossed my mind but I felt like I had already made enough mistakes that day.
What was your parents' reaction?
To them, they had basically wasted all this money and, bigger than that, it was a trust issue. I had disappointed them by bringing the stuff there. Two weeks before going to camp was the first time my parents found out I was smoking pot. They didn't take that very lightly, but it all blew over because I was gonna go to camp! But then I came right back home for the same thing and they started to see it as a big problem. And it wasn't really at the time, I just made a few mistakes close together, but that's how it's always been in my life: I stumble, I trip and then I fall hard.
I wasn't really allowed to do much of anything—I had no money, all my friends were gone. Obviously I'm not gonna sit on the couch for a month but I read the whole Harry Potter series and stayed in the neighbourhood.
What was the biggest lesson you learned?
The most emotional pain I had was the lack of trust I had between me and my parents. I was a good kid, I had good grades, I just made the same mistake in quick succession and that was devastating for them. My parents are pretty straight-edge characters—they don't drink, they don't smoke, my mom doesn't even drink tea or coffee—and both my siblings before me rarely got into trouble, and if they did it was for something stupid and emotional. Not like mine, where it was more criminal, and they were genuinely worried.
One other thing I remember missing out on is that I had a crush on this girl and we were almost lined up to have this summer of love and it got ripped away really quickly. I'm sure she was disappointed too but yeah. It sucked. It meant a lot more because I was like 13.
Did you ever follow up with her?
I saw her at a party a year later and she was with somebody else at the time, I believe. But we lived in different cities, and at the very most it would've been like a weekend hookup or something. Nothing ever happened and we never spoke about it but we looked at each other with a pang of regret.
All names have been changed and interviews have been edited for clarity.
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