Just hearing the words “summer camp” makes people think of fun games and swimming and popsicles and innocent over-the-pants handjobs. Little do they know, there is a whole other super serious, bummer-inducing breed of summer camps – the camps for at-risk youth, where Children’s Aid and social workers send scamps for a vacation. It’s a great place to get a job if you’re like me and you hate yourself for being white and privileged and educated and you want to be punished for the awesome life you’ve had.
Before I started working at one of these camps, I went through an intensive weeklong training program, but it left out a lot of important information, so I figured I’d write a quick little guide that contains all you’ll need to know to work at a summer camp filled with wild-eyed, crazy little people.
The staff at these places are just as psychotic as the kids, which is probably the only way these places can even semi-function. During my first week, I remember asking a veteran counselor, “Why would anyone do this to themselves? How does everyone keep coming back to this year after year?” She shrugged and said, “We’re all just masochists.” I thought she was exaggerating. But by the end of it, that’s the only reason I could come up with. What else would drive 16-year-olds to choose to handle a dozen squirmy, fucked up, shit-encrusted children? The pay worked out to be $2 an hour. If you were lucky, you got one hour-long break during the course of the day. Everyone just hooked up with each other to numb the pain. There are people working at this special camp who have been either a camper or counselor there for at least 15 of the 20 years they've spent on this planet. Maybe they just can’t find pussy anywhere else?
There will be so many orphans with so many sad stories. They’re the best simply because, as anyone who's read Charles Dickens knows, there's just something about being an orphan that really humbles a person. I met a kid who miraculously survived the fire that killed both of his parents. He would shit his pants constantly, but only because he had no concept of time. He just couldn’t figure out how long it would take to get to the bathroom. And he didn’t care, either. He was so aloof and easy-going. Wouldn't it be great if everyone could shit their pants freely and without judgement? I met another girl whose parents died. She would just study nature all day long. It was like they were just off in another world. Maybe a cooler world? Probably, 'cause there are no ‘rents to reel them in.
The medicine line before bedtime was massive. I’d say about half of the kids and about 100 percent of the staff were dependent on pharmaceuticals. If you aren’t lucky enough to have figured out a system that allows you to keep your job while regularly smoking weed, the next best thing is painkillers, muscle relaxers, stimulants, etc. I was addicted to Robaxin by the end of August, which was great because it totally helped with the anal sex I was having. Oh, make friends with the matainence guy. He will always have hard liquor.
It may sound melodramatic, but every day at these camps feels like Auschwitz or the worst prison in Arizona, except terrible chirpy music is present at all times. It’s awful to be in an isolated place in the middle of nowhere and be forced to sing the most redundant songs in the world from fucking sunrise until way, way after sunset. Most camp songs are just rhymes and annoying half-melodies that get stuck in your head. For instance, “There was a great big moose, there was a great big moose, who liked to drink a lot of juice, who liked to drink a lot of juice…” At least the slaves in the old South got to sing good music.
The nurse’s room at this type of summer camp is reserved for kids who are too fucked up to sleep in cabins with the other kids. It’s usually not so much about physical ailment, but mental disturbances. For instance: A six-year-old woke up in the middle of the night and started giving another six-year-old a blowjob because that’s what he thought was normal. There were overly aggressive kids, kleptomaniacs, and rapists (who were way too young to be rapists), and they were all sent to the nurse’s office, which was basically a holding cell. No one was ever sent home. EVER. Maybe that’s because home was probably worse than camp for these kids?
Above everything else, above any single experience that you have, there will always be "that kid." He or she will stick out in your mind forever, a walking atrocity. In my case, it was a boy who shit his pants all the time because he got raped by his dad from birth on. He wasn’t shitting his pants because he had a loose sphincter – this is the worst part – he was doing it as a defence mechanism. Whenever he felt threatened, pooping his drawers was a way to deter the situation at hand. He was used to having to do it at home. This kid also liked to shove bananas up his ass because that’s what he thought it was for.
Kids get raped the most out of anyone. In a setting like this, where so many of the kids had been raped, naturally it’s going to come up in conversation. I was with a bunch of girls who were laughing and shouting about their sexual abuse. “MY DAD SAID IF I WENT OUT WITH A BOY HE WOULD TIE ME UP AGAINST A TREE AND RAPE ME HAHAHA!” Meanwhile, a couple of the girls had no idea what was going on and probably didn’t even know that they had orifices. How do you talk about rape appropriately, in a way that doesn’t isolate them and make them feel weird? These are all things you have to figure out. It seems that most people’s approach to addressing rape is to not talk about it. Don’t do that either, because these kids need to feel normal. More than anything else, these kids need to feel like kids and not solely identify with the secret they might be living with. It’s probably the most delicate subject ever.
AGGRESSIVE HORMONAL TWEENS
Pre-teens are fucking crazy, holy shit. They are also GIANTS these days, because the food they eat is pumped full of hormones and chemicals, or whatever. It was exactly like Where the Wild Things Are. I’d have to stand between kids as they were fighting, like Max trying to keep the giant furry guy from killing the giant bird guy. They’d just keep punching through and around me. Counselors got punched in the face all the time. We’d just have to take it and not show any emotion. They had no fear of authority or any of the punishments we could give them. They would just run into the forest for a while if they felt pissed off. Some of the kids were coming directly from juvie. They literally got a vacation from juvie to come to this summer camp. “Stupid dumbass bitch counselor,” was my cool new nickname.
There is a very stark image seared in my mind of everybody sobbing when they had to go back to their homes. It was terrifying. This is when you realise how bad they actually have it. The kids who cried the hardest were also the most concerning cases. Just imagine what must have gone on in their heads. Camp was literally the only consistent thing in their lives, and they only get to experience it for two months out of the year. Going back to their shitty real lives is like being confronted with the scariest nightmare of all time, except it's your everyday existence and not just some dumb dream. Sometimes we’d even have to conduct exit interviews to see if there were kids who slipped through the cracks, whose lives sucked terribly but we didn't realize how terribly until this very moment when they're balling their eyes out and begging not to leave. When this happened we’d have to call a social worker. Ultimate bummertown.
I faked having bad back pain just so I could get out of there for a day. The actual trip to go see the chiropractor felt like Christmas morning.
Despite everything, you will see progress in these troubled young people. Over the span of a decade, there's a decent chance that an inconsistently behaved, traumatised child will transform into a nurturing, generous, young adult. Over the span of a summer, if you're really, really lucky, maybe a kid will shit his pants six times a day instead of 12. You put up with it because you know that it’s worth so much more than a terrible paycheck. It’s worth it for the fucking future. I am now a fully realised masochist on the other hand. After writing this, I find myself really missing it.
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