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52 MAY 2003
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Moments with youth

Recently our research group has been experimenting with juxtaposing moments from the past with moments in the present. This provides insight for us in our interpretations of our stories. It is also consistent with our reflections when, in hindsight, we can often see the interrelatedness of our experiences. In Me and Ron at the Shelter, Quinn Wilder provides an example of how we are doing this.

* * *

Me and Ron at the Shelter

Quinn Wilder

The shelter smelled of urine and ammonia. The kitchen was bare save the linoleum, and the dining room had a large wood table with bench seats. The walls were dirty, the furnaces full of cobwebs, and a neglected bookshelf had dusty books randomly piled on several shelves. But stronger than these features, the shelter had a wild feeling to it; it seemed to always feel as though the “residents” were plotting an uprising that was about to be launched.

No saying “Folks” in the shelter.

Here Lamar, I'll help you with your French homework. How do you say this word?

It’s a 24-hour shift, but you can’t fall asleep.

You can't use the van, you’d have to walk. The park is 15 blocks away. Watch for the drug dealers if you go.

Lamar, you know I care about you man.

C'mon lets go, finish your breakfast, you got 10 minutes to catch the bus.

New kid arrived today. Was sitting at table when I got in. I got an earful of the horror stories, the kids told me one of the staff yesterday was mean. At bedtime, Lamar got my arms locked up behind me and Kurt was pretending to punch me.

As with each shift, I was exhausted and thirsty from chronic stress.

Made a pitcher of white grape juice, drank it all last night.

I had spent the night trying to save Ron from being tortured by the other boys. At the end of my shift, after getting the boys off to school, I went to the Fuel cafe to drink thick coffee and write. I end up writing about the shelter:

Its about 11pm. There’s a muffled scream upstairs, and I leave the office and go upstairs where the boys are supposed to be sleeping. The steps of the shelter are carpeted. Its an old, dusty carpet and the walls up the stairs are nicked up. I open the bedroom door to the familiar smell of urine that seems to be steeped in the floor.

What’s goin' on up here?

Ron can’t sleep.

What’s wrong, Ron?


Ron, why are you sleeping on the floor over there? Are you in the closet? You guys, what are you doing to him?


Ok Ron, come downstairs, you can sleep on the couch down here tonight, you wanna do that?


Well you can if you want.

Ron slowly gets up, a small and scrawny kid. He’s been in the shelter for over a year. He has some volunteer mentor come pick him up sometimes and they go to Bucks games.

Ron's face is red, and he’s sobbing tears. He runs up to Kurt and attacks him, Kurt just pins him down and laughs along with Lamar.

Get off of him Kurt, you and Lamar are going to go to bed, and to school tomorrow, but tomorrow after school you and the staff are going to deal with whatever’s going on here, ok?

Now, Ron, you’re going to sleep downstairs where these guys won’t bother you. C'mon.

Ron just sits on the floor, red-faced and seething with anger.

Ron, you can’t stay up here, we’re going to figure something out tomorrow, but for now, you have to be able to get some sleep tonight.

Ron will not budge. I walk up to him and hold his shoulder and pull gently, to get him to get up on his own.

C'mon Ron, lets go.

He screams and pulls away from me. The other boys are laughing at him.

Ok Ron, your choice.

I leave the bedroom and go back downstairs, this time listening closely for noise coming from upstairs. I hear Ron screaming and run upstairs. The other boys are laughing while taking turns pinning him on the floor. As I walk in the room they get off of him and sit on their beds.

Both of you two are getting bumped down a level.

I sit on the floor next to Ron. You ok? No response. Hey, I don’t want you to have to deal with these guys tonight. Lets take your pillow and blanket downstairs and you can sleep there tonight, ok? Ron, you cannot stay up here tonight. Will you come with me? No response. Ron, what do you want me to do? We have to get you downstairs – do you want me to carry you? No response. Cuz that’s what I'll do unless you want to walk down yourself. Silence.

He just sits there, fuming. Ok, I'll take you downstairs.

I hold under his arms and lift him a few inches off the ground and he starts screaming and wriggling around frantically. I let go. Ron, come walk down with me, it'll be much easier. Nothing. Ok, and I pick him up and carry him down the stairs. He’s screaming the whole time. I put him on the couch and he sprints for the stairs. I chase him and he tries kicking me and hitting me as I hold onto him so he can’t hurt me or himself or the house.

Please Ron, calm down a sec and tell me what’s goin' on? Why do you want to sleep up there and not on the couch?

Nothing, just seething, red-faced anger, breathing heavily from the struggle.

Well you are going to have to stay down here tonight. I close the door to upstairs and sit by it, and Ron stays on the floor in a ball, crying to himself, eventually falling asleep.
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