I had what could be called “behavioral problems” as a kid, finding myself in trouble for any number of reasons — acting up, tardiness, smoking, gambling, fighting and generally not paying attention.
The nuns at my Catholic elementary school had the answer to my shenanigans back then, which was much like the age-old solution chosen today by frustrated parents who subscribe to a new, drill-instructor type of boot camp for their troubled children — beating respect for authority into them.
In my case, it seems nearly all the good sisters at St. Mary’s Elementary School in my hometown in Pennsylvania had decided to make me their personal punching bag. I was big for my age, and slaps to the face, beatings with yardsticks and wooden pointers and closed-fisted swipes to my back and head were common. All the nuns pulled hair. Some yanked or slapped our ears with cupped hands. Others gave us “cheekers,” grabbing both cheeks as we sat in our desks and bending us backwards so that our heads were almost hitting the desk behind us. But none of this worked. If anything, I became more rebellious.
Come eighth-grade, Sister Flavian had my number. Along with punching and slapping us all, she also got psychological occasionally. One day, one of the bigger kids, who was shy and not very popular, sheepishly walked to the front of the room and asked Flavian for permission to go to the lavatory. Incredibly, she said no, forcing the child to stand in front of the other boys and girls until a large wet spot appeared on the front of his pants.
Of course, I never told my parents about any of this. Mom and dad loved the Church and devoted their lives to it and the school. I know they loved me too. But I thought they would blame me if I said anything, saying I deserved it, which I thought I did.
When mom went to school on parent-teacher night, Flavian pulled her aside. “Mrs. Uhrich, I really think you should beat Kevin more at home,” she said, to which mom asked, “Do you beat him at school?”
“Why, yes,” Flavian said matter-of-factly, “every day, and you should too.”
With that, mom went off. “If you ever touch him again, I’m pulling him and my other kids out of Catholic school and calling the police,” she said. When mom got home and told me this story, I knew she was on my side. Not surprisingly, I was never beaten again. What that sadistic nun did was criminal, and she knew it, even if I didn’t.
After watching a videotape of teenagers being tortured at one of these boot camps, where adults wear drill instructor costumes and literally beat discipline into children, I was both horrified and sickened. This particular camp in Brea was operated, in part, by Kelvin “Sgt. Mac” McFarland, who currently faces trial on kidnapping, extortion and other charges in relation to one of the young children attending his program in Pasadena, the Family 1st Growth Camp. He’s denied those charges. Free on bail, McFarland is expected to appear in court on Nov. 16.
As it turns out, McFarland wasn’t the only one in town running a boot camp. The other one, Commit II Achieve Boot Camp, is run by the nonprofit Sarge’s Community Base, Inc., operated by Keith “Sarge” Gibbs, McFarland’s former boss, who also oversaw the camp in Brea, where police believe the videotaped discipline occurred two years ago. McFarland has told another reporter that he wasn’t there. However, he can be seen in the video, though his face and those of the other “instructors” are intentionally obscured.
In the recorded incidents, which can be viewed at the Pasadena Star-News Web site, a child is seen carrying a tire around his neck as one faux DI runs up to him and starts barking indecipherable orders into his face. A second “instructor” joins in the hazing as the child tries to get away, then a third and a fourth. They all stand around the child’s head and spit separate orders simultaneously into his face and ears. By this time, the youngster is crying, on the verge of throwing up and screams, “Someone make it stop!”
Another scene, supposedly from the same camp, depicts a group of teens, all sweating, forced to drink water while they are throwing up. Although a voice on the tape has been identified as that of Gibbs, he told KFI’s Bill Carroll, and later Pasadena Weekly City Reporter André Coleman, that he wasn’t there.
Did these wannabe teachers/babysitters/drill instructors step over the line in their sadistic treatment of these kids? Did the parents of these youngsters know what they were getting their children into when they signed them up?
It seems my mom had it right; it’s ultimately up to police to investigate and determine if crimes were committed in cases like this. And now — thank goodness — the cops are finally in the process of doing that.
TUESDAY ELECTION PICKS:
The cautionary tale above is a good illustration of why strong, responsible leadership is absolutely necessary in local schools, including Pasadena City College. Not that they really need our support, given that each of our candidates for the PCC Board of Trustees already has the backing of most community leaders, but we strongly urge the reelection of incumbents Bill Thomson, Jeanette Mann and John Martin. With their proven records of fiscal prudence while maintaining staff levels and academic achievement in the face of massive budget cuts, voters would be foolish to do otherwise.