Blog Post 016- Taco Bell Breakfast Review.

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Our eyes are drawn to things that are unexpected.

For example, I saw this motorized shoplifting stopper at Target today. (I’m notifying Radley Balko via Twitter)

Militarizing of Police Strikes Again

Militarizing of Police Force Continues

I have noticed that Taco Bell is now offering breakfast. Why? I don’t know. It has been nagging at me for weeks now. “Do it, try it, you know you want to.” Crime Dogg McGruff helped keep me off the smack in school. However, nothing could stop this. So, this morning I pulled into the local Taco Bell. (Broadway in Little Rock) I found the drive-thru attendant to be very polite and her voice was professional. I ordered the following:

Sausage Flatbread Melt ($1.00)

A.M. Grilled Taco (Bacon) ($1.00)

A Coffee (I think about $1.49)

They also offer such other things as Waffle Tacos, (WTF?) and a standard-looking breakfast burrito. I first took a sip of the coffee. I noticed that the roast was plesantly mild. A  pleasant cup of coffee for standard fast food breakfast fair. I’d rate it higher than McDonald’s joe. One drawback, it did have a bit of a “sitting around too long” tang.  (common for fastfood or gas stations) As I sat sipping  my coffee (waiting for court), I noticed that the cup had a good bit of caffeine and the buzz was healthy. Good staying power.

The Sausage Flatbread sucked. It was dry and had no flavor. Crunchy? I will give them that it was crunchy. I like crunchy if it is properly balanced with rich or non-crunchy things. No dice here.  Crunchy and dry is bad bad bad. Some melted cheddar cheese adorned the crunchy dryness. It wasn’t enough..The  the sausage was mildly salvageable as it had a bit of  tasty spiciness.

Finally, the A.M. Grilled Taco. The taco included, eggs, melted cheddar, and bits of bacon. The eggs were decently moist and fine. The grilled nature of the taco was fine, but repetitive of the flatbread. I found the tiny bits of bacon a real disappointment. You know how if you get a cheap-ass $.99 Totino’s pizza and the pepperoni are miniature squares?

Bits and Bits on the (Totino’s) It was that kind of let down.

So, I wouldn’t eat this. I devour the hell out of dinnertime and lunchtime Taco Bell. But, leave your breakfast to someone else.

Blog Post 015- Social Experiment. Donation to Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation. Fame. *Updated*

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It has been a little while since my last blog post. (this is what you say when you have not written for a while)

Today, I did some cleaning. I put away some winter clothes. Then I pulled out some stuff I don’t want anymore. I have two gigantic prints from my old house. They just do not fit  in my new apartment. I think someone could get some good use of them. I was thinking of being industrious and putting them on Ebay. But, selling it and then the idea of packaging it up sounded horrible. Then I thought I could put them on Craigslist. That idea bored me.

Following my industrious morning, I had a very high level of boredom in the afternoon. I don’t know how the rest of you are. I think of strange and weird things when I’m bored. For example, a large bit of my mind was consumed with the fact that Heidi Moore starred one of my tweets. I felt like one of those people in the funny Twitter RT’s. You know, “why did she star me and not RT me?” I settled myself. I realized that I needed to be happy with the starred tweet. She probably thought I was interesting? Maybe she was saving it for later to look at it again and again in wonder. A real journalist. Wow.

Ok, ok, ok. Back to the point of the blog post. I was bored. So this is how this is going to work. A friend of mine has a friend who deals with Osteogensis Imperfecta. A really challenging disease. Simply put:

Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) is a genetic bone disorder characterized by fragile bones that break easily. It is also known as “brittle bone disease.” The term literally means “bone that is imperfectly made from the beginning of life.” A person is born with this disorder and is affected throughout his or her life time.

Link.

The OI Foundation does a lot of fantastic work. They have raised millions of dollars and educated thousands and thousands of people on this disease. (including me).

I’ve created a link to the Craigslist ad here. The listing includes these really nice prints I am giving away. All the person has to do is to drive to my apartment and take the prints. What they give is up to them. I am am only asking  them to pay what they can afford. If you would like to donate just as a result of reading this post, you can do that too: Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation.

I was bored, feeling slightly altruistic, and for the most part just wanted to see what would happen with this experiment. I’ll let you know.

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UPDATE 5/2/2014

I am checking in with the update!

Ok, we all know this was a pretty grand experiment. We have the power of the internet through blogging. We also have the power of commerce through Craigslist. Finally, we have a great charity in OIF. (go donate now)

Get to it man what happened? Well, lean in:

My neighbor saw the prints outside the the apartment the morning after the blog post. He took them, left some change, and left a note saying he is going to give $50-$100 dollars!

Low-tech wins.

Blog Post 014- Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act. Write to D.C now.

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Thursday, the US Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act (“RRPSA”). See Leahy’s press release here. The Act aims to reduce a prison system that, as of 2011, was 39% over it’s rated capacity.

Statistics tell us that not all recidivism rates are created equal. Different types of offenders, with different types of criminal histories, have different rates of recidivism. Wow, shocking? Hopefully not too shocking. Unfortunately, due to mandatory sentencing, and reactionary laws passed in the 80s, we can’t even get to the individual nature of an offender. Racism and ignorance is still getting in our way.

A little history, then the point. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 abolished parole in the federal criminal justice system. Why does this act sound familiar? This act is the act that brought us Mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. So for all offenders sentenced 1987 forward, no parole. Steadily the federal prison system has been growing. Senator Whitehead, a Democrat from Rhode Island on the Judiciary Committee, wrote an op-ed for the Providence Journal on Monday:

From 1940 through 1980, the federal prison population was remarkably stable at around 24,000 inmates. By last year, it had grown to more than 215,000. At an average cost of approximately $29,000 per inmate, the federal Bureau of Prisons now spends over $6.7 billion annually, a twentyfold increase since 1980. Add the cost of inmates in the custody of the U.S. Marshals, and the total we spend housing federal prisoners will be more than $8 billion this year.

Put it together. Prison population rises starts in the 80s. Sentencing Reform Act passes in the 80s. Prison populations now out of control.  You get it now?  We have sacrificed much of our community to the prison system.  (About two million people) Further our criminal laws are made and applied in a racially unequal manner.

The country was fine with all of their white brothers, mothers, and cousins being addicted to opiates and cocaine for over a hundred years. But, crack cocaine!!? Damn the world is coming to an end and drugs and that basketball player who I bet on to win my games for me? Oh this has to stop now. What about all of the white kids doing powder in their dorm room? Severe sweeping punishment for them. We will pull them into the dean’s office and tell them that their tuition money won’t be good there any longer if it happens a couple more times. If some kid has a rock of crack? 5 years in prison. Whew, problems are over now. *clicks back to tv*

Let us proceed. Recidivism. Recidivism rates are not reduced by imposing longer prison sentences. Criminologist know that there are certain things that do reduce recidivism. We know that, for example, education and vocational advancement reduce recidivism. The RRPSA allows inmates to reduce their sentences by participating in drug treatment and vocational programs. Why would we want this? If you have a skill then you are marketable. If you are marketable, you can gain employment. If you achieve gainful employment, you are much less likely to return to crime.

Young minorities are easier to discard as criminals. It is just the truth. They are under-represented in our government and our socio-economic power structure. Laws change when young white females are abducted.  And, rehab is a better tool when white kids are addicted. It has taken a fiscal crisis, and the reach of drug addiction to the affluent community, to force us to look at how unequally young people in America are treated. It is a shame. But, it is the truth. Still, we must take advantage of the current bills working through Washington.

Humanity wins if people exiting prison can have a real shot at being involved and productive citizens. Bills like this one, and the Justice Safety Valve Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act, are necessary if we are to make our justice system slightly more just. It isn’t enough. It really isn’t. But it is a start.

I am asking each of you to contact the people that represent you in Washington and tell them to vote for RRPSA.

Thanks.

 

Blog Post 013- Spotify. The Man Doesn’t Want Civil Rights. Debo Adegbile.

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Everyone read a public defender’s post on the failed nomination of Debo Adegbile.

Read about John Adams in that biography by David McCullough that everyone likes. He defended a British soldier right on the eve of war.

Read the letter from the American Bar Association President in support of Adegbile.

Here is a playlist that I made to commemorate this steaming pile of a failure of the United States.

The Man Doesn’t Want Civil Rights

 

 

Blog Post 012- I like customer service via Twitter. God I Hope this Gets Retweeted

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I think most people would find that calling a 1 800 number to get customer service is an atrocious experience. Some customer service experiences are better than others.But, on the whole the experiences are cuss and kick worthy.

This post isn’t really about a particular customer service experience. It is about an actual vehicle for customer service: Twitter.

I’ve had positive customer service experiences through Twitter. Whether the help be for flight changes, book orders, or travel websites, it has been good. Now, not all of these instances of assistance were fruitful. Some of the help was more along the lines of “sorry we would like to fix this for you, but we can’t.” It felt like the old college try though.

So why? Why was the Twitter mode of customer service transport more pleasing than others.

Here are some ideas.

Immediate. Most of the Twitter customer service interactions are quick. I would tweet and within minutes I would get some sort of response.  I would be asked to DM details and I would get a further conversation on my particular problem. It is rare that you get this kind of turnaround and personalized customer service experience.

It Plays on your preset Desire for Socializing. Who doesn’t like to get Tweeted at? I got a response? Sweet! Don’t lie. You sit with your Tweetdeck checking to see if someone will RT, favorite, or respond to your tweet. If a company responds, you get that same feeling. We humans crave a dialogue. I know I know there are Twitter Trolls that will kick you in the pants and take your Key Lime Pie. But, it is a rush either way.

Public Apologies are Rare. Last, the public apology. I’ve had customer service outlets for companies say they were sorry publicly on Twitter. In the land of coverups and excuses a public apology goes a long way. Twitter is a unique forum for that. I think further use of Twitter as a fall-on-your-sword public square would do well on a lot of businesses.

So that is it. Just what you needed for your Monday unwinding from work. A post on Twitter customer service experiences.

I’ll leave you with a Gary Clark Jr. video to cleanse your palate.

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Post 011- Joyland by Stephen King. A Review.

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Devin Jones was was a prematurely sentimental English major. It was 1973. He gets his heart broken, works as a carney, saves some lives, makes some kids happy, loses his virginity, and helps solve a murder. You know, your typical college summer.

First, an aside. Upon first reading, Devin reminded me of Kurt Braunholer. I heard the story of Kurt on NPR last year some time. The nuts and bolts were as follows. Kurt and his girlfriend had dated for years. By age 30 they wondered if they would get married. She said they should probably sleep with other people. He agreed. So they slept with other people. She had a blast and carried on. He tried, slept with people, and kept too soon-ingly and repeatedly falling in love. They didn’t stay together. When I first started reading this story that is who Devin made me think of. But, that was just the beginning. I don’t know what happened to Kurt eventually, but Devin out did him.

Devin came from a common sense mom and dad. Devin’s mother had passed away. His father doted on his son. But, for the most part dad would let Devin make his own choices. While getting ready for a hum drum Summer, Devin found a magazine with an advertisement for an amusement park summer job in North Carolina. His girlfriend Wendy had decided she was going to go work for Filine’s in Boston with her friends. You get the feeling early on that he is super in love. You also get the feeling that Wendy has a lot of living left to do, and Devin isn’t her last stop.

Post-Wendy King takes Devin’s broken heart and makes Devin into a protagonist that you just love the shit out of. All of the premature maturity that got him side-swiped by Wendy really keeps you rooting throughout the entire novel. I think what really compelled me about Devin is his sense of decency and self-awareness. When his girlfriend Wendy gets a job out of town he knows that he can’t dote around. He wants an experience so he goes on to be a carney. Sure, Devin is brooding as all hell. But, he is decent to others while he broods through his growing up that Summer. If you could somehow know how your son or daughter handled coming-of-age, you would want them to be like Devin. Never perfect, never sure, but generally goodwill’d.

I have never read Stephen King. I figured the whole story circled around mystery or murder. In fact, that is how it is billed. (Published by Hard Case Crime nonetheless) The mystery discovered at Joyland is at best just a nice accessory to the coming of age of Devin. (But it sure adds for some tense moments at the end) My only complaint of the story would be that at some points it really feels like the murder/mystery was inserted because it had to be inserted. I mean duh what the crap was Hard Case Crime paying for anyway? It works fine enough though. I would put this complaint in the category of “my french fries are too short.”

Devin probably stayed with Wendy for too long. However, he made the right choice staying at Joyland past the Summer. His two best friends leave and are in love with each other. (jealous he is) But, he runs into Annie and Mike Ross. She is a single mom and her son Mike has a crippling disease. Mike helps save Dev, and Dev helps to save Mike. You will have to read the book to see what I mean. You will enjoy the ride that the protective mother Annie goes on in this story. The Dev/Annie/Mike story arc is the most enjoyable of the book.

If you could have been vulnerable, brooding, and moral, you would have been Dev. With Joyland, you get sold a murder mystery. What you end up getting is a lot more than that. I’ll be reading more King.

 

Blog Post 010- Sentencing Reforms: “who’s your daddy?”

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Who’s Your Daddy has been woven into the American experience. It is a phrase that is used by a person to imply that that person has power and dominion over you.

From The Zombies,  to athletic teasings, and on to Angelina Jolie baiting Brad Bitt, Who’s Your Daddy is part of our pop culture. True, this phrase has a misogynist tone and vibe to it. I don’t like that part of it. For a smart article on the problems with using this phrase check out a this WaPo article.

By using this phrase am I giving credence to misogynist nomenclature? Why does the daddy get to say? I’ve decided to go with nomenclature because I believe it is this type of old school paternalism that the government wishes to exert upon the citizenry.

I think I feel like using that phrase because most defense attorneys feel like they are getting Who’s Your Daddied by Assistant United States Attorneys (“AUSA”from here out).

Why is that? The AUSA wants to be my daddy. They want to be the ones in control of the courtroom. Who does not love being in control?

In federal practice, there are two ways to successfully negotiate a plea in a drug cases. First, your client must prostrate themselves and confess all to their daddy. A defendant will confess all of their wrongs, and possibly the wrongs of everyone else they know. Then you and your client cross your fingers and hope that the AUSA gives you something in return.  The second way. . .well. . .really there isn’t a second. The second is the same as the first.

I would make the argument that Assistant United States Attorneys have more power to wield over individuals than just about any other person in the United States government. I welcome someone to argue with me otherwise. They have the power, by deciding what charges to bring against you, to decide what types of sentences a human being will be looking at.  Not a judge, not a social worker, and not even a victim of a crime. No, the prosecutor decides. What gives a particular AUSA such power?

The power comes to them through the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that are pervasive throughout the federal criminal justice code. For the uninitiated, mandatory minimum sentences are minimum sentences that are required by law  by virtue of a particular type of charge. For example, in federal court, depending on the amount of drugs you possess, you can face a minimum of 5, 10, or more years based on the drug quantity you possess. If someone is charged with these certain drug amounts a judge has almost no discretion in sentencing the accused.

How did this madness start? Well, how it all started isn’t the point of this post. But, for a little background, I’ll say a few words on the start of it all.

It could (and has been) argued that the frenzy started with the death of basketball star Len Bias. Crack scared people. What do people do when they are afraid? They make bad decisions. As a result of the death of Bias, the overall tenor of the DRUG WAR, and flawed thinking, we passed laws that punished the poor and non-white amongst us. The Anti-Drug Abuse of 1986 punished crack more harshly than cocaine. This law unfairly targeted minority communities and did little more than load our prisons with young men.  The law added many new mandatory minimum sentences to the federal code. Judges will still run the courtroom and sentencing still right? Nope. Enter the prosecutor daddy.

Outside of begging your daddy there is only a very narrow exception that allows for defendants charged with a mandatory minimum crime to get a sentence below the mandatory sentence. A defendant must be eligible under the Safety Valve Act to get a sentence below the minimum.  This act is very limited. You must essentially have a nonexistent criminal history.

Also? Also, and you know this is coming, even if you have no criminal history you STILL have to spill your guts to a government agent and the AUSA. You know what is nifty about that set up? The AUSA gets to decide if you are truthful enough and complete enough in your truthfulness. Not a probation officer, not someone who works for the court, but the AUSA. Still your daddy.

It has taken over 25 years for lawmakers and policy influencers to see the error of their ways on this. Some civil rights leaning groups have been decrying this cause for a long time. The more conservative folks have come aboard recently. Lots of people don’t like prison overcrowding ($$$). Other folks just don’t like the big-brother type feel of a prosecutor being the daddy of a courtroom.

You may ask: what types of people agree that mandatory prison sentencing is a bad idea? Well, how about Patrick Leahy, Grover Norquist, Rand Paul, George Will, American Bar Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Eric Holder, ACLU, and the Cato Institute.

It is fair to say that the above group of people is not an homogenous one.

This brings us up to the present day. There are two bills floating around right now hoping to reduce the applicability of mandatory minimum prison sentences. Rand Paul and Patrick Leahy had the Justice Safety Valve Act. This bill is more comprehensive. This is the bill that the federal criminal justice system needs. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be the one that takes. The Smarter Sentencing Act just passed through committee. Although it would be tremendous progress, the SSA is not as strong of a potential reform as the the Justice Safety Valve Act would be. Sadly, as with happens with many bills on the hill, the SSA was watered down in the version that passed.

Here is the point. You don’t want an AUSA to be your daddy. I don’t like an AUSA being my daddy or my client’s daddy. I am not here to thrash prosecutors as a den of rabid thieves. I have a good working relationship with the AUSAs I work with. I most certainly hope the majority of AUSA do not throw in with Bill Otis. Mr. Otis has proclaimed that there is a revolt amongst the daddys. (For some fantastic reporting on Otis and the Revolts check with Scott Greenfield and Professor Berman) The daddys know better than all of us! Really! Mandatory minimums keep us safe! In fact, a passage from a blog post by Otis shows just how deep the paternalistic urges goes:

As career DOJ prosecutors know, strong mandatory minimum statutes are essential to rein in the sometimes ideological, sometimes naive, and sometimes careless decisions of sentencing courts.  I explained why here, here and here, keying off a recent discussion by the Second Circuit.

Conservatives, moderates, and liberals are coming together. Thinking citizens do not want laws that pack our prisons in a racially biased way. We want judges to be able to judge each crime and each defendant individually.

Who isn’t on board? Just daddy.

 

Blog Post 008- Another Friday: Ever Good Enough?

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When I go to work on Fridays I find myself feeling and thinking various things.

I am more encouraged to work on a Friday than any other day. Do not misunderstand me: I do not always actually do this work.  Friday does not have the expectation of a Monday. On Monday you have the whole world ahead of you. What if you don’t get it all done? How do you divvy up each project or task over the week so that everything is taken care of? On Friday, well, you’ve probably blown most of the week. Any work you get done at this point is Bonus Round.

I look back on Monday through Thursday. I wonder what happened to those days. I wonder how many Fridays I have done this exact same exercise. You get to Friday. You didn’t do what you set out to do. It does not feel good. But, on the other hand, you are about to the weekend. You are to your own time.You imagine that this time away from the weekly grind will rejuvenate you. I hardly find that the time buckling kids into seat belts or doing laundry is refreshing. By Saturday afternoon I am begging for that first cup of coffee at the office at 8:15 a.m. Monday morning.

There are times if I wonder if this blue state  is a result of the age I so eagerly took part in. This week I did not experience any flashing lights, 1,000,000 points top score, or deep stacks of praise and woo-hoo! Maybe it is a personality defect, spoiled brat syndrome, or general lack of sunlight. Being human? I am not sure.

But, I had this thought, this thought that has been circling around and around over the past few months. I am so prone to the horizon. I have been accused of wishing and dreaming out to the Fridays or Saturdays at hyperbolic break neck speeds. Then when I get there:  please send me to Monday.

When I do not  live my life each day like it is good enough then I will not honor myself or others around me as good enough either. 

Find one day that you really wish were the next. Sit on your soul like you are the big bully sitting on your chest on the playground. “You are staying here until I say get up.”  Don’t think of a million throw away adjectives for every time and moment.

That is what I am going try and do. You were given a day. Be grateful. Get an idea. Do it differently. Find a way to live. Go.

 

 

 

Blog Post 007- I Went To Jesus Camp. Part I: The Camper.

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A few years ago the movie Jesus Camp was released. (Click here for a review of the film)

The film tracks an evangelical christian summer camp that is designed to create christian soldiers. These soldiers (small children) were to take up arms and fight in the culture war that was taking place in America. If you have not seen this movie go see it here for free.

If you have never experienced evangelical Christianity the movie will blow your mind. If you have, and you aren’t too far removed from the experience, it will seem familiar but not too shocking. That is the scary part.

When I first told a friend of mine that I went to a Jesus Camp she told me she had seen the movie. She was asked, “is your camp really like that?” I went on to explain. Bewilderment ensued. Brookhill Ranch Summer Camp was my destination for Jesus. I attended camp from around 5th grade through the 9th or 10th grade and then was a camp counselor for about 3 summers.

The truth is, there is too much to tell for a single blog post. This post alone is almost 3k words.  So, we will start you off with my experience as a camper. (Later posts will be dedicated to the counselor experience, the parent experience, and the post-religious holy-shit experience)

I’m sure there are quite a few of you who have experienced summer camp. A day camp with some outdoor fun, some bad food, and making out with a boy or two before you go home. Well, this was not like that experience. To some this tale will be one that you cannot relate to in any way shape or form. My goal is to follow this thing fact by fact. Memory by memory. And, while doing that, share the thoughts and feelings that went through my head and chest. What I don’t want is for it to read like a pile of fuck you Christianity from the get go. To do that would be disingenuous and would allow me to recreate who I have been along the way.

I was an average kid. Milquetoast. I had a bit of a hard time fitting in. (like most do) As a way pass the time and feel special I got involved at church. (A Methodist Church) My first post for service was as an acolyte. This was a position of great responsibility. I not only lit the candles, but I also put them out. I came to learn that you can more easily twiddle your thumbs as an acolyte because you get to sit on the front row and can’t get tiny elbow pinched by your mother for acting foolish. I went to church about every Sunday. Most days my parents were too tired from work or would really rather golf. Who could blame them? But I craved it. So I would drag my mother some Sundays against her will. A few years later, I joined the church youth group. (even went to a Petra concert baby!) It started off fairly vanilla. We had some youth leaders in the summer that were big Jesus fans. One of them, I really only remember that he had the Lion King soundtrack and would play it or Elton John in the car often. We went on float trips, we would mow people’s yards, and we would also do communion for shut-in’s, etc. The final youth director I had was nice. But, there would be a lot of really charismatic people coming in and out that he would associate with. It eventually started looking more like the evangelical talk I was hearing at summer camp. (put god and prayer back in school, Jesus all day, no secular rock music, sexual abstinence, and no drugs or smoking) Don’t get me wrong. the Methodist elders were not throwing orgies or drug experimentation parties. However, it really was more of a WASPY traditional thing. You go to church, you have a potluck, you hang out with white church folk, etc. It was religious indoctrination, but not quite as exciting!

My parents weren’t that religious in their day to day lives. We didn’t pray over dinner every night or talk about how god helped them sell a dryer or carpet at the store that day. On the other hand, I don’t remember having anyone over that was not white or a Christian. A few Catholic friends, but that was about as edgy as it got.

By elementary school my cousins had been going to this summer camp. (Brookhill) You would not believe my excitement. I heard the stories one summer when I was at their house visiting. Go karts? Swimming? Bows and Arrows? You stay in a cabin named after a horse. I asked my mother if I could go and she said yes.

The first day of camp starts out very pedestrian. You have campers driving up in their vans with their parents and they get in line to pay for camp and get assigned a cabin. As a kid, and after you have been there a year previously, you start darting your eyes around the camp to see what counselors were there. These people were gods. They wore red tshirts and they commanded much attention and respect. So, you would go get settled into the cabin. The counselors would usher you in and yes m’am and yes sir your parents. They would be so pleased and comforted by these nice young counselors. (They would have to be comforting because my mother was a nervous wreck)

I was so anxious that I could not stand it. But, my counselor comforted me and introduced me to a few other boys in my cabin and I was able to get settled in pretty quick.  Below I have done an exhaustive run through of a day at camp. It may be laborious to read. However, I think it is necessary. If you have not been to Jesus Camp you need to read this to get an idea. If you have been, and you still think it is all normal and fine then do this: take this list, print it out, tape it to a 2×4, and smack your face with it.

A typical day at Brookhill when I was there would be as follows. We would wake up and take showers and get ready along with our cabin. We would then stumble outside and pray in a circle with our cabin mates. If it were one the younger kids it would be really painful for everyone else. “I would like to thank….*feeling the pressure of what to say* God….and thank him for this yummy food…..*long pause* amen.” *sigh from rest of the boys and counselors* “Amen! Let’s go eat” If it was one of the older boys in the cabin then there would be a much more elaborate performance. I’m not saying you know it is a performance when you are doing it. But, that is what it is. You realize that as you mature your way through the rank that more elaborate prayer was met with praise and reinforcement. “I would like to thank Jesus for what he put on my heart so far this week, and thank Counselor Steve who has shown me that I have talents that God  has given to me and I plan to share the word of Christ when I get back to school.” Then Counselor Steve would chime in: “That is awesome. Simply awesome. God is going to do great things in you!” What I quickly found is that all good things came from Jesus. I am nice to you because of Jesus. You will be at peace with Jesus.

Eat Breakfast. Then, morning devotions. The devotions would consist of one of the cabins doing a skit on the bible. The skit would usually be a lesson on how to apply biblical ideas to your every day life. (A common theme is … everyone is doing drugs but you do not have to! You have the power of Jesus in your heart!) After the skit a counselor tells something about Jesus that Jesus himself laid on the counselor’s heart. A few songs are sung, a prayer again, and then start the day. As a camper it all seemed pretty normal. I had been in youth group and we had done somewhat similar skits for my church I grew up in. What I could feel, and clearly what the camp staff wanted you to feel, is that this Jesus lifestyle was something to never put down. There was a very certain way to do it. And, not only that, it was expected that you do it. You are a Christian (or a Christian prospect). You will have to be a certain way. They would illustrate this these skits. What is wrong with telling kids they don’t have to give into peer pressure? Or do drugs? Or have exploratory sexual experiences? What, I tell you? You were a vessel for Christ. Jesus-down trickle lifestyle economics.

The day is filled with busy activities: go karts, horseback riding, archery, etc. These are fun. Don’t get me wrong. Constant motion. They would wear us out to such a degree that you couldn’t help but pass out when your head hit the pillow at night. Now to lunch! We then would pray for lunch and then eat. We would sing some pop-like Jesus tunes to fire you up. (Ex. Pharoh, Pharoh!)Then, on to more activities. Rinse and Repeat. Constant reinforcement of Jesus paired with the excitement of song and activity.

Coming back from an afternoon of activity we would be allowed to purchase snacks, candies and drinks to help cool off and satisfy our sweet tooth. We would relax with our cache of goodies and settle in for a story.

Hettie Lou Brooks, the matriarch of the camp, would come out and greet the campers in the pavilion.  This woman had jet black hair that was huge and curly. She had a vision that god had given her to create a summer camp where kids could come and become christian kids and mingle with other christian kids. The  counselors would retire for their meeting (more on that in part 2: The Counselor), and Hettie would talk about the culture of America going to Satan. Little did I know but Satan had his hands in everything. Music, television, and SEX. She would describe sex as boys with their frothy mouths drooling all around. There would be many mentions through the week of common themes: no prayer in school, Satan taking over our government, Satan taking over our sex, and Satan making people think they were gay, (I was educated to the scientific fact that no homosexual acts occurred in the animal kingdom)  Satan Satan Satan. Oh, and before we would retire for a nap, she would tell us a very riveting story. She could tell stories on the fly in a very impressive way. I can remember being quite spellbound and attentive as she would seem to tell these stories in an improvisational way. She would weave all the above mentioned themes together until the story ended at the end of the week. A boy would befriend a girl that was struggling and then in the struggling the kid would find Jesus and it would all be better. (For some insight into the type of ideas being shared you should look to David Barton. Mr. Barton was friends with the Brooks and he seemed to heavily influence her. To get an idea of the madness that this man spreads: click here

Ok, let us quickly move through the rest. It is getting boring. After story time was nap time. Wake up from the nap and leave your cabin with your cabin mates and go down dinner. (pray for dinner of course).

The evenings would be more of of a serious affair. Evening vespers would be the service. This would include slower songs, a parable skit told by a cabin,  a small sermon from the counselor, and then a prayer. Kids would raise their hands in the air or kneel on the ground and audibly pray to themselves. There would be mention of Jesus being the only way. I can remember feeling the beginnings of the pressure. I couldn’t articulate it then. I wouldn’t even dream of saying anything if I could have. These counselors were so nice and so kind to me. That along with the rush of emotions, music, and wanting to belong were a powerful combination. I found a link to two videos I have embedded below. I can’t hardly watch the one from Brookhill now without a lot of shitty feelings. I remember the rush of it. I was going to do it! I was going to be the greatest Jesus ambassador! I had no idea how psychologically damaging this experience was. (more talk on the psychology of these things in Part 2: The Counselor)

Jesus Camp Movie Trailer

YouTube Video of Closing Ceremony for Brookhill Summer Camp

I worshiped the camp counselors. They paid so much attention to me. I never was left out. They would ask what I liked, where I was from, and how I was doing. The constant attention was a drug. What made these people act like this? The love of Christ. Why wouldn’t I do the love of Christ? I get to fit in here and be part of something. I never had any particular desire to do drugs or drink (alcohol in the family). I was so ridiculously awkward and Jesus-y I had no worries of any girls wanting to share froth with me. A pretty easy pitch for a kid like me.

After the evening worship service we would go back to the cabin and get ready for bed. The counselors would tell amateur morality tales. It would depend on the counselor. If the counselor had been into drugs, girls,  or rock music, the counselor would describe how bad it was before and how much better it felt to be a Christian. I was convinced I would never need any of those things to make my life better. Just summer camp would do for me.

The above daily schedule would repeat itself until the crescendo of the week: Salvation. Salvation, as I would come to know, was the one and only purpose of Brookhill. The rides, the nice people, and the stories were all to woo you.

I can remember the music playing. I can remember a counselor in tattered clothes with fake blood and the crucifixion being reenacted. There would be wailing women and the crack of a whip. It was an emotional experience. Kids in the crowd would be crying and then they would ask us if we would want to be Christians. They asked if we were ready to live lives as good Christian young men and women. I had thought I might be a Christian already from being a member of the church. But, I wasn’t going to chance it. I certainly wasn’t going to be one of only kids not to go to the front and heed the call. So, I did it. I could never tell you what year I ever became a Christian. Every one of the other counselors had a date they remembered. It would always stress me out because I did not know the day I became a Christian. If you had been saved you were supposed to know the day that it happened. I probably went to the front to accept Christ almost half a dozen times. Hard to be too sure on these things.

After leaving Brookhill that summer I would enter in a constant cycle of mania, anxiety, guilt, and doubt over whatever it was I was supposed to be. Burning my secular music, telling people about Jesus, and living life for the Lord. Nothing felt as necessary as the next Brookhill Camp session. It was an addiction. An actual addiction. A need that would fill a spot that any other addiction would fill. Within a week of leaving camp the feelings of excitement were gone. The friends were gone, the constant praise was gone, and the pulsating music and promises of a godly world were gone. I was left confused and I felt like the very worst Christian that could ever be. I really had no desire to lead anyone to Christ. Seemed scary and a bit forward of me. Yikes, especially in real life? That was just crazy talk. It was easy to be a on-fire Jesus kid with all the other campers.

After the years as a camper I became fixated on the next goal. I was going to show everyone I had what it took to be a counselor. I knew how it felt to have someone talk to me. So, I was going to do the same. It was a whole new world on the other side of camp. The veneer would wear away a little bit. But, the addiction was still fed.

No speaking in tongues was going to stop me.