January 31, 2018

Lost Boys

January 31, 2018
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It was a typical day.  I had typical errands to run.  The weather was typical for Oklahoma on that day.  Chilly and windy.  I was doing my usual "up and down the isles" at War-Mart when I noticed them.  Two teenage boys.  They were out of place, nothing typical about them.  They didn't belong there.  No shoes, no socks.  No jacket.  Their faces were dirty and their clothes were tattered.  With their chips and soda in hand, they paid with loose change and headed for the exit.  Something wasn't right.  

I followed them out into the parking lot.  They took off down the sidewalk.  I got in my car and followed.  I noticed another lady doing the same thing.  She too knew something wasn't right.  We both drove ahead of the boys, parked our cars and cautiously walked towards to the boys.  Where were they going?  Where were their shoes?  Who did they belong to?

We asked them what they were up to.  Did they need help?  With big smiles on their faces they told us a they were on a mission.  A survival mission.  They had been challenged by their "leader" to survive for 72 hours.  If they completed the mission, they would be "accepted".  One of the boys had a box of filthy tennis balls.  They were selling the tennis balls to strangers, offering them as dog toys.  With the money they made they would buy food.  They slept in a field and bathed in a pond.  They were shivering, giggling.  They were proud of their mission.  They had made it three nights in the cold, selling tennis balls and surviving.  Their mission was near complete.  

image: http://culture.pl/en/video/tomorrow-will-be-better-in-japan
Something wasn't right.  Concerned, I continued to ask them questions.  Desperate to keep their attention we offered them food from Sonic.  Oh, how they immediately accepted and gave a tall order.  The lady I was with (I'll call her Julie) distracted them while I called 911.  I called my husband.  I called a juvenile officer.  The police were on their way.  The boys figured it out and called me a snitch.  I assured them they weren't in trouble.  I assured them we would keep our promise and get them Sonic.  I assured them we wanted to help and get them to safety.   They tried to walk away but reminding them that hot food was coming kept them hanging around.  

Two police cars pulled up and the boys tried to run.  The police peacefully kept them from getting too far and began to talk to the boys.  Julie went to get them the food we promised.  The officers questioned them separately.  I stood there, shivering.  Where were their parents?  Why weren't they in school?  Why were they barefoot?  And what the heck was this survival mission?  What leader?  

The police officers informed me that the boys were runaways from a local group "home" for the delinquent and dependent.  They were reported missing a few days ago.  The police told me that it was common for boys placed in group homes to run.  The facility didn't have security and any boy could leave at anytime.  They were barefoot because they didn't own shoes.  They weren't given shoes to discourage running away.  BUT who was looking for them?  Anyone?  No.  No one was looking for them.  They were reported missing but that was it.  Past that they were two less boys the system had to worry about.  

image: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/domestic_abuse
Scared, the boys continued to confess where they came from and pleaded with the officers not to take them back.  They made up the survival story to give them a sense of purpose and adventure.  Julie returned with the food.  Both boys were extremely grateful and ate quickly.  I asked to officers to please let us know when the boys were returned safely and asked what we could do to help them.  Nothing came of it.  I called the facility but because of privacy laws they couldn't tell me anything.  I talked to a local politician.  He made a few phone calls but shook his head and apologized.  I had no right to know anything.  No right to help.  No right to investigate.  In the name of privacy, the boys couldn't be checked on or even told they weren't forgotten.  

I thought about those two boys for months and think of them often now.  Did they run away again?  Are they safe?  Are they being mistreated?  Do they still try to escape and fantasize  about a survival mission?  Why is the community left in the dark?  Why, in my town, was this happening? The bubble I had been living in popped.  There are youth out there that are in danger, abandoned and forgotten. 

Those boys are lost. But they have names. No one is looking for them. But they need to be found.  No one cares for them.  But they have dreams.  They are people too.  Like many, they hurt.  But their pain is too much for our society to handle, for our government to appropriately fund. They are victims of a system that poorly houses the unwanted.  A system that implements laws to keep the community from knowing or helping.  A system that is failing children that have been failed by their parents.  The system is broken and it's breaking our future, our hope.  Those boys matter just as much as anyone else.  They didn't choose to be forgotten or mistreated.  But they are.  

I've had several people ask me what can be done.  That answer is one involving moving mountains.   The people I checked with didn't have answers.  Like I shouldn't be concerned with it, it isn't my business.  I wanted to promise the boys so much more than hot food but I couldn't.  I wanted to organize a mentorship program but was politely told that wasn't possible.  There is a problem and there doesn't seem to be a solution.  Not one that anyone is willing to involve themselves with. That has to change.  The hurting, the abandoned and forgotten are right here, in the shadows of our very own country, state, city and neighborhood.  The truth has a voice.  We must listen and act.