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Alaska Notebook: Michael Carey found neither joy nor merit badges in bullying at Boy Scout camp

One summer camp was enough

My Boy Scout career was brief.

You might think my father Fabian, the professional woodsman, made me a Boy Scout but it was my mother who shipped me off to the Lost Lake camp near Fairbanks. Mary Carey, ever the idealist, thought I would benefit from the scouts' hardy camaraderie and the virtuous example scoutmasters set. She probably also was weary of a 13-year-old hanging around the house, whining, "There's nothing to do."

She was right about the scoutmasters. They were energetic, enthusiastic and good-tempered. In 1958, the perving scoutmaster of Lost Lake, recently unmasked by the release of long-suppressed Scout misconduct files, had yet to arrive in Alaska. But my scoutmasters had a blind spot -- they trusted the wrong kids.

There weren't enough adults to supervise the scouts closely, so some of the 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds were given responsibility for the younger guys. I was in a cabin with a half-dozen 13-year-olds and two senior scouts.

The older boys abused the scoutmasters' admonition to run a tight ship. They treated their charges like prisoners, especially in the evening and at night when the adults were in a distant part of the camp. Shut up and do what you are told. Or else.

It was a rainy summer and rained most of the nights we were in the cabin. One evening a kid my age named Jimmy offended one of the senior scouts and the older boys made him pay. They wired him to a tree -- baling wire -- and left him in the rain for much of the night. Jimmy howled like a wild animal and wept like a baby, then fell silent. The silence, punctuated by rain dripping from the cabin and gusts of wind, terrified me as I lay huddled in my sleeping bag.

I knew Jimmy from school, a gangly kid. Not a good student, unable to win friends. Ignored by his classmates except during PE, when his lack of athleticism provoked derision.

For the rest of my stay, I tried to make myself invisible. I didn't want to be the next guy wired to a tree. But as the son of an idealistic mother, I recognized I had a moral problem. How could I let Jimmy's suffering go unreported? How could I, like the other kids, retreat into silence?

The afternoon I arrived home, my mother, hoping for the answer she wanted to hear, asked if I enjoyed camp. I frowned and trudged upstairs to my room.

I was ashamed of what I had seen, heard and done. When I saw Jimmy at school after that, my mind went back to the rainy cabin and I was ashamed all over again. I never returned to Boy Scout camp. I was relieved when Jimmy moved away

-- Michael Carey