Here is a copy of a blog that was posted in an Anneewakee Survivors group….. I believe this man to be totally full of shit, but I think it should be read. This blog post is the reason I made my blog, it inspired me when someone mentioned that it was not his story to tell. It’s our story to tell and we should =)
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Saunders–Memoir–Week of 10-19
At the time of my father’s death, I was working in a psychiatric facility that specialized in the care of extremely disturbed boys. This facility would later become infamous when its director and founder, the fatefully named Dr. Louis Poetter (pronounced “petter”) was found to be, together with his wife, his children, and his sons- and daughters-in-law, completely focused on using the facility to provide Dr. P with a stable of adolescent boys for him to abuse sexually. This facility was the notorious Anneewakee Foundation. The abuse was very carefully orchestrated–Dr. P had his whole family actively enlisted in protecting him–and the whole place was cloaked under an extremely effectively built cloak of respectability. At the time I was there, I have to say I never saw (and certainly didn’t participate in) any kind of abuse, sexual or otherwise. All in all I lived and worked there around four months.
I had gone to work at Anneewakee because I was twenty-three, recently graduated from college, and looking for direction in my own life–looking for direction in any way I could find it. I thought I might want to become a psychotherapist, and at the urging of a friend I’d met in the course of my own psychotherapy, in a weekly group, I checked out Anneewakee. They were happy to have me. They were always looking for group facilitators, adult males whose job it was to live with the boys who were confined to the facility because they had some kind of severe behavioral problem. The facilitators lived with the boys, who were organized into groups and who lived on the large, rustic campus of the Foundation, near Douglasville, Georgia.
At the time I went to work at Anneewakee, the facility was regarded as a great success. It was famous for taking in adolescent boys who had murdered their parents, siblings or friends, and making them tractable. Violent kids, withdrawn kids, kids with uncontrollable tempers, kids with horrific pasts of all descriptions–these were the kids who were brought, often as a last resort, sometimes after getting kicked out of state mental institutions (something I hadn’t realized was possible) were brought to Anneewakee. Spending an average of two years in the facility, the boys ranged in ages from ten to twenty or so. Some kids grew up there. A few came back, after “graduation,” and became group facilitators. By all accounts, the boys who spent time at Anneewakee–and it must be remembered that most of them were dangerously violent when they went in–came out as evidently normal, civil people.
With this kind of success record, and given how open the Foundation was to offer on-the-job training, leading to an advanced degree in Clinical Psychology, I thought at the time that working there was a great opportunity. What made it both particularly interesting and definitely challenging was that I knew that if I became a facilitator, I would have to live with the kids six days a week, twenty-four hours a day, acting as their shepherd, counselor, big brother and mediator. I knew at this time that I was gay, even though I’d already slept with women, but I was young enough and uncertain enough about where I was going in life that the prospect of entering into something approaching a monastic life wasn’t without its appeal to me at the time.
The boys’ living circumstances deserve some mention here. The therapeutic philosophy ostensibly guiding Anneewakee was something called milieu therapy. At Anneewakee, this took the form of having the kids living in groups in the woods–some lived in teepees, some in tents, and all lived in temporary shelters until they showed, within their group as individuals and in the group as a whole, that they could manage their violent or otherwise destructive behavior. So the kids lived basically outdoors, all year round, until they earned the right to live indoors. When it was deemed they had made enough progress to live in a permanent shelter, they had to build the shelter themselves–plan it, and then execute the building, and then they could live indoors. I don’t think the kids thought of this as a hardship. I certainly didn’t. I found myself really loving it that I was sleeping under the stars every night, and I found living in a teepee pretty comfortable, too. When I was transferred to a group that lived in a cabin (older, calmer boys) it felt actually like a comedown, a beginning retreat from the life of the woods.
The kids spent minimal time in schoolroom classes, and this was the downtime we facilitators would have. During this time we would talk about what it meant to be working there. Most of the men there presented themselves as straight, not surprisingly, and I figure that the fact that in all the time I worked there, not a single person questioned me about my romantic life, was the signal that the men I was living with–remember, this was a little world of boys turning into men and young men leading them–preferred to keep their distance from the subject of my sexuality and my relationship status. All in all it was a collegial group, though everyone among the facilitators betrayed, at one time or another, a suspicion that the administration regarded us as senior inmates rather than as employees. No one among the facilitators was treated badly, no one was singled out for any kind of discipline, but there was still a lingering, completely intuitive sense that we were being watched all the time.
What stays with me about my time at this place was that I loved living in the woods, first of all. The woods in Douglas County were beautiful, with rolling, thickly forested hills, clean, beautiful streams, and all kinds of wildlife. It was easy to turn into a boy inside in such a place. I always expected that one day the administration would drag me in and query me about being a queer, and once I told them the truth, I’d be expelled. But that never happened. No one ever gave me anything but encouragement while I was there.
I suppose that was, in part, because I was good with the kids. I was particularly good getting withdrawn kids to come out of their shell. I remember one evening a facilitator asked me to sit in on a session he was leading with this one boy in his group who was listless, non-communicative, and just generally not present. I agreed. The facilitator had been working with getting this kid to talk for a couple of months, but nothing was happening. I sat in with the facilitator and the kid, and found he was willing to open up to me. I asked him questions, he answered, and within about half an hour, he broke down, cried really pitifully and talked about how terrified he was. As I recall, I got him to open up by talking about a pain he’d been feeling in his belly. He seemed to get better after this encounter, and I got the reputation of having a way with the kids.
It surprised me, as I got settled into working and living at Anneewakee, how normal all the boys seemed. Facilitators weren’t allowed to know much about the boys’ history. Each boy worked with a psychotherapist on a schedule that was determined by the treatment staff, and facilitators were merely informed of when a boy needed to report to the hospital building for his therapy sessions. Facilitators dealt with the boys on a day-to-day basis in the setting of their routine everyday lives, so to the extent that we dealt with the boys’ psychopathology, it was within the context of immediate problem-solving–getting through a conflict or a crisis that arose as the boys went about their normal routine.
Facilitators met a few times a week to submit to training, ostensibly aimed at grooming us for more high-level preparation to enter a clinical psychology program as a degree candidate. The training was led by the facility’s director of therapeutic services, a man referred to by everyone at the facility as Dr. B. He was named Brett Baxley, he was one of Dr. Poetter’s most intimate friends, and by all accounts, he had worked with Dr. Poetter for years in various projects that led to the establishment of the Anneewakee Foundation.
Dr. B was one of the creepiest people I’ve ever known. Picture Daddy Warbucks as a mummy, and you have his physical description. Dr. B smoked a pipe constantly, an ancient Meerschaum pipe that had grown black from use. Because he loved pipe-smoking so intensely, Dr. B established as a rule that all the boys be allowed to smoke, as well. All of them, no matter what age, were allowed to smoke a pipe. This meant that most of them did–it was one of the few illicit pleasures allowed them, and they devoured it. It was indescribably weird to me to think that all these young boys would want to emulate Dr. B, because it was clear they found him creepy, too. Maybe they thought that if they copied him, they could keep him at bay, even though it was never clear to any of us exactly what threat he might pose if he got too near anyone while in the wrong humor.
Dr. B’s therapeutic philosophy was simple. All boys at the facility were either schizoid or had a character disorder. End of story. The facilitators’ job was to figure out on which side of the diagnostic fence a boy resided and deal with him accordiningly. Schizoid boys needed to be nurtured and reassured, and character disordered boys needed to have the shit scared out of them, in the hope it would make them grow what they lacked, which was a conscience. It was desirable to mix schizoid boys with character disordered boys, because schizoid boys were good at seeking revenge, so that if a disordered boy crossed a schizoid boy, it could be expected that the schizoid boy would punish the disordered one in a meaningful way. This system of actually pitting supposed types of boys against one another was seen as assisting in the therapy of both types: by being engaged to pay back the crimes of a disordered boy, a schizoid boy was actively engaging in the world and was, therefore, working to overcome his break with reality; by being subjected to his victim’s punishment, the disordered boy was being engaged to learn that his destructive behavior had consequences. Everything, but everything, we did with the boys was to issue from our understanding of the therapeutic principle of the schizoid/character disorder pair.
Right from the start I found myself feeling uncomfortable with this theory, but I was only twenty-three years old and had no education to counter it. All I felt I could do was try to be a good friend to the boys in my care, keep them from killing each other, and hope for the best. For the most part, they were sweet kids, and they were friendly to me. A few real monsters among the boys were standoffish, but never violent, never even particularly confrontational. Compared with what I’ve seen in high schools and on the bus, these kids were actually models of behavior. I wondered sometimes why some of them were there, because they never, ever acted like anything other than normal boys, playing and fighting and mostly just getting by from one day to the next.
I had been told that the kids at the facility were murderers, thugs and maniacs. What I found was a large 4 H camp. I wondered how it could be that my perception differed so much from what I was being told. By talking with a few of the facilitators and some of the boys, I saw a story emerge. Anneewakee was a very expensive place to stay. The tuition was–and this was in 1977 when I was there–somewhere around $30,000 a year. Beyond that, the boys had to be outfitted with outdoor gear, and there were numerous other incidental expenses associated with being there. The fact was, with only a few exceptions, most of the kids at Anneewakee came from very rich families. It became clear that at least some of the boys had been dumped in the faclity by their parents. Superachieving parents punished their sons for not doing their homework by throwing them into Anneewakee for two years. All in all, I would say, most of the boys fell into this category. There were, indeed, murderers among the boys. Most of them were, I observed and firmly believe, normal kids whose parents didn’t know how to parent them.
I remember one boy, a kid named Brian, who was more than a little attached to me. I am not aware of having given him any indication that I am gay, except perhaps in all the ways that are probably unconscious to me. Brian pursued me, seeking first friendship, and soon making it clear that he wanted to have sex with me. He was all of fourteen, and I was twenty-three. He was a cute kid, mature-looking for fourteen, good-looking and gregarious. I had no trouble realizing he was turning into a handsome young man and being clear, at the same time, that I had no interest in having sex with him. Brian made many sexual advances to me, especially when we were alone. Because of this I did the best I could to make sure we weren’t alone any more than was necessary.
The fact was that the boys were full of sexual energy. They lived together all the time, and only a few of them had the luxury of ever leaving their group for a home visit for a weekend, a day or a few hours. Living together meant that we spent all our days together, six days a week. We slept side by side, spent the days involved in vigorous physical activity (hikes, building projects, games), we ate together, and we bathed together. Being very shy about my body then, I was extremely uncomfortable showering with a bunch of newly pubescent boys. They couldn’t help but be curious about what a grown man looked like without clothes on, and being boys, they were unable to hide their interest, their need to compare themselves with the adults, and their reactions to being around adult men in such intimate settings. Most of the boys acted this out with a surprising amount of delicacy, but kids like Brian were so full of desire and need that they just couldn’t.
Brian got into trouble with the other boys, because he tried to play with them as well. This meant he got into lots of physical fights, fights I ended up having to mediate. The other boys wanted me to beat him up for being a fag, and I had to tell them I wasn’t there to beat anybody up, but to stop anyone I could from beating up on someone else. Saying this now, I realize a connection I never had before. My father was an MP in the Navy, and I ended up for awhile as a kind of MP in a nuthouse for crazy and unwanted boys.
And this reminds me that, in all the time I worked and lived at Anneewakee, I never once talked with my father about my working there. It’s an odd thing to remember NOT having happened. But then my father was never interested much in whatever work I did. In fact, when the subject of my work life did come up in our conversations, it would usually end up with my father going into one of his teeth-gritting rants. We would start out talking about what I was doing at whatever job I was working at, and the conversation would end when my father would start ranting about what a worthless thing it was for me to be working for thus and such a worthless company doing such a worthless job. It sounds really over the top to describe his behavior this way, I know. But it’s what he did. The guy was nuts. Really, really nuts.
Last night I was reminded how limited my memory is. I’ve come to the mountains with my mother and sister for a weekend of touring and spending time together. Last night at dinner the subject of eating goat meat came up. Growing out of that conversation was my mother’s mentioning she’d read an article about the Goat Man, a man who used to wander the eastern U.S. with a herd of goats. The Goat Man was around when I was a child, and in fact was wandering through the Florida Keys when my family lived in Key West in the late 50s and early 60s.
I remember people talking about the Goat Man, because he was, of course, such a great curiosity. I remember people talking about how dirty he was and how odd it was that he was able to survive, living outdoors all year round with a herd of goats as his only companions—except, evidently, for the occasional tourist who would stop to have his picture taken standing among the crazy man and his goats. My sister asked me if I remembered the goat man, and I said, No, not really. I said, honestly, I could remember people talking about the Goat Man, and I had an image of a man with a bunch of goats, but I had no recollection of THE Goat Man. My sister looked at me as if I’d make an astonishing declaration.
Then the subject turned to Mrs. Knight—did I remember Mrs. Knight? Mrs. Who, I asked? Mrs. Knight, my sister and mother both said, looking at me as if I’d lost my mind. Why should I remember Mrs. Knight?, I asked. Because she lived a few houses down from grandmama’s house, my sister said, and because she lived with a house full of goats, chickens, dogs, cats and pigs, my mother said. You mean all those animals lived in the house with her?, I asked. Yes, my sister and mother both answered in unison, she was a foreigner, spoke with a strange accent, and she did, indeed, live with animals of all kinds—barnyard animals, cats, and dogs, wandering in and out of the house.
I think it really struck my mother and sister that, given my age at the time Mrs. Knight and the Goat Man were around, and given how early some of my most vivid memories extend back into my early life, I couldn’t remember these two people. I can remember very specific things from when I was not quite two years old: having pneumonia and messing with my Granmother’s collection of perfumes, fascinated as I was by the exotic beauty of the bottle of what I would later learn was Shalimar. I can remember driving through Miami at age four and, when I asked where we were, was told by my mother, “We’re in Miami.” To which I asked, thinking it odd that my mother owned the whole city and had never mentioned it before, “Is it MY Ami, too?” To which the whole car full of people responded by laughing about my mistake all the way to Jacksonville. I can remember trying to sit on a sunflower leaf and wondering why it wouldn’t hold my weight, this at age four. I can remember lot of things from early life, but I can’t remember the Goat Man, not really, and I can’t remember Mrs. Knight, and have no idea why. Maybe the oddness of the Goat Man and Mrs. Knight might have been enough in tune with my imagination so that they just seemed like perfectly sensible appointments to an otherwise dull world.
I felt pretty good about how I’d settled into life at Anneewakee by the end of November 1977. The place made me uneasy, but I was trying to put forth my best effort. I who had drifted from one thing to another since college, I who couldn’t find a direction for my life and who really, really wanted one, who needed to believe in something I was doing and think it mattered, I who wanted more than anything to be able to pour myself into some activity that would carry me along for the rest of my life or, if not that long, at least long enough to prove to myself that I COULD commit to something–I was doing the best I could to make things work, and they appeared to be working pretty well. The kids and I got along well, I felt pretty comfortable where I was, and I liked what I was doing.
And then, on the evening of Wednesday, 7 December 1977, one of the supervisors unexpectedly called me into his office as I was leaving the dining hall with my kids. I was asked to join the supervisor in his office, no reason given. It was getting dark quickly, and the building where his office was had no lights turned on. I felt something strange about making my way through the darkened building to find my way to his office, but I did, feeling uncertain but not afraid. I don’t remember his name, but I remember what he looked like: he was a sinewy blonde, small-statured, constantly smoking his pipe, always dressed in plaid. The thought occurred to me more than once that he must be straight, but that he’d probably be fun to play with sexually. When I went into his office it did feel very strange to be there with him in the dark, and I sat there and let him talk. Very gently, with all the sweetness and sincerest regret he could express, he told me that my father had died, and suggested that I leave that evening to be with my mother.
I remember how stunned I was when I was told my father had died. It appeared he’d died of a heart attack or stroke, just as he was leaving an office where he’d been working on repairing a mainframe computer for the Life of Georgia Insurance Company. He was driving his truck out of the parking lot, I was told, and he was with a coworker. Suddenly he slumped over the steering wheel, and that was that. He just went out like a light, like a light bulb that just snapped and no longer worked, completely and irreversibly broken.
And the first thought that came clearly to my mind after I made my way through the shock was, This is MY death I’m seeing here, how can I be thinking this, how can I be utterly free of feeling sorrow for my father’s dying, and how can it be that I am feeling only horror at knowing that I’m seeing in this news a vision of my own death?
After talking briefly with the supervisor who gave me the news, I agreed that I should go back to my group of boys (there were always two or three facilitators managing a group of boys, so they weren’t alone). I shouldn’t tell them why I was having to leave, but only that I needed to go home and take care of some urgent family business. And that’s what I did. I remember saying goodbye to the boys in the dark, and knowing, even though we couldn’t see their faces, that they knew something very bad had happened.
I must have appeared more vulnerable than I was aware, because one of the other facilitators was designated to follow me in a separate car to make sure I made the long trip to my parents’ house in east Dekalb County. The trip from Anneewakee must have been sixty miles or so, one way. So I drove alone in my green Ford Maverick, followed by a guy making sure I didn’t run off the road, and I suppose it was a good thing he did follow me, because by the time I got to my mother’s house, it was as if I’d dreamt my way there rather than driven the distance.
I have very scattered memories of how things were at my parents’ house when I got there the evening my father died. I can picture my mother, looking bedraggled and spent. There weren’t many tears–none from me, few from her. She was pale and sad, but mostly she was just exhausted. It had been a few weeks since I had seen her, and the last time I had seen her before my father’s death, she had been a completely different person physically. I was surprised, then, seeing her that evening, seeing how much a few weeks and the fact of my father’s death appeared clearly to have torn her up.
My parents’ marriage had been an uneasy alliance for years. They fought through much of their marriage, and the fighting only got more bitter as they got older. Through the years of my childhood and adolescence, I watched my father go from being a mountainously strong, powerful man to being a grotesquely fat, ever more sullen, ever more seething and lonely man, wandering around his own house as if he were a stranger there. My mother, for her part, withdrew emotionally from him more and more over the years of my youth. If they came to an agreement about their marriage, it seemed that they would do so by seeking to live as roommates, as neighbors occupying adjoining space in the same house, each keeping their distance until matters reached a pitch, somehow, between them, such that they could no longer avoid fighting. After the fights, withdrawal followed by a long, slow thaw to something occasionally rising to the level of mere civility.
I think the primary source of their conflict was always that my father really resented the fact that my mother wanted to pursue a life outside the house. She wanted to have a career, and she found one as a high school teacher. She worked hard at shitty jobs doing clerical work for years, nine years in all, to put herself through Georgia State University to get her Education degree, and then she got various teaching jobs, whatever she could land, until she finally got a job teaching Business Ed classes in North Fulton County, teaching well-heeled kids how to use computers and how to manage business affairs. My father hated it that my mother didn’t want to stay home, be a mommy, cook his food and be his love doll. “Doll,” in fact, was his pet name for my mother, from the earliest time I can remember, through all the years of yelling and screaming, all the way to his crash-landing into his own death. She did not want to be his doll, and he wanted nothing else from her. I think this conflict, whatever it really was at its heart, ate more at both of them than anything else they had to deal with. It aged both of them, and it literally weighed them down, him more than her. My father died at 52, already an old man, and when he died, my mother was and old woman at 47.
posted by LifeWriter at 10:23 PM
Viola Blu said…
I am trying to read your blog today, it was posted on an Anneewakee survivors group I am in. I may have to read it a different day, last night I had an all night nightmare about Anneewakee and woke up crying. So this is a lot to read today, and I can not read it with an open mind right now…..Your third paragraph pissed me off. I will not speak for anyone else, but I was there for falling in love with a boy that my parents did not like…I learned to do bad things there, I went in with love in my heart and came out with hate in it. After reading your third paragraph I do not know if your blog is totally full of shit or your just a dumb ass. I have always wanted to ask someone how they could work there and live with themselves later. How you did not call someone and tell them we were ALL being mistreated and abused.
Viola Blu said…
I am sorry I called you a dumb ass, I woke up angry.
I also read your post on an Anneewakee Survivors site I am a member of and I will tell you that I DO think you are an ass and price of shit. You KNEW what we were going g through and you said nothing. We were NOT murdered or killers, we were kids whose parents did t know what to do with us. We came from all walks of life, not just the rich. Most of us went in there relatively normal kids but came out worse than when we went in. Your blog is full of shit. You say you were there for 4 months and talk about one of the people there as if you were attracted to him, which would make you no better than Focus himself. Take your blog and shove it up your ass and font mention Anneewakee again or us. You haven’t EARNED that right.