I really just want to see what kind of response I get.
|Wednesday, February 8, 2017
If I were to carry a sign while, walking down the street, proclaiming pride in anything, it would say "Alan C. Miller Pride".
I was brought up on a path of self examination. I don’t suppose this was intentional in any way.
The Wagner Years
Carpinteria Life Skills House
Beginning in September of 1982, I lived in a pretty structured and disciplined environment. Indeed, it was a disciplinary group home. I was required to find work in the home daily, ask permission to do a job, then get points (credit} for it; I had to earn 10,000 of these points daily in order to gain my privileges, such as to be able to hang around the living room and watch tv or go play or leave the house. I was in junior high at the time, so mostly this had to be done in my time outside of school. So if I was not able to earn my privileges before I had to go to bed then, well, that sucked for me. I had to bring home a school note each day that had been checked off by my teacher in each class, indicating my punctuality, if I have any homework, if I did my homework, my level of participation, etc. School was really my refuge from home, in most respects.
But, on the other side of things, there were fines (demerits) as well that were possible. A variety of them would be: arguing equals -1000, this would even be for explaining why at that moment you might not be able to do something. You were required to wait 30 minutes before responding to any direction to do something or else it indicated you were reacting and not necessarily contemplating. One with the same punishment would be for no verbal acknowledgement: being told to do something and not responding at all.
Lying cost you 10,000, as did cheating and stealing, I'm pretty sure. If you really screwed up bad there was what they called "Intensive Teaching", which was minus 100,000; in my case it was for what I call "physical insubordination" though the counselor in the group home just called it insubordination. But it was basically a situation that required just what its name suggests.
In addition to the fines, due to my physique at just under age 12 upon arrival, I was subjected to futher punishment in the form of "the Big X", essentially a number of repetitions of various exercises that made my Navy basic training seem like a cake walk.
I also had to do these exercises in addition to my fine for my Intensive Teaching.
Jobs started at 500 points for things such as cleaning the cat box. Most of the others were in increments of 1000 capping out at 6,000 if I recall, for things such as washing the car or mowing the lawn, with a couple 1500 jobs strewn in there.
There were 5 systems: Daily, where you needed 10,000 points a day; Weekly, 8,000 per day; Negotiation, where you presented your case as to why you deserved your privileges; Merit, where you were trusted because you had gotten to that level, though it could be lost, of course; and then, Homeward Bound, which is essentially that. With every level you had to earn your way to the next and given circumstances, you could be sent down a level to learn your lesson again, I assume was there intention.
In addition to these discplinary measures to curb the Juvenile Delinquent's behaviour, I seemed to be subject to what could only amount to brainwashing, from my point of view. I was not the product of these parents and they were not and never became my Mom and Dad. Since up to September of 1982 I had been raised by my biological mother and the Wagners believed what was stated in the court documents provided to them, I was essentially being molded by them into what they thought I should be. I found a status report to my the courts in California that stated that "he has accepted his mothers statements as lies but how he has dealt with this emotionally remains to be seen".
The way this molding was done, at least in the home, was to make me feel like I should be guilty for everything. Even if this was unintentional, it occurred due to my unwillingness to admit to something I did not do. And this happened on many occasions. If something got broken or stolen or bitten and thrown in the garbage and no one immediately owned up to it, a conference was called to help the guilty one confess. If still no one confessed, everyone got fined. In the case of the block of cheese that was bitten and then thrown in the garbage, it had a bite mark so we all had to bite into Play-Doh to show dental evidence. Other times include a bucket being broken and thrown behind the washer and the stealing of the halloween candy of the children of the home's parents. Both of these incidents seemed like ones that I would likely have committed at that time due to my height and the fact that I had stolen candy before from the refrigerator. I confessed to nothing because I was not guilty. In the case of the bucket, another Boy stated that he knew I didn't do it. In high school, the boy that did it admited the act to me, thereby exonerated me in my mind of the crime. The halloween candy remained unsolved, though I suspect with JDs in the house it's easy to take your own candy and blame it on them. Jim Wagner later assumed I was confessing to this candy theft in one of my final Public Speaking sessions.
Due to my apparent shyness after entering the group home, this program was started for me. I was to essentially write a speech and give it publicly to either Jim Wagner or Rob Lewis, the counselor, at 8:30 every evening. At a certain point I felt as if what I had to say was important and that my opinion mattered, which was undoubtedly the intent. One day, after vacuuming, I was cleaning out the collector for the vacuum. It was the kind that used water to minimize the rise of dust particles. The collector basin was dumped outside and then rinsed out with the hose. On this particular day it was windy and I observed that the wind was causing the stream of water from the hose to bend or curve. To a child of my age, this was tantamount to scientific discovery. But when related to Rob, he responded with "That's amazing, Alan!" but I detected that it was sarcastic. From then on, I felt the Public Speaking program was just a sham. I realized that for me I was simply inventing things to talk about: writing speeches in my head and then rehearsing them over and over again to get them right. This is something I still do to this day, although now I am less likely to present that speech to anyone.
One of my last Public Speaking sessions ended in my bawling my eyes out. My topic was what I didn’t want to improve: my lying, stealing and cheating. To be fair, I was never guilty of cheating, but I'm sure it could be rationalized that something during those years could be considered cheating. But I had been guilty of the other two at times. The result of this session was the misunderstanding that I was admitting to the theft of the halloween candy. Jim pressed this belief like a bad cop in a tv show and my refusal to confess to a crime I did not commit and his refusal to believe me caused me to bawl my eyes out. And it made me realize that their interest in what I was presenting at these sessions was just a sham. And from then on I shared very little with them. I figured there was no point if there would be no appreciation of what was going on.
They really presented themselves as these psychological geniuses when it came to raising kids. Bookshelves filled with various works, both classic and new, in multiple genres and subjects abounded in their houses. But in reality, they never really were able to see into the psychological interior of who I was and am to realize that I was being damaged on a daily basis.
The house consisted of Jim and Betty Wagner, the "house parents"; Nathan and Cullen Wagner, their two boys; a group home counselor/supervisor, and 6 Juvenile Delinquents. Because we were not part of the family and, for the most part, numerous years older than the Wagner children, we were known as Big Boys.
It was a 5 bedroom house. 3 of the bedrooms were occupied by two Big Boys each. The two Wagner boys had a bedroom and the parents had the master bedroom and bath. The counselor did not live on property. There was a bathroom downstairs, as well as a laundry room which led from the hallway leading to the master bedroom out to the garage. The Wagner boys were in grade school, I was in junior high, while the rest of the big boys were in high school. So technically I could have been considered a middle boy. When I first got there, I was mistaken for a school mate of the Wagner children.
Each of the big boys came from different backgrounds and different disciplinary issues. One might be inclined to think, due to the nature of my disciplinary program,, that the other Boys also had a program tailored to their situation. But in reality, based on my observations on how the other boys acted and the amount of comfort they seemed to display in who they were, led me to believe that I was being singled out. I was the only one being subject to the double punishments of fines and the Big X. On another occasion, the boys all got to go on home visits for Christmas and were allowed to open one present beforehand. I was not going on a home visit but was allowed to open a gift: it was a lump of coal. At such an impressionable young age, I believe I took this as an indictment of who I was as a person. I grew to assume that, in their presence, any natural reaction on my part must be mistrusted. On examining things now, I see that I was not really established in my own identity, as if I was still soft clay. Whereas the other boys were in high school, knew what their home situation was and it was clear to them that the reason for their being in the group home was purely due to their own infractions with the law. I had learned early on that, aside from my own infractions of the law, my family history was one of the main reasons I was no longer at home.
And this idea of not being at home is a true one. Since that time, over 35 years ago, I have never really felt at home anywhere.
Some of the Big Boys were into surfing and bodyboarding; and they would go on numerous occasions to the tar pits for that purpose. They had friends from high school that they hung out with when there. Others were involved in sports or choir or wrestling. I was involved in school government, due to my own interests, and I was also involved in Little League Baseball due to the Wagners involvement. Some of them smoked weed. On at least one occasion, the rest of the big boys snuck out. All of them had different tastes in music, which not only exposed me to, but also allowed me to appreciate all kinds of music. With the group home supervisor, we went to Magic Mountain, Disneyland, a couple of Dodgers' games, and numerous trips roller skating. I got in trouble at a Dodger game and also at Magic Mountain. My association with trips to LA involve what music I remember playing set against the new discovery of that city. And many things at that time were a new discovery for me. I didn't really write about things going on in the house because every day was different and new for me. And because of the influence everyone was having on me I was a different person from day to day. The one constant was that I was the lowest level in the house, for lack of better words. Without my privileges, I generally stayed in my room and did my homework or just read books. That was allowed. And I continued doing that on into high school.
School was my refuge from the home. Yes, occasionally I would go to the beach with the other boys and I was free within my mind at least when on those "field" trips outside of the home. But for about 8 hours a day I was free from all supervision at home and I could essentially be myself for that time. It did take me a while to get comfortable in school, but the fact that I ran for a school office and presented a speech to the student body indicates the level of confidence I had at school as opposed to at home.