Unlocked-up youth. `This place is pretty cool'. Penikese Island student learns confidence

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

TED greeted us after the hour-long boat ride from Woods Hole to the Penikese Island school for juvenile offenders. Clad in camouflage fatigues, Army boots, and leather Harley-Davidson jacket, he looked like any 16-year-old who didn't want to be messed with.

But when he spoke - his eyes fixed, his voice steady - his confidence was sincere.

``This place is pretty cool,'' says the handsome teen-ager in a native Boston accent. ``If you listen to the staff, you can learn a lot of stuff - especially city kids used to washers and dryers. You learn how to chop wood, work with wood - like they're buildin' that porch.'' He pointed to the boys outside.

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Even more important for Ted is the way the staff members listen to the boys. ``Here they talk to the kids, if somethin's botherin' us. Between the kids and the staff,'' he explains, ``we try to make it feel like it's a regular house and a family instead of a program.''

All the boys described George Cadwalader, the school's founder, in similar ways. Ted says it best. ``He treats everyone equal. He don't look at us and say we're juvenile delinquents, we're trash. He gives us a chance to prove ourselves.''

Ted's background is typical of many troubled youths. His parents divorced when he was 2. ``My father didn't even come see me 'til I was 4. Then I had to be introduced to him, 'cuz I didn't know who he was.'' Ted looked up and spoke through a half smile. ``That's real fun, huh? Bein' introduced to your own father?''

Growing up in a small town outside Boston, Ted lived with his working mother. After fighting with his mother and getting involved with drugs, he moved in with his father and his father's new wife. Father and son fought at home, and Ted started fighting at school.

Then Ted got into trouble with firearms. It was a family thing, he explains. He's been in the custody of the Department of Youth Services since.

He says he'd rather be at home than at Penikese, even though home is more turbulent. ``If we don't fight, we don't talk,'' he explains, defending his father.

Next month he will go home to his father's home and the public high school. Ted is excited. Smiling, he adds, ``Me and my father don't get into any more fights.''

What did he like least about Penikese?

``Havin' to chop wood to keep warm. I've been here all winter,'' he says, shaking his head and grinning. ``And I don't like havin' to heat my water up on the stove to take a shower.''

Will he come back to visit?

``Yeah, definitely. To see George and the staff, mostly.''

Will he stay out of trouble?

``Yeah, 'cuz I don't want to spend my life in jail and stuff like that.''

Leaning back, he squared his shoulders, flashed a confident smile, and laughed.

``You can tell by lookin' at me,'' he says, with fresh and innocent pride. ``Do I look like a juvenile delinquent?''

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