Where the Losers meet

From: "Saarbruecker Zeitung"
February 6, 1999

Jörg Bastuck, Saarland resident looks behind the scenes of the miracle US job results

by Christian Lauer

Americans are brimming with self-assurance. They are part of a superpower, a leading industrial nation, a booming business which has gotten miracle job results. Nevertheless, all is not well with the national giant. There are losers in this economic wonder. A Saarland native visited the "repair operation" of the American "job machine," where criminal youth are re-socialized, homeless people learn to settle down, and neglected youth work to gain back their trust.

Joerg Bastuck studied at the Catholic Social Vocational School in Saarbruecken. A semester of hands-on training brought him to the USA. The 29 year old was shocked: "I have not seen so many homeless people anywhere else." Was the "power nation" of America a lie? The budding social worker from Nalbach-Piesbach was able to look behind the scenes at three locations - in the state of Washington and in Montana.

First stop: the "Penrith Farm" near Newport in the state of Washington. Aggressive youth who are difficult to train are supposed to be made socially adaptable here. "They are between 13 and 18, most of them have led a life of crime." Bastuck tells the story of the 16 year old Jason. His mother will not have anything to do with him; his father moved out to places unknown. He stayed in various homes, was thrown out of school, and finally ended up in juvenile detention for having inflicted severe bodily harm.

The training system on the farm is difficult, but effective. Seven out of ten have a job lined up by the time they leave. The youth are divided into levels. A "level 0" hardly has any rights. "Level 3" consists of the well-behaved. The trustees award daily points. Anybody who instigates a fight or does not get to bed on time loses points. Those who clean, cook or do chores gain points. "Boys and girls who first arrive receive trust up front by being placed in level 2," states Bastuck. They may go to movies and go swimming. Those who backslide lose their bonus. At "level 1" the youth must spend the entire afternoon in a simple block hut. They may not say one word to each other; speech is only permitted with the trustees. Reading is all that is allowed.

3,500 kilometers away there is another "repair operation." It occurs under entirely different conditions. Well-to-do parents send their progeny there to Montana. "All the youth there have one thing in common," said Bastuck, "their parents are rich and have neither the time nor the inclination to worry about their children." The offspring, as expected, are upset. "The boys and girls do not have any kind of trust in adults; they are shy or aggressive."

The rich Americans solve the burdensome education problem with dollars. 7,000 marks is the price for three months in Montana's sprawling landscape, where children gain back their trust with old Indian rituals which emphasize team and community spirit. 13 year old Will, son of a computer businessman from San Francisco, came here straight out of a Scientology camp for which his parents had paid 35,000 marks," said Bastuck. Compared to that, the 7,000 marks for Montana was just a tip - but an effective one. "The youth finally opened up and said what was on his mind." After three months, the parents have to spend a few days there "in order to get to know their children."

Of the three, Bastuck saw his last stop, which led him back to the state of Washington, as a model for Germany. Children of all types are made fit for life at a de-activated military base. "One finds the homeless here, as well as those expelled from school," said Bastuck. 200 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 complete their high school or college degree here and receive shop training. "Many are not able to read or write correctly - despite diplomas." While many fall through the cracks in the superficial US school system, intensive care reigns in the Curlew Job Corps Center. Youth learn masonry, carpentry and hard work. They are also shown how to balance their books. More than just theory is taught: in Curlew they do everything themselves - from administration to the construction of new buildings.

The drudgery pays off: those who successfully graduate Curlew get a place to live and a job recommendation. The program is free. Per person, the state pays about 42,000 marks annually. "Including administration, Curlew costs ten million marks per year," said Bastuck, "not more than a city such as Dillingen gives out for social services." At least in times of high unemployment of youth, he sees these "repair operations" of the US economic miracle as exemplary. "We also have our share of de-activated military bases."

Tough, but effective
In the USA there are many establishments such as these. Youth who have gone through the court process (photo) are put through camps which use some tough training methods. Saarland resident Joerg Bastuck (top picture), apprentice social worker, has visited different establishments in the United States. Pictures: K1/Bastuck


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