~ GEORGE AND THE DEVIL ~

(The following is a true story. Please be forewarned that it contains graphic
language and disturbing material. This story is not suitable for children. Please be
advised.)

George and I were digging up palmetto roots in the Florida
panhandle wilderness, toiling together under the relentless midday
summer sun. George had only been with us for a few days, recently sent
to us from the E&O (“Evaluation and Observation Unit”), where one
was initially incarcerated for approximately 3 months before being
moved to an “outside vocational group.” We were both
patients/residents/inmates at a place called “Anneewakee,” which was
supposedly a Native American word meaning “land of the friendly
people.” There were indeed some friendly people at Anneewakee, but
there were also monsters and demons that prowled too often undetected.
Our group of twelve was clearing an acre of hardscrabble palmetto
and pine tree land in order to build wood cabins in which to live. In the
meantime we slept in Camel tents, two people to a tent. So we were
motivated to work hard and fast in order to achieve our goal of living in
solid structures that would better protect us from rattlesnakes, wild
boars, alligators, scorpions, and the capricious elements.
The Gulf coast was three miles to the south, and to the north lay
nothing but swampy, dense, and uninhabited forest. No need for electric
walls and razor wire. You could take your chances with the ocean or
with the swamps. Or you could do the safer thing and steal a bicycle and
ride down the lone two-lane road that led to Tallahassee 60 miles away.
That’s what one guy tried. Problem was, it takes a few hours to get to
Tallahassee on a bike, and it doesn’t take long to realize that somebody’s
gone. The police were alerted, and the poor guy was caught only ten
miles away and shipped back to the E&O for another three month
sojourn in padded confinement.
Most of the people at Anneewakee were “juvenile delinquents”
sent there by court order. Others, like me, were sent by their parents for

one reason or another. My crime was that I had been expelled from three
different schools, and my psychiatrist persuaded my parents that living
with hardened criminals under the authority of pedophiles would
somehow motivate me to care more about math.
So here I was, pounding away at sand and soil with our new group
member George. I had been in the group for almost a year, so I was
pretty well acclimated to how things worked. You see, at Anneewakee
there was no predetermined sentence. You had to earn your way out of
the place. The more you complied, the more you “worked on your
problems,” and the more you demonstrated a willingness to obey
authority and cooperate with the group, then the more privileges you
could earn and the better chance you had of eventually “terminating
from the program.”
From day one, as I sat in the solitary confinement of my padded
cell in the E&O, I decided that I would accept these conditions and do
my best to adhere to them. I realized this was really my only choice. It
was very clear: rebellion would keep me confined, and compliance
might one day get me released. It was 1983, I was 14 years old, and the
only thing I knew about Communism was that our USA hockey team
had beaten those Commie Russian bastards a few years earlier in the
winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York. Of course, it never dawned
on me that most people in Russia were much freer than I was at the
current moment.
George had been quiet since his arrival to our group. He was large
and slovenly, an oafish sort. He had clear innocent eyes that never quite
met your gaze. He dug away with his flathead shovel, and I swung my
pickaxe. I had earned the right to wield a pickaxe. George was new and
so he was limited to the use of a flathead shovel. A spade shovel had to
be earned. Every object at Anneewakee was considered a potential
weapon, something that could be used to harm oneself or others. In the
E&O it was a privilege just to wear a belt, to wear a watch, or to wield a
pen. So the right to grasp a shovel was no small thing. The right to dig
and hoe and saw and chop was a hard-earned privilege. At Anneewakee,

shovels and wheelbarrows were status symbols that conveyed one’s
“growth” and “maturity.” Tools came with trust, and while some of us
could be trusted to dig, not all of us could be trusted with just any kind
of shovel. The authorities had somehow determined that it was easier to
kill someone with a spade shovel than with a flathead.
We dug and swatted at the variety of stinging, sucking, biting
flying insects that pervaded the panhandle swampland. The layers of
insect repellent were thick enough to permeate the air with a ubiquitous
chemical sweetness, but they didn’t do much to deter the mosquitoes and
dog flies. We wore snake guards around our calves on account of the
Eastern Diamondback rattlers that were prevalent in the area. Palmetto
bushes are rattlesnake havens, and we were uprooting their territory with
reckless abandon.
You have to talk when you’re working. There’s nothing else to do.
Conversation alleviates the boredom and helps pass the time; and the
more interesting the conversation, the better. In the E&O I quickly
learned that there were plenty of fascinating conversations to be had
with my comrades in consignment. As a virginal adolescent, I was
fascinated by the boastful sexual exploits of a 15 year old guy who was
locked up in my ward. We would play checkers in the afternoon and he
would regale me with explicit accounts of his numerous sexual
conquests. I didn’t understand the mechanics or lingo of half of what he
said, but I was enthralled nonetheless. It was obvious to him that I was
quite wet behind the ears, so he was kind enough to balance his boasting
with tutorial information without me having to inquire. Even so, I still
didn’t understand much. But I must confess that listening to his lurid
stories was some of the best entertainment I’ve ever had to this day.
As George and I battled the palmetto roots and panhandle heat, I
ventured the standard inquiry posed to all new blood, “So what are you
in here for?”
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” George said flatly, without
irritation or offense.

“I understand. That’s cool. But one thing I’ve learned since I’ve
been here is that the quicker you talk about your problems, the quicker
you can get out of this place.”
I had bought into the party line, even though I knew a lot of it was
bullshit.
George kept his head down and scraped away the sand from the
roots with his flathead shovel. “Well, I’m from Los Angeles. I guess my
home situation was kind of fucked up.”
“How so?” I inquired. “If you don’t mind me asking. I mean, if
you feel like sharing.”
“I guess I got in some trouble, you know.”
“Well, yeah, I can relate to that,” I said. “I got into trouble too.”
“Mine was different.”
“Look,” I began, “you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t
want to. But it’s just you and me talking here. We might as well talk. It
helps the time go by. My parents sent me here because I kept getting
kicked out of school. I had this asshole psychiatrist who tried to put me
on Ritalin and he convinced my parents to send me to this place. But I
guess I needed it. I caused them a lot of problems, and I see that now.
The group has really helped me, and I’m learning a lot and growing. But
I still have a long way to go.”
I was sincere, but I was mostly naïve and mostly full of the
propaganda that I had chosen to buy into out of self-preservation. Sure, I
was truly interested in George, but I was also interested in passing the
time and listening to some salacious stories that would take my mind off
of the blisters and these accursed dog flies.
“Well, I guess my mom was a drug addict,” George said, matterof-factly.
“Damn, that must have sucked.”

“Yeah. I came home from school one day and my mom started
shooting at me. But she didn’t mean to. She didn’t know it was me. She
thought it was her pimp coming to beat her up again.”
George said all of this with no inflection in his voice. He spoke as
if he were talking about the weather. I was shaken. I had never heard a
story like this. I mean, my favorite TV show back then was “Hill Street
Blues,” but this was some real shit that made Steven Bochco’s world
look like Disneyland.
“What did you do then? I mean, what happened after that?” I
asked stupidly. I didn’t know what to say. How do you respond to
something like that?
“She apologized when she realized it was me. She didn’t mean to
do it. My mom’s a heroin addict, and she doesn’t know what she does a
lot of times.”
“Damn.” I shook my head. Sometimes that’s all you can do: shake
your head and say “Damn.”
But then, for some reason, I continued:
“Well, look man, there are a lot people here that don’t deserve to
be here. A lot of people are here because their parents are screwed up
and stuff. The thing is to try and make the most of it. You know, just try
to talk about stuff and work with the group. It can really help you.”
I think I believed that. I think I meant well.
“No. I deserve to be here,” George said.
“It doesn’t sound like it to me,” I replied. “It’s not your fault your
mom is on drugs. And it’s better for you to be here than to be home in
that environment where you could be killed by a drug dealer or pimp or
something.”
I wanted to comfort George, to let him know that he didn’t deserve
this fate. His mom was screwed up, but that wasn’t his fault.

“You don’t understand,” he said.
“What do you mean George? What’s up? What don’t I
understand?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Look George, whatever it is, you can tell me. That’s what we’re
here for, to talk about things, to confide in each other, to help each
other. The more you talk about your problems, the quicker you can get
out of here.”
“Yeah, I know. But I can’t tell you.”
We kept uprooting the palmettos and tossing them into a pile that
was now as tall as we were. The conversation had taken my mind off of
the agonizing work conditions. I was absorbed in George’s story. And
the fact that he was holding back a piece of vital information intrigued
me all the more. In the interest of his “therapy,” I needed to get him to
reveal his deep, dark secret. After all, talking about my own problems is
what had earned me the right to use a pickaxe instead of a flathead
shovel. So I was obliged to encourage George to make the same
progress. After all, a flathead shovel is really no match for those damn
palmetto scrubs.
“Like I said, you don’t have to tell me anything,” I reassured him.
“Just know that whatever you tell me stays with me.”
That was the truth. For all of my many sins and character flaws, I
would never betray someone’s confidence. At least I don’t think I
would. But then again, I may have done so over the course of my life.
But I meant it with George, and I kept my word. I think.
“I feel like I should tell somebody,” George replied. “But I don’t
know how. I don’t think I can.”
“I’m not pressuring you man. Just know that you can tell me if you
want to. Hell, we’re out here working and sweating in this heat with
mosquitoes biting the hell out of us, and we’re getting to know each
other. We’re in this same place and we’re both trying to get out as fast

as we can. Might as well come clean with each other and talk about shit.
It’s not like they can arrest you for what you tell me. Hell, you’re
already here!”
George kept digging, and as he dug he kept his head down and
began to speak in the same matter-of-fact tone: “Well, I was arrested
see. Because I did something bad. I did something really bad.”
“We all did something bad man, that’s why we’re all here.”
“Not bad like I did,” George said. And then without any change of
tone, expression, or demeanor he simply said: “I raped my sister.”
I was fourteen years old. I had listened to the graphic sexual
exploits of my buddy in the E&O, and I had a vague understanding of
sex and what it entailed. I mean, as virginal as I was, I’d had numerous
dalliances of petting with girls at the various schools I had been sent to
prior to Anneewakee. When I was in the 6th grade, a pretty and fully
developed 8th grade girl taught me how to kiss and showed me how to
touch her breasts and fondle her genitals on the backseat of the bus every
afternoon. If that sounds like every teenage boy’s fantasy, I can assure
you that it wasn’t. I felt no emotional connection with that girl. Our
make-out sessions made me physically aroused, but I also experienced
deep shame and tremendous guilt afterwards. I never told anyone. I was
embarrassed to even tell my friends. To “go with” a girl your own age
was all the rage back then, but if any of my peers had known the things I
was actually doing with a girl two years older than me, they would have
called me a freak. My guilt was exacerbated later on when I finally told
the poor girl that I couldn’t do those things with her anymore. She cried
and didn’t understand. I guess she associated physical intimacy with
emotional intimacy, whereas our sexually charged physical contact was
way too much for me to handle at my age and stage of development. I
felt guilty for doing the things I did with her, but I felt even worse when
I decided to tell her that I couldn’t be with her any longer. In her mind I
was her boyfriend, and our make-out sessions were simply a natural
expression of mutual affection. But I, on the other hand, felt intuitive
guilt for indulging in desires and acts that from my standpoint had

nothing to do with emotion, affection, or love. My experience with that
girl set the precedent for a pattern of spiritually unhealthy relationships
with the opposite sex that would haunt me until I got married, and even
afterwards.
So as a virginal fourteen year old, George’s revelation was hard for
me to fully process. When he told me that he had raped his sister, I really
didn’t know the full import of the term. Rape. I just knew that it was
something very violent, something sexual, something criminally and
abominably awful. I was stunned by what he said, but my naivety
protected me somewhat from the seismic reality of what I was actually
hearing.
“Damn.” Sometimes that’s really all you can say, right?
“Yeah, but that’s not the worst of it.”
“It’s not?”
“No. You see…”
George kept digging. The inflection of his voice never altered. He
showed no change of emotion as he added, “She was three years old.”
I vaguely understood the concept of rape, much less the concept of
incest, much less the logistics of raping a three year old child. And the
fact that George related this horror in such a nondescript manner
probably helped me to absorb it as calmly as I did.
One thing we were programmed to do from day one at
Anneewakee – from the moment we were thrown into the E&O – was
not to judge. Who was I to judge anyone else’s problems? We were all
here together, and it didn’t matter what we did to get here; the fact is that
we were here. So who was I to judge George? My duty was to encourage
him to share his problems with the group, because the group was
omniscient. The group could solve any problem. The group was
infallible. The individual must submit his will, his ego, and his opinions
to the jury and judgment of the group. Whether somebody stole a biscuit
from the dining hall or whether they raped their three year old sister, no

one had the right to judge another. Individuals were simply supposed to
encourage, support, and understand one another; the group would judge.
And I learned that the group often judged lesser sins much more harshly
than it judged greater sins. And time and experience have shown me that
this same twisted dynamic also fuels the majority of human governments
and political systems of this world.
So I received George’s words with a spirit of non-condemnation.
Perhaps I didn’t really want to understand what he had said. Perhaps I
deliberately ignored the specific reality of his words in order to retain
my own sanity. I couldn’t judge. It didn’t matter what he did. He was
here digging up palmetto roots, and so was I. The only significant
difference was that I dug them up with a pickaxe and he dug them up
with a flathead shovel. We were in this thing together, and I wanted to
get out and I wanted to help him get out. That’s all that mattered.
“Wow.” I may have said “Damn” again, but I don’t remember. It
was “Wow,” or “Damn” or something like that. Hell, what else can you
say?
Neither of us said anything for a while. We just continued to
plumb the earth and let the reality of the revelation linger in the miasma
of insect repellent and sun-baked, humid Gulf salt air. He had raped his
sister. And she was three years old. And he had chosen to tell me. And I
guess I was supposed to have some answers, since I had convinced him
to tell me.
But I didn’t have any answers. I still couldn’t figure out why I was
in this God-forsaken place digging up palmetto roots and fighting off
every biting insect known to man. What answers could I give to George?
Hell, I didn’t even know if I wanted to give him any answers. How do
you console a monster? Should you console a monster? And yet, as I
watched him dig and looked at his oafish figure and his innocent eyes
that were perpetually fixated on the ground, I couldn’t help but to feel
strangely sorry for him.
So I said, “You have to talk about this in group meeting.”

“I can’t. I can’t talk about it. I told you, but I can’t tell the group. I
can’t.”
“Look man, you have to. I won’t tell anyone. You don’t have to do
it tonight, but you’ve got to do it eventually. The sooner you tell the
group, the quicker they can help you and the quicker you can get out of
here. I won’t let anyone judge you. We’re all in here together man.
Remember that. No one has the right to condemn you. Just express your
feelings and the group will accept you and help you.”
When all else fails, you can always fall back on the party line. I
believed what I was saying, and I think I was right, as naïve as it
sounded. That’s the only advice I could come up with. I was certainly
unequipped to counsel George about the rape of his three year old sister.
I mean, if a licensed psychiatrist couldn’t figure out that my problems in
school were directly related to the dysfunctional alcoholic environment I
had to deal with at home, then there was certainly no way I could figure
out how to help George deal with this horrific situation.
The sun began to drop behind the Florida pines, and the pile of
palmetto roots was now a small hill that was taller than both of us. We
shared a mutual satisfaction in our accomplishment. Our pile was taller
than everyone else’s. We had worked hard, talked hard, and now it was
time to eat, shower, and get ready for the nightly group meeting. I felt
good knowing that I had helped our new group member open up about
his problems. I patted myself on the back, because I had encouraged
George to share his troubles with me. Now I could only hope that
George would one day share his burden with the entire group.
After supper and showers we walked down the beaten trail back to
the campsite, slowly and cautiously, many of us with long sticks, beating
the brush on either side to scare off any rattlers that may be near. Even at
night, the Florida panhandle was oppressively hot in the summer, but the
Gulf breeze would often waft in and provide a modicum of relief in the
evenings. The group logs surrounded the campfire, the size of which was
determined by the seasons and the weather. On rare occasions, if there
was no wind and the night heat was stifling, there would be no kindled

wood, just a kerosene lantern set in the middle of the blackened ashy
sand. But tonight there was a suitable breeze, and we made a small but
firm flame. We took our places on the group logs around the fire, and it
seemed that we all shared an unspoken satisfaction of a good day’s work
together. The supper at the dining hall had been good. We were clean
from our showers. And some nights just seemed more conducive to
opening up and sharing than others. This felt like one of those times.
But I was not expecting George to bare his revelation tonight. I
thought it would take some time before he disclosed his secret to the
group. And as much as I had coaxed him to reveal it to me, I wasn’t
about to pressure him to tell the entire group until he was fully ready.
The group might be omniscient, but there’s some knowledge that human
omniscience can’t even handle.
There is no thicker darkness than the nighttime of the Florida
panhandle wilderness. Faces around the circle of fire become intensely
clear and magnified against the curtain of blackness that stretches
endlessly beyond them. A campfire in the midst of an endless pitch
black expanse engenders a sense of solidarity and intimacy among those
who share its offer of warmth and light. There is a shared vulnerability, a
common awareness of mortality and finitude. All are equally subject to
the terrible mysteries and unfathomable horrors that potentially lurk
beyond its flickering flames.
We had all barely taken our seats when George began to speak:
“I guess I have something to share.”
George seemed nervous, less matter-of-fact than he had been with
me earlier that day. He looked down as he spoke. He fumbled with his
hands and kicked at the sand.
“I’m not really sure if I should say it, but I guess I need to.”
I was conflicted. On the one hand I felt great pride that I had
convinced George to share his troubles with the group, but on the other
hand I wasn’t sure he was ready yet. Maybe he needed more time.

Maybe he should tell our group leader first. (“Group leaders” were the
ostensible “professionals” that were hired to be in charge of each group.
None of them were licensed psychiatrists or psychologists, and it turned
out that many of them were pedophiles and child abusers.) But if George
felt the need to share with the group, then I reasoned that this was a good
thing, right?
“The thing is… well…the thing is…” George stammered. “I’m not
sure if I should say this…”
“Go ahead George… It’s OK man, just talk to us… We’re here to
help man, just say it…” The group offered its sincere encouragement.
I was afraid for George to say it, but my voyeuristic side was
quietly urging him on. I suspect that the entire group felt the same way I
had felt earlier that afternoon. What did you do? It was the question that
fascinated us all and somehow bound us together. We all wanted to
know if the other’s crime was greater or lesser than our own. A pissing
contest, essentially. And I was the ultimate loser. I didn’t have any
crimes on my record, no jail time to boast of, no Judge that had
sentenced me to this fate. I was the kid who got kicked out of Catholic
school, got kicked out of boarding school, and got kicked out of reform
school; the kid whose parents paid a shrink 80 dollars an hour to
recommend that I be sent to this hellhole that my mother euphemistically
called a “wilderness program.” I looked at my comrades gathered around
the fire and thought, “You ain’t gonna win this pissing contest; in fact,
you’re gonna wish you hadn’t even entered it.”
“It’s alright George… Tell us what’s on your mind… We’re here
to listen… We’re here to help... We’re no different than you… We all
have problems...” The group essentially echoed the platitudes I had
spouted to George earlier that day.
“Well…” George began, his voice quivering a bit. “The thing is…
well…”

He clenched and unclenched his fists. His knees popped up and
down like pistons. His fingernails dug into his palms. He shook his head
as if he couldn’t believe what he was about to say.
“The thing is… I guess… well… you see, I raped my little sister.
And she was only three years old. And I raped her! She was only three!
And I raped her!! I RAPED HER!!!”
George was staring at the fire when he said it. Then his head
suddenly snapped up and his eyes locked right in on mine. He had never
looked me in the eye before. His eyes were no longer shy and innocent.
They were different. Completely different. Then, staring directly at me,
and with a voice that I can only describe as inhuman, he said:
“I should never have told you! I should never have told you! You
motherfucker! Now I’ll have to snap your goddamn neck! I’ll have to kill
you, you motherfucker. I’ll have to break your neck! Why did you make
me tell you?! You motherfucker! Why did you make me tell you?!!!”
Then his head snapped back and his gaze was on the fire. His face
was taught and his eyes didn’t blink. They couldn’t blink. Spittle poured
from his lips.
“I SEE THE DEVIL! In the fire! He’s in the flames! The Devil is in
the fire!!! I SEE THE DEVIL!!!”
George began to hit himself in the face. Violently. Uncontrollably.
Blood gushed from his nose; his eyes rolled back in his head; he was
foaming at the mouth. His arms launched a volley of fists that pummeled
his own countenance, as if he were trying to viciously and permanently
eradicate anything that could ever be recognized in the mirror again. He
knocked two of his own teeth out.
Our group leader jumped up and commanded, “Restrain him!
Restrain him! Get on him!” Everyone jumped on George and struggled
to hold down his arms and legs. But I was paralyzed. I was terrified and
shocked and immobile. There were at least 11 guys on top of George,
and yet he still was not subdued. He was possessed of a maniacal

strength that I had never seen before in my life and that I have never
seen since. There was a cosmic battle taking place. And as much as I
wanted to remain an innocent bystander, I was somehow intimately
engaged, even though I couldn’t move. I don’t know how long it took. It
could have been ten minutes or it could have been 45 minutes. All I
know is that something inhuman or subhuman overwhelmed George,
and it took every ounce of strength on everyone’s part to get him under
control.
Time stood eerily still during the struggle, but George was finally
restrained; and whatever evil energy had possessed him seemed to
finally be gone. As the fire crackled, I watched him lapse into a deep
sleep. Somebody gently wiped the blood and sweat and tears from his
face. We couldn’t wake him and we all felt it best to let him rest. We put
him in his tent, and then we all went to bed, oddly with no fear or
trepidation. Looking back, I guess our lack of subsequent fear was
because we had witnessed a catharsis. Without any substantial spiritual
guidance to direct us, we nevertheless intuitively sensed that something
had been necessarily expunged. George had come clean. He had
unburdened himself. He had faced his devil, and he no longer had to
carry that evil within him. Somehow we understood this expiation, even
though none of us could articulate it; and we therefore retired to our
Camel tents with nothing but our own desperate sleep in mind.
I was in that group with George for another six months or so. We
never talked about his horror again – neither the evil he had committed
nor the evil he saw in the fire that night. I don’t know what happened to
George, or if he ever saw the devil again. I can only pray that he found
the grace and strength to deal with his many demons. We all have
demons to fight, and George was no different from me in that regard. I
wonder what happened to his drug addicted mother. I wonder what
happened to his sister, that poor little girl. I wonder what happened to all
the others who spent two or three years of their lives trying to survive at
Anneewakee, “the land of the friendly people.”

As my life has progressed, I’ve come to realize that there are
people in this world much more evil than George, even though their sins
are not as heinous. George was tormented by his actions, and that
reveals the presence of a conscience. George was born into a dark corner
of this world. He grew up in suffering and replicated that suffering. But
somehow the knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil, was not
completely erased from his soul. Yet the world is full of people who
commit no crimes but inflict hellish suffering with calculated
callousness. Legally and lawfully they murder, oppress, victimize and
exploit. But instead of being called “monsters” they are called “CEO’s”
and “senators,” “judges” and “presidents.”
My time at Anneewakee and my friendship with George taught me
a lot. It taught me that our world is “the land of the friendly people,” full
of villains and heroes and many monsters in disguise. The problem is
that we usually confuse the heroes for the villains; and for whatever
reason, we refuse to rip the masks off the monsters and expose them for
what they really are. The monsters that ran Anneewakee had the power,
and there’s something about human nature that would rather submit to
evil power than risk the suffering that might result from confronting
corruption. Human history seems to bear witness to this.
We call the slave master’s whip “necessary discipline;” we call
Auschwitz’s ashes a “cloudy day;” and we rationalize the decimated
bodies of unborn children as the natural detritus of “reproductive
choice.” But because the pathos of conscience pulsates within us, we
must find scapegoats for our moral affliction. So we ignore the systemic
evils for which we ourselves are ultimately responsible, and we reserve
our condemnations for individual monsters whose crimes transcend
anything of which we believe we could ever really be capable.
George was a monster with a conscience. And his conscience
forced him to confront his demons face to face. In doing so he seemed to
find a measure of peace. And, at least while he remained at
Anneewakee, he seemed to grow into a kind, sensitive, and good person.
But as George was overcoming his own demons, Anneewakee was

unleashing its own legions of hell. Rampant pedophilia, physical abuse,
and psychological terror were forced upon countless innocent young
men and women that were sentenced to live in that environment. And
just like the world itself, the “good” people went about their way with
their heads buried in the sand, refusing to expose and confront the evils
in their midst.
I myself stood silently by and watched four grown men hold down
one of my best friends as they methodically pulled out huge clumps of
hair from his head. Another time, I saw the only African American kid
there being mercilessly beaten by a 350 pound man named Mr. Phillips.
“Who do you think you are nigger?! You’re mine boy! Where you
gonna run? You can take this beatin’ or you can runaway into that
theyah swamp and be food fa the gaytuhs!”
I saw the whole thing as I was taking out the trash one night. It
terrified me. I had never suspected that Mr. Phillips was so evil. He
always greeted me with a smile and a kind word. On occasion he would
come by our group site to show us a freshly killed Eastern Diamondback
that he’d recently shot. And sometimes he would bring us fried rabbit,
gator tail, or wild boar stew that he had just cooked up. I perceived him
to be a jovial “man’s man” who protected the grounds and kept us safe.
But that perception was immediately eviscerated as I witnessed his
vicious brutality against that defenseless teenage boy. But I said nothing.
I didn’t dare to intervene. All I did was go back to the other side of the
building and throw up. I was sickened by the evil of what I saw. Sick
enough to puke but not sick enough to do anything. Not sick enough to
say anything or do anything about it.
I have come to realize that such cowardice on my part is exactly
what facilitates injustice and evil in the world. Edmund Burke famously
said, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do
nothing.” A great quote. But as someone once pointed out to me, good
people don’t do nothing. Good people do something. Goodness is not
simply bothered by evil, goodness is disturbed enough to do something
about it. In his book People of The Lie, M. Scott Peck, M.D. writes:

“Triggers are pulled by individuals. Orders are given and
executed by individuals. In the last analysis, every single human act is
ultimately the result of an individual choice… The plain fact of the
matter is that any group will remain inevitably potentially
conscienceless and evil until such a time as each and every individual
holds himself or herself directly responsible for the behavior of the
whole group – the organism – of which he or she is a part.” (p. 215;
218)
I’m no psychologist, and my time at Anneewakee (which
conveniently, for insurance purposes, had attained legal status as a
psychiatric institute) conditioned me to be very skeptical of the fields of
psychiatry and psychology. But I do believe that somehow George
possessed the goodness to confront his own evil, to look squarely at his
horrors and face the devil itself. Yet I saw the devil and turned away.
And I’ve done so many times throughout my life. George did a
monstrous thing, but he had the courage to reckon with it. Most of us
don’t do monstrous things, but we refuse to unmask the monsters among
us. Who wants to look at evil? Better to call evil “good” than to look in
the mirror and risk an honest reflection.
*

*

*

Years later I took my wife down to Carrabelle, Florida to show her
“the land of the friendly people.” Anneewakee had been shut down a
few years after I left. “Doc” Poetter, the one-legged man in charge of the
entire operation, had been convicted of pedophilia and child abuse and
sentenced to prison. I wanted to show my wife the place where I had
spent two of the most difficult years of my life. I wanted to show her the
concrete and stucco buildings we had constructed ourselves, the cabins
we had built, the beautiful football and baseball fields we had plowed
and sodded by hand. We had been used as child labor to create Doc
Poetter’s pedophile paradise, but we had nevertheless taken great pride
in what we had created with our cooperative sweat. Every brick, every
nail, every coat of paint, every meal that was served, and every

manicured blade of grass came from our own efforts and labor. As
difficult and unfair as it was, we all felt very good about what we had
built together.
The dirt road that led to the campus was gated and locked. There
was a sign indicating that the property was for sale, along with a phone
number. I called the number and explained to the man who answered
that I had once lived here as a student at a place called “Anneewakee,”
and that I wanted to know if I could show my wife the campus. The man
asked my name, and after I told him he said enthusiastically, “I
remember you well! I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” “Mr. L” had been a
group leader and one of my football coaches there. He was a genuinely
nice man, one of the truly good guys at the place.
He showed up a few minutes later, unlocked the gate, and drove us
down the dirt road towards the remains of the campus.
“They want to turn it into a golf course now,” “Mr. L” lamented.
“Can you believe that? A golf course!”
We turned onto the campus drive and approached a ghost town.
The buildings were crumbling, the football field was overgrown, the
cabins across the lake were falling apart. What had once been so
efficient, so organized, so well-kept and well-run had now become a
wasteland.
“After all the work you guys did,” “Mr. L” said. “Look at what
they’ve allowed to happen to this place. After all the work you guys did.
And now they want to make it a golf course.” He shook his head. “They
could turn it into a camp or into a school, or something that would
preserve what you guys built. But they’re gonna tear it all down and
make a golf course!”
It did indeed make me very sad. “Mr. L” led me on a trek back into
the woods to show me the cabins and the group site that George and I
had helped to build. The trail was barely traceable, and “Mr. L” beat
back the bushes on either side with a long metal pole. I was scared to
death of the rattlers that I knew were surely lurking nearby. I couldn’t

believe that I had actually once been acclimated to living in such a snake
infested wilderness.
The group site we had built was completely overgrown, and our
cabins were rotting and infested with cockroaches and spiders. This had
been my home for two years, and now it was completely uninhabitable. I
was flooded with a mix of emotions. I had hated this place. When I had
lived here, all I could think about was getting the hell out of it. Now I
was sad to see my erstwhile home so neglected and forsaken.
We wended our way back down the pine scrub path to the
remnants of the main campus. It was the middle of summer, and just as
hot as it had been on that day when George and I were digging up
palmetto roots together. But there was no more work going on here now.
No more group meetings. No more campfires. No more friendships
being forged. No more children being abused.
A hawk circled overhead. A white crane glided up from the lake.
The sun-baked air was silent and still. The only remaining inhabitants in
the “land of the friendly people” were the ghosts and demons that we
had long left behind.

By
GEBRE MENFES KIDUS

(Reynolds Wood – W1321)