Tuesday, May 15, 2012


When things get tight for families, either emotionally or politically or simply because there is not enough of whatever it is that keeps the children surviving -- maybe drought or wartime or social chaos -- the boys are the ones who are thrown out or who leave voluntarily, sometimes very young.  This has been true since tribal times.
The Great Falls Tribune ran a story about a boy who knows about this, leaning up against the wall, braced for the next challenge.  I’ll give you a redacted bit.  If you want to read the whole story and see his photo, go to www.greatfallstribune.org 

Against all odds: CMR senior to graduate despite trials

"I really didn't have any dreams or anything before I left my mom," said Nathan Matye, a senior at C.M. Russell High School.
No one would fault a kid like him — a kid who mowed lawns at the age of 9 in order to eat — for not graduating from high school. Yet Matye is only two weeks away from crossing the stage and earning a high school diploma — the only dream he's ever had.
"I wanted to give up many times, but it wasn't worth it," he said. "I just kept saying in my mind, 'I'm going to make it.'"
Matye had the will, most days. And when he didn't, he had the support of his connections teacher Mike Lins.
For the last four years, Lins has picked Matye up from wherever he was living at the time and brought him to school. Lins also bought Matye a cell phone so he could keep track of him.
Matye never had a typical childhood. He was born to a teenage mom and never knew his father. He never suffered abuse, but was neglected, he said. 
. . .As Matye tells it, when he was 7, social workers from the state's child protective system tried to remove him from his home, but he escaped out a window and ran. He doesn't blame his mom, but just said she had too much to handle at a young age.
"She's been through quite a few rough patches," Matye said. "I didn't want to put stress on her."
He didn't want to be in foster care because he had cousins who were once placed in foster care and were neglected. The Child and Family Services Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services searched for Matye, but he said he kept evading them. He lived with an aunt off and on, until he was about nine, when she moved away.
Depending on the kindness of his classmates or extended family, Matye began a rotation of staying with friends. Rarely did he have a bed, though.
"It was either the couch or the floor," he said. "But I didn't care. It had a roof over my head."
. . . His grades weren't the best, and school wasn't always his first priority, but he'd been identified by East Middle School staff as being at risk for dropping out of school, which helped when it was time for high school. . . . When Matye failed to show up for his first week of high school, Lins said Matye's check-and-connect teacher from East gave him a call and asked him to find Matye.
. . . There have been days that Matye fought against Lins and the steps he was trying to get him through. Being the transitions teacher, Lins said he's worked with kids who have come from all sorts of situations — from being sexually abused as children to fighting off major illnesses — and has required some major interventions on his part to see success.
Lins said children placed in his program have a 75 percent chance of graduating. When Matye first started in his class, he could barely write one paragraph, but this year he completed a five-page essay paper.
There's a lot you have to tolerate when working with kids in at-risk situations. Lins said he could have reported Matye to CFSD, but he knew — for the most part — Matye was always safe.
. . . There have been a few times when Lins said he's picked Matye up for school with a hangover. This past year, he got a minor in possession of alcohol. But Lins said for all that Matye has been through, and compared to some of the legal troubles other students of his have had, Matye's troubles have been fairly minor.
. . .  As Lins exudes fatherly pride in Matye, the feeling is reciprocal. Matye's not sure what'll come after graduation, but he's been assured by Lins that he's not going to let him starve.
"If it wasn't for Mr. Lins, I don't know where I would be," he said.
Tribune Staff Writer Kristen Cates  kcates@greatfallstribune.com.

I get one main lesson out of this story, which is not at all unlike the story of Boone Caudill in “The Big Sky,” by A.B. Guthrie, Jr., not at all an atypical story in Montana.  It takes so little to save a boy.  Matye could have been a rez boy, could have been a Hutterite boy, could have been a Malmstrom boy, or a ranch boy.  I’ve taught them, argued with them, tried to help them, seen them everywhere.  And I know others have done the same.  But the major social response is to lock them up, to make them criminals.  
It’s not the same with the girls, who are more vulnerable since they can get pregnant.  Often both genders think that sex work is easy. or don’t even recognize that they’re being used, until they get into it.  Then crime might seem a better option.  They cannot, as Huck Finn did, light out for the territories.  There’s no more frontier.  The diseases now add HIV to hepatitis and tuberculosis,   And drugs, including alcohol, are more likely to give them courage in the moment than a check-and-connect teacher.  Luckily, Lins has enough courage for two and was willing to share.
I repeat that this dynamic is true to all times and places, not just Montana.  Below is the url to an even more extreme but not unique boy-story. .

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