Faith in the Land of Make-Believe
- Wednesday, March 30, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Faith in the Land of Make-Believe by Lee Stanley (Zondervan).
THIS IS NO HONOR FARM
Camp David Gonzales—Los Angeles County Probation Department
I’d driven past this small wooden sign in Malibu Canyon dozens of times on the way down to our sailboat in Marina del Rey. I thought it was an honor farm, a minimum-security detention facility, tucked beneath the rocky peaks of the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu and surrounded by sprawling horse ranches and multimillion-dollar estates.
I turned my four-wheel-drive truck down the short, tree-lined lane and realized the massive compound before me was no “honor farm,” but a maximum-security juvenile prison. Behind the two-story wall, an eighty-foot metal pole supported a small cluster of powerful floodlights.
I turned into the empty, unkempt visitor parking lot and looked around for some signs of life. A screeching red-tailed hawk circled in the distance. I rolled up my window, climbed out of my truck, and locked all the doors. Invisible surveillance cameras tracked my every move as I walked self-consciously along the narrow concrete path to the prison entrance. A small sign below a dime-sized electronic button told me to “ring bell.” I looked up to see the red-tailed hawk, now circling directly overhead, when a loud buzzer startled me, releasing an invisible steel bolt. I pushed against the double-plated bulletproof glass door and entered the prison.
The year was 1981.
“I’m here to see Chaplain Fox,” I told the male guard behind the counter.
Chaplain Fox had found my film company’s name in the Yellow Pages earlier that morning and asked if I would splice a film that the camp projector had damaged the night before. Why not? I was “between projects,” as filmmakers like to say. Besides, I was curious to see what Camp David Gonzales was really all about.
“What’s your name?”
The guard checked the handwritten entries in the dog-eared ledger chained to the countertop.
“Wait right there,” he ordered before disappearing down a bleak hallway.
The poorly lit, hospital-green front office smelled like a wet dog.
“You a cop?”
I turned to see a teen in baggy jeans and a crisp white T-shirt gripping a push broom, staring at me through half-closed eyes. He was medium height, with pockmarked, pasty skin. Tattoos marked his bare, muscular arms and thick neck, while his shaved head was a hockey rink of scars.
“Nope,” I replied.
He kept his menacing eyes on me.
“You look like a cop — I hate cops!”
“Chaplain’s on the phone,” announced the guard as he returned to the front office. He eyeballed his one-man cleaning crew. “Mr. Rhodes, give Mr. Stanley a tour.”
The teen prisoner, Mr. Rhodes, looking away from me, leaned the broom against the scuffed green wall and pushed open the heavy door that led to the camp’s enclosed compound. I grabbed the door just before it slammed shut. Mr. Rhodes stayed a pace or two ahead, walking with a strange, limping gait.
The grassy “yard,” which was about the size of an oval football field, was surrounded by a high wall. One-story cinder block buildings topped with rusty cyclone fencing and barbwire were integrated into the wall. We walked in uncomfortable silence past the shabby softball diamond and weight-lifting pit, then across a cracked and bumpy asphalt basketball court where chain nets hung from bent hoops. In front of us, a squad of twenty-five sullen juveniles, hands clasped behind their backs, moved toward a nearby building under the watchful eye of a powerfully built probation officer.
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