Saving Kieran Camp
By David Lightfoot
Gunshots fire, and hand grenades explode in the student parking lot of a high school in downtown Winnipeg. Three teenagers named Ricky, Marcus and Zania, from the Fire Soldiers – the worst youth gang in the city – are doing this just to "juice" themselves up for the crime they're committing tonight.
Zania turns on a flashlight and looks through the darkened windows around the school, trying to find the computer lab. Marcus and Ricky are on the west side of the building, breaking up wood from the individual parking spaces.
Almost five minutes later, she runs back to the teen boys and calls, "It's on the same side as the main entrance, just past it. Let's move it out!"
Marcus and Ricky pick up their wood collection and follow Zania. They're yelling out gang battle cries as they run towards the main entrance, Marcus yelling, "Yeah! Let's do this!"
"Fuck school!" Ricky adds.
The computer lab is the first room they see after the entrance. Marcus and Ricky break the windows with their wood, then Zania climbs in. They see the night janitor's truck in the staff parking. They decide it's the perfect getaway vehicle.
With the flashlight in her mouth, Zania is tearing computers away from their connections, and monitors and keyboards, too. She is handing the first five items to Marcus and Ricky for loading, when the night janitor catches them.
"Hey, what the hell are you kids doing?!" he yells.
Zania immediately takes her gun out and shoots the janitor. Four shots in the chest and shoulder and he falls. She grabs two more computers and jumps out to help load. They jump into the truck and speed away.
It's only the latest in series of crimes committed by the youth gangs of Winnipeg.
They're turning onto two streets, on the way back to their gang hangout when Marcus spots police lights in the rear-view. "Shit, it's the pigs!" he cries. His foot is down hard on the gas pedal, making the truck go almost one hundred twenty miles per hour. On a sharp turn, however, they crash into a telephone pole, and the three escape from the passenger side.
"Freeze!" they hear officers yell. "You're under arrest."
The officers chase the gang members to the next intersection. They make it, but the light is red when they're crossing, forcing cars to stop suddenly. They're on the sidewalk when suddenly, the officers pin them up against the nearest building.
"You have the right to remain silent…" they begin as they put those Fire Soldiers in handcuffs.
As each officer puts them in their cars, they think the same thing: It's starting to be too much. The youths of this city are getting worse and worse. It's as if they're all bad nowadays.
Of course, not all the youths in Winnipeg are bad. There are some, like thirteen-year-old Kieran Camp, who want to make a difference in this world. Kieran is an average-looking kid with a round face, mousy brown hair, light blue eyes, freckles, and a build that is scrawny to lightweight. He lives with his mother in a medium-sized house in a park on St. Anne's Road. He's an outstanding student in the eighth grade, and all throughout his years in school, getting A's and B's on term report cards. He even skipped a grade in elementary school. He's perfect and polite at home, always respecting his mother, and her wishes and expectations. He has always kept his emotions under control, despite the fact that his father passed away when he was eight years old. Kieran is never uncontrollable or temperamental. He never lets his peers talk him into doing things he shouldn't, and lives life the best he can each day.
However, all that changes soon after Kieran's thirteenth birthday. That day, his sixteen-year-old brother, Brock, forces him to join his gang, called the Fire Soldiers. Apparently, the death of the boys' father had devastated Brock really badly, and it started affecting his behaviour. He stopped going to school, started cursing out his mother, and began to disrespect authority. He also started committing numerous crimes, and he went to jail each time. Poor Mrs. Camp had to bail her first son out each time. Now, she can't take anymore, the stress associated with the behaviour, so she throws Brock out of her home.
From there, Brock joins the Fire Soldiers. There are twenty-five members in the gang, ranging in age from twelve to twenty-one. They commit many of the crimes, drink alcohol, do drugs, get into extremely violent situations, and anything else one could imagine. The gang has both boys and girls, and the girls even sell their bodies for money. (Some of the boys prostitute themselves, too.) They do that because they're all homeless. They have to sleep in alleys and on the streets, (around five or six hours per night, maybe less) and do whatever they can to survive. Once, they even try to panhandle for food and beverage. On occasion, the gang moves from alley to alley, because their activities get too loud and rough, which get people complaining. In turn, some people will call the police, and the gang is forced out of the area. And if any one of them should go to jail or juvenile hall for their crimes, fully expect Jasper, or someone he sends on his behalf, to break them all out secretly.
When Brock comes home shortly after Kieran's birthday, Mrs. Camp thinks that he has changed his wild, rebellious ways. However, on the day after, he has yet another terrible fight with his mother, which ends with him physically assaulting her. When Mrs. Camp kicks Brock out this time, he decides to take Kieran with him.
"My baby brother doesn't need to be around a stupid bitch like you, and he certainly don't need to be a role model to these squares of society!" Brock yells at her. "He needs to be cooler than he is right now!" Then he leaves with Kieran. Mrs. Camp is surprised, but she's also bothered and confused. She wonders what mistakes she made with Brock to make him act this way.
Kieran joins the Fire Soldiers immediately thereafter, making him the twenty-sixth member of the gang. The leader, a twenty-one-year-old punk named Jasper, makes Kieran take an oath to be faithful towards the Fire Soldiers, to always put gang life first, and to not be afraid of getting caught by the police – or going to jail. Then, to test his worthiness, he has him play chicken with a cigarette. He has Kieran stand beside Brock, and makes them put their arms out. Brock obediently puts his arm out, but Jasper has to grab Kieran's arm and put it out with Brock's. Then, he ties their arms together with a chain, puts the cigarette in between them and lights it.
"Now, Kieran," Jasper explains, "if the ashes fall on your arm, and you don't scream as they burn you, you'll be in the gang. But, one noise if you get burned, or if the ashes don't fall on you, and you start again."
Kieran's eyes widen in surprise. Is Jasper crazy to think up this challenge? Is Brock crazy to make him join the gang in the first place? Kieran tries to hide his fear as the cigarette continues to burn. He sees the ashes leaning toward his arm. At this point, he wants to free himself from the chains and run away. But he knows he can't do that, for he realises that either Jasper or Brock could bring him back and make him start again. It's now hopeless for him to turn back.
Kieran looks at the cigarette. The line of ashes keeps growing, leaning further towards him. The ashes will fall on him any minute now. He grits his teeth and prays the pain won't be much.
When the ashes are long enough, they break from the butt and fall on Kieran's forearm. They burn like a murderous heat. But he doesn't want to shake them off him; what will everyone think of that? He grits his teeth harder, holding back painful tears as they rest on his arm for a few seconds, then fall off. He looks down at his arm. There's a brown and black burn mark with red blotches on his skin. He is horrified at that. The mark looks ugly. Will it ever heal?
Jasper goes up to him and examines his face. Kieran's face is as red as a tomato. He isn't smiling, nor does he shed any tears. Jasper smiles at him, and places his hand on Kieran's shoulder.
"Congratulations," he says. "You are now an official Fire Soldier." He places the official gang jacket and bandanna on him. They consist of the gang's colours – black, orange and green. Kieran gives Brock a questioning look. What did he do to get in?
Kieran is horrified and sickened by this gang, because of all the drugs, violence, prostitution and such. For the next month-and-a-half, he suffers greatly as Jasper, Brock, and all the other Soldiers force him to do things he doesn't want to do. He gets into drinking, drugs, bank-robbing and shoplifting. He even assaults an old woman and takes her purse. His lowest point comes in late March when Jasper, Brock, and Jasper's girlfriend, Elizabeth, persuade him to sell his body to a group of college girls for fifty dollars each. He's never proud of anything that he's doing.
At first, Kieran tries to resist Jasper's orders. But when he refuses, Jasper and Brock, and perhaps a few other members, beat him badly until he gives in, or else Jasper takes a weapon and threatens to harm him. Resisting rarely ever works, and if it does, Jasper will send someone else to do it for him. After only several weeks, he gives up trying and decides to just do whatever Jasper says. Nothing is worth getting killed by a hardcore gang leader.
It's clear that Kieran doesn't like the gang life. He is desperate to quit the gang, but he's too afraid to do anything drastic. Everyone in the gang intimidates him, and it scares him. He is worried that Jasper, or someone else from the gang, will kill him. He's terrified of dying young, because he wants a future for himself more than anything else. Up until he joined the gang, he had worked very hard for that, for all the chances in his life. He felt they were something he'd earned long ago.
He is continually taking off his bandanna just to examine it. It's striped with the gang colours of orange, black and three shades of green – light, dark and olive, like a military soldier's outfit. He thinks it looks ugly. He looks at the jacket he's wearing. It's made of leather, and looks exactly like the bandanna. After looking at the bandanna for a few minutes, he will put it back on his head. It's hopeless, absolutely hopeless. It looks as if only a miracle will help him get out of the gang, and into a future he's dreamed of.
Today is clear, sunny day in April. On his way to run an errand for Jasper, Kieran walks past a store with an advertisement in its window. He stops, looks back at the store, and walks back to the window, just to read the ad. He's interested in what it has to offer. It says:
BIG BROTHERS/BIG SISTERS OF WINNIPEG
announces a Spring Dance
at the St. Gerard Bingo Hall
40 Foster Street
Saturday, April 15th, 1:00 – 4:30 p.m.
Admission: 5.00 per person
Come give your support
Kieran's enthusiasm grows. His favourite thing to do in his spare time is going to parties, especially dance parties. He had been to dances at his school, as well as a few non-school-related functions, before joining the gang. Moreover, he loves to dance. And the party will be held that Saturday. He's sure to be there. Kieran continues on his errand, mapping out a sneaky route to the hall on that day.
He stops at the store Jasper told him to go to. He stares at an apple-shaped crystal that's sitting in the window, which he's supposed to steal for Jasper. It looks extremely tempting. He stares at the crystal for a long time, deciding whether or not to actually take it.
Then, Kieran starts thinking about what being in jail is like. He has never been there before, even when he's doing all the illegal activity. Whenever the Fire Soldiers have a run-in with the police, Kieran will run into the alley the gang hangs out in, and hide in a secluded place. One thing he doesn't want in his life is a police record. Even though he took an oath to not be afraid of jail, deep down in his heart, he is indeed afraid. He knows that even one real trip there could ruin any chance of a real career. Kieran decides not to risk anything. He walks away from the window without going into the store, and without taking the crystal.
Jasper is furious to see Kieran return empty-handed. He grabs Kieran by his jacket, throws him up against a brick wall and says through clenched teeth, "Where the hell is that fucking crystal, Kieran?!"
"I don't have it, Jasper," Kieran says.
"Because I'm not going to risk jail for you! Why should I blow my chances of any job I could have, just so I could bring you some stupid jewel?"
Elizabeth overhears Jasper and Kieran. She walks up to them and says, "Because you took an oath to not be afraid of the slammer, Kieran. Remember that?"
"Right!" says Jasper. "Why are you being such a little goody-goody today, Kieran? In fact, why are you always being such a goody-goody? You've got to stop running away every time we have a confrontation with the cops, all right?" He puts Kieran down and walks away.
Kieran looks back at Jasper and goes to sit with Brock. Brock puffs on a cigarette and says to Kieran, "Man, why are you so scared of jail? Are you that scared of ruining your chances for some big career? Why should you bother with shit like that? There's no life like that of a criminal. I mean, let's face it! The roots of society reject all of us. We have the freedom to kill off these roots if they ever piss us off. And what's the point of buying from stores, when you can get what you want for free?" He offers to share his cigarette with him, but Kieran refuses.
Brock takes another puff and hacks a bit. "Kieran, when you're a criminal running the streets, you can live life how you damn well please. Unless Jasper tells you what to do, you can do whatever you want, whenever. And so what if you go to jail? You can always count on someone to break you out."
"Brock, I want out," Kieran says.
"What? What did you say?" He sounds as if Kieran is talking back to him.
"I want out! As in, 'I want to quit the gang.'"
Brock turns to Kieran and whines, "Why the fuck do you wanna quit the gang, Kieran? You can't quit! You made an oath to be faithful toward the Soldiers, remember? If you leave us, you betray us!"
Kieran stands up and yells, "Maybe I don't like this kind of life, Brock! Maybe I want to make something of myself! Maybe I don't want to life the rest of my life as a Main Street bum! Maybe I want to live a real life!!"
Brock doesn't answer him, so Kieran goes into the alley to sit by himself. He looks around to see the same scene that's been plaguing him for the past two months – garbage littered everywhere, overflowing dumpsters attracted by flies, mice and rats running to and fro, broken glass, the cold, dark brick walls. These sights are too depressing for him.
He stands up and walks on The Promenade for some fresh air. He walks past a few shops and service buildings, looking so lonely. He can only dream of being as successful as the workers in those buildings. He turns around, walks back and looks at all the buildings down Ellice Avenue. There are more businesses and clinics, even an advertising agency. Kieran becomes envious at these sights, and he starts to cry. He's now more desperate than ever to get rid of his colours. But how will he do that, knowing that there are certain people that won't let him?
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