Interview With Joan Best

From the interview with Joan Best of Port Hadlock, WA conducted at the Fort Worden History Center by Patience Rogge on July 15, 2008.  Ms. Best worked at the Fort Worden Juvenile Treatment Center as a teacher from 1965 to 1967.  Here she describes some of the students she encountered:

“One of the things I really liked about these kids is that many of them were fighters.  That is, they wouldn’t let the system get to them; and so, because they had resisted and not caved in, they were often sent here.  For example, there was a young Caucasian boy, sweet, nice, bright kid who had never been in any trouble.  He had been picked up because his mother had married a black man in Tacoma and the Tacoma system was so negative toward blacks that they sent him here as a dependent child rather than allow him to be raised in a family in a black neighborhood. At that time they put dependent as well as delinquent children in institutions.  That was kind of awful but he took it all in stride.  I’m sure he turned out okay because he was a very confident kid.  I had a girl  named Sandra (not her real name) in my class who was very bright and feisty, she was a black kid from the inner city in Seattle.  Most of the kids were from the city and had very little rural experience.  One of the things I began to realize was how little they understood about the natural environment.  I would take them down to the beach on a regular basis to help them see, and my instruction was to find something alive.  At first, they couldn’t; then I’d start turning over rocks and they would see crabs and they were scared of them.  They’d never seen anything like a crab.  These were kids who wouldn’t have been scared of stuff going on in the inner city, but out here it seemed dangerous, all this nature.  Sandra, however, had heard of sea monsters and she would not come down to the beach.  She’d stand up on the bluff and watch us.  She was pretty sure something was going to come out of that water and get us. I felt that for the kids who had come here, it was like they’d come to a foreign country.  It took about six weeks for them to figure out how to live in this new environment.  It had nothing to do with what their lives were like back in the city.  We (the staff) used to joke, we would place bets as to how long it would take a kid to turn around and come back because this was a safe place to be.  After they had become model citizens  (the Treatment Center officials) were supposed to send them back.  Sandra’s mother was a prostitute and we were supposed to send her back to be living with her prostitute mother.  Well, she was gone maybe a month or two and then she went into a gas station and stole something and just stood there waiting for the police to arrive so she could come back.  She was smart.  She knew where it was safe.  I remember one young boy.  There was betting going on about how long it would take him to return.  He got on the ferry going across to Seattle to go back home.  A staff person was taking him over.  He grabbed a woman’s purse on the ferry.  They just turned around and came back.”

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