George Cadwalader

The Penikese island experiment

Chelsea Green Publishing

White River Junction (Vermont), 1988
bibliothèque insulaire
N.E. of America
The Penikese island experiment / George Cadwalader. - White River Junction (Vermont) : Chelsea Green publishing, 1988. - XII-193 p. : map. ; 24 cm.
ISBN 0-930031-12-1
NOTE DE L'ÉDITEUR : Cadwalader, a Marine captain severely wounded in Viet Nam, recuperates but is unable to return to combat. Strongly influenced by his experience in the Marines, he recruits a small band of unlikely « teachers » — well-educated social drop-outs — and launches an experiment in the rehabilitation of hard-core juvenile delinquents. The site he selects is Penikese, a remote island off the Massachusetts coast. Once a leper colony, Penikese is slowly transformed by the students and staff into a self-sufficient school community.

The Outward-Bound atmosphere the author and his staff create on the primitive island involves construction, boat-building, farming, and nature study. If the wood isn't chopped, there's no heat ; if the vegetables aren't harvested, there's no food. Cadwalader and his cohorts treat the kids consistently, and try to hold them accountable for their actions.

Buffeted on all sides — by the weather, the violent unpredictability of the kids, jittery surrounding communities, and a rudderless criminal justice system — the author undergoes some painful changes as he confronts the stark irrationality and rock-hard recalcitrance of his juvenile criminal charges, some of whom he takes into his own home. The admonition of an old Marine sergeant comes back to haunt him : « That son-of-a-bitch was born bad, and ain't you or anyone else gonna change him ».

But Cadwalader and his colleagues persist, and despite setbacks, the school survives. The dialogue is raw and gritty. The narrative moves from the hilarious to the somber and back again as the author chronicles the lives of the boys who come from Penikese. Castaways is a true story, a tale of idealism tempered but not surrendered — an intensely human portrait.

GEORGE CADWALADER : After being a sanctuary to birds for three decades, Penikese Island found a new calling in 1973. During the summer of 1973, George Cadwalader and some of his friends established a residential school for troubled youth. It is for boys between the ages of 13 and 18. Only those who show potential and initiative for turning their lives around are given the option to come to Penikese. A boy is then sometimes given the choice to come to Penikese or serve time in jail.

When I spoke to one of the teens on a recent expedition to the island he said, « It's a lot tougher than expected. It's nothing like I expected. » The reason it is tougher on these boys than they expected is because they must suddenly learn to support themselves a lot more. They must grow their own vegetables, chop their own wood, cook, look after animals, all the while studying daily.

The Penikese Island School exists in a isolated location to foster a tight-knit and supportive environment where kids may begin to learn more about their abilities and fulfill their potential for being self-supporting and independent members of society. There are usually about 8 to 10 boys on the island at a time, as there currently are now. Accompanying them are two men who help them in their projects, teach them academics daily, as well as teach them in life.

There is no electricity, and the only heat they have is from small wood stoves in the few shed-like-buildings and cabins on the island. There own building is a cabin with a loft where they sleep. They entertain themselves with stories, conversation, a Ping-Pong table, and a forlorn basketball hoop outside. But for the mostpart, these kids told me they don't have much time for anything but working. Their only time to relax is at night, when they all must hang around the cabin together.

colonies pénitentiaires et bagnes pour enfants
  • « The Penikese island experiment », White River Junction (Vermont) : Chelsea Green publishing, 2006

mise-à-jour : 7 mars 2017
George Cadwalader : The Penikese island experiment
Penikese island