If you've seen the Summer 2015 issue of our Maverick newsletter, you'll remember a short article about Nathan McEwen, who is an IYR graduate and whose teenage son is also an IYR graduate. Last year, Nathan gave a talk for an IYR staff meeting and shared his story with us, and we'd like to share that longer version with you--the supporters and donors who make success stories like Nathan's possible.
My story begins back in the late 1990s in the Bay Area of California. I grew up in a loving home with my parents, three brothers and three sisters. We were a close family and my parents did all they could to raise us to know right from wrong. I went to school there from kindergarten until I started high school.
My folks decided for many reasons to move our family to Idaho, where my mother is from. My parents had the best intentions and as an adult I have grown to love Idaho. However, in my teenage angst and ignorance I was lost. When we first arrived, it felt like another world. It felt like starting over from scratch. No friends, nothing familiar, a different education system, and the culture shock of trying to understand my new peers- the combination was overwhelming. I was furious and livid for having been forced to uproot and move, leaving all I knew and loved behind.
I soon got into trouble for many things. I was fighting, stealing, lying, smoking, drinking, and so on. Before my first year in Idaho was over I had already spent time in Juvenile Hall and was on probation. Continuing these behaviors soon got me kicked out of high school and in and out of Juvenile Hall for the next two years or so.
My answer to everyone who tried to challenge my attitude and behavior was, “I don’t care.” If you asked me at the time, none of this was my fault. It was my parents, the cops, my probation officer, my teachers, the world—not me.
Then after one last probation violation and having had so many days of jail suspended in the past, the Judge decided I needed more time in lock-up. I spent a few months in Juvenile Hall where I earned my High School Equivalency Diploma since I was missing my senior year. I was then moved to a long-term Juvenile facility. Looking back, I can only describe the place as barbaric and counterproductive for any youth hoping to get out of the system and to stay out.
It wasn’t long, maybe 2 months or so, before they sent me to another facility. When I completed the program they laid out for me in way less time than expected, they didn’t know what to do with me. I had broken the law so I couldn’t just be released. The place I had been moved from wouldn’t do. So the judge decided on the Idaho Youth Ranch. After an assessment I was placed in the Nampa Boys Home.
At IYR, there was a plan, tailored to me and my specific issues, not just a specified number of months or days to serve. I struggled mostly with authority, anger, and taking responsibility for my choices and actions. I hated that place a lot at the beginning.
Change didn’t come easy. The hardest part was that I first had to really look at myself and realize it was all me, all the time. Up until then, when faced with the consequences of my own actions I blamed everything and everyone but myself.
Through the consistent schedule, chores, service learning projects, group therapy, and counseling, the hope I needed began to grow. Things were consistent at the Boys Home. There wasn’t any question as to what was expected of me. I knew where I stood and every day there were opportunities to learn.
You did your own laundry, planned and cooked your own meals, took care of the property and the pets. If something wasn’t right, you had only yourself to blame. If you didn’t iron your shirts or take the meat out of the freezer, you didn’t have clean shirts to wear or meat for dinner. I learned coping skills and communication skills that were essential not just to completing the program, but also to improve my relationship with my family and the community.
Once I really understood that I can only control myself and not anyone or anything else, I found that life could be different for me.
Today I am the father of three great children. I have a 1-year old son, an 8-year old daughter, and a 15-year-old son. I have been at my current career for 11 years and am excited to be buying a home this summer. I am close with my family and friends and life is nice.
As a father I try to teach the skills that I learned, and continue to learn, to my kids, to help them make better choices than I made and to try to prepare them for adulthood. This is way easier said than done, of course. My oldest, having a lot of the same authority, anger, and lying issues I had, started heading down that same road. I got an all-too-painful reminder of what my folks must have gone through when I was his age. Things went from bad to worse.
The day he punched me, hard, right in the face, I seriously considered pressing charges to send him to Juvenile Detention. But I realized there had to be a better solution. That’s why my first call was to the Idaho Youth Ranch. After an assessment, my son went to, and graduated from, IYR’s Ranch Campus program.
It gives me hope and joy to know that my son now has the same tools the Idaho Youth Ranch gave me, tools and life skills he can rely on for the rest of his life to cope with his problems, handle life better, and be happy and successful.