Advocacy, Entitlement and Knowing When to Complain: The Rights of Poor People

Advocacy, Entitlement and Knowing When to Complain: The Rights of Poor People

If you are new to this blog, you may not know that I was in an accident about two years ago that resulted in a broken nose and concussion as well as other injuries. The concussion was not one of the “good” kind, meaning, I have still not completely recovered.

This deterioration in my health caused me to run through my savings and unemployment benefits in California and have to rely on others. Finally, I am privileged to benefit from my mother’s having space and a generous heart, allowing me to move in with her in St. Louis about 18 months ago.

Missouri, however, is not a great place to live if you are indigent. This post is the third in a series about my experiences here. This third one is on poor people’s rights. The second was on food for indigent people in Missouri (published February 16, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1BL). The first one was on health care (published February 9, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1By).

This post is important because it looks at the underlying issues that make a difficult situation (being poor) worse or better for each person. The intersections of perceived or claimed race/ethnicity, perceived or claimed gender, perceived or claimed social class, perceived or claimed age, home/best language, physical and mental health and (dis)abilities, perceived or claimed religion, perceived or claimed sexual orientation, and economic status in the city of St. Louis, Missouri, USA, in the mid-20teens, can adversely influence, improve or neutrally affect one’s experiences every moment.

“Intersectionality” is an important part of understanding how poverty impacts each person and family differently. Therefore, in this series, I need to bring in the politics of social identity. We all have to learn to address these overlapping oppressions and unfair treatments to help ourselves understand how everything is NOT actually “equal” regardless of the similarities in two people’s incomes.

intersectionality
Intersectionality includes all of these components of one’s social identity.

It’s not “all good.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

It ISN’T what it IS “naturally”: people and then institutions run by people make things this way and create/perpetuate systems that keep them this way.

Missouri is one of the worst places to be if you’re poor, but it’s not even the worst by any standards. Your experience all depends on the other components of your social identity. If you’re believed to be a white male, seemingly in good health and able-bodied, perceived to be heterosexual, assumed to be Christian, speaking mid-Western-accented English like a native, have at least some college education and otherwise seeming to be a USA “mainstream” guy between the ages of 25 – 65, you are going to be much better treated and fare better even when you’re poor than if you do not claim or cannot pull off having others believe you have all or any of those social identities.

If you’re also not a felon, have a place to live (a legal address) and (the use of) a car, you’re probably not going to be poor for very long.

Unless you’re obese. Unless you’re smelly. Unless you’re an addict. Unless you’re perceived to be “not one of us” in whatever way “us” is defined: then, you’re in some trouble. But, even with those cards stacked against you, as a poor assumed-to-be-white & -Christian with some education who speaks adequate English and can pass for straight and male and under age 65, you’re still going to be better off than anyone who isn’t.

no isms allowed

Change one aspect—gender—and things automatically get much worse. Change two—ethnicity/race and gender—and you’re doomed.

Check this out, from Everyday Feminism, June 20, 2015 by Carmen Rios “These 5 Statistics Prove That We’re Feminizing Poverty (And Keeping Women Down in the Process)” http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/feminizing-poverty/
— “Despite the overall poverty rate declining in America, 18 million women remain below the poverty line.”
—“Women are poorer than men in every state, regardless of education or geographic location. And for women of color, elderly women, and LGBTQIA+ women, it’s even worse.”
—“The poverty rate for Native American, Black, and Latina women is almost double the poverty rate for white women.”
—“For women, and especially women of color, the fight to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 or $15 is very personal—and could be the difference, for them, between barely surviving and finally thriving.”
—“…over a lifetime, women lose an average of $434,000 to the wage gap.”
—“One of the most important aspects of intersectional feminism is the understanding that when we fight for the most marginalized women, we liberate all women along with them.”

And, from other sources (see below) that add in education and other factors to race/ethnicity and gender with income levels:
—“White households take home between $10,000 to $20,000 more per year than their Black counterparts in every age bracket”
—“Enrollment in ‘high poverty’ schools for Black children is 41 percent, 38 percent for Hispanic children, 31 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native and a mere six percent for Whites.”
—“Even when Black and minority children attend mixed schools, they are more likely to be tracked into remedial or basic classes while their White counterparts take advanced, honors level courses.”
—“70 percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement for school-related infractions were Black or Latino.”
—“While people of color only comprise about 30 percent of the US population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned.”
—“There is no such thing as unbiased, unpolitical education.”
—“People with ‘Black’ or ‘ethnic-sounding’ names are less likely to get callbacks for interviews.”
—“Blacks are more likely to be born into poverty and are less likely to escape it.”
—“Whites are 2-3 times more likely to make it into the middle class in their lifetimes compared to their black counterparts.”

poverty-is-violence
from http://iamarevolutionary.wordpress.com
Poverty IS violence. It has to stop.

Find a well-vetted nonprofit that advocates and works to end poverty and understands intersectionality and contribute, volunteer, blog about their work! Here is one: http://www.results.org/

Good news! We made this mess; we can clean it up.

Mandela quote about poverty
Nelson Mandela, Audre Lorde, Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem and so many more have spoken out about the nature of the human-made elements of our social and political systems and the oppressions they systematize.

WE are the ones who must advocate, complain, recognize that we are entitled to better and that so is everyone else, and ACT!

—Do not sit by and watch passively when others are mistreated, disrespected, unfairly scheduled or managed, especially when you are in any position of better privilege: it is your DUTY to advocate whenever you are able.
—Write letters, blog, make phone calls, picket, march, show up and let those in power know you are not satisfied with the “status quo.” Be specific.
—VOTE! It is your DUTY and responsibility as a USA citizen who can vote (if you are one) to use that right in EVERY election. It is the LOCAL elections that most affect people who live near you, and regional and state office holders who make laws that affect us all. Federal elections matter, too, but not as obviously or as immediately.

WIN_20141104_095753 I VOTE! And, as of early March, I am working as a election-day supervisor at a local polling place!

—THEREFORE, do not ignore bond issues, council and mayoral elections, county positions, state office holders’ elections and only vote on presidential ballots. ALL VOTES MATTER!

Want to know more? Have a read:

From October, 2015, inGenere.it: “Intersectionality. Putting together
things that are often kept apart” by Jeff Hearn
http://www.ingenere.it/en/articles/intersectionality-putting-together-things-are-often-kept-apart

From February, 2015, NPR: “Study: Black Girls Are Being Pushed Out of School” by Karen Grigsby Bates
http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/02/13/384005652/study-black-girls-are-being-pushed-out-of-school

From February, 2015, the the Frisky: “18 Things White America Needs To Reconcile To Truly Become Colorblind” by Tiffanie Drayton
http://www.thefrisky.com/2015-02-26/18-things-white-america-needs-to-reconcile-to-truly-become-colorblind/

If you appreciated this series, please reblog/share it, comment, ask to be a guest blogger and contribute your own point of view or write on a related topic: http://www.sallyember.com

This third post was on advocacy and intersectionality (published on February 23, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1C2).
The second was on food for indigent people in Missouri (published February 16, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1BL).
The first one was on health care (published February 9, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1By).

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Food Stamps and Food Issues for Poor People in St. Louis

Food Stamps (SNAP, EBT) and Food Issues for Poor People in St. Louis

If you are new to this blog, you may not know that I was in an accident about two years ago that resulted in a broken nose and concussion as well as other injuries. The concussion was not one of the “good” kind, meaning, I have still not completely recovered.

This deterioration in my health caused me to run through my savings and unemployment benefits in California and have to rely on others. Finally, I am privileged to benefit from my mother’s having space and a generous heart, allowing me to move in with her in St. Louis about 18 months ago.

Missouri, however, is not a great place to live if you are indigent. This post is the second in a series about my experiences here. This one is on food for indigent people in Missouri. The first one was on health care (published February 9, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1By).

This post is about the government-subsidized “food support,” formerly called “Food Stamps,” now called “SNAP” for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

snaplogo

What makes Missouri so bad for poor people? For one thing, this state is very Republican-dominated. Despite many of the speeches given by congressional and senatorial representatives from this party, their votes speak loudly: they keep lowering the amounts poor people can receive in all types of assistance and have repeatedly voted to reduce food support. This state also still calls its program “Food Stamps,” but adds “SNAP” so people will know what it is. http://dss.mo.gov/fsd/fstamp/

Missouri’s unfortunate and lethal combination of machismo, arrogance, obstinacy and ignorance have caused millions of Missourians who cannot afford to buy sufficient amounts or types of food for themselves and/or their children to go without food, especially near the end of each month’s benefits period (the food money runs out). Not only are the benefits woefully and abysmally low, even at their highest levels, they arrive in one lump at the beginning of each monthly period. Even the best budgeters can’t make insufficient funds last throughout a month.

“Missouri is among states where legislators this year have considered bills that would curb welfare benefits” and continues to demonstrate its disdain for the poor, blaming the victims and putting economic pressure on the weakest of us to try to shore up the state’s failing budget. The Democratic Governor, Jay Nixon, vetoes these bills, but then the “representatives” usually have the votes to override his vetoes. On it goes, this heinous battle for who can sink the lowest first. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/04/missouri-welfare-restrict_n_7209458.html

Missouri and other state SNAP programs are now in the computer age. SNAP currently issues a debit-type card to recipients which is an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) unit that looks a lot like any other debit card. I’m sure this has alleviated a lot of the embarrassment many users had previously felt when producing their pink paper food stamps at the grocery check-out line. Now, we kind of “blend in,” putting our card through the same reader everyone who uses credit or debit cards uses to make our payments.

SNAP to health
from http://www.snaptohealth.org

Except when we don’t. Most times, even when I tell the register operator that I am using an EBT for SNAP, they punch in the wrong codes and it doesn’t work. Or, they do it correctly, but neither of us knows exactly how much the receipt total will be for until the card is used (SNAP card users get to avoid paying the tax on food that others pay). Worse, there is no way prior to being in the check-out process for a user to know exactly how much is left on the EBT to use.

Here is a typical process for me.
—I get in line (can’t use the self-service machines for EBT/SNAP)
—I put my food on the conveyor
—I get to the card reader while the register operator is still scanning my food so that I am sure to mention to him/her that I am using SNAP
—S/he nods or otherwise acknowledges that I told him/her this (important to get confirmation: they often do not hear me or don’t know what I mean)
—I put my EBT card through the reader.
Hopefully, it reads my card correctly (doesn’t always) and
—I press the right buttons (always confusing, since the buttons are arranged differently in every card reader I’ve seen, so far: not always using the same colors designating the choices or putting the choices in the same position)
—We get to the end of the food scanning
—S/he presses whatever buttons (not always correctly) to accept my EBT card as payment
—I either do or do not have sufficient funds on the card to pay for this amount of food (which I only know at this point)
—If so, we proceed and I am done
—If not, we have to start over with the reader, putting only the amount I actually have into the register operator’s process to take only that amount from my EBT
—Then I have a choice: pay in cash or use a debit card (if I have the funds) for the rest, or put the rest of the food back/don’t take it home.

I think it’s obvious that this process is not quick, or at least, not as quick as using cash or a debit/ credit card. When the lines are long, I dread getting into one because these “delays” cause impatience to arise in those in line behind me. I have a fairly thick skin, so to speak, so I don’t care about how impatient people are. We all have to wait, sometimes.

However, others do care about others’ opinions, so it makes many SNAP users anxious to go through the check-out process, as you can well imagine. Many times, when I was more flush, I gave the SNAP users in lines ahead of me some money when their EBT cards were shown to carry insufficient amounts for the entire purchase and the users clearly didn’t have any cash or funds to cover the rest of the food.

Confession: I was less likely to offer money when the purchases of the SNAP user seemed “frivolous” or “junky” to me. Awful judgment call on my part and really, none of my business. But, at the time, I felt quite high-and-mighty, telling myself I was “doing them and their kids a favor” if they didn’t get to bring home that sugary or salty treat. Why, I wonder now, does anyone believe we suddenly have the right or ethical duty to pass judgment on someone’s food purchases simply because they’re poor? We leave all the horrible choices of the middle- and upper-class to themselves, so why do we believe we are entitled to assess those of the poorest among us?

News flash; poor people are not stupider, less informed, less competent or any other judgment the better-off can levy just by being currently without enough money. Money does NOT make anyone smarter, more informed, competent or anything else, automatically. We all know plenty of wealthier people without a clue, don’t we?

In other horrible news, SNAP makes us “re-qualify” every year even if our benefits are for a two-year period. This means recipients are able to be—and, in my case, I was—penalized if we earn even a little bit of money. My SNAP benefits were reduced by half (and were insufficient to begin with) when I reported that I had earned some income from freelance proofreading/editing and doing occasional childcare, even though the total earned was less than $1000/month and more often, not even half that. Look at the chart below for how low these monthly benefits are for an entire month and picture this: you have ONLY this amount to pay for all food for 4.3 weeks (30 – 31 days):

Family size: 1 2 3 4

Maximum benefit level: $155 $284 $408 $518

So, if you’re math-impaired, consider these actual figures:
—the individual SNAP allotment comes to about $36/week, or $5.14/day per individual.
—For a family of two, it comes to $33/week/person, not even $4.70/day, which is LESS per week than if you’re on your own.
—For a family of three, usually one parent and two children, they get only $32/week/person, which is $4.53/day per person!
The larger the family, the less the family gets per person.

What is the logic, here? That kids eat less than adults? Incorrect, unless they’re under 7 years old.

Or, maybe they live in a fairy-tale land, in which they believe larger families can buy “in bulk.” Well, that only works if a family has enough money in hand to purchase the larger amount of chicken or rice or beans, which they often would not have, since the total amount provided by SNAP and workers’ wages is insufficient. When a family doesn’t have enough money to buy food, how can anyone buy MORE food per grocery visit?

Doesn’t work.

Over the last 2 years of my own experiences as a poorer person but one who has many resources others do not have (a great and safe place to live, family members to help me, a car, higher education and advocacy skills, among the best) and seeing these SNAP figures, above, I understand the motivation that spurs poorer people to become criminals just to make ends meet. Why the hell not?

I’m not advocating a life of crime, but I certainly can empathize the reasoning better, now.

When our government fails to support those in the most need, what are the needy supposed to do?

Meanwhile, some help is better than none. How can people get fed, then?
—If a family has young children or the mother is pregnant, that mom and kids can also get further food support (very restricted, but food and juice, nonetheless) from WIC (Women and Infant Care) and (minimal) cash from TANF (Temporary Aid to Need Families, formerly known as “welfare”).
—If one is disabled and/or a senior, one can get Social Security disability and/or retirement benefits to supplement these paltry SNAP monthly allotments.

For basic SNAP information and links to your state’s SNAP website: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap

Good news! Many health food stores, farmers’ markets and alternative grocery stores now accept SNAP.

we accept SNAP

However, the poorer among us face an entirely different problem that I personally don’t experience (that good fortune is due to my being able to live with my mom). Those who live in “high-poverty” areas now often inhabit regions that have become what are known as “food deserts”: because the larger chains and independent grocery stores refuse to locate or stay in these neighborhoods, there is literally nowhere to go grocery shopping. If you live in a “food desert,” you are screwed. Bad enough that you already have less means (no car, no money for gas), horribly skimpy SNAP funds and little time (those who do have jobs work hourly and must show up on time and leave when they’re scheduled to leave, period). You now are somehow also supposed to travel great distances (often when there is no viable public or any public transportation, so how are you going to accomplish that?) to get to a decent, fairly priced grocery store or to get anywhere that sells any fresh food at all.

People who live in “food deserts” can sometimes purchase food that is close to where they live, but it is usually from “convenience” stores or gas stations’ stores. Their “food shelves” and “hot bars” are typically stocked with low-nutrition, high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar, deep-fried or microwavable, high in “empty” (simple) carbs, over-priced options only: no fresh fruit, no fresh vegetables, not much good protein, almost no complex carbs and very few choices that are even close to being healthy.

YOU might be able to help change this! https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-food-deserts Help populate “food deserts” with good food sources and/or bring better public transportation to these areas.

And, just when you thought things couldn’t get much worse, now it’s 2016. SNAP recipients between ages 18 – 49 stand to lose what little SNAP benefits we do get if we aren’t working “sufficiently,” but more of us than ever still need SNAP and many cannot work or work “sufficiently.”

Want to know more? Have a read:

From January, 2016, Cleveland.com: “Over 1 million face loss of food stamps over work requirements”
http://www.cleveland.com/nation/index.ssf/2016/01/over_1_million_face_loss_of_fo.html

From January, 2016, American Enterprise Institute: “Are SNAP benefits really too low?” by Angela Rachidi
https://www.aei.org/publication/are-snap-benefits-really-too-low/

From February, 2016, the Times-Picayune of Greater New Orleans: “Despite ‘recovery,’ more Americans using food stamps, at a higher cost”
http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/02/despite_recovery_more_american.html

Next in this series, February 23, 2016: Advocacy, Entitlement and Knowing When to Complain: The Rights of Poor People http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1C2

This second is on food for indigent people in Missouri, published on February 16, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1BL.
The first one is on health care, published on February 9, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1By.
The third post is/was on advocacy and intersectionality, (to be) published on February 23, 2016, http://wp.me/p2bP0n-1C2.

#Summer #Camp as Sanctuary and Crucible

#Summer #Camp as Sanctuary and Crucible

Some of the best memories of my whole life are from the seven years I spent at Camp Hawthorn, 1963 – 1969. This was a St. Louis-based, Jewish Community Center Association [JCCA, or “J”]-run residential summer camp in central Missouri. Camp Hawthorn was very rustic (no electricity in the sleeping cabins, no air conditioning even in the few buildings that had electricity except for the main office and infirmary, latrines instead of flush toilets, showers without roofs or doors, gravel roads).

Camp meant: campfires, friendships, canoeing, waterskiing, swimming; first crushes, kisses and dances; camping in tents and under the stars; games, sing-downs, folk singing and dancing; art projects, camp-crafts and nature walks; motor and sail boat rides and much more. Humid, sunny, summer heat filled our time, with the occasional thunderstorm or even tornado warning, for three- to four-week-long sessions. When I was lucky, I got to stay for seven weeks.

Camp was a sanctuary from my sometimes dangerous and often dysfunctional home life. Camp was also a crucible for my development as a competent, skilled, courageous feminist, comfortable in my body and in nature, able to make friends easily and become a leader.

Camp Hawthorn‘s property had been a fire and low-security prison before the J turned it into a summer camp in Missouri on the Lake of the Ozarks from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. Near a small town, Kaiser, Missouri, but not much else but forests and the lake, we felt as if we were millions of miles from “civilization.” Our dad had been a camper there in the 1930s. I and all of my siblings were campers at the JCCA camps, but only we three eldest were lucky enough to have been at Camp Hawthorn.

Housing only about 200 people, total, in four “Villages” of about 40 campers and 10 staff per Village, and one CIT [Counselors-In-Training] section for up to two dozen teens and six or more staff [which had its own camp for the last four weeks each summer, Red Bud, a few coves over from Camp Hawthorn], Hawthorn had some general staff cabins and bunkhouses, one “Mess Hall,” one outdoor amphitheatre, five “Rec” Halls (one for each Village and one central one), one swim dock/area next to the one “boat house” and boating dock/area on the lake, and some outbuildings for arts and crafts, nature, the infirmary and office and one central “Specify” bathhouse (to use it, one had to stand at the door and call out “WIC” or “MIC” [Woman In Camp or Man In Camp]: depending on the response from those inside, you could enter or wait (you had to match). You could walk all over its property, including “down the hill” to the lake and over to each Village’s furthest corner, in under two hours, easily. Camp Hawthorn was compact and knowable.

When the JCCA got kicked out of its rented space, it negotiated to purchase/buy out another Jewish summer camp’s property (Camp Wah-Kon-Dah). Sadly, after 1969, Camp Hawthorn was no more.

The J relocated its residential summer camp to a different part of the Lake of the Ozarks, morphing into the larger, much more modern and ever-expanding and -improving Camp Sabra starting in 1970, near Rocky Mount, MO. This coincided with my being too old to be a CIT and too young to be a regular staff member, so I had started working from home for the summer, resigned to working at the local pre-schoolers’ camp at the J, attended by my youngest sister (11 years my junior), until I got the call. The assistant director and his wife had a three-month-old baby but they both had jobs at the camp (she worked in the office) and needed a part-time babysitter to come live at camp and help out. Was I interested?

I took my leave from the pre-schoolers camp, said a tearful but joyful good-bye to friends and family, and took the next ride from the J to Rocky Mount. There, I was reunited with many of my beloved staff members and fellow campers (but only one about my age) and also “joined” my (begrudging) one-year-older brother (who worked there at the boating dock for a few weeks, but he got sick and had to go home), to work at Camp Sabra during its premier summer.

It was weird being there as the babysitter: not really staff, certainly no longer a camper. I had all the freedoms of being on staff, especially at night, but no actual affiliation to anyone who talked to me or worked with me (six-months-old Craig didn’t speak, yet). Seeing some of my beloved counselors from Hawthorn working at Sabra was almost great, but they were not there “for me,” which was also strange. We didn’t quite know how to relate to each other.

After a few weeks, I even dated one of them, a young man I had known while a camper with him on the staff at Hawthorn (he is almost 6 years older than I). We had brief somewhat chaste sexual encounters and hurried conversations that didn’t go well. Extremely surreal. For me, it was like dating a teacher or something equally bizarre.

He claims not to remember this….I remember a lot.

I left that summer gig at Camp Sabra near the end of August, just before my 16th birthday, to get my driver’s license and get ready for my junior year. Even though I was hired (by that very same young man, later Camp Sabra‘s director for many years) about seven years later to be a Village leader, I never did work at Sabra again, because the Missouri camps’ schedules for staff didn’t work for me, who was then working in Rhode Island: I couldn’t go to staff training week because I had to finish out the school year at my teaching job.

I held on to my memories of Camp Hawthorn and attempted to “find” it again by working at several other camps (in New York, Maine and New Hampshire), and another day camp at the St. Louis JCCA. Throughout college and my young adult to middle-aged adult life, I tried to replicate my experiences at camp, but nothing I ever did or anywhere I lived for a summer felt as great as being at Camp Hawthorn had.

However, the abilities I developed, the sense of myself as strong and capable, having so much fun while being busy every day, being outdoors most of the hours for weeks at a time, making such great friends (several are STILL my friends, 50+ years later!): how great is all that for youth? Irreplaceable, for sure.

Are you an alum of one of these or another great camp? Find your former bunkmates and counselors, donate photos and funds, enjoy reunions and family weekends at Camp Sabra (or yours) and more: http://www.campsabra.com/alumni/

sisters 2015 Camp Reunion
My sisters and I were at the 45th Reunion of a combined group from Camp Sabra, with earlier Camp Hawthorn campers and staff and some from Wah-Kon-Dah, August, 2015, St. Louis, Missouri.

Terry Schaller and I Camp Reunion 2015
One of my first and many years’ camp friends, Terry Schaller, and I, Reunion, August, 2015, St. Louis, Missouri.

Aubrey Herman and Mike Lainoff 2012
Aubrey Herman, one of Camp Sabra‘s first Directors and former Camp Hawthorn staff (and that erstwhile boyfriend I mentioned, but he denies it…), with long-time Camp Hawthorn and first-year Sabra Director, Mike Lainoff [his wife and office manager for the camp was recently deceased, 11/29/15; miss you, “Fritzi”!], 2012

I vividly remember the wonderful smells of the lake and rivers, the views of the tendrils of fog and dew rising from the early morning water and grass, the soft sounds of our canoe paddles in the water when no motorboats were around. The scent of an outdoor fire, the smell of motorboats running on freshwater lakes, young kids’ sweat and earnestness when trying hard to learn new skills all bring me right back to being at summer camp, every time.

River canoeing view
River view from canoe

Shabbat at Camp Hawthorn 1950s
Shabbat [Jewish Sabbath, Friday night service], campers all in white, Camp Hawthorn, 1950s or 60s One of the only times I didn’t mind attending Jewish rituals were these Friday nights at Camp Hawthorn. The services were blissfully brief, and we then sang, danced, did skits and had fun. Perfect.

sailing-4
photo from Camp Sabra website, sailing on the lake

I thank you all (most are nicknames), and sorry if I forget anyone!
STAFF: Big Mike, Fritzi, Bunny, Maxine, Big Mama, Stolie, Soapy, Nate, Ned, Pinky, Twinkle, Howdy, Nix, Ron, Susie, Jay, Frank, Corky, Brenda, Chuck, Aubrey, Woody, Paula, Mimi, Big Al, Randy, Craig, Vicki, Sue, Melanie, Nancy, Linda, Candy, Buddy, Aaron, Glen, Bobby, Mark, Amy, Joanne, Fred, Rich, Vic, Gary, Frank, Cookie, Bobbi, Stan, Frank, Jerry, Barry, Smokey, Fritz, Danny, Sue, Johanna, Little Mike, Hawk, Katie, Kim, Renee, Mark.
CAMPERS: Suzanne, Terry, Terri, Diane, Janet, Sam, Joyce, Marlon, David, Jeff, Sheldon, Glenn, Jon, Walter, Bob, Jack, Steve, Marty, Beth, Marcy, Debbie, Sharon, Ronnie, Katie, Kathy, Melissa, Jay, Elice, Diane, Phyllis, Wendy, Judy.

Want to send your child or sponsor another child to attend camp this or any summer? NOW is the time to register! http://www.campsabra.com/

Johnson’s Shut-Ins: Jumping In with Fear, Enjoying the Ride

Johnsons Shut Ins title
(unknown person in this photo)

Johnson’s Shut-Ins: Jumping In with Fear, Enjoying the Ride

Some of my clearest memories, among my fondest and most thrilling times, are of the several visits I made while a teen and young adult to this amazing state park in central Missouri. I attended and then worked at several summer camps which made this wonderful location part of our overnight trip schedule, so I was privileged to go there again and again in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when the water was clean, the river was running high and the place was mostly undiscovered.

What is it? What makes it so special? From a scientific/geologic/historic standpoint, there are these facts:

The story of Johnson’s Shut-Ins starts over a billion years ago when the igneous rocks, pink granites and blue-gray rhyolites, were formed from volcanic activity.

Igneous rock is one formed from molten rock, magma, and other volcanic materials (e.g., ash deposits).
Granite rock (a type of igneous rock) is formed from magma that cooled below the earth’s surface and then was exposed later.
Rhyolite rock (another kind of igneous rock) is formed from magma and volcanic ash and debris flows that spewed out onto the earth’s surface and then cooled.

Above the park the East Fork of the Black River flows through a broader valley formed in dolomite bedrock. Then the river hits the more resistant igneous rock and the valley becomes narrow and steep-sided or “shut in.” Along the banks of the stream, look for the Ozark witch hazel which blooms in late winter and early spring.

http://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places-go/natural-areas/johnsons-shut-ins

There are the natural beauty and sensory pleasures of the cool but not freezing water, the rushing but not crushing rapids, the clean and clear water, the variety of smells, sights and adventures to be experienced which you’d have to go there to know. But, here are some photos and a few stories to help you believe you were there with me.

For the Walkers
For the less adventurous, those who’d rather sunbathe than swim, the large rocks offer plenty of opportunities to lie around and enjoy others’ splashing and yelling without moving much. My friends and I would divide into groups: walkers, floaters, swimmers and jumpers. The walkers usually stopped out and sunbathed a lot and didn’t go as far down the river as the others. Many of them barely got wet. Personally, I didn’t see the point of being a walker, but some people just didn’t want to get wet.

Johnsons Shut Ins 6

For the Floaters
Floaters enjoyed the water but weren’t great with longer swims and had no interest in climbing and jumping in from higher and higher plateaus. They would use the rapids to shoot down little ladders into shallow pools, climb back up and do that or another section many times and stay in the central “shut-ins” area for hours, whopping, hollering, splashing and laughing. I’d join the floaters for a while, but I felt the need to move on to more exciting parts very soon.

Johnsons Shut Ins 9

The walkers and floaters could see parts of where the swimmers and jumpers were going, but not all. Mostly, these first two groups were less willing to go deep, go high, go far. Walkers and floaters still had a blast and probably had no care for or interest in what they were “missing” because what they were doing was incredibly fun and went on for many and varied sections of the shut-ins.

Johnsons Shut Ins 8

For the Swimmers
Some of us swimmers and jumpers would re-visit the shut-ins sections to hang out with our walker and floater friends, eat our lunches, warm up, talk, shoot down the rapids for a while, then swim further on again. We’d do this back-and-forth for hours.

Johnsons Shut Ins 7

If you can imagine the sounds of the rushing water, the shouts and laughter of the kids and teens, the sweet smells of the trees, water, flowers and plants, the beauty of the rocks and formations and the rush of excitement we’d feel, you have some of the sensory pleasures swimmers and floaters especially enjoyed.

Johnsons Shut Ins 3

We swimmers, though, just had to keep going. Beyond the shut-ins sections were three ever-larger and deeper pools, kind of like small lakes, culminating in the pool with the three jumping platforms. The feeling of being pushed and pulled around by the rapids in the shut-ins for hours was with us until we got to the third pool. By then, the calm, clear water of the first two pools had changed our vibrations and soothed our nerves.

For the Jumpers

Jumpers are swimmers who can conquer, or jump in with fear. Jumpers had to be strong, enduring swimmers who could tread water, go deep and surface, climb and jump in repeatedly (or at least once) without flagging because there were no lifeguards and no easy way to get rescued if a swimmer or jumper got exhausted.

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Some swimmers came through all three pools just for the love of swimming and some came to watch the jumpers. Maybe they were revving up to jump, but many swimmers never did. Or, some jumped, but only from the lowest platform rock (about 6 feet above the water). There was an intermediate platform rock, which we estimated to be about 20 feet above the water, which many jumpers used but most never went higher.

Then, there was the highest jump, from a rock area that was about 40 feet above the water. It was also set kind of far back, so jumpers not only had to be brave enough to climb up (clambering up a narrow trail without steps which was very slippery and had no handholds), foolish enough to jump off from 40 feet high, but also, we had to be skillful enough to jump OUT in order to clear the jutting rocks beneath this platform area so that we would get to the water and not break a body part hitting the rocks first. There was a small area to take a few steps (but not run) before jumping, or jumpers could just propel our bodies forward and out as we jumped: that’s what most did.

NOTES: The first photo, below, which shows a human-made diving board, was not the way it was when I was there. There was no diving board. We had to jump out to avoid those rocks and had no help from an extending board.

Johnsons Shut Ins 1

I remember climbing up to the highest jumping area for the first time at the age of fourteen, thrilled and frightened in equal measure. When I got to the top, I was so scared I could only sit and watch as several other jumpershurled themselves off the cliff. I let kid after kid go ahead of me, not daring to take a turn.

I felt that I couldn’t do it. I was panting, sweating, shaking from fear. I looked at the climbing trail and knew I couldn’t climb back down, either. It was incredibly treacherous with sliding pebbles, shifting dirt and narrow rock formations that made it barely possible to go up and impossible to reverse direction. There would be no going down except by jumping.

Each jumper hooted and hollered, making it seem so fun, I just ached to do it. But I was immobilized by my terror, hunched down behind the jumping area, for about thirty minutes. Luckily, no one paid me any attention and I could be in my own world, contemplating my fate.

I was up there so long my swimming suit felt dry. Finally, there was no one else up there for a minute. I felt the urge come over me to DO IT. I stood up, my legs shaking. I crept to the edge of the cliff and looked down, checking the exact location of the jutting rocks that I’d only seen from below before. They jutted out REALLY FAR.

This photo shows the perspective of that highest jumping area as I remember it.

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I was only 5′ tall. How would I propel myself out beyond them? I imagined breaking my arm or leg, hitting the rocks if I misjudged my jump.

No way. I could do this.

A big whoosh of internal courage rushed into me. Grabbing onto it before it could disappear, I took a few steps back, then raced forward and hurled myself OUT, bicycling my legs as I’d seen others do to get more distance beyond the rocks below me.

It seemed to take forever to reach the water. I had time to think about how long it was taking. But, no one had told me and I hadn’t bothered to notice that I needed to keep my arms and legs close to my body. I hit the water with a smack, my legs slightly open and my arms out to my sides. IT HURT LIKE HELL! My inner thighs were on fire and my inner arms felt as if I’d hit walls with them.

I sunk down further in the water than I wanted to, then frantically kicked to get back to the surface, blowing out water and gasping for breath when I broke clear, hurting all over.

I felt exhilarated! I HAD DONE IT! My friends and a few strangers around me cheered and hollered at me. As my head cleared and the aching subsided, I looked around, smiled, and held up one arm high above my head, fist clenched. YES!

Now that I knew I could do it and had learned that I needed to keep my body more like a pencil after I bicycled out, I was eager to do it again. So, I did.

Several times that day, several times the next day, I clambered up and immediately jumped from that highest point. I learned to love the fall, letting time stretch out. Knowing the entry wouldn’t hurt, that I could get my breath and come up just fine, made it that much more enjoyable.

For several years after that, on each visit, into my early twenties, I made my first jump with tremendous fear and enjoyed the rest. It was one of my favorite things EVER to do.

At each summer’s visit, for my first jump I had to climb up and then let several jumpers go first as I got myself psyched up to jump again. I never stopped being afraid of that height. I just kept cimbing up and jumping anyway, feeling the fear while enjoying the ride.

What Lies Beyond
The Black River goes on from the third pool, but we couldn’t swim or hike any further safely. Some of it looks like this, from above, which seems as if it would be a fun ride down the rapids, like the shut-ins that came before, except there was no way to get back by climbing back up or around and up, the way we did in the actual shut-ins sections.

Johnsons Shut Ins 2

If you ever want to go
First of all, make sure the Black River is running well: not too high (from flooding) and not too low (from drought). Second, plan to camp out in the park and stay a few days. You’ll love it that much. Bring your own everything; there’s nothing much nearby in the way of restaurants, stores, etc.

The MO State Parks page states:
“This natural area is within Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. The 2-mile Shut-Ins trail provides access to the natural area. Inquire at the park office about the hiking trail.
“To reach the park office: from the intersection of MO Highway 21 and MO Highway N north of Pilot Knob (Iron County) go west nearly 13 miles to the park entrance on the left (south). Follow the signs to the park office.
“Swimming is allowed in the shut-ins at your own risk.”
http://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/places-go/natural-areas/johnsons-shut-ins