Knowing You're Being Played Doesn't Change the Game
My dad was in detention for about a month. During that time my mother and I and my little sister and brother stayed at home. My mom was allowed to bring fresh clothing, underwear, to my dad once a week and talk about what was going on.
Me and my sibs didn't have anything better to do, so we went to school, but it was beyond weird since more than half the kids were gone, and most of the teachers. My high school went from about 1500 kids to maybe 500. They closed off a big section of it to keep from heating the whole place.
My brother and sister's schools were combined with others.
Then there was the strange thing about my father being in custody, but I wasn't entirely alone in that. There were around twenty other high school kids whose mother or father was in jail. Other kids didn't say much, but they knew we were the children of people the NAR didn't like.
After a month, though, my mom came back from the jail and told us that dad and the others were being moved to a camp in eastern Washington and we were going to join them. We were told to pack a small bag with clothes, given a location and time to appear in downtown Bellingham. When we got there in mid morning, my mom was given a wristband, but not us kids. We got on a school bus and drove east. It took hours and hours to get to this place called Chief Joseph State Park. The Columbia River ran by it.
It was a dry, flat, dusty place and as we came to a spot near the river, there were a lot of other buses and people. The people were wandering about amidst piles of wood, various sheds, and a little ways away were a couple of buildings. There were a bunch of poles standing up with various attachments at the top. A number of NAR soldiers, men and women, were standing around.
Our bus pulled up among the others and we got off. We were directed to a table, got in line to be given our lunch or dinner. It was some sort of mush, oatmeal, maybe. My dad later said it was the basic meal they'd gotten in detention.
We looked for my dad, but didn't see him. My mom went up to other adults, those she knew had been with him in Bellingham, and asked, "Have you seen my husband, John Devries? He was with you in that jail."
"No. Yes, I know him. He was there but he's on a different bus, I suppose. Just late in getting here."
That was the case. His bus had broken down on the way. It was good to see him!
"Tom! How are you? Joanie and Mitch!" It was confusing as he tried to hug us and we tried to hug him all at once, but we got it worked out so we all got his full attention while my mom waited for us to sort it out.
"Elaine," he said at last as mom got her turn and they hugged for a long time. "God, how I've missed you. Missed you all."
We didn't get much of a chance to talk, though, because my dad's bus was the last and an officer of the NAR called us to attend to what he had to say.
"I am Major Ryan Milligan and I'm in charge of this Detention Camp. My office is that building over there." He pointed to a smaller separate building near a larger one. "If you need to see me about anything you may approach that guard station (he pointed again) and request an interview. You will notice that if you walk further, you will see posts around the camp establishing a perimeter. That is the camp boundary. Those with wristbands will find it painful to cross that boundary. Children will not be harmed if they cross, but all movements will be monitored with robots at our disposal, so if a child wanders off, he or see shall be followed."
"Now the first business at hand is that you are going to have to build your camp. We have all the lumber and materials you will need and equipment. Captain Jones will hand out the procedures and instructions. You will start with the Mess Hall. Once you receive the instructions, you will be on your own. The Captain will inspect the buildings and decide if the work was done satisfactorily. If not, you will tear it down and start over. That's all for now."
Captain Jones passed out papers to a dozen or so people and left with a few other officers and the soldiers except two who manned the small guardhouse. They were mobbed by people demanding to see the Major, but were told it was too soon. No one would be seen yet. Just then music began to be heard over the Camp. I don't know what it was, some sort of choral singing and instruments.
"I think that might be Palestrina," somebody nearby said. "We heard a lot of that in detention.
People crowded around those who had the Plans and paperwork. There was a lot of noise and confusion. The mayor of Bellingham, Peter Wilson, started yelling, trying to organize things while my dad stood by him telling people to listen up.
"Let's get this thing organized! All right, everyone? Okay, who here has any construction experience?"
"I once built an extension to my house," one guy said. My dad said he was a Parks and Recreation manager. "I can follow plans or blueprints."
A couple of other men volunteered that they had some experience in woodworking or plumbing.
"Fine," the mayor said. "I want you three men to study the Plan, figure out who should be in charge over all, what each role you'll have, figure out how many men you'll need to do the job without tripping over each other, and then come back and we'll organize a work gang for you. How's that?" he asked looking out at the crowd of men, women, and children.
People nodded their heads or murmured approval. The three men went apart from us, sat down on a load of lumber to figure things out.
"Okay, while they're working on that project, I see that this Plan has designs for a bathroom and shower building next, then a recreation hall, a medical building, then houses . . . or something . . . barracks . . . living quarters. Something like that. Maybe some of you might want to look at these plans and see what's involved and if you can learn to do it."
I put my hand up fast as I could. "I want to do it. I can learn how to do it."
My dad shot me a look, and I looked right back at him. I can do it and I wanted to. Building would be fun.
A number other men volunteered. Most of the people weren't from Bellingham, but from all the small cities and towns around us.
When the other men went away to look over the plans for the next building projects, I went with them. One looked like he was going to tell me to go, but then shrugged.
We went over to a pallet of plywood boards and sat down on it best we could to look over the bathroom and shower design plan. As they looked at the drawings, I started to read the work list of things in the order they should be done. I came to plumbing and electrical and realized that it was going to get complicated and hard if nobody knew how to do wiring and how to work pipes and copper lines and stuff.
At the end of the list I saw a notice that said we should ask at the guardhouse for any instruction books we might need. That would be a big help to have some "how to" stuff.
When I handed the work list to another man, I told him what I'd learned from it.
"Hmm, that complicated, huh? Well, I guess any building with plumbing and electricity requires the same skill set to put together. The building looks relatively easy to erect, but all this other stuff . . . well, we'll learn as we go, I guess."
So that's what we did. I learned so that they put me in charge of a group of other kids my age and younger. We got to work on the living quarters. Those were simpler, quicker to build, and everyone wanted to quit sleeping on the ground under tarps and using porta-potties.
Not everyone was needed for building, maybe half, which was mostly men, so the women were directed outside the camp on getting a farm going. We were supposed to have wheat and rice fields, pigs and chickens and cows, and vegetable gardens. We were going to have to make various buildings and sheds for all that, too.
It turned out that my dad was lousy at construction. He couldn't drive a nail straight to save his life. They put him to work carrying and toting materials to various sites and mixing cement but he wasn't good at that either. He said his back hurt.
Men who couldn't pull their weight, as others put it, tended to be looked down on. People might not say it out loud, but I could see some thinking, "that guy's useless, who needs him."
And the mayor who helped get things organized that first day, he thought he elected himself in charge, but since he wasn't too swift at work either, in fact, acted like he shouldn't have to, well, it got that no one paid any attention to him. The guys who became the foremen of the crews were the ones people listened to 'cause they knew what they were doing.
And my crew of kids and teens, we were having a great time. I mean, we had five and six year olds helping supply us with tools and nails, smaller boards when we needed them, things like that. We were happy at what we were doing. It was fun to make things.
Food sucked, though. We got gruel, mush, porridge, oatmeal, the same darn thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And no snacks. Even when we finally got the Mess Hall finished to the satisfaction of Captain Jones and we had a decent place to eat with big refrigerators, gleaming, stainless steel work tables, gas ovens and big burners for big pots, and big sinks for washing and cleaning, well, all we still got was mush, mush, and more mush.
The Rec Hall went faster. There was a big LCD TV in it raised up so we could watch movies and shows, or view instruction videos on how to do this or that on a farm or in building a building.
A lot of the adults said they wouldn't watch the movies because they were all NAR ones or shows or old ones with John Wayne in them, but the kids and me, we liked those John Wayne Westerns.
During the day, all kinds of Christian music was played over the outdoor speakers from (I learned) Gregorian Chant, Plainsong, Harp Singing, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, hymns, pop anthems, carols, and all sorts of stuff. Everything there was.
On Sundays, they played religious movies on the TV. The adults hated them and some forbid their kids from watching them. They said it put bad ideas in their heads like Hell and Satan, but they couldn't stop them because on Sundays the kids and adults could have treats from the NAR like popcorn, ice cream cones, candy, potato chips and soda if they watched a movie or some shows. And then there'd be a Batman or Superman movie, a great big fun action flick. It was great. All week long we'd wait for Sunday. A lot of adults, too.
I asked my dad about it. "Do you believe in Hell?"
"But what happens when we die?"
"What do you mean?"
"We just die. That's it."
"That's it? But how do you know that's it?"
"No one has ever come back from being dead to say anything different. Forget about that stuff. They just want you to believe so they can use you for their purposes. Don't fall for what they're giving you."
Ever since we'd been at the camp there were a bunch of meetings by the adults trying to figure out some kind of system of who to be in charge, and how to settle disputes or disagreements. My dad wanted to be elected leader, but no one nominated him. They elected the chief foreman, Rusty Hammond, who'd worked at Parks and Rec before. He was known for working out problems with people in the various building crews. He had good sense and an easy manner. Plus, he was big and looked like he could be tough if he had to.
And somebody had to work out a list of chores, and people to do them like cleaning the bath and shower buildings, the Mess and Rec Halls, the clothes' washers and dryers, policing the lanes of garbage or debris.
One problem was that if someone didn't want to do their chore, even though it only happened once a week or so, no one could make him. Some people said that they should be docked a meal or two, but when they talked to Major Milligan, he said he wouldn't intentionally starve anyone so long as the NAR had to feed them. He told them that if the camp didn't pass inspection, though, they couldn't use any of the buildings or conveniences until it did.
"They treat us like slaves! Like God damned slaves. I'm sick of it!" my dad swore.
A lot of people said that, especially when the camp was mostly finished and everyone had to go out into the fields. The plans called for a dozen acres of wheat, a dozen acres of rice and a dozen acres of vegetables for freezing, canning, and fresh produce.
We had a small tractor for plowing, a small bulldozer for making berms for the rice fields, a threshing harvester, and lots of other tools and machines along with irrigation systems and pumps to bring the water from the river.
But the vegetable gardens were intensive and planting and weeding had to be done by hand. And all the machines and equipment had to be maintained, of course, but so many people slacked off that Rusty and his council went to the Major again.
"We can't make everyone do their job," Rusty complained.
"Why not?" Major Milligan replied.
"There's nothing to force them to. They eat whether they work or not or do it half assed or not. Those of us who are conscientious end up doing the work of two or three people. You've got to give me a way to manage them."
"Okay. How about this? If they don't work, they don't get a share of the results of the food when it's ready. You keep a list of who's worked and who hasn't or how many hours of decent work they've done. I mean, with the chicken coops being finished, you'll be having eggs and meat soon enough, and in time to come, pork, milk, cheese, butter, and steak."
Rusty later said, "The thought of all those earthly delights gave me pause. My God, yes, I'd be eating eggs and sausage and ham again. Oh man! So I agreed with the Major we'd give that a try."
But in a week, Rusty saw that the new incentives didn't work. People were still slacking off, sleeping late, going through the motions while others busted their butts trying to get the work done in time.
The Council went back to the Major and told him his idea failed.
"Here's what I propose. A new directive has come down that we should let people gain some immediate reward for their labor, so here's what they want implemented. Every man, woman, and child will receive one thousand pennies; twenty rolls each. Every job, and new ones will be auctioned off. For example, a quarter acre of any field will be sold to the highest bidder. Whatever that field grows can be sold by the owner. Also, a catalogue of goods will be provided and things can bought at fixed prices, one penny to many more for different things like clothes, shoes, and other things."
"We'll sell the right to be a restaurant in the Mess Hall. Your Council can collect taxes so that you can pay someone to keep the camp and buildings clean and functioning. That's all up to you. We'll see how that works out."
Rusty came back and relayed the new plan to us. He had a list of all the different jobs available to buy, or you could call them businesses. I wanted to keep building with my crew, but everything was completed by now. My dad didn't want to work in the fields or with animals and thought, maybe they could run a restaurant. They could buy eggs, milk, chicken, and pork from the new farmers, and they could buy other supplies cheaply from the catalogue like flour, salt, corn meal, yeast.
Pretty soon we figured that a penny was worth half a day's labor. Once we figured out what things cost, and what jobs we'd all have, things started to run more smoothly. People who didn't want to work very hard didn't earn much money, and often squandered their pennies on extravagances.
My dad and mom and us three kids became one of nine restaurants that were sold. We were divided up into breakfast, lunch, and dinner businesses. Ours was breakfast. We had to bid a little more for that slot, but it was worth it. Breakfast is a pretty simple menu, and people like having the same thing everyday. But we had to compete with two other restaurants a the same time so we had to try and make our breakfast tastier or cheaper or have more variety. That made it a challenge, but my dad did his best to study up on cooking and ingredients, and we did our best to cook things right.
The spirit of the camp vastly improved. People bought recreational items like games and balls for various sports. People enjoyed mealtimes, they slept better, were more cheerful. I can't say it was great because no one wanted to be stuck in the middle of nowhere living under the NAR in a Camp, but things were looking up.
My dad said, "Look, we know what they're doing. They're playing us, treating us like rats in a maze. First they treat us like slaves to let us see how we like that. Then they make us live and work like communists to see how we like that. Now they turn us into capitalists and businessmen to see how we like that."
"But I like it a whole lot more," I told him.
"Well, that's what they want you to think. What if someone gets sick? How are they going to pay for that?"
"With their money," I said.
"What if they spent it all? Should they just lay there and die?"
"I don't know. His family and friends, they could pay for it, maybe."
"And if they don't have any money?"
"But dad, everybody here has some money now." It didn't occur to me until later that people could do a lot of things. They could save some money for emergencies, or they could join with others and put it in a fund for all of them, or people could donate to help if they wanted. Nobody had to just lay there and die because they were broke.
And then I had a mean thought, what if someone was so disliked nobody wanted to help them, and let them lay there and die. It might not be nice, but was it wrong?
Anyway, like I said things had really improved for us, and the little kids were really happy because they didn't think they were in bad place with bad things going on. A couple of people had bought the job of being teachers, so parents paid to have their kids taught. Life was pretty normal for a lot of us.
And then they brought the blacks in.