Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Colt Worldwide

Colt's story continues to circle the globe. This article just appeared in The National, a newspaper out of the United Arab Emirates. It's another rehash, but the reporter did a good job getting her facts straight, and even made some calls to flesh out the story.

Each time a story on Colt appears in a new place, it's amazing to see how it universally strikes a chord with people, especially young people. The reporter for The National asked me about why I think Colt's story appeals to people, whether I think there were opportunities for him to not to have turned criminal, where I think he is, and whether I think there will be a happy ending to all this.

My full answers are below -- her questions in red, my answers in black. (For those not in the media, this is pretty typical when you're asked to do an interview... you talk or write for an hour, and they wind up using 30 words in the final story. It's okay, though, I've done the same thing to people I've interviewed.... karma.)

The reporter asks about Colt's appeal:

Colt's case engenders strong feelings on both sides. People who look at the news reports or sensationalized tv reports tend to fall firmly in one of two camps on Colt: that he's an outlaw hero or that he's simply a no-good crook.

He is a threat and he is, obviously, a criminal, so it's pretty simple to understand why some people don't like him and get angry at anyone who'd support him.

On the other side, it's more complex, but just as understandable. Colt absolutely fits into the mold of the classic outlaw hero, something that not just Americans but people the world over have a long history of finding fascination with, identifying with and living vicariously through. If you don't look too deep into the case, you can construct a narrative where Colt's just a poor, disadvantaged kid with a lousy home life who felt he had no choice but to run away. In this narrative, he survives by breaking into million-dollar homes to forage for food and clothing and is chased and opposed by the entire power of the government. When cornered, he acts like James Bond and jumps into the nearest car, boat or plane and escapes.

The fact that he hasn't physically hurt anyone during his latest 19-month spree makes it easy for people to believe in this narrative and easy for them to pull for Colt. In their view, Colt really isn't a "bad guy." Jesse James, Billy the Kid etc were also extensively followed in their times, and both of them actually killed people, including innocents. Billy the Kid was basically a hit man. Still, people romanticized them. With Colt, again, it's much easier because of the narrative: He's an underdog surviving on his wits in an unfair world of high unemployment, bank bailouts and corrupt systems; he's not hurting anyone; and he's only robbing from the rich to give to the poor -- himself.

I think this narrative is especially attractive to young people, who are by nature rebellious and see in Colt their own minor rebellions, whether against parents, school, the police, authority in general.

Of course the truth about Colt is much more complicated, but you have to look deeper to see it -- learn who the victims were, talk to them, talk to people who grew up with Colt, friends, neighbors, teachers, the police. Once a story like this gets clouded, gets grayer, it's harder to sensationalize, harder to soundbite, harder to make it black and white so people can take easy sides. At that point, it loses some of its mass appeal. Of course to me, that's when it just starts to get interesting and becomes a more important story in a larger sense, the whys and hows.

The reporter asks about missed opportunites that might have saved Colt, either by his mom or our social systems:

Colt's case absolutely shows failures at many levels. There were obvious parental failures. Colt was also "in the system" from an early age, and there were multiple attempts to help him, which for various reasons didn't take. In school, he was socially promoted even though in some years he failed every one of his classes.

I'm continuing to report on this story, and I'm looking at the societal side of all this (social programs, schools, parental rights versus social systems like child protective services). I've discovered that the State of Washington is relatively progressive when it comes to its juvenile justice system and social programs. There are programs in place that, when they identify a kid like Colton who is to the extreme of a risk-taking personality, they'll get them into rock climbing or motocross or something else that lets them satisfy that need as a reward for good behavior such as staying in school. Nothing like that was ever offered to Colt, though, but I don't know why yet.

Of course, most of us know people who had rough upbringings and still found their place in society. Colt made some bad decisions on his own, such as the choice to escape the group home. He was attending classes there, and by all reports doing pretty well. A promising sign for Colt is that according to the reports from forensic psychologists who've interviewed him, he understands that he's done and doing wrong, he doesn't blame society or his upbringing, and he doesn't show any of the classic signs of being a sociopath. I've also found no evidence that he's ever used drugs. Those factors, to me, are a sign that Colt could salvage a future for himself.

The reporter asked where I think he is:

He's definitely not living out in the woods. I believe he's living in a house with friends, apparently on the mainland, as he probably did last winter. It appears he was last on Camano Island in November. He tends to hibernate in the winter when it's cold and wet out here. The summers are beautiful, though, and the forests become very lush and easy to move around in unseen. The police I've talked to would not be surprised at all if Colt shows up again on Camano or in the San Juans come spring and summer.

The reporter asked if I think this will end happily...

Happily's a tough one. I sincerely hope it all ends peacefully. Colt turned 18 after he escaped, so if/when he's caught he'll go into the adult justice system. In there, unfortunately, they don't force inmates to attend classes. In juvie, they are forced.

Other then Colt or a police officer or a bystander getting hurt, the worst outcome I could imagine would be Colt going to prison and doing his time as a student of Criminal U, coming out "hardened." He is a smart kid, and I've been told a number of stories that show he's definitely not all bad -- several people I've interviewed have talked about him having "a good heart." Ideally, Colt would make a deal and turn himself in, do some time, and then all the attention this has garnered would attract someone with the means to give Colt a shot at earning a decent future once he gets out.

I've already had people contact me asking me to get word to Colt that they'd be willing to offer him a job and give him a chance when this is all over. That, to me, would be a happy ending to it: to see Colt ultimately find a place in society where he can (legally) display his talents and pursue his interests. Maybe as an Alaskan bush pilot, combining his love of flying with the great outdoors... He could have a charter company called "Fly Colton."


No comments:

Post a Comment