Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive September 2015 Show 1539 Alton Carter - The Boy Who Carried Bricks

Alton Carter - The Boy Who Carried Bricks

Alton Carter grew up in tough circumstances and has chronicled his journey in a book, “The Boy Who Carried Bricks.”
Alton Carter - The Boy Who Carried Bricks

Alton Carter - The Boy Who Carried Bricks

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Alton Carter Inspire Foundation

Oklahoma Lions Boys Ranch

Oklahoma Department of Human Services

Show Details

Show 1539: Alton Carter - The Boy Who Carried Bricks
Air Date: September 27, 2015

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” The number of homeless children in America has surged to an all-time high. According to a report titled “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” one child in 30 was homeless at some point last year. Now, that doesn’t mean living under a bridge. Often it’s as simple as couch surfing at a friend’s or relative’s, but it can still have a devastating effect on a child’s educational, emotional and social development. And the problem is especially acute here in Oklahoma. We will take a closer look at those numbers a little later in our show, but we want to begin today with the story of an Oklahoman who grew up in some tough circumstances and has chronicled that journey in a book called “The Boy Who Carried Bricks.” Here is our Austin Moore.

Austin Moore: Located a few miles south of Perkins is the Oklahoma Lions Boys Ranch. Since 1952, this group home has taken in more than 1,500 teenage boys. The idea was simple, to provide a family and through the love of that family to introduce work, discipline and responsibility. But there was a time, far too recently, that hard work and discipline became the focus not the product, a time when family was forgotten.

Alton Carter: The only option for me was to stay at the Boys Ranch. And you know, the abuse and things that we endured, if I went home to visit some of the things that I saw at home made me just want to run back to the Boys Ranch and not come home again.

Austin: Alton Carter is a product of that time. He spent much of his childhood bouncing through the foster system. It led him to the Oklahoma Lions Boys Ranch during one of its darkest times, when his ranch dad assumed a role more akin to warden than father figure. Carter wrote about his experience in the book, “The Boy Who Carried Bricks.” We spoke at the Stillwater First United Methodist Church where today he serves as a youth minister.

Austin Moore: Alton, as I read your story, and I think about the childhood you faced early on, trying to find an adjective that describes the sort of challenges you were up against, I can’t find one big enough. Describe for us, if you would, what you faced as a young child, the kind of things you had to overcome just to go forward in life.

Alton Carter: Just more than anything else, being hungry. We were hungry all the time and neglected. You know, we experienced every sort of abuse you could ever imagine from, you know, getting beat, got whipped with skillets, broomsticks, coat hangers, you name it. The interesting thing was is that’s all I knew. I mean it wasn’t like I knew anything different, so it, not that it was normal, but that was the only life that we knew. We were unsupervised all the time. Mom would leave us all the time all by ourselves, and so we fended for ourselves.

Austin: So at one point in your life, you finally reached the point where you decided you needed to get out of there. And you took yourself to DHS and said I need to be somewhere else.

Alton Carter: I was sort of, believe it or not, the target child. I was the runt, the one that was scared to do anything, and so cousins, brothers and sisters, and uncles made fun of me because I was sort of a chicken. You know, I got called homosexual names, I got called racial names because I was afraid to, you know, smoke pot with everyone else or drink alcohol. And so when my uncle was forcing us to drink alcohol at 2 in the morning, I just knew it was wrong, and I got tired of it. And so one night he came in and said, “Hey, I want you all to drink this alcohol,” and I refused, and he picked me up and threw me down my grandma’s stairs. I was at the bottom of the stairs, and he came down and stomped on me and broke my ribs, and that was the breaking point. I mean, that part sort of, it didn’t break my spirit, but I knew I had to get out to save myself. So I went to the DHS, and told them that I didn’t want to stay home. And realizing that my family, it’s not so much that they didn’t care about me, but I had committed the worst act ever by getting my uncle arrested. And so that’s literally seeing that is what drove me to take care of myself, because I felt like no one else was looking out for me.

Austin: That led to a series of failed DHS placements, and eventually landed Carter at Boys Ranch.

Alton Carter: You know the experience at Boys Ranch was different. I mean it was kind of exciting when I first got there. You know we sort of lived in a farm setting. We had horses, sheep, pigs, and we got to take care of those animals. And it was pretty interesting. We had a foster you know, not a foster parent, but a ranch dad and a ranch mom who were there who took care of us and fed us, and things were great. And after you were there a while, the ranch dad would tell you that, you know, all the other rules that would happen. So if you spilled your drink while you were sitting at the table, he would make you go two weeks without drinking. You couldn’t have anything to drink while you were eating. If you rocked back in your chair, he would take the chair away from you while you were, so you would have to stand up and eat. So all these things the ranch dad did to us, and in his mind he thought he was doing what would make us stronger. So you know, again we had that sort of, we were forced to call him dad, which was a huge issue for me. I didn’t know what a father was, so, or dad, to call somebody that was just bizarre. And I mean, I can literally remember thinking that, you know, even saying that word made me sick. And so and then to see how he treated was, I knew was the same sort of abuse how he treated us was the same, that he would you know scream and yell at us and get in our face and, you know, there were times that he’d throw us down. What it did was, at the Boys Ranch is it formed a bond between us that we sort of, all the boys, we stuck together and did the best we could to look out for each other. It was sort of like a military setting where we would, you know, if one of the guys weren’t doing what they were supposed to, we’d kind of get after him, but, you know, make sure he was doing what he was supposed to, to keep us all out of trouble. So we formed a bond, you know. And hauling hay, when we hauled hay at the Boys Ranch, it was incredible. I mean, we worked like dogs, it was hot, but it was something about just being out there with the rest of the guys, that you know we felt, not safe, but just a strong bond. But the ranch dad again would, he’d do everything he could to break us down. He’d get mad and, you know, make us get off the truck and walk sometimes instead of riding on the trailer, or he would drop us off at the end of the gate and make us bear crawl on our hands and feet back to the truck or to the gate just to prove a point.

Austin: Bear crawl, that’s hands and feet on the ground?

Alton Carter: Yeah, hands and feet, and just walk and so, you know, we’d have to walk laps around, you know, you’d have to bear crawl laps around the Boys Ranch. He was also the deacon of the church, which he was a huge issue, so for me, my vision of what church was like was very distorted. And in fact I became angry, not so much mad at God, but mad at the church on, you know, you elevated, this church had elevated this person to a deacon status, and yet the way he treated us was just, it wasn’t kind.

Austin: This ranch dad believed strongly in breaking down those troubled young men through physical labor.

Alton Carter: One of the things we had to do at the Boys Ranch was carry bricks for two hours when you got in trouble. So we had a huge pile of bricks that you would walk over and pick up five and then haul them back maybe 30 or 40 yards and set them down. And that was another one of his punishments.

Austin: This grueling experience pushed Carter to further distance himself from everything he associated with that man.

Alton Carter: I, my biggest question is God, if you are real, why would you let me endure this? I left my home, and yet you’re supposed to protect me, and yet here I am at this boys ranch with this man that calls himself a man of God and the way he treats me. And so I got more frustrated with the church. I believe I, you know, had faith with God, but I just struggled with sort of the church concept and what was happening. So I stayed away from church until I got married and had kids, really, is when we started going back to church, that we thought that’s what was best. And that was foreign to me. You know, I’d been away from church most of my life except for the Boys Ranch, and now I go back with a family, and I had all these questions about what is a godly dad supposed to do. I didn’t even know what a dad was. So how in the world am I going to be a Christian dad when, you know my perception of faith is sort of, not faith but, sort of faith in the church is distorted.

Rob McClendon: Now, a little later in our show, we’ll introduce you to a young lady who grew up in foster care and eventually found herself living on the streets, but today is making her way in life thanks to some caring educators.

Latefia Wright: Everybody needs somebody. And I needed Metro Tech. It saved my life.

Rob: Now, when we come back, our conversation with Alton Carter continues, as we see what helped Carter move past his troubled youth to become the community leader he is today.