A Letter to Mohawk

Below is an email that I wrote to Mohawk Trail Regional High’s superintendent and co-principals. I am posting it publicly because I think that it is critical to remind the community that the latest accounts of abuse by Colin Garland are actually not unusual. Unfortunately, he is the third in a string of predators affiliated with Mohawk to have such testimonies brought against them in recent years.

Together, we must reevaluate the policies in place and hold our community accountable for the safety of our children.

Note: One former teacher’s name has been redacted, though not in an effort to protect him. Unfortunately, addressing my experience with him more explicitly than this requires more emotional labor than I able to invest right now. If you are from my small town, you can probably guess to whom I’m referring. You’re probably right.

 

Superintendent Buoniconti and Co-Principals Dole and Mendonsa,

I am writing to you in regards to the recent publicization of the abuse perpetrated by Colin Garland, owner of Raven Adventures and Global Classroom. I, like many other students at Mohawk, was introduced to Colin via Will Kiendzior, who allowed him to come into the classroom and tout his trips to remote parts of Africa and Central America. If you have not heard the accounts that recently came to light, I highly encourage you to do so, if only to understand the type of person that has been allowed not only into your school, but permitted to take your students to secluded areas of the world. I truly hope that this man is no longer affiliated with Mohawk, or if he is, that you will immediately cease allowing him contact with your students. Although I did not personally experience assault at the hands of Colin Garland, I can attest to his other manipulative and abusive behaviors. I detailed them in my personal blog here: https://lustyglutton.com/2016/09/11/shaman/   Included in that post are links to two other testimonies of young women who were groomed, manipulated, and raped by Colin Garland.
There is no question that these accounts are disturbing. However, it is not as alarming when one realizes that allowing this is not the first time Mohawk has allowed these type of predators close daily interaction with their students. As I said to [former teacher]after he confided in me that he had slept with his third former student: this is now a pattern.
I have grown increasingly concerned when considering Mohawk’s relationship with Colin Garland, especially as I took into account the past actions of [former teacher] and of the recent news regarding Ivan Grail, the former social studies teacher who is under investigation for his inappropriate conduct with his students. I am puzzled as to why the amount of predatory men allowed such close contact with your students has seemed to remain consistently high under your watch.
I was personally groomed by both [former teacher] and Colin Garland as a student at Mohawk and it has taken me years to realize the severity of these situations. Although it was common knowledge that these two men would meet with students outside of school hours or property, their actions were never questioned and certainly never put to a stop. It is disturbing to me that it was only my guardian, a lawyer and former social worker, who seemed suspicious of [former teacher]‘s actions. She believed that he was ultimately interested in developing a sexual relationship with me and the other young girls to whom he paid such special attention. Unfortunately, she was right. How can an institution charged with the welfare of so many children overlook so many warning signs?
I ask you to seriously consider the manner in which you are vetting your prospective teachers, faculty, and chaperons. It appears that whatever systems you have in place at the moment are simply not working to the extent that is necessary for the safety of your students. Furthermore, I ask that you make public a written policy regarding appropriate conduct for your staff and chaperons in terms of their interactions with students, including any revisions that may be needed. I also ask that you write and make public a list of what  constitutes these inappropriate behaviors to be distributed to students so that they may understand what is unacceptable and unethical coming from staff. Additionally, students should know their rights and resources should they ever encounter such issues.
I am hoping that you take these suggestions to heart so that we may see a change in the environment at Mohawk and change its reputation. It has been truly heartbreaking to realize that although I was initially dismayed that my little sister did not attend the same highschool I did, I believe she was ultimately safer for not doing so. Please: attend seriously to this issue.
Sincerely yours,
Marie Billiel
Class of 2007
Superintendent Buoniconti has invited me to call him with my proposals for policy revisions. I urge you to address this grievous issue as well and to make your suggestions and concerns heard. Matters like this reach much further than just a few; their effects bleed into the entire community. Let the reflection of who we are come from the steps we take to mend.
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I have regrets

Don’t tell me you’re one of those goths.

I don’t know what it meant to him, but I remember what it meant to me. I was in the height of my teenage angst and experiencing, perhaps for the first time the depths to which my depression could bring me. To cope with my distress I resorted to cutting myself; I was compelled to see the blood well up in the canyons I carved deep in my thighs. I listened to dark, brooding music, and I surrounded myself with people who did and felt the same. And though it may have been for lack of better word or explanation, we identified as goth.

At 14 I still had no relationship with my father and had long since given up expecting one. But maybe in some last ditch effort to find myself in him, or perhaps simply to spite my mother, I picked up the phone and called. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those goths;” my father rejected me once more.

I think it was that visit, where we sat in silence and discussed nothing meaningful, where we shared nothing at all, that I decided the rejection was mutual.

Over the next few years I visited him sporadically at his rundown apartment on the bad side of town.Once I knocked on his door and asked him for percocets. He raised his eyebrows, but invited me in and let his buddies offer me hash. He reprised old stories of snorting cocaine and staring out the windows, paranoid the cops would find him.

I refused to kiss him goodbye. I scoffed when he requested my phone number. I gave it to him anyway, though I was certain he would not call; I was right.

I brought a boyfriend or two to meet him. I referred to these rare introductions as “showing them my dad.” His absence still made me bitter and the sight of his worn face did not soften me.

I joked that I was  stopping by to make sure he was still alive. But I said it curtly. I thought that my  flippancy and steeliness were a sign of my strength; that my unaffectedness was warranted and just.

But now, two years after his sudden death, I am afraid that I hurt him.

The last time I saw him I flew 5,000 miles across an ocean to tell them to pull the plug. I am no closer to understanding him now than I was the day I signed his body away.

I do not know the last time I told him I loved him.

I do not know if I even did love him.

I do not know where his ashes are.

I have regrets.

 

 

He Loves You in his Own Way. (Part 1)

Scene:

Baystate Medical Center, July 2014

I am having trouble meeting the gaze of the doctors as they tell me what I already know: my father is as good as dead. I study my hands, hoping that I am adequately playing the part of Distraught Daughter.

The truth is that I had made my decision before I even found myself in that too-bright conference room. Still, I politely listen as these strangers in lab coats detail my father’s drunken fall, the neighbors finding him the next morning, and his helicopter flight to the hospital. Doctors detail his head injury and spew trivia and percentages to which I am numb. As they subtly urge me to end what’s left of my father’s now-robotic life, I feel certain that they can’t imagine the complexities this situation presents to an estranged daughter who has crossed an ocean solely to do so.

“He is gone,” they reassure me.

But he has always been gone.

The doctors take their leave and I find myself looking into my uncle’s fatigued face. He is worn from pacing the hospital corridors, waiting for a niece whom he does not know, and listening to the mechanical beat of his brother’s heart monitor.

“You know what my choice is, right?” I ask carefully.

“I should hope so!” he says a bit too quickly, before trying to console me, “This is just a tragic accident. I don’t believe that he was drunk. It doesn’t make sense. We all know your father had a drinking problem, but even if he was drinking the night before, he was fine! The coffee pot was on so he was probably running across the street to the store and he fell!”

When I don’t respond he again emphasizes, “This is just a really tragic accident.”

I let out a long sigh and turn away from my uncle’s ashen face. His voice, identical to my father’s in its cadence and tone, seeps through my skin and sits like a stone in my stomach.

More urgently now, “Your father was a good man. If he had nothing but a piece of bread for himself, he would have broken it in half and given it to a stranger.”

I turn to him and try to keep the bile from my words: “Oh yeah? And what did he give to his daughter?”

As I leave the hospital I glance into his room once more.
I do not know this man.