by Robert Adams
A Unique Experience
Explaining the old Deerwoode J.C. Kangaroo Court and fine system to an outsider is a difficult challenge, usually not met with much success. Often times, the person you’re talking to will finish the conversation totally bewildered, wondering out loud why anybody would have voluntarily participated in a program that put teenage boys through such trying circumstances.
In spite of the typical outsider’s doubts, J.C. Court sessions were a tremendous learning experience which can only be fully appreciated by Bill Mayes and the small number of Deerwoode campers who were fortunate enough to be selected to be J.C.’s. Following are some of my recollections from the many court sessions I participated in during my three years (1978-1980) as a J.C.
Court was usually held in the evening (every week or two on average) with dozens of cases decided on most nights. The sitting area of the J.C. Cabin upstairs in the P.C. Gym served as the courtroom with seating accommodations dictated by seniority. “The Man” and Supervisors got first pick on premium real estate, while first-year J.C.’s (or peons in J.C. lingo) might have to sit on the floor.
Bill Mayes was the judge, jury foreman, executioner of sorts (doling out greatly-feared lanyard licks and a firing or two each summer) and generally benevolent dictator rolled into one, who presided over this one of a kind court. Like all things Deerwoode, the court sessions were dominated by “The Man”, whose “larger than life” personality was on full display in what were typically late night sessions where every J.C. stood trial for his transgressions, minor or major.
These court sessions were the law and order proceedings of the J.C. system, which was a very structured organization built on hard work, discipline and loyalty. The J.C.’s acted as the jury for their accused cabin-mate, who was almost always found guilty as charged. In most cases, the only question was the severity of the penalty to be handed down.
Court sessions were typically preceded by a McDonald’s run, which sent two unfortunate souls to Brevard to pick up individual food orders for all court participants. Upon delivery, the 12-15 order burger run was almost guaranteed to be found to have errors. This would result in the delivery team being the first offenders to stand trial that night, as soon as everyone’s food was handed out. The fate of the ill-fated delivery men was only made worse if one of the botched orders was a Supervisor’s — or even worse, “The Man’s”.
Bill presided over court sessions which were highly energized, educational, often fun — and for any boy who went through the program an unforgettable memory. The fun part, it should be noted, did not apply if you were the accused. It also didn’t apply on one of those nights where a fellow J.C. was really was put through the meat grinder — or even worse was fired. But even on the most difficult nights, it was a fair process that greatly benefited any boy who participated.
The guilt or innocence of the J.C. on trial was left in the hands of the jury of J.C.’s, but only after “The Man” had made his case, leaving little or no doubt about the guilt of the accused. Less serious cases, where smaller fines were handed out, were dispensed with quickly. More serious charges, where correspondingly larger fines were dispensed, were often discussed thoroughly.
The accused was allowed to put up a defense against the charges – and some did offer a spirited defense. But more often not, the accused raised the white flag and threw himself on the mercy of the court.
The J.C. Supervisors (usually rising high school seniors) assisted in presenting Bill’s case on occasion and were expected to provide leadership for the jury – or more simply put, back “The Man” if there was any discussion.
In Bill Mayes black and white world of right and wrong there was rarely any doubt about the guilt of the accused. Even in the cases where there was some element of doubt, the jury’s vote to convict was usually overwhelming, in the twelve to one or ten to two range.
Where Bill gave the jury more latitude was in the sentencing for each offense, with the Supervisors taking the lead in discussions about penalties – and often delivering dreaded lanyard licks. Any J.C. sentenced to be on the receiving end of a lanyard lick, hoped and prayed that a Supervisor, and not Bill, would deliver the lick (or licks in some cases).
The Inmates Take Over the Asylum — for a Night
The only case in my years as a J.C. when we overrode “The Man” was over a minor offense which had been committed by a forgotten offender – possibly John Crates or David Ericson. At the 2004 reunion, Duke Pickett, Lee Domingue, Ted Fitzgerald and I couldn’t agree on the identity of the accused. However, we were in complete agreement that our decision to go against Bill in this $1.00 case was ill-advised.
Our short-lived insurgency was inspired by none other than Deerwoode legend “Boom-Boom” Bradshaw, the only attorney ever to serve on staff at camp. At first glance, the slightly built, bespectacled and highly academic “Boom-Boom” was an unlikely person to rise to icon status at Deerwoode, the most physical of arenas. But his intellect, exuberance for Deerwoode and winning personality more than made up for his small stature.
“Boom-Boom” was the only outsider ever allowed to participate in the J.C. court system, which was interesting given “The Man’s” absolute distrust of lawyers. But, I think the strong friendship between this most unlikely pair and the J.C.’s adoration of “Boom-Boom” combined to overcome Bill’s aversion to attorneys. Of course, “The Man” had reason to be confident that Boom-Boom wouldn’t be able to turn a jury comprised of his own J.C.’s against him, even for one little, seemingly insignificant case.
Bill was the unchallenged king of Camp Deerwoode for 25 years. But, in the J.C. courtroom, “Boom-Boom” was a worthy rival to “The Man” who was capable of swaying even a jury whose members swore undying loyalty to Bill.
After a great debate about the case and an impassioned speech from “The Man” about loyalty to the J.C. program and his belief that we had been duped by a slick lawyer’s argument, we ultimately voted overwhelmingly against conviction – and against Bill. If my memory serves, Duke Pickett, Lee Domingue and I were the primary culprits in championing the cause of the now-forgotten accused. I also believe Ted Fitzgerald may have stuck by Bill, possibly the lone vote loyal to “The Man”, as hard as that is to believe in hindsight.
Our impudence quickly proved to be a big mistake. The next morning, “The Man” went through the Kitchen and Dining Hall after breakfast handing out $40.00 worth of fines $1.00 at a time in less than 10 minutes. He didn’t slow down for a week. We all got the message and Bill was never challenged again in the J.C. Court.