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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Teens make, rather than follow footprints
By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published April 10, 2007
It was a cold, rainy Monday - weather that tests commitment.
The Free Radicals could have chosen plenty of warmer options, but here they were at Spring Hill Cemetery, a modest graveyard hidden away on a dirt road west of Brooksville.
They planted shrubbery, raked leaves and gathered trash left by people who strangely like to party among the spirits and leave their beer cans behind.
Teenagers live with the pressure to conform, to dress and act like everyone else.
But the Free Radicals, as the name would imply, swim against the tide. The Nature Coast High students describe themselves as a "group of humanists, free thinkers and eccentric minds, working together to raise social awareness, promote progress in society and laugh a lot along the way."
Sounds downright subversive.
"It sounds cliche but it's not always right to follow the rest of the crowd," said Rachael Manning, a 17-year-old junior and the groups secretary.
"I believe you have to stir things up. Don't just accept things the way they are."
The group is trying to live up to both its radical name and agenda.
For its next project, organizer Ryan Carpenter said the group plans to petition Gov. Charlie Crist on behalf of William Thornton IV, the teenager who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his role in a wreck that killed two people in Citrus County three years ago.
Carpenter and his schoolmates have followed media coverage of the case. To them it smacks of injustice. They're unhappy with Circuit Judge Ric Howard.
"These kids don't accept authority as always being right," said Kevin Cullen, the first year teacher who is sponsoring the group.
Cullen isn't some ex-hippy sent to infiltrate and indoctrinate Hernando youth. He's one of them. He grew up in Spring Hill. At 22, he isn't far removed from his years at Central High. His humanities course - mostly philosophy and American history and culture - is the sort of place where students are provoked to ask questions.
"This is a diverse group; they're from different backgrounds. This gives them a sense of purpose," said Cullen. "This is where the differences of opinion converge."
And in places like the Spring Hill Cemetery, words, deeds and thoughtful introspection intersect. Especially when teenagers see the grave of a boy their age. It forces them to seriously think about making their own lives count.
"You only have one life," said Nathan Dust, a 17-year-old senior. "If you're not trying to better yourself then you're not doing anything."
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is email@example.com
[Last modified April 9, 2007, 21:35:03]
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