Positive Release: A Ranch Tradition
In my first month at the Ranch, I witnessed what we call a positive release.
A positive release is what we call the ceremony conducted when a boy at the Ranch successfully completes the catalyst program and is ready to return to a home. The ceremony is steeped in traditions that have been around for over forty years.
Staff, residents, and the family or program that will care for the resident being released gather in a circle on benches, recliners, and chairs in Darr Open Dorm. It begins with a resident of the hour speaking words of encouragement to every resident in his dorm. After he encourages his fellow resident, the other replies with words of gratitude and challenge. After the boy being released completes the circle of residents, he does the same for each staff in the room. When his has thanked every staff, he finishes his words of gratitude and encouragement on his family. This time is raw, vulnerable, and filled with intentionality that is not often duplicated in the adult world. Staff and family unfamiliar with the process can feel uncomfortable at the courage each resident shows when encouraging and thanking his friends, staff, and family at a positive release.
After the words of encouragement are spoken, the resident pins his name to the Positive Release Board- adding his name to our Hall of Fame.
The physical symbolism of his transformation concludes with the resident being lifted and rotated by his fellow dormmates. The resident hand picks who he wants to lift to be at his feet, legs, shoulders, and head for the process. After lifting the resident above their heads, the group of boys rotate the resident in a clockwise circle to symbolize his complete transformation. When the resident returns to his feet, his time at the Ranch is concluded. He the packs his things and moves out to continue his journey with his family, a relative placement, other foster placement, or a group home.
After I witnessed my first positive release, I spent some time enjoying the snacks provided for the occasion while meeting other boys who were to remain in the dorm. I picked up a conversation with a resident who we will call K. K and I talked about basketball, his hopes for being released, and what he wants to do after.
Fast forward eight months, and it was K’s turn to thank me at his positive release.
“Mr. Colby, we first met at a positive release months ago. When we met, we made a deal. If I got a positive release, you’d be there. We shook hands, and now we are here.”
My stomach dropped. I had no idea that I made that pact. I forgot most of our original conversation. It was a small conversation to me, but a huge one for him. I am just glad I didn’t miss it.
Soon, it was K’s dad’s turn to speak encouragement.
“I don’t know what some of you guys are gonna think of this, but fifteen years ago people spoke over my son’s life and said that his life was gonna be used to impact others. When I look around the room and see all of you, I see that he is already changing lives.”
K broke down, cried, and hugged his dad.
Outside the ranch, some view the boys as a monolith. They are all just a boy with a behavior problem. They are at the ranch because they “need help.” I understand why some hold this view, but I think it is at best, simplistic, and at worst, harmful.
We believe that each boy that comes to us has potential to make a positive difference in their world.
We see the boys that come to us as whole humans equipped with a unique blend of preferences, interests, hobbies, weaknesses, strengths, accomplishments and mistakes. And we help boys understand the root what motivates all their behaviors, the good and the bad, so they can equip themselves with tools to accomplish what they want in life and overcome their past mistakes on the way.
If K’s time at the ranch was just about him learning from his mistakes, all of his staff and fellow residents would be missing out on all K has to offer. If K was just a boy with a behavior problem, there would have been no point in having a positive release ceremony. But K was a young man whose journey had a pit stop at the ranch. At that pit stop, there were hundreds of lives that were encouraged by his resiliency, kindness, and energy. The positive release ceremony was a time for us all to reflect on the ways K has changed, and the ways K has changed our lives.
When I shook hands with K, I thought he was the one who was getting the deal. But today, I am glad we made that pact because my life is better for it.