Twin Pines Ranch Bunkhouse. Photo by Nancy Layton

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a story about Riverside County’s Twin Pines Ranch. The first part appeared in the Feb. 14 edition of the Town Crier.

By Nancy Layton
Special Correspondent

After seeing the outlying areas of Twin Pines Ranch YOP (Youth Offender Program) during their tour of the facility on Wednesday, Feb. 6, the 32 Idyllwild Rotarians and guests went downstairs to the recreation room under the bunkhouse.

There they saw a long, brightly lit room with ping-pong and pool tables, weight machines, and a couple classrooms. “When I got here, this room was dark and dingy,” said Ranch Director Jimmy Shorter, gesturing toward a wall painted white above Kelly green, with a large image of the school mascot — the Bobcats — meticulously reproduced on the wall. “I didn’t like being down here and figured the boys didn’t either, so we got busy and painted it. Now the boys enjoy coming down here in the evenings after they have their homework and housekeeping duties finished.”

Everywhere a guest looks around the Ranch, proof of the hard work the many residents have put in since it was founded in 1947 is evident. Concrete driveways and sidewalks and much of the construction of the buildings came from the boys’ vocational work.

Even the small vegetable garden in front of the “chuckwagon,” as the dining hall is called, the planted trees and shrubs and the large expanses of green grass were the products of the landscape and grounds maintenance program in which some of the boys have participated. But their vocational work comes after their academic work.

Every morning, Monday through Friday, the boys attend accredited high school classes at the Ranch. Many complete their high school diplomas or GED certificates while there; others go on to regular or continuation high schools after leaving Twin Pines. College or advanced vocational training is the goal for some.

The boys have the opportunity to advance themselves through the grades and vocational ranks every 45 days. They’re encouraged to set their own goals and find plenty of support to achieve them.

Shorter was candid though about the problems he and the staff deal with every day. “These boys have to learn to control their impulsiveness and anger. Sometimes their individual anger erupts, often over almost nothing. Next thing, we hear gang language and see that type of behavior. We don’t like the boot-camp structure here anymore, but we have to keep a strict discipline over the boys until they learn to discipline, to control themselves.”

This message was echoed by three of the current residents during lunch with the Rotarians. Joe, 16, from Moreno Valley talked briefly about the family problems that drove him to behavior that earned him a place at Twin Pines.

He talked at length, however, about his plans for the future. “I want to be a firefighter,” he said, hope and determination shining in his eyes. “I know the path I’ve got to follow to get there and I’m …,” he hesitated, “I’m not gonna let the guys I hung with before mess up my plan. I know what I got to do, now.”

Gus, 17, from Riverside wants to work in the construction trades, especially concrete and stone masonry. He’s one of the residents who is currently working to finish building a new outdoor barbeque area, with attractive stuccoed half-walls topped with concrete slabs that provide outdoor seating around the grass areas in front of the chuckwagon.

His pride in his work at Twin Pines was clear as he talked. But he, too, spoke of the hard influence he knows his former “crew” represents.

Chris, 16, from Blythe a two-timer at the Ranch, said, “I know what my problems are. I have a better sense now of what I need to do. I don’t want to come back here again. I mean, it’s not a bad place, you can see that, but … yeah, it’s still incarceration. That’s not what I want for myself.”

Gus summed it up best. “While you’re here, you got to fulfill the reason you’re here. I know my reason. I ain’t afraid to stick it out.”

At the end of the Rotary field trip, Shorter emphatically stated, “We’ll take whatever help our communities can give. We know we have to give back. We’re constantly looking for community service projects for the boys who need those hours.

“But, we’ll also take any help, like maybe you could teach a writing class. Or maybe you know a photographer who’d like to donate some teaching time here,” Shorter continued to identify the assistance they would use. “We’re looking for these kinds of opportunities for the boys, in addition to their required vocational work and regular classes.”