Leave No Candle Burning For Me.
February 7,1985 to July 1986
I was newcomers with Todd Eckelberger when he victoriously copped out the very first time from Springfield,Virginia Straight. One of the bravest people I`ve ever met in my entire Life. Todd Eckelberger`s escapes from Springfield,Straight are Legendary. Fortunately they are all listed on this very website. Todd Eckelberger is a Hero. Todd reminds me of the 1970 bestselling autobiographical book, “Papillon” (by Henri Charrière) and the 1973 blockbuster movie, “Papillon” starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. In both the book and film, Henri “Papillon” Charriere is unjustly and wrongly convicted of murder (specifically, murdering a pimp) in 1930s France. He is sentenced to life imprisonment in the notorious French penal colony on Devil`s Island, off the coast of French Guiana. His prison years were filled with numerous and colorful escapes. Todd and his copouts from Straight perfectly mirrors Papillon and his prison escapes. As for Todd, you can read all about his heroic copout in his very own words on this website as ”Todd Eckelberger pt 2″ aka “How I Copped Out From 1st Phase.” It`s a wild story and I encourage you all to read it. As for what you are about to read here, this is the only time ever during my 17 miserable months at Springfield,Virginia Straight when I personally “witnessed” someone successfully escape right in front of me with my own two eyes. I`ll never forget it as long as I live. The real names of the two oldcomers has been changed. What you`re about to read is my own personal vantage point of Todd Eckelberger flying out of, and flying over, the crazy Cuckoo`s Nest of Straight Incorporated. In writing this story I have held myself to the same, exact high standards that I always hold everyone else to who writes and submits their copout stories. Over the course of writing this account, I did countless rewrites and numerous revisions. It`s a good read so I encourage you, the reader, to take this journey. You`ll be glad you did. So I now say to you in the words of the late, great Hunter S Thompson, “Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride.”
This spectacular copout occurred on May 18 or 19th of 1985 while being incarcerated at Springfield,Virginia Straight. 1985 was the worst year of my entire Life. At the time,Todd Eckelberger and I had been newcomers together at this particular foster home in Vienna,Virginia for 3 to 4 weeks. It had been yet another grueling and miserably long day for Todd and I both being held against our will at the Straight Funny Farm. Another groundhog day of having our minds and souls, poisoned and polluted, nonstop with toxic Straight propaganda which is far worse then any Nuclear Waste on the Planet. So the hostfather picks us all up in the van at the infamous gravel parking lot in back of that insane Warehouse on Backlick Road in Springfield and drives us all back to his home in Vienna,Virginia. The 4 of us “Straightlings” had spent the entire car ride home writing our worthless M.I.`s. It was some kind of a van where the side door opened laterally. Todd was sitting right next to the sliding side door in the back all the way home. Cliff the oldcomer was sitting to the left of Todd and I was sitting on the other side of Cliff. So we all arrive back at the foster home and pull into their driveway. It was so dark. Out of the blue I remember hearing and seeing oldcomer Cliff saying, “Todd!!!!!!” or “Todd hold on!!!!!!!” or “Todd wait!!!!!!” Suddenly, Todd bolted out of that van,away from that driveway and flew off into the darkness of the night. He copped out right in front of all of us and hauled ass like a bat out of hell. He erupted out of there like he had a state of the art rocket engine strapped to his ass! He flew out of there as if he had silver wings on both his feet. Todd racing out there at lightning speed reminded me of “The Flash,” the famous comic book superhero (from DC comics) who runs with “super-speed,” which includes the ability to run and move extremely fast. Todd exploded out of there with the same mega speed as all those bloodthirtsty zombies in the 2002 post-apocalyptic, science fiction horror film, “28 Days.” Todd sped out of there like the USS Enterprise flying through space on top warp speed! All of these colorful descriptions are all 100% accurate. It was all so shocking,astonishing,exciting, stunning and dramatic to witness. Scary as hell too! I was just as stunned and caught off guard as the oldcomers and the hostfather was. We were all completely blindsided by what was happening.
Both of the “washed” oldcomers Cliff and Jerry chased after him. Neither of the oldcomers had ever been in this situation before coupled with the fact they were both totally caught off guard plus the fact it was nighttime all added to Todd`s advantages and compounded the oldcomers disadvantages. While the oldcomers were hunting after Todd, I was panicking and freaking out all by myself while sitting unguarded inside the van. I`m ashamed and embarrassed to admit this but I`m going to say it anyway because it`s the truth. I was so stupid and so “brainwashed” that I was yelling out loud for someone to come rescue me, to come get me,beltloop me and take me inside the house. I was a coward! Straight had my mind, body and soul under lock and key. By Todd copping out he had given me a golden opportunity to copout as well. Sadly, I was so brainwashed by Straight that I didn`t take full advantage of this priceless gift of freedom that had been so freely given to me by our good friend Mr. Eckelberger. The two oldcomers forgot all about me in the heat of battle while running after Todd and trying to capture him.
At some point later the hostfather comes to my aid and sloppily grabs me by the back of my pants and escorts me inside the house. It was a comical beltlooping to say the least. It was the first and only time he had ever beltlopped someone. As he quickly escorted me from the car in the driveway all the way up to the house I could have very easily copped out because the hostfathers grip on my pants was so loose but I didn`t. This was the second window of opportunity to escape that I shattered. I was so badly brainwashed it was worse then pathetic. The fact that I willingly stayed put that night instead of taking off with Todd is a chilling example on the strangelehold power that the Straight cult had on me.
Cliff comes back inside the house and he stumbles and falls down right there in the open doorway. He was wet from falling into some family`s swimming pool in the neighborhood while giving chase. ( I would have loved to have seen the looks on those family members faces at the exact moments when Todd, and later his oldcomer, ran busting through their back yard, ran over that large tarp and then fell right into their swimming pool! *****LOL***** ) He was extremely exhausted,stressed out, and out of breath. He then says, “Call The Police!!!” It wasn`t long after this that we could overhear the drama of the father talking on the telephone in the kitchen in his deep voice to Straight staff telling them with his limited knowledge of what had just happened and giving them all the information he could about Todd. Eventually the other oldcomer Jerry came back to the house 10 to 15 minutes later after his failed search for the newcomer.
I remember later during the evening that the Straight-mom downplayed and was ignorantly dismissive of Todd`s escape. An escape that she didn`t even see happen nor did she know all of the details about either. She used a particular analogy, basically saying that anyone who is bound and determined to do something bad enough is going to do it no matter what. I totally (and respectfully) disagree with her. There were countless newcomers at the Straights from 1976 to 1993 who desperately tried to copout and failed. These very same people wanted to escape from Straight as badly as a person could ever possibly want something. They were just as bound and determined as all the people who succeded at escaping. Furthurmore, First phase is the toughest of all the phases to copout on. No doubt about it. The fact that she was never a newcomer proves she had no clue how extremely difficult it was for someone to copout from 1st phase. I think the hostmom and the rest of us were in super deep denial. We were all so brainwashed to the extreme by Straight that we were all unable or unwilling (or both) to admit that Todd had gotten one over on everyone and yet that` s exactly what happened. Todd cleverly found a weakness in Straight`s line of defense. He found that vital chink in the armor and the rest is history. Plus he used all of the darkness of the night to his advantage in getting away. Todd made it all look so easy when in reality it was anything but easy. It was an extremely difficult thing to pull off.
At one point the the hostmom suggested that the oldcomers go read Todd`s M.I.(Moral Inventory) to search for any clues and insights into his emotions,his state of mind and his motivations for doing what he had just done (escape.) There was no point to it because the bottom line was that Todd was gone and he was not coming back no matter what his M.I. said or didn`t say. Still, the oldcomers did exactly what the Straight mom suggested and read it. It was an amusing idea that proved to be a complete waste of time. They didn`t gain any advantages,revelations or understandings on any level about Todd. Todd`s M.I. didn`t reveal anything of substance because the whole thing was in Straight`s cult words, a FOS (Full Of Shit) M.I. ****LOL***** Todd outfoxed his oldcomers multiple times that night, first with the bogus M.I. and then by successfully copping out and finally by eluding capture with both of them hot on his trail.
Later that night the hostmom suggests we light a candle and place it on the mantel right next to the big living room window.The upstairs living room had this huge window and was facing the front outdoors of the house including the main street which ran past the house. This candle idea was even worse then the earlier bad idea about studying and examining Todd`s bogus M.I. This preposterous latest idea was based on the absurd theory (and wishful thinking) that sometime during the dark night that Todd would see the candle burning brightly and glowing in the upstairs living room window. In the hostmom`s mind,her hope was that this lit candle in the window would have some strong, profound, emotional,hypnotic and psychological effect on Todd which somehow would result in making him feel safe,liked,appreciated, loved and welcome enough to admit complete defeat and willingly come right back to the house,freely volunteering to being a miserable prisoner all over again in the very same host-home he had just fought so hard to escape from. Voluntarily returning to the foster home where he had been held against his will for the last month or so? He had also been held hostage in other foster homes for months and now the hostmom thinks that after he finally escapes that he is going to come back anyway. Not a snowball`s chance in Hell of that ever happening.There was not a person on the Planet who would have ever done something so stupid. Even though it was a pointless thing to do, a lit candle was placed and left burning in that living room window mantel all night long. Todd never saw that lighted candle in the window and even if he had he never would have come back to that house anyway. Todd knew damn well how Straight Incorporated operated. He knew all the verbal abuse, mental abuse and endless misery he would have suffered nonstop if he had dared to return to that foster home. Not only that but Todd was long gone from Vienna,Virginia and back in his beloved Fairfax,Virginia long before that candle in the window had even melted down even half an inch. Todd and I laughed our asses off about the lit candle in the window story many years later at Summer Straight Survivor Reunions. If Todd had actually come back to that hosthome that night, the two oldcomers would have been confronting the Hell out of him nonstop and making his life miserable. He wouldn`t have gotten much (if any) sleep at all that night. Plus he would have had to listen to my washed,obnoxious self, chiming in at every opportunity and agreeing with everything the oldcomers said to him no matter what it was. They also would have loudly confronted him endlessly all the next morning starting from the host-home and on the car ride all to way to the Straight building in Springfield and then Todd would have been blasted repeatedly all day long. No peace at all. Nothing positive would have been accomplished if Todd had returned to that foster home that night. Todd did the right thing by staying away and staying on the run. The streets are always better then Straight Incorporated.
That night and in the following days, I got so many undeserved compliments from everyone for not copping out myself. It was solid proof to them (in their warped minds) that I wasn`t a full of shit newcomer or a kiss ass. It convinced them that I was honest and super loyal to the extreme. How proud they were of me for not escaping when I had the chance. Everyone stayed up later then usual talking nonstop about what happened without directly mentioning Todd`s name and pretending to ourselves that we were not violating Straight`s sacred cult rule, “No Talking Behind Backs Rule.” The fact was we all broke the rule big-time as badly and as often as we possibly could without technically mentioning his name. It was very obvious the entire time who were all were talking about. Under any other circumstances the 3 of us would have been started over for breaking the rule. Todd`s copout drama dominated everyone’s emotions and thoughts all that night and following morning and for a longtime afterwards. Everyone in the house was emotionally hungover from the copout. We couldn`t stop thinking or talking about it. It was a very emotional night. Emotions were running sky high during and after the escape. Besides, we all had no lives to begin with so we all had nothing better to think about or talk about. That night I remember sitting in that living room of the host-home and thinking to myself that at some point Todd is going to come back to Straight and he`s going to end up making second phase long before I ever do. ( My prediction came true a few months later when Todd made second phase and my sorry ass continued to rot on first phase for many months longer.)
It was that very same night or the very next night when I wrote a very lengthy and big fat “good point” in my nightly M.I. that I felt so good about myself for being strong, for not copping out from Straight and not going back to drugs on the night Todd escaped.So with my backwards,illogical thinking what I was doing was praising myself for deciding to continue to remain a cult member locked up 24/7 in this fucked up warehouse in Springfield,Virginia by day and held hostage inside this foreign foster home in Vienna,Virginia by night. I`m quite sure I wrote other similar, nauseating “good points” in other boring M.I.`s the following nights crediting myself for talking about this crap in group,at the foster home, in the intake rooms and anywhere else I could get a captive audience of people to listen to me spew this junk. At the time I was so brainwashed to the very core of my being that I truely believed all of this nonsensical garbage that I was writing down on paper. What a waste of time, paper and pen ink! That`s right. A waste of time,paper and pen ink! This also sums up every M.I. I ever wrote for 17 months.
It was a brilliant and beautiful cop out and he deserves a lot of credit for it. It took a ton of guts and balls for Todd to do that for so many reasons. One of them is because Todd`s escape could just have easily gone the other way and blown up in his face. What I mean is that if Todd had tried to copout and failed and he was captured by one or both of his oldcomers they would have relentlessly gone after him like a pair of bloodthirsty piranhas. They would have made him suffer hour after hour after hour like few people do by screaming and yelling in his face all night long and all the next day. His ears would have been ringing and bleeding and hurting like Hell. Then the psychos in group plus the staff members would have also yelled and screamed at him nonstop once they got him back to the Straight building the next day. Then back at the host-home that night he would have received even more abuse and misery from everyone in the house. Not only did Todd have to physically escape from and outrun his two oldcomers that night but he also was racing against time to escape from the town of Vienna,Virginia as fast as possible. He successfully accomplished all of these things in less then an hour! With the confidence, precision,skill and savy of the seasoned professional gamblers in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, Todd masterfully rolled the dice many times that night and came up a winner every time! He cashed in bigtime that night. He won his FREEDOM!
Doing some Monday morning quarterbacking here years after the fact, one could argue in retrospect that Todd should never have been allowed to sit next to the door and also be the first one out of the van door once arriving at the foster home. It was a flawed seating arrangement that was doomed to fail. The oldcomers never should have allowed it. I`m amazed the oldcomers didn`t get in deep trouble over it in the days after the copout. That being said, I`m very glad it all happened in the way that it did. It was a bad seating arrangement which Todd expertly took full advantage of and exploited to perfection. He used the element of surprise with maximum power and effect! A shock and awe so to speak. I salute him for this.
Over the next days and weeks at Straight I got so much endless mileage from Todd`s copout that it was disgusting and ridiculous. Not copping out from Straight looks very,very,very good on newcomer Progress Reports when Homes Raps rolls around on Monday and Friday mornings. Not only that but I was praised by my oldcomers at the hosthome (and most likely other washed phasers at the Straight building) for not escaping right along with the other newcomer.So basically all those brainwashed dumbasses were thanking me and complimenting me for stupidly chosing to remain a hostage,a jailbird, a prisoner in this poisonous prison camp called Straight Incorporated. It was insane and absurd! In my sick mind I actually had something super interesting and exciting that I could talk about in the intake room and in raps. I must have earned 3 or more “talks” with my parents and brand new popularity with all the robotic phasers from sharing about all my traumatized feelings in Group at the Straight building and at the hosthome about Todd escaping that night. I shamelessly milked and bilked it for all it was possibly worth which actually was quite a lot in the wacky World of Straight Incorporated. My not “taking off” made me look super loyal and super honest in the evil eyes of Straight Inc. In reality I was neither. All I was, was super brainwashed,very inmature,very cowardly and very stupid. If I had to do it all over again I would have copped out right along with Todd that night. I found out years later that my hometown of Reston,Virginia was only 15 minutes away from this particular hosthome in Vienna,Virginia! The sad thing is that even if I had copped out that night (which I should have and I will always deeply regret that I didn`t,) my parents were so “brainwashed” by Straight they would have had me returned right back to the Straight cult.
Days later or a week later, Todd was illegally kidnapped and physically forced back to “Psycholand” aka “Straight”, where he was given the crazy “Start Over” after getting the psychotic verbal blastings by the brainedwashed nutcases in Group. A sick and disgusting ritual that all “copouts” are forced to endure from the circus freaks in group everytime they are returned to Straight after “splitting.” There were times when someone would “copout” and the parents told Straight where he was, the brainwashed staff would get some burly Straight parents (or others) to go on a manhunt bring the copout back by force. The old and outdated, “Bring Em Back Alive mentality” taken from the days of the Wild,Wild West. Another sick example of the lawlessness of Straight Incorporated. If the copout was at a specific location like his house or somewhere else, a bunch of Straight parents (and possibly even non Straight people) gang up on him, force him (or her) in a car and to prevent escape everyone would fill up inside the car to “maximum capacity” like a bunch of drunken college students on a rowdy “road trip” and escort their prisoner all the way back to Straight. In the days or weeks after Todd was forced back to the Straight concentration camp we find out that his plan all along had been to make 2nd phase and copout. It was a very good plan. Every Monday and Friday morning at Homes Rap, Todd kept putting in for T&R and “Home” over and over again and he kept earning only talk and it was at some point after that, that Todd appropriately took matters into his own hands. Todd did the right thing by escaping. No question about it. One could say (using dark and dry humor) that Todd made 2nd phase on that night that he copped out. I only wish that I had,had the same balls of steel that Todd had by going over the wall right along with him that night. If I had done so I would be posting a copout story of my very own right on this website and I would be joining the elite ranks of all my heroes who have ever copped out from Straight.
Talk about a small World! Many years later in the Summer of 2008 (right around the time that our fellow Straight Survivor Steve Brown died in Fairfax,Virginia) I met Mindy quite by accident through Craigslist and weeks later I eventually met her mother and became fast friends with them both. Mindy was living on the edge of Reston,Virginia and I was living on the South side of my beloved Reston,Virginia. One Summer Saturday, Mindy answered my various Craigslist ads where I was giving away free computer equipment and a boombox. She came by my house more then once that day to pick up the various computer items and the boombox and we exchanged multiple e-mails and we became fast friends. Mindy and I stayed up all night long talking on the phone (over 8 hours which is a personal telephone record for me which still stands to this day) and at some point during the conversation I mentioned Straight Incorporated and out of the blue she mentioned Todd Eckelbeger or asked me if I knew him! Mindy and I were were both floored beyond belief to discover that we were both involved in and both linked to the wild events (directly and indirectly) that occurred when Todd copped out back on that crazy Vienna night in 1985!
TODD ECKELBERGER YOU WILL ALWAYS BE MY HERO FOR COPPING OUT FROM STRAIGHT THAT NIGHT IN VIENNA,VIRGINIA. YOU DID THE RIGHT THING AND I WILL ALWAYS RESPECT AND ADMIRE YOU FOR IT. YOU ARE THE MAN!