Wilderness of Sinners

VQ2In 1997 Tom Gold left Bristol to go and work at Vision Quest, an American youth programme.

As a daydreamer in search of adventure, swapping a job in the dreary confines of a secure psychiatric unit to work as an outdoor instructor in the high desert of Arizona seemed like a no brainer and as an aspiring psychologist trying to get his foot on the first rung it looked like the sort of move that would finally launch his career.

Unfortunately, not only was Vision Quest home to America’s most notorious young offenders, it was little more than a remote collection of tipis and trailers in a vast ocean of sand, cactus and rock. It was staffed by a small group of ranch hands, ex-soldiers and drifters under Bill Lafleur, a man who believed in discipline, confrontation and bizarre Native American philosophy.

The fifteen tough, hostile young men Tom was made responsible for made it plain from the start he was not welcome but having grown up with the institutional brutality of an English public school, the daily violence of the perimeter was strangely familiar and after a lifetime of watching westerns, Arizona’s spectacular landscape felt like home from day one.

From the savage bear pit of the impact camp to the high trails of the Chiracauha mountains and from the baking darkness of the ‘sweat lodge’ to the majesty of ancient forests, Tom and his boys embarked on what would become a rite of passage for them all.


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