Warehouse B
The Rainbow Effect
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Six Months In Jail For Pilfering Garbage


By James Donahue

September 2006


Conditional Christian love is flowing through the streets of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Two young men who stopped at a trash receptacle behind a fresh produce store to rummage for a possible meal learned the hard way just what that means. The assistant district attorney has thrown the book at them.


Giles Charle, 24, of Somersworth, N.H., and David Siller, 27, of Wayne, Pa., pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespass after they were nabbed by the town constable. They accepted a plea bargain after first being charged with felony second-degree burglary and misdemeanor theft.


The sentence: six months in the Routt County Jail and payment of $15 in restitution to Sweet Pea Produce. Even the owners and operators of Sweet Pea Produce said the sentence was too severe and asked that charges be dropped. After all, the men took spoiled sacks of produce from the trash which would have been carried off to the local landfill the next day anyway.


So what is the big deal? Why the tough sentence? Was it because the men were “outsiders” traveling through from other states? But Steamboat Springs, by its very name, is a popular resort community. Folks there are used to those outsiders coming to town, especially during the winter ski season.


So what was it that made local authorities treat these two men particularly rough?


It was because Giles Charle and David Siller were on their way to a summer gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, probably going on somewhere very close-by in the mountains and forests surrounding this scenic community. And where ever the Rainbow go, the local hate and bigotry and fear-mongering is sure to follow. They break all the rules set by traditional Christian values and are paying the price. Christians do not love unconditionally. The love, if you can call it that, is under certain conditions.


For readers that do not know about the Rainbow, it is an organization of contemporary hippies. They come from all over the country, sometimes staying together and traveling around like vagabonds, living off the land and living free. They camp under the stars, they sell home-made beads, jewelry and other things for food and other basic needs, and when the money is sparse they are known for raiding dumpsters behind restaurants and food stores to find a meal.


The big gatherings are week-long events. The participants come in brightly painted old school buses and a variety of other campers and cars that get parked in especially designated areas within a few miles of the gathering. The gathering itself sprawls over acres, with music events, arts and crafts and all kinds of happenings that somewhat resemble a circus atmosphere in the forest. Because these folks believe in total freedom they break a lot of rules established by the stiff-shirted constabulary in the towns nearby. And that is what makes the police boil.


I know a lot about the Rainbow gatherings because one was held in the forest nearby while I was working a few years back in Springerville, Arizona. Weeks before they arrived, the local authorities were holding town meetings, planning how to deal with what they believed was a “crisis situation.” Extra police were brought in. Stores were heavily guarded. Mothers kept their children home and behind closed doors.


There were press briefings with the police as the big event drew near. We were told what to look for, how the Rainbow are regarded as thieves, vagabonds and people to be leery of. Store owners were warned to watch closely for shop lifters and general misbehavior. By the time the big day arrived, the townspeople had generated a lot of personal fear within their hearts. They watched from between drawn curtains as the classic Volkswagen vans and bright painted buses and campers rumbled through town on their way into the hills beyond.


As a veteran reporter and a guy who already knew a little about the Rainbow family, I also was preparing to cover this amazing event. But I wanted to get the real story, not just what the police were preparing to hand out. I found the Rainbow website, got some e-mail addresses of some of the leaders, and made contact long before the gathering. By the time they were in place, I was on the scene, meeting them in person.


There were some very well-to-do and intelligent people at that gathering. I met writers, musicians, business people and a lot of eager, bright-eyed youth with no malice at heart. They were contemporary rebels against the established world and were gathering just to have a good time. They dressed in bright clothes, if they dressed at all. Some walked around the camp half dressed, or wearing no clothes at all. After the initial shock, the sight of naked people got so common you hardly noticed.


I pulled some great feature stories with lots of color art out of that encampment. I also balanced my stories with the police reports of arrests on charges of shoplifting and vagrancy and other petty stuff. Some drug arrests. There were thousands of people, a lot of middle aged and older folk from the original hippie era participating. And what surprised me is that there were no incidents of violence. I think we had a couple of people picked up by ambulance . . . one got hurt in a fall and the other just got sick.


A staff photographer and I attended the grand finale on the last day when everybody marched in costume. There were full bands playing, marchers that looked like they came right out of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, and lots of nudity. There was eye candy in that parade for everybody. The photographer, who had not been with me to the gathering, was dumbfounded at what he saw. The whole event left us somewhat dazed and looking at the world in a somewhat different light.


After the gathering, a contingent of workers stayed on the grounds for another week or two, cleaning up. When they left the place looked clean. The only sign that they were there was the flattened grass and marks in the dirt.


No town should fear the Rainbow. That they treated these two young men the way they did in Steamboat Springs is a travesty. These boys did not deserve what happened to them.


That community treated these men like bums. Actually they are far from that. Charle is a social worker and Siller a volunteer for Americorps and a yoga instructor. Both men are college graduates with plans to attend graduate school.