Screen Survivor Stories: Summary of Holes

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The 2003 movie Holes, based on the book written by Louis Sachar, follows 14-year-old Stanley Yelnats’s experience with the juvenile justice system. Stanley is wrongfully accused of stealing from a homeless shelter because he cannot afford decent legal representation. Stanley is sentenced to Camp Green Lake. 

When he arrives, Stanley quickly realizes Camp Green Lake is a juvenile corrections facility run by a corrupt and unreasonable warden and two counselors, Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski. Each boy is expected to dig one large hole a day in the Texas desert, searching for a rumored treasure chest to deliver to the warden. The conditions are brutal. The counselors withhold water and other basic necessities and subject the boys to emotional humiliation and manipulation. They get away with it by forging and destroying official documentation to cover it up.

Stanley struggles at first to make friends with the other boys at Camp Green Lake and is bullied until he finds a way to stand up for himself. As he builds relationships, he learns that most boys have been at camp for a long time without contact with their families, courts, or child protection. 

Stanley is the only boy we see in contact with his family but does not share the realities of camp. Instead, he paints a picture of a happy and healthy summer camp environment. Stanley recognizes what he is up against. The boys have little control or power in the situation, and they are isolated from the outside world. Even in Stanley’s case, as one of the few with contact with other adults, he is too afraid to tell them what is happening and knows that his family has very few resources to do anything about it. This allows a cycle of corruption and exploitation to continue. 

This film showcases the vulnerabilities to trafficking that youth face as a result of coming in contact with the juvenile justice system. The boys at Camp Green Lake are forced to perform intense manual labor in unfair and dangerous working conditions with no safe and supportive adult to advocate for their rights or wellbeing. After repeated and prolonged exposure to this treatment, this abuse is normalized for these youth, making them more likely to experience trafficking throughout their lifetime. 

There is so much we can learn from human trafficking in this film. See it now.

Discussion Questions

  1. What sort of necessities does Camp Green Lake keep from the children in order to maintain power and control over them?
  2. Stanley ends up at Camp Green Lake after he is wrongfully convicted of stealing a pair of sneakers. How did the juvenile legal system fail Stanley, and all of the other kids?
  3. How does not having a guardian to advocate for him affect how Zero is treated at Camp Green Lake? How can forming strong relationships and mentorship with at-risk youth lessen their risk of being exploited?
  4. Most incarcerated youth in juvenile detention have a high rate of traumatic experiences as children. Studies show that positive childhood experiences can offset the harm that these negative experiences have. Who are some characters, especially adults, in Holes that offer a healthy, supportive relationship for any of the kids? How do you think this can be applied to preventing human trafficking?