Life at a brainwashing "school for troubled teens"

Tyrsalvia sez, "This detailed and heart-wrenching account of life in a 'boarding school for troubled teens' has me shaking with rage. Kids are sent to these places for everything ranging from 'having low self esteem' to having been caught with drugs, to being gay or otherwise 'weird.' While there, they are abused and taught to abuse each other in a way I can only describe as Stanley Milgram meets George Orwell."

On May 10th of 2007 at around 2:30 in the morning two strangers barged into my bedroom. I started screaming and crying, as in my mind I was sure that these two strangers had broken into my house and were going to abduct me, rape me, kill me, or in some way harm me. They immediately told me that if I did not shut up that they would handcuff me. I was not being in any way violent or threatening. I was reacting in fear for my life by being vocal and hoping that someone would come to help. I had no idea what was going on. I stopped screaming, still in fear for my life. They started going through my closet digging out clothes as I was only in a night gown. They still had not explained what was going on. I asked, frightened, what the wanted from me, trying to see if I could in some way appease them and get them to leave. They then explained that they were going to take me to a school. It took me a second to understand what they meant by this, as this was an extremely bizarre way to introduce a child to a new school. It then occurred to me that this was what my mother had arranged for my brother several years ago when she had him shipped away to Cross Creek. The two strangers were from Teen Escort Service, a for-profit company that transports teenagers, usually by force, to WWASP (World Wide Association of Specialty Programs) facilities.

A gay teen describes her experience at a Utah brainwashing facility

(Thanks, tyrsalvia!)


  1. Thank you so much for covering this. Never thought I’d see this out in the open. I was a victim 20+
    years ago of a similar brainwashing factory in Hackensack that went by the name Kids of Bergen County, an offshoot of a
    “program” called Straight. Look up both, you’ll be surprized
    what horror you’ve opened up.

    1. Mel Sembler, founder of Straight Inc. is still doing his torturing at various facilities in Florida and served as an Ambassador under G.W. Bush. I have more than one friend who was scared for life by that psycho’s twisted world view. If there is a Hell, that “person” has a private table in the kitchen.

    2. So sorry you had to go through that. I was just looking up WWASP on Wikipedia, and I ran across the book Help at Any Cost, which mentions the Kids of Bergen County. Looks like a good read.

    3. Same here.

      ’86-87. 16 months at Provo Canyon School which later became Chater Canyon School.

      The “kidnapping” described is accurate. I can tell you this kind of program/environment causes more harm and creates more complex issues than it solves.

      Beyond this, I would prefer not to open these wounds.

      1. I’ve driven past that place numerous times.

        I had no idea it was like this…

        Fucking hell…

    4. Firewood, I know of that place.

      When I was 15 I was in the local teen crisis intervention unit at St Clares. Bunch of the kids I was in with who were suspected or known to use were sent to that place. I just recall being horrified to hear they were all told ahead of time that they’d be there 18-24 months!

      I didn’t get to go home after my max one month stay at St. Clares, but thankfully I went to somewhere that wasn’t a horror house. I went to Four Winds up in Katonah, NY for a year. Place was heaven compared to what I just read in this posting on Reddit.

    5. Amazing how something like this can flood you with memories (mine came from Straight Inc. St. Petersburg).

  2. Man some people have some shtty fckng parents. I guess this is an bizarro world alt-take on “scared straight.” We’re going to have you kidnapped by strangers, transported by strangers and raised by strangers. What could go wrong? :-/

  3. I’m sure some people who have gone through this will argue otherwise but this is completely and undeniably child abuse and parents who do this to their children should permanently lose custody and get chemically castrated to make sure they never get a chance to do this to any other kids. This kind of disgusting behavior is nothing more than unfit parents who cannot cope with reality and should be locked up in an insane asylum. Parents’ rights go only so far and this is beyond the pale.

  4. They should make some camp like that, where the kids are subtly being pushed into staging a revolt/escape. A freedom fighter’s bootcamp.

    1. happens more than you’d think. had 3 friends in highschool that got taken in the middle of the night by people like this that their parents hired. scary shit

  5. I was just reading Shockwave Rider by John Brunner and I was immediately reminded of Anti-Trauma Inc., “who are hired to “normalize” children” (quoting wikipedia)… yeah, this is some sick stuff. Of course, the methods probably aren’t the same, but still, parents sure put children through all kinds of bad stuff, especially when they think it’s for their own good.

    1. @Anon, I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only person for whom this story brought to mind John Brunner’s Shockwave Rider. The more I see these days, the more I’m coming to think that Brunner was particularly prescient, and not just about operations like the one in this article.

  6. Good god, I am horrified. I read the entire account, and.. words fail me.

    The people that run these facilities need to be tried for crimes against humanity.

    1. Indeed they do, instead they are celebrated as heroes by our Godly Conservative brethren. Go figure.

      1. Go figure, indeed Cigarism! I agree with JProffitt71 “The people that run these facilities need to be tried for crimes against humanity.”, but STRONGLY disagree with your assumption that these people are “celebrated as heroes by our Godly Conservative brethren”. I know of no one in a very broad circle of “Godly Conservatives” who would do anything other than utterly condemn such actions against children. That’s the problem with trying to attach political labels to every human issue to further support your own political agenda.

        1. Sounds very lovely and I’m sure you mean it, but it’s pretty hard to think of any socially conservative authoritarian American ‘liberals’ outside of Tipper bloody Gore.

    1. Most of that behavior clearly is not legal, but there’s just not enough pressure being exerted to counter the groups’ considerable political leverage and successfully convict them of crimes.

  7. I’ve heard ads for this kind of insane bullshit on right wing radio stations that carry such nutcases as Glenn Beck, etc. on their evil airwaves. Yes, I listen to that inane horseshit all the time so I know what the enemy of humanity is up to.

    It’s like a bad horror movie….. neocons are a disease upon this Earth brought from the depths of hell to make ALL of our lives a dire struggle for everything from basic health care to basic human rights. All they know is fear, war, ignorance and hatred.

    I really wish the rest of society who isn’t batshit insane neocon nutjobs would set up facilities that will treat their conservative disease in a humane way… to help these people become humane.

    We need to stop coddling these psychopaths. We can start with their leaders like Palin, Gingrich, etc.

    This is the end result of coddling neocon psychopaths.

  8. Until reading this post, i totally forgot, repressed i guess, that one of my best friends, one of the 5 kids i always hung out with growing up, got taken away by people his parrents hired and off to one of these schools for 4 years and i never saw him again. Similar handcuffs threat, thats what jogged the memory. It shook every kid in the area, anyone who heard, and mind you many didnt want to talk about it becuase they feared their parrents were going to do the same thing, like me, so i never told my parrents about it or many others, except friends in super secret. f**k, this is such bull. now im mad. i cant believe this is common. flskajdsalkjdsl;kjdlkslkfjdsla

  9. How can this type of abuse be legal? How is oversight for these facilities organized? It all sounds so much like a cult or worse.

  10. Google “the straights” for the horrifying story of drug rehab in Florida and the Republican fundraiser that supported it. Mel Sembler. Then google him with others like Jeb Bush and think about what kind of education reform they think about when they are thinking kindly thoughts about employing your children on their plantations.

  11. Sound like it’s ineffective. The brainwashing didn’t work. From the description, I wonder why anyone thinks it would work?

  12. This is a common tactic used against teen adoptees who aren’t grateful enough, as well. They’re labeled with “RAD” (reactive attachment disorder) and sent to these schools/camps over and over until they comply with how they’re supposed to act at home.

  13. I grew up (spent my teen years) in a similar treatment center in Portsmouth, VA. They liked kids like me. Unlike the kids with parents whose insurance would run out, I was a state-money kid. The state never ran out of money, and foster homes don’t tend to take black teenage girls, so we were the cash cows.

    Housing me from the age of 14 to the age of 17 (1986-1989) cost the Commonwealth of Virginia roughly four million dollars. For me alone. Shit, they should have just given it to my lesbian mother they took me away from, and they would have never had a problem out of us again.

  14. If this was happening in my country, I would put a stop to it, whatever it takes. If it’s happening in your country, you should.

    1. Nice thought. It’s not really our country. The people it belongs to like to pretend it’s ours, it makes things easier.

  15. I am surprised at the lack of comments regarding the parents; didn’t the parents initiate the experience? The parents chose to give their responsibility to someone else, someone that THEY chose to raise their children.
    That is what I see as the real crime here. I’ll bet that the parents knew exactly what their kids were in for, and gladly said “Yes, take my child”

    The criminals are the parents. The school only was doing what they were hired to do by the parents. It was their choice.

    ( I sure would have loved to have my mother grabbed up in her sleep and sent to a school for bad moms when I was a kid)

  16. Punishing a kid for being anything other than heterosexual is pointless and counterproductive. The most you could ever hope to do is sexually repress your child and virtually guarantee them lifelong isolation, depression and probably an eventual suicide. All to satisfy your own idea of what’s right and wrong in the bedroom.

    If, on the other hand, you have a kid with criminal tendencies, that is a legitimate problem and you’re right to seek professional help to rehabilitate the kid before things get worse. However, it does no good to simply dump the kid off at some place where psychological torture and regular beatings are the order of the day. All this will do is legitimize the misanthropic thoughts that drives criminal behavior in the first place, and the kid you get back from the “camp” might be twice as monstrous as the one you dropped off there. Lock your bedroom door at night.

    If you’re too stupid to send your kid for psychoanalysis and then find a suitable rehab program, then maybe your kid is right in disregarding your authority. Try to pay attention and handle problems the right way the first time, instead of fucking up over and over and hoping other people can pick up your slack. If you don’t know how to raise a kid, either get help for yourself or stop having kids.

  17. Jesus, how can this even happen? The people that bust into rooms to hail people away should be shot in the face. Hopefully it happens sometimes.
    This is just an extension of the for-profit prison system in America where we warehouse people. Sickening.

  18. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of kids getting taken away by the WWASP but it’s the first time I’ve heard of their facilities by name.

    From what I’ve read about them, and what a friend of mine who was also sent to one said, most of their facilities are in the Caribbean, on Jamaica, though there are some like Cross Creek in the continental United States.

    It’s pretty horrifying. I’ve read stories of straight A students who just weren’t perfect enough getting sent to these places. They get brainwashed into acting like perfect children, but when schools over they’re so broken they can’t integrate properly.

    Anyways they’ve been at this for more than ten years and nobody has stopped them yet.

  19. The first thing you should teach your children is how to fuck up anyone who messes with them. Even if it’s you. Especially if it’s you.

  20. The first thing you should teach your children is how to fuck up anyone who messes with them. Even if it’s you. Especially if it’s you.

    Nothing like keeping the tone of the world’s spiritual traditions, eh? Instead of turn the other cheek, just fuck them over. As for messing with kids, isn’t that the definition of parenting? And to the extent that its an inadequate, incomplete definition, where do you draw the line? You can’t answer this because there is no line, just shades of gray and silly advice like “fuck up anyone who messes with you”.

    1. “As for messing with kids, isn’t that the definition of parenting?”

      The goal of parenting is or ought to be producing a functional adult. This appears to do the opposite.

      “where do you draw the line?”

      That things come in shades of gray it does not follow that everything is relative. It is always possible to find areas of ambiguity in any crime but that doesn’t mean we should just give up. Parents have a duty not to abuse their children. This pretty clearly crosses that line.

      1. Indeed it fucking does. I’m fairly sure that here in the UK, for all the failings of our care system, shit like this is seriously illegal.

        And Antinous, you are exactly right. There’s no ‘turn the other cheek’ here. Fuck that.

      2. @neon: i don’t disagree for one moment that this totally crosses the line. i simply disagree that antinuous’ remark makes any sense at all in the form that it was given.

    2. There are no shades of gray here. Those children should have grabbed any potential weapon at hand and tried to kill or maim their abductors. When that was done, they should have turned their fury on their parents.

      It doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 50, if someone tries to kidnap you, you do everything possible to incapacitate them. And then you do everything possible to destroy the people who ordered it.

      Instead of turn the other cheek

      I would really like to see you in action, turning the other cheek, as you’re being dragged out of your bedroom in the middle of the night to be sent to a brainwashing camp. For all the people wondering how these companies manage to get away with this, your comment provides a clear answer.

      1. You didn’t provide any nuance or particulars to your suggestion that we should teach our kids to “fuck with anyone who messes with you”. You didn’t say “fuck up anyone who tries to kidnap you”. You didn’t say “fuck up anyone who tries to hurt you”. You said:

        The first thing you should teach your children is how to fuck up anyone who messes with them. Even if it’s you. Especially if it’s you.

        As it happens, to you and to everyone else who thinks that I in anyway condone or approve of what is described in the article, I do not. I think its absolutely appalling and so far over the line of acceptability that “fucking with” the people who allowed it to happen is fine. Even though I can imagine some circumstances where the parents involved thought they were doing the right thing, they absolutely were not.

        But I’m also against cheap, cool-sounding yet empty axioms like “fuck up anyone who messes with you” provided without context or nuance.

        I’d also note that attempting to “fuck up” people who are (1) more numerous than you (2) stronger than you (3) determined to do what someone has paid them to, is more likely to get you hurt than just about any other outcome. You’re seriously advising a teenage girl to use sufficient force on people (appallingly) given permission by her (deluded) parents to take her away that they will fail in that attempt? Are you out of your mind? She will fail, and the consequences of her attempt will (disgracefully) worse than they would have been otherwise. There are situations where “fucking up” people is just the wrong thing to do, but your exhortation to train our kids properly left no room for this elementary subtlety.

        1. Context blatantly given by the subject of the thread. It’s clear what was meant.

          Also, the reason a teenage girl would fail at fucking someone up would be because they hadn’t been taught to do so, something that Antinous specifically advises.

          Given the context of this situation, and reading the comments of those who have experienced this kind of treatment, I’m not sure it’s a given that the consequences of self-defence would be worse.

          All that said, it’d be better to teach children how to get the fuck out of a kidnap situation, and then provide a network of protection centres to care for the victims of this kind of violence.

          It’s pretty clear that Antinous’ comment was an expression of anger – a polarised expression of what’s quite a good idea (make sure your kids have the knowledge and ability to protect themselves from harm). No need to pretend otherwise.

          1. Also, the reason a teenage girl would fail at fucking someone up would be because they hadn’t been taught to do so, something that Antinous specifically advises.

            My daughters will no doubt be thrilled that in addition to their school classes, their extra-curricular activities and the occasional household chore, they’re going to take training in resisting kidnapping by people trained and paid to do it for a living. Its one thing to do self-defense classes that are designed for semi-random assaults, particularly sexual ones. My older daughter has taken one of these, and it seemed like it was a pretty good experience. Its something else to imagine that teenagers should become sufficiently skilled at fighting techniques that they could tackle a multi-person kidnapping.

            I don’t agree that its pretty clear that Antinous’ comment was an expression of anger. There are lots of other expressions of anger in this comment thread, and its right that there should be. But this comment provided a specific exhortation on how to train our kids, an exhortation that I think is vague and as often as not, dangerously misguided.

    3. @pauldavis: I would suggest drawing the line somewhere considerably before “arranging to have your children kidnapped”. And I think it’s pretty sound advice to anyone at the wrong end of a kidnapping to GTFO by any means available even if that means stabbing your assailants in the eyes with the nearest sharp object. If anyone attempted to do that to me i’d kill them dead or die trying.

    4. Yes, ‘turn the other cheek’ is exactly what I’d want a daughter of mine to do if she’s about to be beaten and raped.

      No, wait. Not that, the other thing.

      Right. I meant KILL BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY WHOEVER tries to beat and rape her.

      And she would be well taught how to do just that by her father.

    5. Did it ever occur to you that the world’s spiritual traditions might be part of the problem as far as these kinds of venomous attitudes towards children are concerned? Fundamentalism almost always seems to be strongly correlated with treating children as livestock to be molded, shaped, and sold off through marriage at will-and harshly punished for refusing to cooperate.

      I also think that turn the other cheek, in my experiences, kind of fails horribly. If these kidnappers really believed that they might get killed for doing what they do, I’ll bet that a lot of them would have second thoughts about going into a career like this.

  21. I too was abducted as a teenager and incarcerated in one of these facilities for using drugs to cope with abuse from my sister and father – the same one who had me abducted. I was at a gas station with a friend and two big guys grabbed me and threw me in handcuffs. I yelled that I was being kidnapped and a police officer was there. The thugs showed him a court order placing me in custody of the school I was to be taken to and the officer said there was nothing he could do. The facility was one of the better ones but it was still psychologically scarring to me. I never received help for my issues and had nightmares for over a decade about the experience. It shows how sick our country is that we substitute abuse for love. These kids are swallowed up in a black hole and their lives are never the same. I never recovered from my experience and was never able to trust people again. This sort of treatment is merely an extension of the same parental abuse that likely caused the problems in the first place.

    1. Write the judge who wrote that order.

      Tell him exactly what the consequences were of his action.

      Send a copy to the chief administrative judge of your state, the president of the state bar association, and the chair of the association’s family law section.

      Ask what they will do to prevent children from suffering any more unmitigated abuses like yours in the future.

      Send as it an op-ed piece, in the form of an open letter to those people, to the newspaper in your state capitol.

      It may not make a difference, but it might.

  22. Protecting your physical and mental health is the primary concern.

    You kill anyone who threatens it.

  23. Too right.
    Rather than turn the other cheek,
    I’ll turn the other’s cheek.

    -Throw a Stone for Jesus-

  24. Dear Anonymous (the hackers/protesters with Guy Fawkes masks):

    Please release a data dump with personal details of the owners, staff, supporters of these places. Please post info about the parents who take part in this madness.

    Please, please, violate the privacy of those people.

    If ever there was a good reason for a mob with pitchforks and torches, this is it.

  25. Reading this sort of stuff terrifies me. A man like me shouldn’t be able to read something and think “yeah, there are thousands of people who are worse parents than I would be”. At least I know the way my instincts tell me to touch young boys is wrong and I might stay stable enough to not forget that. Not to mention, I believe that severe violence starting from around age eight is what made me the man I am today, so I worry about what sort of damage people who’ve been through this sort of experience might have, and what urges they might have to fight.

    I’m usually not too hot on the Second Amendment, but I think this is a clear-cut case for forming a militia and spilling some blood. Raze these places to the fucking ground.

  26. Boarding schools have a legitimate purpose. This is not one of them. I’ve heard of WWASP before, and am firmly convinced that they pretty much exist to prey on the fears of parents & exploit children for money–much like the correctional facilities in Pennsylvania that were giving kickbacks to judges.

    New idea: Public schools should start teaching Judo & other self-defense courses at age 8 as part of a mandatory physical education program.

    1. Re: Judo in public school: In Thailand, the intramural and varsity sports includes Muy Thai.

  27. One of the things I can tell you, as someone trained to work in a government facility for BD (Behavior Disordered) children, is that if this account is true, there are so many laws being broken in that facility that they should all be in jail. For example, we were only allowed to physically restrain clients who were *physically* acting out in unsafe or harmful ways — as in, hitting, throwing, or trying to run away from the facility. If a kid said he didn’t want to do something, “Fine. You’ll lose your behavior points and be staring at the wall while the rest of us are having fun, but it’s your call. Is that what you want?” If he said “Yes”, then we enforced the consequence — we did *NOT* grab him and shove him to the ground and cause him to scream in pain.

    Of course, that approach only works if you’re trying to create a positive environment that rewards desired behavior. Kids start exhibiting desired behaviors in that case because it’s fun and because not exhibiting desired behaviors means you don’t have fun, you get to hear your classmates talk happily about the fun stuff they did while you were in your room. If you’re a sadistic psychopath who wants to produce a punitive environment because you get sick jollies over it (because there is no — ZERO — therapeutic value to a punitive environment, thus the *only* reason to have a punitive environment is because you, like, jack off in your bedroom at night in glee over how sadistic you were that day), I suppose you *would* have to give kids carpet burn to “make them behave” (i.e., get yourself a hard-on). But a well-run facility doesn’t need any such thing.

    So anyhow — it was made clear to us as employees of a government agency that if we did what these jerks are doing at WWASP, a) we would be violating the law, b) we would be fired if the agency found out, and c) if someone sued us for violating the civil rights of children by violating the law, the state would waive sovereign immunity and allow the lawsuit to go against us *personally*, because we were required to sign a statement to the effect that these are the policies of this facility and we agree to follow them. That was a “GULP!” kinda moment.

    So how is WWASP getting away with breaking the law? Simple. They go to counties run by Bible Belt “spare the rod, spoil the child” simpletons (note: the “rod” is a shepherd’s staff, and shepherds do *NOT* beat their sheep with their staff, at most they might prod a sheep with it!). They also prep parents by telling parents that if the kid tells about horrific abuses happening in the facility, it’s all lies, because if it was true then the local Sheriff (who incidentally receives a “consulting fee” from WWASP) would have shut them down long ago. So by bribery and careful selection of jurisdictions run by simpletons, they evade the law. And as usual when that happens, the results are tragic for the victims :(.

  28. It has totally been proven that these are businesses that end up sticking “good” kids behind bars because it’s profitable.

    Their accomplis in this tradgedy are the people who don’t deserve to have kids, because they are too lazy and feeble to raise them properly. These people give up and pay someone else to “parent” them.

    I say if your kid gets put into one of these, you have to spend an equal amount of time in jail for being a bad parent. That’s fair.

    1. Sometimes it’s not that simple. It may not be laziness, but desperation. Places like the one described are absolutely horrific, especially considering the “fixing” aspect.

      But I do know of someone (the brother of a friend) that got dragged off to military school in a similar fashion, and it wasn’t simply a matter of lazy parenting. Everyone else in the family was fine, but the one brother had gotten involved in gangs and drugs and nothing they tried worked. Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, therapy, different schools, pleading, yelling, begging. It wasn’t the first resort, it was the absolute last one- short of waiting for the night the cops’d finally show up and drag the kid off the prison.

  29. To any survivors of this abuse, here’s what I recommend you do:

    1. Organize
    2. Simulate the kidnapping of your parents
    3. Do it on April 1 so you can get away with it.

  30. I dream of the day on which these jerks barge into a room only to discover that the teen’s understanding ex-forces uncle has secretly taught them how to maintain, store and fire a gun safely and effectively, and given them one to keep in their room in case of kidnap.

  31. My first boingboing comment. My sister attended Cross Creek as a teenager, and literally the day she got out, I was sent (at 13 years old) to another facility under the same company, although mine was a boy’s facility in Western Samoa and was called Paradise Cove. PC was located in Western Samoa where it wouldn’t have to comply with American laws, and where it would be too far away for parents to reach their children should they feel uneasy. That facility was shut down a few years later, as were many other facilities owned by Robert Litchfield. PC was covered by 20/20, 60 minutes, and other major news programs. The psychological damage caused by the experience gave me post traumatic stress disorder and for many years I struggled with intense nightmares. My parents are good people, but I believe their decision to send me away was an inexcusable failure in parenting. 15 years after the experience, I still harbor a certain amount of hatred and hostility. These facilities create incredibly deep psychological damage in the most vulnerable children during their formative years. Sigh, I could go on and on about this, but I’ll just end by saying these places should be illegal because they do violate international human rights laws.

  32. I was put through the juvenile system after years of abuse at the hands of my oldest sister and mother (my dad died when I was 12, and the abuse started almost immediately after- this included regularly being knocked unconscious for days at a time, and being left lying in my own vomit. No ambulance was ever called). After trying to OD when I was 14 (I kept trying to run away, but had nowhere to go, and was punished more when I was brought back home), I was locked up: Parkway Mental Hospital (now closed) in Madison, WI and eventually, after a few disastrous foster placements (including one in Deerfield where I was literally starved and locked in my room, and then with my uncle Tim, who ridiculed me regularly, told his colleagues that I ‘wet the bed’, and lied to a judge that he ‘thought I would kill him and their dog’ to get me removed from their home) St. Rose Treatment Center for Girls in Milwaukee, WI for 2 years. I was abused and neglected, told I was crazy, forced to pray, put on psychotropics, and only released when I turned 18. I had nowhere else to go but home with my mom. I hated her for putting me through that hell, and then having to suck it up and LIVE with her for almost another year was almost too much to bear. I despise her and my entire family for doing this to me, and I will never forgive them. I have flashbacks every day- bad PTSD. I feel like a trainwreck and a waste of flesh sometimes. My mom is very well-off and retired in Florida, and my oldest sister, ironically, is a doctor. How she swore that Hippocratic oath is beyond me. I am on the brink of homelessness after losing my bartending job last October. I know that I will hate them for the rest of my life. Nobody has ever expressed any remorse for doing this to me. Since my whole extended family is rather rich and well-connected, this is all swept under the rug and never discussed.

  33. me too, it was 22 years ago this past week. I got to skip the armed escort because my parents got me to the facility under threat of calling 911 and having me transported tied up in an ambulance. they are messed up, and went into rages if I got less than As or combed my hair wrong. I was queer with a learning disability in math that went undiagnosed for another 10 years. I never got into any trouble at school or with the law. I was also super, super docile and seeing what happened to other kids there was enough to scare me into compliance. The place was essentially a kennel for rich kids and a scam to collect state money by admitting poor kids who inevitably needed longer stays than anyone on private insurance.

    The program broke any trust I had in civil society as no one would help me. Teachers, friends, the local Legal Aid, everyone assumed that I must deserve this because _parents_ wouldn’t do anything harmful, selfish, dangerous or scary to their child, would they? (correction: upper middle class parents with very nice homes and cars) I still think they’re assholes. It still gives me nightmares, but not so often anymore.

    Based on my experience, I think physically confronting kidnappers (besides running/screaming) would make it worse, because assault charges would be taken as hard evidence of instability and need for institutionalization. Then again, I was a weenie who didn’t try to escape.

    Are there any legal resources for teenagers in this situation?

  34. Then after I came to terms with the reality of the situation the emotions began to creep back. Deep hollow pangs of betrayal and hurt that would just echo and echo in that empty place where any love or trust for my parents might have once lived.

    And over the years it grew and matured, the tears turned to rage. The angry diary pages, the broken pencils, the cuts, they turned into promises, shells and a 12-gauge. Not again, never again.

    And someday I’ll go home and mom will hug me, and dad will pat me on the back. I’ll ask them if they’re sorry, or they regretted what they did, but no matter what I know I’ll be in the news that night.

  35. You’re seriously advising a teenage girl to use sufficient force on people (appallingly) given permission by her (deluded) parents to take her away that they will fail in that attempt?

    Absolutely. You get mugged, you give them the money. You get abducted, you fight back with everything you’ve got. If she bit down on one of their fingers and didn’t let go, there would have been cops. And although I don’t generally regard calling the cops as the answer, it’s a hell of a lot better than being quietly kidnapped in the middle of the night.

  36. And how is a parent bent on brainwashing their child to PAY for it all? Oh, don’t worry, Cross Creek has some suggestions…


    Here are a few suggestions that families have used, to fund tuition.

    Parents are able to secure a personal loan or line of credit.
    Get a second mortgage or refinance their home.
    Others have used college savings since their child is not on track to complete high school, much less go to college.
    Some have had support from family members and/or friends.
    Families with a 401k or Roth options have used loans from these accounts to help.
    In today’s economy the most commonly used method of financing is a personal line of credit from a local bank–A bank with which you may have a good relationship. Some have been able to go on line and apply for lines of credit through some of the larger banks and they have received approval for a line of credit or credit card at a great interest rate.

    Tuition sometimes takes creativity but can change your child’s life forever.”

    1. The Cross Country people just got an email titled “Please Send More Information.” The body of the message contains the URL from this Boing Boing entry.

  37. @Pauldavis, Antinous, etc.

    I think you both are getting slightly distracted, for the point of training kids to defend themselves (regardless of circumstances) is moot when its the facilities and parents enabling the abuse to warrant it.

    Don’t get angry at each other, get angry at the bastards that made this conversation possible.

    1. the point of training kids to defend themselves (regardless of circumstances) is moot when its the facilities and parents enabling the abuse to warrant it.

      Nonsense. There’s nothing ‘moot’ about reporting your parents to the authorities or physically fighting your way out of their custody in order to save yourself. For many children, their parents are their worst enemies. Counseling victims to passivity is evil. Pure, unadulterated evil.

  38. I want to apologize on behalf of all Utahns, and all Mormons for the part we’ve played in this. Understand that some of us are as horrified by this as anyone.

  39. check out the movie “self-medicated”. it’s about this program. messed up stuff.

  40. Welcome once again my friends to the american schizophrenia. We leave our medicine in the hands of merchants, we let our time be purchased by advertisement dollars. Our most valued interests are guarded not by the learned but by the prettiest. And apparently our children are now not cherished but despised when they show initiative. sigh.

  41. It amazes me that these places still exists. Or can exist at all. Is this girl in any position to sue? Sue her parents, sue Cross Creek, just take them the fuck down somehow.

    It would be grand to get some pictures and names of them. Just smear it all over the internet, where ever and when ever. Religious cults are everywhere, bigots running some reprogramming home are horrible – but parents made a choice when they had a baby and that is basicly to protect their child no matter what. This is the opposite.

  42. Teenagers are vulnerable semi-citizens with limited rights who are open to all sorts of socially-condoned tyranny. I am grateful that I found a path of meta-psychic escape from the weight of the world when I was that age. I did it this way: .Of course, this sort of method may not be for everyone…

  43. Next time you think your conservative friends are nice but misguided remember this. They are perfectly willing to put their kids into a torture camp that would make North Korea proud should they show any liberal tendencies.

  44. If Romney indeed received donations from this place, one of his opponents in the 2012 Republican primary should raise a stink about it — that way it wouldn’t be a liberal/conservative thing, and the media might get on it like they did with ACORN. Who wants to be seen as the pro-child abuse candidate?

  45. Here are the questions from the student quiz from their site.

    Does your teen struggle with basic family rules and expectations?

    Has your teen ever been suspended, expelled, truant or had a drop in school grades?

    Has your teen ever been verbally abusive?

    In your opinion, does your teen associate with a bad peer group?

    Has your teen lost interest in former productive activities, such as hobbies and sports?

    Do you have difficulty getting your teen to do simple household chores or homework without a major fight?

    Has your teen had problems with the law?

    Do you find yourself picking your words carefully when speaking to your teen so as not to elicit a verbal attack or rage from them?

    Are you worried that your teen may not finish high school?

    Does your teen, at times, seem depressed and/or withdrawn?

    Is your teen’s appearance or personal hygiene outside your family standards?

    Has your teen ever displayed violent behavior?

    Is your teen manipulative or deceitful?

    Does your teen seem to lack motivation?

    Do you suspect that your teen is telling lies or has been dishonest with you?

    Are you concerned that your teen may be sexually promiscuous?

    Have you seen any evidence of suicidal thoughts, such as statements that your teen wanted to be dead, etc?

    Do you suspect that you have had money or other valuables missing from your home?

    Are you concerned that your teen’s behavior is a threat to his safety and well-being?

    Does your teen seem to lack self-esteem and self-worth?

    Do you have a lack of trust with your teen?

    Is your teen angry or displaying temper outbursts?

    Does your teen have problems with authority?

    Does your teen engage in activities you don’t approve of?

    Do you think your teen is using or experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol?

    Are you concerned about your teen’s well-being and future?

    Does your teen seem to be in constant opposition to your family values?

    No matter what rules and consquences are established, does your teen defy them?

    Are you exhausted and worn out from your teen’s defiant or destructive behaviors and choices?

    When dealing with your teen, do you often feel that you are powerless?

    Lot of “in your opinion”, “outside family values/rules” talk here. If my parents were asked these questions when I was this age I may well have been a candidate, and I think a good majority of teens would be too(more so if the parents are the bible beating bonehead types). Fortunately for me my parents realized that my resistance to authority and general acting out was borne out of curiosity and a need for independence which they had taught to me in the first place. FWIW, I really feel for the unfortunate victims of this sort of abuse and know that I was lucky enough to have parents that while being far from perfect would never have resorted to this sort of barbarism. The people running this sort of place and the parents that feed them need to be sorted and quick.

    Also, “Does your teen seem to lack self-esteem and self-worth?” Instituting a ‘the beatings will continue until morale improves’ policy is not the correct way to go here.

  46. My college roommate 20+ years ago had a story that sounds very similar. Shared motel rooms on a cross-country trip to Idaho with an abductor who jerked off in the bed next to him during the night. I don’t think this was a consequence but the roommate became schizophrenic not far into college. His parents blamed drugs. I don’t remember them so much as entertaining the idea of mental illness. I guess that would be an overwhelming thing to have to deal with as a parent. Just a sad situation all around.

  47. Little Brother had a listing of several sites including which has a short section on escaping such midnight abduction services and schools. Is there any practical advice how to escape?

  48. Similar experience here, about 30 years ago. My trip to the (now very successful, with a second CT campus in addition to their ME one) Hyde School, was drugged and restrained in an ambulance. This was a school with NO written rules. They just made them up to torment (excuse me, re-educate) each student. There was no way to figure out what new twist of required behavior would work, because there was no consistency of approach, and no appeal process. Public humiliation – i, a very butch dyke, was forced to give “masculine walking” lessons to an effiminate male student IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE STUDENT BODY. We were then both verbally abused by both students and faculty, and put in 5:30am punishment detail for weeks, for not being able to transfer gender behavior! When they had to release me at 18, they tried to prevent me, by refusing to release my academic transcripts, from attending my 7 Sisters college because there were lesbians there! e
    Fantastic education for being a queer activist – my freshman year I was coordinating the Lesbian Alliance, before I was out of college I was in ACT-UP, and have worked on numerous LGBTQ and labor organizing projects since
    I avoid all contact with my parents, who still tell me I’m a failure with a disgusting lifestyle. (I had a modest career in IT, before becoming an NGO executive director; I’m now applying to rabbinical school) And my folks are liberal Democratic Jews

  49. If parents were to do any of this directly to their children they’d spend at least a decade in prison.

    Yet somehow contracting it out to other adults makes it more acceptable.

  50. A couple years ago I read Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Pelican Bar” in a short story collection (Jonathan Strahan’s “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Four”, iirc) – it’s a fictionalized version of the same kind of situation as the poster’s. It stuck with me because of the creepy charge from being plausible, but it is horrifying to read a real account, and to know there are people and organizations that make money off inflicting that kind of thing on children.

    My parents were thankfully not the kind of psychos that would do that to me, but I’d like to imagine I would have been a “Fight the kidnappers to the full extent of my abilities” kind of kid, and had a history of standing up to authority figures to suggest I might have – I’d be very interested to hear what happens when law enforcement gets involved in one of these situations… I sort of doubt it would end well.

  51. I had several friends in high school who were sent to places like these (often in Utah…), and every one of them came back changed and damaged. The one change universal to all my friends who did time in one of these places was that they had become exploitative rats, unable to trust anyone, and all too eager to turn on someone for momentary advantage. Every one of the people I knew who did time in some rent-a-death-camp in the 90’s went from being a really generous, amazing person to someone with Room 101 fear in their eyes and a jailhouse worldview.

    1. they had become exploitative rats, unable to trust anyone, and all too eager to turn on someone for momentary advantage.

      Sounds like the America i grew up in. White picket fences, 2.5 kids, and serious. fucking. baggage.

  52. I’ve heard of these type of camps for some time now, but kidnapping kids in the middle of the night seems like a new low. How on earth did they get through an airport with… anyone tied up like that. Aren’t there laws against this? Shouldn’t the person taking the boarding passes have questioned this?, and maybe called security?

    If they were just driven, I could understand how they actually got there, but flew? Didn’t the warning bells go off for anyone in authority in that airport?

  53. And yet people still cling to the insane idea that “the parents know what is best’.

    Any parent that has ever committed this crime should be publicly named and shamed and banned from being near children ever again. If possible they should be tried for the same crime that a random stranger would if they kidnapped the child.

  54. Ok, so the teenager (who has been labeled as troubled) manages to kill or disable the nice escorts from Happy Fun Time Boarding School. Cops get called and the teenager is arrested for murder or assault. Now who’s going to believe the teenager’s side of the story?

    1. To be perfectly honest, a couple of years in juvie for arranging a little gun accident would have done me less damage than weekends with my father from age 8 to age 12. At least I would have shot him before he tried to shoot me.

      But you’re right about the cops, since in my case, they just left me with him. It’s a crap shoot when you call the cops, but I’d rather go down with guns blazing and the whole neighborhood as witnesses.

      1. To be perfectly honest, a couple of years in juvie for arranging a little gun accident would have done me less damage than weekends with my father from age 8 to age 12. At least I would have shot him before he tried to shoot me.

        At 8-12, sure. Hell, here you can’t even be charged with a crime if you’re under 12 (though I expect Harper to change that soon enough). But if you’re 13-17 (I assume the age range these places are aimed at), they’re likely to try you as an adult in the US.

        Something else I’m wondering about: what age are you allowed to leave home without being considered a runaway who will be returned to your parents even if you don’t want to? It’s 16 in Ontario. I’m guessing it’s 18 or maybe 21 in the places they locate these boot camps.

        1. You can have yourself declared an emancipated minor if you can get a judge to agree to it. Most of your options boil down to location, luck and how clever you are at gaming the system.

        2. It depends on what state you live in, circumstances and other factors. Federal law is 18, but each state does it’s own thing and it’s all over the board, not a uniform system like Canada. It’s rather insane, really, in some states you can be charged as an adult at 16-17 for ANY crime, not just violent ones.

          Antinous / Moderator,
          I know what you’re saying, but keep in mind kids are just kids, and most of the time not that clever. Certainly not in legal matters. The kid would get arrested and hang himself, rather than being quiet. And with the interpretations of laws in the US, you might well land yourself in adult prison serving an adult sentence. I can understand where you’re coming from though, my dad had me arrested and thrown to the wolves when I was barely 17. Didn’t try to deal with the issue or be a parent, just passed it on to someone else, which is exactly what happened in this article.

  55. Ugh. I do know some one who went into this kind of program. She went in troubled and came out dangerous.

  56. There’s a movie about a place like this. Boot Camp. It’s not all that great, but they do go into a lot of the abuse described including the kidnapping process.

  57. Christ! I’m not religious by any measure, but Jesus H. Fucking Christ on a Crutch!

    My folks were far from “perfect” parents. But the more I hear about the shit Right and Left wing-nuts put their own kids through, the more thankful I become that at least I had parents wise enough not to try to outsource their parenting.

    I agree with Antinous. Me and my sister were put in martial arts classes starting at age eight, and our dad taught us knife throwing, archery and, when we were fifteen, how to shoot once we’d taken a firearms maintenance and safety course (which should be compulsory for all gun owners, IMHO). Above all we were taught that anyone who violated our personal sovereignty forfeited their own life.

    Of course my parents wouldn’t have let psychopaths like this get anywhere near us and keep on breathing. What to do when your own parents are too soft in the head to protect you and raise you themselves? How to fight back when they won’t stand up for you to police and wackos such as those from these “institutions”? Someone suggested taking the kids out of their custody, but it’s not like teens are prime adoption candidates and I’ve known enough friends who were wards of the state as children to know that can be just as horrific.

    The only thing I’m certain of is that our society is deeply broken and there are no easy solutions or ways only a small fraction can fix the cracks in our foundation.

  58. This is absolutely appalling. I was sent to the youth program of a rehab facility during my sophomore year of high school, and it was terrifying. The fear of being torn away from all your friends and family as a teenager and being formed into something else is not something I wish on anyone. Coupled with an abusive staff and demeaning program… I can’t begin to imagine this girl’s pain. Luckily for me, my program was actually pretty helpful and not at all religious (I was an atheist even then) so it ended up being a positive experience. There was even a time that one of my rehab buddies gave a counselor a pressed ham. His only punishment was to fill out a form where he had to describe the act of “sexual abuse” then draw a picture of it, which consisted of cartoony butt-cheeks (his heinous act) and a frowny face (the victim’s reaction). I have fond memories of it, but the initial fear I felt is something that is very difficult to describe.

  59. I have, maybe some input from the position of a parent. While I would never send my son or daughter to be ‘reeducated’ based on their identified or perceived sexual orientation I can say that I would, and probably will, end up sending my child to an alternative program. My spouse and I, gay men of a certain age, adopted four boys, all at various ages and from various abuse backgrounds. After some time we moved and my spouse’s mother, my children’s grandmother, came to live with us. She’s seventy-nine and basically in good health, though she needs a certain level of support and fellowship. My middle son ‘Eric’ stopped going to school in December of, 2010, we like all parents cajoled him, begged him, and threatened him, hoping all the wile he would eventually return to school and everything would ok. In January we came home from work to find that he had taken one of our automobiles, without a license, and driven it into a fence and outlying shed at a home about a mile from our house. I immediately drug tested him, which is something I do in my line of work daily, and he came back positive for opiates and benzos. He denied that he had taken anything, of course. At that point we did not want to involve the police because we didn’t feel he needed to pick up felony charges for his first go around with the judicial system. We dealt with the property owner and had the shed and fence repaired. I also had him assessed by the local adolescent substance abuse program. By then he had also provided a urinalysis that was positive for THC as well. He did not reach level to enter their program. In late February my mother-in-law woke up in the middle of the night to find him in her apartment, downstairs. It seems he had been taking my spouse’s keys off the hook in foyer, opening her apartment door, and then going in stealing meds and money from her. I called the police, they came out and because she was unable to say that it was my son who was in her home, it was dark, she’s old, and she didn’t want to see him go to jail, the police did not arrest him. The police left telling us that there was nothing they could do and anything they would do would probably return him to our home immediately. We didn’t want him out, we wanted him to get some help. I worked for many years with dually diagnosed men and women and I could see the writing on the wall, our son was addicted to opiate painkillers and would apparently do anything to get them. Since then he’s picked up three arrests, all for minor infractions, been placed on probation, and has attempted to break into my mother-in-law’s home again, this time through a window. Our house has been ransacked weekly, we have to either hide or lock up our valuables, and he is vile, threatening, and ugly to us with the slightest provocation. We are sending our ten year old to stay with relatives, next week, until the situation is stabilized.

    If you were to ask him he would tell you that he hasn’t done anything wrong. We’re evil fucked-up monsters who called the police and had him charged with all number of things that he hadn’t done. He would tell you that he just doesn’t feel that school is what he wants to be doing, he’s got other ambitions, and plans. He would tell you that he was only experimenting with drugs and he didn’t know how he got a positive urinalysis for opiates. He would tell you that his grandmother was a fucking liar, who didn’t know what she was talking about. Sadly, he has also said that he will not be participating in any drug treatment and at this point I believe him. Luckily, we have the force of the Juvenile Justice System behind us. But I have to honestly say I would have no qualms about having him forcibly taken to a program if it would mean that he would receive some help. Because if he doesn’t get any help he will only get worse.

    1. Have you heard of wilderness therapy? Your son sounds a lot like a family member of mine (she stole grandmas ambien, snorted it, stole her car, and crashed it into a tree, hit her parents, got wasted at school on a daily basis, and manipulated everyone in the family) Wilderness therapy is not about punishment, but taking kids away from everything that influences them and teaching them how to survive in nature, while they receive therapy. Its expensive, but after about two months she has shown a lot of improvement (her family visits her and talks to her every week). Now she is off to a legit, non abusive boarding school that her therapists reccomended.

  60. I have just finished watching the Zeitgeist: Moving Forward on YouTube and the first 20 minutes explain exactly why this sort of action is incredibly detrimental to a child’s development.

    In fact it goes further to suggest that these children are far more likely to be vulnerable to various addictions one of which could be violence.

    In effect one could argue that parent with this attitude are indirectly promoting various addictions leading to violence which may well harm other human beings in society.

    Does this remind anybody of the Stanford prison experiments?

    “In other words, it seemed the situation caused the participants’ behavior, rather than anything inherent in their individual personalities.”
    Is it possible that the impunity in which these programs afford to the staff is causing all this sadistic behaviour?

    That said, I’m Malaysian and I cannot believe a “First World” country such as the United States can allow such atrocity to continue. No matter how badly behaved a child or teenager might be, nobody should be subject to such abuse; especially teenagers who otherwise have good behaviour but are sent to endure the abuse just because they are “different” (e.g. gay kids).

    1. The US is the only state, other than Somalia, to not have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

      The US is a large country with many different demographic groups and massive internal inequality. The upper-middle and upper class here enjoy a high standard of living and first world privileges. However, in most areas of the US, the poor, much of the working class, and oppressed groups (the largest prison population on earth, people of color, youth, LGBTQ folks, etc) have a very marginal existence, low relative power/wealth/influence, and little legal protection.

  62. Reminds me of the story a certain rap prodigy who is concurrently attending one of these re-indoctrination camps in Western Samoa. He made one of the most tangential, tongue-in-cheek, ahead-of-his-years type albums at the age of 15, and its chillingly visceral lyrical content probably helped spook his mother into signing him up. The battle cry that fans have taken up to have him released from this tropical island prison is enough info to find him on the interwebs: “FREE EARL”.

  63. I find it interesting that the Boingboing readership isn’t familiar with this issue, or perhaps the world in general isn’t.

    Its notable because its got some stock sentiments… gay teens getting abused by religious right winger institutions… but its really nothing compared to what goes on regularly in foster homes, orphanages, mental institutions, juvenile detention centers, and dysfunctional families. Its not particularly limited to gay teens as well, though perhaps you find that the most unpalatable part of this.

    I’m not belittling the experiences of this girl. I’m pointing out the naive perspective of people on here.

    All the ‘I’m so angry’ comments really annoy me, because having been through these kinds of experiences, I know from that experience that your shock and abhorrence will last exactly 15 seconds, and you’ll all move on, after doing nothing to help anyone in these situations… you’ll vent and distract yourselves, moving onto complacency, which is the environment required for these kinds of travesties to continue.

    It takes a village to abuse a child.

    1. FWIW some of us really are trying to do something about this in general.

      Personally though, I can’t comment much because it actually is too triggering and I can’t deal.

      If people keep hearing about it though, and seeing what happens to people, maybe some of them will realize this kind of thing is endemic.

    2. “All the ‘I’m so angry’ comments really annoy me, because having been through these kinds of experiences, I know from that experience that your shock and abhorrence will last exactly 15 seconds, and you’ll all move on, after doing nothing to help anyone in these situations…”

      Well that’s pretty cynical, but I understand cynicism and having trust issues… but it’s okay, this is a safe place.

      I like to think of boingboing as a community, or an extended family and sometimes even a support group. For one thing the simple fact that this sort of thing is being exposed at all is important. Secondly, the support that some in this community who have suffered at the hands of these whack-jobs get here just might be helpful and that is important too. Thirdly, how do you know that this post hasn’t motivated some of us to more meaningful action beyond just banging away at a keyboard with rage? Since I can really only speak for myself I am glad this was posted and people felt the need to dialog about it. And for every person that has posted here on this thread I would estimate that there are tens if not hundreds of others who are just lurking about and reading, getting informed and filing this information in their minds for a time when it may be really useful for them to recall in order to help prevent stuff like this in the future.

      Also speaking for my self, I have been motivated to action. It may not be much nor is it likely to change anything but every little bit helps. As such we all have our own little ways of working to make the world a better place. Hope that helps.

    3. Rob, the reason I sent this to Boing Boing was in hopes that people WILL do something. Do you have advice?

      How can we help put these places out of business permanently? If you read the Reddit thread, it sounds like these places are a constant game of whack-a-mole. One “school” gets sued so it closes, and six months later “another school” opens up in the same building with the same staff and the same techniques and uniforms and a different name.

      How can we make this stop? How can we save people?

      Apparently, a lot of these schools are huge political contributors to Mitt Romney. Since Mitt Romney is big news these days, one potential angle to get these places more attention is as part of an expose on Romney’s constituents. Anyone know a well-placed journalist?

      One thing that sounds like it is needed is sort of a re-re-education program for kids who get out of these places. The stories shared on Reddit and in these comments all tell me that kids who “graduate” one of these programs come out having very little idea how to actually cope with the world. Are there any resources to help these kids learn how to reintegrate with the world? For those of you who were victimized by these places, what would have helped you when you got out?

      Let’s find a way to put this outrage to good use. I don’t have a lot of answers yet, but maybe we can find them together.

      1. There are people who can help and will be thrilled that there is
        a public interest in stopping these types of places. teenadvocatesusa is one such place. As I have mentioned, I was a victim of Kids of Bergen County (later called Kids of North Jersey). Virgil Miller Newton, now calls himself Father Cassian Newton, was in charge with his wife, Ruth Ann. Research them, and you’ll find the name of a lawyer who successfully sued them for millions on behalf of a girl who I knew who was held captive for 13 years. Perhaps that can lead you to larger voices to carrier the message. How to help the kids who get out of these places? I have no idea. I appear to have a normal life, I contribute to society by volunteering my time doing public outreach science events, I have a homelife in the suburbs like any “normal” mom, but the ghost of what I went through as a teen in Kids of B.C. will never stop haunting me.

      2. tyrsalvia,

        There are two ways to stop this:

        1. Target the people who run these schools. Not the schools, not the employees. Have the people who run these schools locked away for a very long time.
        2. Follow the money. Make sure that any politician who is in touch with these criminals would think twice before he/she would ever do that again. They should be treated as lepers.

        Try to reach Anonymous and 4chan. I know, NYPA, but still.

    4. It may be anoying to you personally, but really, People need to get angry, and so what if only a few of them stick around to help, atleast a few of them stuck around to help- and the rest left their mark and made their stance known with their angry posts. So lets do something about this and make a place for our anger to convert into useful action!!!

      love the underground railroad idea…

      also freeing the rapper kid in west samoa. I have some hookups down there that might help.

      how best do we organize from this post to carry on? Cory, any suggestions here?

  64. The most important thing to understand is that under the American legal system – and I think this is inherited from the English legal system – children are effectively chattel. That is, property. Slaves. That’s their base status. Their rights are those which their parents want and bother to defend on their behalf; any rights children may have as individuals are more or less tacked on as an afterthought.

    I’m not exaggerating this. Unless the parents violate some specific law about child welfare, e.g. “you have to feed them”, and the child or an investigator is well placed to prove it, the parents will get away with pretty much any horrible or controlling behavior they want to, and 90% of the time so will these kind of concentration-camp “schools”. (Consider this, for instance. Consider that other “schools” have literally gotten away with murdering their charges.)

    Even when it comes to murder, apart from a handful of well-publicised cases (always involving the mother, have you noticed that?) parents who murder their own children will get a tiny sentence compared to someone who kills a stranger’s child, or an adult stranger. The message is pretty clear.

    For a child who gets away into the foster-care system, the state and by delegation the group home or foster parents they’re placed with gain the status of “in loco parentis” – now they have the parents’ total control. How well they do varies a lot – some states are incredibly fucked up, and others are pretty well run, but there’s still little that a child can do. (Note: my wife and I were foster parents for a teen who turned out to be seriously messed up and put us through some hell, and so I can say that the state staff here, overworked as they were, did a pretty decent job looking after her interests and seeing that she came out as well as possible.)

    Also: I’m a big believer in learning martial arts and self-defense, and I made sure that my daughter learned some basics of a decent defense system (one of the simpler kung fu styles.) Nonetheless, an early teen is very very unlikely to defend himself or herself successfully against one large adult male attacker, let alone two, unless he/she has had really rigorous training over a long period of time. Guess which kind of parents are not likely to send their kids through that kind of training?

    Veering off a bit into the side thread, anyone who thinks an 8 year old could defend himself against an adult has not spent time around any 8 year olds lately. I have, thanks to my son’s age – they’re delightful and adorable, and they’re small, and even the strongest aren’t very strong. It’s common and understandable, I think, for victims of severe abuse as a child to feel that they could have protected themselves “if only”. It’s a two-edged sword, on one hand letting oneself feel that there is some way it could have been made to come out differently, but on the other it’s taking an unfair share of the blame to oneself instead of to the universe for putting you in the hands of monsters.

    If an older child like the one in this story did manage to defend herself – as other users commented up thread, if the parents had contracted the attackers, there will be nobody on that child’s side in court against the assault charge, because the child has no right to her own defender. Their rights belong to the parent, and it’s the parents choice. She would have ended up in the juvenile “justice” system which is generally even more fucked up.

    If you want to change stories like this, see paragraph one. The only thing that will really change it is if the fundamentals of the law are changed, so that children are recognized in the law as having inherent rights themselves, as being citizens not property.

    Last thing I want to add: All of you who’ve been spilling your stories in this thread, I respect your guts in sharing even the outlines of what you went through. Shotaro, it must have taken even more courage to write what you did; I wish you well, man.

  65. I was sent to a school a lot like this, called the Elan School in Poland Maine. It was finally closed this past February after we finally got the word out about the things that went on there. I am sorry you went thru this, but thank you for sharing.

  66. In 1985, I narrowly escaped being kidnapped into one of these.

    How did I escape? By running away, into the night, and never looking back. I had to cut all ties to family, including an at-risk younger sibling. It took me 5 years to get on my feet, starting at 17 years old. College? Forget it. I had to go back and rescue my younger sibling … never mind the abandonment issues that I caused by leaving that sibling behind to save my own life.

    If you want to help, organize an UNDERGROUND RAILROAD for people like me to hide in safety.

    1. I think there are some excellent suggestions coming out here. An underground railroad is high on that list. Providing information to kids on how to evade capture / escape later on would help too (e.g. the stealthiswiki idea mentioned earlier).

  67. I was locked up in one of these facilities when I was 14. It was called Victory Christian Academy, and back then it was in Escondido, California. That place has been closed down, but they reopened in Florida and in Baja California, Mexico. In Mexico they can legally force women to stay there until they are 25!

    It took me years to get beyond the damage that was done during the time I was at Victory. I attribute many of the difficulties of my late teens and twenties to my experiences there, especially my recurring problems with domestic violence. Victory had taught me to be a good and obedient woman, and so when I was hit by a boyfriend, or later my husband, I “knew” it was my own fault. The long term effects of my time at Victory are too many to recount in a comment thread, really.

    Over the years, I’ve tried to warn clergy members and parents against sending their children to places like this. No matter how difficult the situation with your child may seem, this is not the answer. The response I often get from people is that I “just don’t understand how hard it is” to be a parent, to deal with a child with behavioral or emotional problems. That’s simply not true. I am a parent of two adults and one 12 year old today, and I’ve dealt with some very difficult situations along the way. Sometimes I’ve needed help, but that help does not extend to the point of sending my child away to one of these brainwashing factories.

    My advice to parents having trouble with their kids: Start by working on yourself, and looking at how you can be a better you. Next, make a commitment to be honest and as open as possible with your kids. Verbalize that commitment to them. While you are at it, get help together in a format where you are working TOGETHER and not against each other. Want to send your kid to a program that challenges them to climb mountains and rely on their team? Find one where parents and teens can go together. Become a TEAM. Finally, make your family such a priority that you spend enough time with your kids that they know you and you know them — for real, not just sorta kinda. If you haven’t been doing that all their life, it’s gonna be a hard climb up the mountain to a good relationship now, but you can do it. What’s more, it’s worth every ounce of effort I promise.

  68. Had this happen to me when I was 15. Two very big guys appeared in my bedroom at three in the morning – also threatened with zip ties. Scary and confusing as hell, and they wouldn’t tell me where I was even going till I got there; the middle of the Utah desert.

  69. I’m the person who sent this in. Thank you, Cory for posting this. When I read this post on Reddit, it made me feel a lot like the times I have visited concentration camps. These places are concentration camps for “my people” – the weirdos, the artists, the mystics, the queers, the kids who don’t fit in or say no to abusers or don’t act just like Mommy and Daddy want.

    But for the grace of God, there go I. I am grateful to have been born into a loving and accepting family in the SF bay area. If I had landed somewhere less tolerant, I could easily have been sent to one of these places. It breaks my heart to hear how many young people have been tormented like this.

    I want to do something about this, but I don’t really know what to do.

    I had heard that some stuff like this happened, but I didn’t realize nearly how wide spread it was. It makes me angry and sad and ache for the world. I have no idea what I can do to actually help, but it seems like making more people aware of how bad this is and how common it is might be a first step.

  70. “But I do know of someone (the brother of a friend) that got dragged off to military school in a similar fashion, and it wasn’t simply a matter of lazy parenting”

    Some crucial differences: military schools don’t pretend they’re doing anything therapeutic. And they don’t pretend that sending a kid to them is not a sign of parental failure.

  71. The US is the only state, other than Somalia, to not have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

    Western Samoa and Jamaica both signed the treaty, and they are running the worst of these schools.

    He calls them Aspen education Group

    AEG is owned by Bain Capital.Bain capital is owned by Mitt Romey.

    AEG is worse than wwasp, just better at using reputation defender services to keep accounts of murder and torture off the top google pages.

    AEG got in trouble recently for forcing ritual sexual abuse on prisoners,8599,1891082,00.html

    AEG is a CEDU clone. CEDU is a Synanon clone, all one CULT, operating under different names with different leaders.
    You can read some about it at the following link

    You can also do you own research if you google “Synanon” “Aspen eduction group” “cult” “CEDU” in different combination.
    Aspen Education group is currently the most violent of the cult- prison – schools. It kills at least 1 prisoner a year.

    1. Anon #119:
      Hope you don’t mind; I’m going to link to your comment on my face book page. It is well cited and makes its point. Because one of the things that we CAN DO is make sure Mitt Romney doesn’t become president.

  73. This is a terrible story and it makes me feel sick. No kid should be sent away for being merely different or difficult. However, I would sure love to hear the parent’s side of the story. I’m not saying the author is lying AT ALL, but it is so very easy to turn people into monsters when they don’t have a chance to tell about things from their perspective. Human beings love to take one account of something at face value and create a Disney-like story of good versus evil out of a tale that is actually far more complex.

    There are thousands of families around that have to deal with truly messed up kids, so folks should not always assume that parents are monsters when they send a kid away. My bipolar/autistic teenage step-son attacked us with knives, rocks, sticks. He tried to sneak up the stairs to kill us and told the police that was his intent. He verbalized having fantasies about choking small children in the community. He wanted to be Hitler, and to kill people with anthrax. When we tried to get him help, we couldn’t. At one VERY NICE places for kids in trouble (nearby so we could visit him) he screamed, tore off his clothing, peed on things, and attacked staff and other residents. They kicked him out because he was unmanageable.

    In the end we had to send him far away to a place in Texas that was the ONLY place that would take him (we live in MN). It was heartbreaking and terrifying to take our son so far away and just leave him there. You can’t know. You feel like an utter failure, and you feel that you should have been able to fix him and keep everyone safe, somehow.

    What made it worse for us was the assumption of so many people that there is NO excuse for not keeping your child in your home! Some people just labeled us bad parents. The professionals, teachers, doctors and so on said we were great parents, but people who don’t know about sick kids? It had to be OUR fault.

    Our son has been home for almost two years now. He attributes his ability to better control his behavior now directly to being sent to a place where “If I got violent, two big guys would hold me down and I would get a shot in my butt and nobody gave me any attention or sympathy while I was raging. They just waited until I calmed down and then talked to me about using my coping skills.”

    It is important to remember that some parents are sick people but sometimes kids are sick people as well, and that for every kid who has a story to tell, their are parents who might tell that same story a bit differently.

    Again, I am in no way calling anyone a liar here. I am just trying to point out that for every story like this one, which rings true to me because the author doesn’t duck personal responsibility for some of the issues, there is a story of parents who are abused and terrorized by their own kid(s) and by a system that offers them virtually no support. But you don’t hear those stories as often because of the shame of “failing” as a parent.

    1. I am just trying to point out that for every story like this one, which rings true to me because the author doesn’t duck personal responsibility for some of the issues, there is a story of parents who are abused and terrorized by their own kid(s

      Um, no. For every hundred stories like this, there’s one legitimate one about parents being terrorized by their children. Adults have all the legal and political power.

      1. Parents have all the power. Really? You think so? LOL!!! Our son was attacking us with weapons on a daily basis and destroying our lives socially, financially, health-wise and so on but we had absolutely no power to do anything about it. Sure we called the police. Off to the hospital he’d go, where there were no beds for mentally ill kids, so back home he’d come to attack us some more. We could not be safe. It was illegal for us to shut him in a room until he calmed down EVEN THOUGH WE SAT RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR OF THE ROOM TO MAKE SURE HE WAS SAFE. A hospital social worker said we would be arrested if we did that, even if it was for ten minutes. We were supposed to just let him come at us with a butcher knife in each hand. The social workers said call the police and the police said call the social workers and nobody wanted to do anything.

        Think it is just me? I know a LOT of parents who are victimized by their kids. I know one woman whose son writes detailed fantasies about raping little neighborhood girls and leaves them lying around for her to read (just one of the sick things he does); she can’t get help for him. When she told the mental hospital she didn’t feel safe taking him home, they threatened to call the police ON HER for abandonment if she didn’t take him.

        I love kids, including my step-son, but kids are people and kids can be mentally ill, mean, broken and, yes, abusers. We deny that kids are people and we both deny them rights AND deny that they have any responsibility for their behavior. This results in the victimization of kids by parents and the victimization of parents by kids.

        You don’t hear about abused parents BECAUSE ABUSED PARENTS ARE SHAMED INTO KEEPING SILENT. And every time some young psychopath shoots up a school or some kid does something awful, everyone says “Where were the parents?” As if the parents were supposed to magically keep a sick kid under control. Nobody ever says “The poor parents, having to live with a person like that for so many years…trying to manage a person like that with no help from anyone!”

        Your response is so predictable: The poor children. The parents have all the power. Really. You are living in a dream world where there is a system in place for truly disturbed kids so that both they and their families can be safe. There is no such system.

    2. Muneraven, I know there are sad stories out there like yours, where a kid is genuinely messed up and genuinely needs to go somewhere with a firm hand. I also think that there are many really good boarding schools out there, including some that are strict disciplinarian institutes specifically for kids like yours. There is a difference between strict and abusive, though.

      Having two really big guys hold someone down who is raging – even giving them a sedative shot – this is not necessarily abusive. If someone is out of control, that actually sounds like one of the most humane ways to handle that situation. Having staff actually beat a kid is abusive. Having staff hound kids over and over and over until they give false confessions just to make the torment stop is abusive. Staff having sexual relationships with kids is abusive. Staff trying to brainwash away homosexuality or having different rules based on gender is abusive.

      One of the things I think is so tragic about this whole thing is that it sounds like a lot of the parents who send their kids to these schools genuinely don’t know how abusive they are or aren’t. In an industry where some schools are ok and a lot of them aren’t, and where the staff tell the parents not to believe the horror stories from the kids (and let’s be honest, there are some kids who would make up horror stories, so at least sometimes, the parents probably have good reason not to believe their kids), how is a genuinely concerned parent with a genuinely out of control kid to know whether or not a given school is one of the good ones or one of the bad ones?

      Something that did surprise me about reading all these stories is just how little the parents can sometimes know about what’s actually going on. I knew messed up stuff like this happened, but I assumed that the really bad schools were only for the unlucky few kids who were born to messed up evil parents who knew what was going on and actually wanted their child to deal with that kind of trauma. From what I am reading, it sounds like that is only the case some of the time. A lot of these kids come from abusive homes, and a lot come from homes where the parents are simply neglectful and don’t really care – but many also seem to come from parents who do care and just aren’t really good about doing their research, or who have been themselves brainwashed into thinking that this is genuinely the best place for their kid (and who aren’t told about much of what actually goes on).

      If there is any hope, it is that with the advance of the internet, it is now much easier for a genuinely concerned parent to research these facilities; if they actually need one, they may perhaps find a strict and upstanding school rather than a truly nightmarish one.

  74. The thing that blows my mind is the parents OK this. Look – even if I thought my kid needed some sort of program, I would take them myself, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have them leashed at 2am. The original story didn’t mention the parents at all. Surely they were in the house yeah? What were they doing?

    To others reading this, if your kid is out of control, but 17 or 18, get them signed up for the Navy or what ever. It is pretty amazing how my brother shaped up from just 6 mo of being in it. He qualified for the nuke school and when he got it out had what is basically a Bachelors degree, with out all the un-necessary elective classes.

    To others reading this afraid their kids are gay. Jesus H. Christ – what is this the middle ages? Stuff your puritanical prudishness and get over it. Let’s just say gay sex is a a sin – so is like 90% of the straight sex (depending on who you talk to). In this day and age I find it ridiculous that one thinks they could ‘pray away the gay’ or send them to a school to straighten them out.

  75. Thank you for covering this issue, Boing Boing.
    As a former “student” at PCS in 1984-85 I can tell you that the program (both then and now) violates nearly single article enumerated in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights:

    Despite the decades of child abuse, torture, suicide attempts, lawsuits, it’s still a business, and just like any business they must protect their brand. That’s why Universal Health Services (the current owners of PCS) are currently suing HEAL, an organization founded by a former student for publishing accounts of abuse on the Internet as well as posting a petition to close PCS signed by hundreds of former students, parents and educators.
    If you would like more information about the suit, which seeks to force HEAL to remove all Web sites containing testimonials by former students as well as the petition, please visit
    You can also email Angela Smith with expressions of support or donations to her legal defense fund at

    I have attempted to interest Provo-area local media in the case but have not had any response. Perhaps they are more interested in covering the exploits of (former PCS student) Paris Hilton. I’d be glad to answer any questions I can about PCS or what I know of the case.

  76. I like how everyone is shocked at “this new low”. This has been going on since the mid-70s that I am aware of. I didnt realize what an industry it was until many years after I got out of PCS in 82. And, as usual, I see at least one familiar name, Lichfield. He was very involved with PCS as well. and it sounds like the children all get the same treatment I did: warehousing, substandard education, checked box “therapy” and forced learning of social roles to be played.

    The only way this will be stopped is to create healthy ways for families to learn to resolve conflict and deal with difficult times. using a big hammer to “squash” this sort of enterprise will only create new loopholes and cause them to be more circumspect about how they operate.

    I wish the OP the best and can only tell her the message repeated so often earlier this year: “It gets better”. I found that the longer I spent being my own person, the more ludicrous it seemed that they could ever have made me something I am not. and now I live happily ever after; with my incredible wife, fantastically quirky son and my own contentment. They dont win.

  77. And this things are legal? Crazy. Mindless. You american people should rebel those things. Just crazy.

  78. I worry about recommending kids try to escape from these places. I don’t know what the answer is, but it seems to me that someone who has escaped from one of these places is likely to become homeless unless they happened to come from a home that genuinely cared but didn’t know what was going on. Being a homeless teenager is also deeply traumatizing, and makes someone an excellent target for all kinds of predators.

    What might be better is to come up with reintegration techniques for kids to de-program themselves after coming out of one of these places, along with concerted efforts to get the bad schools shut down and their executives put in prison. It would be helpful to try to advocate for strict legislation and oversight for these places, along with perhaps creating a tax on these services used to fund enforcement.

    I don’t think telling kids to escape these places is the answer. Unless someone has loving parents to go back to who didn’t know how bad the school was, they are likely putting themselves at worse risk for violence, disease, and predators such as the sex traffickers who are more and more preying upon American teens. (See for more on this.)

  79. @ Muneraven

    You’d be arrested for doing those things because they’re barbaric and sadistic. Question is, why are things that are illegal for parents to do, legal for associations that call themselves “schools”? The answer: these groups have a lot of $. But, these cruelties don’t stop being barbaric or even illegal because a “school” is doing them, just barbarities and illegalities gotten away with

    Readers, people like Munraven provide anecdotes about bad young men set straight by the endurence of cruelty.

    “[My son] attributes his ability to better control his behavior now directly to being sent to a place where”If I got violent, two big guys would hold me down and I would get a shot in my butt and nobody gave me any attention or sympathy while I was raging. They just waited until I calmed down and then talked to me about using my coping skills.”

    But we’ve no way of knowing that Mun is representing reality accurately, or she’s who she says she is. We do know that stories like this have been used as excuses to kidnap and incarcerate young people since the 70s. Again and again, these stories have been proved fictitious.

    So let’s remember, like its not OK to kidnap and incarcerate races (like the Jews, for example) because they’re accused of having something wrong with them, it’s not OK to do so to individuals. There should be due process, with full habeas corpus rights for all, when facing imprisonment for “behavior disorders”. There’s no need to kidnap anyone when there’s the baker act (petition for formal commitment) in place. The Baker act used against youth will result in terrorization, and mostly unjustifiable incarceration, but it’s some level of protection for the youth, and the ability to have some power over what’s done to them will make the experience less traumatizing.

    Let’s also remember that there is no proof that violent men holding people down and injecting them with drugs is a treatment for anything.

    Let’s remember that its regarded as abuse known to cause mental illness, death, and all sorts of social ills.

    And that remains true regardless even when an isolated, dependent, brutalized youth comes to believe he deserved brutalization.,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=f99e8c741a251b45&biw=1250&bih=600

  80. If I ever reach my goal of becoming an authority in U.S. or Minnesota law, i will make sure these places are investigated for any mistreatment.

  81. As somebody who has been to a therapeutic boarding school, I can say that they are not all like this. Some kids, gay and straight, find themselves in similar situations and go to schools that don’t try to change them but give them a space to learn and grow. I knew many students who had this happen to them in the middle of the night, and I support it in the many cases where kids are combative, using drugs, or have tried previously to run away.

    Sometimes parents are just bad parents, yes, and so the best thing that can be done for a child is to get them away from those bad parents and into the hands of people who can help them figure their shit out. I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I know many who said it saved their lives.

    Of course, getting kidnapped by your parents is awful and should only be used in extreme situations, and it’s important to choose a place carefully (and that these other awful places are shut down.) But the general idea of taking a kid against their will can sometimes be the best thing a parent can do.

  82. Above anon posted “some” violent, prison “schools” are great and “sometimes” “taking a” kid “against their will” (by kidnapping them) “can be the best thing a parent can do.”

    Firstly, people have no way of knowing if anon’s claimed identity as a “program graduate” (and implied testimonial) is authenticly sourced. The cult -school industry is highly deceptive and weilds sockpuppets to promote itself.

    “Posing as fictitious parents with fictitious troubled teenagers, GAO found examples of deceptive marketing and questionable practices in certain industry programs and services….”

    So, please tell, what TBS are you a “graduate” of, anon?

    Even if *actual* victims report positive things about the outfit that kidnapped or incarcerated them, remember, sadly, brainwashing can be long term for a small portion of victims. There are victims who describe Straight Inc (and any other Synanon clones confirmed as tortuous ) as beneficial. That doesn’t make that organizations unabusive or beneficial. That means a certain # of victims internalize the belief system of their captors.

    “Straight, Inc. still remains highly controversial to this day. Although there are two polar opposite perspectives about Straight, this site will not publish “pro Straight” submissions.”

    There is no legitimate provider of psychiatric treatment that kidnaps patients, or imprison without access to lawyers, advocates, and habeas corpus review. Please educate yourselves, readers, about the rights ALL people have who are consumers of legitimate psychiatric treatment:
    “Thus, unless there is a specific statute providing differently, all the rights and procedures required by the law for adults also apply for children. Therefore minors retain all the rights set forth …and these rights “may not be waived by the person’s parent, guardian, or conservator.””

    Admissions-From the community.

    “1. If you are less than 14 years of
    age. A parent or your guardian
    must agree, in writing, to you being
    here. Your home county must also
    agree to you being here. If you do
    not want to stay here, you may ask
    a court to decide if you have to
    stay. The court will get you a
    2. If you are 14 years old or older.
    You and your parent or guardian
    must agree to you being here.
    However, if you refuse, your parent
    or guardian can consent for you.
    Your home county must also agree
    to you being here if they are paying
    for it.
    3. A court must also agree that you
    should remain here for treatment.
    4. You could also ask a court to let
    you stay here, even if your parent
    or guardian will not agree or
    cannot be found.”

    Groups that kidnap and incarcerate youth without review get away by legally clarifying they are not residences of psychiatric care, and do not provide legitimate psychiatric care.;_ylt=A0geu8pov.VNnEUA81wzCQx.?p=cafety+legitimate+medical+treatment+sagewalk&fr2=sb-top&fr=yfp-t-708&rd=r1

    “No, no, no – the therapeutic boarding school and wilderness camp, despite marketing language that may suggest otherwise, are programs that, under law, are defined as providing a service. Like a chef who cooks your food”

    Kidnapping, & involuntary incarceration without due processes is anathema to the psychiatric community, and is in no way an accepted treatment paradigm! These transgressions are known to be tortuous, oppressive and posing serious risk to victims’ long term mental and social health.

    Its deeply depressing that this needs to be explained in 2011. Shame on you, America.

  83. Here are some more reports on victims of brainwashing swearing their captors saved their lives that delve into the thought reform behind these delusions:

    These all report on Synanon clones, clones which comprise the entirety of the violent, kidnapping “theraputic boarding school” Gulag Archipelago.

    It’s sad that when Patty Hearst internalized her captors’ belief system, we recognized that as caused by coercive persuasion. Or, at least, we didn’t take her testimony as meaningful proof for the ideas she exposed.

    But, when kidnap, violence and false imprisonment are re-contextualized as reform of the “bad” or “mentally ill” some accept the same internalizations of captors’ belief systems as meaningful.( BTW, the majestic belief system the captors of therapeutic boarding schools force youth to internalize, though thought reform, is that they were defective in some way, and have been benefited by “the program”) Please google thought reform to understand the maniacal, painful, sadistic process. Google the “elan school, for starters.” And there are 100s just like it. Different names. Same shit, the Synanon cult.

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