The Horrifying Reality of Teen Rehab Centers

A few weeks ago Cracked editors Jack O’Brian and Robert Evans interviewed one of my all time heroes, Maia Szalavitz.  Szalavitz wrote Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids, the most comprehensive exploration of the teen treatment industry out there.  They also interviewed Sarah Cummins, a former student of a Utah facility, who tells of hours of forced labor, of being forced to manipulate her fellow students, and how she was preyed on by creepy sex offenders.  Sounds familiar!

Other Cracked content of interest:  5 Realities of the Rehab Camp My Parents Paid to Kidnap Me and

6 Shocking Realities of the Secret “Troubled Teen Industry.”

Also, over at NUVO, Theresa Rosado is continuing her investigation into our alma mater, New Horizons Youth Ministries,  with a profile on “The Mysterious Dr. Z,”  a probable child molester who funneled countless kids into “the ministry.”


The Teen Treatment Con Continues…

The craziest thing for me about the teen treatment industry is how long this con has gone on. I mean, I became a statistic 26 years ago. In 2004 (that’s 12 years ago for you English majors), the National Institute of Health released a statement recommending residential care as a treatment of last resort. And in 2007, the U.S. Government Office of Accountability published a report documenting thousands of episodes of abuse in such facilities, even death.  And that statement doesn’t even address the residual mental health cost. Yet people still send their kids away.

My suggestion? Try emancipation first. Or grandparents. Or just let your kid breathe.

Jesse Hyde over at Rolling Stone wrote a great feature on a boot camp in New Mexico that I’ve been thinking about since November.  And my fellow alum Theresa Rosado has continued her series on our alma mater, New Horizons Youth Ministries. To Hell and Back, Part Two, traces NHYM’s rise in Michigan, and Part Three explores its exodus to Indiana and the Dominican Republic. Check them out.


To Hell and Back: the Rise and Fall of New Horizons Youth Ministries

Last week NUVO, Indianapolis’ alternative weekly, published the first in a series of articles exposing the rise and fall of the fundamentalist boot camp I attended, New Horizons Youth Ministries.  Alumni Theresa Rosado writes that NHYM had its license revoked in 2009 for failing to comply with state policies. They did not provide background checks for sex offenders. They did not provide 24 hour wake supervision for the students they boarded, even though some students arrived with a histories of sexual perpetration and self-harm.

This is all true. During the 1990s, no staff was ever awake at night to watch over students, which is standard operating procedure in long-term treatment.  And there were definitely sex offenders working for NHYM.

The founder of NHYM, Gordon Blossom, was a pedophile who raped his own daughter. Blossom still continued to work for the program, even after he revealed his disorder to his family and the staff, delivering sermons on sexuality to gender based groups.  One alumni (me) wrote,  “They separated boys from girls for that sermon. He told us that God gave us curves and boys loved curves because boys loved cars, which also have curves. It was okay to let boys fondle our curves, leering of course while he said this, but not to have sex with them because every hot blooded American male wanted a virgin and why buy the cow if you could get the milk for free? I was still a virgin at the time of this sermon. Very confusing.”

Better that than the boys’sermon, in which Blossom exhorted them to view masturbation as a form of prayer to God.

Rosado also discusses the reasons why NHYM was kicked out of Haiti, and concludes with an explanation of the extreme isolation students were subjected to from their families, which lead to PTSD.

Rosado has spent years researching the numerous investigations leading to NHYM‘s closure.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of her series.



Stop Child Abuse in Residential Treatment Programs for Teens

One of the most maddening things about being a product of the dysfunctional family with means complex is knowing that the abuse is still happening.  That despite the Congressional reports, despite books like Julia Scheeres’ Jesus Land, or Maia Szalavitz’s Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids, or Kate Logan’s documentary Kidnapped for Christ, the teen treatment industry is still unregulated.

That’s why it’s important that a coalition of organizations, including the  Los Angeles LGBT Center, Survivors of Institutional Abuse (SIA), & Mental Health America, have united to introduce a federal bill called the“Stop Child Abuse in Residential Treatment Programs for Teens Act.”  This bill will regulate the teen treatment industry.  It will include no exemptions for religious institutions, which abuse kids tax-free.

You can sign the petition to introduce the bill here.

How I Write: Writing Process Blog Tour

You know that friend you have from far off  who always attends the same summer camp as you? That’s my friend Tonya Canada. We’ve spent the past three summers in Portland at the Tin House Writer’s Workshop. Her work is funny, fearless, and concise. She tagged me in this blog tour, where you discuss your writing, as well as the process. Read about hers here.

How I Write:

What are you working on? I’m writing my teenage boot camp captivity narrative, Unreformed. My parents were fundamentalist Christians from Mississippi. I didn’t fit the mold. When I was fifteen, they sent me to a Focus on the Family recommended reform school in the Dominican Republic (Escuela Caribe)Unreformed is about how I survived the D.R. It’s also about how I thrived in Athens, GA after I got out.

How does your work differ from others of its genre? For at least seven generations my people lived in the Mississippi Delta. I’m trying to explore what it’s like to be uprooted, the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma, the mechanistic force of modern religion. All this in addition to reform school. Sometimes I feel like Hamlet. I wonder if I’m trying to do too much.

Why do you write what you do? I had to tell this story or it would have destroyed me. Writing is my way of vanquishing it.

How does your writing process work? During the work week, I wake up around five a.m., shotgun coffee, and disappear into my backyard studio, writing for an hour before work. When I have longer periods to write (the summer, weekends), I take breaks for exercise or meditation. Often while I’m exercising I figure problems out.

Everything I write starts by hand. Once I have a written draft, I type it. Print it. Read it out loud. Annotate by hand. Revise again. Take it to workshop. There I read it to my peers, take notes of where it seems their attention or mine wanders. I take notes on their feedback. Repeat the process.

I don’t publish much outside of interviews. I’m still learning the craft. I log everything. It keeps me from getting lost. I also create maps of places or themes. Sometimes I sketch what I want to describe.

Next up:

Hope Hilton@hopehilton is an artist and a writer. She’s also a multi-generational Southerner. Irreverent as all get-out. My partner in crime.

Deirdre Lockwood  @deirdrelockwood is from the Northwest. We met at Tin House (“You’re the other Deirdre!”). She writes about science for money, poetry and fiction for pleasure.

Sabrina Orah Mark @SabrinaOrahMark  migrated to Athens via Brooklyn. She writes fantabulist fiction and poetry. She’s transformed my approach to writing with her workshop. She nailed it at the last New Town Revue.

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