#WritersResist: Silence- Athens, GA

Because our democracy is at risk, a group from Athens is joining with writers throughout the nation to focus attention to the ideals of a free, just, and democratic society  for all on Sunday, January 15, Martin Luther King’s birthday.  More about national events can be found here.

Here in Athens, we will have

  • a workshop at the 1493 Prince location of our beloved Avid Bookshop  at 3 p.m. for all ages.  We will create peace flags.
  • a reading from 5 – 6 p.m. at Avid, featuring a wide variety of speakers throughout the community, reading from works celebrating the ideals of democracy.
  • an oratory orchestra, with people reading works celebrating democracy throughout the community.  More details to be announced.


Please mark your calendars and plan to bring your friends, your family, and all those you love.

We are possibly adding more events.  Check back for updates.  If you would like to be involved, please contact Deirdre Sugiuchi at athenswritersresist@gmail.com

Suffer the Little Children: Mike Pence’s Disturbing Connections to the Teen Treatment Industry


When I was fifteen, my parents sent me to Escuela Caribe, a fundamentalist Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. At this school students were forced to exercise for punishment, sometimes until they vomited or collapsed from exhaustion. Students were beaten with a leather strap for minor infractions. Staff members would slam students into the wall if they thought we were out of line. It was a school where students of color were punished more severely than white students, a school where it was taught that homosexuality was immoral, equated with pedophilia or bestiality, and a school where we girls were taught that having sexual feelings meant we were whores.

I had never been in trouble with the law. I was well-liked by my teachers and grandparents. Yet the Republican platform, which supports “the rights of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children,” would support my parents’ decision to send me away.

You would think a place like this couldn’t exist in 2016, but even now, 27 years after I was sent away, the troubled teen industry is not regulated. Furthermore, Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence is directly tied to Escuela Caribe, a school which, due to negative publicity arising from Julia Scheeres’ memoir Jesus Land, has been since reorganized and is now known as Caribbean Mountain Academy. Pence appears in a fundraising video for Crosswinds, the parent organization of Caribbean Mountain Academy, thanking the audience for “standing behind all the vulnerable families…and behind this extraordinarily important ministry.” He encourages the audience to reflect deeply on the work that Crosswinds does, and to think of ways they can become more involved.

Pence doesn’t just fundraise for Caribbean Mountain Academy. Pence’s former deputy finance director and one time assistant to Indiana first lady Karen Pence is Brenda Gerber Vincent. She is now Vice President of Development at Crosswinds. Pence also appointed Mark Terrell, the director of Crosswinds, to Indiana’s Allen Superior Court Judicial Nominating Committee. This panel selects judges who may decide what kids to send to Crosswinds’ boarding schools or to its detention center, the Pierceton Wood Academy.

Understand, even though Caribbean Mountain Academy initially kept five of Escuela Caribe’s staff members to assist in the takeover, it is not the same organization as Escuela Caribe. Based on interviews with former students, CMA is not overtly physically abusive. However, it is located outside of the jurisdiction of the United States, it operates on a level system, and it restricts communication between students and the outside world, all warning signs of abusive programs.  Most disturbingly, to be employed as a houseparent at Crosswinds, which entails supervising several “at-risk” adolescents on a daily basis, one only needs a personal relationship with Christ, references attesting to this personal relationship, and a high school diploma or a GED.

Having untrained staff leads to abuse. One alum reports of being sexually assaulted by Crosswinds staff and then being blamed for it. Another told me about a fellow runaway student who was captured by Dominicans wielding machetes and taken back to campus in the trunk of a car. Both incidents happened in 2014. Abuse like this happen because there is no oversight at off-shore facilities like Caribbean Mountain Academy in the Dominican Republic. No one is there to speak up for the children when abuse occurs.

When I think about the children enrolled in Crosswinds and in faith based schools, and when I think of all the faith based schools for troubled teens which would be empowered to open under a Republican administration, schools which are to this day unregulated by Democratic administrations, I feel overwhelmed. Tough love tactics such as isolation, humiliation, and emotional attacks are regularly employed at troubled teen institutions, even though most psychologists agree that these tactics should only be used as a last resort. In-state facilities have little oversight. In 2005 alone, the last year statistics of abuse at troubled teen facilities were recorded, over 1,500 children in 30 states reported abuse. At least 28 states had deaths occur in one or more facilities the same year.

In the years that followed my graduation, I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. I spent years silent about the abuse that happened to me because I was ashamed, because I felt like no one would believe such abuse could happened to me at a Christian institution. I’m not alone. Many of the thousands of graduates of the troubled teen industry suffer long term trauma. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I read accounts of former students on message groups, alumni wondering “Does it ever get better?” Alumni wanting hope not just for themselves but for their children.

I moved to a supportive community and created a wonderful family and a fulfilling life. I have scars, but consider myself to be lucky. Yet I worry about the children, children who are caught in the crossfire of a country with leaders like Mike Pence, who prioritize strengthening an authoritarian concept of families as opposed to actively protecting children.



Back in high school, back before Escuela Caribe, I liked to take pictures.  I’d spend hours cutting out scraps of images and arranging them on cardstock, making collages from the discards.

This summer I finished the final draft of Unreformed. The narrative wasn’t working so I tried something different- I cut the entire book into pieces, first arranging by themes. This let me determine what was important. Then I cut a second copy into pieces and collaged the draft together.

I had a collection of pictures documenting the whole process, but the resolution is wrong.

I like the final version. I’m letting it sit for now, but in the meantime, there’s this article about the troubled teen industry.

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.


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