|I was fifteen. |
We were building the Director’s house.
Our housefather would punish us if we didn’t move
faster, faster, faster…
What I need to tell you now is about Stockholm Syndrome and how it impacted me.
I need to tell you because for the past eight years I have been working on my book about the evangelical reform school Escuela Caribe. I have been vocal in speaking out against Escuela Caribe, both here and in an online private group for survivors of New Horizons Youth Ministries. I need to tell you because I wasn’t always like this, concrete that what happened to us was wrong. I need for you to know that I had a (short) period where I adopted the party line and thought the program saved me, followed by years of ambivalency, all this before the outright surety I have advocated for the past several years …
I need to tell you because I keep getting responses to this one post I wrote last summer. And because of that post I need to tell you again- I wasn’t always like this- concrete that what happened to us was wrong- because I too had Stockholm Syndrome, that phenomena where survivors of captivity relationships defend those who abused them.
The last time I experienced an extreme version of Stockholm Syndrome was in 2006. It was after Julia Scheeres’ Jesus Land had been released (thank you, Julia for confirming I was not alone), when I (accompanied by the ever-amazing esposo) visited the Dominican Republic. I had to see with my own eyes whether Escuela Caribe was abusive.
I was met at the gate (still guarded by locals- this time they had guns) by A. B.S. ( a staff member who has been affiliated since the eighties.) She took me on a tour of the school.
As we talked, she reminded me of all the good memories- Bacardi Beach and whale-watching in Samana, the aquarium and Tropi-Burger in Santo Domingo, eating helados in Santiago’s park- things I had forgotten were amazing- things that looked fun but that I could remember turned ugly, once the camera was off. And for a little while I was overwhelmed with love. I smiled and laughed mechanically all the while thinking “Is speaking out wrong?” and other variations of “Do I dare disturb the universe?“…We smiled and laughed and looked into each other’s eyes and I was so overwhelmed with love that I almost caved and agreed that “Yes, you worked miracles.”
So I am telling you all of this to say that yes, I comprehend that people can feel affection for people for staff at my reform school, Escuela Caribe. And I am telling you that even though face to face I spoke up, that later, when I went back to my hotel, I was still conflicted. Somewhere (I WILL find it) I have this notebook where in BIG BLOCK LETTERS I wrote (like Mulder) I WANT TO BELIEVE. Because OH I wanted to. I wanted to believe that what they were doing wasn’t wrong. I wanted to believe that in my silence I had not been complicit in allowing two more decades of student abuse. I wanted to believe because that’s what bonding under trauma does to you. You have all these intense emotions and love for the one who hurt you and it is super hard to break.