mental health, musings

We now return you to “the arts”…

I often get reminded of things and go looking for information about subjects most people have long forgotten. That happened to me the other day, while I was killing time cruising the Internet. I went through a phase about twenty years ago during which I became kind of obsessed with learning about the “teen help” industry. In those days, there was a burgeoning industry in which affluent parents with “wayward” children would hire goons to pick up their kids in the middle of the night and haul them off to some school in the middle of nowhere.

Back in the early 00s, there were many of these schools operating in the United States and other countries. One of the biggest players in the “teen help” industry was the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, otherwise known as WWASPS. Robert Lichfield, the man who founded WWASPS, and his younger brother, Narvin, were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormons. In 2003, when his company was still going strong, Robert Lichfield was also a big contributor to the Republican Party. Starting in 1977, Lichfield worked in the “teen help” industry, straightening out “troubled teens”. By 2003, WWASPS was raking in many millions of dollars from parents desperate to “save” their teens… or get them out of their hair. And these kids would be sent off to schools in Jamaica, Mexico, the Czech Republic, or somewhere in the United States– South Carolina, Utah, Montana, or Mississippi, among other places. They were kept in deplorable conditions and many of them left the schools with worse problems than they had when they went in.

As it happened, during the same time I was researching WWASPS a lot, Bill and I were getting acquainted. He was a Mormon when we met, having joined the faith with his ex wife. I didn’t know a lot about Mormonism when I met Bill. I had only met a few church members and read one book, a poorly received by the religion but excellently researched book called Secret Ceremonies, by the late Deborah Laake. Active church members were highly discouraged from reading Laake’s book, because Laake was an apostate who was trying to share her truth about being LDS. But even though members were discouraged from reading Secret Ceremonies, they would still dismiss its contents as lies. Bill and I later read it together and he told me that Laake’s account was very accurate. Later, I ran into one of Laake’s friends on RfM (Recovery from Mormonism), Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist and famously ex Mormon Steve Benson, whose grandfather was a “living prophet”. Benson knew Deborah Laake and confirmed that she was an excellent journalist.

I also noticed that Bill’s ex wife was using the church as a toxic parental alienation tool to separate Bill from his daughters. Although all of the Mormons I have known personally have been good people, I couldn’t ignore how the religion was being used to abuse people. I started researching it obsessively. I read RfM every day and read many books, which I documented in a thread on my original blog with links to my reviews on Epinions (sadly now defunct).

A few days ago, I remembered a riveting account of a WWASPS parental “training” event attended by Karen E. Lile and her then husband, Kendall Bean. I write “then husband”, because I have the impression that they are now divorced, since Karen Lile does not appear to be using the name “Bean” anymore. But I think they were still married years ago, when I first found their written account of attending parent training for the WWASPS program, held at a hotel in Livermore, California. The other day, I went looking for their accounts because they popped into my head. Sure enough, I found them. Here’s Karen Lile’s account, and here is Kendall Bean’s account.

In 1997, the Beans sent their daughter, Kyrsten, to Tranquility Bay, a WWASPS program in Jamaica. The Beans, like the Lichfield brothers, who had founded WWASPS, were members of the LDS church. You can read in their very lengthy accounts about what kind of people they claimed to be. Karen Lile is all over the Internet. She frequently mentions her long heritage in the San Francisco area. She appears to have many trappings of success, too. For instance, she mentions graduating with high honors from college, and working with her husband (ex?) in a high end piano buying service. Most recently, she’s listed as a contributor to an outfit called Sail Sports Talk. If you click the link, you can read all about her pedigree. She’s clearly a woman of education and means… or so it appears.

Same thing with Kendall Bean. He is reportedly a well-regarded concert pianist and co-owner of the piano restoration and brokerage.

This was a couple that appeared to have everything they could want. But apparently, they had a troubled daughter and decided to send her to Tranquility Bay in Jamaica. It sounded like an idyllic place, with a name that evoked visions of beautiful beaches, sea breezes, and blue skies. The reality was far from that image. According to Google, Tranquility Bay opened in 1997, the same year the Beans’ daughter attended. It was supposedly one of the harsher schools in the WWASPS system. Many “students” would reportedly go there and get sick, due to the lack of hygienic facilities, and they would be subjected to mental, physical, and emotional abuse. But they would not receive any treatment or sympathy. For this, their parents were paying thousands of dollars a month and, in the case of the Beans, relieving the financial burden, in part, by convincing other parents to send their children. From “Breaking the Vow of Secrecy“, the article Karen Lile wrote:

Why she initially stayed in the obviously abusive training…

When I first read these accounts of WWASPS years ago, I was shocked and horrified. I thirsted for more information, and I easily found it. Fifteen or twenty years ago, these types of schools existed all over the place. Not all were affiliated with Mormonism. Some were with the Independent Baptist Church, like Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Patterson, Missouri, and Victory Christian Academy in Jay, Florida. Some programs, like Thayer Learning Center (TLC) in Kidder, Missouri, appeared to be offshoots of the WWASP programs. The people who ran TLC were also LDS, but ran the school like a military boot camp. Here’s an account of one former student’s stay there.

And here’s a video about someone who went to Thayer Learning Center. She mentions the book Pure, which I have read and reviewed. Actually, I highly recommend listening to this video if you have any curiosity about how people can be spiritually abused, particularly in the LDS church.

Anyway… this very long build up has led to a discovery I made the other day. As I was reading about the Beans and their experiences with WWASPS training back in the late 1990s, I somehow found their daughter’s Web site. It turns out she’s a writer and musician herself. There doesn’t seem to be a lot to her site, but I did find her blog posts very interesting and illuminating. She’s writing about her experiences going to Tranquility Bay. Like a lot of people who were sent there, she was under the impression that it was a normal school. Jamaica sounded like a great place to be– probably better than home, where she was not getting along with her parents. She had no idea of what awaited her.

I think about reading her parents’ account of the disturbing training they had received. Their daughter had already been at Tranquility Bay, and they were evidently ignorant to what was happening to her there. And they were paying thousands of dollars a month for this… and convincing other parents to sign up their teens, too. I think about the young people who were subjected to that treatment and how it’s affected them today. Judging by her blog, Kyrsten Bean is still very much affected by her time in a WWASPS facility. I wonder what kind of relationship she has with her parents today… these people who, by what I’ve seen on the Internet, are highly accomplished, respectable, and educated people. If you know where to look, you can easily see beneath that facade.

I don’t like Mormonism. That has never been a secret. There was a time not long ago when I could think of very little good with the church, even as I recognized that there are many good people within it. But then Bill’s daughter told him her story of escaping her mother’s clutches and people in the church helped her. Just as the Army gave Bill a place to go once Ex was through with him, the LDS church gave his daughter a place to go once her relationship with her mother had gotten to the point that they could no longer live together. For that, I’m grateful… although I really wish she had come to Bill instead. We would have helped her. But I also understand why she felt she couldn’t.

I think it’s very sad to think about how parents betray their children by sending them to these kinds of facilities. And sadly, even though the WWASPS schools are now closed, these programs are still around under different names. It’s a very lucrative business, straightening out other people’s kids.

As I sit here writing this post, I am reminded that you just never know how you will affect people. I often think my life doesn’t matter much… but then I realize that this family in San Francisco has no idea that I’ve read so much about them and their fascinating story. I’ve read about them for years. And I can see by the people who hit this blog that there are people who are similarly interested in my story, for whatever reason. Like, for instance, one reader continually hits a post I wrote in April about how a guy on a cruise insulted me. I wonder why that post is so interesting to him… does he think it’s funny? Can he relate? Who knows?

Another person often finds me because of posts I wrote about Erin McCay George. I wonder if he’s fascinated by her so much that he needs to reread posts over and over again. But who knows? It’s hard to tell what interests people. I know I had one reader who read simply because she was returning and reporting to our former landlords… and, I suspect, hoped we’d pay for things that she and her family did in the house before we moved in. I like to think most readers are good people and not out to get me, but sometimes it’s hard to be sure. Especially when I see that Kyrsten Bean is now on YouTube– and very easily found. Apparently, she went on to have a relationship with a narcissist, something else with which we can commiserate.

I keep writing because it’s helpful for me. I’m sure that’s why Kyrsten writes, too. I have a hunch that her ex fiance isn’t the only one in her life who is a narcissistic abuser. But, of course, that’s only a hunch. I don’t actually know her… just like people who read this rag, by and large, don’t really know me. I’m just saying the signs are there, and once you’ve had anything to do with a narcissist, you can easily spot them. Unfortunately, narcissists can also spot people who will tolerate their bullshit. That’s why it’s best to express things… write about it and tell people. Don’t keep secrets. Because that is how abusive people continue to abuse. Just look at how long the abusive people running WWASPS were able to hide what they were doing as they financially ruined hundreds of parents and left their children with lingering physical, mental, and emotional problems.


4 thoughts on “We now return you to “the arts”…

  1. Interesting. When I saw WWASPS I though “whiter than white Anglo Saxon Protestants.” It’s just how my mind works.
    Yes, we all read and write for various reasons. I stopped writing when I left my ex, but intend to pick it up again when the dust from the divorce has settled. I don’t know that I would label her a narcissist, but she does share some traits. I am much happier alone and mentally healthier. Keep on doing what you do.

    • I think most people would think of WASP… maybe it was by design. I just thought it was interesting to see what happened after that experience. Imagine paying five figures a year so your kid ends up with PTSD and physical problems. That is an industry that needs a lot more oversight.

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