celebrities, healthcare, lessons learned, mental health

I have new respect for Paris Hilton…

I owe Paris Hilton an apology. There’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. I’ll admit, I never paid a lot of attention to her, mainly because of her ditzy party girl image. I vividly remember back in May 2007, when she was 26 years old and sentenced to 45 days in jail for violating probation. She went to the slammer and became so distraught that she was illegally transferred to house arrest. Judge Michael Sauer ordered her back to jail and it was big Internet news for awhile. There was even a parody song done for her.

A parody about Paris done to the melody of her song, “Stars Are Blind”.

At the time, I will admit that she seemed like an overprivileged Hollywood brat. The media had portrayed her as a rich heiress who never had to work a day in her life. Well… having just watched her YouTube documentary, “This is Paris”, I now know that Paris is no dummy. In fact, as I watched the ending, I was both impressed and rather emotional. I couldn’t believe it, but I felt really sorry for Paris.

Worth viewing.

It’s been in the news lately that Paris Hilton was sent to Provo Canyon School (PCS) in Provo, Utah. I’ve mentioned PCS in this blog more than once. It’s a place where troubled teens are sent. Paris Hilton did get in trouble a lot. I’m sure her parents were at their wits’ end with her. She liked to party when she was a teenager and her parents were very strict. They didn’t want her to wear makeup or model or do any of the things she was drawn to as a young woman. So she rebelled, and they sent her to a variety of “teen help” programs meant to straighten her out. She ran away from several other programs before she finally landed at Provo Canyon School, where she stayed for eleven months. There was no escaping Provo Canyon School, and Paris got the full treatment. Now it makes total sense as to why she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown before she went to jail in 2007. But back then, no one other than her fellow inmates at PCS knew what she’d been through at the school.

I’ve written a lot about so-called “teen help” programs over the years. In fact, I recently reviewed Cameron Douglas’s book Long Way Home. In his book, Cameron Douglas mentions PCS, describing it as a place no one wants to be. It was a notoriously abusive, hard-core facility for troubled kids. In fairness, Cameron Douglas actually was a troubled kid and did end up doing time in prison. But Paris really seemed to be more misunderstood than ultimately headed for the big house.

In her documentary, “This is Paris”, Hilton explains that she has recurrent nightmares. They begin with her being kidnapped out of her bed in the middle of the night. That actually happened to her. She was “kidnapped” by paid actors, escorts hired by her parents to take her to PCS. I have read a number of articles and researched a lot of organizations that charge big bucks to “abduct” troubled teens from their homes and send them to pseudo-psychiatric boarding schools. Parents pay a lot of money for their children to be “treated” by poorly trained “counselors” who employ abusive and sometimes violent methods of getting their charges to comply. I also know from prior research that some programs, such as those run by the now defunct World Wide Association of Special Programs and Schools (WWASPS), actually gave parents discounts on tuition if they recruited other parents to sign up their kids. Teen help is a big business, especially in Utah.

It’s worth mentioning that Provo Canyon School was owned by a different organization when Paris Hilton went there in the late 1990s. Hilton spent eleven months in the facility when it was owned by Charter Behavioral Health Programs; it is now owned by Universal Health Services, Inc. Charter was a big corporation in the 80s and 90s and constantly aired ads advertising its services for troubled teens. We even had a facility near where I grew up. It was called Charter Colonial Institute and I knew a couple of people who were sent there. Charter got a lot of bad press about some of its “treatment” methods, which included physical restraints, use of psychiatric drugs, solitary confinement, and boredom– staring at a wall.

Provo Canyon School is located in Provo, Utah, which is at the heart of Mormonism, as it’s also the location of Brigham Young University, the church’s most prestigious institution of higher learning. PCS is staffed by a lot of BYU students with varying levels of qualifications for working with troubled youths. Many LDS church members are involved in the “teen help industry”, and as it’s mentioned in Paris’s documentary, a lot of the people who work at the many teen help facilities in Utah go on to open their own businesses, straightening out teens. I’ve written a lot about the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS), which operated some of the worst of the teen help programs around the world, but there were other programs out there that have since closed. Thayer Learning Center in Kidder, Missouri was one such facility that operated a military style program. It closed after someone died. Baptists are also well-known for running programs for troubled teens, especially in Missouri and Mississippi.

Paris Hilton happened to be a teenager when these programs were really thriving. I’m sure her parents thought they were helping her by sending her to “boarding school”, not to mention restoring some sense of normalcy in their home. But they had no idea what Paris went through at Provo Canyon School. She couldn’t tell them, and in fact, didn’t tell them until just recently. Paris’s mother, Kathy, is in the documentary, as is her sister, Nicky, but her dad, Richard Hilton, who was one of the youngest of the famous Hilton siblings, was not shown in the film.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t really that interested in most of the documentary. I mostly wanted to hear what Paris had to say about her time at Provo Canyon School. However, I must admit that she comes across as very intelligent and compassionate in her documentary. I was especially impressed by the women she had over to her house who had known her when they were at PCS. They all suffer the aftereffects of having been sent to that place. It’s obvious that a lot of damage was done to them, not just because they say it, but because of the way they say it. My heart kind of broke for them.

And now that I’ve seen the documentary, I no longer think Paris Hilton is a vapid, spoiled, filthy rich asshole. There’s a real person behind that party girl image. She’s smart and talented and deserves more respect. And she did not deserve to be beaten up, drugged, stripped naked, and put in solitary confinement. I’m sure her parents are horrified. Her mom was shown on camera as Paris told her about it and she did, in fact, look really shocked.

The Salt Lake Tribune recently ran an article about PCS. Unfortunately, I can’t easily access it in Germany, but it may be worth a read for those who are interested. It’s easily found if you Google Provo Canyon School. I really think these types of “teen help” programs should either be outlawed or much better monitored. A lot of young people have been irreparably harmed by them, and some have even died.

The deaths aren’t a new phenomenon, either. In 1995, 16 year old Aaron Bacon died in a wilderness program in Utah, having developed a bleeding ulcer that turned into peritonitis. In 1996, Anthony Rutherford, then a teen at Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Missouri, murdered another teen, William Andrew Futrelle II while they were gathering firewood. And in 2007, fifteen year old Roberto Reyes, who was at Thayer Learning Center in Kidder, Missouri, died after being forced to exercise when he was sick. Fortunately, these programs have since closed, but others still exist and are not given the state oversight that they should have.

What Paris Hilton endured at Provo Canyon School is definitely abuse. It would not have been tolerated if it was reported as going on at her home. Why so-called “boarding schools” are allowed to get away with this shit is beyond me. I’m sure it has a lot to do with money, though.

Drew Barrymore also did time in “teen help”. She was a notorious drug abuser when she was a teenager. I read her book, Little Girl Lost, in the early 90s.

In the above clip, Paris says she hadn’t meant to talk about her experience at PCS. She just wanted to talk about her business ventures, which are quite impressive. Paris apparently inherited and developed a head for business. But I am so glad she talked about this experience. She’s going to help a lot of people. And from now on, when I read a fluffy article about what an “airhead” she is, I’ll know it’s bullshit. Paris Hilton is no fool, and she’s laughing all the way to the bank. And she deserves happiness and more respect than she gets from people who have bought into her rich girl persona.

Now Drew Barrymore, on the other hand, was genuinely a very troubled child who did need some real help and, by her account, she ultimately got it. And fortunately, where Drew went was not as bad as PCS was. Drew has straightened out nicely, too, although I think I like her more as an actress than a talk show host.

Drew must have been ordered to make this special with Corey Feldman.

Here’s a treasure trove of information about these programs from people who have been there. I used to read it a lot in the early 00s, when I was researching this topic a lot.

Here’s a link to Breaking Code Silence, an online place for testimonials and videos from survivors of teen help programs.