book reviews, religion

Repost: What Would Jesus Do In Jesus Land? 

I originally wrote this book review for Epinions.com on October 27, 2005. I am reposting it here, as/is.

For the first part of this week, I accompanied my husband, Bill, on one of his many TDY trips. For those of you who have no military or civil service background, TDY stands for Temporary Duty Yonder; it basically means that Bill had to go to a conference out of town. We went to Hampton, Virginia, which is my birthplace. Because I went on this trip with Bill, I got to stay in a lovely, brand new Embassy Suites Hotel, and I was left with a great deal of time on my hands. Luckily, I’m an avid reader and there was a Barnes & Noble located just down the street. I ended up buying four books, and Julia Scheeres’ 2005 memoir Jesus Land was among my purchases.

I have a professional background in social work and public health, and a special interest in so-called “teen help” programs, especially those that are affiliated with churches. I also love to read biographies, and it was in this section of Barnes & Noble where I found Jesus Land. I was drawn by the title, especially given the fact that Jesus Land was in the biography section. I was also drawn to the picture on the book jacket, which showed two cute little kids, a little blonde, white girl and a a little black boy, standing by a trailer. Then I read the book jacket, which explains Jesus Land’s premise. Back in the early 1980s, Julia Scheeres, who is white, and her adopted brother David, who is black, were sent to Escuela Caribe, a brutal Christian boot camp for teens in the Dominican Republic. I had never heard of Escuela Caribe or its parent program, New Horizons Youth Ministries, despite the fact that I’ve done a lot of research regarding so-called “reform schools”. I’m also a sucker for books about dysfunctional families and believe me, Scheeres’ family really fits the bill in that regard!

Jesus Land is divided into two parts. Throughout the first half of Jesus Land, Scheeres describes the sights and smells of life in the rural Midwest, including the ubiquitous homemade signs written in less than perfect English reminding travelers that they needed to get right with God before Judgment Day. Jesus Land gets its title from one of those homemade signs. In the second half of Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres writes about the harrowing experiences she and her brother, David, had at Escuela Caribe.

In the first half of Jesus Land, Julia Scheeres gives readers the backstory of how she and her brother, David, wound up at Escuela Caribe and more importantly, how she and David came to be brother and sister. Julia Scheeres is the youngest biological daughter of very strict, fundamentalist Christian parents. Her father, who drove an expensive sports car, worked as a surgeon in Lafayette, Indiana. Her mother was a nurse, although I didn’t get the feeling that she practiced her profession when Julia and her siblings were growing up. Scheeres’ mother is depicted as quite idiosyncratic, forcing her family to be extremely frugal even though her husband made a very comfortable living. For example, Julia Scheeres’ mother made a concoction that she called “Garbage Soup”, which basically consisted of all of the old leftover food in the house thrown into a pot and simmered into a soup. Scheeres describes this brew in a very unappetizing way and she makes it clear that the family could certainly afford better. Julia Scheeres and her siblings were also forced to wear clothes from K-mart, which set them up for ridicule from their peers. However, even if Julia Scheeres and her siblings had been allowed to wear the very best clothes, they still would have been set apart from their peers because two of the six siblings in the Scheeres family were black.

Julia Scheeres’ older sister, Laura, was born with spina bifida and had spent a lot of time in the hospital having and recuperating from corrective surgeries. While she was in the hospital, she befriended an orphan child who was white. The Scheeres decided that adopting Laura’s orphan friend would be a very Christian thing for them to do, so they put in an application. However, Laura’s friend ended up being adopted by another family. The adoption agency had plenty of other children who needed homes… black children. They pressured the Scheeres into adopting a black child even though they really would have preferred a child who was white. Ultimately, the Scheeres decided that God was testing them by presenting them with a black child and if they adopted three year old David, they would be proving to the world that they were not racists. They would look like the perfect Christians they strived to be. It was a nice idea for them, except for the fact that Scheeres’ parents clearly did not love David as they should have. Nevertheless, they felt David should have a sibling who was “like him”, so they also adopted seven year old Jerome, whom Julia Scheeres depicts as a “bad seed”. She also explains that David and Jerome didn’t even act like brothers until they were older and David began to understand the racial divide that separated him from the rest of his family. Scheeres makes it clear that she and David were close from the very beginning, even though Julia often caught a lot of hell from her peers for having two black brothers.

Scheeres describes what daily life was like for her and David. She was clearly given preferential treatment by their parents and she speculates why she was treated differently. For one thing, she was their biological child. For another thing, she was white. Scheeres describes in heartbreaking detail how David and Jerome were mistreated at the hands of their adoptive parents as well as their peers. Through it all, David remained good-hearted, while Jerome slipped further and further into the dark side. She also writes in an almost detached way about some of her own painful experiences growing up as their sister. The first half of Jesus Land could really be its own book. As jam packed with Scheeres’ painful stories as the first half of Jesus Land is, I got the feeling that there was more she could have added. She doesn’t tell readers much about her older siblings; they get just a passing mention or two. Instead, she focuses on her relationship with David and to a lesser extent, Jerome. I felt really sorry for all of the Scheeres children as I read about how they were treated by their parents. I didn’t get the feeling that Scheeres had any affection for her mother and father, whom she depicts as very weird people.

In the second half of the book, Scheeres describes how she and David ended up being shipped off to reform school in the Dominican Republic. Again, this part of the book really could have stood on its own, had Scheeres added more substance to it. I really felt like it was another story, even though it was very helpful to know what had transpired in David’s and Julia’s lives to lead them to such a place. They had gone from backwoods Indiana to an island in the Caribbean; suddenly there was a new cast of characters and a new setting with only passing references to the original setting and cast.

Despite her ordeal, Scheeres manages to keep the story from dipping into self-pity, although I did get the feeling that she felt somewhat sorry for David, much less so for Jerome, who was very abusive to Scheeres. Again, Scheeres writes Jesus Land with surprising detachment, even though she graphically relates several instances in which she was abused at the hands of other people. Her tone gets a bit more personal when she writes about David. Scheeres shares that when she and David were younger, the family had taken vacations to Florida. Their memories of those Florida vacations were among their best. Consequently, Julia and her brother dreamed of turning eighteen and one day moving to Florida together, where they could do whatever they wanted to do. When things got rough, one of them would say “Remember Florida” in order to get the other to focus on the idea that things would get better.

Jesus Land is written in the historical present tense, which gives this book a “real time” feel, even though the events occurred in the 1980s. Scheeres makes many references to popular music in the 1980s, a forbidden pleasure, since Scheeres’ mother apparently tried to shield her children from “worldly influences” by constantly playing “Rejoice Radio” over their home’s intercom system, using the intercom system to listen to their conversations, and forbidding them from watching anything but family oriented or religious television shows. It’s often been my experience that children who are raised in very restrictive homes often end up rebelling or prematurely having the experiences from which their parents most want to shield them. Scheeres is no exception to this rule. She writes of abusing alcohol as a teenager, losing her virginity to rape, using enough vulgar language to make a sailor blush, and witnessing as her brother, Jerome, threw an illegal party while Dr. and Mrs. Scheeres were on a trip.

Jesus Land was a fast read for me. I finished it in a matter of hours, but that was partly because I was killing time, waiting for my husband to get out of a marathon meeting. I enjoyed reading Jesus Land and thought it was well-written. I’m a bit torn, however, on how I feel about how this book was presented because it does seem like two books to me. It’s not until the end of the book that Scheeres really explains why she wrote Jesus Land and where she really got her basis for the book. It’s true that Jesus Land is based on her own experiences, but it was also very much based on her brother, David’s, experiences. It wasn’t until I read her explanation that I finally had some grasp of why she adopts a more sensitive, sympathetic tone toward her brother’s experiences than she does for her own– and ultimately it’s that revelation that makes the phrase “Remember Florida” very poignant. I think that had Scheeres not explained herself, I would have given Jesus Land four stars. Scheeres’ epilogue and the explanation that she includes within has prompted me to award Jesus Land five stars. Jesus Land is a worthwhile read, especially for those who are interested in books about family dynamics, racial issues, fundamentalist Christianity, or “teen help” facilities. Moreover, Julia Scheeres has had experiences of which the average reader will never have a first hand understanding, and she offers valuable insight for those of us who can’t relate personally to her situation. I think she’s done the public a great service by putting her story in print for the world to see.

Julia Scheeres on the Web…

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
education, psychology, teen help

Circle of Hope Ranch: Another Missouri Christian “teen help” snake pit closes…

Good morning, everybody. I am writing today’s post on my new laptop. It’s the first laptop I have bought since July 2014, just before we moved back to Germany from Texas. I bought my first laptop because my computer had been shipped and I predicted wanting to have a computer for the times when I traveled. It seems crazy to buy a new computer for travel now… especially since my old machine still works. But since I’m not having much fun right now, I decided it was time to upgrade. I have Bill’s blessing, too!

This morning, I became aware of yet another Christian boarding school in Missouri that was just closed. The fact that this school was in Missouri is noteworthy, since Missouri is notorious for having little oversight over private boarding schools, such as the now defunct Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy. Consequently, there are a lot of “teen help” type schools in that state, especially those affiliated with independent Baptist churches. These schools are often located in tiny, rural towns and are set up on vast, remote plots of land, free from the prying eyes of neighbors and authorities, and hard for the children to escape.

The name of the school I’m writing of today is Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch and Boarding School. This place, located in Humansville, a hamlet in southwestern Missouri, was run by Christian couple Boyd and Stephanie Householder, aged 71 and 55 respectively. Boyd Householder faces 79 felony counts and one misdemeanor, which include “charges for child molestation, sodomy, sexual contact with a student and neglect of a child.” His wife, Stephanie, is charged with 22 felony counts of “abuse or neglect of a child, and endangering the welfare of a child.”

News item about Circle of Hope Ranch.

The alleged abuses took place between 2017 and 2020, although Boyd Householder opened the school in 2006. He claimed that his methods could “reform rebellious teenage girls.” His allegedly abusive brand of straightening out hundreds of girls went unabated until his own daughter, Amanda, spoke out on Tik Tok. Amanda has not spoken to her parents since 2016. The school’s official Web site is now defunct, but you can access an archived version of it here.

Having done my fair share of studying these types of boarding schools, it comes as no surprise to me that the Householders are accused of using cruel methods to control their charges. The Christian couple is accused of withholding food, restraining girls, and forcing them to do manual labor. Girls were allegedly restrained with handcuffs and zip ties, and gagged with dirty socks. It occurs to me that the Householders may have stumbled across an effective way to satisfy their needs… free labor that parents actually PAID them to force their daughters to do, and sexual kink. The fact that Householder used dirty sock gags and hard restraints on teenaged girls suggests to me that he’s likely a sexual deviant.

Besides obviously being perverted, Householder also supposedly told one of his charges how to commit suicide. He also allegedly pushed a girl down stairs. Past residents have also alleged that Householder slammed girls’ heads against walls, kept them in strict isolation, poured hot sauce in their mouths, and used duct tape and socks to prevent a girl from using her hands. Boyd Householder’s wife, Stephanie, was less of a participant in the abuse, but aided and abetted her husband in committing them.

As I write this post this morning, I’m watching the latest season of 60 Days In, a reality show that has civilians voluntarily entering jails undercover in an effort to help wardens improve security and get information about what goes on inside their facilities. As horrific, dangerous, and violent jails are, at least in the vast majority of them, inmates have basic human rights and some knowledge of when they might be released. Teenagers that are sent to the “therapeutic” or “religious” boarding schools often have no idea when they might be allowed to leave. And they have little to no contact with anyone who can or will advocate for them.

Where was the oversight? Didn’t parents or child welfare workers take note? Well, according to NBC News, legal authorities did receive numerous complaints about Circle of Hope– at least 19 reports were logged since the school was opened in 2006. But thanks to Missouri’s lax laws regarding private school oversight, no actions were ever taken. Consequently, there have been many cases of abuse and even a few deaths at religious and/or military reform schools like Circle of Hope. I mentioned Mountain Park, in Patterson, Missouri, earlier in this post. That school closed in 2004, but eight years prior to its closure, a student was murdered there by another student. There was also a death at the now defunct Thayer Learning Center, a Mormon/military based program based in Kidder, Missouri, when a student collapsed there.

I’ve been following these types of reform programs for about twenty years. Progress has been made, since a lot of the worst programs have been shut down. However, as the news about Circle of Hope suggests, there are still programs out there that operate without any oversight and employ extremely abusive methods to control teens. And a lot of the people running the schools are deviants who are looking after children who need help from trained professionals. But even some of the so called professionals are ill equipped and unsuitable for the job.

I wrote about a program that was located near where I grew up. Hopesville Christian Academy had a history of taking in troubled teens from all over the state of Virginia. Many times, the care was paid for by taxpayers. But then it turned out that the man running the school, who had inherited the job from his father-in-law who had founded it, was sexually abusing his charges.

Also, back in 2008, I became aware of a deviant social worker from Middlesex County, Virginia, the county adjacent to my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia. The social worker, Arthur Bracke, had worked with abused children for many years. But he was also abusing them himself. After he retired from his job, he was outed for being a deviant and wound up in prison, where he later died. As someone who has a MSW myself, it is shocking to me that this man got away with molesting and abusing so many children and managed to retire from his job before he was finally discovered. Before his arrest, Bracke tried to murder one of the three sons he had adopted from the foster care system by intentionally setting his rented house on fire while the 19 year old boy was sleeping in it.

Although there are some good people who work with teens, there are also a lot of bad people. And they take advantage of stressed out, desperate, frustrated parents who just want to pain to end. The kids go off to “rehab” and their parents are kept unaware of what’s going on with their child. Many times, the youngsters come out of these schools scarred by the abuse and traumatized forever. Or, in worse cases, the children end up dying from abuse, neglect, or murder.

I’m glad to read that another school has been shut down. I just wish it had never been allowed to open and operate without any oversight whatsoever. My heart breaks for the children who were forced to endure the abuses at Circle of Hope and other schools like it. Life is hard enough without having your parents send you away to a place where your life is controlled by criminals. I hope justice is served in the Householders’ case. I am all for them getting a fair trial, but I have learned that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It will be interesting to read what becomes of them as they move through the legal system… and I hope Missouri lawmakers are paying attention and take some action to stop these abusive programs. I also hope parents open their eyes and get wise to these places.

Standard
education, mental health, psychology, religion

Getting “right” with God!

I got bored yesterday and started reading the Internet, as I often do. Before long, I was reading about a scandal at tiny Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. Having familiarized myself with Front Royal when I worked at a church camp up that way, I was interested in the story about young women who were allegedly sexually assaulted there. But, as anyone who’s ever surfed the Web knows, one thing leads to another, and before I knew it, I was reading about yet another controversial “teen help” program for girls.

Someone had written a blog post about Hephzibah House, a “school” located in Winona Lake, Indiana. I found the post because I had searched for Hyles-Anderson College, a school in Hammond, Indiana, affiliated with the Independent Baptist Church. I have written about Hyles-Anderson College before. It’s a place where young men go to become strict, fire and brimstone Baptist preachers, and young women go to learn how to be good wives and helpmeets. But when I added the word “horror” to “Hyles-Anderson College, I stumbled across this blog post about Hyles-Anderson College and its connection to Hephzibah House.

The blog entry is posted on No Eden Elsewhere, which appears to be a blog mostly dedicated to the subject of clergy abuse. The person who wrote the post happened to catch a two day expose on the Dr. Phil show about the horrors of the Hephzibah House. If I were living in America right now, I probably would have seen the show myself. It originally aired on January 13th and 14th 2020, and featured the son of the founders, Ronald E. and Patti Williams, who implored viewers NOT to send their daughters to the school.

The son of the founders describes how his parents disciplined him, as well as the girls at the school.

It appears the Hephzibah House is still operating. There is a very simple, Blogspot-esque Web site that is still available to inform parents about the school. According to that site, the girls are not spanked. However, according to the survivors on the Dr. Phil show, corporal punishment is a major ingredient in the school’s recipe for “straightening out” young girls, aged 13 to 16 years, 8 months. Why don’t they take girls older than 16 years, 8 months? Because the minimum stay is 15 months. Do the math, and you see that 16 years, 8 months is the latest a girl could attend the school and spend 15 months there before she turns 18 and can legally walk out of there.

A woman explains how she was paddled at Hephzibah House.

The above video is a harrowing description of how girls were allegedly disciplined at Hephzibah House. I can believe the woman’s account, since I have become well versed in the practices of similar schools. Corporal punishment, and abusive correction methods such as forcing girls to copy and memorize Bible verses or write sentences, are pretty common at these types of places. The description of the abuses at Hephzibah House might have been “spiced” up a bit for ratings purposes, but my guess is that it didn’t have to be spiced up too much.

Years ago, I chatted with a couple of people who attended the now defunct Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Patterson, Missouri and they had similar stories. I also read about the former Victory Christian Academy in Jay, Florida, which was later rebranded Lighthouse Christian Academy and has now closed. Below is a video about a woman who went to Victory Christian Academy– a survivor of the school, so to speak.

Similar methods… and she does mention the Hephzibah House. She also describes being “kidnapped” in the middle of the night and forcibly taken to school in 2003.

For the life of me, I don’t understand how these supposedly “Christian” people can run such obviously abusive “schools” that employ blatantly heavy-handed methods of getting their charges to obey. I was always taught that Christ was about love, tolerance, and acceptance, as well as mercy. These schools are all about pain, punishment, and humiliation. And typically, these places don’t allow any freedom of expression. In the above Dr. Phil clips, the guests talk about how they weren’t allowed to speak, unless they were asking permission to go to the bathroom or something.

And in the above clip about Victory Christian Academy, the former student, Mackenzie Millar, talks about how she wasn’t allowed to write the truth about how life at the school really was in her letters home. She speaks about the “get right room”, a room the size of a closet where girls were forced to stay for hours. The rooms were nasty and stinky, because girls would urinate on themselves. Meanwhile, they were forced to listen to Lester Roloff’s abusive fundie sermons, blasted at them. Mackenzie also talks about how the floors were equipped with sensors that would sense when girls got up. Likewise, in the Dr. Phil clips, the participants talk about how the floors had sensors and there were microphones everywhere, so the staff could hear every whisper. Creepy! Also, most of the girls at the school stopped having their periods.

I see the Hephzibah House uses the School of Tomorrow (Accelerated Christian Education) curriculum, which is a Protestant fundamentalist educational curriculum that is often used at these types of schools. Another popular curriculum is Abeka (formerly A Beka Book), which was developed at Pensacola Christian College and named after, Rebekah Horton, the wife of the school’s founder, Arlin Horton. Years ago, I used to hang out on The Student Voice, a newsletter and forum run by former PCC students, many of whom were kicked out of the school and wanted to share their stories. I also read about what it was like to work for A Beka Book at PCC.

The school administrators, of course, were very angry about the site, which used the domain http://www.pensacolachristiancollege.com. They sued to get the site’s owner to relinquish the domain, and students who were caught reading or contributing to it were expelled. Having been an active member on that site for awhile, I can attest that it was not a scandalous place. There was no swearing allowed, and the contributors, by and large, were intelligent and thoughtful people who were clearly Christians. But they rebelled against the school’s extreme teachings and policies. Here’s a blog post by a woman named Samantha Field, who attended PCC and has written about why people shouldn’t go there. At least people who are going to college generally have a choice as to whether they will attend. There is still a messageboard in existence, although it’s not all that active anymore. At one time, I was a member, but I don’t know if I still am.

They claim they were forced to eat rotten and bug infested food.

I know there are some people who believe that these kinds of schools, where brainwashing is the name of the game, are helping them “get right with God”. In fact, one of Dr. Phil’s guests supports Hephzibah House, and says it’s not a bad place to be. I’ve read accounts from other people who claim these types of schools, where students are beaten and force fed their own vomit (see Mackenzie Millar’s podcast video for that story), have “saved their lives”.

I wonder if this woman REALLY thinks that blatant abuse is the best way to help someone “get right with God”.

I am also sure that many of the parents who send their kids to these kinds of schools feel like they have no other choice. I’m sure, in many situations, parents feel like they’ve lost control. But so many of these facilities are legitimately abusive hellholes. The methods employed are abusive and damaging, and they destroy people. It’s shocking that in this day and age, in the United States, these types of schools are allowed to exist with very little oversight. Discipline methods that would merit a visit to parents from child protective services are apparently widely employed without consequence at these places. And the young people who endure them come out with lasting damage from the abuse.

More about Hephzibah House– a “haven” for troubled teen girls.

The more I hear and read about these places, a few of which have been shut down, the happier I am that not only was I not raised in a strict religion, but I am also way beyond the teen years. The kids that go to these places are treated worse than prisoners. At least in prison, religious indoctrination is a choice.

Standard
book reviews

Reviewing Troubled: The Failed Promise of America’s Behavioral Treatment Programs, by Kenneth Rosen

Around the time I finished graduate school at the University of South Carolina, I became very interested in the subject of “teen help” programs. I read a lot about “therapeutic” boarding schools for teenagers in trouble with their parents, abusing drugs and alcohol, or with the law. I discovered that a lot of the programs were abusive. In fact, there have been deaths at a few of them. I read a lot of sad stories from young people who were taken from their homes in the middle of the night by hired “transport” teams.

I’m not naive about this subject. I understand that a lot of teenagers do get into trouble at home. Some of them are in such bad situations that their loved ones fear for their lives. They often come from families who are at least somewhat respectable. Certainly, many of the kids who end up in therapeutic boarding schools have parents with money that comes from somewhere. Those programs, which historically haven’t always been run by people with real qualifications, are extremely expensive. And a lot of them have a religious bent, too– particularly fundamentalist Baptist or Latter-day Saint.

Years ago, I read Maia Szalavitz’s excellent book, Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids. I also read Alexia Parks’ less well-regarded book, An American Gulag: Secret P.O.W. Camps for Teens, which was published a long time ago. Parks’ book was mostly inspired by the plight of a relative who was sent to the now defunct Mountain Park Baptist Boarding School, in Patterson, Missouri. That school, as well as its sister school, Palm Lane Academy in Florida, was closed in 2004. But the teen help industry burgeoned throughout the 2000s, and in fact, when I used to watch his show, I’d often see Dr. Phil McGraw sending kids to programs run by the Aspen Education Group, an outfit frequently mentioned in Kenneth Rosen’s book, Troubled: The Failed Promise of America’s Behavioral Treatment Programs.

Rosen’s book, just published this month, is a revealing look at young people who were sent to therapeutic boarding schools. Some were run by the Aspen Education Group. Some were run by the now defunct World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, an outfit that, at its peak, owned schools all over the United States and in countries like Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, and the Czech Republic. The schools’ programs were long on brutal punishments and unhygienic conditions, and short of qualified counseling by people who were trained to work with adolescents.

Kenneth Rosen, who is currently an accomplished and well regarded writer for Newsweek, has also written for the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the New York Times Magazine, as well as for WIRED. But Rosen has a personal stake in this subject. Back in 2007, when he was a teenager, his own parents had him roused from sleep one night by a couple of men who took him to a “therapeutic” boarding school for troubled teens. In all, Rosen did time at three different facilities in three states– in New York, Massachusetts, and Utah. And now, it appears that he’s straightened himself out and is using his skills and talents as a writer to inform the world about the plight of the troubled teens who get sent away by their loved ones.

Troubled follows the stories of several young people from varying walks of life. He covers brothers, Mike and Mark, who both got in trouble and were, at first, enrolled in different programs at the same time. Mike, who was the older of the two, had initially gone to The Academy at Ivy Ridge, in upstate New York. The school, which is now closed, was a member of the WWASP network and had a heavy Mormon influence. Eventually, he was sent to another school in Utah, where his brother was enrolled.

Then there’s Hazel, a young woman who went to a “wilderness” program in the Adirondacks because she was doing drugs with her mother, father, and brother. Her mother’s parents had custody of Hazel and decided she needed to be straightened out in the woods, where she spent weeks camping out with other troubled girls.

Avery was a young woman who had been adopted by her godmother and was sent to Louisiana, many miles from where she had spent her formative years. When her relationship with her godmother went bad, Avery was packed up to a “therapeutic” boarding school, where it became clear her godmother intended to keep her until she was eighteen years old, regardless of her progress at getting “better”.

Rosen’s writing is very clear and engaging, and I found the stories about his subjects interesting and poignant. However, I did notice that Rosen was a bit biased in his account. This may be because he had his own experiences at teen boarding schools and they were, apparently, negative. His subjects, on the other hand, did not seem to be quite as negative about the programs as he is. For instance, toward the end of the book, Mike, who was very troubled and never quite got “straightened out”, even admits that he probably belonged in the schools.

Only a little bit of attention is given to the plight of the anguished parents who are watching their children or, in some cases, charges, going down a bad path that might lead them to prison or a premature death. Rosen seems to be most interested in presenting a case against these programs, but not really offering a solution to the problem. As an empathetic person, I can understand why being hauled off by strangers in the middle of the night to a therapeutic boarding school in the wilderness would cause emotional scarring. I also know that sometimes, the kids who end up in those programs don’t actually belong there. On the other hand, I wonder what the parents go through before they reach the point of being willing to spend thousands of dollars a month on a therapeutic program for their children. Some of the programs cost as much as an Ivy League education.

I do think Troubled is well worth reading if you are interested in accounts about these types of programs. The abuses that occur in these types of schools are well-documented. It’s a fact that in the not too distant past, there were some therapeutic schools that had serious defects. There have been deaths recorded at some schools. One of the reasons Mountain Park closed down was because a child was murdered there in 1996. Likewise, there was a death at the now defunct Thayer Learning Center in Kidder, Missouri. Sixteen year old Aaron Bacon died in 1994 at a camp in Utah when a perforated ulcer was untreated. Rosen also writes about teens who have died more recently in the wilderness programs because they had medical problems that were ignored. These are definitely points that should be considered. However, I also think it’s worth considering what would drive parents to send their kids to these programs. In most cases, I’m sure it’s a last resort situation.

Anyway, I enjoyed Kenneth Rosen’s book. It’s definitely timely reading, since Paris Hilton recently shared her harrowing experiences after having been sent to Provo Canyon School in Utah. I do think parents should know more about these schools, particularly if they are intending to send a child to one. Not all programs are effective, but most of them are very expensive.

If I were rating it on a scale of one to five, I’d give Troubled a four. Rosen’s writing is mostly excellent, and he offers a lot of further resources in addition to his own book. It’s definitely not a bad read if you’re wanting to learn more about tough love boot camps for teens. Just balance it with other sources, which is something you should always do, anyway, and keep in mind that there is another side to this issue.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on items sold through my site.

Standard
poor judgment, psychology, teen help

Repost: How a Facebook chat convinced me to get VPN access…

Here’s a repost from my original blog. I wrote it in February 2019, about a week before I felt the need to shut down access to that blog because I was being stalked. As I sit here this morning, thinking about what I’d like to write about, I realize that this post was a pretty good one, especially in the wake of Paris Hilton’s revelations about Provo Canyon School. I like to transfer some of the better content from my original blog to this blog when I can. Despite what my stalker and her friends think about me, some of the stuff I write is useful to others. I think this post is one of the useful ones.

As I write this, my husband is probably taxiing to the gate at the Frankfurt Airport.  He’s been gone all week, and I’ve been filling my time with whatever I can.  I watched movies, including Small Sacrifices, which killed about three hours, The Ryan White StoryRight to Kill, and Catherine: An Anorexic’s Tale.  I also watched the premiere episode of Glee, which aired when we lived in Germany the first time.

I was able to watch Glee and The Ryan White Story because I decided to purchase access to a VPN, and that gave me access to American Netflix.  I decided to get the VPN because I’m tired of dealing with geographical restrictions on news stories.  I like to keep up with what’s going on at home.  Unfortunately, the paper I grew up reading, Daily Press, is behind in complying with the privacy laws of Europe.  Consequently, whenever I want to read something on their Web site, I get a message that the content isn’t available in my location.

I used to have a VPN account.  I got it when we first moved back to Stuttgart in 2014, mainly so I could watch Netflix.  But then Netflix started cracking down on VPNs and German Netflix was offering some pretty good shows, anyway.  I cancelled the VPN and mostly didn’t miss it.  What prompted me to get a new account with a different company was a conversation I had on Facebook.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about all of the made for TV movies I’ve been watching this week.  One movie I watched was called Without Consent.  It starred a young Jennie Garth, and was about a privately owned psychiatric hospital for teenagers that basically abused them for insurance money.  I mentioned in my post that this was a big issue in the late 1980s and early 90s.  Psych care for “troubled teens” was a very big business in those days.  It probably still is, but I will admit that I don’t follow that issue as much as I used to.

One of my friends mentioned that she had spent time in one of those facilities.  I got the impression that maybe my description of the movie, Without Consent, had offended her.  I had intended the post to be kind of silly and fun, but you never know how you’ll come across, particularly to people who are sensitive to an issue.

Anyway, as we were chatting, I mentioned Charter Colonial Institute, which was a private psychiatric hospital in Newport News, Virginia.  I grew up not far from Newport News, and I knew of a few of my peers who went there.  It always had kind of a mystique about it.  Sometimes, when I worked at Busch Gardens in James City County, Virginia, I’d take a route to work that caused me to pass that hospital.  I knew its tree lined campus was secure, located very close to Warwick Boulevard and the river.  Charter was such a ubiquitous company in those days; young people would simply speak of “going to Charter” and people would know what they were talking about.

A vintage ad for one of Charter’s many private psychiatric hospitals.  Charter Colonial Institute aired similar ones in my area back in the 80s.

Several years later, Charter’s burgeoning business began to falter.  The hospital changed hands and it was known as Colonial Hospital for a few years.  Then Colonial Hospital went away… and for the past few years, that same “secure” building has been known as Newport News Behavioral Health Center, which is a privately run facility.  I was curious to learn more about what was going on there, so I started searching.  I ran across a couple of news articles from the Daily Press.  Of course, they were blocked in Germany, so I used the cell access on my iPad to start reading, which makes it look like I’m in New York.  But then I ran out of free articles…

I found some news about a young woman named Raven Nichole Keffer.  She was seventeen years old last June, when she arrived in Newport News for treatment for an addiction to heroin.  Born in Montgomery County, Virginia back in 2001, and in the custody of rural Giles County, she had recently spent time in Arlington, Virginia getting treatment for her drug problems before she was sent to Newport News.  For at least a week, she’d complained of feeling sick, but the staff evidently ignored her symptoms and complaints.  Keffer had trouble walking, breathing, and eating.  She even vomited blood at one point.  Still, for some reason, the staff at the center did nothing for her, and she apparently languished for just over a week before someone finally did something.  It came out later that some staff members felt Raven was drug seeking, and that’s why they didn’t call for help.  

On June 29th, 2018, Keffer collapsed at Newport News Behavioral Health Center.  An ambulance was called, and Keffer was taken to Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News.  It was there that she died a few hours later, officially at 10:33pm.  A staff member at the center mentioned to one of the first responders who had picked up Raven that she’d been sick all week and nothing had been done for her.

After I read about Raven in the Daily Press, I found a more detailed account on WAVY TV 10’s Web site.  That site was also blocked for me in Europe, but thanks to the VPN, I was able to hear her family members speak on video about what had happened.  To add insult to injury, Raven’s body was cremated about ten days after she’d died.  Her family was notified after the fact.

In October of 2018, investigators determined that staff members at Newport News Behavioral Health Center violated 13 state regulations in Raven Keffer’s case.  From the beginning, it appears that her even being at the center was inappropriate.  Raven Keffer had been recently hospitalized before she was admitted to the Newport News Behavioral Health Center and, according to its own admissions guidelines, Keffer should not have been admitted there.  The center’s admissions policy states that it doesn’t “accept patients who are addicted to drugs and need medical care for detoxing”.

Officially, Raven Keffer died of natural causes stemming from complications from lymphocytic adrenalitis, an auto-immune disorder that affects glands that produce adrenaline.  But she also had a serious heroin addiction that had required her to seek hospital care just prior to her admission to the center in Newport News.  Discharge instructions from the hospital where she’d been on June 13th indicated that she would need a follow up visit and perhaps surgery.  However, it’s clear that no one in Newport News did anything to arrange follow up care for Raven.  Her initial admissions paperwork was never even completed; there were several items left blank.

Video surveillance footage shows Raven being helped to see a nurse practitioner.  She had a registered nurse and a fellow patient supporting her, since she couldn’t walk unaided.  Once they reached the nurse practitioner’s office, the nurse walked away, leaving Raven to lean on the patient.  The nurse later left the unit and the other patient was shown on video dragging Raven across the room on a comforter.

In the wake of this fiasco, there’s been re-training at the center.  The nurse who abandoned Raven has been fired.  However, in November of 2018, the Newport News Behavioral Health Center was in the news again.  This time, it was because Child Protective Services in Newport News reported that a juvenile male at the facility was assaulted by a staff member.  The employee allegedly “punched the patient about the face, pushed him, and grabbed him”.  Other staff members tried to intervene and the patient was treated for injuries.  CPS noted that he had bruises on his face and marks on his neck and on an arm.

According to the news articles I’ve read, Paul Kirkham is the CEO of Newport News Behavioral Health Center.  I’m sure that his job isn’t easy, as teenagers in trouble are not an easy population.  However, if I were him, I’d be sweating bullets.  It really appears that extreme negligence is a problem at his facility.

Managed care is one reason why private psychiatric hospitals have gone down the tubes.  In the 80s, psychiatric medications were not as good as they are today.  Nowadays, many people who would have been hospitalized years ago can be treated outpatient.  You have to be pretty sick to wind up in a hospital, for any reason.  Managed care also pays less for fewer days.  But Charter’s woes also came about due to a public relations situation.  In 1999, an unflattering news report was aired regarding Charter’s business practices.  Terrance Johnson had a master’s degree in social work, but he took a job as a mental health technician.  While he was on the job, he wore a tiny camera, which recorded everything going on as he worked at his $8.35 per hour position.  People were paying thousands of dollars a day for “treatment”, but they were being watched over by “big guys”.  Really, being “big” was the number one qualification for the job.  Johnson’s size was more of a prerequisite for being a mental health technician than his MSW was.

I’m not sure if what Terrance Johnson encountered at a Charter hospital is still how these kinds of facilities are run.  I have read a few horror stories.  But it does sound like at least at one former Charter hospital, it’s business as usual.  My heart goes out to Raven Keffer’s family and anyone else who has suffered at one of these places.  And now that I have a VPN, I can read all about it.

Standard