There is an art to remembering.

I remember everything about Academy at Ivy Ridge from late 2003 to late 2005. I trained my brain to do it. I remember the way the dormitories smelled of rot. I remember how each girl’s strand of hair crossed in a braid as we stared ahead in line structure. I remember the noise of students’ flip-flops rushing against the locker room floor, sometimes dragging if they had broken. In addition to the small details of daily life in the program, I remember the abuse. I remember the taste of blood in my mouth when I was forced to take medication I did not want. I remember when I was dragged by my hair and shirt down a hallway and thrown into a bathroom before having all my clothes ripped off. I remember the way that woman looked at my naked body, the same way she had looked at me on my first day during a strip search. She commented on the size of my breasts. I had just turned fifteen.

I remember the way everything felt. The air was heavy, surging steadily with desperation and hopelessness. Students always held their breath, because we lived each day in terror. There was the fear of being targeted by the staff members, the fear of being forgotten by our friends and family, the fear of making one tiny mistake and having to start back over at level one, zero points. Anything you did was scrutinized to the extreme and announced to humiliate you. When males walked by, we had to put our eyes and heads down in the most degrading fashion. We were given bunk numbers. We were told that everything that had happened to us in life was our fault. Rape, molestation, deaths of friends and family members–you name it. We had to own it and take accountability for it. What positions had we put ourselves in? What clothing had we been wearing? What choices did we make in infancy that led us to this horrible moment in our life?

That horrible moment in my own life was the loss of my father. I was a toddler when a man blasted through a red light and hit us. I remember it all in slow motion. I was pulled from the wreckage, hysterical, and thrust into the arms of strangers. I learned what heartache felt like that day. I learned what it meant to die and leave this earth, even though I had only been on it for three years. But it is important to say that I like who I was from the beginning of my life and I like who I am now. I do not dwell on what led me to Academy at Ivy Ridge. I can simply say I was devastated. I was angry. The world had wronged me, so I was going to live my life exactly how I wanted. And who could blame me? I had already seen too much. I felt wiser than every person around me. Thus, I was set on doing everything my way, and I constantly questioned the meaning of things. This did not make my life or my family’s lives any easier. I will end the story of my childhood there because it was at Academy at Ivy Ridge that it perished altogether.

I have been to other boarding schools but did not experience anything even close to what I saw at Ivy Ridge. I had medical exams performed on me that I was not comfortable receiving. I was forced to carry around an enormous and heavy box as a punishment. That specific form of discipline was even crueler as it forced me to maintain “stress positions” from morning until night. I was not allowed to speak freely to other students. I was not allowed to talk to my family for almost a year. I was endlessly gaslit, being told that I was imagining things when I would accuse them of brainwashing. I spent weeks, if not months, in “worksheets” where my day consisted of sitting in a perfect position, copying lines of textbooks, and high-intensity workouts.

As there is an art to remembering, there is also an art to forgetting. I do not believe I have yet mastered the latter. Ivy Ridge still visits me in my dreams. It still dictates my brain’s fight-or-flight response. It still deters me from opening up fully to others. I am in love with the life I have now, but I would give all my happiness away if that meant I could save one child from experiencing a school like this. No child deserves that level of abuse, neglect, and anxiety. To all the parents out there who are struggling, please do not let sending your child away be a possibility. These schools will lie mercilessly to get your money. And these predators will tell you anything you want to hear if it means that they will get a commission on your child’s enrollment. This is not just sick; it is also a form of trafficking. Understand that these facilities are trained to pull on your family’s emotions like strings. They will destroy your life without guilt and, sometimes, they will even destroy your life just for the fun of it.

My story is not unique. Thousands of families have been pulled apart by these institutions. This needs to stop. It is time we heal. It is time to break code silence.