Hello, my name is Isabelle and I was contained at Clearview Horizon therapeutic boarding school for girls from 2017 to 2018.
I struggled with severe depression and anxiety my whole life and by high school. I had attempted suicide several times. After I was told to leave school for these issues, my parents decided to send me to a boarding school in Montana for “three months.” They gave me three days notice before I was driven there on May 4th, 2018. Most girls were kidnapped in the middle of the night by strangers, handcuffed, and flown to the facility. According to my parents, the founder of the facility advised them to have the transporters come to get me and place me in the preliminary wilderness program first. I was lucky they declined.
My time spent at Clearview Horizon feels like a fever dream to me. I spent an entire year in a state of numbness and mass dissociation. I struggled for a long time afterward to get over the trauma. We faced strict schedules, harsh punishment, conversion therapy (despite having LGBT staff, as a Christian boarding school, homophobia was a rule), isolation, no privacy, rights, etc. We had to earn free time and privileges. The higher you were in the program, the more privileges you received. Upper levels acted as superficial staff who ratted girls out for misbehavior, ultimately creating an atmosphere of distrust for my entire stay.
Everything was monitored, there were no locks on bathrooms, no doors on the dorm rooms, bathroom holds after mealtimes, routine random strip searches, harsh punishments, mandatory labor, etc.
Self-expression in any form was not allowed. Girls with “inappropriate hairstyles” received haircuts. My friend who had a mullet had their head shaved. I remember that we were punished if we tried to tuck our khaki uniform pants into our socks because it “wasn’t the dress code.” Showers ranged from 5 to 20 minutes; lucky to receive the latter, hygiene stayed awful throughout my stay. Only during the workshops held every 3 months with our parents were we made to dress up and wear makeup. Image was important to convince the parents everything was okay.
Anything and everything would get you in trouble. Doing something “wrong” resulted in a write-up, sometimes a level drop or even isolation. A write-up consisted of 2 hours of manual labor on the weekend, plus 10 hills. Conducted on a local construction site, we would be woken early on weekends, and taken there to climb a steep hill for punishment. The hill was a minimum 40° slope, long enough that it would leave our whole bodies burning after a single round. Girls would rack up 80+ hills regularly. Labor hours were completed after hills were finished. With two hours for every 10 hills, punishment usually lasted all day long and left girls no free time during the weekend, our only designated time for leisure.
Equine therapy was conducted once a week but it consisted of the girls doing manual labor at a staff member’s farm all day long and probably 20 minutes to an hour total with the horses. Rain, snow, or shine, we were there, digging fence post holes, lugging hay bales around, clearing forests for new pastures with our bare hands- I have never been more exhausted in my life than equine therapy days.
With only one hour of individual therapy a week, I was basically left to figure out how to survive on my own. I learned quickly this meant to stay blind, deaf and dumb to everything. Going through my mandatory daily journal is rather shocking to me because I would write things like, “Oh, this girl tried to kill herself today, but we had peanut butter toast for breakfast this morning, so it’s alright!”
If I kept my head down and faked the program, I would stay safe from the abuse of the staff and rules. Staff picked favorites and if you were a staff favorite, you got more privileges or were allowed to get away with more. For those of us who were quieter, the unfair treatment was unbearable at times. I received a write-up once because I was unable to sit down in time by the end of a staff count down. I was in the middle of placing my stool on the ground and didn’t quite make it.
Group punishment was intense as well. We had mandatory silence every day for hours at a time, mandatory walks and runs miles long, etc. “Reflection runs” became a prominent group punishment where we were made to run in silence, ~10 feet apart, up and down the roads and hills for 3 hours.
Communication with parents was limited to monitored emails and an hour-long weekly call with a therapist present. Letters were read and redacted if any information was deemed dangerous.
I lived in a constant state of fear because anything and everything could make my stay longer. I remember that my graduation was postponed an entire month by the staff because of a “suspicious” relationship with another girl. We were encouraged to make relationships, but anytime girls got “too close” we were labeled codependent and told to stay away from each other for the danger of consequences. If girls were found to be LGBT and/or in an entanglement, they would be quickly sent away to separate wilderness programs.
Church attendance was a weekly ordeal as well. No matter one’s stance on religion, we were made to sit and listen to the sermons. They were often quite homophobic and many times I felt forced to believe and act accordingly. We also attended a sermon from a local woman almost every week and I remember having to sit and listen to lists of things that were extremely offensive to me. I wasn’t allowed to excuse myself, say I was uncomfortable, or speak up. Girls who walked out were punished harshly for being “disrespectful.”
Labor was a big part of our scheduled routine. We were made to clean for an hour upon waking and during the summer, we would stack wood for hours among other chores. After we filled up a shed wall to wall, the staff would tell us to move it elsewhere, and then back again.
Failure to comply would occasionally result in more extreme punishments. Girls would enter the program at level 2, and if they were “difficult,” they would be dropped to level 1, which was deemed a state of refusal. Girls would be required to wear different uniforms from the other levels to distinguish them from others. We were not allowed to speak to level 1’s unless we had staff or an upper-level present. A close friend of mine was once placed on “black cloud” as a level 1. She had to sit on a stump all day long outside and no one was allowed to talk to her under any circumstance.
Anyone could be dropped to level 1 at any point, and the level up process took weeks, and so we lived in fear constantly, completely at the mercy of the staffs’ moods.
My earliest conclusion I came to while I was in the program is that my existence equated to that of a prisoner. We were treated as such no matter what we were admitted for. There was little to no special medical treatment. It was just 30 some girls locked up in a facility with various “issues” and we were expected to follow the program in order to graduate and rejoin society.
The program existed solely to place the power and control over these girls back into the hands of the parents by effectively breaking us. The treatment completely focused on obedience and compliance to the program. After girls turned 18, they were allowed to leave the program, but the staff made it such a tedious process that I never witnessed a girl being able to walk the program successfully. Most girls never reached 18 in the program though. The average age for inmates while I was at Clearview was 16.
The trauma I faced while at Clearview Horizon haunts me to this day. Because I dissociated for a year straight, I’m still having to deal with the memories and the fear popping out of repression even now, 3 years later. My only hope is that no more girls will have to be put through what I went through. There has to be a better way.