I was 13 when I was sexually assaulted by a man in his 40s after he groomed me on the internet and got my address. I was interviewed by police several times, rape tested, and forced into therapy sessions that I did not want. I went mute with both my parents and therapist and became depressed. My parents realized I was anorexic and did not know how to help. After getting suspended from middle school for getting drunk and having Adderall in my school bag, my family decided to send me to a therapeutic boarding school in Maine. 

I was woken up in my bedroom at 4 AM by strangers who put me in a van and drove me from Pennsylvania to Ironwood Maine – a program modeled after Turn About Ranch. I did not get to say goodbye to my family or dog and I did not know where I was going. Apparently, it is typical for programs to convince parents that this method is the safest way to transport their teens. When I got to Ironwood, they took my clothes/piercings/bracelets and swabbed my neck for what they claimed was my scent for the dogs if I ran away. Then I was put in isolation. This is when they make you sit outside in the cold next to a fire and are not allowed eye contact or speaking.

I could write a book on the different rules at this place. The worst was asking permission to sit and stand, to step in and out of doorways, having to earn a mattress/pillow, and the code of silence. The other girls in the program were not allowed to talk to me until I had completed isolation. That was 3 days in my case. In my 9 months there, I probably spent over 90 days on isolation/serving punishments 

One morning, they overused salt in our oats and because I didn’t want to eat them, they threatened to send me to isolation. I was frustrated because I was not going to eat the oatmeal. I walked outside to be alone and they called a “Code Adam.” They sent three male staff after me. It freaked me out because they were running at me. I started walking away from them. The next thing I knew I was face down with my lip cut open. The men guided me back into the building and sent me on isolation. 

As for my sexual assault, the therapist I had during my 9 months at Ironwood did not once tell me that my sexual assault was not my fault. She did not offer me any affirmations that did not reestablish shame for my experience. She forced me to tell my parents what happened over Skype and made me apologize for being tricked and not knowing better. If you are wondering, my attacker is serving 15 years after pleading guilty. 

I had a failed suicide attempt at Ironwood a few months into my stay that had me in the ICU and then transferred to a psych ward. I realized how privileged I was to not be in a worse institution. The psych ward was scary in comparison. Most of the girls were extremely inappropriate to me. When I was sent back to Ironwood, I was so happy and thankful.  I swore I would comply with the program. 

Looking back, the money was a huge part of the brainwashing. For the price of $10k a month, I believed I had to get something out of it. My parents paid for the changed behavior and I gave it to them. I was so brainwashed by the program that when I did graduate after 9 months, I believe it saved me and made me better off. I went back to the program after graduating to mentor several times and even had a staff member come to my graduation and stay at my house. I cut off friends I used to love and I didn’t know how to set boundaries. 

It took me until I was the age of 22 to realize that Ironwood was abusive. Today, my trust issues have been a lot to navigate, and my ability to motivate myself is messy due to my weird relationship with rules and forced labor. Although I will always struggle with PTSD and hate Ironwood Maine for normalizing abuse and hurting my mental health, I am healing as best as I can. Thank you for reading my story

Please check out my podcast @codeadam.podcast for more stories from survivors of @ironwoodmainellc