In 2005, at the age of 17, I was locked up in a facility that advertised itself as a “therapeutic boarding school for troubled teen girls” without committing a crime, without a trial, and without a definite sentence.
Officially, I was there for being sexually abused by my dad and stepmom.
I was denied all access to the outside world. I was allowed mail from my mother, which was read. If I said anything bad about the program, it was not sent out. I was allowed one phone call a week to my mother, and if I complained about the program, the phone call was ended and I was punished. Care packages were opened and thrown away in front of me. All music was censored. All books were censored. No news at all was allowed. When we ventured off the compound, we were not allowed to speak to anyone. Major events happened in the world and we had no idea.
I had to count out loud and leave the door open whilst urinating or defecating, while six other people (including adult men) listened. Those same six people, including adult men, sat there while I showered. I was strip-searched upon every entry and re-entry.
They used methods of love-bombing, which is the most common recruitment technique among cults. My therapist gave me cards every week saying what a miracle I was in her life, how I inspired her, how I made her feel better about herself as a therapist, how much she deeply, truly loved me, and sharing graphic details of her sex life and her own trauma. I now know this is not only unethical but actually illegal. Unfortunately, it’s also very effective. I felt as though I owed her something and that I couldn’t say anything bad about her. I bonded to her.
I was woken up every fifteen minutes by having a flashlight in my face. I mean this quite literally — the night staff had charts where they had to put a checkmark every fifteen minutes, for eight hours, every night, denoting that they had shined the flashlight in my face.
Except for a few random sips, I was denied water for the first 72 hours.
There were thousands of arbitrary rules, and breaking them resulted in bizarre and often humiliating consequences, including having your food rations for the day cut.
I was told the reason I thought I was gay was that I was sexually abused by my dad and that I needed to have sex with men to become straight. This is called corrective rape. I was forced to have therapy with a male therapist who openly hit on me. This man is now in prison for raping a girl at the facility (Jason Calder). I was also sexually abused by another staff member.
My stepdad, who was my real dad, died while I was there. Cancer. I was not allowed to call him to say goodbye to him or tell him I loved him or how sorry I was for letting him down. Or that I forgave him for putting me in this place. They didn’t even tell me he died at first.
They told us we would be there as long as we chose to, that we would move through the levels as quickly as we decided to. We had to apply for levels, and they voted us up. After my dad died, they promptly stopped the love-bombing and began a constant stream of degradation. I kept applying for the next level and they kept denying me, saying I was being too angry. They would say, why are you angry? And I’d say, because my dad just died, and they said, oh no, what are you REALLY angry about? Let’s go back to your early childhood… for hours and hours on end, often with multiple “therapists” in the room, trying to break me at the same time.
In the movies, when the hero is tortured, they refuse to break. They refuse to name names. There is one notable exception to this that shows the truth: in the Matrix, when Morpheus is being tortured, Tank says, “It’s just like hacking a computer, all it takes is time.”
That’s what happened to me. They broke me. I named names. I became an informant. I sold out my compatriots for my basic human rights. I became a torturer. I did it to the newer inmates on lower levels. I threw others under the bus to avoid more punishment. I just wanted to go home to see my family again.
I participated in attack therapy. They called it “giving feedback.” This is the thing that continues to haunt me the most. I am a nice person. I am terrified of hurting anyone’s feelings, and they turned me into someone who hurt people’s feelings constantly, saying it was out of love.
They would put one girl in the middle of the circle, with about fifty staff and inmates going around and each doing attack therapy on her. In Communist China, this was called a struggle session. The goal was to make her confess, often to something she didn’t do.
After I left the facility, after turning eighteen, I could not function in the normal world. I had become so dependent on them that I begged them to let me come back. I slept on the therapists’ couches. I hung out at the compound. I had panic attacks when I had to leave.
It wasn’t until 11 years after I left the program, and after working as a Cold War historian, pouring through thousands of documents about the USSR, and finding that they used the same methods in their re-education camps, that I finally started to break free, to question what they had told me, to speak out about what happened, to delete the staff members who were still on my Facebook page, commenting on everything I posted.
I spent my whole life believing that I was a coward, that I was weak and pathetic. Joining BCS and standing up to my oppressors, I have learned that I am strong. I am not afraid of these people any longer.
“I have fought the good fight, I have stayed the course, I have kept the faith.” (Timothy 4:7)