I was not a stereotypical “troubled teen.” I was a straight-A student, involved in extracurriculars, and had an after-school job. I did not drink, smoke, or do drugs. However, I grew up in a dysfunctional home. My father was a narcissist and emotionally abusive, my brother was an unmedicated schizophrenic who self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, and my mom was just trying to survive and “keep it all together.”

At 16, I struggled with bulimia and self-harm. I took solace in my high school sweetheart who showed me love that I had craved. My family did not approve of him and tried to restrict the relationship. We began sneaking around, and as more restrictions were placed, the rebellion increased. After a particularly rough day at home, I asked him to help me run away. I was caught before I could get out.

A week before turning 17, I woke up to find my aunt at our house which was weird. My parents told me I had an hour to pack, and then we were leaving. They wouldn’t tell me where, why, or how long. I put leaving off as long as possible, but eventually, they physically forced me into the car. I tried to fight them off but couldn’t. Being kidnapped by your own family is unreal. We stayed in a hotel that night, and the next morning arrived at New Creations Christian School in Richmond, Indiana. I was admitted in July of 2008 and remained there for 5 months.

My parents told me that if I worked the program, I would be out in a month. When I refused to get out of the car, a staff member began telling me I didn’t love anyone, that I was selfish, and that God was going to punish me for rebelling. During check-in, my things were searched and anything related to the “outside” was confiscated. We wore uniforms and were not allowed to wear make-up or jewelry. The idea was that we had to start with nothing, like newborns, and be completely controlled until we reformed in the eyes of God. We were not allowed to have private conversations or go to the bathroom by ourselves. We had no contact with the outside world other than monitored and restricted communication with our parents. We would be punished for even making eye contact with the opposite sex. There was a level system based on behavior and completion of worksheets, but it was nearly impossible to move up the levels. If you didn’t conform, you were placed in isolation and assigned extra work duty. We were encouraged to report on other girls and discouraged from becoming friends. If you showed emotion or tried to tell your parents what was really going on, you were punished for being “manipulative.” Honestly, New Creations was a religious cult. You had to conform to their religious beliefs in order to survive the program.

We had little to no access to medical treatment and no access to licensed mental health professionals. I was forced to go off my birth control, resulting in horrific cramps. I saw girls so overmedicated on bipolar medication that they were unaware of their surroundings. One girl hid under her bunk for hours, with no idea what was happening. Girls would wake up screaming at night. Any mental health issues were explained away as not surrendering ourselves to God enough. They told my parents I had demons in me and that was why I had issues.

We were the lucky ones as far as these programs go. The entire point was to abuse us and break us down to the point where we were able to be molded into their idea of a proper teenager. Since leaving New Creations, I have struggled with alcoholism, promiscuity, social anxiety, PTSD, nightmares, panic attacks, and chronic depression. I have been ingrained with a deep sense of shame. I am lucky to be married with two beautiful boys, but all other relationships are difficult for me. I have not felt safe or normal for 12 years and that damage was done in just 5 months at this program.

New Creations closed in 2016 with Pastor Tim and Bonnie Cummings saying “the children have become too hard to control.”

I am speaking out even though it is the hardest thing I have had to do, to prevent other people from living this nightmare. These programs are illegitimate and prey on parents who don’t know what else to do and exploit children for profit.