When I was 11, I told my mother that my sister’s dad had been coming to my bed for two years. It had started with a home visit when I was 9 on Thanksgiving. I told her that when I slipped into her bed with “bad dreams,” it was not true. We were on the way to a women’s shelter because he had hit her when I shared this with her. He had hit us all the time as well as drugging us with cough syrup in our root beer floats that he made with diet Pepsi. When I told her all this, she immediately stopped the car, whipped around, and slapped me. She screamed to never speak about my dad like that. HE WAS NOT MY FUCKING DAD. From then on, she started kicking me out of the house only to then call the police to claim that I was a runaway. That did wonder for my credibility.
My mother threw me in the local-ish charter hospital like 5 times starting at 11. I remember when I had my first period there. The staff treated me as if I was stupid for not knowing what was happening. By that point, I’d already been in two foster homes and a group home spanning from 6-9 years old. I was sent back to said group home to the older kids’ side around the age of 13. It’s hard to remember the exact age as I’ve blanked a lot out. By the time I was sent to that group home, I was on or had been on at least five medications. By the time I arrived in the program, I’d been on the streets, doing drugs, and in juvie for running from placements like 5 times. Most notably, I also spent time in DayTop and the Arc.
I ended up at Program Canyon School at age 14 because I was offered a choice by the courts between Excelsior in Aurora, CO, or Provo Canyon School in Orem, UT. This choice was given to me with the caveat that should I run, I would spend the remainder of my teens in the California Youth Authority Detention. I chose Provo because I’d heard that girls raped each other with hot curling irons in Colorado and it was just a little closer to my state.
My trip to PCS was on a six-seater twin prop with a ten-year-old boy, a probation officer, a sheriff, a pilot, and a copilot. When we arrived, they took everything from me. I was asked to strip naked and squat and cough. I was unable to comply due to having been sexually abused. This caused the staff to call a “Dial 9” – which is the code to call every available staff for a restraint. All the staff immediately ran to my location, pinned me down, and then dragged me to the Observation (“obs” for short) room where I was forcibly stripped. At that point, I was given a choice of colored sweats to wear: Pink for being in trouble and staying on that unit or purple for orientation and complying. I chose purple.
I spent 17 months at that “school.” When I entered Provo Canyon School, it was just prior to my 15th birthday. I left when I was 16.5 years old. Much of which was in Obs or on investment. Investment was lockdown. We awoke, did chores, ate, checked off chores, went to class (if we were good enough to leave the unit), came back for homework until dinner, then more until bedtime. Any little thing landed me in obs or on a chair. I witnessed girls being body-slammed, over-medicated, and one girl who had her name taken away and who was simply referred to by her admission number. I would spend weeks to months at a time in Investment. The girl whose name they stole was also there every day in my memory. Both of us sitting there, staring at a wall, unable to speak. Unable to stand up. Invisible.
I lost the right to speak to people I connected with because it was rumored that I was bisexual, as so were some other girls. For a long time, I was not allowed to speak to anyone at all because I was deemed too negative. However, I would hear staff talk badly about other girls so many times and recently was informed by a fellow survivor that I was also one of the girls they would talk about. This would be by the staff that I wanted so badly to like me. I wanted for anyone to just care.
I was falsely diagnosed at regular intervals and medicated with new drugs so they could write to the state to say I needed to stay longer. Many of these meds incapacitated me. Yet, I was blamed for not being able to stay awake. At one time, they had me on lithium until they found that it was causing hypothyroidism. They subjected me to a leep procedure at 16, making it sound like I had cancer to only then tell me, without a follow-up, that they’d gotten all the cells. They forced me to have my blood drawn to keep tabs on the meds I was on. At one point, I was bruised from my shoulder to my wrist because the nurse couldn’t find a vein. I was also made to carry a journal to log my emotions each hour. I learned to spice it up to look like I was doing and progressing the way they wanted.
At one point, I was thrown down so hard that my cheekbone bruised up a day and a half later. These things became normal. To the point that I lost track of these things. Beyond things that were overtly abusive, we were also very much being conditioned and having psychological abuse inflicted. Isolation became normal. The staff were so close to our ages that they were easily more immature than one would expect from “treatment providers.” This was highlighted further by the fact they were not trained or licensed to provide the “level of care” they claim in their PR information. The status scheme there was akin to the Stanford Prison Experiment. Provo Canyon School had levels: Orientation, Pre-unit, Unit, Achievement, Advanced Achievement, Senior, and Advanced Senior. The staff manager on any given day was called the Senior On.
After all was said and done, I was suddenly on my way back to my home state because the state stopped wanting to pay. I was thrust back to my mother – who kicked me right back out onto the streets. Every time I tried to speak about being in that dreadful place, I was dismissed. Or asked why I was so upset because the coded language we were conditioned to use didn’t match the emotional urgency I felt. I was alone. I had many toxic relationships, made horribly risky choices like drugs and dangerous adventures, and remained homeless until I was 28 years old.
Like many others, I was (am) brilliant. And that may be my saving grace. While for others, it meant they took their lives due to the burden of carrying the shame of these schools with them long after they’d been released. I miraculously had a moment where I shook it off. Why hadn’t I checked out and just gone with insanity? If it hadn’t happened by then, I should do something else. I was miserable. Wrapped up in the law, bad company, and horrible decisions.
I now live with profound PTSD, acute panic disorder, nightmares, trust issues, social anxiety, and a host of symptoms that go along with these. It is important to note that the diagnoses placed upon me in Provo have all been deemed misdiagnoses. None of the meds given were either necessary or helpful. I do take medication for anxiety and nightmares as needed. And this helps me. It doesn’t fix it all. But a good night’s sleep is invaluable.
I have a family of my own making with amazing kids, a wonderful husband, and a couple of cats. And I’ll be damned if I sit back and allow more kids to go through what I did. I look at my children and I can’t imagine them being sent to these places. The reality of the troubled teen industry is horrific. We were children. We deserved better. The picture below is from the year it all started when I was 11. I was finding refuge in a woman friend 30 years my senior because I wasn’t safe at home. I spent as much time as I could there until things got so bad I left home for good.