Redcliff Ascent Wilderness Program (1993-present) Enterprise, UT
History and Background Information
Redcliff Ascent Wilderness Program is an Ascent Company behavior-modification program which has operated since 1993. It is marketed as a Wilderness Therapy Program for troubled teenagers aged 13-17. Their website states that RCA enrolls teenagers with a history of one or more of the following: Adoption Issues, Anxiety, Attachment Issues, Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Compulsive Disorder, Depression, Emotional Disorders, Failure to Launch, Family Issues, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), School Refusal, Substance Use Disorders, and Trauma. The program has a maximum enrollment of 83 teenagers, and the average length of stay is reported to be around 75-90 days. The tuition is reported to be roughly $545 per day, or $49,050 for 90 days. However, this cost does not include additional services such as psychological testing, psychiatrist visits, and one-on-one supervision. Redcliff Ascent has been a member of NATSAP since 1999, and it is also a member of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council (OBHIC).
The address associated with the program is 709 E. Main St, Enterprise, UT 84725. However, because Redcliff Ascent is a wilderness program, the program does not have a central campus and instead takes the teens on backpacking trips throughout the area of the Escalante Desert in Southern Utah.
Redcliff Ascent is part of the Ascent Company, and is a “sister program to various other Ascent institutions such as Discovery Academy, Discovery Ranch and the Oxbow Academy.
Redcliff Ascent also has a sister-program for young adults (18+) called Medicine Wheel at Redcliff Ascent.
Founders and Notable Staff
Steven DeMille is the current Executive Director of Redcliff Ascent and has been since 2012. Prior to this, he worked as a Therapist at Falcon Ridge Ranch, the sister-school of Red Rock Canyon School, from 2011-2012.
John Buckener is the current Clinical Director of Redcliff Ascent. He began his career as a Milieu Therapist at the confirmedly abusive Abundant Life Academy from 2010 until 2011. He then worked as a Therapist at the reportedly abusive Moonridge Academy from 2011 until 2013. He then went on to work as a Lead Advisor at Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy from 2013 until 2019, when he began working at Redcliff.
Fotu Soliai currently works as a Therapist at Redcliff Ascent. Prior to this, he worked as the Executive Director of the reportedly abusive Ashcreek Ranch Academy. He also previously worked as the Executive Director of the confirmedly abusive Diamond Ranch Academy.
Dan Sanderson worked as the Clinical Director of Redcliff Ascent from 1994 until 2012. He currently works as the Co-Founder and Clinical Director of Star Guides Wilderness Therapy, which is a program for teenagers with sexual issues that he founded with Matt Bulkley in 2013. His prior employment is unknown.
David Hillstead worked as a Therapist at Redcliff Ascent. He previously worked at Aspen Achievement Academy, a reportedly abusive Aspen Education Group program.
Matt Bulkley previuosly worked as a Therapist at Redcliff Ascent from 2001 until 2012. He also worked as a Therapist at Sunrise RTC from 2002 until 2003. He currently works in private practice. Like Dan, he also currently works at Star Guides Wilderness Therapy as the Executive Director and Co-Founder. He also runs an LDS program for teenagers with pornography addiction called “Mending the Armor”.
Darren Jensen formerly worked as a Therapist at Redcliff Ascent. While working as a Therapist at Redcliff in 2011, he published a blog post in which he admits to calling one of the residents a “piece of crap” and telling him “Nobody likes you… Not even your parents.” He currently works as a Staff Director at Star Guides Wilderness Therapy.
Like other behavior-modification programs, Redcliff Ascent uses a level-system consisting of 8 levels. The names of all of the levels are unknown, but they are each reportedly named after a basic characteristics for a human- such as courage, love, strength, etc. Each level is also color-coded, and the teens have a number of tasks to complete and therapists must approve before they move onto the next phase.
Prior to this, Redcliff Ascent’s program only had 4 levels. The levels are reported to have been:
- Pollywog: When they teenagers arrive and have been processed, they are taken to an area where they join a group called Pollywogs. While they are a part of this group, they have to learn 14 safety rules so good that they can recite them verbatim. They are out in the wilderness but not allowed to hike. The main tool is isolation and the urge in among to detainees to move forward in the program, so they can be released.
- Coyote: On this level, the teens are taught basic outdoor survival/safety skills. Their “personal values” are also defined and explored.
- Buffalo: This phase emphasizes working as a team to solve problems.
- Eagle: This is the final phase of the program.
All communication between teens is heavily monitored by staff. The teens are prohibited from talking about their lives prior to Redcliff Ascent, and are not allowed to mention certain words. All communication (mail) with their family is censored by staff.
Punishments used by Redcliff Ascent include forms of solitary confinement, excommunication of camp members (sometimes to 100s of yards away from the group), and telling peers to completely ignore and estrange the exiled one.
Redcliff Ascent has been reported by many survivors to be a very abusive program. Allegations of abuse and neglect include denial of medical attention/severe medical neglect, communication restrictions (social isolation), physical punishments, restriction of food & water, forced labor, and emotional abuse. There have also been reports made by survivors of sexual abuse occurring at the hands of RCA staff members.
RCA in the News
Many teenagers have run away from Redcliff Ascent over the years.
In 1999, a group of eight boys at RCA assaulted their staff members and fled into the wilderness. In a New York Times article written about the incident, it is stated that “the group had overwhelmed the counselors — Kirk Stock, 23, and Sunshine Fuller, 22 — by beating them with sticks. The authorities said Mr. Stock had been knocked unconscious and bound with duct tape, and Ms. Fuller was tied to a tree.” The article also reported that this incident was the third time in one year that authorities have been summoned to search for missing teenagers from Redcliff Ascent. All eight were later caught, and some ended up in juvenile detention.
In 2005, the first season of the UK television series Brat Camp was filmed at Redcliff Ascent. However, it has been reported by survivors that the show portrays the program as much nicer than it actually was, due to the presence of cameras and the staff’s knowledge that the public would be viewing what happened there.
February 2021: (SURVIVOR) “So much neglect. Forced to wander the featureless miles , 50 miles away from the nearest civilisation (or more importantly medical help) , in west Utah, there are teams of children. Out in the desert with no kind of water but the troughs that the cattle drink out of, full of algae and Literal cow shit. Drinking milky water that was strained through handkerchiefs to make sure worms didn’t drop through, but of course they still did. And we were forced to drink it or face further restrictions. Creating their own shelters, with less in their possession than some homeless people. The field guides were all barely trained, and barely over 18 themselves. Ignoring pleas for water, pleas from girls with bleeding thighs from walking in the heat, and occasionally when someone said they were too sick to hike, they’d make them do it anyway. Usually resulting in humiliation as they’d often soil themselves out while hiking to the next camp location. There was also forced Labour, where we were made to help erect their structures for the winter and we’re not given any privileges apart from a pack of cookies for the camp. Of course we were all overjoyed but it was only for the fact we had all only eaten plain rice for months. Thinking that this is happening in the world, and that parents can pay and insurance will pay, for these things to happen, makes me feel so sad at the state of humanity. Children deserve protection. There was no type of inspections or any kind of regulation on the whole program while I was there. And absolutely none as far as I could see as I walked around the building in enterprise UT during my checking out. ” – Anonymous (submitted directly to Wiki)
December 2020: (PARENT) “I have made mistakes in life, as we all have, but sending my child here was the most regrettable by far. I was told my child would be safe, that there would be daily therapy, that everyday my child would be with counselors who were all trained and had their PHD’s. I recently contacted Redcliff to voice my concern and ask if their program has changed since I had made the mistake of sending my own child there. I was sadly disappointed to discover that they have not. They still only require a GED for the staff that is with the children 24/7. They are still accredited by NATSAP, which provides no oversight. They still use the silent treatment and deny therapy as a form of punishment. They still do not permit the child to have any access to resources to report physical and/or mental abuse to authorities (which is illegal.) They still do not offer the children proper medical care. Redcliff still only has one medical staff that visits the children for five minutes once a week. She is a nurse and is the same nurse that denied my child access to clean clothing, then denied treatment for the rashes the dirty clothing caused, as well as treatment for an illness caused by drinking fece infested water. My child was also left with gaping wounds unattended to, which now have caused very large scars. Not to mention the fact that those gaping wounds were inflicted by the staff. We spent more money on this program than what costs for two years at a private university. All we have to show for it is permanent damage our family, as a whole, will never fully recover from. I urge you to learn from the mistake my husband and I made. Save your family, save your child, there are other options. This is not a place of healing. It is a place of hurt.” – Netty (Google Reviews)
December 2020: (SURVIVOR) “If I could give zero stars I would. It has been six years since I left this program. My parents were recommended a transport team, by Redcliff, to kidnap me at 3 am, and deliver me to them. My parents were under the impression that during my stay I would have fresh food, water, clothing, and shelter. As well as, daily therapy, therapeutic activities, and group bonding. This is not what happened. I slept in a molded sleeping bag for my stay with only a tarp to protect me from the flash floods, below freezing nights, and hail storms that occur in the middle of a Utah desert. My first few sessions of therapy were 15 mins or so, only once a week. However, even that was cut off as a what they called a punishment. I was put on what they referred to as code silence, for weeks on end. I was dragged for over a mile. I now have the 6-7 inch long scars on my knees as a life long reminder. My communication (aka the therapist edited letters I wrote) were also cut off as a punishment. I was unable to communicate in any sort of way with my family for two months of my stay. Including over my birthday. Which is when I was placed in what was referred to as a red-suit. This is another one of Redcliff’s punishments. This is also when I contracted giardia from drinking bad water. The red-suit rules required me to of course wear a very heavy red jump suit. As well as meant that a staff member had to be by my side at all times; including but not limited to: watching me as I relieved myself in the dirt of the desert, every hour or so (due to the giardia.) Sadly, that actually was not the most embarrassing part of my stay. The most embarrassing was when the staff refused my request to relieve myself on a hike. I soiled my red-suit in front of the entire group. Even worse, I had run out of the very small amount of tp I was given. This meant I had to use my one and only handkerchief. Unfortunately, this also meant I had to remain in that soiled, unwashed, red-suit, as well as carry around that soiled handkerchief for the following weeks. As more punishment, the staff created chants about me, which include words that I am not allowed to repeat. They then forced the others in my group to repeat those chants while hiking circles around me. My parents were unaware of the extent of this abuse, until my return. They say this is their biggest mistake in life, one they will take with them to the grave. They thought I was in a place that would take care of me. My giardia was left untreated, until I finally left RCA and could see a real doctor. My family will never be the same. I will never be the same. The longest I can sleep for is one hour, even with sleeping aids, until I am once again woken up by the night terrors. There was no zip lining. There was no rock climbing. There was no shelter. No therapy. No clean water. Only trauma. I could go on for pages about my day to day abuse I endured, but I have written enough. Please do not send your children here. I was put on code silence for weeks at this facility, but now I am breaking code silence in hopes that I can spare families that come after mine from the life long devastation ours endured from my stay at RCA.” – Madelyn (Google Reviews)
December 2020: (PARENT) “My son spent 91 days in this program. Overall he had a good experience because he likes to camp. He enjoyed some of the daily staff out in the woods. The therapeutic aspect of this program, however, is very poor. My son’s therapist was inexperienced and disconnected. He only met with my son one hour per week. He was a poor listener. He was not aware of my son’s issues even though it was evident what the issue was. The therapist ignored my desire to have my son home after wilderness. We learned that, even though they promote RCA as solution, it is actually a gateway program to one of the company’s expensive boarding schools. Boarding school was so strongly suggested that upon knowing my desire to bring him home, the therapist wrote a letter recommending boarding school mentioning reasons that were not even true about my son. I also had not asked for a letter to be written. I believe parents need to be very careful when selecting this program.” – Susan (Google Reviews)
November 2020: (PARENT) “We sent our precious daughter to Red Cliff several years ago as a teenager. It appeared to be a place that offered activities and counseling in a wilderness environment. Instead of spending a summer of biking horseback riding and zip lining she spent it hiking with her pack, drinking water from cattle tanks and being made to sit aside tom the group and humiliated. The counseling was sporadic. Since leaving the program she will graduate from college this spring but still has nightmares about the extraction from her bedroom the night she was taken to go to Utah and clearly suffers from PTSD still years after this tragedy. This truly was the most egregious error my wife and I have ever made in our parenting role.” – Patrick (Google Reviews)
11/10/2020: (SURVIVOR) “If I could give no stars I would. Words cannot describe the abuse and trauma I went through at this place. Almost 6 years later and I still wake up with night terrors. My parents say sending me here was “their biggest regret, the one they will have to take with them to the grave.” I left there, 25 lbs lighter, with giardia (that they had ignored and left untreated), scars on my knees from being dragged for over a mile, and severe PTSD. Their website is a complete lie. There is no fishing, mountain biking, or rock climbing. Nothing close to it. Children are outdoors 24/7 with no access to clean water, food, or any sort of shelter. Children are given one pair of clothing their entire stay and no chance to wash it or themselves. I could go into further detail but honestly it took me this long to even get this much out without causing myself too much more distress.” – Maddie (Yelp)
November 2020: (PARENT) “My son attended the program for 30 days and came home skin and bones…was given cheese on his birthday from the staff. Results from the program lasted 1 day. In my good conscience, I cannot recommend this place.” – Karen (Google Reviews)
9/2/2020: (SURVIVOR) “I was sexually fondled by a staff member the eve before my parents came, to watch me “graduate” early. This charming fellow turned up the gas powered lanterns to make me and another camper woozy. I remember I told this guy to stop, and he moved on to the other boy who was sleeping next to me. I remember him saying, ” Just let him do it.” This man threatened us, telling us we wouldn’t get to leave the program. Thankfully, since I’m a sexual abuse survivor as well, I knew the deal. I had no problem telling this guy to stop. The other boy wasn’t so lucky. I wish there was a way I could track this other student down. I feel that there should be repercussions for what I suffered. All in all though, the natural beauty of the landscape was a positive experience, minus the sexual abuse part. Thank so much redcliff ascent.” – u/Coydog7 (Reddit)
7/11/2020: (SURVIVOR) “My name is Jesse Austin Lewis and I was sent to Redcliff Ascent in Spring of 1997. I was 14 and I am now 38 years old. My stay at Redcliff still haunts me and it’ll never leave. I have suppressed most of my memories through drugs and alcohol. I have battled with PTSD, depression, and anxiety from the age of 14 to present. I joined Reddit specifically to write this post. After watching a podcast from the Joe Rogan Experience about “therapeutic schools” and the abuse and mental damage it can cause, most of what was said mirrored and triggered my memories and experiences to flood back into my brain in a nightmarish wave. I said to myself was it a cult? The word cult felt extreme, but I wanted to investigate and see what came up on Google. I found I was not alone in my search query, or my concern. When I returned from my “little getaway” I felt my suppression was mostly due to people not believing me. If I would bring up my experience, they would pass it off that I was being dramatic, or exaggerating the truth. The only person who ever had my back and believed me in fully, was my sister (who’s five years older). My grandparents? Never! My grandfather was a boxer, a no-nonsense navy man, from North Carolina. My grandmother was a typical 1940’s housewife. Do what you’re told keep your mouth shut. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that my grandmother gave me what I guess would have to qualify as an apology when she said to me, “Jesse, I am sorry we didn’t know.” I also recall a visit into New York City to see my Grandparents in Manhattan. My grandfather went out of his way to say, “This is not an apology, however fella’, I want you to know I read this.” It was an article in the New York Times entitled “Do Programs Like Redcliff Ascent Do More Harm Than Good?” This was a possible indication for these types of institutions to be exposed for what they really are, their wrong doings, and their gross handling of fragile young minds. I remember that after I left that place, I wanted to dedicate my adult life to actually saving and helping at risk teens, and devoting myself and time to shutting down places like Redcliff Ascent. Sadly, that ambition went away over time, completely crushed by the thought, well who will actually listen because this world is so corrupt and people value money over children’s stability. After finding this thread, my ambition came back and I now feel that I can finally have a voice. Getting right to the point, in the fall of 1996 I had just left home for the first time to try out boarding school. I wanted a change from my home town. I set off to Massachusetts to attend Cushing Academy. I was inexplicably crippled with overwhelming panic attacks. Because of my strange behavior and issues with anxiety, I became ridiculed by my peers. Looking back, I think it was guilt for leaving and having a subconscious knowledge that something awful was happening at home and I was not there. I then returned to Darien, Connecticut to be home with my mother (who was diagnosed with cancer that spring). I don’t regret leaving boarding school, and returning to public school in my home town. This was the last precious time I had to spend with my mom. She died in January of 1997. This is when things really began to spiral out. I could care less about my grades, going to class, and high school, or my future in general. I would walk around the halls and joke with people and was much more interested in socializing, basically doing anything to get my mind off of my life. I couldn’t focus on anything, let alone school work. Basically, the people in control of my fate had grown concerned. Not knowing what to do they were manipulated into thinking if that sending me away to Redcliff Ascent all their problems would be resolved and I would be fixed. Sadly, my guardian at the time and some family members bought the bullshit this “therapist” was selling, and they devised a plan without my sister’s, or my knowledge. (FYI: this directly led to my paranoia, trust issues, and bad romantic relationships as an adult.) One day while at school the head principal called me into the hallway. It was not unusual at the time because I was often getting tests done and leaving school for various studies to find out what was “wrong” with me. The only thing that was strange was that I was unaware of anything that was planned. In fact, the only thing I did have planned was that my sister and I were going to have a sleepover and get pizza and watch movies. But instead, I was escorted out of the school. My appointed guardian was there and she was acting really strange. I got it her car and asked here where we were going. She then nervously pulled into a parking lot. She proceeds to talk to me and out of the corner of my eye I see two HUGE adult men sitting by a van. Then I notice them approaching the car I was in. They ask me to step out of the car. I was young and naïve, so I listened and got out. My guardian asked me to stand by her and said, “Jesse, just know that I love you.” She got back into her car and drove off! I WAS FOURTEEN FUCKING YEARS OLD AND MY MOM HAD JUST DIED!!! So, I’m in this parking lot with these two random men that I’ve never met before. They informed me that they have custody of me and if I ran, they would handcuff me and that I had to get into the car. I said to them that I wasn’t going anywhere with them until I called my sister. (Reliving this now makes me realize how much it fucked me up as an adult.) They said I could call once we got “there,” but I had no idea where “there” was. Now truly scared, and realizing these men were physically bigger and more powerful than me, I got into the car. I had no idea where I was going. I remember at one point thinking my estranged father hired them to kidnap me. I had no clue what the hell was happening. From the parking lot in Trumbull, CT we went to NJ where I witnessed them pick up another kid who went through the same trauma that I had just experienced. This kid had a full on mohawk and looked like Sid Vicious (on a good day). I was terrified. I looked at this kid and asked him what was this and where were we going? He just looked at me with fear in his eyes and said simply he didn’t know. From the school in New Jersey we took a plane from Newark to Houston, or Austin. Sid Vicious and I plotted our escape along the way. Dreaming up ways how to ditch them in the bathroom and just become teenage runaways. At least we had each other, right? But just when we thought we were alone and could execute our escape, one of the men entered our line of site. Then from Texas we went to Las Vegas. From Vegas we drove for what seemed like forever. We were then strip searched and given what felt like prison cloths. Keep in mind I WAS FOURTEEN FUCKING YEARS OLD AND JUST WATCHED MY MOTHER DIE OF CANCER. At a certain point we were blindfolded and told to keep our blindfolds on. Both of us were petrified. We had no idea where we were, who we were with, or where we’d be going next. The men led us to a truck and then drove us even further outside of civilization. Eventually the truck came to a stop. We were instructed to get out. We walked in pitch black about a mile with sleeping bags and other equipment. Eventually we arrived to our destination. They instructed us to sit down and go to bed and if we had to go to the bathroom call out our number. We were given numbers for the night. We were children. I cried myself to sleep. I could hear that my buddy, Sid Vicious, as tough as he looked, cried himself to sleep that night too. It was pitch black. After the crying stopped, it was total silence until morning. In the morning we woke up to find that we were not alone, but were surrounded by about 10 other kids. The morning reminded me of those old black and white prison movies. The kids ate out of what looked like dog dishes. They all asked me, “What are you in for?” I was surrounded by kids who were supposedly in this program as an alternative to prison sentences. Some were there for serious hard drugs and habits, including acid and heroin. I didn’t understand why I was there. The other kids didn’t understand why I was there either. They would often grab onto my shoulder and say, “You don’t deserve to be here, man.” I would respond back, “No child does.” So, basically for the next 3 months I hiked every day. I dug holes to shit in. I ate rice and beans and oatmeal every day. I lost a ridiculous amount of weight. I refused to work in any of their booklets. I didn’t comply, and I did nothing to get myself out of this “program.” I gave up all hope. I did not care anymore. I arrived there a confused, and angry adolescent, and I left an even more confused and even more angry young man. After my stay at RedCliff, I was highly distrusting of adults. To this day, I have severe trust issues and problems in relationships. I have nothing positive to say about RedCliff. Kids who know nothing but abuse and anger, need LOVE. All they know in their life is PAIN. All Redcliff Ascent does is confirm that an authoritarian stance further exasperates issues. This is the very short version of my story. To anyone who read the whole thing, thank you. I hope this has helped you in some small way. I chose to have my real name and not hide behind anonymity. SHAME ON YOU REDCLIFF ASCENT! YOU PEOPLE ARE COMPLETE SCUMBALLS WHO PROFIT OFF OF DESPERATE PARENTS AND USE THE SYSTEM FOR PERSONAL GAIN. SINCERELY, FUCK YOU ALL. I COULD NOT SAY IT AT 14, BUT I CAN SAY IT NOW. FUCK YOU ALL AND I HOPE YOU BURN IN HELL.” – u/JesseAustinLewis (Reddit)
3/12/2020: (SURVIVOR) “A little background prior to me being sent to RedCliff. I was born and raised in England. And got sent to RedCliff on the 21st October 2019 (aged 15). I was never a rly bad kid or anything just had big issues with, my dad and got caught shoplifting. I arrived at an airport in Las Vegas after being tricked into going on a luxury holiday by my mum. There I was met by 2 escorts(goons) and taken forcibly to the dirty version of hell. When we arrived at RedCliff. Two men who freaked me out. Seeming very unprofessional did my intake which is where the program is explained. Your stripped searched and given your outdoor clothes. I had come in with a fractured spine at the time and was wearing a brace to support it. I wasent meant to carry more than 5 kilos at a time and certainly not a 90lb(40kg) bag. I was driven out into the desert and over the next day was brought into a group called the mustangs. I was shocked by the behaviour that had brought these kids there. All of them heavy weed smokers. A lot have done coke, ket, crack and they wouldn’t stop talking about how great they are and how I should stray doing them when I get out. Defenetly great rehabilitation. I also started experiencing relentless and extreme anxiety attacks. Shaking all over and crying hopelessly for hours on end. Throught my time I survived 3 suicide attempts. The first was on my third day and staff barely took notice of it. The HI of the group a man named buffalo told me to try breathing exercises when he caught me, he even started telling me something along the lines of stop putting on this act. He rly didn’t care. The field instructor a women named Golden tiger literally laughed at me when I told her about how desperate I was just to die. I later learnt that my thearapsit had told my parents I was causing trouble by pretending to commit suicide in an attempt to get sympathy. Over my first week I also fleed from the campsite and spent 9 hours walking around in the desert. After a few days I was put on what is called quest which is for kids who are a real risk. You spend 1/2 weeks away from the group living with just two staff. For a hellish week I had a staff called anonce. He was vile to me. The man spoke like a few 5 year old. He would sit around the fire and rave with the other staff Noah about who’s fart was bigger. Literally the man in charge of my welfare was spending the day boasting about how long he could fart for. He would should at me and threaten me with refusals( which at RedCliff you get for anything just not drinking water or swearing and if u get three in a week u can’t turn in a phase meaning ur there minimum and extra week). I was eager throughtout my whole time to do phase work which is a mixture of education and physical challenges required to complete the program. As a staff he should have helped me but he refused to. Constantly saying I’ll do it later, then he would get mad after hours had passed and I had asked a few times. Instead of encouraging my enthusiasm to co operate with the program. Next thing I will move onto is the therapy. You see a therapist once a week for about 45 mins. The sessions are useless u don’t get anything out of them. My therapist was named John Buckner. While I thought he was my friend he was pushing my parents every week to send me to a therapeutic boarding school. Also telling my parents they needed to keep me for another month even after finsishing the phase work so they could make more money off me. This is what happens to every child who walks through the doorstep of RedCliff ascent. He really made me believe my parents hated me and just wanted me to suffer. He manipulated me and got the reactions out of me that he wanted. The worst week I experienced there was the week I had my 16th birthday. For starter I got a letter from my Dad saying he may be keeping me in America till I’m 18. Then at staff change we got 3 staff Daria, Lee and Hunter. To this day I can say daria is the most evil person on this planet. The weather that week was horrific. It was pouring with rain all day, freezing cold. I would wake up and dread being alive. Our water tanks would freeze solid straight away because of the extreme cold temperatures and we were made to drink 3 litres of water a day. This would often involve literally breaking blocks of ice into smaller ones and swallowing it quickly to avoid the pain. If we didn’t do this it would just be another week at RedCliff. Now I remember this well. It was the day before my birthday. I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed a rope from the camp gear and asked to go to the latrine which is where everyone shits. When we go to shit we have to shout our name at the top of our lungs every 3 seconds or we get a refusal. With daria she would forget so I took the opportunity to try and hang myself again. I couldn’t figure it out and came back to the camp distracuhht and with a terrible headache. One of the nicer staff let me pull my sleeping bag by the fire to sleep it off. When I awoke daria told me I had three refusals as while I was recovering from the headache and another suicide attempt. I didn’t clean my feet, eat dinner or drink more water. My whole week of effort and anxiety about not getting refusals and now this. I couldn’t turn in a phase which I had worked so hard to complete in this weather. The food at RedCliff was putrid. It causes diahrea constantly and u also have to drink bleach they put in the water which messes up ur stomach. The options are rice, porridge, dried pinto beans, milk powder, farina and dried vegetable mix. Also get cheese and peanut butter every other week. I remember also getting 4 numb toes while I was there. This was to the point where I couldn’t feel them and nothing was done about it. I spent 76 days in total in this torture camp. I hated every minute. I now suffer from depression(which I never had before)and have recurring nightmares about my experience here. If u have been here pls comment below or share ur experience and for any parents reading I urge u don’t send ur children here. It will only harm them. Thank u for reading!!” – u/Stuffjp (Reddit)
1/9/2020: (SURVIVOR) “Redcliff Ascent 2008-2009 17 years old – I was greeted by one fat guy, and one tall skinny guy, both in all black, tactical clothing. It was either January, or December. I think it was shortly after Christmas, but I honestly can’t remember if I spent Xmas @ RCA, or not. Either Way they told me I was going to “Rehab” in Vegas. My Dad was nowhere to be found, but I kind of knew what was happening as even though it was my first time being escorted to treatment, it wasn’t my first rodeo. I complied, and they gave me a pack of smokes, and drove me to the airport. Took a flight to Vegas in handcuffs, being stared at the whole way, smoked a square when we landed, and picked up some In & Out. They had an SUV waiting in Vegas, and gave me a DVD of “The Transporter” to watch in the back. By the end of that movie I looked out the window, and realized I wasn’t going to rehab in Vegas. Tried to get info from them, but they didn’t budge. They stopped, and let me smoke one more cigarette before making it there, but by the time we made it to the office I was pretty frightened. Did the standard “Squat n cough”, drug test, etc, and then was blindfolded, thrown into a vehicle, and went for a 2-4 hour drive. When the blindfold went on I started to get paranoid. After about an hour in the car I started to think my Dad had finally gotten sick of me, and was having me killed. When we arrived, and I saw my surroundings I was convinced I was being buried in the desert. Met my intro group that night, cooked my first bowl of rice which I burnt so bad it took me an hour to clean with dirt, and proceeded to cry like a baby while writing a letter begging my Dad to come get me. The next day I switched into Treatment mode. If you’ve read all this then you know I have a lot of experience when it comes to treatment, and by now I had learned exactly what staff want to see/hear, and how to act to get out. I knew damn well I wasn’t escaping, and no one was saving me so I sucked it up, and worked the program. Ended up in the Grizzly’s, Hiked Lambradwarf, or whatever it was called my first week with them which kind of helped the more senior members like me since I didn’t hold them back by acting like a prick like so many that came later on did. It was a solid group for the first couple weeks, but then the cool kids graduated, and we got a bunch of fresh faces, along with a kid who had been there going on 200 days. He was a real piece of work, and flipped his lid daily, holding us up. Even so I still blew through my phases, so much so that the staff caught on, and purposely held me back. My poo glue rock knife was shattered by that Samoan dude every day for the first 2 weeks. I ended up spending around 80 days there, and this was all in the winter months, and for anyone who went during the winter, you know how brutal it can get. It was well below 0 9/10 days, and I’ve yet to ever be colder then I was during my time there. I had to go to the hospital for an infection one time in the middle, it took 16 hours or so (I was blindfolded the whole time so who knows but it was daytime when I got picked up, and sunrise when I got back). They didn’t get me food the whole time either, made me eat dry oats while they ate fast food in the car while telling me how great it tasted… I also caught a case of horrible 3 day diarrhea during my solo camp, and they found me passed out next to a pile of my own liquid shit lol. I learned a lot there though, I really like the guy named Rising Buffalo Sun, or some shit. He’s the one that gave me my real knife. Didn’t end up getting a cool name though. They said I had kind of just been good the whole time, and it’s supposed to reflect real change, but since I had been a good boy the whole time I didn’t deserve one. Funny how even though I was a star student I still NEEDED Discovery Academy!” – u/guttacat (Reddit)
2019: (SURVIVOR) “I went here when I was 13 spent about a year here and in that time was abused by staff as I tried to run away once. I was made to sit huddled with my knees against my chest in a box drawn in the sand, farted on and belched on by staff forced into a jump suit 4 sizes too small and laughed at in the process I have been irreparably damaged by this disgusting and traumatic experience my life has never been the same I remember at this time my dreams were the only happy time I had and the only escape. Disgusted and appalled I hope parents will wake up and never even contemplate sending their children here. My name is George Salvesen I was at RCA in 2004 this experience has damaged me forever.” – George (Google Reviews)
2019: (PARENT) “My son returned far worse off than when he began at Redcliff Ascent, and after learning how little supervision they had and how often staff didn’t know about kids getting beat up, I’m not surprised. The worst part was how little my son trusted his parents and anyone of authority after he learned that he had been kept there an additional three weeks by his therapist because his therapist thought he should go to a therapeutic boarding school instead of living with his mom or myself. Please note that the therapeutic boarding schools suggested were sister companies of Redcliff. It has taken months of counseling and extremely close parenting before he has been able to begin schoolwork again. This was an extremely expensive step backwards.” – Bejamin (Google Reviews)
2019: (SURVIVOR) “Was here in 2000, got 3rd degree sunburns on my arms, due to gross negligence on the workers part. They took me to a doctor but still required me to hike several miles in the day, while my arms were not even covered, nor was I given medication for it. Two of the staff members back then were verbally abusive as well. Forced to march miles on end, if you were about to collapse they didn’t care, until you actually collapse. They refused to report the truth to my parents, they had been brought before the courts multiple times prior to, and after, to my stay there. Parents, avoid at all costs, your children will hate you for life, I promise!” – Ansatsu (Google Reviews)
12/23/2018: (SURVIVOR) “As for the abuse at redcliff, it WAS there. while there was no real physical abuse that I saw (of course, when you are there, you are in a group of about 7-15 with 3 counslers, so who knows about the other groups) there was still abuse. If someone didn’t do exaclty as they were told, they could be punished with lack of food, loss of “needed” gear, like tarps to cover with in rain, jackets or the “privilege” of getting warmer clothes from your “stash”. I say privilege, because you had a certain ammount of clothes, you didn’t want to carry them all, so you could swap out from your bag every 2 weeks. You had to guess what was coming, cuase you could be in shorts hikeing in the snow or in a sweater in the valley, very hot. There’d be times when you just weren’t allowed to get warmer clothes. Other punishments where the “cart”, though I only heard about that, the “red suite” (an bright red, and very thick and hot jump suite you’d be forced to wear…no matter what temp. it was. Emotional and psychilogical abuse from yelling and degrading, to not allowing letters and just being down right cruel, even eploiting a childs past to degrade them, to physically restraining in a painful, though “not harmful” manner. And yes, if you “got with the program” it did not happen to you. So if you just went along with everything, you probobly didn’t see the abuse. The reason, and I’m guessing here, is to give good testimonials. Bad child goes to camp, comes back with a positive experince and outlook. Or, bad child goes to camp, can’t “hack it”, is abused and mistreated, comes out, no one belives because this child was just “beyond help”. Sad isn’t it. I could just imagine what CPS hell I’d be in if I took a child out into the desert, fed him rice twice a day, didn’t allow him access to a bathroom, or even allow him to bathe, pushed him to the point of physical exhasution every day, then topped it all off by telling him how terrible he is, and how with the power of attorny I now have, I can do what every I want and he couldn’t even tell anyone of the abuse. No wonder places like this get shut down, investigated and sued often” – Anonymous
2018: (SURVIVOR) “This place was one of the worst formative experiences of my young childhood. I spent about a year in the program. Like the other poster said… they have minimal therapy… children are expected to walk up to 15 miles a day… all while drinking dirty water laced with chlorine that causes constant chronic diarrhea for the entire length of the child’s stay… I cant make this up. It’s just a relaxed prison for children. It doesn’t open up a child. Just makes them harder, more callused, and feeling rejected.” – Erickson (Google Reviews)
2017: (SURVIVOR) “They keep deleting bad reviews! This is not somewhere you want to send anyone you love for any effective therapeutic treatment. They do actual therapy once or twice a week max for less than 40 minute sessions. The therapist has to have background to be able to provide those sessions, but every other staff that the kids mainly deal with have minimal mental illness background. I was hours away from a hospital or any professional care when I needed most at my stay at redcliff” – Peter (Google Reviews)
12/21/2016: (SURVIVOR) “My parents had hired “escorts” to come into my room around 5 in the morning and take me to RedCliff. This was in April of 2011, and I was a sophomore in high school. I was sleeping naked (I mean, I didn’t think anybody would be coming in), so that was embarrassing to say the least. The escorts were a man and a woman, and the woman told me to get up, get dressed, and come with them or else they would have to handcuff me and take me with force. My mom, anticipating that I wouldn’t know what was going on, came into the room and told me that she and my dad were doing this “because we love you”. I didn’t fight back because 1. I was depressed and apathetic as hell and 2. there was nothing I could do and I knew that. As a side note, I used to hold onto a lot of hatred towards my parents for sending me away to these programs. Now that I’m older though, I only blame myself for how I was acting/how I was hurting my family. While there were certainly other ways that I could have gotten the help I needed, I understand that my parents were truly doing what they thought was best for me and that just because they were misinformed doesn’t mean it was their fault. I love them and we have an alright relationship nowadays. I was at RedCliff Ascent for 83 days. When I first got to their main office, a woman did my intake. I think she realized how difficult these situations could be, and she was comforting and calm with me while still remaining professional. Part of the intake process required me to strip down completely naked, and do a series of squats and other positions in front of her to make sure I didn’t have anything in my rectum (shocker, I didn’t). This was a weird experience for me, but it was far from traumatic/scarring. Honestly, there were many parts of this program that I actually enjoyed. The hiking was painful and long, but it was somewhat therapeutic to be out in nature and away from my problems at home. As a long-term solution, however, this program would do nothing. There was little to no therapy (once a week, for less than 45 minutes each time) from an incompetent therapist. There were a couple therapists (so maybe this wasn’t the case for everybody), but mine didn’t even seem to know which way was up or down. I didn’t ever feel like I got anything from our sessions. I received more help just talking about random things with the staff members who watched over us and led us on hikes. Some of the staff were great, and genuinely cared for us. Others seemed to like it when we were angry, sad, or generally struggling. I don’t think it was malicious, but that they thought we were “building character” in these instances. I can think of several examples of a particular staff member who would laugh at the girls I was with when they were angry/upset/emotional. The environment was harsh at times, too. We didn’t get tents – we got cords and tarps that we could tie up into makeshift tent structures. I was thankfully only there for a couple snowstorms, but the nights would get so cold you would wake up with frost on your sleeping bag. I partially lost feeling in the toes of my right foot from one day where the rain turned to snow and the water in my shoe froze as well. However, this was the extent of the physical hardships and overall RedCliff was not a terrible experience. What did bother me though was once I left, I found out that the program length was changed from about 3 months to a single month. So, I was there almost 3 times as long as some of the girls I was with near the end of my stay.” – u/snorlaxgottaeat (Reddit)
Redcliff Ascent Website Homepage
HEAL Program Information – Redcliff Ascent
Sentenced to Nature (New York Times Magazine, 2000)
The Letter – Blog post pubilshed by Darren Jensen (Musings of a Wandering Man, 1/23/2011)