“This Is Paris” convinced me to share the story of my time at Spring Creek Lodge Academy (SCLA) in Montana from 2008-2009. It hit me hard when Paris talked about her insomnia and being afraid to close her eyes. I was seventeen when I was abducted in the middle of the night and I lived there for 14 months. I woke up to seven cops, two large “transporters,” and my mom charging inside to take me away. I still don’t understand how she convinced them that kidnapping a 120lb teenage girl with no history of violence required ten people. That night broke any trust I had in the police. I still see members of authority as dangerous people I should avoid. None of the police officers expressed that they cared why I had run away or if I deserved to go. I had run away because my relationship with my mother was toxic and living with her had become unbearable. I had grown up in a traumatic environment and was sexually assaulted three times. The first time was when I was only 14 years old. Shortly before I was taken I suffered a late-stage miscarriage. Those experiences had a huge impact on me and my mental health. SCLA was not the right environment for me to process any of it. I came away from SCLA feeling a lot of shame and that is why I haven’t spoken up sooner. 

I’ve struggled with insomnia since I was a child but the PTSD-fueled nightmares didn’t start until after I left Montana. Sometimes the nightmares last for weeks at a time and I am too afraid to go to sleep. My nightmares are often still about being taken against my will. I close my eyes and I am wrongfully imprisoned, sometimes kidnapped, trapped, locked up, trying to escape, and I’m always powerless. I try to convince people that I don’t belong but nothing I say makes any difference. Sometimes I get free and spend the rest of the dream running, hunted down, and caught. I have not spoken to my mother since early 2012 but she still stalks me in my nightmares. I believe SCLA is why I developed a fear of being incarcerated. I am terrified of losing my freedom, my privacy, and of not being able to get medical care.

Montana wasn’t the first time that my mother had abandoned me but it was the first time that my rights were literally signed away. It was the first time I had been put into the care of people who were legally allowed to treat me any way they saw fit. It was almost impossible to not lose any points – even if you knew all the rules. Every time you lost points you had to gain that many more back to level up. We had to fight for our spots in the pack. Eyes were always on you, measuring you against perfection. Being sent to Tranquility Bay in Jamaica and being put into isolation were threats used to silence our voices. We were “on silence” for a majority of the day and we didn’t have any say in what we wore, ate, or what medications were put into our bodies. If you tried to exert control it resulted in consequences and set back your program. 

SCLA was a day-by-day thing and I didn’t realize until years later that I lived in a constant state of fear. I grew up experiencing a lot of freedom. Even though my home life sucked I still had a life outside of the house. At SCLA, I had no choice who I lived with and there was no time off. At one point, two families merged into one and there were 22 of us living in a room with 11 bunk beds. 

I was not alone in feeling hopeless endlessness. SCLA wasn’t like having a hard day at work and then getting to go home to your family. We couldn’t call up anyone for love or comfort and everything we wrote was censored. The days dragged by and none of us truly knew when we would leave. It was very lonely. The day I “graduated,” my mother popped some pills and had me drive the rental car to the airport a couple of hours away. I didn’t have a license or even a driving permit but she threatened to leave me there if I didn’t drive us. I was told over and over that they had saved my life. Some of the other program parents shamed me for not being grateful. I experienced emotional and verbal abuse and medical neglect and I left with more complex trauma than I came in with. It magnified every issue that I already had and none of that saved my life, it only added to my baggage.

My name is Valan and I am #breakingcodesilence