When I was 14, I lived with my grandparents in a wealthy gated community and went to a very prestigious private school. This was the first time I had access to the Internet on a daily basis, and it changed my life forever. I discovered metal music and culture, which inspired me to learn the guitar. My yearbook ambitions quickly went from "become a judge like my grandfather" to "become a rock star."
This was not a popular change in Tori Jane, and before long my grandparents decided the best way to reverse it was to ship my ass off to a camp for "troubled" teens in Montana. In short order I learned some terrifying truths about an industry dedicated to taking America's at-risk youth and fucking them up in the worst way possible.
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One night in August 2004, I awoke to a man and a woman in my room whom I had never seen before telling me that they were "escorts" and we were going to a place called "wilderness." I was not allowed to bring any belongings or tell anyone where I was going. I didn't know what "escorts" and "wilderness" were, and I was terrified. It was like being Liam Neeson's daughter in Taken, if it had turned out later that Liam Neeson arranged the whole thing.
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His very particular set of skills includes paranoia and child endangerment.
The escorts drove me to an airport where the three of us got on a plane to Boise, Idaho. I didn't try to run, and running wouldn't have done me much good: Kids who resist have been pepper-sprayed and hog-tied. The actual snatching and transporting of kids destined for programs like the one I was headed to is handled by companies like Center for Safe Youth, which emphasizes the element of surprise on their FAQ page:
Should I tell my child in advance (even the night before)?
No. Prior knowledge will only serve to increase the child's anxiety, heighten defenses, and force the child into a bad decision, such as running away.
Running away is bad. Children could wind up with strangers somewhere unfamiliar and scary.
So what kind of crime does a kid have to commit to wind up subjected to this? Anything -- kids can be sent away for drug use, depression, eating disorders, really any behavioral issue you can dream up. Some were sent away for bad grades, or for not following the family religion, or for being gay. It is an industry that survives on parents' fear that their kid is "at risk."
At this point you're probably wondering, "How could this possibly be legal?" Couldn't any sufficiently rambunctious kid just flip out when he and his escorts get to a public place and trust the police to take care of the rest? Nope. As much as it looks and feels like a kidnapping, those escorts have the absolute legal right to transport you against your will, even if that means carrying you through the street, handcuffed to hell and back.
All children are technically criminals until they come of age.
There is a legal process where parents can sign over custody of kids who need residential care, which makes sense, because if a kid has to be housed in a mental health facility, the staff needs to be able to make all of the day-to-day decisions for her care. But that same process works for "unruly" teens like me, which meant the company that ran my camp had total legal control over where I went and what I did.
Even phone calls to my grandparents were a privilege I had to earn. I was allowed five minutes, and a staff member sat next to me the entire time, listening in. If during the call I complained about being unhappy, that was "manipulative behavior," and they'd end the call. They read the letters from my grandparents to me, word for word. Packages my friends sent were destroyed right in front of me, because ... tough love?
Actually, they had to burn care packages for fuel.
I had been sent to a "wilderness program" (they're very popular), which attempts to solve behavioral problems via the time-honored educational tradition of hiking. It didn't matter your age or gender or physical ability; we were all lumped in together.
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Even Adam, whose behavioral problem was "addicted to hiking."
The summer heat was sweltering, and the packs were about a third of my 14-year-old body weight. This wasn't like a camp-out, where you hike 5 or 10 miles to a campground or canoe along a river for two or three days. We were out there for weeks, and the adults responsible for us weren't exactly competent woodsmen. A girl in my group had to wrap fresh gauze and bandages across a third-degree burn on her arm every morning because she had passed out on the rocks in the hot summer sun. Our counselors thought she was faking and decided that the safest course of action was to leave her there. She was later rushed to the hospital and had to get skin grafts.
Still, at least neither of us died, as happens with some regularity ("untrained staff" and "lack of adequate nourishment" are the leading causes of death). If you're going to lead children in week-long hikes through the woods, you should know about things like the sun and treating burns. If this kind of shit happened at a Boy Scout camp, you can bet it'd be on the news.
The Girl Scout Cookie factory fire of '09 got major headlines.
So why hasn't John Law's swingin' dick come down on these places? Well ...