Friday, December 28, 2012
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Monday, October 22, 2012
Monday, October 8, 2012
This Wednesday, October 10, Talking Community: An Evening of Poetry, Storytelling, & Song takes place at Athica. Alan Flurry, Janet Geddis, Marc Tissenbaum, Beth Hall Thrasher and I will be reading. Star Room Boys frontman Dave Marr will play some songs. This event is in conjunction with their current exhibition, Center, which "explores current ideas of community and place that are ever-present in contemporary art today." The image above is from a painting by Jennifer Hartley, currently featured in the show.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Joyce noted that many of the female survivors of the Roloff programs often "ricochet into addiction" in order to deal with the trauma. Scheeres provided anecdotes from discussion between many NHYM alumni, who acknowledge struggling with failed relationships and/or addiction. A high percentage of us have died early or committed suicide, which, whenever I force myself to remember, always reminds me of that Jim Carroll song, People Who Died.
Walker briefly noted the connections of the Romneys (George and Mitt) to the troubled teen industry. Mitt Romney has received financial backing from numerous Utah troubled teen programs.* His father, George Romney, was a supporter of the Floyd Starr Commonwealth Home. Pastor Gordon Blossom, who founded Escuela Caribe, the school where myself, Scheeres, and hundreds of other alumni were abused, was a Floyd graduate . EC alumni from the seventies have told me stories of how Blossom would tell them that even though they were being beaten and locked up in the Quiet Room, etc., they didn't have it bad---Blossom's hands were permanently deformed from having them beaten by a leather belt at Floyd.
What constitutes abuse is all context I suppose. Which leads me into update two.
Mark Terrell, CEO of Crosswinds/ Caribbean Mountain Academy, the organization that purchased New Horizons Youth Ministries, recently held a webinar where we alumni were allowed to send in questions. Ever awesome alum Tim S. compiled a list.
We appreciate Crosswinds holding a forum to answer our questions. We appreciate that they understand that our mission is to help them help kids. We don't want kids to be damaged the way we were by Escuela Caribe, which is why we are so focused on the CMA campus.
However, we are troubled by their decision to continue to employ former Escuela Caribe staff. At least five of the eight staff employed by Crosswinds are former Escuela Caribe employees. Many were there in 2006 when Kate Logan filmed the original footage for Kidnapped for Christ, when (among other abuses) teenagers were receiving swats and were being sent to the Quiet Room. They were also anti-gay.
I visited the same year (separately)- I met a girl who suffered from an anxiety disorder (before she went to the program), who was "on silence" to everyone but staff, who was given swats frequently. Her parents were paying $6000/month for this "treatment." (They pulled her- but not before they spent their retirement trying to help their daughter).
Many alumni and I find the presence of these former individuals as current staff members unacceptable. We believe that by witnessing abusive behavior over a period of years, their norm for what entails abusive behavior is WAY out of whack...they have mental blinders to what would actually be abuse. Even if these individuals did not commit abuse, through their silence they were complicit in the abuse of numerous children, and therefore are not trustworthy to counsel the teens who are currently there.
Understand, I offer this opinion with utmost respect. Like many of my fellow alumni, I appreciate the strides Crosswinds currently is taking to improve their program.
*Robert Lichfield, Mitt Romney's co-chair for fundraising in Utah, founded the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs, a coalition of twenty plus programs wracked with allegations of extreme physical and sexual abuse---interestingly, Lichfield was employed by Provo Canyon [a WWASP school] around the same time as the 1979 Congressional Hearings into the Abuse and Neglect of Children in Institutions; Escuela Caribe was also cited in the same report.
Friday, August 24, 2012
In 2011, Escuela Caribe and its parent company New Horizons Youth Ministries shut down. The property was donated to Crosswinds, a subsidiary of Lifeline Youth Ministries. At first we celebrated. However, now we alumni are concerned.
Caribbean Mountain Academy, a division of Crosswinds, is predominantly staffed by former New Horizons Youth Ministries/ Escuela Caribe employees. These are employees that were employed by an organization that professed that children must be broken in order to be fixed. They worked during a time when students, teenagers, were given swats and being sent to the Quiet Room (often for days) for minor violations, when students were being "slammed" against the wall for minor infractions, even when the story of waterboarding recounted by "Emily" occurred sometime around 2009. (For further reference, read this student's account of abuse in 2008, when many of these staff were employed).
Another troubling aspect is that this summer Crosswinds uploaded a parents' guidebook (since removed from their website). The students are on a level system similar to the one utilized by Escuela Caribe. It does not say how their placement on levels is determined. (In the past it was via a point sheet).Zero Level, which we all considered an abomination, is no longer mentioned in the guidebook. However, it seems to have been replaced with Level One.
This summer, Jesus Land author Julia Scheeres created a petition to protect students at Caribbean Mountain Academy. A series of requests to protect basic human rights was outlined. Nearly 600 individuals have signed, including Caribbean Mountain Academy/ Crosswinds CEO Mark Terrell.
Terrell added comments. Many are problematic. The two things that worry us most is that he carefully qualified his answers on employing former staff and on uncensored communication between students and families.
In order for students to be protected, they need uncensored communication with their families. They need a hotline to report abuse, and an outside agency that monitors the facility to ensure that abuse is not occurring. For students to be safe, they shouldn't be in the Dominican Republic at all, cut off from their families.
We believe all former staff should be dismissed. Two of the current staff members have written a post for the Crosswinds facebook page defending why they should still be employed. Even if they did not commit abuse, they still were there while it was occurring. In the United States, teachers or counselors who do not report abuse happening to children lose their jobs. Why should the rules be different in a therapeutic program?
Friday, August 3, 2012
Once they moved to Athens, they formed other bands. The Olivia Tremor Control. Neutral Milk Hotel. Always Red. the Marbles. The Sunshine Fix. Their music became the soundtrack of my generation.
Bill Doss (Synthetic Flying Machine, the Olivia Tremor Control, the Sunshine Fix, Apples in Stereo, etc...) was a leader of the Ruston group. He was one of the last people I saw before I left town for July. We ran into each other on Washington Street, in front of Flicker. He was with Peter Alvanos (Fabulous Bird, Sunshine Fix, etc.), one of the many people Bill inspired.
Elf Power and the Glands had just headlined on the main stage. It was the first hot weekend of summer, all of us were sticky from sweat. Velena and I are were headed for the Manhattan's air-conditioning. I told Bill about an article I wanted to write, how his hometown Ruston had inspired him and his friends to be creative, how our community in Athens had done the same. Bill raised an eyebrow, intrigued. We talked about how more than thirty artists had migrated here from Ruston, how back when we were younger, the Olivias practiced across the street from our house. We made plans to talk this month, when I got back.
I returned home Saturday, missing OTC's Thursday show- 500 plus watched them rock out. Tuesday I outlined the article, preparing Bill's questions. After lunch, my son and I walked down to Vision Video. Jim Hicks met me inside. His face was face flushed, eyes rimmed red. He'd just found out Bill had died. Bill was only 43 years old. He was married. He was at the top of his game, touring with the Apples...The Olivia Tremor Control had reformed. The news sent shock waves through Athens, to fans around the world, devastated friends and family at home.
That night, I rode my longboard for a long time ... no helmet, sandals, listening to my ipod...thinking of how Bill embodied the best of what makes life sweetest, always creating, encouraging those around him to do the same. Occasionally, the cicadas drowned the music out.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Have seen great readings: Wells Tower, a mind-blowing performance on said topic by Dorothy Allison, Elliott, etc...
Feels like I have found my tribe...
Two weeks ago, I attended a residency at Hambidge. Finished the final ten percent of UnReformed. Next up... revise, revise, revise.
Finishing fulfills the last promise I made Vic Chesnutt. I wish he were here every single day.
Three years ago, he wrote me a recommendation. Whenever I feel lost, he guides me back.
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Monday, June 25, 2012
Children's Advocate Kenneth Wooden delivered the following testimony:
Can you imagine forcing a child 16 years old to explain to a strange man, myself, why her head was shaven and how the director of religion required that girl to talk about her sexual life on weekends when she would slip out of the facility and how she was beaten with a stick and how she was placed in solitary confinement?
Escuela Caribe is now Caribbean Mountain Academy, operated by Crosswinds Youth Organization, a division of Lifeline. At least seven former staff are employed. Many alumni doubt that their tactics have changed.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
In it, founder Gordon Blossom speaks of "youngsters who come from nice neighborhoods and good families" who are negatively impacted by the dangers of the "secularized culture in America...with its materialistic and humanistic values" and public schools. (According to the American Psychiatric Association, four out of five kids in for-profit teen treatment facilities are white and middle class).
Blossom speaks of how being in the Dominican Republic "psychologically disorients kids" enabling the staff to "plant new perspectives." What he means is that students were brainwashed, a process hastened by separating them from their family, using abuse.
Phil Redwine, who was director when I was there, says "the most important part of my being here is not how I run the school, but how I love the kids."
"If a youngster completes all three phases of our training program, that youngster is going to be tremendously enriched, and so will all of us," Blossom concludes.
*Recently, Escuela Caribe was reported to be closed. However, it has now reopened as Caribbean Mountain Academy. It employs many of the same staff.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
This morning I met with Amy Flurry. She's the author of Recipe for Press, one of the best books I've read about creating publicity for your product. It's an invaluable resource to help any artist develop a media platform.
I've given myself a two week deadline to finish UnReformed- we're crafting a plan to help me sell it. Both book and consult are highly recommended.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Since I began writing UnReformed, I've had lots of people ask about Escuela Caribe. Kate knows more about the school than anyone I've met---alumni included. Talking with her was very strange, yet very cool. Cathartic.
Learn more about Kidnapped for Christ here. Donations to help complete the film are appreciated.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Thursday, May 24, 2012
This Friday, May 25th, @ 7:00, join your favorite folks at the Kids Are Alright, a reading sponsored by the Marco Polo Arts Quarterly,* at Avid Bookshop on Prince Avenue in Athens.
All your favorite local authors (plus me) are reading.
Fun, fun, fun!!!
Find more information here.
*The piece I am reading, Danzas con Lobos en Santiago, will be published in a forthcoming issue.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
My summer goal-- to complete UnReformed before I go back to work in August. Also, to begin looking for an agent/ publisher. Now’s the time---in September, director Kate Logan plans for Kidnapped forChrist’s rough cut to be complete (In December, I was interviewed). More updates on Kidnapped for Christ and the status of Escuela Caribe will be posted soon.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Monday, April 2, 2012
I'm also reading a piece from my teenage reform school captivity narrative, UnReformed. Scary, yet exciting!!!
The April 12th event starts @ 7 p.m. sharp. Looking forward to seeing you @ Avid Bookshop!
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
On January 4, 1990, I boarded a plane in New Orleans for the Dominican Republic. I was headed to Escuela Caribe, an evangelical Christian reform school (also the setting of Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres). The school had been referred to my parents by the influential religious organization, Focus on the Family.
My life would never be the same.
I thought I was going to a Christian boarding school. Instead I entered a two year long nightmare where I lost all basic human rights. I quickly learned to ask permission from my “housefather” to stand, to sit, to use the bathroom, and to enter each and every room. If I didn’t I was punished with hours of forced exercise, sometimes holding stress positions (push-up position, or holding my arms out to the side weighted with books) for long periods of time. Staff and fellow students watched my every gesture, keeping track of my “progress” on a daily point sheet.
One of these days, staff said, I would move up the school’s level system, confronting those with lower rank than me. I promised myself I would never do that.
Awful things happened. Kids being beaten, molested, put into solitary confinement. Being manipulated in God’s name intensified the pressure. When the first Gulf War began, we were told it was “the beginning of the end of the world.” Girls who had undergone abortions were denounced as “baby-killers.” One housefather refused to allow my friend to see a counselor on the anniversary of her dad’s death because she refused to recognize Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
All letters to and from home were censored. All phone calls were supervised and taped. There was no way to tell anyone on the outside about the abuse.
Over time, I changed. I became a high-ranker, confronting lower ranking students in ways I had previously vowed never to engage. I sucked up to staff members by debating Scripture.
Eventually I graduated and made my escape. I was so spun out from the trauma that I couldn’t even write, but gradually, I achieved stability. Lots of my friends weren’t so lucky.
Unreformed seeks to open the eyes of America to the consequences of imprisoning our youth in residential treatment facilities, putting a human face to the statistics, a cultural context to the numbers and psychological insight into the practice, propelled by the memories of what happened to my friends and myself.
Some died. Most survived. We all changed.
This is our story.