Monday, October 22, 2012

Presidential Candidate Romney Linked to Abuse at For-Profit Teen Treatment Facilities

    Several recent articles connect Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to abuse in the troubled teen industry. 

    Art Levine’s The Dark Side of a Bain Success details how neglect at Bain controlled-for-profit teen residential programs have resulted in patient abuse, emotional trauma, and even death.      

    Susie Madrak’s Child Sexual Abuse in the World of Romney's Top LDS donors links Romney not only to mistreatment at the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs, a chain of for-profit teen treatment centers founded by former Romney financial co-chair, Robert Lichfield (see details below) and also to molestation in the Scouts program. 

    Lastly, the Daily Kos collects several links documenting Romney’s connection to torture and abuse in the teen treatment industry in this piece. Of particular note is a 2007 article by Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids author Maia Szalavitz. 133 plaintiffs have filed suit against Romney’s associate, Robert Lichfield. Teens allege that they were “locked in outdoor dog cages, exercised to exhaustion, deprived of food and sleep, exposed to extreme temperatures without adequate clothing or water, severely beaten, emotionally brutalized, and sexually abused and humiliated. Some were even made to eat their own vomit.”

    Lichfield was previously mentioned here and here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Talking Community at Athica, October 10

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

Southern Women Writers Conference

I’m headed to the Southern Women Writers Conference at Berry College.  Lots of great speakers: Isabel Wilkerson (author of Warmth of Other Suns, my favorite history ever), rocker and writer Marshall Chapman, poet Stacey Lynn Brown (love Cradle Song), A Dry Grass in August’s Anna Jean Mayhew and so many more...

Excited to attend a creative nonfiction workshop with Melissa Delbridge (just finished Family Bible last night). Dorothy Allison knocked my socks off twice earlier this summer at the Tin House Writer’s Workshop---can't wait to hear her keynote address.

On Friday morning, poet Caroline Young, a fellow Athenian, creative nonfiction writer Joy Wilson-Young and I will be reading in a symposium called Recovering from Endings and Troubled Histories.  I’ll be reading from Delta Drive, a story set in Greenwood, MS, my hometown.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Escuela Caribe and Crosswinds/ Caribbean Mountain Academy Updates

This past Wednesday, Kidnapped for Christ filmmaker Kate Logan, Jesus Land author Julia Scheeres, journalist Kathryn Joyce (who wrote the Roloff/Hepzibah House expose for Mother Jones), and others appeared on the Ann Walker Show (September 12 edition).  They discussed the history of New Horizons Youth Ministries and similar fundamentalist reform schools, their abuses, the lack of regulation of such programs, and the stigma that hampers survivor allegations of abuse from being taken seriously.  
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

Why NHYM Alumni Are Concerned about Crosswinds

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

Dusk at the Cubist Castle

   I moved to Athens, Georgia a few years after Escuela Caribe, knowing I needed to be surrounded by people compelled to create. Around the same time a group of artists moved here from Ruston, LA.  Back home they'd formed bands like the Synthetic Flying Machine and the Gerbils,  discovered Daniel Johnson and the Tall Dwarfs on college radio, played at the Fun-o-Mat. They'd established a collective, Elephant 6
   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

Petition to End Abuse of Children at Caribbean Mountain Academy (Escuela Caribe)

In 2011, Escuela Caribe, the Christian reform school where I was incarcerated in the early '90s, was taken over by Lifeline Family and Youth Services. The Escuela Caribe campus is now called Caribbean Mountain Academy.  (This is the fourth time this school's name has been changed).  Many of the staff who were employed by Escuela Caribe now work at Caribbean Mountain Academy.

Why is this disturbing?  These same staff were complicit in the abuse of children. Read the case of "Emily," a student from 2009...

"Emily was suffering from severe depression when her parents decided to send her to this self-described “Christian therapeutic boarding school.” Shortly after her arrival, she was confined to the “Quiet Room” for several weeks, where she was forced to sleep on a concrete floor and use a bucket as a toilet. The other students were told to ignore her anguished cries. After releasing her from solitary confinement, the staff gave her a potent sedative each morning whose sleep-inducing side effect prevented her from completing her chores. In an attempt to rouse her, three men routinely dragged her outside, pinned her to the ground, and poured water over her face with a garden hose. She was terrified they would drown her."

Julia Scheeres, author of Escuela Caribe expose Jesus Land, crafted this petition to Mark Terrell, CEO of Lifeline Family and Youth Services.  It includes the previous example.  It requests that Terrell dismiss all staff employed by Escuela Caribe, ends the level system (where students are required to ask permission to enter each room, stand, sit, eat, use the bathroom, etc.), allows uncensored communication between children, their families, and other students, and abandons harsh physical and emotional confrontations, among other requests.

Please sign this petition.  Please share it with your family and friends.  Thank you for helping protect the students of Caribbean Mountain Academy. 

xoxo, Deirdre

Tin House Writers Workshop Recap

I worked with an amazing group.  We studied with Stephen Elliott.  We focused on being honest and empathetic in our writing.  

More updates soon...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

More from Tin House Writer's Workshop

This place is paradise.  Every night- readings.  Last night this from Steve Almond.  

We didn't just clap- we cheered.  Most stood.

Favorite panel today was with poets Matthew Dickman, Melissa Stein, and Matthew Zapruder...who discussed how to survive as a writer (They Paid Me with Drinks: How to Navigate the World of the Modern Poet). Zapruder warned against equating the teaching of writing with being a writer---the beauty of writing outside the  profession is that you can mine your job for topics...

Dickman suggested thinking of writing as the intersection between the spiritual and secular world...with submissions as the secular chore.

This afternoon Wells Tower discussed negotiating the grotesque in fiction.  He referred to Faulkner's 1950 Nobel Prize Speech

The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. 

Which brought me back to Athens, where just last Thursday Judy Long arranged that amazing tribute---my favorite Athenians reading Faulkner's works aloud, marking the 50th anniversary of his death.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tin House, Hambidge, Missing Vic Chesnutt

At Tin House Writer's Workshop...attending creative nonfiction workshop with Stephen Elliott...Big fan of his work as well as his instruction style.

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.

"She's working on an ambitious psychological memoir project about her teenage years as a rebellious daughter of a Mississippi doctor sent off to a brutal Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. Now a schoolteacher with her own son in grade school and with the political tenor of the times, her story has a fresh relevance informing a shadowy current surging through fundamentalist Christianity in the American south."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

New Horizons Youth Ministries Expelled from Haiti in 1974

New Horizons Youth Ministries' first overseas academy, Caribe-Vista Youth Safari, was established in Haiti
In 1974, they moved to the Dominican Republic. They changed their name to Caribe-Vista. (Five years later, after a 1979 Congressional Report alleging abuse, it would become Escuela it is known as Caribbean Mountain Academy).Various rumors were given for the program’s move, usually casting blame upon the students:  some kid had burned down native huts in Haiti.  A girl had run away and been forced into prostitution.
However, an article from 1974, tells the truth.
The program was cited by Michigan officials for being unlicensed and not offering proper care.  They were particularly concerned with Blossom’s advocacy of corporal punishment resulting in excessive bruises and bleeding.  He also was sending court-ordered students to Haiti who were supposed to be housed at Michigan’s Honey Creek Christian Homes.
The Haitian officials deported Blossom’s organization on drug charges and for not keeping their visas and other documents currentIf the Duvalier regime expels you, you must be really corrupt.

Caribbean Youth Camp Attacked As Unfit by Paper
Detroit (AP) A Caribbean camp housing 18 Michigan youths is unlicensed and may not offer proper care, according to a Detroit newspaper. Half of the youths at the camp were sent there by state probate judges and five of those six judges have ordered their charges returned to the states pending an investigation of the Caribe Vista Youth Safari. The nine other Michigan youths were placed in the camp by their parents.
The sixth judge said he planned to make a decision today after reading a state Supreme Court memo which questioned whether the courts could legally make the placements and which said use of state funds for the care of youths at the facility “may be improper”.
The youths and their director Rev Gordon Blossom, a Baptist minister from Grand Rapids, were deported from Haiti to the Dominican Republic because of drug charges and because Haitian officials said they failed to keep visas and other documents current, the Detroit Free Press said.
They have since been lodged at two sites on the island, and will be moving to a third camp soon, the paper said.
Judges ordered the youths placed in the camp, believing the 53-year old minister was running a legitimate operation based on what he called “culture shock.”
Blossom believes the disorientation resulting from living in a different country with a strange language, monetary system, life-style and social-political problems will make it easier for the campers to overcome influences that get them into trouble in the first place, the paper said.
Blossom runs a licensed Michigan camp called Honey Creek Christian Homes in Lowell, Michigan. He told judges that their wards would be sent to Honey Creek, then to the Caribbean.
However, the paper said it learned the youths were flown directly to Haiti. Part of the stir that has prompted some judges to order their wards back to Michigan stems from Blossom’s questionable maneuvering and advocacy of corporal punishment. They said they were worried by Blossom’s failure to keep them up to date on what was happening with his charges.
“Kids need a swat on the butt when they mouth off,” Blossom was quoted as saying. However, the Free Press said it learned excessive bruises and bleeding sometimes resulted. Physical punishment has been discontinued, however, and group therapy substituted, the paper said.*
Although some of the judges have deplored Blossom’s operation, he argued in his defense: “If authorities….. are unaware of the sexual abuse, social stigma, destructive influences, and psychological assaults experienced by children in the reform schools, detention centers and mental hospitals to which our kids otherwise would have been sent, we have just cause for their replacement.
“If, while knowing these things, they continue to stifle programs calculated to avoid these traumas, they justly indict themselves in the minds of all knowledgeable persons.”

from the The Daily Globe, Ironwood, Michigan, August 19, 1974, p.6.

*Physical punishment was resumed once NHYM moved to the Dominican Republic.  It was documented in a 1979 Congressional Hearing. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Abusive Tactics at Escuela Caribe Featured in 1979 Congressional Report

On January 4, 1979, Congress began a hearing on the Abuse and Neglect of Children in Institutions.   Escuela Caribe, then called Caribe Vista, was condemned for its abuse of children.

Children's Advocate Kenneth Wooden delivered the following testimony:

"I would like to share with you my 1976 observations of the facility that is currently charging taxpayers in Evansville, Indiana $8360 a year per child. Caribe-Vista was totally unsupervised by any outside American. Blossom's daughter and son-in-law ran all three group homes. Staff was paid $100 per month and a promise of a better job elsewhere, because of their experience gained at Caribe-Vista. A key point is parents were not permitted to visit for the first four months. The mail was censored at all times. I submit to you parents cannot visit their children so Gordon Blossom can brainwash their children on his religious programs. If the child had any dental problems, local unqualified students who pulled tooth for quarter. Education was nothing more than correspondence courses.
Forms of discipline were demonstrated to me as I was talking to him about 10 kids. One young girl who had her head shaved was taunted by a staff member to tell me why she was bald. As she stood in silent shame, he harassed her about her weakness of the flesh-she ran away for the weekend and mingled with the local Dominican male.
The director of religion freely admitted that the children were beaten with a stick on the rump "hard enough to make them fear it." Three days of solitary confinement was given before the beatings.
 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?
The young girl who was so degraded by these people was there without any government scrutiny on the part of the United States.
Gordon Blossom is making a lot of money figuring the amount of kids there down there, figuring what he is paying, the cost he is paying for his program-what appears to be a glorified babysitting outfit, could have made Gordon Blossom a millionaire and four years. His program is now eight years old. I believe that the state of Michigan is refused to allow New Horizon's Youth Ministries to operate at home, certainly someone from the State Department with a background in public health, should visit and evaluate the operation in the Dominican Republic."

The only outcome of this hearing seems to be that Escuela Caribe changed its name to Caribe Vista.  Prior to that, when the program came under scrutiny, it moved from Michigan to Indiana.

In 2011, after pressure from our alumni website, The Truth About New Horizons Youth Ministry, response to Julia Scheeres' memoir, Jesus Land, a protest at the Marion facility, publicity over Kate Logan's forthcoming expose, Kidnapped for Christ, etc., the program changed ownership. 

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.

Incidentally, in 1979 Wooden also delivered testimony detailing abuse at Provo Canyon, a facility where Mitt Romney's Utah finance co-chair, Robin Lichfield, was employed at the time of the hearing.  Lichfield went on to found the infamous World Wide Association of Specialty Programs, which is known for abusive practices, including locking teens in cages. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

1988 Escuela Caribe Promotional Video

Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land and A Thousand Lives, uploaded this 1988 Escuela Caribe* promotional video. I attended E.C. from 1990-91.  I knew many of the staff and a few of the students in this film.

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

Recipe for Press

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

Kidnapped for Christ

In December, I flew to Los Angeles.  I was interviewed by Kate Logan, the director of the forthcoming expose about Escuela Caribe, Kidnapped for Christ
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

The Kids Are Alright

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

Ah, Advocacy....

On April 12, the night of my reading with David Lowery, I came home thrilled at how people had resonated with the UnReformed excerpt.
And then...
That same night, I found out that my school library media assistant’s position hadbeen cut from next year’s Clarke County School Budget.  Other cuts of positions who directly work with children were made.
Instead of writing UnReformed, most of the past five weeks have been spent advocating on behalf of what’s best for the children of Clarke County.  It’s the school district where my son and his friends attend. 
It’s been exhausting, yet rewarding.  In this era, it’s important for all of us to become activists about a myriad of issues.
Of course, you are hearing this from a former reform school girl.
One aspect that is mind-boggling is realizing that in some places, school libraries are not just being underfunded, but cut. 
As a writer, a reader, and a school library media specialist, I know this is short-sighted.   
School let out Friday.  Tomorrow night is the last input session on the budget.  I'm gradually reabsorbing myself into editing and finishing my book. Over the past five days, much progress has been made. 
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.
Stars are aligning.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Love Your Library

On April 12, I discovered that the district had cut funding for all school library media assistants in Clarke County.  I love serving as a school library media specialist in Clarke County.  It’s where my son attends school.

It took me several days to process the shock, and to begin to realize the implications for the school library program at our school.  We serve a high-poverty population of nearly six hundred; I hadn’t realized cutting our program could be a consideration.

I am constantly working to improve our program, which cannot survive in its current iteration (much less the one I envisioned for next year) without the help of a trained assistant.  She performs numerous tasks: assisting students and teachers in finding and checking out books and materials, supervising while I teach (at least half the day), while I attend planning meetings, write grants, create resource lists, order new materials, etc.

My letter to Athens, our school board, and our superintendent, will be published today, highlighting some of my concerns. Nationwide, we all need to speak up for our libraries.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Natasha Trethewey in Athens

Went to the Georgia Review's Earth Day celebration tonight at the Botanical Gardens. Saw fellow Mississippian Natasha Trethewey read from
Beyond Katrina.


Monday, April 2, 2012

About the New Town Revue

Last year my buddy Al Dixon and I started an Athens, Georgia based reading and music series, the New Town Revue. It's held at Athens newest independent bookstore, Avid Bookshop. So far packed houses have been entertained by readers Reginald McKnight, Sabrina Orah Mark, Jeff Fallis, and Beth Hall Thrasher, as well as musicians Madeline Adams, Old Smokey, and Tom Eisenbraun.

I am particularly stoked about the next installment of NTR, because one of my long-time favorite musicians/ writers, David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, will be reading excerpts from his blog, 300 Songs. He might change his mind and surprise us with a short story. He definitely will play a few songs.

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

About UnReformed

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.

I lied.

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.