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.