Monday, November 11, 2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013

New Horizons Youth Ministries Founded by a Pedophile

New Horizons Youth Ministries (parent organization of my reform school, Escuela Caribe) was founded in 1971 by Pastor Gordon  Blossom, a former juvenile delinquent who'd served a stint at Michigan's Floyd Starr Commonwealth Home.* By the time I arrived at Escuela Caribe in January 1990, Pastor Blossom was not active in the "ministry"  except during Spiritual Emphasis Week in the Canada branch, Missanabie Woods Academy. Then he would deliver a sermon in the chapel, segregated by sex, first to the boys, then the girls.  I don't even want to go into details here- but it was awful and we had to sit there and take it because the Pastor was speaking and he was always right. Scarred me for years.  I wrote a chapter about it this summer.

Yesterday a fellow alum rocked our cyberwaves- she discovered Pastor Blossom molested one of his daughters, Shirley Jo Petersen.  Petersen wrote a book, the Whisper, about healing from sexual abuse.  Petersen also alleges (and I believe her) that the pastor physically and emotionally abused her other siblings. She says that in part she has healed because she realizes that he was abused. Which I get on one level, yeah we all are constantly replicating trauma until we resolve it, but there is no excusing it, because at some point you have to face the monster within yourself and change. And I know that I probably am thinking more about my situation with my parents than hers. It is important to note- when she wrote my friend, Petersen said it didn't excuse what he did.

But I don't know what to do with the concrete proof that my parents entrusted me to a pedophile over my grandparents, who loved me and wanted me, to reform me, all because Blossom's "ministry" was Christian®.  And I don't want to think of all the predators who blatantly abused me and my friends.  I'd rather focus on how my writing is taking off in Sabrina Orah Mark's workshop, or the way right now the gingkos are my favorite gold, or that on Thursday night my guy and I saw one of Television's only U.S. shows.  

*Fun fact:  Blossom was once recognized for his civic work by Gov. George Romney, father of Mitt.

Monday, October 14, 2013

October Status Check

Deirdre Sugiuchi with Killick Hinds
I co-curate the New Town Revue, an Athens, GA music and literature series, which is hosted at Athens' Avid Bookshop. Friday, October 11, was sublime.

I volunteered at the Great ARTdoors, a fundraiser for the Hambidge Foundation. They have hosted me for three different residencies; it's one of my favorite spaces on earth. I led a tour of Didi Dunphy's studio. There were so many exciting things to discuss- she made a swing that was set up in the garden. This video was linked to an embroidered QR scan.  This punch list was drawn on her studio wall, things she did every single day at Hambidge. I love the way she reminds us all  to integrate play.  

I began my third workshop with Sabrina Orah Mark. For our first assignment, she asked us to select a piece of work we wished we had written.  I chose Steve Almond's essay about Kurt Vonnegut, Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt.  You can read the first part here.

Brantley Senn has been rebuilding my website. Heads up- this blog will soon migrate to wordpress.  The whole site will be much more user-friendly. Soon we will debut the design.  

And all of this means so much more to me because this weekend marked the 24th anniversary of my entry into the teen treatment industry.  My gateway to Escuela Caribe began at a place in Olive Branch, MS, then known as Parkwood Behavioral Health Services. I wish I could go back then and show myself how much I adore my life now.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lost in the Letters, Elf Power, & a User's Guide to Unreformed

I read for Atlanta’s Lost in the Letters this weekend. Listened to some fab writers (Jamie Iredell is hilarious!). Really enjoyed meeting LIL curator Scott Daughtridge. Am looking forward to future collaborations- he's doing much to build the regional lit scene, like this festival in November (to be linked soon) which features some of my heroes- Roxane Gay, Jericho Brown, Mary Miller, and more. Stoked!

I read two Unreformed excerpts*- Certificate of Affection (you had to have a commitment ceremony to have a relationship at Escuela Caribe- which was then horrifying but now is funny- provided you yourself didn't experience it) and First Gulf War, which delves into some of the apocalyptic dogma.  My husband, who is a musician (fave album- Ham 1: The Captain’s Table), helped me prep. When I came to the part where I referenced this verse in First Gulf War, he stopped me. “Wait, so that’s why you make jokes about riding the beast (when referring to difficult situations/people)?" “Totes, babe!”

Saturday night we walked down to the World Famous for Elf Power- a band we LOVE to see live, especially in this current iteration.** Former collaborators Bryan Poole and Jamie Huggins have reunited with Andrew Rieger and Laura Carter, and Peter Alvanos (who plays in our off/on project, High Ranker) is on drums. They closed with one of their oldest songs, Down to the Drugstore, which is about being all messed up in high school. Adored!

And after the show Andrew and I were talking about how much I enjoyed their set. When I watch them play they remind me of how my life could have been- had the adults in our town not shipped so many of us off to teen mistreatment facilities (and my parents not been religious control freaks) but instead helped us find some sort of creative outlet. But that's why I love how my Athens' friends were raised in Greenwood, SC, Ruston, LA, Charleston, Orlando, etc., because they have helped me discover how to be. And even better, that's how the kids in my town (especially my son) are being raised now.

One last thing- a reader (<3) emailed and asked for excerpts from Unreformed. Danzas Con Lobos en Santiago was published in Marco Polo. This Rumpus interview with Craig Zobel begins with a scene from Escuela Caribe. My Guernica interview with Julia Scheeres is essentially a comparison and contrast between Escuela Caribe and Jonestown. And the following posts from this blog include research or explore various topics pertaining to Escuela Caribe/ Caribe Vista/ Caribbean Mountain Academy. Enjoy!

*My buddy Scott M. and I were both super stoked that Eno's Needle in the Camel's Eye was my entry music to walk onstage, a song which (ZOMG- coincidence!) Elf Power also covers.
**Not that we haven't loved the other combos- Eric Harris and Derek Almstead from the In a Cave era- wow!

Friday, September 13, 2013

September- So Much!

This past month has whirled by...because this lady has been busy.

I returned to my job as a school librarian. I love it, though it keeps me from writing all day.  I still wrote almost every day. So close!

LITL12I re-read Jeff Jackson's Mira Corpora.  We are currently collaborating on an interview. Fun!

I am prepping to read for Atlanta's Lost in the Letters on Sunday, September 22.  Stoked!

I helped curate and promote the September edition of the New Town Revue at Athens' Avid Bookshop.  Thibault Raoult, Ari Lieberman, and Kara Kildare performed. Was a blast!

My husband spoke at Rabbit Box about our friend, Vic Chesnutt. <3...

On Labor Day I drove out to the near country for my friend's birthday. We set off fire balloons, flaming red beacons that drifted across the night sky.  It's a memory that will stick forever, but I love Ray Bradbury's description best.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole Audio- Delta Edition

I was one of Rabbit Box's storytellers in July.  I spoke about discovering the unspoken history of racism in my home region, the Mississippi Delta, which is where my father's family lived for at least seven generations.  Audio is posted here.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Learning to Fly- July Recap

Ever since I left the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, I've spent almost every free moment in my studio, because, while at Tin House, I figured out where Unreformed stops and starts.* I owe this revelation in part to my mentor, Jodi Angel, who read and critiqued the whole hot mess of my manuscript, Steve Almond, the leader of our “Gimme Fiction" workshop (a.k.a. The Almond Joys),** as well as the crew of writers with whom I studied.  You all ROCK!

On this past Friday, my last true Friday of the summer, my friend Bart Lemahieu recorded me reading Burnt Norton by T.S. Eliot, a piece that has helped me come to grips with accepting loss in my life.  Amazing! Afterwards, as the sun set, we listened to the cicadas.  Audio will be posted when we get it right.

During the past few weeks I also began conversations with Escuela Caribe alumni who came after me- and all I can say is- Crosswinds/ Caribbean Mountain Academy/ Escuela Caribe/ Caribe Vista- despite your denials- I KNOW YOU ARE THE SAME PLACE. You kept the same people on as staff.  You were mentored by former abusers.  Many of the procedures remain the same- the only major change seems to be the name (and we have seen that before!).*** And I will address that matter soon- in another post- but now I am writing, writing, writing...

And to all of you who read and engage and comment here- know that I appreciate you.  And I cherish your assistance in helping me expose the abuses of Caribbean Mountain Academy/ Escuela Caribe. Thank you so for being... <3 <3 <3...

*This is huge- I was meandering way over on both ends.

** Album by the band Spoon. My mental soundtrack in Portland. I write nonfiction, but studied fiction this workshop to learn more about craft. Love learning outside the box.

***Newsflash- Crosswinds/ CMA/ EC- in regards to your blog post: writing is NOT a lucrative career.  Most writers have jobs to support their passion. And understand- I am extremely passionate about ensuring that other kids are not abused. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tin House 2013

At Tin House- studying with Steve Almond.  Mentored by Jodi Angel. Both the real deal in a crowd of superstars- check this roster of everyone else- rauow!

The Writers Workshop is at Reed College, described last year by child tween thing as looking "like Hogwarts"- but with a lake and ducks and tall trees and hydrangeas and greenspace galore and eating outside and studying in Eliot Hall... and in Portland... one of my favorite cities ever...Sometime I will write about how the esposo and I just missed moving here...

Loving learning with great fellows- in workshop/ conference wide. Tribe gathers for craft lectures in Vollum, then readings every single night in the amphitheater outdoors...Thursday alone Karen Russell, Matthew Dickman, Luis Alberto Urrea--- Not even going to name check all the other reading rock stars- except to tell you that Jodi blew us all away when she opened the very first night...

Also reunited with the wolf pack*- remnants of Stephen Elliott's 2012 crew. Canada, Westerfield, Ciston- adore you too!


*All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is. Anything else is sentimental drivel. …Think about it. There's escaping from the wolves, fighting the wolves, capturing the wolves, taming the wolves. Being thrown to the wolves, or throwing others to the wolves so the wolves will eat them instead of you. Running with the wolf pack. Turning into a wolf. Best of all, turning into the head wolf. No other decent stories exist. (Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood)...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole- Mississippi Delta Edition

I’ve been prepping for Rabbit Box Storytelling at the Melting Point tomorrow night- I have eight minutes to tell about a rabbit hole I went down.  The decision is difficult- ever since I was a kid I’ve loved to immerse myself in history- I’m still obsessed with the Holocaust.  Forced exercise, Arbeit Macht Frei, Eichmann "only following orders”- so many parallels to Escuela Caribe in my teens.

However, I decided to focus on 2010’s summer obsession- when I began exploring the untold histories of Greenwood, Mississippi, my hometown. I'd begun writing about this amazing teacher, Mrs. C., who taught me in 9th grade- I adored her- because she was one of the few adults who told us the truth about where we lived. How Emmett Till was lynched in our county.  And how (when I was in high school) Medgar Evers’ murderer still walked the streets and bragged, and how when Kennedy was assassinated  people in my town celebrated. Take note: that scene in the Help (which I only saw because it was filmed in my friends’ houses in Greenwood) where all the white people were crying over Kennedy’s murder, was a white wash.

In 2010, I began writing about the Delta, and, because I’m obsessive, discovered so many things I am not going to have time to tell.  How for a brief period, my hometown was a civil rights hotbed- Medgar Evers, Dick Gregory, Bob Moses, Alice Walker, Harry Belafonte, James Bevel, Sam Block and so many others sacrificed so much to make Greenwood a better place.  Dr. King came twice. Stokely Carmichael was provoked into delivering the black Power speech in my town.  There was so much brutality, so many murders- it sickened me- but also beauty- that part in Don’t Look Back where Dylan is playing in the cotton field, it happened right near where I grew up.

But what I am focusing on is how white people behaved in Greenwood, and the segregationist literature, particularly 1957’s Manual for Southerners, which was printed in my hometown.  Because it’s important for people to understand how hate speech programmed generations of Southerners, of Americans, to be racist, and also that the painful history I unearthed was not just from Greenwood, but from Athens, and all over the world. It's important  to explore unwritten histories, no matter how painful- because knowledge is power- it's the only way to create a better world.

Monday, July 8, 2013

More from that Guernica Interview with Julia Scheeres

 I remember it was 1978 and I saw this magazine cover on our dining room table.  And there were bodies lying on the ground and I remember asking my mom what is that? She didn't answer my question, just flipped the cover over, said something about a bad thing happening. And I remember I kept hearing this name on the news "Jonestown" and for a while Jonestown was the news- it was inescapable- and I know I realized lots of people- including children- died- and as a kid, that resonated. I thought about it constantly. So I guess you could say I've been a Jonestown obsessive since I was four. 
I remember I didn't understand how parents could kill their children. I remember I didn't understand how so many people could kill themselves. And until I read Julia's Jonestown book, A Thousand Lives, which we discussed in the Guernica interview, I didn't understand that most people there didn't just "drink the Kool-Aid"- many died after months of being broken down- many were violently coerced.  She talks about it in our Guernica interview, and other things- how Jim Jones staged traumatic events to bond with his congregation, and how having been at Escuela Caribe (our reform school, where her memoir Jesus Land is set) helped her and Jonestown survivors bond. Her take (again in the interview) on how Jim Jones fits in culturally is not to be missed.  As is the witness she bears to racism in America- which resounded differently with her than with most whites- her adopted brother David was black. 
I loved our entire conversation, but obviously the Escuela Caribe parts hit the closest home. Ever since she and I spoke, and then I transcribed it and thought about it, I've felt like I understand so much more about myself, about so many survivors.  Some of my favorite parts are after the jump....Or read the entire interview at Guernica.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Interview With Julia Scheeres in Guernica Magazine

Recently I interviewed Julia Scheeres.  She wrote Jesus Land, a memoir about our reform school, Escuela Caribe, and A Thousand Lives: the Untold Story of Jonestown.  

One of my favorite aspects of the Jonestown book is how Scheeres captured the day to day tyranny of life under Jim Jones' rule.   I was intrigued to discuss how living in captivity at Escuela Caribe helped inform her Jonestown work, but I came to understand so much more not only about Jonestown, and racism, and religion, but also about myself.  Like why I shut down emotionally. And why one of my integral values as an adult is living in an open-minded community. But this is just why I'm interested personally.  There's so much more to be gleaned (such as how Jones used deceptions like the King Alfred plan and staged shootings to trick people into following him, his theory of revolutionary suicide, or details of racism in the heartland) in Guernica Magazine

Friday, June 14, 2013

2013 Hambidge Residency Recap

Arrived home yesterday from my third residency at the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts.  It's located in the foothills of the Appalachians- the birds would sing and the sun stream green through dense trees and I'd write- hiking the trails or running or reading* whenever I got stuck.

The conversations and work shared by my fellows were hugely impactful.  I devoured the upcoming dystopian adventure, Mira Corpora of playwright, jazz writer and novelist Jeff Jackson- such tight prose!!!  Susannah Felts' This will Go Down on Your Permanent Record inspired me to delve much more deeply about being a music-obsessed teen in the South- and captures the sticky dynamics between teen girls.  I adored visual artist Jessica Caldas' work in progress on connections (which will premiere at an October show in Atlanta- have to go), ditto for the compositions of Charles Zoll

My last night we watched Josh Zeman's trailer for Finding 52: the Search for the Loneliest Whale about a whale whose voice can be heard by no other due to frequency- but it’s also about loneliness and lack of connection in this modern world. Part of my heart is still stuck in my throat.  Jeff and Josh also were collaborating on a screenplay about sentient plants turned evil- we three shared an obsession with cults- can't wait to see what they've wrought. Also am very excited about Barbara Blatner's poetry and her upcoming play about race and the South in 1963. We had great discussions- my other project, Delta Drive, taps a similar vein.  Excited to see how Ginger Krebs' performance art is impacted by Hambidge, and can't wait to read the work of Nova Ren Suma, who arrived right before I left. 

It might sound like all play but I worked hard for ten days - churning out eight chapters, plus drafted notes for three more- under the advisement of my Tin House wolf pack (you know who you are)- it was the last original material I needed for Unreformed. Plan now is to finish the beginning- then ready to excise the entire draft with a scalpel- (see above admiration for tight prose).

*Inheiritance (Chang), Financial Lives of Poets (Walters), Brain on Fire, Center Cannot Hold (Saks), American Dream Machine (Specktor), Dark Side (Mayer), Chain of Command (Hersh), Mira Corpora (Jackson), This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record (Felts)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

2013 Hambidge Residency

I'm leaving for a residency at the Hambidge Center for the Arts- one of my favorite places on the planet. Savannah sugar heiress turned bohemian Mary Hambidge established this artists retreat in the foothills of the Appalachians in the 1950's- it's an amazing place.  This will be my third visit.

I completed this interview for Hambidge in July 2012.

·   What are you writing?
I am writing Unreformed, my teenage captivity narrative, which is set in the Dominican Republic at the evangelical Christian reform school, Escuela Caribe, (also the setting of Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres).
·  What inspired you to write your most recent work?
  After my son was born, an event that coincided with the War on Terror and abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, I returned to writing. (They read everything I wrote in reform school- I didn't write anything personal for years). The Iraq War and 9/11 triggered many repressed memories. I had to make sense of not only what happened to my me and my friends at Escuela Caribe, but to understand how and why individuals can be coerced into hurting others.  I also had to face my worst memories in order to be a healthy parent. 
    How did you come up with the title? 
  Writing helped me reform the individual I was before I entered reform school.
    What books or people influenced your writing? 
  The Lucifer Effect by Phillip Zimbardo, Help at Any Cost:  How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids by Maia Szalavitz, Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres, The Ticking Is the Bomb by Nick Flynn, The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott, The Road to Whatever by Elliott Currie, To Be Human (essay) by Anouar Benmalek, the poetry of Langston Hughes and T.S. Eliot, the music of Vic Chesnutt, particularly North Star Deserter…and so much more….

·   How did you research your book?  
  I transcribed journals and diaries from the time period about which I am writing, read the above books, and reflected upon them, connecting them to my experiences.  I have interviewed people I went to school with.

·  Did you base any of your characters on real people? 
  Everything I have written is based on actual events and people.
  Do you have any other books planned in the future? 
  I’d love to write a biography of my friend and neighbor Vic Chesnutt. I would like to write about growing up in the Mississippi Delta, where my family lived for seven generations.  

·   Which of your stories or characters are your favorite? Do you dislike any of them? 
  I had a friend I call Crystal.  She wasn’t raised religious.  She constantly challenged my acceptance of dogma.  I am trying to learn to love all my characters, even those who did me harm.
     What advice can you give to young writers who want to publish their books? 
  Even if you have a full-time job, aim to write every day (I’m a school librarian).  Revise. Revise. Revise.  If you are writing memoir, when you begin, focus on scenes/ memories, as opposed to a chronological structure. Everything else will fall into place.(I learned this the hard way).

How did you hear about Hambidge?  
I wanted to attend a residency in the South.  Hambidge’s location, an hour and a half from my front door, is ideal.
  What made you decide to come?  
  Initially I came because of its proximity to Athens.  I returned because it truly is an amazing place.  It’s beautiful, the staff is amazing, the residents are all creating inspirational art.
  How has the experience affected you or your work? 
  Uninterrupted time for reflection cannot be overestimated.  I love roaming the trails in between writing bouts.

·   What do you do when you’re not writing?
  Spending time with my family, taking my dog on runs or dancing to zumba with my girlfriends, reading, rocking out to one of Athens’ 500+ bands.

·  Do you have any pets? 
  A Borador I adopted on my last Hambidge visit, named Mary Hambidge.

·  Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?
  My husband restored a ‘58 Mercury teardrop trailer….it’s my backyard studio.
  If you could go anywhere in the whole world, either for a vacation or to live there, where would you go? 
  The Dominican Republic
  What book are you reading right now?
  I just finished Anna Jean Mayhew’s a Dry Grass in August and Erin Tocknell’s Confederate Streets.  Both were written by Hambidge residents---great reads!  I also am reading the Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick, Come On All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder, and re-reading (Not That You Asked) by Steve Almond.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Chase in Space

  The esposo, Chris Sugiuchi, is stellar in oh-so-many ways- earlier this month he and his elementary school engineering club sent a weather balloon and camera into the great beyond- a project they named Chase in Space.  It was a family affair- the logo was designed by brother-in-law Scott at Exit 10.  Rocket scientist father-in-law Howard helped with numerous projections.  Child-unit attached a lego mini-figure* and otherwise assisted in the launch and retrieval.  Our wedding march, Also Sprach Zarathustra, played as the balloon ascended, though that was just  awesome coincidence.  Chris' friend and fellow music teacher, Laurie Ragsdale, chose the song.

 The camera collected all types of data (read about it here and here). An editorial on the importance of innovative projects like Chase in Space to excite kids (as opposed to the omnipresent testing overwhelming public education) was published in the Athens Banner Herald.  But my favorite response is the above video- its soundtrack has music from two of Chris' bands- Ham1 and Prince Rondavel. 

*Actual quote from paper: I got to attach my Lego Mandalorian to it. You know, from Star Wars,” Harvey said.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lifeline Youth and Family Services Raising Questions Stateside

Lifeline Youth and Family Services, the organization that took over Escuela Caribe in the Dominican Republic (renaming it Caribbean Mountain Academy) has had the efficacy of its tactics questioned at one of its Indiana facilities, Pierceton Woods Academy.  Most recently two juveniles left the facility on March 31 and made threats to return with guns.  Last December, one of its students shot a man during a foiled carjacking attempt.

As a former student of Escuela Caribe, a facility isolated in the mountains of the Dominican Republic, I am concerned.  If Lifeline is having these sort of problems here in the States- what is happening in the D.R.- where there is no real oversight?  at least five of the staff were employed by the previous abusive administration.  One of the staff is a former student. What abuses are being used to control the students in the D.R.?

Thanks to Stacey Page Online for being a watchdog here in the U.S.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New Red Flag for Caribbean Mountain Academy- Former Students Employed as Staff

The Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse (CAICA) has a 40 point list of warning signs of potentially abusive facilities. Caribbean Mountain Academy (formerly Escuela Caribe &  Caribe Vista- this facility has a history of changing its name) fulfills many of these (i.e. communication monitored, outside of the U.S., students denied access to telephone, level system etc.).  What troubles me today is that they now are boasting about violating #13- The staff includes former clients/students of the facility. 

Don't get me wrong, I am not making a character attack on the staff member in question.  He's probably a decent guy, a pawn in their game.  He probably cares for the kids- I had several friends who went back as staff- some were great, others were NIGHTMARES.  However, having been a former student, especially a former student under the old order, when Tim Blossom, Phil Redwine, and Jeff Seabrooke were in charge, parents considering CMA need to understand that his norm for what typifies abuse is skewed.  

Also troubling, his answer for what drew him back to the D.R.: 

"God solely drew me back to CMA...Even when I came home after a student I did well in the program...but the day I left and went home...I was back into it...The battle I have from there from all the way up to when I came back to Christ all the way up to when I came back to's just been a crazy story.  I just felt I had something to offer to students.  I had a heart to help. I know how it is when you go home after being in the's one of the toughest times you can endure..I just wanted to help the teenagers here."

For how CMA enacts change in students:

"Culture shock gets them out of their comfort zone..." (note: culture shock is code for brainwashing). 

The answer for how he deals with students anger is revealing because it shows the petty reasons why students are sent to CMA.

I let them verbalize that anger...I let them verbally process what they were doing at home...skipping school or talking back or whatever it may be.

His final thoughts on CMA are taken straight from the Escuela Caribe playbook- lines I once used myself.

If I were never to come down here, I'd be dead right essentially saved my life.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Red Telephone Redux

I found out about Boston from J. For the past month we've been studying with Sabrina Orah Mark.  "Deirdre, just to let you know I am thinking of you in light of this Boston incident," J emailed me. I remember I had this moment where I sat in my driveway wondering why I was associated with Boston.  But then all too quickly I understood what she meant. 

The day before, Sunday, we'd discussed my September 11th piece- the day when my two lives- before and after Escuela Caribe- became one.  Until that day I'd done my best to  compartmentalize- blocking the worst aspects of my repressive childhood, especially being locked up in an evangelical reform school during the buildup to the First Gulf War.  I was at Escuela Caribe when we dropped bombs over Baghdad.   I was at Escuela Caribe and terrified- we'd been told that the END is HAPPENING NOW (1991)...oh, the echoes of Jim JonesThe new section, the one J referenced, explores my reaction to September 11th, how it affected not only me post- 9/11, but America and the implications for the rest of the world.

And now we have come full circle to Boston. Again, people are hurt.  Again, innocents have died. Again, we focus minutely on destruction in America- not what is happening in the rest of the world. Again the coverage is rife with propagandawhich Roxane Gay nailed early last week.  Again those in power are using the attacks to justify eroding our civil rights. Slate actually published an article arguing for more surveillance. (And also one where we shouldn't judge the media if we want our news quick- seriously?). 

Take the calls for more surveillance seriously. You don't want it. I know what it is like to live in a fascist state where your every move is watched- and here I am not talking about America post- 9/11 but life at Escuela Caribe- where every gesture was scrutinized to determine how you think/thought/felt.  It was crazy-making, and I don't want it here in the United States where my child is living, or any other child, no matter her or his class or creed.
All I want now is what Steve Almond argued for here- more empathy, not emoting. We need to ask why people feel marginalized in the United States and the world. Instead of pointing fingers we need to practice what every major religion deems to be the guiding principle, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to treat them as we want to be treated- and only then, from that place of understanding, can we understand and prevent acts of horror committed in our world.

"They're locking them up today/ they're throwing away the key/ I wonder who it will be tomorrow/ you or me..." - Love

Monday, April 1, 2013

Everyone Carried the Cross at Escuela Caribe

  On Good Friday, we took turns hauling a cross up the cacita to the peak of our part of the mountain. We started with the highest ranking staff member, the director, Phil Redwine, and concluded with the zero levelers, all according to house. (To this day I despise hierarchies of any kind). We'd stop along the way at intervals and different staff members would read what I now realize were sections from the Stations of the Cross.  
   Odd fact: you can actually buy Stations of the Cross themed jewelry- I debated over a bracelet at my favorite Orlando vintage store last year, but decided against it- didn't want to creep Child-Thing out.
   I took part in two different Good Friday celebrations.  This picture is from my second, in March 1991.  Allison P. has assumed the cross.  Mike H., Director of Discipline (he actually used a strap called "Mr. Brown"), is to her left.  Phil is on her right.  We are about two-thirds of the way up the cacita- Hyuck House is in the background.
   At the top the cross was placed in a hole that had previously been dug. We prayed, then Kathy Jo sang, "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" And we all joined in- "Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble..." At that time, it did, because it was this glorious bonding experience, the whole school assembled on the peak at sunrise. I remember thinking that if every day at Escuela Caribe were like Good Friday, when we were united to worship or help others with service projects (once we built a school way back in the campo) I could understand why we were there.
  But it's not like I focus on this all the time, just when anniversaries come up, and I remember for two years I hauled a cross up the cacita to honor Christ, but then on the same day witnessed or received abuse. And I think of how the staff never realized their lack of compassion was a violation of what Jesus considered to be the greatest commandment, to treat others as you want to be treated.  And that can lead me down a whole rabbit hole of the cognitive dissonance in mainstream Christianity-unless I stop myself, short-circuit that thought with this one-    it was all so weird...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stockholm Syndrome Is for Real, Part Two

    There were always kids at Escuela Caribe whose parents had heard of the school from someone else's- "the program" encouraged our parents to recruit. In my time, there was a group from San Diego , from Pennsylvania, and of course kids from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and other parts of the Midwest.  Before sending me, my parents had talked to a family from Alabama about how "the program" changed their life.  Not only did the recruitment keep the program supplied with more kids. It kept our parents from questioning when we obviously weren't right when we came back.*
    I think it was 1994 when my dad brought the kid to our house.  I was home for the holidays, still trying to negotiate how to interact with my family. I had just completed my first semester at the University of Georgia, which meant that my parents had relocated to southwest Georgia about a year before.

   The kid and I sat in the living room while our parents had a discussion in the den.  He was a few years younger than me, cute (a brunette), his parents only child.  He kept bragging about how "hard" he was, about all the things he had stolen, how no one could control him.  I want to say he trafficked in drugs, small time .  But then I could just be getting him confused with some other kid from Parkwood Behavioral Services, the gateway program that got me sent to Escuela Caribe.  I never would have had a conversation about drugs at Escuela Caribe- we weren't allowed to talk about our "negative pasts" or pretty much any past at all.  There you were stuck in the eternal present.

   My parents were telling his parents about Escuela Caribe, how the program had saved my life.  And it is weird that they did this when you realize that at this time I had asked the state of Mississippi to issue me a restraining order a violent obsessive (the judge granted it after telling me this would never have happened if I "let(the guy) have what he wanted"),  that I had destroyed my GPA  because I couldn't seem to force myself to weather the land of ice and snow and get to Taylor's gym class, that I had moved from Indiana to Mississippi to San Francisco before transferring to my third and final school, that several of my program friends were pregnant or had had a child (We'd been out two years).  I was barely scraping by. But if there is one thing about my family- we want to believe (so much more later on that).

   So his parents came in and asked do you think the program would be good for him?  And I wanted to say no but I just shrugged. I remember that I had all these images flashing of hour long sessions of  group punishment for asinine reasons (like the housemom who hid the spatula because she wanted to get us girls) or watching Mark B being forced to do push-ups with two kids on his back, or all the different kids I saw slammed against the wall, or....but the other part, the part of me that had adopted the group's mores, forced the real me to shut up

  I remember I thought of myself at fifteen- how I got sent away mainly because I couldn't get along with my parents, and I remember I qualified it, saying "I think it would be better for (your son) than me."  I remember I emphasized the me- because he was the one bragging abut how hard he was.  Because they didn't ask me how the program transformed me into a cowed submissive who didn't backtalk her parents- all they asked was would it give them results.

   And I am telling you this now because that confusion correlates to Stockholm Syndrome and mind control, how for years I adopted the group norms and didn't have the words to speak out. And also because in 2005 after my father read Jesus Land and we had a big cry on Easter morning, me asking how could you do this? I remember I was shocked when he asked me how could you help me do this to my friend's kid? And I tell you now, that until that moment with him, I had completely forgotten.

*(If anyone knows if Lifeline/ Caribbean Mountain Academy does this, can you please let me know?)