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Stories about the TTI from Those who Survived

We Survived the Troubled Teen Industry

Nora Ashleigh Barrie | October 4, 2022

Survivors themselves have shared a vast collection of experiences detailing the abusive practices of TTI programs. These survivors often have issues trusting others, especially those who may be trying to collect information about their experiences using deceptive approaches with ulterior motives, but they will sometimes choose to share their stories publicly in order to raise awareness of the abuse that is occurring within these programs. Many of these survivors are using social media, primarily TikTok, to spread awareness using their personal experiences. Although some may see the information these survivors share as fabrications, the majority of the stories they share also come with photographic and written evidence, occasionally provided by the TTI programs themselves during a survivor’s stay.

One survivor that shares her experiences in the TTI openly and on a consistent basis is a woman named Kelsie. She spent part of her teenage years within a program called Trinity Teen Solutions (TTS), a therapeutic boarding school. On her TikTok profile, Kelsie speaks about the abuse inflicted on her and others during their time at TTS and in almost every video, she provides photographic evidence of their experiences. Another TTS survivor, Maggie Higgins, also shares her stories consistently on TikTok and she and Kelsie often share, stitch, and duet each other’s videos. Sabrina Young, another TTI survivor, attended five TTI programs during her adolescence beginning at age eleven, as detailed in her TikTok profile. (Hellsie, n.d.; Maggie Higgins, n.d.; Sabrina Young, n.d.)

In multiple videos both Kelsie and Maggie detail some of the abusive practices and punishments used within TTS. One of the most common punishments given by staff members is what the women refer to as “The Chair”. This punishment was given to girls for many different reasons, often unjustly, and required students to spend every hour of every day for months sitting in a chair in the corner while staring at the wall. During this time, they were not allowed to speak, eat, sleep, or participate with the group. Many girls were forced to urinate and defecate on themselves because they were not allowed to leave the chair to use the bathroom. They were blamed and further punished for this behavior by not being allowed to shower or change their clothes. Oftentimes, they were also put on a “bland diet”, which consisted of minimal food that had little to no nutritional value. As a result of this malnutrition, most girls in this program stopped having their menstrual cycles for the duration of their stay at TTS. Another common punishment was being tied with a short rope to another living being. Sometimes this was a staff member, but most times, children in the program were tied to goats or dogs. This punishment could also last months at a time, as with “The Chair”. Teenagers in this program were also required to participate in forced, hard physical labor that would be considered abusively strenuous as well as emotionally abusive. This labor often included ranch work that should have been done by machine, not by the hands of emotionally traumatized adolescents. Some of this required work included moving cattle and birthing sheep with no adult supervision, guidance, or instruction. On occasion, students were required to participate in the inhumane euthanasia of the animals they cared for. Communication with parents was also strictly monitored at TTS. Kelsie recounts one story where a fellow student attempted to tell her parents she wanted to go home. The phone call was immediately ended, the student lost the privilege of calling home, and she had to endure extreme punishments for her misbehavior, specifically “The Chair”. (Hellsie, n.d.; Maggie Higgins, n.d.).

In her videos on TikTok, Sabrina Young also shares her stories of abuse and neglect within the TTI as an adoptee. Her primary intention in sharing these stories is to spread awareness and to do everything she can to help end the abuse in TTI programs. She attended five programs, including Charity Haven (CH), Reclamation Ranch (RR), and The Rebekah Home for Girls (RHG), a religiously based residential treatment program. In one video, she discussed how isolation was used to control students. At one time, during her stay at Charity Haven, she was placed in an isolation room called “The Prayer Room”. Inside this room, she was required to read and copy bible verses while religious sermons played loudly through a speaker for hours. The door to this room was locked from the outside and she was only permitted to use the bathroom when staff allowed. All of these programs also strictly restricted communication with parents and families. Upon their arrival, students were forbidden to speak negatively about the program to their parents or they would risk facing repercussions such as losing the privilege of calling home. Before Sabrina left her last program, Reclamation Ranch, she collected letters from fellow students with information they wanted to share with their families but were not allowed to by RR. When she returned home, she mailed these letters to the families of the other girls. She then received a threatening phone call from the director of RR reprimanding her for distributing these letters and facilitating forbidden communication between students and their own parents while also threatening legal action against her. When she was preparing to leave RR, staff attempted to groom her and convince her to join the program as a staff member instead of leaving as she had planned when she turned eighteen. The only reason she was allowed to leave the program as an adult was because the staff and directors knew that the next time the residents of RR were taken to church, she would use the opportunity to share her experiences with the community outside of the program. They could not allow this to happen under any circumstances, or they could face inspections and repercussions from state agencies such as Child Protective Services (Sabrina Young, n.d.).

Frank B., a former student of Evoke Cascades (EC), a wilderness program, and Franklin Academy (FA), a non-therapeutic boarding school that markets itself as a school that focuses on special needs, recounts multiple occasions where students were limited in their water intake, even when participating in strenuous work or exercise or they were forced to drink too much water. Staff at EC would physically restrain students if they attempted to run away from the facility. Therapists also used questionable and unprofessional approaches to therapy, such as berating a student’s family in order to encourage familial alienation. He shares experiences of being required to complete writing assignments where he had to take responsibility for behaviors and actions he may or may not have exhibited, while the core causes of his issues were ignored and neglected. If he attempted to place any blame on others, or attempted to truthfully share information about an incident, he would be blamed. The Associate Academic dean at FA would tell him things like “it is all your fault” when there were incidents with other students in the classroom. As a teacher, this individual would have been a mandated reporter. These people, including educational specialists and psychiatric medical providers, are required by law to report any allegations of abuse made to them by students, and in this case, that was not done and the student was punished for attempting to report the abuse that was occurring at home. At EC, students were given psychiatric medications and were forbidden to have knowledge about what those medications were for or about any potential side effects of those medications. Children were also forced to take these medications, and they were prescribed without the student’s consent or input, or even a formal diagnosis of the conditions they were prescribed to treat. Students at FA were treated harshly just for having differences. “The irony is that the school markets itself on accepting differences.”, Frank says. As with the programs attended by Kelsie, Maggie, and Sabrina, communication with families was strictly controlled at EC. All phone calls were monitored and some letters to and from family were never sent or delivered due to the contents being deemed inappropriate and the student was punished for attempting to share certain information with his family. EC also required students to work outside in snowy weather without proper or sufficiently protective clothing, leaving students freezing. Students at EC were made to sleep under insufficient tarps with just sleeping bags and ground mats. These shelters were widely spread out to prevent adolescents from communicating with one another. Showers were also strictly controlled at both programs Frank attended. At EC, showers and bathroom breaks were limited, and students had to loudly call their name every five seconds while using the bathroom or showering. At FA, students were forbidden from bathing during certain hours. (F. B., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Elaine W. attended Mission Mountain School (MMS) in Condon, Montana for twenty months. She recalls being required to complete a series of writing assignments the program called Histories. These vast questionnaires included questions about every detail of every student’s personal history with food, sex, substances, violence and more. Every question had to be answered before these assignments were shared with parents, staff, and other students. “I was forced to relive history, tell my parents every part of sexual, eating, violence, and drug history. Down to what I masturbated with and if I’d watched pornography. Once my parents learned too much of my sexual history, they never felt the same about me.” Elaine reports that there were numerous instances of visits and other communication with parents being restricted and taken as punishment. Phone calls were limited to eight minutes, twice a week, and were supervised by staff, plus one hour-long family therapy session over the phone with a therapist once a week. Students were forced to shovel horse manure at least twice a day, food was both forced and restricted, clothing and gear was not sufficient for weather conditions, and if necessary clothing items were lost or stolen, they would not be replaced. MMS also forced students to mountain bike and cross-country ski long distances, and in the cases of some students, having never ridden a bike or been skiing before. Elaine also remembers odd and humiliating punishments, “digging stumps out of the ground, shoveling poop alone for three hours a day, wearing signs to shame the individual if they were late, unhygienic, etc.” Education and academics were restricted as punishment, and students were not provided the skills they needed to advance in their educations once they left the program (E. W., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Kim R. was sent to a residential treatment center within the Caron Foundation (CF), with headquarters in Pennsylvania. She spent her entire adolescence on and off in different psychiatric facilities, including this one. This program used all forms of restraint consistently and often. Medical neglect was also rampant, as residents were forbidden from seeking medical treatment, “we were not taken to the doctor when we were sick or injured.” Kim reports that communication in this program was also closely monitored by staff. “Contact was severely limited. All mail was read and all phone calls were monitored.” Privacy was also invaded, “there was no privacy. No doors on bedrooms or bathrooms, we were forced to shower with staff watching, never allowed to be alone, and forced to share everything with the group” (K.R., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Gertie S. entered the TTI at the youngest age allowed by these programs, twelve. She attended two programs that spanned just over a year, wilderness program Trails Carolina (TC), and a therapeutic boarding school known as Moonridge Academy (MA). These programs employed many of the same practices as the others discussed. Students were forced to exercise by spending hours running nonstop. They would spend all day hiking until students began fainting from the heat and exertion. Students were not allowed bathroom breaks to the point of relieving themselves in their clothing. When children did this, they were punished by being forced to wear diapers, and then ridiculed and humiliated for it in front of other students. Communication with parents was also restricted. “The staff monitored our phone calls so when I started telling my mom they were hurting us, the staff took the phone and convinced her I was lying for attention”. Residents of MA were severely underfed, eating approximately 800 calories per day, regardless of activity level. Medical neglect was the biggest problem at MA. “Medical neglect nearly killed multiple students. One girl had severe anemia and couldn’t walk for over a week before they finally took her to the hospital; the doctor said she almost died.” Students were also physically assaulted, as Gertie witnessed a child being slapped across the face for not finishing her dinner; students were physically force fed, and watched another child being body slammed to the floor by staff for talking back. Strip searches were also conducted on a regular basis by staff of the opposite gender, without any staff of the same gender present. Adult male staff would perform these searches on female minors without their consent (G.B., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Emotional abuse was another common tactic used on children. “My friend was not allowed to eat breakfast because “she’s fat and doesn’t need it.” Staff told me I was stupid and said my parents didn’t want me anymore. My therapist blamed me for being sexually assaulted by another student and never told my parents [about the assault]. Staff swore at me, threatened me, and made me believe I was being abused because I deserved it. I had to write a certain amount of words about how terrible and manipulative it was for me to tell my mom what was happening to us out there.” Zoloft was commonly used at high doses as a tactic to force compliance. Gertie disclosed, “Nearly every student at Moonridge Academy was prescribed a high dose of Zoloft that should not be given to 12- and 13-year-olds. This overmedicating gave one kid heart problems and many of us stopped feeling real. When we mentioned this, we were told we were dramatic liars who would never go home”. One of the most appalling instances involved a suicidal student, “a student was not allowed to speak to anyone for two weeks because she attempted suicide”. Gertie did not feel safe in either program she attended. She recalls, “I thought I would die out there” (G.B., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Leviah R. attended 4 programs over the course of a year, from age twelve to thirteen. These were New York Presbyterian Westchester Behavioral Health (NYPWBH), Lake House Academy (LHA), CAT program at UNI (CAT), and Sedona Sky Academy (SSA). At LHA, “containments were used as both a method of restraint and physical punishment. During a containment, up to three staff would tackle and lie on top of you while you screamed in pain. It felt like you were being crushed and your bones were about to snap. The louder I screamed, the more they hurt me. I earned a containment almost every day for crying, refusing to follow directions, self-harm, or my autistic behaviors. I was in constant fear of them doing this to me.” At this program, Leviah was prescribed Xanax and was forced to ingest it up to five times a day. It was only supposed to be used for emergencies, “but instead, they fed it to me like candy. I was sedated, weak, and unable to defend myself against physical violence.” LHA marketed their program as having an academic component, but school hours were spent watching television, playing “approved” video games, and completing schoolwork that was below grade level in an independent study capacity. Students here were also malnourished, as the privilege of having food was often taken as a punishment. All phone calls were monitored by a therapist and journals were read by staff, something that was incredibly detrimental to Leviah. “My journals were read and confiscated because I wrote about disliking the program and my suicidal thoughts. I am a writer. Writing is one thing that makes me feel safe. They took that from me. I was truly devastated” (L.R., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

At Sedona Sky, students were punished by being forced to move large rocks, among other physically strenuous and unsafe tasks. This program also kept horses, which children were responsible for taking care of. Once during her stay, when Leviah was called into the office of the clinical director, “she claimed that I ruined my family and my life. She called my panic attacks and autistic meltdowns attention seeking behavior. She told me that my medication wasn’t causing my sedatives and that it was something I made up to be difficult and try to get out of chores. She said people like me were a drain on resources. She promised that I would never get to go home. She explained that I was being expelled from Sedona Sky. She promised to find a special place for me. It was implied that this place would be a lockdown facility worse than anything I’d ever imagined.” Like its predecessor, Synanon, SS employed the technique of attack therapy to encourage compliance. “At Sedona Sky, we played a game called hot-seat. In this game we would all sit in a circle around one girl. Then everyone would take turns giving feedback. The goal of the game was to break the girl in the hot-seat. The girl in the hot-seat was not allowed to respond to feedback. She just had to break quietly.” Like other programs, medical neglect was a common occurrence. “A girl at Sedona Sky passed out and was unable to move. We had to take care of her because staff wouldn’t. We demanded they call an ambulance, but they refused. The next day we got in trouble because the staff were supposedly handling it and we just didn’t know.” Leviah was sexually abused and manipulated into complying with sexual advances by her roomate over a period of her time at SS. She felt obligated to follow along as payment for the other student’s friendship, and so that she would not be punished for breaking the rules (L.R., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Nora A. was a former student of both a wilderness program and a therapeutic boarding school. She was first taken to Walkabout Therapeutic Expeditions (WTE) in Lehi, Utah, by juvenile transporters, where she endured abuse and neglect as well. She reports that her group was snowed in during a severe blizzard while in the wilderness. They were stuck at their field site for over a week, as it was impossible to hike out or for a transportation crew to get to them, as the rural, dirt roads to get to their location were impassible until enough of the snow melted. During this time, the group ran out of food and water after attempting to ration the supplies they had available to them. “The only time in my life that I have ever been afraid I might die was during my time at WTE. When I went to bed at night, under my tarp that was always collapsing on top of me because of the weight of the snow on it, I genuinely believed that I might freeze to death in the night. When temperatures got down to negative 22 degrees, not including adjustments for wind chill, our sleeping bags were only rated for positive 20-degree temperatures. I felt like I would never feel warm again. Because we had to ration our food, I became anorexic. I couldn’t even make myself eat the food that I was provided. I developed bulimia, unintentionally, because my anxiety was so heightened for so long that I could not stop vomiting. By the end, I had lost so much weight that the clothes I arrived in just fell right off me. I had to travel from WTE to MMS wearing wilderness issued clothing.” One tactic WTE employed to discourage teenagers from attempting to run away was to take their shoes at night. Because of this, if children needed to use the bathroom during the night, they were forced to do so barefoot. Due to these circumstances, Nora left this program with severe frostbite on her feet that caused her feet to swell significantly when they were improperly warmed up after leaving the field site (N.A., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Upon exiting WTE, she was again transported by a juvenile transportation company to a therapeutic boarding school located in Montana called Mission Mountain School (MMS). This program used many of the same controlling approaches to necessities such as bathrooms, showers, food, water, communication with families, and necessary medical care. Showers were only allowed during specifically designated times, students were forced to shower in cold water, and each student was limited to three minutes in the shower twice a week. Food was strictly monitored. Students had to finish everything on their plates at every meal, even if they did not like the food or it made them vomit at the table. In one instance, a new student who had spent her entire life as a vegan was forced to eat a significant portion of meat on her first day at the facility, leading to serious health issues that were then neglected. “This girl, she was only thirteen. Her mom had died just a couple years before. She first joined the group at dinner time, and later told us that she had not eaten all day. We were having meatloaf that night. Staff made her sit down with the rest of us, and clean everything on her plate, just like the rest of us had to. We spent three hours at that table while she desperately begged staff not to make her eat the meat. She had literally never had one bite of meat in her entire life. She pleaded with them to call her dad and ask, and they refused. Ultimately, she followed the rules, gagging with every bite as she sobbed uncontrollably into her food. Before group was over that night, she had started vomiting horrendously. She wasn’t allowed to leave group to go to the bathroom, she was just forced to vomit on herself and sit in it for three hours. She was even reprimanded by the therapist for disrupting group. One girl told her that it was attention seeking behavior and that she needed to control herself and respect the rest of the group because it was disgusting. She didn’t stop puking for a week. By the time they took her to the hospital, her face was white. She was absolutely exhausted, run down, and so malnourished.” (N.A., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

As for Nora herself, she was never taken to a doctor to have her frostbite treated. This resulted in her feet swelling “eight shoe sizes and they stayed in that condition for over four months.” During the time her feet were “so swollen I had to walk like a penguin,” she was repeatedly forced to run long distances with the group as punishment, usually in the form of laps around the facility. When she could not keep up, the rest of the group was required to keep running indefinitely until she finished the correct number of assigned laps. This resulted in alienation from the group and other students because she was blamed for their extended punishment (N.A., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

As in previous programs mentioned, communication with parents was limited, supervised, and restricted as punishment in many of the same ways. Letters were monitored for any negativity, about the program or their process, and for any attempts at gaining information about the outside world. “This included asking how certain family members or friends were doing, asking about current events or entertainment, and requesting to leave the program,” Nora remembers. If anything deemed inappropriate was included in a letter, including ones from parents, the letter would be destroyed before the recipient could view it. Nora also reports that students were overmedicated as a control tactic. This involved prescribing stronger medications than were necessary for their diagnoses. Nora was prescribed antipsychotic medications to treat her mild depression and tranquilizers to treat her insomnia. As Frank recounted, students at MMS had no input on what medications were prescribed, and they were prevented from obtaining information regarding the purpose for and side effects of these medications. Similar to Sabrina’s case, students were not allowed to leave this program until they had completed and graduated from the program, even after they turned eighteen. There were exceptionally questionable punishments in this program, as with TTS’ Chair. At MMS, misbehaving or defiant students were assigned tree stumps. They were then given a small gardening trowel and required to dig the entire stump and all attached roots out of the ground using only that tool and their bare hands. Nora recounts that these stumps were at least two feet in diameter, as was a requirement for the stump assigned. “If a staff member felt bad for you, they might give you a two-foot stump. But most of the time, they were bigger.” Students given this form of punishment spent all waking hours digging. They were separated from all other people and all social interactions, except the very brief ones when staff came to check on them every few hours. Girls were only allowed inside to sleep from 2am when group therapy ended for the night, until 6am when the rest of the group woke up. Outside of those four hours, they worked on digging out their stump. They were brought the same types of bland meals found at TTS once a day by staff. This was the only nutrition they allowed to girls with stumps. A student would only be permitted to join the group again once the entire stump was removed from the ground and the hole from it was filled in. She recalls that one girl took four full months on her stump because she refused to work on it for the first month or so (N.A., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Nora discloses, “on the first anniversary of my arrival at MMS, after my parents canceled a visit in favor of taking a vacation, I engaged in self-harm, a familiar coping mechanism I had used at home, primarily at times when my adoptive father rejected me in some way. When staff found out, I was punished in every way they could think of. I had my first home visit canceled, I was forbidden to have any contact with my family, I was forced to confess to things that were not true while writing full disclosures of every wrong decision I had ever made in my life, I was put on a limited diet of one meal a day. I got a stump. Mine was about three and a half feet. It was in that moment I think I finished breaking. I decided that it was better to comply with every single request ever made of me and never ever step even one toe out of line than it was to endure any more punishment. I realized that if I did this, I would be allowed to finish the program faster and therefore, leave sooner. It took me 5 weeks to finish my stump, but once I did, I never did another wrong thing for the rest of the time I was there. I allowed myself to become a zombie, numb to every stimulus that was applied, because if I didn’t feel anything, I wouldn’t have to feel the pain anymore” (N.A., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

A survivor of Peninsula Village (PV), a residential treatment center in Tennessee, named Julie B., spent two years in this program almost two decades ago. When residents entered the program, they were first placed into a locked indoor unit they called the Special Treatment Unit (STU). During her time in the STU, Julie was forbidden from leaving her locked room except for two-minute bathroom breaks or five-minute showers, only when allowed, while not being permitted to speak to other teenagers. “I was on my period when I was restrained in this room. They wouldn’t let me out to use the bathroom, and made me go in a little portable toilet on the floor. The staff treated me like filth, and acted like my period was disgusting”. Following the STU came the outdoor program, which involved students living in primitive cabins and learning survival skills. Julie attempted to run from this portion of the program, as she wanted to return to the locked unit where she felt she was safer. As a result, she had her shoelaces taken for six months, then she was required to write a contract in order to get them back. She also contracted strep throat, impetigo, and other health conditions, including a severe reaction to poison ivy, that she was never treated for. In addition to the obvious abuse and neglect, the psychologist running the therapy portion of the program, Adam McClain, never had a license to practice psychology in a clinical setting, or any other setting. This program utilized every form of restraint on disruptive students as young as thirteen-years-old, including physical restraint by staff members, mechanical restraint using leather straps to secure a teenager to a bed, and chemical restraint using tranquilizers. Julie witnessed one student with an eating disorder being forced to eat until she vomited, then she was sent into confinement as punishment. “We had another girl who had horrible bulimia and was forced to eat our nasty (very high calorie) food. She would throw up in front of everyone and they would send her away for a bit before she was allowed to return”. She recounts that none of their basic needs were met, they were forced to do strenuous exercise and physical labor for extended periods, and were not ever spoken to by staff, but rather screamed at and talked down to. At one point, the dental devices she entered the program with broke, and she was not permitted to be seen by a dentist, reversing the years she had spent with braces on her teeth (J.B., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Julie was forced, using both threat of punishment and actual punishment, to confess that her father had abused her. The truth was that she had never been abused by him, but after being punished with physical activity and deprivation, she felt she had to admit to something that had never happened, in order to cease the abuse being inflicted on her by staff. “They once forced my group to sit in a circle outside and wait until I confessed that my dad abused me. He never did, but I have to live with those lies every day”. As with every other survivor interviewed, communication with parents in Julie’s program was severely limited and controlled. Again, as with the other accounts, phone calls were immediately ended and letters were destroyed if students attempted to disclose anything negative about the program to their families. Students were given psychiatric medications that they had no knowledge about, and were not permitted to refuse them without severe punishment, such as being strapped to a bed and having the medications forced into their mouths. “Every prescription in the book was tested on us”, she remembers, “I can’t tell you what they put me on but my brain chemistry is destroyed. I’ll be on medication for the duration of my life now”. Julie was allowed to graduate from this program, but when she got into college, she realized that due to the medications she had been given that induced severe fatigue, she had never been able to retain the information that had been taught at this program. She also reports that the education provided was not sufficient to allow her to keep up with her peers academically. She recalls two punishments that made no sense to her then or now, “many emotionally abusive treatments were imposed upon us. They made me a baby for months where someone had to brush my hair, put in pigtails, get my food, and I had to take naps. Another time they forced me to wear shed clothes, which are dirty, mouse infested clothes from past patients. It was because my aunt was always sending me new clothes because my weight dropped dramatically and I couldn’t fit into my old ones” (J.B., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

The long-term effects on these students who survive these programs are vast. These include many mental health issues including depression, anxiety, complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, insomnia, suicidal ideation, and many more. These often have significant impacts on the survivor’s life that can last for life. Many survivors report lengthy periods of homelessness and unemployment after their TTI experiences. They may also have difficulty with higher education, caring for their own children, or being a productive member of society due to the lifelong emotional and physical scars inft I don’t go to the hospital even when I need to, because my brain is convinced that someone will trick my parents again. I can’t sleep most nights and when I do I have nightmares. I wake up crying or hyperventilating, or saying “please don’t leave me here". I am scared of everyone, I am scared to say no, I am scared that I will never be happy again. It doesn’t feel like I left. I have flashbacks so often and the memories are intense. It’s like I never went home”. (G.B., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Leviah reports that she still has severe cPTSD. Some of her symptoms of this include night terrors, anxiety, depression, and recurring memories. “I can’t stop thinking about what happened. Memories play in my head every day and I can’t stop them.” She has been having a very difficult time with therapy, due to her fear of therapists, because her TTI therapists abused her. “I need therapy to work through my trauma, but my trauma prevents me from trusting therapy” (L.R., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Nora chose not to return to this program after being allowed to go on a visit home, as part of the normal program curriculum at MMS. In response to her refusal to return and complete the program, her parents would not let her return to the family home, leaving her homeless and living on the streets for a year after leaving her program. During this time, she lived in severe fear of someone recognizing her and taking her back to the program. Because she did not complete the program, she was not allowed to officially graduate from high school, despite having obtained all the necessary academic credits for graduation. As a result, she was never able to attend college, something she had strived for her entire life. After the time she spent on the streets, Nora ended up stuck within an abusive domestic relationship for six years immediately following MMS that ultimately compounded the mental health issues that began during her time in the TTI and gave her significant physical scars as well (N.A., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

She still reports nerve damage in her feet from the frostbite that causes her significant pain in even mildly cold temperatures. “There’s more than just the physical effects from WTE. I have flashbacks to and nightmares about being woken up and kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken back there. Just smelling snow in the air can trigger my fight-or-flight response and panic attacks. Feeling that burning sensation in my feet when they get even remotely cold will sometimes trigger a panic attack. I become terrified that my feet will swell like that again and that the swelling will never go down. Especially now that I live in Utah, those flashbacks and nightmares have been more intense. We’re so close to where they had us in the field, my husband does training not far from where we were, and kids still are, on a regular basis. Winters are hard. I have never been able to enjoy a single Christmas since spending one at WTE while my parents vacationed in Mexico with my sister and another at MMS. This place is still open. They just merged with some other abusive programs and changed their name, but the same people are running the place.” (N.A., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

She also struggles with trusting others, especially her parents. “My mom I know just wanted to help me. She saw the pain I was in and was just desperate to help me move through it. When she was told that something was for treatment, she thought that meant it was going to help me get better. She was just as brainwashed by these places as I was, maybe even more. She worked as hard as she could to repair our relationship while I was at MMS, but it was irrevocably damaged the moment I woke up to see the juvenile transporters in my room at 4am. We worked together to fix what we could before she passed away in 2013. She ended up taking responsibility for her part in the abuse I endured in my programs and genuinely apologizing. She honestly did not know any better. My father I will never again trust for the rest of his life. His motivation in sending me away was to get rid of the embarrassment I was causing in the family. See? Even now, I’ve been so convinced that everything wrong within my family was my fault. For the longest time, I hated being adopted specifically because I felt like if I had never been adopted, then my parents wouldn’t have to deal with the hurt and pain I somehow could not stop causing them. I felt like I would never be able to do anything right. Once I got arrested a couple weeks before they sent me to WTE, I think my father lost all hope in me and any desire he may have had to see me succeed in life. He just wanted me gone so I would stop putting stress on the rest of the family. As an adoptee, I was born with trust and abandonment issues, and being sent away was like being abandoned by the most important people in my life for the second time, at another critical point in my emotional development. My father still to this day insists that sending me away was the best thing that ever happened to me” (N.A., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

She still has debilitating symptoms of the cPTSD she developed from her time within the TTI. She reports that she has been given official diagnoses of cPTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other mental health issues attributed to her time within her programs. She still experiences consistent nightmares about being sent back to the program and being unable to escape while enduring torture and abuse. “My nightmares always involve being right back in my programs. I have a photographic memory, and because of this, everything is vivid and accurate. It really is just like reliving it all every night. I’ll always encounter some ridiculous barrier to escaping. Sometimes I’ll have this primal need to pack all my belongings into my car, but I have much more than I would ever be able to fit in it, and because of my intense, adoption related abandonment issues, I can’t physically bear to leave anything behind. Other times, I’ll try to call for help, but my phone won’t turn on, or I won’t be able to unlock it, or when I press buttons nothing happens, or calls and texts won’t go through and I’ll keep getting error messages. Most times though, it’s physical barriers. My legs will keep collapsing under me when I try to run, and I won’t even be able to stand up. My shoes will keep falling off, causing me to trip over my feet. Or, when it’s the worst, my feet are so swollen again that I can’t walk. I wake up feeling the physical pain in my feet again, just like when I would wake up crying in the night at MMS because they were so swollen the skin was cracking open. I almost always wake up in the middle of a panic attack that has started before I even wake up. I can’t breathe, I hyperventilate, I have an intense urge to pace, like I have to be ready to run at any moment. These feelings sometimes last for hours, even taking abortive medications for them. I take medications for depression and anxiety. I take medications for insomnia. I take medications that help stop my panic attacks from happening and others to stop them after they’ve started. I feel like I’m forced to be so reliant on medications because I’ll never be able to control the symptoms on my own. I’ll have to take medications for the rest of my life because I’m not sure I’ll ever have the emotional fortitude to deal with the cPTSD symptoms” (N.A., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

Now, twenty years after her experiences, she has a family of her own with two children and a husband that has been supportive and understanding of her healing process. She has finally come to a point where she feels that her emotional health is strong and she has healed her trauma from the TTI enough that she has been able to go to college and thrive. “This December, it’ll be 19 years since I got sent away. I sometimes don’t understand why I still struggle so much. I’ve spent years trying to learn everything I can about the psychological reasons for and impacts of childhood and adolescent trauma. I just want to know everything I can so I can understand myself. And help myself. I don’t think those scars will ever go away. They’re more than just scars, they’re deeper, more raw. More like an open wound that scabs over when things are going well, and that scab falls off, causing the deep, traumatic wound to bleed again when things get bad. Despite all the mental health symptoms I still have, I finally feel like they aren’t preventing me from living my life the way I want to. In the last couple years, I’ve finally started feeling like the decisions I make are my own again, and I haven’t felt that way since before I got sent away. I’m actually starting to give myself permission to enjoy life” (N.C., personal communication, October 15, 2022).

In Julie’s case, she has significant, lasting effects due to her traumatic experiences at PV. She has had two surgeries on her wrists to help with pain and numbness caused by repeated physical punishments. They will never fully heal. “My mental health is horrible. I came out of there with an eating disorder and have had it for almost 20 years. I’ve never been able to learn what I should have my last year of high school. I struggled with math and science to this day. I get triggered easily, I’ve broken down and cried before from just smelling vinegar. We had to clean with it constantly and my reactions are bad. I don’t trust others the way I used to. I get anxiety attacks. I revert to my depressed state. I’ve had trouble holding jobs, relationships, really anything that might stress me too much. I love working with animals so have found my professions rewarding (I’m a dog trainer and pet sitter) but still have bad moments. I am wonderful with the animals but the owners, not always. I’ll be in therapy forever. I won’t bring a child into this world. I don’t talk to my family that sent me away and it’s caused a huge rift in our relationship”. (J.B., personal communication, October 15, 2022).