At 16 years old, in the middle of the night, two men forcibly entered my bedroom and asked if I “wanted to go the easy way or the hard way.” I thought in that split second that I was taking my last breaths. I thought I was going to die.
I screamed for help, but as they dragged me away, I saw my mother and father standing by the front door, sobbing: They had arranged the whole ordeal under the promise that ‘tough love’ would set me on a better path.
At that age, I was a so-called ‘troubled teen’ and marketed as a problem to fix. I was taken against my will by transporters, bundled onto a plane in handcuffs, and flown to institutions in California, Idaho, Montana, and Utah.
That was just the beginning of the nightmare. None of us knew of the horrors which would take place over the following two years as I was physically, emotionally and sexually abused - far from anyone I knew and loved.
I was struck across the face by staff, forced to take medication without diagnosis, deprived of sleep, spied on in the shower, put in solitary confinement and shouted at constantly.
At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was taken into a room numerous times in the middle of the night, made to lay down on a table, and told to remain silent as members of staff violated me under the guise of performing a medical examination.
I was unable to report what I was experiencing, and for over two decades, I bottled up my emotions. But now, I am turning that pain into purpose.
It is my goal that by the time Phoenix and London are teenagers, no child is abused in the name of ‘treatment’ worldwide and there are more community-based options to support and serve families. Research shows that is the most effective option.
But it will not be easy.
In the US, as many as 200,000 of the nation’s most vulnerable youth are sent to youth residential programs each year by state child welfare and juvenile justice systems, mental health providers, refugee resettlement agencies, school districts and parents.
These facilities include boot camps, wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment facilities and group homes.