Part of the book I’m in the process of writing talks about my experiences in 1995 as a young 14 year old being sent to a ‘therapeutic’ wilderness program and then to a therapeutic boarding school that I ran away from.
14 years later, seeing the story in TIME about the school I ran away from has hit me hard. On some days I feel kind of vindicated, and confirmed in my reasons for choosing the streets over this kind of residential treatment. Other days I feel lucky, lucky that I was brave. smart and capable enough to pull it off and get away, not to mention surviving on the streets long enough afterward to be able to continue life afterward.
I do not believe that it was the correct decision to send me away. As an adult looking back, and looking at teens I see around me I strongly believe that what most teens really need is attention and help in cultivating their interests. If you skip all the time between my being sent away and my graduating from high school and leaving home for college, it looks like it all worked out as planned. I always loved taking any kind of art class from pottery to drawing, origami, and much more. Upon graduating High School I went to and graduated from Parsons School of Design. Just to make one alternative obvious to me they could have put me into art therapy, or into an art class.
Parents however naive aren’t necessarily the ones to blame however, most parents who send these kids like myself to these ‘therapeutic’ treatment centers consult with people claiming to be professionals in the field, people called “therapeutic consultants” or “educational consultants” whose credentials are extremely hard to find and I’m willing to bet in many cases are non existent or come from a kit they ordered online. In my case the person recommending that my parents send me away (I’d been caught smoking pot) never met me. I’ve worked with children and I do not believe anyone’s untrained description of a child OR an adult can be taken as fact, or even as strong evidence regarding what they ‘need’. An adult who has been through challenges or is well trained should work with the child to do an evaluation and ideally eliminate the need for a child to be legally kidnapped into the desert.
I just read some absolutely comical and sickening ‘journal’ entries of a reporter claiming to have had a taste of the experience of one of these wilderness camps and it is laughable. It is very lighthearted and implies that the camp is not a boot camp but more of a boy scout camp. Comical, I wonder if she saw when they made a kid dig his own coffin? How often they are allowed to clean their bodies? My memory only recalls about 3 camp showers over the 54 days I was living in the desert, with only one change of underwear every week or two, is that humane?
Parents need to know there are other alternatives to this, and also need to learn the importance of community. If I had other family members or other members of the community who knew me and were looking out I would have had other places to go for help, for guidance. I agree with the title of Hilary Clinton’s book “It Takes a Village” wholeheartedly.
Today I realized that someone needs to figure out how to make parents aware of these needs and alternative actions they can take to preserve their relationship with their children and guide them to succeed by building their strengths, not breaking them down. It is my goal to step into this role as educating parents, teachers, guidance counselors and more about their options. There are not any real standards in this industry of ‘fixing’ teens and it is time there was.
Most of the kids getting into trouble are already broken down, it’s the last thing they need.