A gay teen describes her experience at a Utah brainwashing facility.
June 10, 2011 1:05 AM   Subscribe

Nice editorializing.
posted by brokkr at 1:06 AM on June 10, 2011

brokkr: not my title. It seems to have been chosen by the reddit user posting the story on behalf of the author.
posted by bkudria at 1:08 AM on June 10, 2011

Nice editorializing.

It's not a brainwashing facility?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:12 AM on June 10, 2011 [50 favorites]

Nice editorializing.
Editorializing? Brainwashing: Intensive, forcible indoctrination, usually political or religious, aimed at destroying a person's basic convictions and attitudes and replacing them with an alternative set of fixed beliefs.

The use of the word "brainwashing," even if it hadn't been in the original title, is entirely apt.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:17 AM on June 10, 2011 [26 favorites]

brokkr: "Nice editorializing."

From part 2:
What disturbs me more than anything is that I believed all of the things I was told. When people use the word “brainwashing” to describe what went on at Cross Creek and other WWASP programs, I don’t think it is in any way exaggerating or being over dramatic when you consider all of the media we were FORCED to watch, read, and listen to. The program director used to joke about and downplay the brainwashing claims by saying that some of our brains “could really use some washing.” The “educational/emotional growth” videos we had to watch twice a day, the “motivational” tapes three times a day, the “self-help” books we were forced to read, and more than anything the “motivational seminars” with facilitators up in your face yelling about all the things you did wrong to mess up your life and land yourself in a program all contributed to this. With all of this influence coming at me from every direction at every moment I believed that following the rules, “working my program”, going to the seminars, etc. was genuinely going to improve my self esteem, my relationship with my parents, and the overall outcome of my life. I tried hard to follow the endless list of rules, be “accountable”, and when I got “dirty in my program” (another good example of shaming lingo and language that means you broke rules without giving yourself demerits) I would confess and take the consequences what ever consequences were involved.
So, uh, yeah.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:18 AM on June 10, 2011 [13 favorites]

Nice editorializing.

Oh, come the fuck off it. Try "Nice describing."
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:32 AM on June 10, 2011 [28 favorites]

A couple days ago, if you missed it: Kirk Murphy.
posted by bkudria at 1:35 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

We could avoid this altogether by not reposting reddit stories... or by posting the source link. Just sayin'
posted by mafted jacksie at 1:38 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

mafted jacksie: Sorry, what source link? As far as I can tell this was originally published on reddit.

Kids, these days.
posted by bkudria at 1:48 AM on June 10, 2011 [11 favorites]

Shocking read. No nuance necessary in response. Burn Cross Creek and all for-profit child abuse factories like it to the ground and salt the fucking earth.
posted by EatTheWeek at 1:50 AM on June 10, 2011 [22 favorites]

Can we have a serious discussion about why some people think this way, and how our society needs to change to discourage it?
posted by bkudria at 1:52 AM on June 10, 2011

Previously on metafilter on WWASP programs: 2002, 2003, 2003 (again), 2005.

The Wikipedia entry on WWASP has more information.

I think it was extremely brave of Xandir to post this; ya'll might want to scroll down to see some of BlazerMorte's stories; he also did an AMA a while back.
posted by NoraReed at 1:53 AM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

We need MORE editorializing like this. And less brainwashing.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:58 AM on June 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

I managed to read the first few paragraphs and had to make a swearing break. In many countries her parents would be tried for child abuse.
posted by hat_eater at 2:18 AM on June 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

Cross Creek has a warranty:

If a student completes the Program, having fulfilled all stages and criteria, the student may be re-admitted to the Program for up to 60 days free of tuition, if he/she should slip into old attitudes or behavior patterns before the age of eighteen.
posted by Drama Penguin at 2:18 AM on June 10, 2011

Can we have a serious discussion about why some people think this way, and how our society needs to change to discourage it?

A lot of people who have been raised in families whose focus is on punishment, shame, and guilt, with very little encouragement, support, or positive role modeling, will go on to do the same as adults. Why? Because it's hard, very hard, to go against everything you've been taught in life. Not shaming, denigrating, and punishing can feel like a betrayal of family. Family is held as sacred. See Malick's "The Tree of Life". The father is physically and morally abusive, but he is God and his family are Job. Why? Why is his example metaphorically sacred?

This is how our society needs to change to discourage it: ask why a semblance of familial love means that guilt, shame, and fear-based punishment are somehow acceptable. Ask why we tacitly allow bullying in schools, which only reinforces the ability for worse abuse to continue. Laws and rules will not change these things, we need to discuss it and make use of the increasing amount of research that shows that positive reinforcement is the best way to raise kids; that punishment, fear, shame, guilt, simply do not work. We need to dare to try it out ourselves and see that mutual respect is mutually affirming. Compare it to how we feel when we've been an ass to someone; taken in their face, their pain, realized that no lesson was taught to anyone involved other than betrayal, confusion, and on the ass' part, a fleeting sense of fragile superiority that can only be maintained if more assholishness continues.

We need to see, exemplify, and express empathy as a strength rather than emotional woo-woo. Be an example of that. My life in an abusive family that behaved much like Cross Creek staff was saved thanks to people who treated me like a human being. That was all it took – simple, basic, human respect and empathy. No stars needed to go supernova, just regular human beings going about their lives as respectful, listening, empathetic human beings.
posted by fraula at 2:21 AM on June 10, 2011 [32 favorites]

The most extraordinary thing for me is that it's clear that it's not simply a case of packaging up a gay teen for reprogramming (which is reprehensible enough), but that her mother thought this is a natural part of the process of parenting (she did the same thing to the girl's brother) - the gay aspect only came up during an initial meeting in which the "mentor" was fishing for something - anything - to pin on her and induce shame.

That suggests that the society these people are living in is so broken, so unsustainably disarrayed, they've had to turn it into a cruder, more brutal version of Scientology or EST in order to maintain it at all. Which would be a sign of hope were it not for the loathsome reality of it.

I do try to resist being judgemental, as I don't think it helps anybody, but I'm prepared to concede that a mother who thinks a natural part of adolescence is to be kidnapped by night and brutalised probably isn't very good at parenting.
posted by Grangousier at 2:22 AM on June 10, 2011 [12 favorites]

^^^^Or possibly had a similar experience. Seriously, we need to get on the UN's rights of the child stuff. Except as soon as you say that you have people screaming about the government raising their kids. Basically I want a fucking test before people become parents. (I know right? Double entendres are the best.)
posted by Peztopiary at 2:35 AM on June 10, 2011

I've seen articles about these re-education camps before, but never such an extended account from a victim; usually just quotes here and there about isolated incidents. It was very powerful and upsetting to read.

I was fascinated and appalled (at her captors, not at her) by the way she wrote about her experiences: she's clearly still got a lot of internalised shame. I couldn't believe it when she started naming by initials camp workers who were really quite nice! She'll be picking the threads of that place out of her life for a long, long time.

Thank you for the article. I need to go punch something now. Hard.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:42 AM on June 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

Welcome to single-link-reddit-filter. I can haz context?

Yeah, abusing teenagers for profit is fucked the hell up. Got any more difficult things you need explained? Idi Amin was not a nice person maybe? The black death is not a good theme for a birthday part? I'm just full to brimming with context.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:16 AM on June 10, 2011 [26 favorites]

brokkr: Welcome to single-link-reddit-filter. I can haz context?

First you complain about editorializing, which numerous posters noted is completely unjustified. Now you are complaining about the lack of "context". The context is WESTERN CULTURE. Maybe you live on a rock somewhere that just happens to have access to Metafilter, but your profile says you're in Bonn, Germany. So that means you're trolling.

This isn't some obscure architect or poet. This is a girl who was brainwashed for being gay. Anyone who knows a little something about politics, history, and people, should have plenty of context for this story.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:23 AM on June 10, 2011 [39 favorites]

A recent interview with Xandir states that she prefers the label "queer" to "lesbian" or "gay". Just fyi.
posted by NoraReed at 3:30 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Needs more Lord's Prayer.
posted by buzzman at 3:39 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Spare the Rod
posted by fullerine at 3:46 AM on June 10, 2011

I would confess and take the consequences what ever consequences were involved
That line alone had me remind about the treatement some vietnam POWs received while incarcerated: they were to atone, adopt their version of communism. It was not physical violence, it was a psychological one and one of the the worst possible.

Just to make an example on how some psychological methods are adopted, consider the infamous Drill Sargents constant screaming and shouting at recruits. Afaik it's a form of conditioning. It's piercing, it's constant and repetitive, its designed to irritate at a very basic level and to cause a fight or flight reaction. Yet, as fighting back is not an option, one would rather comply to the order so as to make that yelling stop, and the only possible answer that is not otherwise descriptive is YES,SIR. At times that method has been explained as one very effective way to _condition_ soldiers to immediately obey, expecially in a combact context, were orders can also be yelled over.

You may have seen Full Metal Jacket, the movie, and remember Pvt. Pyle, the chubby overweight wannabe Marine. The Drill Sargent constantly insults and degrades Pyle as the vilest scum existing on earth, it's a constant repetition, it's yelled into your ears and reinforced through physical punishment and through having him being attacked by his peers with soap bars for "his not being able to stop eating" (or something alone that line).
Eventually Pvt. Pyle cannot take this any longer, and starts internalizing the requested "marine behavior" and acting as such, as he perceived it to be: to behave like a killer, to be one with his rifle, to be a killing machine. This reduces the yelling, attracts praises, but he has been brutalized into behaving like a marine to escape from the constant, repeated pressure by the Drill Sargent.

Eventually, Pyle doesn't escape anymore, but reacts to the final yelling by the D.S. exactly in the way he was supposed to act, like a killer, this time killing the source of the pain, the D.S. Yet, was he "turned into" an hardened, "combat ready" Marine? Not at all, he was brought to the point of insanity.
posted by elpapacito at 4:20 AM on June 10, 2011

When little Janie grows up and mommy needs adult care, uh oh.

Parenting should require a license, and religious parenting be illegal! Ack.

Kids gonna play with their own and other kids bits and in the end, settle on what kind they prefer. Re-education camps for having blue eyes make more sense to me.

For crissakes... folks with opposite sex attactions (i.e., presumably "normal") have no behavior problems? ...are emotionally healthy? ...make good decisions outside of sexual preference while teenagers? ...aren't sullen as part of their job description?

On what planet? Only the planet "god", that's where. Where fantasy is given a pass.

I totally regret reading this stuff. (but i do like reddit. it reliably makes me laugh. maybe I should be re-educated?!)
posted by FauxScot at 4:20 AM on June 10, 2011

Nice editorializing.

Welcome to single-link-reddit-filter. I can haz context?

We can see you are trying to kill the story. The only question is: Why?
posted by DU at 4:24 AM on June 10, 2011 [31 favorites]

Wikipedia calls Cross Creek a therapeutic boarding school. Huh.
posted by Yakuman at 5:13 AM on June 10, 2011

There was a horrific article in the Guardian IIRC centered on the WWASP facility in Jamaica at Tranquility Bay. Two things should be noted; first, it is no exaggeration to call what they do brainwashing. Everything they do would be flatly illegal if they did it to an adult. Second, they don't limit their psy-ops to the students; they do a very wicked effective sales job on the parents as well. It's a thoroughly evil business and everyone associated with it deserves to die. I mean that with all my heart.

In happier news, though, I saw when looking the link up according to Wiki that TB is closed and the whole business is falling on hard times due to the economy. I guess every cloud really does have a silver lining.
posted by localroger at 5:40 AM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Doesn't the Old Testament lay out specific conditions for instances when children can be killed by their parents? With that in mind, this is practically an improvement.
posted by Nomyte at 5:51 AM on June 10, 2011

I wonder how long a facility that let you have your kids kidnapped and brainwashed into being gay would stay in business before the government stepped in.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:54 AM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

So awful. I want this girl's parents, and the staff at Cross Creek, to be shipped off to a re-education camp.
posted by orange swan at 6:04 AM on June 10, 2011

On a positive note, the wiki article says: "WWASPS officials report that the organization is no longer in business, but because of ongoing litigation, it has not been dissolved."

So that's good.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:04 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yep, nothing like abduction and brainwashing to help gay kids out with adolescence, since it isn't difficult enough already.

Glad to hear these folks are OB. 'Cuz this sort of thing makes me shake with rage.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:19 AM on June 10, 2011

Doesn't the Old Testament lay out specific conditions for instances when children can be killed by their parents? With that in mind, this is practically an improvement.

That's setting the bar for comparison mighty low.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:36 AM on June 10, 2011

It’s OK to be Takei!
posted by Fizz at 6:41 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mod note: brokkr, please do not dump deraily snark into threads. Flag it and move on, go to Metatalk, or write us an email at the contact form instead; do not do this again. If anybody needs to talk about this further, there's a metatalk thread; otherwise, on with the conversation.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:52 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

> ... the organization is no longer in business

A lot of crappy organizations are "no longer in business" once they hit the spotlight of the public eye ... but they've just changed shingles and addresses and continue on, born again & with a whole new corporate shield. This is really common with grey market "resellers" and other shitty merchants.

I'm sure the people behind this, whoever they were, are just doing it again somewhere else, crouching lower under the radar and keeping their advertising via word of mouth only. There's no shortage of hateful, cruel people out there who are more than happy of taking money from those who want to modify the behaviours of those in their control.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:10 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

...a facility that let you have your kids kidnapped and brainwashed into being gay ....
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:54 AM on June 10

So awful. I want this girl's parents, and the staff at Cross Creek, to be shipped off to a re-education camp.
posted by orange swan at 9:04 AM on June 10

next up on the gay agenda, coming to right-wing talk radio near you.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:10 AM on June 10, 2011

Kill all of these people.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:16 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're in San Fransisco next weekend, you can check out the premiere of This Is What Love In Action Looks Like, a documentary about a gay teen forced into a fundamentalist brainwash program in Memphis and the protests that eventually led to the program being shut down, at the Frameline 35 film festival. It's directed by my friend Morgan Jon Fox, who kind of accidentally became one of the leaders of the protest. And it's not only relevant, it's a great movie, too!
posted by vibrotronica at 8:41 AM on June 10, 2011

This really reminds me a great deal of Straight, a facility where a family member spent several years of her life. Always gives me simultaneous chills and nausea to read about places like this. I sometimes wonder what it will take to require "teen help facilities" to undergo rigorous and regularly scheduled federal inspections before and after they open.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:48 AM on June 10, 2011

Metafilter's own Maias literally wrote the book on this subject.
posted by jtron at 9:30 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

A couple days ago, if you missed it: Kirk Murphy.

Last night's AC360: 'Sissy' therapy still has influence
posted by homunculus at 9:44 AM on June 10, 2011

Even places without overt torture can twist a child in unpredictable ways. I spent high school in a facility run by a primarily religious organization. Many of the rules were set up to enforce traditional gender roles and provided 'staff approved' ways to bully kids who did not meet that standard.
posted by No1UKnow at 10:47 AM on June 10, 2011

I was extremely upset and cried the entire trip, but I obeyed all of their orders. Even though I was being cooperative they said it was their policy to put a belt around the bust of the child and hold the belt so that there would be no chance of attempting to run. It was so humiliating to be led around like a fucking dog around the airport.

How the FUCK could someone witness a weeping and bound teen being led through an airport on a tether and NOT intercede? I got red-fugue murder urges just READING that description, like the shit-scum that are employed by that service were right around the corner and I could reach them if I was fast enough.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:09 AM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres covers very similar ground, and put me in the same state of rage as FatherDagon.

What is to be done? How do you fight this stuff?
posted by Sauce Trough at 11:25 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

How the FUCK could someone witness a weeping and bound teen being led through an airport on a tether and NOT intercede?

One summer they packed all the kids into the two big vans they used to take us to school and took us to Saint Louis to see the Arch and visit Six Flags. While at the Arch, one of the kids starts fighting with a staff member and they physically restrain him. 3 other staff members had to run interference on all the well meaning onlookers who started coming up to intervene.
posted by No1UKnow at 11:33 AM on June 10, 2011

Cross Creek's FAQ is creepy. Their financial page advising parents to take out a second mortgage or cash in their kid's college fund ("since [the] child is not on track to complete high school, much less go to college") in order to afford 'tuition' is even worse.

If the same advice were directed at senior citizens -- trying to get them to cash in their savings to purchase a service of inflated importance and dubious effectiveness -- it would be considered elder abuse.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:39 PM on June 10, 2011

My book Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids was the first book length expose on this subject and includes extensive personal experiences of students and parents at WWASP, Straight (on which Love in Action was based) and at wilderness and other "tough love," programs. The publisher is going to issue a new edition soon.

It examines the roots of all of these programs in a cult called Synanon and explains the psychology that produces people who go out and sell the program that harmed them to others.

WWASP (and the troubled-teen business in general) has taken a bunch of hits lately—and now has far more closed programs than open ones—but what typically happens in cases like this is that they open again under a new name.

That pattern and how they do it and get away with it is also examined extensively in my work. It's very frustrating how little media attention tends to be given to the complete lack of evidence supporting these "treatments"—as well as the complete lack of regulation on many of the programs. Because there's no "FDA for therapy," you can basically introduce any technique you like—and people introduce the same harmful ones over and over and over under different names to completely new media hype about them.
posted by Maias at 1:24 PM on June 10, 2011 [13 favorites]

Heh, should have previewed ;-)
posted by Maias at 1:25 PM on June 10, 2011

I saw her tell this story on Wednesday night in front of a crowded room. She could barely get through the whole story, even in front of a room of the most supportive crowd you can imagine--all manner of queers and perverts and outcasts. It broke my goddamn heart. I don't cry easily, and i was choking back tears.

If this horrific experience has is so affecting to someone who seems, in seeing her speak, to have come to terms with her queerness, to have blossomed into the fabulous outspoken person that she is, someone strong enough to tell the world about this, what must it be like for so many who are hiding in silence still? How many live each day with the self hatred instilled by these "schools?" How many wake up in terror all too frequently? How many have taken their own lives?
posted by mollymayhem at 1:02 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been trying for years to get someone to do a study of outcomes of these places 10 years out. It seems clear that suicide, PTSD and ongoing addiction are substantially higher than for comparable teens simply left alone—but I don't have the data to prove it.

The Internet would now let you recruit a pretty large sample of graduates, such that you wouldn't just be getting a selection of the most injured. Anyone looking for a great PhD dissertation project in psychology who wants to do this should memail me.
posted by Maias at 7:58 AM on June 11, 2011

A video of her telling the story.

This is the event I was at.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:14 PM on June 11, 2011

Nothing like straightening out troublesome teens by traumatizing them enough for several lifetimes worth of therapy.

Ugh, I don't even know who to be angry at. Just everything involved in these 'schools' is wrong.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 9:28 AM on June 12, 2011

« Older Leichhardt Cat Curfew   |   Nerds for Cheerleaders. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments