Survivor of "Elan School"'s Harrowing Tale
September 4, 2021 8:45 AM   Subscribe is a harrowing webcomic now in 61 installments (the latest posted August 27) by a survivor of the "Elan School", a reform school in the woods of Poland Springs, Maine. The school, which operated from 1970 to 2011 when it was shut down, used cult methods, forcing kids to scream insults at each other hours a day, remain expressionless while being insulted, box each other in a ring, and confine others to sit in the corner. Communication with family was closely supervised to keep the abuse hidden. The webcomic may have started in late 2018 to judge from author "Joe Nobody"'s Patreon, but has been garnering attention on Reddit
posted by Schmucko (71 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite

Seconding the Behind the Bastards recommendation, but be advised that it's a difficult listen because of the abuse involved. The podcast page also includes links for further reading.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:23 AM on September 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

From the Reddit link...
• the first night the child is enrolled, the camp would coordinate with the parents to stage a “kidnapping” while the child is asleep. 5 or more people would run in the room, restrain them, and throw them in the van.
I mean, what parent agrees to let people come into their home and kidnap their kid? I just can't imagine the sort of parent who, upon being told this was going to go down, is okay with it. "Yep. Sounds good. Have at it."

~shakes head, bewildered~

• nobody has been held criminally responsible yet.
Because, of course not.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:42 AM on September 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I mean, what parent agrees to let people come into their home and kidnap their kid?

Not to excuse the shocking behavior on the part of the parents, but it seems like the people running the school were experienced in cult-like psychology manipulation. So they were used to convincing people to do horrible things.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:54 AM on September 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

It’s wonderful what opportunities are available for childcare when you’re rich and not suitable for parenting
posted by armoir from antproof case at 9:55 AM on September 4, 2021 [11 favorites]

> I mean, what parent agrees to let people come into their home and kidnap their kid?

Growing up in Indiana in the late 80s/early 90s it wasn't very uncommon to hear of this happening to kids being taken to "conversion therapy" because clearly the children would leave home if they knew what was about to happen.

Without a single thought about how what they're doing is so traumatic that their children would rather be homeless or die.

I'm pretty sure I once or twice read about this being a "feature" described in some magazine ads that my parents churches had laying around.
posted by tminos at 10:27 AM on September 4, 2021 [13 favorites]

People should have better sense, but it's apparently not that hard to panic parents into thinking there will be a disaster unless their children are mistreated.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 10:43 AM on September 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

The infamous school that Tiffany Sedaris got forced to go to and scarred her for life.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:44 AM on September 4, 2021 [25 favorites]

> I mean, what parent agrees to let people come into their home and kidnap their kid?

Lots of people. Paris Hilton has spoken about being sent to a school like this. I very narrowly avoided it in the early 2000s. People who feel overwhelmed, or desperate, or resentful of their teenagers do this every week. There are tons of schools like this all over the country, and basically no oversight. It's ridiculously easy to abuse children under the guise of "alternative" or "therapeutic" or "last-resort" education.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 11:16 AM on September 4, 2021 [25 favorites]

Oops, I meant 61 installments, perhaps a mod can edit!
posted by Schmucko at 11:24 AM on September 4, 2021

It is a jaw-dropping comic.
posted by ambrosen at 11:25 AM on September 4, 2021 [6 favorites]

For Your Own Good by Alice Miller gives a historical version of the issue.

There was a fad in Germany for extremely harsh child-rearing-- it's how Hitler was raised. On the basis of nothing, there were popular books claiming that children would grow up to be monsters if their wills weren't broken.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:18 PM on September 4, 2021 [22 favorites]

I spent a significant part of my adolescence being threatened with programs like this, and I can very easily see how my mother could have talked herself into okaying a kidnapping like that, if the school assured her that it would shock me out of my routines and make it easier to shape me into the kind of person she wanted me to be. Of course that kind of person is obviously objectively better than the person I actually am, right?

If this seems unbelievable to you, I envy your family. These schools also prey on parents who don't necessarily want their children to be abused but want them to maybe take their lives a little more seriously or be scared out of a path that frightens parents or behave slightly differently. To them, they may minimize the abusiveness or inflame worries about the paths that these kids are "obviously" heading down without the extreme intervention of the school.

But there are a lot of parents of teenagers for whom anything is acceptable if it results in control of their child.
posted by sciatrix at 12:24 PM on September 4, 2021 [44 favorites]

There seems to be no limit to the amount of cruelty that humans are willing to inflict upon children, their own or others. There are some animals that occasionally eat their young, but is there any other species that regularly and systematically hurts their offspring? All while using the excuse of "protecting the children" to wield power against whomever or whatever they fear or don't understand. That's why we should never describe such treatment as "inhuman." It's almost definitively human.

Apologies for being excessively bleak. For whatever reason, stories about child abuse, especially coordinated, well-funded child abuse have been hitting me especially hard lately.

There's a storyline in Season 5(?) of The Sopranos that culminates in a kid being shipped off to one of these places. Despite being about a bunch of people in the actual mafia, it was a pretty believable portrait of at least one situation that could drive someone to send their child off to one of these trauma factories: parents are overwhelmed, socially isolated, ashamed, and probably they were never really equipped to be parents (in the sense of being taught to be); kids with severe emotional problems but no outlet; inability of/unwillingness of child to communicate with adults and vice versa; institutional actors like schools and social services removed, unresponsive, uninterested, or just plain non-existent; often the parents have other children they are responsible for; and ultimately someone who has some sway with/over the parents says, "Here, these people will fix it," and hands them a brochure, and it's quicker, and easier, and cheaper (but not cheap) than the alternatives, and you can hope it'll work out (because how could it get any worse?) and besides who has time to worry now that you've finally got a tiny opportunity to put everything else back together.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:42 PM on September 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

It can't be overstated that this can be a very harrowing read. The author basically endured years of daily, nearly non-stop abuse, and with all the sleep deprivation, many of those days were pretty damn long. But it's also a gripping and well-told story. I finished reading the last installment the day before yesterday and it has been haunting me every since. I came away realizing that these types of schools can be anywhere, perhaps even in one's own neighborhood or town. As the father of a teenage son, it hits particularly close to home. How any adult can inflict such torment on a young body and mind is completely beyond my comprehension.
posted by vverse23 at 12:51 PM on September 4, 2021 [8 favorites]

I'm someone else who was occasionally threatened with something like this. As bad as parts of my childhood were, I'm reminded of just how much worse it could have been.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:02 PM on September 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh, I'm sure the reason none of my cousins were ever sent off to be tortured like this is that no one had the funds to pay for it. The narrower your conception of what a normal human being is, the more willing you are to do almost anything to bang your kid into that shape.
posted by praemunire at 1:18 PM on September 4, 2021 [13 favorites]

This is so much more widespread than many people realize. Elan was one of the worst (within the US) but plenty of these places are still operating with limited to no oversight. Utah is one of the hotbeds for this industry though they can be found all over and minors can be sent to locations outside of the US and held beyond the age of 18.

Back in 2007, the GAO (Government Accountability Office) had hearings on this industry, but not much happened after that. There is another groundswell of activism happening right now after Paris Hilton came out about her time in Provo Canyon so the needle might move a bit on oversight but I'm not holding my breath.

From 1999-2001 I was in TTI (Troubled Teen Industry) camps in Utah. There were visits from prospective parents and even child protective services when I was there but they made sure we all knew to be pleasant, say everything was great and they hid the kids who refused to submit aka "get with the program". So when you see reports saying "we could find no wrongdoing" please know they just aren't looking hard enough. Kids die from neglect at these places. Kids run away and steal cars just to get sent to juvie instead. But nobody listens to the kids because we're just a bunch of delinquents who can't be trusted anyway.

It's hard to articulate how dehumanizing, lonely and damaging these places were. The kids I saw in these programs came from all kinds of backgrounds: wealthy Mormon girls punished for experimenting with drugs and premarital sex; rebellious suburban kids whose parents were clueless and desperate enough to ship them off to strangers; wards of the state who suffered from FAS and serious childhood SA; young girls with eating disorders engaging in self harm; and then kids whose parents were just outsourcing their abuse to these facilities. There was one kid whose parents dropped him at a camp when he was 13 and abandoned him. They took him on as staff when he turned 18 and later went on to serve in the military. (Note: military recruiters would actually show up and look for recruits at one place. We heard some of them express shock at the physical labor they made us do).

All the kids I knew there needed help but none of these places provided it. Staff there had no educational background in mental health or youth development, they just happened to live in the nearby small town. They abused you just enough to get compliance (meaning whatever behavior your parents or the state wanted) and called it a win. Most of them were just grown up bullies.

Many kids were even worse after getting out, lots of overdoses and sliding into more serious crime and continuing patterns of abusive relationships. Even worse, some of the kids try to frame it as an "ends justify the means" in order to cope with it or else downplay what went on there. There was an online group of alumni for one camp I went to and I was gobsmacked at how much they put themselves down and said "they had to do this to us, we were so out of control." Any posts trying to say otherwise were struck down and they let current staff participate in the group.

There are many lessons to be taken here, but the one I would want to drive home is this: the most vulnerable people are always the ones most frequently abused because they are too powerless to advocate for themselves. There are plenty of parallels to be drawn between TTI facilities, abusive elder care homes, the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, mental health facilities and even residential schools. Powerless people violating the social ideal (old age, pregnancy out of wedlock, youthful rebellion, psychological damage, not adhering to white hegemonic culture), put them in the hands of strangers without oversight with the intent to "fix them" and let the fetid practices of abuse bloom. And abusers are very good at doing things so egregious that nobody would believe it's happening. Then they tell themselves their victims deserved it.

I hope something changes here but there is a plethora of legislative and cultural hurdles and people often see these stories or news reports, think "oh god this is awful" and eventually move on to the next disaster. And even if you shut one Elan down, another will spring up in its place, often with the same staff, a horrific hydra of "it's for your own good."
posted by JaneTheGood at 2:12 PM on September 4, 2021 [77 favorites]

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child supports protections for children from forced labor, child marriage, deprivation of a legal identity, and grants both able-bodied and disabled children the right to health care, education, and freedom of expression. Not a lot to ask you might think.

Only three U.N. countries have not ratified this convention: Somalia, South Sudan, and…the United States.
posted by Lanark at 2:46 PM on September 4, 2021 [14 favorites]

When I was 14 years old at the end of middle school, I was having a hard time coping with ADHD and Depression (both undiagnosed at the time), doing poorly in school, and associating with friends who were surly, rebellious and starting to get into drugs. My parents decided that veering off the public school track to the local Catholic School would help "shape me up" and "get me out of the wrong crowd."
It was while going there that I heard May All Your Dreams Be Wonderful from Jello Biafra's spoken-word album, No More Cocoons. Hearing it made me realize my situation was nowhere NEAR as drastic, and drove me to -at minimum- placate my parents into not freaking out to the level of "Have the child abducted to a Utah Abuse Center".

It should be noted that after a terrible year and a completely lackluster education, I went back to the public school, and slipped right back into my old social circle, who had mostly moved into the Band/Choir/Drama scene and honors courses... Sometimes teens just gotta teen.

Years later, I made a dear friend who HAD been sent to one of these places at age 16. They recently have written up a long post describing the abuse and trauma, listing off the too-large number of contemporaries who have since committed suicide, suffered from PTSD and a number of other mental health issues. My friend cannot talk about it at length as they're still processing that trauma 20 years later.

"Twenty grand a year is a small price to pay to avoid talking straight with our kids" - Jello Biafra
posted by onehalfjunco at 4:54 PM on September 4, 2021 [15 favorites]

I mean, what parent agrees to let people come into their home and kidnap their kid?

I think that the person who wrote this had a very different experience of the 20th century than I did. (And of course, I think they are lucky for it. I envy them. That was not criticism.)

It was everywhere. It was the default parenting style for a huge swath of American WASP work-ethic Silent Generation parents like mine. Whether they called it tough love or doing it for your own good or this hurts me more than it hurts you, it was all the same.

And I was one of those kids. But I didn't get sent to Elan, probably because my father would have thought they were a bunch of hippies. Instead, I got shipped off to the Republican version of Elan, where I line for line experienced almost every one of those abuses, wrapped in a cloak of patriotism and duty that it took me an additional 20 years to realize is sickening in its own right on top of the physical and mental scars that persist to this day.

I think this is one of those stories like Bean Dad, that unintentionally acts as a litmus test for whether or not you have experienced abuse from parents or whether or not you are inclined to trust "the system."

And I applaud and stand in awe of JaneTheGood and others who can write with such passion and decency about it. Because I can't. I'm shaking with rage after just reading the original article and some of the comments here.
posted by seasparrow at 4:57 PM on September 4, 2021 [41 favorites]

A friend of my brother's escaped from one of those planned kidnappings and hid at our house for a month. He was a fucked up kid, but he didn't deserve that. His dad had arranged it, and his mom didn't agree. They split up over it, but she had to get a restraining order against the school before he could go home.
posted by Nothing at 5:12 PM on September 4, 2021 [10 favorites]

When did daytime talk shows like Maury, Jerry Springer, etc. start devoting episodes to "troubled teens" and "scared straight" programs? No doubt they contributed in some way to giving these hellholes a veneer of legitimacy; you could see right there on TV, it's not just your kid, it's a problem with the whole society! Kids today are out of control! But wasn't that one boy so respectful and polite to his mother in the follow-up episode? Well, maybe I should look into that, my daughter called me a bitch the other day! And she's been hanging around with some of the, you know, darker kids at school...
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:19 PM on September 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

I spent the morning reading the comic and I don't have anything cogent to say except that it was absolutely chilling. Moreso than any horror novel I've ever read. And still would have been even if it had been fictional, which it wasn't.
posted by rifflesby at 5:45 PM on September 4, 2021 [7 favorites]

Maybe parents should be shipped off to “train going camps.” Also ministers, pastors, and priests….
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:46 PM on September 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

My cousin was dropped of the side of the freeway in Massachusetts against his will to be herded into a van for a remedial high school in Maine. He thrived and has done very well for himself.

Now I’m going to RTFA.
posted by bendy at 6:18 PM on September 4, 2021

The majority of my childhood was spent in a school which had "break the spirit" as a founding principle, thanks to Jack Hyles and others of his ilk. It was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist school. Cruel to its core. But, thankfully, it wasn't even 1% as bad as Elan. Still a terrible place which convinced me to be instantly distrustful of authority and to stay far, far, far away from christianity.

This comic will stick with me for a while.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 8:20 PM on September 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have no idea how one really helps troubled teenagers, but it sure doesn't sound like these camps from hell do anything other than get the kids out of the house. Oh, and torture them.

Apparently Paris Hilton got thrown in one too, I don't know which one though (Utah?).
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:40 PM on September 4, 2021

I don't have much to add other than it really strikes me how many of the kids sent to both Elan and all the other abuse camps were probably, by most people's standards, just normal kids with absolutely incompetent or cruel parents who were freaked out by the mere whisper of teenage rebellion to such an extent that they outsource their parenting to one of these hell camps. If my guardians were moneyed during my relatively normal (abusive) childhood, I definitely would've been sent to one of these camps and I'm sure I'm not alone. My deep, deep condolences to anyone who has gone through these programs. It's an evil way to treat a child.
posted by Philipschall at 8:42 PM on September 4, 2021 [7 favorites]

"Harrowing" was definitely the right word to describe that. What an evil thing, brilliantly told.
posted by biogeo at 9:06 PM on September 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

That is an extremely tough read. I ultimately read some segments and skimmed others. The grimmest part, after the author shares the extreme monstrous abuses he is subject to, is how the adults successfully transform him into one of the perpetrators. It is a true horror but bless him for sharing his story with such self reflection, vulnerability and courage.

I am struck yet again that the 80s (and 90s) was rife with ritual abuse after all, with the myths told in popular culture of satanic daycare workers a weird inversion of the very real and highly ritualized yet socially sanctioned abuse of teens happening in plain site and for financial gain.
posted by latkes at 9:35 PM on September 4, 2021 [16 favorites]

What the fucking fuck?
posted by pompomtom at 9:45 PM on September 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

The reddit thread highlights how widespread this industry still is, with many commenters sharing similar experiences at other “schools”.
posted by latkes at 10:04 PM on September 4, 2021 [1 favorite]

(Side comment:

There was a fad in Germany for extremely harsh child-rearing-- it's how Hitler was raised. On the basis of nothing, there were popular books claiming that children would grow up to be monsters if their wills weren't broken.

Huh. That reminds me a bit of the backstory to the main bad guy in the anime / manga series Monster.)
posted by eviemath at 11:29 PM on September 4, 2021

This totally happened to my best friend in 8th grade. The school wasn't Elan but had similar cult roots. I recommend reading the book Help at Any Cost by Metafilter's Maia Szalavitz.
posted by johngoren at 1:00 AM on September 5, 2021 [9 favorites]

The one I was at for 15 months was Island View in Utah. I still occasionally have nightmares.

I really don't want to talk about how bad it was, because I don't like to think about it. You can find articles easily enough.

Anyway, I never want what happened to me to happen to anyone else though, and other kids definitely had it worse.
posted by Chrysopoeia at 1:56 AM on September 5, 2021 [17 favorites]

One of the things Robert Evans brings up about these schools is how quickly and deeply they get into the local/state economy and politics. Once enough money has been spread around, the schools are very protected. It takes shockingly little gravy to hide a pile of abused children.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:21 AM on September 5, 2021 [13 favorites]

Started reading it around 9PM and then...kept going until 5AM - there was no stopping after he got to NYC and got recaptured. I so want to know the details of him reuniting with his family. How can you every forgive someone for putting you into a place like this.

posted by mincus at 7:10 AM on September 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

On a tangent, I had missed the previous FPPs about David and Tiffany Sedaris. Going back and reading them now, one thing that struck me is the part where David mentioned that the family found a bipolar diagnosis among Tiffany’s papers, but mentioned that she talked about having PTSD. Both could be true simultaneously, of course, and some of what he describes in one of the interviews could certainly be consistent with mania, from my non-medical perspective of just knowing some folks with bipolar depression. But the juxtaposition of those two diagnoses reminded me of watching the biopic about Nina Simone that came out a couple/few years ago. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder later in life, and the film made it sound like a late onset situation, well into adulthood. The whole situation sounded inconsistent with what I know of my friends’ experiences. On the other hand, from what the movie showed about Simone’s marriage and other life details and what it described of her mental health symptoms, it sounded like she almost certainly had C-PTSD (again, in my untrained experience just from knowing folks with that diagnosis as well as folks with bipolar). I know that the overlap of women with severe trauma and those diagnosed with borderline personality disorder is very substantial, and have read some arguments that some of the personality disorder diagnoses may be inaccurate and should be PTSD diagnoses instead. Is there maybe a similar issue with bipolar versus PTSD diagnoses? (Or is the connection I made just a superficial coincidence?)
posted by eviemath at 8:47 AM on September 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

eviemath, as a woman with some childhood-long trauma, mental hospitals : diagnoses :: cow pastures : ...
posted by tigrrrlily at 9:07 AM on September 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Back around 1980, I remember adults talking in hushed tones about a couple of boys being sent away to 'military school'. Today, they would probably be diagnosed with ADHD, but they were just considered bad kids in those days.
posted by LindsayIrene at 9:15 AM on September 5, 2021

I've been avoiding threadsitting... I'm seeing others react as I did to the webcomic, finding it engrossing and hard to turn away from. I was surprised nobody else had posted a link here.

I didn't expect the stories from other MeFites who had gone through similar experiences.

Other thoughts:

Trump went through a military academy where "hazing was a way of life"

(Another account)

The constant shouting of insults reminds me of pundit culture devolving, FOX news, Infowars, anti-maskers shouting at PTA meetings, etc.

Berkeley linguist George Lakoff's theory that the Republicans frame their issues to appeal to a "strict father" family structure and Democrats to a "nurturing" one.

So these places are influenced by and influence the outside culture.
posted by Schmucko at 9:32 AM on September 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Berkeley linguist George Lackoff's theory that the Republicans frame their issues to appeal to a "strict father" family structure and Democrats to a "nurturing" one.

Is there any evidence that political affiliation makes it more/less likely someone would send children to these places?
posted by tzikeh at 9:38 AM on September 5, 2021

I had bad dreams and poor sleep last night after reading that, and I am in my late 30s. I can only imagine the effect of having actually lived it, as a teenager.
posted by biogeo at 10:06 AM on September 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

This was an extremely compelling read. I had to take it in chunks. It was hard to get through. I also am somewhat in awe of the author's storytelling and artistic skills. I clicked out to look at some of the Elan videos and read the news stories, and they seemed to flatten and reduce the experience. The author's careful walk through his inner state and artistic depictions of the emotional experience create a much deeper empathy in the reader than any news reporting seems to be capable of.

Trump went through a military academy where "hazing was a way of life"

After reading this I reflected quite a bit on the most narcissistic, politically-minded manipulators I have known in my professional life. This made me realize they were probably trained and taught in this way of looking at the world in order to become so good at it - whether at home, at school, in churches or self-help groups, or all of the above.

Is there any evidence that political affiliation makes it more/less likely someone would send children to these places?

I do not know, but it's also easy to see how even parents of a humanistic, liberal bent could be conned by the human-potential language in the brochures shown in the comic, or the tours for prospective students that Joe N. describes.
posted by Miko at 10:06 AM on September 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Don't miss the links. Also I just noticed his reddit account was suspended - why?
posted by Miko at 10:08 AM on September 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Is there any evidence that political affiliation makes it more/less likely someone would send children to these places?

Anecdata: The two people I have ever personally known to have sent their kids to a military school were both solidly “never gonna vote for anyone with a D after their name” wealthy people.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:26 AM on September 5, 2021

Add me to the list of folks who started the comic last night, got engrossed and stayed up way too late finishing it. And then didn't sleep well afterwards. Absolutely harrowing.

One thing I do wonder about, though, is why Joe Nobody bothered to change Joe Ricci's name to "Jay Cirri"? I get changing other peoples' names to protect their anonymity but Joseph Ricci is a public figure, easily googled for being one of the founders of this school and former owner of Scarborough Downs; I just don't really get the point of the fig leaf of a name-change in his case.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:40 AM on September 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Plausible deniability for a defamation lawsuit, I suspect. Though that wouldn't be a good defense, he might think it is.
posted by Miko at 10:49 AM on September 5, 2021

Likely heightened threat awareness/worry due to PTSD from the whole experience contributes to some of the author’s choices, like altering names?
posted by eviemath at 4:29 PM on September 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I've been in the rabbit hole on this all weekend. I can highly recommend the documentary film The Last Stop, also made by an alum, or should I say, survivor.
posted by Miko at 5:21 PM on September 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm "between jobs."

It appears these sort of schools still exist in America.

I think I'm going to commit my life to shutting the rest of them down.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:16 PM on September 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

A couple of boys from my neighborhood got sent to places like this. One of them went to a place promulgating itself as wilderness therapy, I suppose. I cannot recall the name, but it became notorious after the regime of abuse there was finally exposed. I learned that he later died by suicide: one of many lives this shameful industry took.
posted by thelonius at 7:40 PM on September 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is very consonant with my experience in rehab/AA. Despite the number of friends and family that have had great results in AA I will never consider it anything other than an abusive cult.
posted by stet at 7:45 PM on September 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


It's not finished?

It's not finished!?!

This was a harrowing read. I need a hug. And I was expecting I'd get to get to the end, that I'd get to see the pages where he was free and out, and he'd to confront his parents and and and...

This was very powerful. Chilling.
posted by meese at 7:50 PM on September 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

I read parts of this.
It is absolutely harrowing to read and terrifying that stuff like this exisits on an institutional level.

My only comment I want to make is about how hard it is to treat disassociation. That the components of abuse to to not show reactions or only down reactions like anger makes it so goddamn hard to get actual good therapy because other people can't gauge the person seeking help. Part of my abuse was very much about this, and getting therapy has been a nightmare, because expressing myself in body language, tone, and even words is this fight against some very ingrained things.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:40 AM on September 6, 2021 [10 favorites]

JFC. I can't even. I had to stop. And thank goodness for me that I have luxury of stopping, unlike this kids in this comic. What I read is going to be with me for a long time and I'm not sure I have the ability to read further
posted by treepour at 4:03 AM on September 7, 2021

I also read the whole thing and had trouble sleeping. Honestly, why go to great lengths to concoct conspiracy theories when you have this kind of shit just happening right in front of us and...nobody does anything about it? It's revolting and terrifying.

There's an offhand comment in the comic when he's talking about the rehabilitation cult, Synanon, and how a congressperson made a speech in congress on the death of the disgraced founder. I was curious what kind of person this was and pretty shocked to read this profile of Ron Dellums. Former Mayor of Oakland, a distinguished-looking black man, identified as Democratic Socialist, some troubles with substance abuse in his own life and perhaps his children. Here's the speech he gave to congress. Boggling.
posted by amanda at 11:46 AM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Synanon infected and overlapped with lots of the 70s left in California, including Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. Their methodology continues to be the major influence on how many substance use programs are run - and programs that include softened versions of many of the same techniques continue to win accolades and awards from local electeds etc.
posted by latkes at 12:55 PM on September 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

(I learned the second part of that from reading Maia Szalavitz, mentioned by others above, who seems to be the expert and most insightful analyst on these topics)
posted by latkes at 1:02 PM on September 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to remember where I first learned about Synanon. Had to be a cult documentary. Was it mentioned in Wild Wild Country?
posted by Miko at 8:40 PM on September 7, 2021

The Troubled Teen Industry is still thriving, and there are many informative Tiktok accounts that speak from experience about it daily. This no relic of the past, and the level of abuse is jaw-dropping.
posted by asimplemouse at 2:02 PM on September 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just finished the most recent chapter, and am similarly shocked and appalled like everyone else. This is a big world, full of so many terrible (and wonderful) things that exist in plain sight yet are hidden from us. A horror story. It also hits so many dramatic moments in sequence that I have to wonder if he’s compressing characters or stitching things together. I’d love to know who Ron actually is.

It’s wonderful what opportunities are available for childcare when you’re rich and not suitable for parenting.

This was a glib comment that meant well but reading it just after finishing made me so dang mad. The running thread of the comic is that Elan is a whole sick system that traps parents as well, and that it seems to eat rich kids and poor kids alike. It’s all horrible.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:08 PM on September 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Reddit link suggests that Reddit played a role in shutting the school down. Does anyone know what the story is?
posted by Going To Maine at 10:46 PM on September 8, 2021

I haven't been able to sleep much at all since starting to read this, which was a couple of days ago. For anyone triggered by detailed tales of cultish abuse, please be aware that this is intense AF. That said, so glad stories like these are coming to light
posted by treepour at 4:33 AM on September 9, 2021

I just finished the most recent chapter. Very intense, very gripping, very chilling.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:45 AM on September 9, 2021

The Reddit campaign appears to have been led by user Gzasmyhero, whose "negative web campaign" is credited as the main cause of the shutdown in this 2011 Bangor Daily News article.
posted by Not A Thing at 7:00 AM on September 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

Going back and re-reading Bangor Daily News coverage of the school is incredibly disappointing. For a relatively small newspaper, they’ve actually done quite good reporting on a number of other topics, but they completely botched this topic.
posted by eviemath at 8:06 AM on September 9, 2021

(Though, at least one of the BDN stories I read doesn’t have a named byline, and I vaguely recall there being a labor dispute at some point with editors or scabs who weren’t the regular journalists writing articles with anonymous “contributor” bylines, so this might be related?)
posted by eviemath at 8:31 AM on September 9, 2021

I really recommend watching the doc I linked above for some insight into how it came down.
posted by Miko at 8:25 PM on September 9, 2021

Chapter 62 now posted
posted by Going To Maine at 8:59 PM on September 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

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