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It sounds like the program has changed since I was there.
Back in '96, it only lasted for 21 days. I can see why they would want to extend the length of the program though. It costs them very little to run things, but they charge an exorbitant amount of money. Here's a description of my SUWS experience for those of you wondering what it's like.
Upon arriving, you are given everything you will need. All personal belongings are confiscated. Your kit consists of a heavy gauge plastic tarp that measures about 10x10, a military style rain coat, a blanket like they use in moving trucks, sleeping bag, a thin sleeping mat, a bag of oats, a bag of rice and lintels, powdered milk, salt and pepper, iodine tablets, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, 2 pairs of socks, thermal underwear, sweater, camo pants, a spool of thin rope, and a few misc other things.
A convoy of SUVs then drives you out to a remote location in the Great Basin Desert. This is not the Sahara by any means. It is simply an arid climate, with an abundance of sage brush. No sand dunes, lots of plateaus. Upon arriving at your destination, there is a brief orientation where they explain how to pack your kit (tarp laid flat, rain coat on top of that, blanket on top of that, everything else in the middle, fold the tarp/coat/blanket around your gear, tie with rope).
During the initial phase we were not given a backpack frame, so the rope was our shoulder straps (Kinda uncomfortable). Our group consisted of 4 guys, 2 girls, and 3 councilors (2 females, 1 male). Once everyone had put together their pack, we set out. The first week is all about learning the basics of survival. This was by far the worst part. No one was used to the hardships of being outdoors. That, combined with all of the hiking, led to a LOT of bitching and moaning (myself included).
The second week was "family week", which is all about teamwork. We were given 2 knives and a backpack frame to tie our gear to. The first knife was stainless steel for carving wood. The second was a carbon steel (I think) Swiss army style knife that would create sparks when struck with the right kind of rocks (for starting fires). During this week we learned some more advanced survival techniques.
The first half of the third week was called "solo". You spent 3 days in a small shelter by yourself, and were visited once a day by a councilor. The last 4 days were "search and rescue". During this phase we tracked 2 groups of people who just started the program and paid them surprise visits to "lift their spirits". Basically we would just let them know that it gets easier (it does). In the end, you make a long hike out and meet up with your family at base camp. You are all bused to a hotel, shower up, and meet at a diner for the best meal of your life up to that point. It's just a diner, but after 3 weeks of rice and lintels, a plate of pancakes is pretty amazing.
What I did not mention in the description is that there are some serious mental games being played by the staff throughout the whole thing. They are trying to convince you that you have major issues, (even if you don't), and that your parents are in no way at fault. They are also trying to prep you for the next facility you will be sent to, as they strongly advise parents to send their children to a more long term facility straight from SUWS. One of the things I learned from these experiences, is that some parents just want to be free of their kids during the difficult teenage years. Several of the kids at SUWS and my follow up facility had no substance abuse or major behavioral problems.
Ultimately, I'm glad I learned the survival techniques I did at SUWS, but I don't think shipping your child off is a good thing.
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