This testimony was located on Reddit. All rights goes to the author
I'm sorry if 100% of this isn't relevant, these are 10 year old thoughts I've never told anyone or writen them down before.
In 2011 I pretended to be sick to stay home from school and tried to hang myself. My home life was completely controlled by my mother after I got a D on my report card and I wasn't allowed to see friends, go outside, play games or anything until my grades went up, which, no matter what I did, couldn't actually happen for months until my next report card came in. Ironically that day was a breath of fresh air because I wasn't walking on eggshells around my mom, or being harassed by teachers who's classes I was failing. But my mom came home early and caught me, and I was sent to a adolecent psychiatric facility. I won't go into too much detail, but it's the white-walled places that put you in solitary for acting out and won't let you leave until you do thier therapy packet and do whatever they say without question.
My parents threatened to send my back to the psych ward for the rest of the school year every time I acted out or cried from frustration. 100% of my everyday was at school or with my parents who controlled my every action and I felt trapped. I failed my 8th grade year and they sent me to SUWS the day after school let out.
My parents already had me where I would say yes to anything so I willingly flew to North Carolina to this "summercamp", only to find out the majority of kids there were kidnapped and brought there. I went hiking the first day and passed out from exhaustion in a few hours and apparently rolled down a hill for awhile. I'm from a completely flat city and didn't like sports, so physical exertion and uphill were foriegn concepts to me.
I wasn't as scared of the counselors there as I was of my parents so I acted out regularly. Everyone had daily tasks they had to do in order to progress through the program and I didn't even try for the first week. I tried my best to be polite to the counselors, all but 1 who worked with my group were in their 20's and were actually nice people. They told me about the consequences of my actions before they got physical and they did try thier best to de-escalate things without putting me in holds. By the time I was adjusted to living away from my parents I somehow got a little hope for my future back and tried to complete the program. I was immediately stonewalled by the daily requirement of drinking 4 liters of water a day. I was 13 in a group of 14-17 year olds and was the smallest by far. They even had the rule of thumb of 'a liter a day for every 25 pounds'. I was only 80 pounds at the time but they didn't believe me. I either couldn't drink enough everyday or was throwing up water. I started having liquid shits every day and having to go multiple times a day cause I couldn't hold it in.
The group therapy was all but pointless and I felt out of place. The literature was all Alchoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and I had never touched either my whole life. Everyone had to go through the 12 steps and I was a sheltered kid whose mom wouldn't let me have access to the internet, or see friends outside of school. I adamantly refused to "surrender to a higher power" and started recusing myself from group. The problem is that in order for someone to progress through the program they had to follow all the rules EVERYDAY. One of the veteren kids who was there for months in the 'community' stage or whatever, basically had to start the packet over because he missidentified a kind of tree and had to do the basic therapy exercises again from day 1.
There was no showering and I was covered in rashes pretty much the whole time. I have a ton of allergies and one of those is pine trees, and basically everything in nature has touched a fucking pine tree. We all got to wash our clothes and shower and every 4 weeks for 10 minutes, at the same time. I shit my pants 4 times while I was there and was punished for taking steps to not do so. Some new kid with severe OCD was taking over an hour to put a trashbag in a 5 gallon bucket and I kept screaming I had to shit. I ran and shit into the creek and was scolded for not holding it longer. No disrespect to that kid, he did not respond well to their "therapy" either and I don't blame him.
We had to write letters to our parents every week. If you didn't you started the program over. I started out pleading with them to let me come home. It then turned into anger and those letters were blocked until I wrote a nice one. I made a cipher for my dad in a letter and threatened to kill myself if they didn't let me go home. He let them know and I was put on safety watch for 2 weeks. Thats when a counselor is in arms reach of you 24/7. You're only allowed to sleep if a tarp is over your body and 2 counselors sleep ontop of the tarp on either side of you. You can only shit if you shout your name every 5 seconds whike they weren't looking at you to make sure you didn't run.
We had to do equine therapy as well. Basically we just stand around a horse while someone talks about horses. I refused because I have a phobia of large animals. They told me that horses react to fear and will act out if you're scared so just don't be scared. I already knew that, I was trying to explain that it's a phobia, and I'm not going around horses BECAUSE they will react to my involuntary fear. I started the program from day 1 after that.
The worst thing day to day was the food. Everyday was beans and rice. Everyday. There was saltless and bland oatmeal and grits for breakfast. We each got a bag of personal food but it basically just a stick of pepperoni, a pound of cheese, and some granola. I can't stand the taste of cheese and it makes my stomach turn, but after forcimg myself to eat it I discovered that it coagulated my poo so that it came out somewhat pasty and solid instead of shitting water, and that was better than nothing.
Luckily I had an infected ingrown toenail about 6 weeks in. I say luckily because they had to drive me into the city to get surgery and I didn't have to hike for a week. I stayed at base camp and tried to prepare all of the scared new kids of whats to come. I used a stick as a crutch to walk around and base camp rules were kinda lax as it was all new kids. As long as I was within eyesight of a counselor I could walk around as I please. I used this to steal stuff from the counselors. I stole a lighter and a bunch of parachute chord, which is what they used to pitch all the tents and tarps. I nabbed ones gatorade and it was the tastiest thing I had there. Its was so sweet I almost threw up cause I was only used to hot creek water and beans.
While I was at base camp a kid woke me up in the middle of the night and asked if I wanted to run away with him. He had saw the numbers on the lock for the bearbox and gotten our bags of food. I said sure and we ran off into the woods in the dark. Our stupid plan was to hop on one of the trains that ran all through the mountains. The trains were going way faster up close so we just kept walking until we found a road. The counselors warned us that the locals knew to call the cops if they saw kids in SUWS clothes walking around so we weren't about to go into civilization. We ended up walking in a kindof circle and there were cars sent out looking for us. Once they spotted us I just surrendered cause I'm not about to get tackled by these assholes. It was kindof fun to have actual alone time, short lasted as it was.
7 weeks in I still hadn't progressed through the program. The counselors wouldn't budge on the water requirments so I drank what I was comfortable with and told them to fuck off. All this time there wasn't anything done to address my very real anxiety and depression, because the program was completely geared towards drugs and alchohol. I felt like my life was over. Everything my parents believed in was good grades, then good college, then good job. Anything else was a failure at life and a bum. I flunked out of a good school and I didn't even understand that something like that isn't the end of the world. I couldn't even do therapy right. So I tied a noose with the rope I stole by the light of a lighter and tried to hang myself from a small tree in the middle of the night. I couldn't fall so I just swung there looking at the moon until some counselors came over cause they heard me. I was starting to black out but they grabbed me and cut me down. I was on a very strict safety watch for the remainder of my time there.
They told me not to bring it up in group cause it might distract others from thier treatment. They told everyone else I was running away at night and that's why I was on safety watch. In all honesty the counselors who we actually had to interact with were genuinely nice people. I think they had a missplaced passion for helping kids and were persuaded by the high pay to do it there. I poured my heart out to one of them and told her how I felt trapped and this was the only way out I could see. That I wasn't sent here for misbehaving neccessarily, but for trying to kill myself. She didn't have great advice but talking someone down from suicide wasn't in her job description so I can't blame her.
In the middle of my 10th week I was woken up early and told I was going home. We hiked back to base camp and instead of the camp's grand graduation ceremony I did a trust exercise with my parents who had flown in. Basically my mom put on a blindfold and I had to walk her around the courtyard for a bit. I felt angry but also like I had a gun to my head. I wanted to push her over. I wanted to hurt her for what she did to me but I was scared of what would happen. They already spent 40,000$ to send me to that hellhole and when I saw my mom again I almost wanted to go back.
After I got home my parents were following the regimen that SUWS gave them. Rigid home life structure, and lots and lots of family therapy. Basically my mom paid hundreds of dollers to professionals to tell her that she didn't do anything wrong and that I should take responsibilty for making her feel bad by trying to die. She's never regretted her actions or gave me an apology. She wouldn't even admit in hindsight that it was a shit thing to do to me.
I hope SUWS and places like it burn to the ground and everyone in charge is in prison for life. I have 3 ruptered disks in my spine and damaged knees from hiking so much at that fucking place. I can't work anywhere I have to stand for 8 hours and I don't have the grades or motivation to get a meaningful college degree. I don't have the means to seek therapy for this either.
Fuck wilderness therapy.
- The original testimony on Reddit
- About SUWS (Domestic Prisoners of Conscience)