Alumni Questionnaire ← Back to Index
What is your name?
To which institutions were you sent?
I attended all 3 programs: Escuela Caribe, Marion, and Canada
How old were you?
When were you enrolled in The Program?
What was the highest level you attained?
5th level/off points
In which house(s) did you live?
Please describe instances of abuse you experienced while in the program, if any:
I witnessed students who tried to run away be put in the “QR” (Quiet Room) — a cell with a cement floor and bars on one small window. Students who were sent here had to earn back all privileges. Their hair was cut or shaved, they had to sleep on the floor and gradually earn back human rights, like having a bed frame and mattress to sleep on (their shoes and socks were taken so they could not attempt to run away). Some students were in the QR for up to a month or more. During that time they could not speak to or look at other students. When I became a high-ranker I was assigned to bring one of the students who was in the QR a tray of dinner and I would whisper encouragement to them — a crime I would have been severely punished for had I been caught.
I myself experienced the dreaded “swats” once. My crime was that my housefather told me to clean the stove a certain way. In my mind all I heard was “mission: clean stove”, which I did. A day later I was dragged into one of the offices with Phil Redwine, Jeff Valerio, and one of my housefathers, where I was yelled at and pushed around for over an hour, by all three men. My housefather told me that I had cleaned the stove well, but since I did not do it the way he wanted — he admitted my way was more efficient, but it wasn’t his way — and so I was given swats for “not paying attention” and committing a crime I had no idea I had committed. Swats are administered with a leather strap. I had welts and bruises on the back of my butt and legs. After the swats I was then made to run casitas (my shorts rubbing against the back of my legs – I will never forget how painful that was) and then returned home to the end of dinner where one tiny crusty dry piece of pizza was left for me to eat, and no one was allowed to speak to me.
Another time one of my housefathers grabbed my ear and arm and dragged me to the back patio for punishment. Once again I had no idea what crime I had committed. My TG (target goal) that week was “first and fastest” so I had to be first at everything. Hence I ran to the house to be the first one there. My housefather yelled at me, got in my face, poked me in my chest numerous times, then slammed me up against the mops and brooms which were hanging on the wall because I stepped into the house before the housemother did (note: the house mom was still at least 10 minutes away from the house; I had absolutely no idea I was supposed to wait for her, because my group leader gave me permission to enter). I was then ordered to do pushups and squat thrusts (100 each) until I could no longer do them (and was then mocked). My housefather would put his boot on my back while I was doing push-ups to make it harder, while all the time making fun of me.
We were routinely dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to do calisthenics and get yelled at as punishment, usually for being a few minutes late on dishes or other chores.
One time I was encouraged to beat up a boy who had verbally harassed one of the girls in my house. The director of the program stood there while I pushed him to the ground and punched him over and over.
The most bizarre incident that occurred was when I was accused of smuggling drugs into the country. I had brought a bottle of vitamin E oil for my skin, and there were some granular-looking things at the bottom of the bottle. My boyfriend back in PA was trying to find a way to help me escape (unbeknownst to me at the time), and he wrote me a letter in code, which took the staff over a month to decipher (they read all my incoming mail first and decided what I could and could not read). Once they did, they concocted a crazy accusation that the escape and the “drugs” were all part of the same conspiracy. They told me they had sent this bottle of vitamin E oil to a lab to be tested and if it came back positive for drugs I would be in a world of trouble and sent to the QR. I was so freaked out I didn’t know what to think…maybe there were drugs in this bottle that I didn’t put there but would be punished for. Maybe I was being set up. I worried endlessly about the test results, which they said would be ready in a couple weeks. A month later I finally asked about it and their nonchalant response was that the results came back almost a month before; the test was negative and everything was ok. That incident only served to solidify my paranoia about everything. I turned into a walking time sheet, a robot, just to get through each day.
Describe abuse of other students you witnessed, if any:
When “bucket support” came into place, I was a high ranker and was required to supervise my “little sister” who had “the blues” (“the blues” is when you get diarrhea while your body adjusts to the Third World climate). She was punished by being forced to defecate into a bucket, and show it to her housefather. Other students were also forced to do this.
I remember sitting in the schoolyard, witnessing multiple cases of abuse daily. I often sat there in my sunglasses, tripping out on how surreal this scenario was, all the time weeping and hiding my tears behind my shades.
There was one guy named John, who had a learning disability and who was constantly being tortured. I remember once when he was in the QR (he was there multiple times) and had to spend hours each day scrubbing bricks we walked on with a toothbrush. He was always in the hot seat and I felt badly for him.
I remember one of the girls in my house — her first night being forced to drink a glass of milk (food portions were mandatory, decided by the housefather), even though she kept telling my housefather that she was allergic to milk. She finally drank the milk in tears, only to get sick and threw up a few minutes later. She was punished for that as well. She then had to do push-ups and be supervised in the bathroom.
I am won’t name any names (to protect the innocent), but one of my good friends was sexually abused by his group leader (in the Marion and Canada programs), and he wasn’t the only one. I can’t begin to express the outrage this brings up in me. The staff member was fired, but I don’t believe the program did anything to help the victims recover from what happened to them.
Do you have any good memories of The Program? If so, what are they?
The sunsets and countryside were breathtaking. The beauty of the land offered me solace. Going to the beach on days off was one of my favorite memories. I also appreciated certain staff members who made things bearable, like Patrick D. and Gwen, when they were our house-parents (those were my best memories of my time there; I will never forget them) and Mallory who was my group leader (I would like to reconnect with her). House-parents and group-leaders made all the difference because they set the tone.
What is your overall impression of The Program? Did it “help you”?
I didn’t really “need help” when I got there. I was a straight A student who excelled in sports and music. I was highly motivated. I had never had sex or done drugs before I was sent to the program. I did get caught drinking wine coolers once and being arrested after curfew, along with several other kids. Sure, I snuck out of the house occasionally, like many normal teenagers. My missionary parents were so strict and repressive I was not allowed to listen to rock music, wear makeup or go out on normal dates. Before being sent to “the program” I was sent to a Christian mental institution for two months because my parents found Vivarin (the caffeine pill) in my purse and thought I had a drug problem. They also did not like the fact that I was always arguing and questioning their rules. Instead of helping me, the program traumatized me to the point that it’s taken years to deal with all of the feelings and memories of abuse, and I am still coming to terms with it and also with the fact that my parents sent me there in the first place.
What do you think of the quality of education you received?
My greatest regret is the lack of education I received when there. I was expected to teach myself chemistry and geometry. We had no real classes. It was “work at your own pace”. If you didn’t meet their requirements you would lose points and so there were a couple times I cheated in geometry just to get by so I would not lose my level/privileges and be punished.
How old are you today?
Did you go to college after attending The Program? If so, what degrees do you have?
BA Liberal Arts and a still-to-be-completed Masters
What is your profession?
Education/social services and writing
Do you consider yourself a Christian today?
No. But what does being a Christian mean? Does it mean sending your kid to a school because you don’t feel like dealing with them and placing them in the hands of other “Christians” to “take care of you”? I have real issues with the word “Christian”. I consider myself to be deeply spiritual but not Christian.
Please feel free to add comments here:
I have a lot of mixed feelings about the school. The DR was better than being at home for me, and I bonded deeply with my girls and looked after them when I became a high ranker. Once I fell into the black and white reality the program created for us I embraced it (but not the abuse) and turned into a human machine — able to do anything: cleaning, hard labor, anything physical, I excelled in. It was empowering in a sick, twisted kind of way. My biggest regret leaving the DR was saying goodbye to all the people I had become close to. I made a real effort to look after my girls, since my high-rankers did not treat me well when I first arrived. They would outrank me on food and water and get me in trouble by telling on me and did not protect me.
Since the program I have gone through some tough times and would love to reconnect with students I was there with. To this day, I deal with anxiety and PTSD, and I often find myself consumed with thoughts and memories of my days at Escuela Caribe.
I am fascinated with Stockholm syndrome and brainwashing, which was a regular part of EC. I would like to study more about this and eventually go back to school to become certified in Logotherapy — which was started by Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps.