Alumni Questionnaire ← Back to Index

Deirdre Sugiuchi:

What is your name?

Deirdre Sugiuchi

To which institutions were you sent?

Escuela Caribe Jan 1990 - Jun 1991

Canada 1991

Marion fall 1991

How old were you?

15-17

When were you enrolled in The Program?

January 4th, 1990 - Dec 1991

What was the highest level you attained?

4th with weeks towards 5th

Please describe the circumstances that got you sent to The Program:

In which house(s) did you live?

DR: TKB

Marion: Herrick

Please describe instances of abuse you experienced while in the program, if any:

I entered the program compliantly because I thought it was a Christian boarding school. That impression was reversed my second night when my housefather (HF) made me perform exercises for hours. According to him, I had "an authority problem" at home. He made me do bear crawls, pushups and duck walks. He had me hold my arms out balancing books until I cried from pain. Such interrogations are typically used to brainwash individuals.

- When I entered the program I was very sick with an ear infection and strep throat. The staff ignored my illness. Later they said it was because they did not know if I was faking. I had to do the daily drills, and make it up the casita with my 6'4 (?) HF outrunning all of us girls. As a “low-ranker” I had to stay within an arms-length of him. On my first free day, I couldn't keep up with him (I am 5'4") when we hiked up a mountain, so he gave me push-up support- ten pushups for every five steps that we walked. Everyone else watched me. This continued until the house mother asked for a break. For the record, the supervising group leader did nothing to stop this mistreatment by the housefather.

When I was depressed it was viewed as something I could control, and my points were routinely slashed because of it. I got low points for “moodiness” when I became withdrawn.

- I was part of a group punishment session in which my entire house was forced to maintain a push-up position for hours. The house mom couldn't find a spatula. We were blamed for its disappearance. The session ended only when the house mom came in with the spatula, which she had misplaced. It hurt to laugh for days.

Once I moved up the levels and became a high-ranker, I had more responsibility. Part of this responsibility entailed narc-ing on my peers. Another responsibility was that I had to inspect the low-rankers to make sure their privates were soaped during showers. One girl did not wash herself properly; the housefather said he could smell her. He required all low-rankers to have their soaped privates inspected during showers. This was an edict of a HF who later became assistant director. For the record, all students had a maximum of fifteen minutes to wash, dress, and leave their personal areas in perfect order. Low-rankers usually had much less than 15 minutes. Her hygiene problems most likely resulted from not having enough time to wash.

The house fathers regulated how much food we ate at meals. My first HF enjoyed assigning a large amount of food to students. Many girls had a problem eating the large portions, not just me. His own wife, who was closer to our size, would eat about half of what he required us girls to eat. Eventually my stomach became accustomed to the portions, but I gained several pounds during my time in the program, despite spending the majority of my time working or completing forced exercises.

Describe abuse of other students you witnessed, if any:

During one of my first weeks in Escuela Caribe, my HF made a housemate do exercises for "becoming angry" during a counseling session. She “performed” exercises long past midnight; I could hear her outside the dormitory window. I learned from this incident never to express my true feelings about anything - not a healthy reaction in a supposedly “therapeutic” boarding school.

- Two girls were molested by a housefather, K. When the school administration learned of K's inappropriate conduct he was fired, but he was never prosecuted. At the same time, a male teacher, R, confessed to looking at pornography with K. Not only did the administration not discipline R, they later promoted him to housefather in a GIRLS' house (see Tara's questionnaire for details about living with him). A few years later, he was convicted by an Indiana court of molesting one or more girls in his charge.

These incidents should have never happened-the administration knew the staff member had predilections, but they ignored the danger signs, keeping R on staff. Furthermore, the administrator who failed to discipline R kept his position even after R. was convicted of sex crimes.

- One fellow student asked K, the HF, for permission to use the bathroom for 8 hours straight, but he wouldn't let her because he claimed she was being “manipulative in the way she asked permission.” After dinner that night, she could no longer hold it and urinated on herself in front of the whole house.

Another HF, JB, singled out a friend of mine. He played mind games with her, ignoring her requests to move from room to room. He abused her often in different sections of the house. We knew she was doing exercises; we could hear him yell. Once he ordered her to do pushups in front of the rest of the house, and when she was physically incapable of completing them (from exhaustion), he insisted that she continue. She kept falling and hitting the patio. The next day she had large purple bruises on her hipbones.

- There were several students in the program who had obvious mental health issues. Instead of getting the psychiatric help they needed, they were treated as if they had authority problems and kept on low levels. Being on a low level for a long period of time was the kiss of death in the program because the staff would single out low-level students for punishment and humiliation.

There are many more instances. I am in the process of writing a book detailing the abuse.

Do you have any good memories of The Program? If so, what are they?

I liked hiking in the pine forests. I enjoyed going to the aquarium. I liked going on privileges with Lisa, Liz and Doug, getting to know staff like Eric, Susie and Jay. I enjoyed participating in service projects. I made some friends. It was hard to form deep relationships because everything was monitored, and when you became close to someone, they would confront you for excluding others.

What is your overall impression of The Program? Did it “help you”?

No. I had several sets of house parents; the instability was difficult, especially since most were abusive and/or sadistic.

I am a teacher and have completed courses on teaching students with special needs. Everything the program does—the strict schedule, the point sheets, focusing on negative behavior, not the positive, etc.—is how you are not supposed to treat children, at least according to the research.

I would have been much better off had I gone to a normal, rather than punitive, boarding school, or if our family had gone to counseling.

What do you think of the quality of education you received?

Abysmal—we learned from workbooks.

As a teacher, I realize that a lot of my classmates at Escuela Caribe struggled in school because the administration made no attempt to accommodate different learning styles. Any deviance—behavioral, emotional, academic—was viewed as rebellion.

I learned to read at the age of four and have always been a self-learner. I attribute this skill to any academic success.

How old are you today?

38

Did you go to college after attending The Program? If so, what degrees do you have?

B.A. in English Literature, M.Ed. in Instructional Technology

What is your profession?

School Library Media Specialist, Writer

Do you consider yourself a Christian today?

I have spiritual beliefs but don't consider myself a Christian.

What effect did “The Program” have on your faith?

Before I entered the program I was a Christian. I was raised in a strong Christian family. Being in the program and being tortured in the name of God changed the way I felt about Christianity. I equate my experience there with religious abuse. I no longer participate in organized religion.

Please feel free to add comments here:

Despite their “certification,” staff members are not certified to treat students with special needs. Any program as isolated as the Escuela Caribe is almost guaranteed to be abusive, by virtue of its isolation.

According to the National Institutes of Health, boot camp programs like EC do not work, and may exacerbate a student's problems. What does work is utilizing family counseling to address dysfunctional relationships, as opposed to placing the burden of responsibility on the child, who is simply acting out in response to the family's problems.

Any program that restricts communication is suspect, especially at the level used by Escuela Caribe.

Escuela Caribe uses excessive physical punishment, emotional and verbal abuse to keep children under control. It has a history of neglecting the health of students.

Most of my classmates were sent to Escuela Caribe for minor offenses. However, isolating your child with other troubled children, makes deviance become that child's norm, practically guaranteeing they find it difficult to adjust to “normal” life after they are released or find “normal teens” as friends.

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