Alumni Questionnaire ← Back to Index

Meaghan Thomas

What is your name?

Meaghan Thomas

To which institutions were you sent?

Dominican Republic first, then Canada, then Marion, Indiana

How old were you (age when you arrived and when you left)?

I arrived a few weeks before my 15th birthday, I left a few weeks after my 17th birthday. The only way I got out before I was 18 was because my parents ran out of money.

When were you enrolled in The Program (arrival and departure)?

Sept 1997-Oct or Nov 1999

In which house(s) did you live (please include dates)?

Dominican - Starr House Sept 1997- May 1998

Canada Starr Cabin - Summer of 1998

Indiana - First Pitts off-campus house starting August 1998, then Dec 1998-Oct or Nov 1999 in Herrick House

What was the highest level you attained?

Dominican - 2nd

Canada - 5th

Indiana - 5th off points

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

My home was a volatile place thanks to a sociopathic and abusive father. Since the age of 9, I start fighting back with him and home life got progressive worse. My mother was Catholic and was often in denial about my father and how bad it was at home. She wanted to keep the family together above all else. As I got older, I started running away, then got involved in drugs, eventually hard drugs like heroin. Mom would call the police on my every time I ran away and I was placed in the juvenile jail system. I kept running away and would get locked up every few weeks for violating probation. I became a ward of the state. Eventually, my mom and the court decided I should go to out-of-state care (since I was a flight risk). My mom picked New Horizons thanks to a therapist referral and I was sent to the DR first, straight from juvenile jail.

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

I received swats - where grown men bent me over a table. They made me drop my shorts so I only had my underwear on. Then they whipped my behind with a large leather whip, narrowly missing my genitals. I was hit twice and the welts lasted for over a week. This all happened because on my (recorded and monitored) birthday call (one of our rare phone calls home) I asked my mom if she knew they practiced corporal punishment here.

Describe abuse of other students you witnessed, if any:

I saw boys get pushed and wrestled hard by grown men in “sessions”. I saw a child get punched twice. This often happened right outside the girl’s classroom and you could see it if the slats were open. I saw kids being forced to defecate publicly for punishment. I also witness staff making us and others do extreme labor and hours of exercises without proper rest or water, which I consider abusive as some kids would pass out.

We also didn’t have proper medical care. I believe I nearly died from drinking bad water and not received properly care. I was so sick and dehydrated, I was hallucinating.

My hand was also was cut by barbed wire trying to escape a charging bull. I could see my tendons and bone for days. They poured alcohol down my hand to clean it, along with scrubbing it with a wire brush. Both “treatments” were beyond painful. After 5 days of my complaining and begging for help, they finally took me town to get stitches.

I experienced and witnessed psychological and emotional abusive every day. They bragged about “breaking you down”.

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

My good memories come from the friends I met there (fellow prisoners). Even through they tried to prevent friendships from forming, we kept each other going.

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

It caused me extreme emotional turmoil and I still struggle with C-PTSD today because of it. I would have been better off sitting in jail until I was 18. I think the staff should be held criminally responsible for the abuses they carried out there.

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

Extremely poor. I got back to high school and had to drop out I was so far behind. I eventually got my GED and went to college, but it was an uphill battle to say the least. They made you teach yourself out of outdated books there. It was not a “school” by any means.

How old are you today?

36

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

Yes, I received a bachelors of Journalism from Columbia College.

What is your profession?

I was in marketing for a long time. My last job was Vice President of Marketing for an international cross-border e-commerce company. I recently left my career to write a book about my experience in the program and focus on my partner and my small business, an online organic spice shop.

Do you consider yourself a Christian today?

No.

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

Made me realize organized religion is dangerous, and I see it as one of the great threats to this world.

Please feel free to add comments here:

This was an evil place. It was an abusive cult filled with megalomaniacs who abuse children in the name of God though phycological, emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

It has traumatized thousands of children who are now adults still living with their trauma. Don’t underestimate the damage it has done. Too many of my friends are dead prematurely because of the abuse they suffered there. The program should be held accountable, but yet so many of the staff (who were abusive or who allowed the abuse to happen) are still working with youth today. It is hard to heal when there’s been no justice. If you know someone who went there, or if you sent your child there, listen to them. Their stories deserve to be heard. We were silenced for too long.

I’m writing a memoir about my experience, called ‘Zero First’. If you’re interested, you can read more of my story by visiting https://www.meaghant.com/

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