I really want to save kids' lives from the humiliation, the inhumanity, the conditions and treatment. If I suffer just a little more, It's a small price to pay.
I loved my life and all that I had going for me. I was a sophomore with decent grades, had a really cute boyfriend who treated me like a princess and some really awesome friends, I was always at parties, I had made a name for myself, everyone knew Jennifer.
I was born and raised in a small town not far from Seattle, called Poulsbo, Washington. I was raised by my mother and had very little contact with my father. They have been divorced for quite some time now. I attended school in Poulsbo and was considered part of the popular crowd. Life was good. But I came down with a mental illness called PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) on top of being bi-polar and having depression, and I started smoking marijuana, all when I was 14 years old. It wasn't documented until over a year later when my doctor told my mother that I was a good kid, I just had some issues that could be taken care of with the right dosage of medication. My mother and I were fine for awhile but soon things were back to the way they had been before. She and I started fighting more, and I was losing the good reputation I had worked so hard to achieve. I was slumping into average grades and since I had always been an "A" student with all the popular friends, my mother got worried, and when she worried, I suffered the consequences of her fears. The fighting went off and on for 2 more years. I continued to use marijuana, and looked for comfort in the back seats of cars. I didn't know how to communicate with my mother anymore. Maybe it was me finding my own path, maybe it was the fact that I was jealous of my little sister, maybe my medication dosage wasn't high enough, I don't know where it all went wrong. But it did.
Soon, we couldn't stand being in the same room with each other and I told her I was going to live with my father again. It was something we had tried a few years prior, but was an unsuccessful attempt, my father being more of a child than I was at that time. My mother and I had our final fight, and I left in the middle of the night to go to my father's house. When I arrived at my Dad's house, he said he understood what had happened. But he didn't want my Mom to worry so he called her and told her where I was. She wanted to talk to me but I refused. She told my father the cops would be there soon to pick me up, and not to tell me. So I left, I went to my boyfriend's house who lived within walking distance from my cousin who was also my best friend. I went back and forth between their houses for a little over a week. I quit my job so the cops wouldn't be able to find me there and I worried what I was going to do when summer was over and I had to return to school. I had nowhere to go, little time and no money to devise a plan. I went back to my cousin's house one morning to talk to her about my options. I later found out that my mother had manipulated her into telling her where I was. She and I were sitting down watching "The Never Ending Story" when there was a loud knock at the door. My Aunt went to get the door and she slowly walked to the living room. "Jenny, it's for you" she said in a disheartened tone and she looked at the floor, her eyes refusing to meet mine. I think at that moment my heart stopped beating as I looked at the officer who stood in the doorway. I couldn't move, I couldn't think, I couldn't breathe. All time just stood still and I knew my life was about to change drastically. I wish I hadn't been so right.
The officer talked to me for awhile and I just got more and more angry the more I heard. In Washington State a child can legally run away from home at the age of 16. If a parent wants a child arrested, they have to make false allegations. As the officer took me out of the house to the police car waiting in the driveway, my Aunt pleaded with me how much my mother loved me and how she was just trying to help me. I turned and looked my mother in the face, who had been in her car parked just down the street, and without any remorse, told her that I hated her. That was the first time I had ever told my mother that. I was taken from my cousin's house to the nearest juvenile facility, and held in CRC, a place for apprehended runaways. When they realized they had no reason to hold me, that I never tried to kill my family, which was the reason I was arrested in the first place. I sat in CRC and stewed about ways to get back at my mother. I refused her phone calls and sat quietly.
One day I was taken from the room and put in a conference room with my mother, father, and stepfather, and a few mediators. I pleaded to go live with my father because the relationship between my mother and I was not healthy and I felt like I couldn't forgive her for what she had put me through the past few days. She said, "I haven't decided what I am going to do with you yet, but you living with your father is not an option." My father and I both pleaded again. Again to no avail. I was escorted back to my room in CRC where I spent the rest of the day. The following morning I awoke and thought to myself, what's the worst she can do? That was the LAST TIME I ever even thought that about my mother. I got a phone call later that day from my Mom. She had made special arrangements for me to stay in CRC for a few extra days while she got the "details" set up. I asked her what she was talking about and she hesitated... "I'm sending you to a boot camp in Montana." I asked her what she was talking about and she began to explain, but every word she spoke made my blood boil hotter and hotter until the sound of her voice made me sick. I hung up on her and thought about my life and how it was going to change. I wasn't too upset because I thought it would give my body that edge I was looking for, I thought of it as a 24 hour live-in gym. And I wasn't too angry with the idea. I still thought it was unfair of my mother to do that to me. I felt like she was just tossing me out like a dirty diaper. My life was none of her business, but she was determined to make it hers.
The next day the phone was for me again. It was my Mom, and the CRC staff recommended that I hear her out. I obliged. She told me she changed her mind and a smile swept over my face. But before I could say anything she quickly added, I'm sending you to a behavioral program in Mexico. I threw the phone off the desk and it hit the floor. I screamed a few choice words and ran up the stairs to my assigned room. I had heard about these places, the places where really bad kids go. I kept thinking, all I want to do is live with my Dad. She came by to talk to me and I recommended to the staff that they NOT place us in the same room because they didn't want to deal with an assault charge on my record. I knew I wouldn't be able to control myself. So she dropped off the pamphlets and left. I read all about how "wonderful" Casa by the Sea was, In A beautiful part of Mexico, I can have the best schooling, meet life long friends, and be a happier person. I eased up on the idea. Okay, so my boyfriend and I would have to spend some time apart but I could still call him every night and write him and my friends. I was told "It's just like college, but you're not supposed to leave." I thought, cool, college? sounds alright, a few parties, maybe a little drinking, some cute boys for eye candy, catch a nice tan. And above all else, I didn't have to see my Mom. I was wrong. I wish I would have known how wrong I was.
But still in a defiant mind frame I told my mother they'd have to drag my dead body there, because I wasn't going. She said that she had already arranged the transportation. I was extremely confused when she said she had hired Rudy and Maria for $2,000 + expenses to escort me there.
Early in the morning on August 11th 2001 one of the staff members called my name to come get ready. It was about 4:30am, and I hadn't slept. I quickly showered, got ready, and waited until 6:00am for Rudy and Maria to show up. Rudy talked to me calmly and told me I could make this as easy or as hard as I wanted. I told him I would comply and he held my belt loop on my pants and I was told to put my hands in my pockets. I did as I was told and walked to the car, my mother was behind me crying and saying, "I love you Jennifer, I only do this because I love you." I shot her one last dirty look and got into the car.
"So are we driving all the way there?" I asked. They laughed from the front seat. "No silly we're flying" Maria replied. She was a very pretty Mexican who in the next 10 hours, I would really enjoy spending my time with. I was excited, I had never been out of the state, let alone out of the country, never been on an airplane, I was like a kid in a candy store, they kept saying all day long that they had never had an escort they liked as well as me. During our layover we went to In-and-Out Burger, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I had a blast that day, until we crossed the border and began the journey into Mexico. All around me was poverty, naked children, and boxes made into homes. I began to appreciate what I had left in the states.
"We're here!" Maria said. I looked at the gates in disbelief. "You're joking, right?" No. I wish they had been. We drove in and I was taken immediately and stripped of my belongings. My clothes were taken down to my underwear, in front of another student and a staff member. Everything was taken from me, and I was put into a uniform and placed into a classroom. Everyone looked at me but everyone looked the same. The student introduced me to the staff member in charge, but I didn't understand her. "Does everyone speak Spanish?" I asked. The student laughed and said, "you do too." "Good luck kid, this is Ginger, your new buddy, you'll do fine here, just allow yourself to change." Ginger asked the woman in charge something in Spanish and was given permission. She looked at me and said, "Okay we have permission to talk. This is the rule book" she pulled out a collection of about 20 papers that were in a folder, "you can have mine I've memorized it, and I don't need it anymore." She began to try to explain the rules to me. I was very confused. Soon I began to catch on though. She explained that Levels are gained by attitude, the level of change that has taken place within that person. It felt like a cross between a perfection contest and a cult. The prize? Everything you have ever known and loved.
I had never seen so many kids behave in such a fashion before. It was like they were programmed. It was very scary. The first week I was there, they couldn't find me a water bottle, so I didn't get any water until 9 days later when I was finally given one. It was Mexico in August and I was denied water! But that was just the beginning.
The night I arrived happened to be uniform night, where we turn in our dirty uniforms and get new ones. I was in line to get a new uniform when the girl in front of me was not paying attention and fell behind in line. I whispered loudly, "Run!" so she would not get in trouble. Little did I know that the staff would interpret that was a Category 4 rule violation: run away plans. Before I could understand what was happening, I was sent to "R and R" more commonly known as "room restriction." I was there for 2 days until I was dismissed by the headmaster.
In R and R you are to sit with your nose one inch from the wall, with your legs folded under the weight of your body, your arms are to be held behind your back, they cannot touch the floor, your back or each other; your back and neck must remain rigid and straight. Sooner than you might think, your arms fall asleep, your legs fall asleep, there is no blood going to them. They ache so badly it puts you into tears. They throb and just when you think you are going to collapse and endure the consequences, you get a bathroom break. 3 bathroom breaks. 3 meal breaks. Many people say, "If I were you I would have just told them to screw themselves" but I've heard the screaming that comes for R and R sometimes. I never found out what happened that made the girls scream like that but I never wanted to find out.
You are supervised by 3 staff members who socialize in Spanish all day long. They do not talk to you, nor are you allowed to talk to them. You may not request permission to do anything. If you have to use the restroom you wait until it is offered. Besides, these 3 particular staff members didn't understand English anyways so it would have done me no good.
When I finally got out of R and R, people looked at me like I was a trouble maker, like I didn't fit in. I felt like an outcast. Everyone seemed like they were perfect. I didn't understand the rules, the society, or the language. I hated my life. Every day I would daydream about another suicidal fantasy but one in particular still etches itself in my brain. My favorite of all my horrible mental illusions was getting as close to the window as I could, quickly grabbing a chair and breaking the window, then diving face first to the cement pavement 2 stories below. It seemed to be the only thought that made me happy for months. I knew I could do it. But I wanted so badly to come home and be with my best friend and my boyfriend again that I never did. I regretted my decision every night when I layed down in my bed and a staff member monitored me while I cried myself to sleep. I honestly can't tell you why I never did it. I heard of a girl that killed herself in Tranquility Bay, Jamaica, another one of the WWASP (World Wide Association of Specialty Programs) and I closed my eyes and watched her face become mine as I lived out my dream again in my head. I found out later that's exactly how she died. Apparently I wasn't alone.
I could tell you hundreds of stories of how, when it would rain, maggots would cover the ground and it was impossible to take a step without squishing them under your feet as you walked to the commodore to eat your meals of mystery meat, rice and beans. The malnutrition and stress either made you lose incredible amounts of weight, or gain obscene amounts. I went from about 115 to 168 in 8 months. (I gained more than twice as much weight in the 8 months that I was there, than during the 9 months I was pregnant.) Or how you were to undress in front of 30 girls, and be monitored while you were given 5 minutes to shower under a steady drip of cold water. If you drank the water you were to be given a category 5 (the highest consequence) and put in R and R for drinking the water, because it was considered a "self inflicted injury." The toilet paper was not to be flushed; it sat in a bucket next to the toilet where it ofter spilled over onto the floor.
The sleeping quarters had huge amounts of mold behind the beds and made many girls sick. The fungus grew so rampant, girls constantly got diseases on their feet. I got one. I asked numerous times for medical treatment and was given none, still to this day I don't know what I had, but it ate away at the skin on my feet until they cracked and bled. I was switched from a top bunk to a bottom bunk because I was unable to get in and out of bed anymore and walking and exercising was difficult but expected none the less. Nothing was done for me and my feet just got worse until I got home and was able to properly bandage my feet with sports tape and Neosporin. A few weeks later with daily foot baths the infection was gone.
Some of the worst experiences I have ever had to endure took place in that facility, but I think the worst ones were when our bathroom privileges were taken away, because either we were "abusing our privileges" by using the restroom too often or we were on code silence (where the whole facility is not to talk at all, for no reason whatsoever). Talking was our only means of communicating, with permission mind you, because ANY form of non-verbal communicating, from nodding your head to smiling was NOT PERMITTED. So when we went on code silence how were we to communicate that we had to use the bathroom? We didn't. We sat there until we were asked if we had to go. Many girls wet themselves. Myself included, on 2 separate occasions. We were denied our right as human beings to use the bathroom. It's humiliating to be a teenager and have to wet yourself in front of all of your peers.
Seminars were held every month and a half. From watching videos, and reading about cults, looking back I firmly believe that's what it was. A very intense brainwashing. They fish for what they want to hear and convince you of things that you have never thought of before. Some of it makes sense I guess but most of it is completely crazy, and I feel so naive for falling for it. It makes me feel completely ignorant looking back on it.
In my opinion, Casa by the Sea is a brainwashing facility and a cult. I could write for days about the horrors going on there, but if you haven't lived it you will never know.
You'll never know whats it's like to be taken from your life against your will; to be brainwashed, stripped of your personality only to have it replaced by something that somebody created and placed in your head; to be abused mentally, emotionally, and in many cases physically; to be publicly humiliated and broken.
The horror doesn't stop there. I was pulled from the program when I was 17. When I turned 18 I knew my mother could never send me back, and I was like a loose tiger escaped from the circus. I went crazy. I dropped out of school, got in the worst fights of my life with my mother and with random people. I lived on the streets, did more drugs than ever before, and became a dancer to support my new habits. I self destructed and destroyed everything. I know everything I did was my choice. But I believe that it was a direct result of what I had gone through.
These programs are bad for the children, in the long run, bad for the parents, and awful for society. I still don't understand why someone would pay a facility to abuse and neglect their child.
It's been hard for me to tell you all of this. It brings on nightmares even now, more than 2 years later.
I'm married now and have a family of my own now. I have a beautiful baby girl. On the outside, I look fine. But I still cry in my sleep. I know that these memories will always haunt my life and my dreams.
WWASP, if you read this, I want you to know you put me through the worst experience of my life. When I think about my time there, I can't help but to get horribly depressed or intensely angry. In a word: hate. Hate for every minute of everyday that you stole from my life. And every time that I think about your program it makes me sick. You taught me lessons of survival that no child should be forced to learn. You tried to break me but I won. And I will keep winning every time someone reads my story.
See Related: The lessons I learned at Casa by the Sea , By Sarah Barlow, August 6, 2005
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