On his fifteenth birthday, Daniel Satterlee
was arrested for breaking and entering
He had been gone from the home for three days previous after a heated argument with his parents. He had not attended school in a week. There was no apparent progress with Daniel's drug counseling sessions after a stash of marijuana was found in his room. Afraid for their son's welfare, the Satterlees were now desperate for something, anything, to stem the tide of teenage rebellion.
They went to the internet, searching for information on schools for 'troubled teens'. They found a program which seemed perfect for their son. It promised a full rehabilitation; within not too long a time their son would learn integrity, discipline, and respect. He would resist at first, but it would not take long for a turn-around through the program's tried-and-true method. The skills he would learn at one of their schools would serve him throughout life, letting him achieve the dreams of which the Satterlees knew him capable. And he would return the tough love of his parents a thousand fold. The program's presentation was crisp and persuasive. The parent and student testimonies were heart-warming. Feeling that they had finally found a way to end the agony of helplessly watching their son fall into ruin, the Satterlees signed him up.
The escort service came at night, as recommended by the program. Daniel physically resisted. They were forced to handcuff him. It was almost too painful for Mrs. Satterlee to watch, her son being carried away in a van toward a plane leaving for another country. But the Satterlees knew they were doing the right thing.
They might not have been so certain, had they looked deeper. They were not aware of the appalling sanitary conditions of the program's network of schools, nor that such conditions and allegations of abuse had caused branches to be closed in Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Czech Republic by their respective governments. They were not aware of the manipulative, indoctrinatory instruction to which both they and their son would have to submit in order to even be allowed to speak with one another. They were not aware that the program's method was little more than crude, animalistic behaviorism taken to its most barbaric and separated entirely from its valid Psychiatric background. They were not aware that their child would not receive proper medical treatment. They were not aware of the complete lack of independent oversight of the program. But most of all, they were not aware of the sickening physical and psychological torture that Daniel would be forced to undergo, torture that could cause irreparable damage to Daniel's mind, or even kill him.
The World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools failed to inform them.
The World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools provides to its associate Programs services that enhance the Program's effectiveness relative to their respective student populations. These services enable Program Staff to better focus attention to their Students and Families thereby improving and strengthening those relationships. WWASPS provides a name recognition that is synonymous with quality youth programs, providing the highest in education and specialty program services available. WWASPS serves as a central point for screening new and improved services that can be shared with all associated Programs. (WWASPS Mission Statement)
The World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, or WWASPS, was established by Robert Lichfield in St. George, Utah as a non-profit organization in 1998, incorporating a few schools and a network of consultation services under one umbrella organization called the "Teen Help" system. The organization draws its roots from a disciplinary school of the 1970s, Provo Canyon Boys' School, "which the state of Utah closed down in the late 1970s because of abuse, neglect and maltreatment of clients" (Adams). The organization is very much a family business, with sons and nephews serving as directors of various nominally independent programs which all feed into the "Teen Help" system. For example, Jay Kay, the head of the Tranquility Bay WWASPS school in Jamaica, is son of the company's CEO, Ken Kay.
While parents often utilize the WWASPS' wide array of seminars and counseling services, it is best known for the schools it runs. These institutions are scattered across the country and in other countries. Youth can be sent there either by being volunteered by parents, or through a court order.
There are currently eight schools run by WWASPS. Only one outside of the United States remains: Tranquility Bay in Jamaica. The schools have different focuses, some promising academic achievement, while others stressing healthy outdoor living. All operate under the same developed program for rehabilitating the teens.
The basic idea of the WWASPS program is a reward and punishment system. Students have no set release date from the schools. Rather, they must progress through a series of six levels in order to graduate. They enter at level one, where they have no privileges. They are not allowed to move, speak, go to the bathroom, or do anything else without explicit permission. They are assigned higher level 'buddies' who watch and accompany them everywhere, even to the bathroom. There is absolutely no privacy. Through obedience and good behavior, students can be moved up through the levels at the discretion of a counselor. With each level come greater privileges, eventually including the responsibility of supervising lower level students. Displays of bad attitude or disobedience are punished by a reduction in points, which may be enough to set the student back a level. Infractions as small as rolling one's eyes can garner punishment, both from staff and from other students with authority. They can also be punished for not reporting infractions by others, establishing a classic Prisoner's Dilemma.
Students continue their education in the school. "The curriculum is individualized and competency based, allowing students to work at their own pace, and maximize the learning process" (WWASPS). The reality of this situation is that students follow correspondence courses in which they are given a textbook, instructed to take notes, and tested after each chapter by a standardized curriculum. There are no qualified teachers available, though students may ask questions of staff. There is no instruction, nor any variation in the curriculum beyond that provided through the correspondence course. Studies can be disrupted and discontinued at any time by staff.
To supplement education, instructional material in audio and video form is constantly provided. This 'emotional growth' program instructs students on various moral themes, for example why they should respect figures of authority, refrain from smoking, or eat healthily. Special broadcast sessions are scheduled and the emotional growth material also accompanies meals and freetime. Instructions are repeated in order to ensure retention. Students are required to regurgitate the information in written form at the end of the day, with consequences for inaccuracy.
Students also meet daily with their 'families', groups of twenty or so other students and a moderator. They undergo group counseling in which they encouraged to share thoughts about problems they have faced and how they hope to deal with them. Other students are encouraged to respond. The moderator guides the meetings to each individual and requires an input. Students who do not conform with the family meetings face punishment.
Beyond reduction in levels and the accompanying loss of privileges, there are other disciplinary measures. Certain categories of infractions, such as standing with feet apart, fidgeting, or glancing somewhere without permission result in the assignment of writing. Students must write a five thousand word essay on why they should not have broken the rule and how they will not do so again. The triviality of the offense is inconsequential. Another more serious threat to students is 'observation placement'. During this period, students are required to lay face down on a concrete floor. They are observed constantly by staff members. They must remain completely motionless. This continues for about eighteen hours, with brief periods of time allowed to sit up in order to eat meals, after which they are allowed to sleep on the floor outside the observation room, still being watched. If they do not sincerely seek forgiveness for the offence which placed them in OP, they must continue for another day. Students leaving observation placement begin again at level one, with zero points.
Allegations of Abuse
One time when I was there, I think it was around May, I believe, a girl jumped off the roof of the girl's facility and killed herself and the staff, they went to the male's line area to pull towels off the line to go pick her up and put her in Mr. Kay's car and one of them was mine and soon afterwards there were some upper levels passing out the towels that the staff had used and one of them is mind and I had about...I had a spot of blood about, somewhere about the size of a dinner plate on my towel; there was some of her hair on it. They used it to pick her head up; I'm pretty sure. I told the staff about it and nothing was done about it; they said don't worry about it. I had to dry off with that towel for about three weeks before something was done about it. (Testimony of former student Aaron Kravig under court oath)
Despite the slick, rosy picture presented by WWASPS, there have been many accusations of gross misconduct and neglect on the part of the numerous schools, especially Tranquility Bay. Authorities closed schools in Mexico and the Czech Republic due to wanton violation of students' basic human rights. Authorities in Costa Rica encouraged students of the school there to leave and assured it would give them legal protection, prompting students to riot and break free of the facility en masse. Even when things go according to the program's ideology, their conduct in an individual parent's home would be far and away enough to send Social Services sweeping in faster than one could say, "Gross abuse and negligence." Unfortunately, they cannot be held accountable in the same fashion that incompetent parents can. It is evident that unconscionable psychological and physical harm is done in the process of 'rehabilitation'.
Conditions in the schools would not be considered suitable for the care of minors by anyone in their right minds. The food served is nutritionally deficient and repetitive, being given just at the time when it's important to provide teenagers with a proper diet. Food is reluctantly altered to meet vegetarians' needs, but this is a merely a change from bait fish in brine to beans in grease. The physical conditions of the facilities as well are intolerable:
The showers, they were always cold; they didn't have any heads on them, the water just kind of flowed out of them. The showers were very unsanitary. There was...There was visible layers of dirt, grime, filth, mildew on the sides of the shower stalls on the floor. There has been like various parasites, visible bugs, maggots; things like that. (Kravig 7)
There have been testimonies about raw sewage
on the floors, insects flying through open windows, and no air-conditioning even during times of extreme heat.
While WWASPS asserts that OP punishment is not used often, student testimonies declare otherwise. According to them, it is handed out as a very regular punishment, and not abated without full psychological surrender to the staff. Some non-complying students must remain in isolation for months. Jay Kay himself admits that the record holding female student spent, on and off, "18 months lying on her face" (Last Restort). Students cannot continue their education or have contact with anyone during these punishment proceedings. The floor on which they lie is filthy, covered with urine when students are not allowed to go to the bathroom and sweat when they are forced to complete unreasonably rigorous exercise at the end of the day. Students are often restrained, having a several staff members hold them to the floor and hyperextend their arms and legs to the point of breaking for hours at a time. A former student testified under oath during a court preceding about the torture:
I've seen the director of the facility doing it himself, restraining a kid. We were walking up from night head count and we could hear screaming; you always heard screaming, that was...That was an every day, many times a day thing; you would be sitting in school or you would be trying to go to sleep and you would a kid being restrained and he would just be screaming his lungs out from pain. (Kravig 28)
There have also been reports of students hogtied in such positions. This punishment can be meted out on a whim and continued for as long as the school or camp staff see fit.
Despite WWASPS' assurance, actual conditions in family meetings are anything but supportive. The group counsel sessions are used as a method of psychological humiliation to beat students into submission. Students are required to share their deepest traumas and secrets with the group; and if they have none, to make some up. The other students are then encouraged to lambast, not support, their peer. Non-compliance with the vicious pile-on is grounds for punishment. Information disclosed in the group sessions would is regularly used later by a student's moderator for jeering, emotional blackmail, and punishment.
Students are instructed to betray each other regularly in order to advance in levels. There can be no trust between students, nor any development of strong emotional bonds, which is one stark difference among many between this program and military training. They are encouraged to lay into each other as part of 'emotional growth'. "You can't trust anyone. It's not us against them. It's everyone against you" (Last Resort). The complete isolation from one another forces students to become entirely reliant upon the whims of staff members, only able to advance through complete surrender. In this respect, the program bears much similarity to brutal methods of training animals. All ability to decide things for oneself is removed, through a combination of small rewards and harsh punishment on a semi-arbitrary, flooding basis. Animals become completely dependent and subservient to the trainers. Any expectation of human dignity is entirely lacking in the program.
The repetition of 'emotional growth' instruction greatly mirrors that of brainwashing. Students are physically and psychologically punished for any deviance from the emotional growth program, sometimes for specific reasons and sometimes on a whim. The only way to move ahead in the program is to parrot back what one is taught robotically, internalizing it as the only method of protecting oneself from intense physical and mental anguish. Thought and reflection on what is being taught is strongly discouraged in favor of rote memorization and programmed response. The student's personality and individuality is beaten into nonexistence, then replaced with what the school desires. "
The treatment of all the students together was like extremely disrespectful. we were treated as if each of us was the same exact person; that we were all worthless, basically" (Wise 98). They can only escape the hell by becoming automatons.
Students within the facility, many of whom have serious mental and physical illnesses that require professional treatment, have no access to qualified staff. In the unsanitary environment they can easily contract parasites such as scabies, which are allowed to go for months without treatment. There is not even a doctor present at the facilities, only a nurse and a nominally independent psychologist who is selected as a staunch, uncompromising supporter of the WWASPS. The treatment for students with eating disorders consists of forcing them to eat at least 50% of their meals and having them ridiculed in front of their family. The extreme stress can be of significant harm to students with unipolar depressive or bipolar disorder, often with tragic consequences. On August 10th, 2001, Valerie Herron killed herself by jumping off the roof of the Tranquility Bay institution, despite extremely rigorous measures intended to prevent students from doing so. The event was both a grave reflection of the school's abuse and an emotional trauma for the student body. It was handled in an extremely unprofessional and sickening manner:
We weren't like really given any chances to talk about it and it was really frightening because it was just like it happened out of nowhere and no one really wanted to know how we felt about it and the staff just acted like it was something that was normal, that happened every day, and it was like standard procedure. (Wise 99)
Students having finished the program have reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
. Teens will wake up screaming in the middle of the night, months after having left one of the schools, out of fear that they might be forced to return.
Roping Them In
I truly know of no organization on earth that can offer a troubled teen the support, love, structure and tools for growth that this one does, and I had no idea it even existed. (Parent Letter of Appreciation)
With several investigations, court testimony, and eyewitness accounts verifying the bestial nature of the WWASPS schools, why has the system been so successful; continuing to recruit parents and producing happy, well-adjusted graduates? The dissonance is caused by the way in which the WWASPS is run, an ingenious combination of marketing and indoctrinatory skills which keeps parents and students strongly attached to the program and yields results which superficially achieve the goal of pacifying teen rebellion.
Much of the abuse in the WWASPS schools is allowed because parents have absolutely no idea that it's occurring. Students of the school and their parents are kept strictly separated from each other until the organization has established exactly the structured discourse it wants. Communications begin with weekly letters that students are required to write to their parents. The WWASPS follows up the letter with a call to the parent's home asking them to read the letter aloud. If there any complaints about conditions at the school, anything at all that indicates abuse, well-trained representatives will reassure the parent over the phone that their child is lying, then report back to the school. Students are punished harshly for complaints of any kind, usually OP with long-term restraint. Subsequent letters are usually far more congenial.
About six months after entering the school, parents have the chance to finally talk with their child over the phone, but not until they attend a seminar sponsored by the WWASPS over delinquent teen behavior. During the seminar, parents are told exactly what they want to hear, and also guided toward behavior and attitudes that will keep them close to the organization. They are told that complaints about such things as, "malnutrition, intolerable conditions, psychological abuse, or physical abuse," are extremely common and long-recognized techniques by which teens manipulate their parents into removing them from the program. Thus, any possible complaint is cut off at the source, falling on deaf ears that consider it 'manipulation'. The method by which teenage appeals are neutralized resembles that employed by many cults, which internalize all experience within their own system. One can draw a comparison to churches brushing aside allegations of misconduct by stating that they are being made by servants of Satan.
Parents are also held to the school through financial obligations. Tuition can range between $25,000 to $40,000 a year (and remember, this is paying for the conditions described in the previous section). That can be a hefty checkmark on anyone's bill, but matters are made worse by many hidden fees within the program. Having students evaluated for basic health needs, consulted by an 'independent' mental professional, audited by the program, and removed from the school all come with automatic fees in the range of $300 each. Special visits are also charged. To help stave off these costs, parents who recruit another child into the program receive a voucher for one month's tuition. This is what allows the organization to provide so many readily-available testimonies for prospective clients, the parents consulted are being paid for their time. The financial motivation for widening the schools' support has the aura of a scam.
To nay-sayers, the school often points to a choice selection of graduated students who maintain that the experience was good for them. The parents declare their love for the program and how it reformed their sons and daughters, transforming them from hellions into the perfect children. Beneath the surface, however, the metamorphosis seems more a product of deep, consistent mental reprogramming than any actual intellectual change:
'I'd be living on the streets now. And I think one of the biggest things I've learnt here is that everything happens for a reason. I came here for a reason. You see, I just wasn't meant to be living the life I was living. I wasn't meant to be homeless.'
So who is meant to be homeless? 'What?' She looks thrown, before putting the question aside. 'If my mom hadn't sent me here I would have died.'
That without Tranquility they would be dead is an article of faith among all the students.
I ask one how they would have died. 'What?'
It soon becomes apparent that despite all having been programmed with the script of their near death, no one has paused to wonder how it would have happened. (Last Resort)
The interviewed students exhibited traces of brainwashing. Others who have worked through the entire program and graduated declare without reservation their disgust for the WWASPS and its abusive conduct. The testimonies between students and their parents are consistent and reinforce one another. The program has tried to discredit
many parental critics by pointing out that their children are often caught up in custody dispute
s, with one parent sending the child to the schools and the other trying to retrieve him. This ignores the issue that the bitter fighting that results from a custody dispute can both encourage a teenager to act out and egg a parent toward throwing up his or her hands in disgust.
The weight of evidence through court cases, investigative journalism, and individual parent advocacies strongly suggests to me that the WWASPS has been maintaining a consistent program of abuse in their schools system while pursuing the lucrative business of relieving parents of their troublesome children.
As a brief aside, I've left the issue mostly alone, but it's important to note that it is not just juvenile offenders who are sent to these schools. Parents may commit their children to the WWASPS for any reason, from a consistent pattern of minor crimes to something so innocuous as 'choosing an inappropriate boyfriend' or not being friendly enough. It's important not to overly dramatize the situation regarding these schools, to prevent the already-chilling effect of the straight facts from being diminished. Nonetheless, if you are a teenager and seriously feel in danger of being sent to one of these schools by your parents, I would strongly encourage you to resist. There are several things you can do.
One important task is to keep yourself informed about the situation. There is plenty of information available on the internet about the WWASPS beyond just the sources I've listed. Read both sides and make your own decision. A good bit of information to know is the location of the schools, since parents who don't wish to use an escort service are often encouraged to organize 'spontaneous road trips' to bring their child to a school in the area. Being taken by an escort service is more difficult to avoid; they arrive in the early morning around two or three A.M. for the element of surprise and can legally restrain you. They also may take you in a public place. If this is happening to you, make as much noise as possible. Yell rape, scream that you are being hurt, fight back, do absolutely anything to attract attention to yourself. Police are obligated to help you first and foremost, the legal particulars must be resolved later. Keep the phone number of a lawyer on hand and seize any opportunity you can to call him or her.
Preventative measures can also be taken. Contact child protection services in your area, government-run or otherwise, and keep them updated. Tell a trusted friend or adult your suspicions and make sure they know all of your contact information. If the situation is serious enough, you can file emancipation papers in some states as early as the age of sixteen. You will probably be required to show that you can support yourself and you have no serious medical conditions, but having them successfully approved will remove all legal authority your parents could possible have to send you away. Finally, let your parents know what's lying beneath the glossy brochures and slick videos. Give them the evidence of misconduct yourself. It is an extremely rare parent who would willingly send his or her child into such a situation if informed about it.
"The Last Resort," The Observer Magazine. June 29, 2003. http://education.guardian.co.uk/classroomviolence/story/0,12388,987932,00.html
"World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools," June, 2003. http://www.wwasp.com/default.htm
Adams, Brooke. "Founder's Passion is Helping Youths," The Salt Lake Tribune. May 25, 2003. http://www.sltrib.com/2003/May/05252003/Utah/Utah.asp
Weiner, Tim. "Parents Divided over Jaimaca Disciplinary Academy," The New York Times. June 17, 2003. http://nospank.net/n-k52.htm
Kilzer, Lou. Desperate Measures. http://www.denver-rmn.com/desperate/site-desperate/mpg4-desperate.shtml
Kravig, Aaron. Tranquility Bay court testimony, Gina Farmer v. William Mitchell, Tazewell County, Virginia.
Wise, Lindsey. WWASPS court testimony, Gina Farmer v. William Mitchell, Tazewell County, Virgina.
How to Avoid Abduction - http://www.teenliberty.org/How_to_Avoid_Abduction.htm