Two CEDU Stories

Two Stories recently submitted from CEDU/RMA Survivors:

RG’s Story

I went to RMA in 1984 and graduated in 86.  I was 16 at the time I went up there and had a decent idea what the program would be like from what my parents said.  Although, who could possibly have imagined that a place like that existed.  If you haven’t been in a place like that, you just can’t imagine it.

My parents took me to a high school placement counselor in Atlanta who told me she wasn’t sure she had found a place for me at that time.  Then a month or so later, my parents said they were sending me to a wilderness school in Idaho where the counselors were really nice and they didn’t allow any violence between the students and they had group sessions where you could talk about your feelings.  (Doesn’t that just sound really great??)  I knew my parents.  I could fill in the blanks.

My parents and I took a flight to Sandpoint, Idaho.  When we arrived, we got in a rental car and drove to Bonners Ferry.  A boy named Bailey showed me around the school and we took a short walk in the woods.  Afterwards, the staff went through my bags, checked the seams of my underwear for, drugs, apparently, and strip searched me.  Bailey was a good guy and ended up being my dorm head for the first few months while I was there.

I have no mixed feelings about the program.  Sure I did some great things while I was there.  I had some good experiences, learned a lot and made some good friends.  I was 18 when I left, and, yes, I was a lot more mature, then, than when I arrived.

RMA,CEDU, et al were the product of a self-indulgent furniture salesman’s idea that what’s right for a drug addict strung out in the gutter is right for a teen who’s having trouble coping with school or growing up.  The program was run by a bunch of abusive, self indulgent, narcissists/sadists who loved staying on top of us students as close to 24/7 as they could–prying into every aspect of our personal lives, subjecting us to theirs, and expecting us to smoosh with them, WHAT THE HELL?  I liked smooshing with girls, but I can’t say I ever did it with a guy unless someone, often a staff member, wanted me to.  Well, there was always something you were expected you to be doing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think being close to your friends is wonderful, but that just never seemed natural to me.  If it did to you, great!

In raps, the staff expected that we all had all these things that we felt bad about.  I copped to a few things I actually felt bad about and, apparently, they just weren’t extreme enough for the drug addict, ex-con, ex-gang member, etc. staff.  The stuff  they expected, most of which, I hadn’t done, and the few things I had, I didn’t feel bad about, but that would be actual honesty.  They wanted their usual, sick, over the top stuff.  I’d never lit anyone on fire, prostituted myself, or had sex with animals, for instance.  (I still haven’t, incidentally.)  People who do interrogations seem to say if you push someone hard enough, they will give you information (of some sort or other).

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve told this story since I left:  This man came to visit the campus as people did sometimes.  We were usually told, “This is John visiting from Burbank.” and not much more.  I don’t recall his name, but he was introduced by one of the staff members as his friend, so-and-so.  I spoke to him, briefly.  He asked me a few questions about the school.  I don’t recall much of the conversation.

The next day I was indicted in a rap by one of the staff.  Why do you think?  Had I said something I shouldn’t?

Here’s how the indictment went:

That guy who was here, yesterday…He had something to say about you…

You can imagine what this was like.  I had just met this guy and had no idea what this was about.  But obviously, I was going to have, possibly, a whole room full of people screaming at me about it—and that was eminent.

Of all the students here he could have picked out, he said you were one kid we should keep an eye on.  He said, “If anyone here is going to commit suicide it’s him.”  And he’s someone who knows these kinds of things.

Well I remember being shocked at how totally off base that accusation was.  Unfortunately, my “Who is this guy? He doesn’t know me from Adam.” argument didn’t seem to hold any weight.  In fact, I think I said exactly that!

The thing was, in raps, if someone pointed the finger at you, you were the victim.  You were either the victim of whatever they came up with and you needed to run your feelings about it—or you were their victim until things turned away from you.  You could argue in your defense, but if you did, it was just for your own sake.  It just didn’t seem to matter.  Generally, it made things worse for you.  There were times, like this one that I thought I totally debunked the claim against me, and it just never made any difference.  It was the helplessness that, even now after 25 years, writing this, thinking about that situation, I just found myself fantasizing about beating up the rap coordinator and ending everything, and then having everyone go home.

Some students just cried.  I just don’t seem to cry easily.  Sometimes when the heat was on for a really long time, I would try to, hoping I could get them to move on to someone else.  A couple of times I actually did it, at least a little.  It did seem to focus things elsewhere.

Usually, the focus would turn to someone else, and sometimes what happened to them would be a lot worse than what they had just been getting at you for, but you would be glad the heat was off of you.  We all got it.  I felt bad when it was someone else’s turn, but that was the way it was.  It was nice when it was over, and, especially, when a rap was finally over, and you could go outside and have a few minutes to yourself, calm down, and relax for a while.

So what do you tell a 17 year old kid who is, supposedly, troubled and having a hard time—especially because of the school he is in—that things will be fine; he should just work hard and enjoy his life, take up a new hobby.  How about, “You’re going to commit suicide some day?” and then have a whole lot of people yell at him right after you say it for twenty minutes or so?

I remember being told by a staff member in one of the workshops, the story of a former Cedu student who was doing a lot of drugs, was so totally out of his mind on drugs that he put a single bullet in the cylinder of his revolver. And then he spun the cylinder, put the gun to his head and … well, apparently, he went to Cedu afterwards to tell the story.

I kept up with Bailey for about six months to a year after I graduated.  I don’t know whether he filled the cylinder or not, but I miss him.

With respect to Melissa’s post, I took a look at Carlbrook’s website and found quite a few familiar names on the faculty list, eg.:

Glen Bender
Tim Brace
Justin Merritt

carlbrook.org – faculty | saved html

Sam’s Story

CEDU Circa August 1990

It startled me to learn how similar some of the circumstances that led me to the “Therapeutic Boarding Schools” industry were.

I , not unlike thousands of teenagers, disapproved of homework. What can’t you teach me in two hours that I should have to go home and study for another two hours, per subject? I also disapproved of waking up before eight am. I still disapprove of that to this day.

I was fifteen and I liked boys. I loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and spent all my money on arcade games with my friends in China Town. Growing up in Manhattan there was an endless myriad of adventures to be had. When I was alone, I would spend my time drawing, locked away in  my room in my own little world. Often at times I would drag my sketch book to any number of museums or libraries. I had a thing with libraries. When most kids my age said they were going to the library, they were usually out running the streets or making out somewhere. Not me, I really liked the library, maybe because it was an entire brownstone of books that dated back centuries. Original copies dating back to the early 1800’s on Billy the Kid, and The Coming of the Fairies by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were among some of my favorites to tote around with me.

As I got older, my interest in fairies and the wild west took a different turn. I started to study the occult. It had always been a fascination of mine, all aspects of it. I began to hang out and study at a place called Magickal Childe. I loved it there. I mostly hung around in the corners listening to people talk, trying to get a glimpse of the secret back room, or get up enough nerve to ask questions. I was the only one of my friends that never were screamed at or thrown out, and this little fact made me happy.

I also became fascinated with abandoned buildings and subway stations. I used to ride in the first car on the old A-trains. There were no locks on the door at the front, beyond it was a small metal platform, and a single bar set for a rail. So naturally, I would open it and stand there. Other than the fact that it was highly dangerous, it was amazing. Watching everything fly by me, the stale wind in my face.  Men in holes off to the side, old abandoned train stations, with elegant tiling and mosaics all covered in graffiti.   I remember stopping in the tunnel, waiting for another train to pass, right in front of one such abandoned station, the date on it was from the 1920’s. I always thought that was so cool.

When I would get home at night, I would tell my parents of the day’s adventures. That never turned out well. My interests were always considered childish and stupid. If I wanted to become an archaeologist, I was told that you had to be smart for that. “A lot of studying is involved, you obviously are not cut out for it.”

I was also constantly confronted on my weight. My mother has an eating disorder, not that she is too skinny or too fat, she just constantly obsesses over it. She once chased me down the block with a piece of cake in my hand, yelling, “I will not have a fat daughter.” These things tend to leave their mark on a child.

I’ve been in therapy since I can remember. For one reason or another, I needed it. I never really knew why. I was always asked, “Why do you think you need to be here?”
My response was, “I thought that was your job to tell me?” It was like talking to a water wheel. I’ll admit I wasn’t the perfect kid, but I was nowhere near as bad as the kids that got to go home.

Countless doctors told my parents that I was ADD and just a bad kid. No real answers just hypothetically tagged my ear and pumped me full of whatever new cure-it-all drug that was on the market at the time.

It was January-ish and I was sixteen,  when my family therapist, Dr. Dicker, (I kid you not) sent me to Unit 2-South.  I was asked ‘why I thought I was there’.

My response was something along the lines of, “Looks like a nice vacation spot, thought I’d try it out.” My humor was unrequited, as I believe it is in the job description to be a humorless putz if you worked in this facility. Hence my new therapist, Dr. Picker.  Again, I kid you not. I went from Dr.  Dicker to Dr. Picker, and no one saw the humor in this. I must be crazy.

This man, Dr. Picker, told me I would amount to nothing more then a street walker. Needless to say we did not have good verbal communication. Six months later, he told me I was never going home.

I arrived at CEDU  early one morning to some overtly happy people. I remember bits and pieces of what happened next. I was introduced to what I believe was called a “big sister”. Someone who was appointed to mentor me through my adaptation. I don’t remember her name. She was a nice girl, solemn but friendly. She had long blonde hair, and that’s about all I remember of her description. There was a sense of urgency in her voice when she spoke to me about rules. I could hear fifties music playing in certain buildings as she toured me around the campus. It was explained to me that music was not allowed, only this one particular oldies station. As we walked around another boy came up and introduced himself. Again I cannot remember his name. He too was blond and was dressed in the same plain shirt and slacks as everyone else we came across. He greeted us with a fully pressed on toothy grin. He too was way too friendly, explaining to me that CEDU  had saved his life, because  he listened to rap music and was in a gang. The boy had no personality other then the plastic smile sewn on his face. It was as if he were in a trance.

“Oh?” I said, “What gang?” The smile disappeared and he mumbled something goofy that made no sense. She sweetly informed me that I was not to discuss such things as they were negative.

I began to notice that there weren’t many students around and the ones that I did meet were cookie cutter images of each other. It was like the “Stepford children”. I remember thinking ,“This can’t be normal.” Everything about the place screamed creepy.

We reconvened with my parents and after I said my goodbyes with a nice right to my father’s chest, I was led to a meeting.

We walked into a room where chairs were set in a circle. All the kids sat leaning over staring at the floor and no one spoke. Two adults walked in and took me outside. They explained to me that we were in the middle of nowhere and running away was a bad idea, as they knew these woods like the back of their hands. They also explained that some kids over the years had gone missing. They took a few Polaroid pictures of me so they had something to give the police should I go missing as well.

After that, I was escorted to the bathroom where the strip search took place. Cavity search to be exact. Not by an adult but by another female student, or at least she couldn’t have been more then 17. She was being told what to do by another adult female.

After that invasive experience, I was led back to the circle of chairs. A girl was speaking about how she had gone home on a vacation and was “bad” because she listened to inappropriate music, but only because her mother had turned on the car radio. They started yelling at her, admonishing her for being weak and pathetic. She was in tears as they continued to scream in her face. All the while, I’m thinking, “You have got to be kidding me. This is just stupid.”

Little did I know it was about to get worse. It was another girl’s turn to speak. This poor girl has haunted me ever since. Apparently, she too had gone home for her father’s funeral. The man had committed suicide while she was at CEDU.  She described sitting in the chair he had shot himself in. Upon looking around the room, she noticed a patch of brain matter that the cleaning crew had missed. She was understandably upset. No. Not bad enough. The two adults started in on her, screaming until they were blue about how it was her fault he had offed himself because she was not there for him. Visibly horrified she began to shake and sob, disagreeing with them. Bad idea.

“If you hadn’t been such a screw up and landed yourself here your father would still be alive. You killed your father!” they shouted.

“No wonder he killed himself,” the man started. “He had a daughter like you!”

I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of utter shock and horror. The whole incident shook me to my very core. I know it sounds dramatic, but to have seen the look on that poor girl’s face and just witnessing what they were doing and saying to her, it’s still hard to write about even after all these years.

It was at this time I thought to myself, “Check please,” and raised my hand. I asked to go to the bathroom. Once there I proceeded to collapse on the floor, quite dramatically if I might add. I explained that I had taken fourteen of my mother’s sleeping pills before I got there. The night before in the hotel while my parents were sleeping I went through everything they had. I found my mother’s stash and flushed exactly fourteen of the pills down the toilet. I gave them the name of the pills and they said they called my parents. They never did.

I must have been a rather good actress because they put my “limp” body in the back of a blue van that resembled a maintenance vehicle. A heavyset woman and my “big sister” brought me to some rinky-dink hospital where they proceeded to pump my stomach.

All the while, I’m thinking, “Oh Shit.”

Of course nothing but bile came out. The next thing they did was lucky on my part, but really stupid on theirs. They left me alone in this huge surgical room. So naturally, I went through the drawers and to my surprise, there was a sealed scalpel. I opened it and slid it blade up down the back of my hospital tie pants. When my big sister came in to inform me that I had to go back to school, I strongly disagreed and took the poor girl hostage. I felt really bad about it, but I was not going back.

I was put into custody by two, well one and a half officers. The half being a Jr. Deputy. The kid couldn’t have been older than me, dressed in a mini version of the full cop uniform. My wrists were handcuffed and I was put in the back of the car.

At first, the older officer was stern, trying to scare me straight by turning up the police scanner and driving around looking for burglary suspects.

“You don’t mind some company back there, do ya?” the senior officer asked me.

“Not at all,” I said calmly. “The more the merrier.”

Realizing that this tactic was not working, they began some idle chitchat.

Going down the mountain was fun. Having nothing to hold on to, I rolled around that backseat like a bowling ball. I had to chuckle. The younger officer noticed my plight and chuckled along with me. Noting this, the older officer laughed and said, “Hold on.” It was a lighthearted moment.

After asking me why I was there, I explained what little I could. I was still terrified, believing that these cops were involved with the school and were just driving me around in circles only to bring me back. I told them about the incident with the girl in the meeting and how odd the place was. They exchanged a look of sorts before the older officer responded, “I’ve heard stories about that place.”  He looked at me through the rear view mirror. “Unfortunately, I can’t promise that where you’re going will be any better.” There was a sense of pity in his voice.

They really had no idea where to take me and were somewhat apologetic about that. I, however, was just grateful to be anywhere but at CEDU, and through choked back tears I thanked them for being so nice to me.

When we arrived at the police station, the two officers told the others that I was very polite and to be nice to me. The next cop just drove me around for hours while his shift ran out. He told me, “Look were just gonna drive around for as long as we can before I have to drop you off. We went through the drive-through and chatted with other cops. One looked at me through the window and made a snide comment about juvenile delinquents.  I was surprised when the cop said, “No, not this one, she’s a good kid in a messed up situation.” That was the last time I felt any sense of humanity.

People were screaming when I was led into the state mental hospital. It was surreal, the long white dirty hallway with the flickering florescent lights. I sat in a lone plastic chair listening to men’s screams echoing through the walls. Some were begging, some were pleading for their lives, others were yelling threats. “Beam me up Scotty!” one nameless man screamed over and over again. Another sang, “Give me a home where the buffalo roam.” I was visibly shaking, terrified that one of these lunatics were going to break free and get me.

During one of louder rants from the faceless men an orderly walked out of the nurses’ station, and he looked exasperated. He turned and pointed at me. “Don’t do drugs-” he was cut off by another verse of Home on the Range with a chorus of ravenous screaming. “Ya, so drugs, don’t do em.” I nodded with a blank look on my face.

An Indian looking woman came out of the small office sometime later.  She had a long face, squinty eyes, and a pointy nose.  “You!” she pointed at me, “in here.” She led me to a small room and sat me down. At the time, I had waist long hair and it was rather hot in that ugly little room. After she had asked me the usual round of questions – age, weight, height, why I was there – she asked me if I was biologically related to my parents. I said no, I was adopted. She then asked me for all of their information to which I gave her.

I excused myself to put my hair up in a bun as I was sweating. This must have set something off in the woman as she began to berate me. How rude and horrid a child I was to be so bold as to put my hair up. I was a horrible child; my parents abandoned me here because they wanted to get rid of me. They were never coming back and were probably celebrating having me out of their lives. No one would want a piece of shit like me! She yelled at me for sometime before grabbing me by the arm and dragging me out to the hall again. She had me strapped to a bed in five-point restraints, which she violently secured herself while the orderlies stood there mindlessly watching. She spat on me as they wheeled me away.

Two days later, I was allowed to use a phone. “How did you get to a phone?” was the first thing my mother said to me. I had little time to explain what had happened. “You’re not supposed to be on a phone, they’re going to be mad when they find out and you’re going to be punished,” my mother continued.   I had to tell her to shut up. Thankfully, she didn’t hang up on me. I asked her the one question that made her listen. “Didn’t CEDU call you?” They never did. Not a word. As far as CEDU was concerned, I never existed.

After fighting a hopeless battle with Corona Hospital, I was sent to the Desisto School in Massachusetts where I spent the next two years. The atrocities committed by these schools are far worse than the problems that brought me there to begin with. I had a ninth grade education when I managed to run away at 18 for the second time. The first time, although I was of age, they managed to force me into a van by threat of physical assistance.

I wrote in a journal, or on random pieces of paper, bags, anything I could, while I went through this time in my life. When I came upon your site, I was inspired, as I would like to do something similar for the Desisto Survivors. I am glad I found this site; I haven’t spoken about this ever, to anyone, until now.

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About Liam Scheff

"Author, Artist, Film, Permaculture." Liam Scheff is a writer, artist and stand-up lecturer on issues that people usually don't make comic books about. (Visit liamscheff.com). Liam's highly-praised book "Official Stories" reveals the complex details behind the myths of our times.

Posted on February 17, 2011, in Surviving Cedu. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Way too stressful a situation for normal teenagers…or anyone for that matter, just way too over the top!

    A lot of miscalcualted / misjugdged pycho analyzing…they clearly are not quilified or quantified for such administration!

    I hope these “schools” get some bad press and soon, if only to save future young adults. The world does not need young adults entering society owning this type of “education.”

    The individuals operating these facilities need to be exposed, their real life experiences (and that is all they are, experiences, we all have those in life) do not translate into qualifications to educate others.

    They operate by overpowering those that have no resources, once the resources are removed they make these kids hostages in a volitile environment, with no sense or stability, and attempt brainwashing tatics.

    No child, hormones raging, physical changes going on as they transition from child to adult should ever be put in such an insecure, unstable environment.

    I have not been involved in a situation of this sort, but I certainly rebuke the thought of these “educators” still operating in the world, even if they have obtained some sort of “formal” education since.

    The fact that these folks keep “reinventing” the schools is not acceptable. A leopard cannot change its spots, and these staff members are still operating at new/other schools? It is not right!

  2. I went on an interview for a teaching position at Desisto way back in the early 1990s. They offered me some other position overseeing a dorm where the troubled kids were sent to separate them from the general population for a month or two at a shot.

    I spent the whole day at the place, and was totally freaked out by the staff….the kids were pretty normal and pretty intelligent. I was tempted to take the job just to cause trouble for the rest of the staff – they were like some freak cult. I seriously wanted to take the job because I hated what they were doing and wanted to screw with them…. but felt that was not a good reason to take the job….

  3. CEDU I still say the words to day and am thank-ful my son had the opportunity to attend! He would not be where he is today. We have longed talked about the program, the staff and the impact on our lives during this time. My son Lance at the age of 31 now still reflects upon the program and the huge positive impact it made in his life. We as a family have many fond, positive memories of CEDU and our trips to Idaho. It is quiet sad we do not have an outdoor program for kids at risk here on the East Coast to support them during this time in their life. I am greatly appreciative of all that was done for our son.
    Susan Weddle

  4. I am so sorry this happened to you. .. My husband Anthony attended CEDU, and the horrific memories he has shared with me are sadly endless. Until now I didn’t realize how truly horrendous this place was. Thank you CEDU for leaving a everlasting open wound, that my husband is still trying to heal.

  5. christina billington

    cedu has scarred me for life i have anxiety attaks all the time i cant hold a relationship down because of all my baggage .this has done more mental damage than healing!!!i guaduated in 2000 was admitted in 98 i have never been home since soon as i left two days latr my family kickd me out.my life went to shambles

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