I agree with you. I think most of these parents want their kids fixed and just sort of assume that the program will work because of a priori biases. It's important for people to understand that's not necessarily the case. Even mainstream mental health treatments are rife with issues the professionals themselves often are the first to acknowledge. How much moreso these institutions which operate under the radar using controversial methodologies which have not been proven efficacious. Time magazine's neuroscience journalist Maia Szalavitz did some excellent work exposing what goes on.
This world is foreign to many of our readers, so I'd like to -- if we can -- give them as much of an introduction as one can without them experiencing it themselves. Let's start from the beginning, with why parents decide to send their kids to these institutions. I've heard a tremendous range myself, but you've been more involved. What are the range of issues you've heard that drive parents to send their kids to these places, from the most benign to the most horrific?
Oh man, we would wake up very early. I think around 6ish. Forced exercise, or "skills", as WWASP calls it, would mean different things. Yes, the morning session when we first woke up and did a head count might be pretty easy, maybe 50 jumping jacks, 50 pushups. Just a little something to get the blood pumping. But the later skills period could be much more intense. It varied depending on which staff was running it, but 50-100 pushups where you would have to hold yourself just off the ground for several seconds each, then maybe 100 "six-inch killer" leglifts, 100 regular leglifts, 100 situps, bearcrawls, duckwalks, sprinting, squats, it was about 30 minutes of the most painful exercises they could think of making you do, and if you couldn't perform, you got in very serious trouble. And this, of course, wasn't even when they were using it to punish you. I literally heard and saw a kid blow a hernia during a punishment skills session. We were doing leglifts and he started moaning and saying he couldn't do any more. They threatened him with isolation and losing his levels, and he kept going. Then came a loud pop, he fell over screaming. They dragged him off to isolation. Later, they realized he had a massive hernia and ended up having to have surgery. This was not an isolated incident; hernias were very common in Paradise Cove.
Other forced exercise in Samoa included forcing us to swim in the ocean, which sounds awesome, but the sinks and kitchen sinks and showers all discharged right into that small cove where we were swimming untreated, and even the septic tank emptied into that same water. The water was also full of dangerous fish like scorpionfish and crown-of-thorns starfish, as well as sea urchins and other stuff not fun to step on, and we often had no masks or shoes to wear out. My first week there, I came within inches of stepping on a crown-of-thorns and that could have been very serious. Another student saw me and shoved me off at the last second, saving me from a very painful and potentially life-threatening sting.
The thing to remember is this: almost everything that was done to us, or that we were forced to do, was intended to be unpleasant and punitive. If you were overtly enjoying it, they would take it away or use the threat of doing so against you, and whatever it got replaced with was much, much worse.