This testimony was found on the Surviving CEDU blog. All rights go the original author known as RG
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.
CEDU closed in 2005 to avoid lawsuits