Sunday, June 28, 2015

Testimony from former student at Chrysalis Boarding School

This testimony was found on another blog. All rights goes to the original owner.

"There are so many things I have conflicting feelings concerning

I came to Chrysalis the very last day of August, 200X. I had just completed a very grueling wilderness program (I mean grueling! So much so that it was recently closed down and is still involved in a class action suit) and had never before been west of the Mississippi. My dad and I pulled up to the main house, and were first greeted by Kenny (owner)...who showed my dad and I around. He was so nice and seemed much like my dad. I immediately felt safe. I realize later that this is more for show when the parents are present.

I was then separated from my dad and my personal belongings were searched. I was very vaguely walked through some of the basic rules - there are SO many rules that its impossible to keep track. Most people would think that perhaps a rulebook would be appropriate when they're are several dozen rules to follow, but at Chrysalis, you are on your own. I was "called out" on these in the most humiliating fashion a few days later.

I told my dad goodbye. I did so in a very casual fashion, as if I would be speaking to him very soon again. Little did I know that my conversation with my parents would go from daily (the way it had been for the past 17 years of my life) to 45 minutes, once per week. Oh, and that every word was monitored by my therapist.

It was very difficult to become adjusted to, but I began to blend in with Chrysalis life. It was so difficult to learn every name! I actually began to enjoy my new environment.
I met with my first therapist (who was very cold and harsh) - not a pleasant experience, and started school.

In Chrysalis there are three "levels" that you work through in order to graduate from the 18-24 month (typically) program. Girls may be on a particular level anywhere from 6 months to a year. With each level comes different privileges, and responsibilities. At level one, I was restricted to going to school on the Chrysalis property (home schooling), while some girls on level two, and three were permitted to attend LCHS.

There were always four therapists at Chrysalis, each girl had one of the four. Every girl that each therapist had (usually about 8-10 girls) was considered a group that met twice a week for "circle" - our group therapy sessions. In addition to our group circles, we had a "house" circle (all girls in a particular house - there were 2 main residences) or a "big" circle (every girl) that the owners (Kenny and his wife Mary) would be present in.

In the circle we would talk about "business" (ex: I would raise my hand, and once called on would mention that who ever's weekly chore was cleaning the classroom bath, that they needed to step up on replacing the toiletries), and then would talk about deeper stuff....which would always be about how some girls were doing. Very rarely were some girls praised...typically circle was for holding girls accountable for whatever they were doing wrong.

My first circle was absolute hell. I remember several therapists "calling me out" for my behavior (which I didn't know I was exhibiting) and little rules I had been breaking all week. The girls, there were around 20+ that night, all staring at me at once, took turns telling me what I was doing wrong all week. I will never forget what some of the girls said to me. I felt humiliated, and cried.

I was put on gag order from one of my roommates, called "ten feet" which we couldn't communicate whatsoever indefinitely. From that moment on, until nearly a year later, when I decided to run every waking moment was spent walking on eggshells.

Your behavior is modified in such a way that rather than looking for something admirable in your fellow Chrysalis girls, you would begin to look for every flaw in character or behavior, and rather than having direct communication in private about this, you were encouraged to bring these things up in that the person in question would be subjected to humiliation, and feelings of shame as they are publicly embarrassed, in front of other student and staff.

We were made to write in journals, at least one page everyday - and it was checked everyday. Each week you are required to give your journal to your therapist, who reads them, and writes in them...with red corrective ink (not kidding).

I still have all of my journals...and I've read them since I've been out. Everything I wrote was very fake, and not how I genuinely felt. I couldn't use my journal as an outlet because of the monitoring. Every element of our lives was monitored....either by staff of every girl.

Back to the rules...when you break a rule, such as forgetting to perform your chore for the day, or not making your bed up to par, you were given a consequence. At the end of the week, you are required to perform duties for your consequences. My favorite was scraping out the cracks in the wood floor with toothpicks.

I was sent to Chrysalis for behavioral problems and substance abuse. Due to the severity of my addiction, it was essential for me to attend AA meetings every week. Each Friday night we were allowed to go into town and attend these meetings if we needed it. My therapist thought so, and I certainly never debated it - I traveled a very hard road before I arrived at Chrysalis, by the time I arrived I had finally realized that I had a major problem.

BUT, if myself, or another girl with substance abuse history had consequences at the end of the week, we were made to stay home and perform our consequences rather than attending a meeting.

I'm all for missing out on watching a movie, or having my down time in order to perform a consequence....but missing an AA meeting when you're an addict can be a very big problem.

We were nearly all medicated and it was highly encouraged. I began taking a medication for my depression and anxiety disorder.

So for the next several months I was the epitome of a perfect Chrysalis girl. I had straight A's in school, did my chores very well, was very forthcoming in my therapy, any making a lot of progress. I graduated to level two, and was allowed more privileged. At levels two and three we are allowed "visits" to go home and see our families. The higher our level the more time we are allowed to go home, and more often.

However, the first time I saw my parents after entering Chrysalis, was just a few months into the program. I was still a level my parents came to see me during Thanksgiving.

They stayed in Eureka but I was not allowed to stay with them overnight, and was only allowed to spend time with them for a certain amount of time each day. Even during Christmas some girls were not allowed to leave the school and were not able to see their families.

I recall one of the girls being "pulled out" (though she was really forced to leave by the owners) of the program because her mother wanted to see her more often than the owners would allow.

At level two we were allowed to communicate with certain extended family members and friends, as long as they were "approved". To be approved meant that they had to lead healthy, drug free lives. I only had two friends that were deemed to be approved, and would write to them via snail mail.

I flew to my grandparent's house and spent Christmas with my family members. I had just become a level two (at record time) and was expected to follow every little rule while off campus (couldn't wear eyeliner or listen to unapproved music or watch unapproved television - anything with curse words, drug references, etc.). Once I returned to Chrysalis after my visit, I began to change.

I missed my family more and more everyday...and the real world was something that had become some distant and unreal to me that I longed for it so much. I still progressed very quickly and well in the program, but had increasing feelings of depression, and wanting to run away.

Running away was something that rarely happened at Chrysalis, mainly because there wasn't anywhere to run, but that didn't stop some girls. The first girl who ran away while I was there was a level one - who hadn't been there but about two months. It was just after Christmas, and the temperature was subzero, with several inches of snow on the ground. This girl, whom we'll call Betsy, decided it was dire enough to leave in just a light jacket, jeans, and her Ugg boots in the middle of the night while everyone was asleep.

You probably know that there isn't much of anything in the several miles between the school and the town, and what Betsy did could have bee fatal. But a stranger picked her up and she somehow was obtained by her family several days later. They never told us any details about it - they probably didn't want us to get any ideas.

When a girl would run the therapists and owners would announce it in an emergency circle, and would then describe the girl as having betrayed us...that what she did was an "F*** you" to all of us...and we then began to hate her for it...though I remember being secretly jealous of her for her new found freedom.

I became a very highly respected girl and that means that Mary and Kenny would like you more. Without our parents, we all seemed to be desperately trying to be in their good graces, and fighting for their if we needed to feel like beloved daughters...a feeling we couldn't have first hand with our own parents while at Chrysalis.

All the girls were pushed to have a deeper spirituality. Many of us came from different religious backgrounds...Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, etc. I was raised Catholic. However we weren't allowed to attend worship services that were available in Eureka that we may choose. Instead of going to a Catholic church (which I would had have preferred), we had to go to the Episcopalian church - and EVERY girl had to go...even if you were sick.

SO to fast forward to how I fell from grace at happened in June of 2006. I had started to become extremely honest with my therapist (which by the way, was my third therapist in a matter of months....for some strange reason the staff had a very high turn over rate...hmmmm.....) about my feelings of wanting to leave...or run away. She didn't really pay that much attention to it though oddly enough, because running away was the biggest mistake you could possibly make.

I would break down into tears at random and wouldn't calm down until I spoke to her about it. It was very overwhelming, but it became a little better over the next few months leading up to my departure. I honestly wanted to graduate from the program...I didn't want to mess up. I was desperate for the feeling to ease up.

I had a scheduled visit with my parents (my very first home visit) in May and was SO very excited. It was everything I could have hoped for. As my father dropped me off at the airport, we held each other and cried. I had an overwhelming feeling of dread. As I walked to my gate I waited for our boarding call, and once it came...I decided to run. My bags made it back to Chrysalis, but I never did. I called a friend to come pick me up and I never boarded the flight. I disappeared for several days, and resurfaced to frantic family members and a VERY pissed off Mary and Kenny.

***By the way, I turned 18 ... while at Chrysalis and Mary and Kenny and the school staff forced my parents into making me sign some sort of legal document that essentially said that I was unfit to care for myself and extend my parent's guardianship until I was 19 years old - I found out later that it would never hold up in court and that the document was essentially null and void***

My personal items were never returned and they initially refuse to give my parents their money back for the tuition they payed in advance for time I was no longer there (legal action compelled them to pay up, however). My parents were initially infuriated with me, but after they too were subjected to Mary and Kenny's wrath, they began to realize that what they had so wanted for me had never been real.

I was set to go to the University of Montana that fall, I'd been accepted before I ran, and wanted to finish my high School career in Montana. In order to have the six month requirement, I would have to finish at LCHS. My parents agreed that it was best. We developed a plan by renting a place for me to live by myself in Eureka, a new car, and everything I needed.

Mary and Kenny however were furious and threatened me not to come back to the town. I still loved them, and held out hope that they still loved me. So I did something that no girl in the school's history had ever done....I asked to come back to let the girls talk to me, and me to them.

I wanted them to have the closure they needed, and I didn't want them to hate me or feel uncomfortable when they saw me around town - I wanted them to know I was still the same girl they knew...I was asking them for something I used to dread...I wanted one final circle, and it was going to be all about me.

As I walked up to the main house for the first time in months, I was different in appearance...I had dropped weight (you were scrutinized for wanting to have control over your body by taking smaller had to eat a certain amount, nothing less - I know, I was called out for it several times) and had a tan.

Yet, I still wore light makeup and appropriate clothing, as if I were still a student. I was greeted (rather, my father was greeted modestly and me not at all) by Mary and Kenny and escorted into an empty room. Moments later the girls filed in, with not one smile. They had stone faces. I began by breaking into tears and telling them the truth...that what I did was impulsive, not planned...that I never meant to hurt them. I could tell that they had already been prepped for this moment. They spoke to me like I was a different person, an evil person. My best friends were ripping me a new one. After an hour of this, I wanted so badly to hug them...but they were excused and filed out. Not one hugged me, told me that they forgave me....nothing.

Mary and Kenny never once acknowledged my existence, never made eye contact....not once. I cried myself to sleep that night.

I finished out high school a LCHS and moved on the college. I'm 21 now, and though I've reconnected with my Chrysalis friends, it took them leaving/graduating for them to be able to freely talk to me and be real about their feelings. AT my final circle they hadn't been allowed to.

Over the past few years I've learned later that while I was there, (I learned this first hand from the girls themselves) there had been sexual relationships between some of the girls (secretly), drugs snuck into the school and used on campus, inappropriate relationships between councilors and students, etc.

What they're trying to accomplish at that school is very admirable and good, but how they're going about it is detrimental and abusive. It needs to change.

I feel certain that there are several former students whom attended with me, would be willing to speak to you about their experiences - as well as former staff members.

Things that have occurred at the school have festered and angered me over the last few years of my life.

The mission and intentions of Chrysalis are very honorable, and good for young women.

I think they've strayed from their morality and ethics as therapeutic professionals. Things need to change. But know that in many ways they did help me, teach me, and opened my eyes.

They saved my life. I was slowly killing myself with high risk behaviors, and though their methods may not be what is best, they want to help girls like me. They did help me. I think we owe it to struggling young girls who will have Chrysalis in their future, that they will get more out of it than I did, because it could have been better. We could help their success rate. Sadly, many of the girls (even graduates) have reverted back to their old behavior.

I'm part of a very small percentage who actually "get it", and have excelled. I still use some of what Chrysalis has taught me in my daily behavior - especially in my spirituality and how I've learned to treat people and treat myself. That started with that program.

Chrysalis has the potential to be incredible, with a near perfect success rate.


1 comment:

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