Monday, May 28, 2012

Kimberly Pacent at Legacy Private School (

This story was originally written on a webpage created to provide statements for a GAO hearing in 2007. The address is and it waits for your statement if you believe that your stay at a boarding school included unfair treatment or even abuse. All rights and credits goes to the author Kimberly Pacent, who posted the original story on

When I was sixteen years old, I was sent to a residential facility in Utah called Legacy Private School. The director of this program was a man named Dan Harrah.

I had never left home for more than a week and had no idea what I was to expect. I was thankful to leave the wilderness program that I had been sent to, but would later regret my gratitude.

When I met Dan Harrah he presented himself kindly. I knew however that something about the place wasn’t right. None of the girls or staff were warm to me when I arrived which made leaving my parents an even more heart wrenching experience. What happened when they closed the door behind them is a blur. Ten months of humiliation, discomfort, physical and verbal abuse and worst of all gut wrenching fear. It is difficult for me to remember exactly what was said because my fear seemed to block out so much of the noise. Dan barged into the room as he always did and attacked me in an attempt to break down any defenses that I had. He called me names and screamed in my face. Most memorably, he told me that he would be embarrassed to have me as his daughter while I was sitting in a hallway, where I was made to sit for three months.

During my three months in the hallway I was not aloud to lean against the walls. When I asked staff members to turn up the heat, they refused. I ate dinner on the kitchen floor. I waited until nighttime when I would cuddle with my stuffed animals and cry myself to sleep while sleeping on a mattress that was laid out in the hallway.

All the while I was made fun of for crying by the staff and girls. I tried to cry quietly to avoid the humiliation. I was imitated by the other girls, laughed at constantly and made to wear hospital scrubs. During a phone session with my mother I began to “whine.” I was told that if I continued to “whine” that Dan would take the phone away from me. He took the phone; I grabbed for it and began to scream for my mother’s help as Dan came towards me. He forced me down to the floor and sat on top of me (Dan is about 300 pounds, I was around 100 at the time). I screamed that I could not breathe. Dan told me that he would not move until I stopped screaming. He said that I tried to take a swing at him, I never remember this happening. I had rug burn all over my face.

The girls were taught to humiliate and verbally attack one another. They were condoned by therapists and staff for doing so. Therapists and staff often joined in the teasing and attacking.

A girl named Susan was most severely humiliated by the group. Her journals were read aloud and made fun of. She was made to wear two pairs of gloves and bandages around her arms after she was accused of trying to hurt herself while picking at a scab. She was made to wear a gas mans uniform with tape across the top because she was accused of trying to show off her body when she bent over and her shirt would slink down. Worst of all, she took poor care of her hygiene, so the girls were encouraged to paint a tool belt for Susan where she would keep her hygiene products. She had to wear the tool belt around all day long and was aloud twenty minutes daily to look at a hygiene book made for small children.

We wore bare feet outside for a long time because the “hallway girls” were considered “run risks.” Later we were made to wear hospital booties and plastic bags around our feet. I was accused of lying intentionally to my parents, to staff and to the therapist, when in reality; I subconsciously lied to protect myself. I trusted no one with good reason. I did not tell my parents the full story of what was going on because I knew that I would be chastised by members of the facility for telling the truth. Before I left, a therapist told the group that a few children would be “recycled” soon.

After leaving treatment I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. I was severely brainwashed and believed that if I did not return to program that I would probably die or live a life without purpose. Truthfully, I could go on and on about the “tough love” treatment I received at Legacy, but hopefully this short report makes my point clear. Children around the country are subjected to the tough love experiment every day. Most of the privately run institutions are not regulated and the children are given no rights. It is morally incomprehensible that this is aloud to continue. Legacy went bankrupt.

Dan Harrah ran off with another therapist from the program to start yet another identical program for girls in Clearfield, Utah. The program is called Renaissance. Neither therapist’s online biography mentions Legacy at all.

The original statement on Youthrights

Monday, May 14, 2012

Disowned after a stay at Shortridge Academy

Many families know already. Months of confinement are no fix for domestic rooted problems.

The Reddit message board did just publish yet another story, which we have chosen to re-publish in full.

All rights belong to the original author.

First introduction by Reddit:
I started /r/troubledteens to save kids from abuse at "troubled teen" facilities. It is common for places like this to tell parents to disown their own child, this kid is being thrown to the streets with barely any resources. I'll let you read his story, I've put more info about his upcoming situation & WAYS TO HELP HERE. For people who have never heard of the 'troubled teen' industry and why he needs help, look here.
tldr: Because his parents were displeased with his grades, C's, a teen was sent to an oppressive facility, Shortridge Academy of New Hampshire. Shortridge is run by the former staff of other programs which have been closed down for abusing children (WWASP, CEDU, Synanon). After 20 months of witnessing the self-abuse and suicide attempts of his peers, who didn't receive proper assistance, he works to create change in the program; in turn, the program convinces his parents to disown him. Now, at age 18, he is being tossed to the streets with with no money, no support, and no destination. Here is his story...

Hello, reddit. Thank you for reading this. It’s a long story, I know, but there are so many twists, I couldn’t make it shorter. And speaking of twists, I’m going to start at the mid-point.

It’s a cloudy night, early November. Unseasonably warm. I’m eighteen years old, and scared, elated, excited, a little guilty. I’m standing in a highway rest stop in rural New Hampshire as the sun sets in a gray sky. I’m standing next to a man I’ve grown close to, a man who represents what I’ve been fighting for fifteen months. We’re looking for the white car.

This car isn’t just some white car. This car is my salvation. As I search the lot for a Massachusetts plate, the man says, “Y’know, Jimmy, this doesn’t have to happen. We can still go back. I know how you feel about Shortridge, but we don’t abuse kids. You know that.”

“No,” I tell him. “I’m leaving."

No one in the real world calls me Jimmy. It was always James, back when things were real. Back when all I worried about was my brother’s growing drug problem, my grades, and how I could not get into a fight with my parents that night. I thought all that sucked. Looking back I realize I didn’t know what suck was. I didn’t know until I began my “therapeutic journey.”

I should’ve ran two years ago, sent away. I’m no better now than I was then: homeless, with $10 in my pocket and some clothes in a bin.

He asks me, since he owes me a dinner, where I want to go. I tell him I don’t know. I haven’t been to a restaurant in a while. I haven’t been anywhere in a while. So we go to Uno’s, talk about anything besides what we’re doing. When we get back to the rest stop, the white car’s still not there.

So we wait. And wait. And wait. A long time later, a phone call. Not on my phone; the last time I touched a cell phone was over a year ago. The man answers his phone, says hello, then hands it to me. It’s my best friend. I haven’t seen him in over a year and a half.

Are you okay? he asks. Do you trust this man? he asks. Where are you? he asks. I tell him where we are. I tell him what the car looks like. I tell him I’ll see him soon.

I don’t tell him how it feels to be free. I don’t tell him I don’t know if I’m safe--that I half-trust the man, but I don’t trust his bosses. I don’t tell him how it feels to know homelessness is better than this nightmare. I don’t tell him anything, because I’m scared. Scared of where I’ve been for the past fifteen months.

He knows almost nothing about my situation, but he’s driving eight hours to come get me.

The man tries again: “Jimmy, just call him and say you changed your mind. He’ll understand. I know what it’s like to be homeless. You don’t want this.”

I ignore him. I don’t want to be homeless, but I don’t have other options. I don’t want to hear about what I’m walking into. If I do, I might agree with him. I might head back for another eight months of hell.

As the sun passes below the horizon, the car shows up. I recognize my friend before he sees me. I’m standing with a blue box with a stranger’s name on it, wearing clothes that fit me two years ago. Everything I own is in that box. Once again, I realize that I won. Once again, I realize that I’m fucked. I note the paradox as my best friend drive up.

After all this time, he looks the same. But I don’t. I’ve gained some weight, grown taller. Longer hair. New glasses. Hopefully, less acne. No wonder he didn’t recognize me at first. And over that echo of eighteen months ago, I hear the first words from him, this friend who’s become a brother to me, in 18 months: “Hey.”

“Hey,” I tell him.

The man approaches and introduces himself. My friend looks at him, says hello, and asks me where I want to put my stuff. I put it in the back seat.

The man tries one last time: “Jimmy, come on. This is stupid.”

“No, I tell him. “This is it.” “Well, I wish you the best of luck. You can always come back, if it doesn’t work out.”

“You should know me by now. I don’t plan on it. I won’t say it’s been good, but you’re one of the few good people there. Thanks for dinner.”

I get in the front seat, and my friend and I drive away.

And that is how I almost gained my freedom.

Three days later I’m sitting in a cafe, meeting with the man and one of his bosses. The boss says, “How’s the real world? Didn’t treat you the way you thought it would, did it?”

And my mother’s there, not saying a word. Her job is to drive me to the nearest homeless shelter, if the man and his boss say no. I tell him, “Yeah, it didn’t work out.” We discuss terms, the “agreements” behind my return to Shortridge Academy. We don’t discuss how I’ll explain to everyone at the school how, in three days, I went from prisoner to free man and back. And how this time, I have to be perfect. How one fuck up will put me on the streets of Portsmouth, Maine. That part doesn’t matter.

Now that I have your attention, let’s bring it back. Back to the day that I got in my car and headed to some place called Summit Achievement. At the time, I didn’t know much. I had only heard it was a two week testing place for Shortridge Academy. Within a few days, I would know more than I ever wanted to. Like the man said, Shortridge isn’t physically abusive. But you can abuse parts of a person other than their body.

I think I was sent away on August 21st, 2010. I don't exactly know. I never have visits, so time blurs together. Every day the same, you know? I was sent away for bad grades. At least, bad by my parents standards. Almost all Cs. I'd failed French (by one point!), and I took summer school for Algebra II. I probably could have done better. I'm not going to blame my grades on ADD. I will, however, blame half of it on my parents. They weren't great parents. But still, the other half was on me.

I was not escorted to Summit Achievement, which turned out to be a wilderness program. I had heard about these programs before and knew that if I didn't go with my parents, something worse would happen. Summit was in Stowe, Maine, and I don’t have much to say about it. It wasn't bad, and they were more ethical than other programs. I would never send a kid there, but still, it wasn't that bad. I had some fun, sometimes is sucked hiking eight miles in the rain, but I didn’t really mind it. The problem was they had a one program fits all mentality. So it was ineffective, but not really that bad. Unfortunately, my "therapeutic journey" didn't end there.

After my last day at Summit—and after a fight with my parents in the hotel room--I was sent to Shortridge the next day, as planned. My parents tried to get a police escort, but that didn’t work out. The police said no, I think. My parents had left the room to call them. Either way, I went "willingly.” The only reason I didn't run is because I knew I'd end up at Swift River if I did. I was searched, but not very well. I didn't sneak anything in, but they did tell me that cameras weren’t allowed, nor were any electronics. Now, we're allowed iPods. Back then, we weren't.

Almost as soon as I got there, Amy Fuller, a former CEDU counselor, asked me in a contemptuous manner if I was going to "fight the program.” I told her no. I wasn't sure then if I would or not, but my answer changed to a yes pretty quickly.

Shortridge is staffed by the former employees of schools that were shut down for abusing kids-- places like CEDU, WWASP, and Synanon--but Shortridge isn’t as heavy-handed as its predecessors. Because they're smarter. A lot smarter. While they can "restrain" anyone, anytime they deem it necessary, they don’t use physical punishments. So there’s no provable abuse. When the other schools close down, Shortridge stays operational. Any staff member that narrowly escapes a lawsuit just sets up shop here. There’s no real coercion at Shortridge, no outright pressure to conform to the program. It’s the monotony, combined with the restrictive rules, the lack of privacy, and the fact that we can't go home until Phase 2, that gets kids over to their side real quick.

On my first day, I was also told that I needed a haircut. Above the ears and out of the eyes. I got one, but its almost back to how it was now. No body piercings or hair dyeing is allowed on visits. Sometimes it happens, but it’s made fun of and shamed, by students and staff alike. When we did something wrong—like, if we run away, do drugs on campus, be disrespectful to an upper staff—we had “restrictions,” which were punishments for people who deserved stronger punishment than work projects, which were two hours’ worth of labor outside. The worst part of restrictions was when they took your computer away. When they did that, they were taking away your only connection to the outside world.

Mainly, restrictions involved sitting at a desk. That was the core part. The specifics could change, like whether you were allowed to talk to anyone you wanted, or only staff (?). But always, you had to ask to get up, even to go to the bathroom. You had to do work projects all weekend, when you weren’t sitting at your desk.You always had to do one share of the jobs at every meal, instead of being in the rotating schedule. When you were at your desk, you would do writing assignments constantly. They were about things such as why did you do what you did, and what you can do to not do it again, and there was no limit to how many you could be assigned. Anyone who felt like it, students or staff, could give you writing assignments whenever they wanted. Restrictions could last from two weeks to two months.

You never know if you’re going to get restrictions, though. I was assaulted by a student for the ipod I snuck in after one of my few visits. He beat me up for it, and got off with no consequences. Upper phase students can pretty much do whatever they want and not get in real trouble. So long as they don’t do anything really bad in front of a large group of students, they can get away with a lot. Luckily, my only consequence was that my ipod was sent back to my parents. I wasn't shamed in group like most people would have been, and I don't know why. This school doesn't help anyone. Going up to the main part of the school to be monitored all day, while I do nothing, is just as bad as walking into the dorm bathroom and seeing a kid with crushed pills coming out of his nose, or someone with new scars on their arms. Almost all the girls are bulimic. I watched a fourteen year old girl cut herself daily, and saw staff do nothing but bring her to the nurse every day. They never even tried to speak to her. I've seen three suicide attempts in the last year. One kid tried hanging himself off the top of my bunk, and I had to pull the noose off of him. Three days later, he disappeared.

It feels weird to know someone outside of here will be reading this, because it says so much, but it’s taken for granted in here…a guy who just left had been in programs since he was TWELVE. He left at nineteen. Seven years of shit like that, no wonder he was a little crazy. He was really rich, though, so his life will turn out almost alright. But still.

You can leave when your 18; no one is being held there. The problem is that they pressure parents, so that parents almost always do what mine are doing, which is disowning me. Lots of kids in here have large inheritances they don't want to miss, so they stay. They stay until Shortridge and their parents say they can leave.

That’s not my family, though. My family doesn’t have a lot of money. We live in Western Massachusetts on marshy land that you can’t really build on or farm or anything. We have a couple of beat-up old cars, one cat, and a tractor. My parents are paying for Shortridge with a combination of my college money, loans, and the social security funds I get from my mother’s death. They don’t have much, but they do have their home. I won’t be able to stay there when I leave, though. They’ve made it clear that I can’t come home.

When I learned that, I realized something: I’ve got nothing to lose. So I’ve been quietly organizing a sort of revolt. I’ve been trying to fight back against this place.

Don Vardell, who is now the head of Shortridge, is planning to auction off some of the students' art. The proceeds will go to a fund that provides money for less-rich families to send their kids away. I'm trying to boycott it, but it’s hard to stay under the radar. They'd put me right out on the street, if they learned what I was doing.

But really, it’s not just me. Other kids are participating in the effort--to make it known what goes on in Shortridge—and they all do it knowing that they will not get to go home. Not until either we win, or Shortridge closes. They know they'll never get contact with the "real world," as we call it. They know they risk losing all their rights, they risk getting woken up at 2 AM to be escorted to another school/RTC/Wilderness. And yet they stick with it. They keep on raising awareness, coming up with ideas, and continuing an anti-Shortridge culture. It all we can do, but it helps to have a safe group of people where we don’t have to pretend to like Shortridge.

We know that most likely, no one will ever know what’s happening here. But still, it’s a cool feeling, let me tell you. To be leading a group that’s doing what’s right. But because it’s not just me, I’m terrified about whether I’m right about one thing. The staff who’s supposed to read our email? He better be as cool as I think he is.

I know this isn't the worst school. Not even close. The people who want to help might rather work with a kid who’s in Cross Creek or Monarch or Aspen, where they sent this one kid just the other day. But I figure that ending programs that hurt teens has to start somewhere, and the easiest to topple might be Shortridge. And if we can do that, we'll stop Don Vardell, who was Executive Director of Island View, Casa by the Sea, Academy at Swift River, and EXCEL Academy.

I’m sorry I don’t have a coherent story to tell, and I'm sorry about how long this is. I've just been waiting so long for this—for the opportunity to reach people on the outside who care—that I can barely type.

Once I get out, I'm very interested in joining the groups that are trying to shut down the therapeutic boarding school industry. And I definitely will help anyone out. Now that I know how it feels, I could never let this happen to anyone else. I'm going to try as hard as I can to bring these places down. And if anybody wants info that I can give, I’m happy to share it. I don't think it will hurt me in any way, and Shortridge is probably just going to pretend I never existed once I get out, anyway.

As for me, now, I’m getting sent out of Shortridge on May 17. I. It’s scary, because when I get out, I’ll have $20, maybe a bus ticket, and nowhere to go. It looks like I might get into JobCorps in June, but until then, I’ll be homeless.

But I can say that some weird good has come from this. I've picked up some great conflict resolution and empathic skills at Shortridge. I've always been a naturally sympathetic person, but Shortridge gave me a way to better express it. So if I can do anything to help anyone, please have them contact me. It can be one way for me to start giving back to the anti-troubled teen industry community, after I've been given so much help.

After being sent away, and experiencing what I did at Shortridge, I was wondering where I'd find good in the world. I thought it was just me and a small, rare group of other people. When I first entered Shortridge, I felt completely alone. That's different now, and it’s really important to me. The people I’ve found online— /r/troubledteens and OpLiberation and the other groups—have become like a surrogate family. Now, my faith has been restored.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

A stay at the Mount Bachelor Academy (

This story was originally written on a webpage created to provide statements for a GAO hearing in 2007. The address is and it waits for your statement if you believe that your stay at a boarding school included unfair treatment or even abuse. All rights and credits goes to the author, who posted the original story on

Having been a student at MBA during it's first 4 years of opening, it's hard to describe my reaction to this news of MBA's temporary closing. Elated? Relieved? Perhaps vindicated is the best word to describe it.

Though I did learn some useful tools and behavioral modification techniques, those pale in comparison to the horrible memories I carry with me, suppressed for years until I began working through them very recently.

I arrived at the school a very young, scared, self-loathing, 12 year old girl, who had already attempted suicide 3 times. I was stripped of the drop of self-esteem I had there, in the school's process commonly known as "tearing the student down in order to build them back up".

When I arrived at MBA, I was on very strong prescription psychiatric medication. I met with a licensed psychiatrist twice during my 3 1/2 year stay. Once in the registration process, and one more time 6 months later. There were many times where the staff were "unable" or "forgot" to refill my medication, which, among other things, greatly effects the brain chemistry, as well as induces withdrawal symptoms. During the "lifesteps", I was not allowed to take my medication, was only allowed 2-3 hours sleep, was forced to perform physical "emotional growth" acts to the point of exhaustion, was strongly encouraged, on a regular basis, to scream until my face was covered with purple spots of burst blood vessels, was consistently told I was "worthless, manipulative, a whore, a slut, a spoiled brat, unwanted by my parents" and other names I don't care to share. I was 12 years old.

The staff allowed other, older students to call me similar names while I was on a "self study" for kissing a boy, who was 4 years older than I. During the 3 month self study, I was not allowed to look at or talk to anyone, sat in a desk facing the wall in the dining area, was given writing assignments, of which 90% were about the "negative" aspects of my "soul" and personality--I still have 3 of those journals.

When I attended MBA, NONE of the staff were licensed in any mental health/child welfare/psychological areas. In fact, Sharon Bitz, now the Executive Director of the school, was hired as a Drama teacher in my second year at MBA. I understand that others have had positive experiences at MBA, and I think that is great. The mental, and physical, abuse, the stripping down of my self-esteem, the pure negativity of my experience, however, has haunted my for over 15 years, and shaped me as a person for much of those years until I began to work through the issues brought on by MBA.

For a few years after leaving MBA, I reached out to the staff for guidance and support in the very rough transition back into the "real world". On MBA's website, it is stated that every student who leaves MBA has "24 hour" access to staff support, and that the staff make it a "priority" to be available for the students. Not one of my calls were returned, not one of my letters were answered. It has been said by both professionals and fellow students that perhaps the staff were aware and "ashamed" at the way I was treated. That would be fine, except the main focus of the school is to take responsibility for your actions, but it seems that does not apply to the staff who enforce that.

I also do not think it is a coincidence that more than 10 former students, 3 in my own peer group, have committed suicide or fatally overdosed on drugs.

My experience at MBA may be unique, and unlike any other student there. Yet reliving what I have not completely blocked out is incredibly painful; even as I write this, I have a lump in my throat and knots in my stomach. I was young, probably too young to be there. Yet I was accepted, and was subsequently treated as if I was similar to the other students, the average age being 16.

There is more to tell, unfortunately, but I think this entry has made my point sufficiently. I have stayed silent for far too long. I am more than willing to testify, under oath, and tell my story. Someday, I may even write a book, in detail, of my experience there. So yes, I do feel vindicated.

The boarding school was ordered closed by the authorities in 2009

Datasheet about the boarding school at Fornits Home for Wayward Web Fora
The original statement on

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ethan Schur at the Montana Academy (

This story was originally written on a webpage created to provide statements for a GAO hearing in 2007. The address is and it waits for your statement if you believe that your stay at a boarding school included unfair treatment or even abuse. All rights and credits goes to the author Ethan Schur, who posted the original story on

Montana Academy
I was told I was going to a summer school for one summer. When I arrived at the Montana Academy I was immediately told to remove my clothing and wear a robe so that I could be searched and my items confiscated. I was interred at the Academy for over 14 months.

Isolation rooms
These are rooms with no light and no way to escape. I was locked in this room for hours at a time, given to option to use the restroom, or escape.

Physical labor
Students are forced to saw piles of wood, dig ditches, haul gravel in wheelbarrows, pick up trees and pile rocks.

Physical abuse
Was dragged out into the snow with no shoes on.

Limitation on communication
All calls are listened to and censored, most often with parents. Letters are not allowed to be sent. Letters are censored. Pictures are censored.

Limits on religious freedom
Students are not allowed to pray on holy days and are limited in diet, prayer times, and freedom of religion.

I personally was not allowed to attend the Jewish High Holy Days. When I complained the lead psychologist screamed at me with rage. After this incident he asserted that it was an "echo of my rage" that he was showing and therefore my fault.

I was told on more than one occasion that I would go to hell for being a Jew.

Students either escaped or attempted to escape on multiple occasions. I attempted to escape in 1998, I fell into a frozen river during the night and was only saved by trekking to a nearby farmhouse with hypothermia and frozen jeans. I was arrested at that location and brought back to the Academy.

There were so many attempted escapes that they enforced new rules where nightwatchmen would physically touch the leg of every student in their beds every few hours.

Drug Abuse
Students would abuse "cocktails" of prescribed medications either orally or by nasal inhalation.
Students would scrape the inside white powder out of light-bulbs and sniff that Students would "huff gasoline" stored in nalgene bottles students would smoke and huff gasoline until they lost control and pours gasoline on themselves.

Attempted Suicide
Multiple students attempted suicide, on one occasion my roommate cut himself very badly, he was punished and it was not until the next day when blood started leaking out of his wrist as he sawed metal rebar "his punishment" that he was evacuated for medical treatment

Educational Consultants
Educational consultants would get benefits for referring students to the Academy. These consultants once, the students are interred, wipe their hands clean of the situation and do not regularly check on the well-being and treatment of their clients

Sex at the Academy
Condoms were forbidden and during sex education I was punished for taking condoms. Students would wrap plastic wrap around themselves with rubber bands and attempt intercourse this way.

Post Academy
Once a student is discharged, the management could care less about that student. The parents are not paying any longer and they are no longer interesting. Students are left wholly unequipped to deal with their non-brainwashed peers. I know Academy graduates that have been to jail for extended periods of time, drug dealers, rampant sex and general disregard for their well-being.

Datasheet about the boarding school at Fornits Home for Wayward Web Fora
The original statement on
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