Today’s guest author is Leviah Rose. Leviah is a troubled teen industry survivor. Using their passion for writing, they now work to spread awareness and insight about abuse in the TTI such as seclusion, restraint, and attack therapy.
What is the role of a child? Children play, cuddle, learn, explore, dance, sing, and so much more. Children have a unique way of leaving reality behind them. A child playing dress-up puts on a cardboard crown holds their plastic staff, does a royal wave, and becomes a queen or king. A child opens a box of crayons, colors the green of jungle leaves, the blue of a running river, the yellow of a lion’s fur, and is transported to a new adventurous world. In my opinion, a child’s greatest role is bringing imagination into the world.
I lost my childhood to seclusion and restraint. Control.
At eleven years old, I began having difficulties at my mainstream school due to a learning disability and an anxiety disorder. Panic attacks came frequently. I would cry, scream, cover my ears, and melt into a corner. Soon mainstream school was no longer an option. I began 7th grade in special education. This new school quickly got a handle on my learning needs; however, inside and outside of school my mental health continued to deteriorate. My self-esteem dropped. Self-harm became a habit. My social and generalized anxiety grew debilitatingly. Out-of-body experiences became regular. I was admitted to a psych hospital where I was prescribed antipsychotics, sedating anxiety meds, mood stabilizers, antidepressants.
A few weeks before I turned thirteen, I left for Lake House Academy, a “Therapeutic” Boarding School. The treatment I received was far from therapeutic. My therapist restricted my communication, read my private journals, and punished me by taking away meals and forcing me to sleep on the floor of the hallway. I became ill from prolonged starvation. Every form of sugar, including fruit, was banned from the school. Homesickness also took its toll. I broke down, whimpering for my mom and my dog. The staff laughed and reminded me that my mom wasn’t coming to get me. I begged to at least use a phone. My request was tossed aside.
The living conditions at the school were horrid. Seven to ten girls were packed into each tiny bedroom sleeping side by side. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling and the floors were sticky with dried urine and blood. Laundry was a rare occurrence due to the broken machines. Personal hygiene was difficult to maintain. I skipped showers to avoid fighting over a spot in line and the disgusting tub. Multiple rashes developed on my body. I itched constantly, opening the skin. Scabs covered my body.
The academic program was a false advertisement. School hours were spent watching movies or playing approved video games. Fiction books were completely banned from the school because of their supposed capability to enhance the curiosity of foreign cultures, witchcraft, and rebellious behaviors. My passion for creative writing was shamed. Our English teacher snuck books into her classroom and hid them in the cleaning closet because she could not openly teach the gift of literature.
Six days after my arrival, I was subjected to my first containment. I was in the midst of a panic attack, crying, flapping my arms, rocking back and forth; but causing NO harm to myself or anyone else. Two women wrestled me down into a painful position. I screamed louder. My wrists were held tighter and my legs were twisted further. The containment left my entire body bruised and discolored. I received no medical attention. My parents were never contacted.
I lived in constant fear and danger.
Containments (or restraints) were used frequently as a method of control. The fear of physical harm was implanted into the minds and bodies of the students. My peers and I were sometimes contained for being uninterested in a bible lesson or accidentally tipping over a glass of water. During my third containment, I was not only restrained but repeatedly struck on my back. I cried for the staff to stop. She insisted she would stop when I was quiet. Eventually, another staff member pulled her off of me. I was severely injured. Still, I received no medical attention.
Twice, I was restrained and stripped naked, because I refused to cooperate for a strip search. A woman had her hands on my bare breasts. Staff commented on my nude body. My crotch area was inspected and laughed at. This all happened while I struggled in a containment hold. My self-image is permanently damaged.
I was placed on “Safety 2” for disobeying staff, fighting strip searches, and wrestling against contaminants. On Safety 2, My time in the restroom was closely supervised. The “privilege” to participate in any off-campus activities was taken from me. I was a prisoner of the school.
I had no one to turn to.
Before each weekly call with my parents, my therapist reminded me of the communication rules:
- No discussing staff.
- No discussing negative emotions.
- No mention of contaminants or physical incidents.
- No asking to go home.
Failure to meet these expectations would meet in communication cut-offs, further starvation, visit cancellation, or containment. I once relayed to my mother that I was sick from hunger. My mother requested that the school increase my food intake. I was forced to go thirty-six hours with nothing but water. My parents were being lied to. Unable to openly communicate, help was out of reach.
The day after I attempted suicide, I was driven from Lake House Academy to a hospital in Ashville. I made no attempt to run. In the emergency room, I ate for the first time in days. The Nurse gave me ice cream cups and soda. Sugar was a strictly forbidden substance at Lake House. The Nurse also supplied me with paper and writing utensils. Sitting on a stretcher in the pediatric emergency, I felt free.
Following a short hospitalization at Copestone Hospital, I was sent to Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI) for psych assessment and medication. UNI practiced questionable methods of discipline on their young unstable and special needs patients.
Solitary confinement in a seclusion cell was a common punishment. Time in seclusion ranged from hours to weeks.
Children came out traumatized and psychotic from having absolutely no human interaction for their lengthy sentences. Reflection time was another cruel punishment. During reflection, children would be locked in a room for hours to write essays taking responsibility for any recent harmful actions, whether or not the actions were their own.
To decide the distribution of daily privileges or consequences, each hour the other children and I were graded on our behavior with 1s and 0s. We could earn up to five 1s and earn as little as five 0s per hour. A little 1 scribbled in black ink became the most valuable thing in my life. I gave up all freedom and emotion to push my way to the top level. On a typical day at UNI, I spoke less than thirty words for fear of that little 0.
Two months at UNI went by. I was successfully deemed functional, stabilized, and assessed. My mother told me over a phone call that I was being admitted to Sedona Sky Academy.
SSA began as a not excellent, not horrible experience. The first nine hours of the day were spent on therapy and academics. The last four hours were spent slaving over chores and campus repairs. I was exhausted from the hours of school, therapy, and labor; but so far, fatigue was my only complaint.
The other girls were intelligent and well-groomed. I quickly formed attachments with two sixteen-year-olds. They became my primary caregivers. As my anxiety and depression worsened, I began to rely on them for everything. They would convince me to eat, talk me through panic attacks, and brush my matted hair. They managed to keep me calm when the rest of school was flaming with chaos.
Around this time I was also suffering from psychosis and mania. On one particular night, I became paranoid and panicked, believing someone or something was coming for me. I broke down in my state of delusion. I remember staff shouting at me in distorted, unrecognizable words. I physically clung to my therapist, someone I was just beginning to trust. A police officer strode through the front door. He said he was taking me to the emergency room. Repeatedly he claimed he was trying to help. I refused to go with him.
The officer and two paramedics pried me off of my therapist and lifted me onto the stretcher. They tied me down with tight straps. I struggled and screamed. The rest is a blur.
They transported me to the emergency room. My mom spoke in static through the phone. Giant pills were shoved down my throat. My vitals were taken again. Then again. I sobbed and choked. A needle pierced my arm, sentencing me to oblivion.
The last few weeks of my time in the troubled teen industry were dimmed by drugs and depression. I was running in circles. Chasing hope, only to end up where I started… faded.
I am different now.
The imaginary world of flying pirate ships floating through rainbow clouds and pretty princesses with violet eyes and golden hair is years of trauma behind me. The stories I once projected in my dollhouse were fantastical mysteries.
Today, any story I perform is a sliver of my own. I wake up most nights sweating, unable to breathe, pinned to my bed by the memory of staff holding me down while I sobbed and struggled. My family will always suffer the guilt of not knowing about the abuse and failing to intervene. Together, we strive to build back up the strong trusting family relationship fraudulent programs and inadequate staff destroyed.