Adults Share Stories From The “Troubled Teen” Programs They Barely Survived

August 30, 2019 | Christine Tran

Adults Share Stories From The “Troubled Teen” Programs They Barely Survived

“Troubled youth” camps remain a controversial talking point in the news. For a price, these organizations will take (supposedly) problem kids off their parents’ hands and put them to work. Yet for every story of a kid being “straightened” out by some time apart, there’s a story of a bad institution making the problem even worse. These Redditors shared their experiences in these programs, from the good to the bad to the downright weird. Read on as adults share their harrowing experiences in “troubled teen” programs.

1. Get Logged In or Get Out of My Life

My family is very anti-technology. I was sent to a technology detox camp. There were zero electronics in the middle of the forest, so I just slept and did what the organizers told me to do. However, the camp didn’t cure my "technology addiction." I’m now a 3D designer, and my family still thinks I’m the spawn of Satan for using the technology.

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2. You Have to Play the Long Con

My adoptive parents sent me to a camp in Utah for kids with reactive attachment disorder. They sent me there after a friend and I tried to run away. We left a poorly forged note saying we had been kidnapped and tried to hitch a ride out of town. I don't even remember being transported to the camp, and I never tried to run away from there because it was surrounded by nothing but dirt and snakes.

You had all privileges stripped at admission. We mostly cleaned barns and got platitudes yelled at us. When you first arrived, you started by sitting in a circle all day, every day. I was an expert at playing the system and doing whatever I had to in order to graduate (aka escape) so I moved quickly. There were girls there who hadn't been home in a year and if you didn't move up, they could keep you until you turned 18 or your parents stopped paying.

I have no idea how any of them stood it that long unless going home was really that much worse...for some of us it was. Despite graduating, I never went home; they had a set of unlicensed foster parents from Colorado pick me up. I learned a lot from camp, mostly how to stand there being cold for hours, how to smoke a cigarette in less than a minute, and how to steal.

Oh, and how to make a bed. I am good at that now, but doing it makes me grit my teeth because I used to have to do it 100 times in a row.

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3. Make a Clean Getaway

I was sent to a rehabilitation camp in Texas. It was basically a camp for "troubled teens.” I had delved into a heroin addiction, and this was my parents’ last resort to get me clean before I turned 18 and had no hope. I had to go to a typical 30-to-90-day detox program before I was accepted into the program in Texas. I was there for a total of 14 months and hated it when I first got there.

After I got through several months of intense and extensive therapy, I started to realize that I was actually getting the help that I needed. I also realized my parents hadn't thrown me in there out of spite, rather they desperately wanted me to get the help I needed to get clean and move on with my life. Overall, the experience has ended up being an extremely positive one.

I'm still sober from drugs and I made lifelong friends in that program. Some of the friends I still talk to every day. I am genuinely grateful I got that help when I needed it. The staff was so loving and caring and genuinely wanted the best for everyone. I go to their alumni reunions every once in a while, and I am always overcome by emotion when seeing everyone and being brought back to the place that quite literally saved my life.

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4. You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

I was a bit of a pain in the butt back when I was a kid. I got into trouble, stayed out all night, did some petty vandalism, etc. Anyway, my parents freaked out and sent me to a wilderness school to straighten me out. I lived in the woods for just under two years. The thing was, it was also a facility for state kids coming from juvenile hall.

I was there with kids who'd been convicted of grand theft auto, breaking and entering, armed robbery, and a lot of drug charges. It was not fun the first year, but I never felt unsafe. We all had the same goal. Get wood for the winter. And we all had to work together to do that. Winter was really cold when you are outside all the time. We made tents out of trees we sawed down, hauled in, etc. Cooked our own meals two days a week.

The second year wasn't as bad, but that's because I knew what I was doing. I'd been through all the seasons. Man, I have a lot of stories from that place. I thought about running—everyone did. I only saw one do it "successfully." He had a breakdown and broke into someone’s house totally naked. He didn't come back. Usually, they caught you and you came back and were in deep trouble.

They'd work you. All. The. Time. and they take your belt and shoelaces. Makes it harder to run. One kid tried to start a truck on campus with a screwdriver. The screwdriver broke in the truck, so he trudged back to camp. In snow. So, there was some pretty damning evidence there. Couple other kids ran off during a canoe trip we had. They got caught.

One kid called his mom; mom called the cops.

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5. Pain Doesn’t Need a Doctor’s Note

I got into some legal trouble a while back and ended up doing a few months in county. I got a good lawyer and my attorney was able to bargain with the state, who wanted to throw the book at me. My attorney said I could do two years county time, with the time I'd already been in included, or do a yearlong "Christian program" in Georgia called Teen Challenge.

It's affiliated with the Assemblies of God, the world's largest Pentecostal denomination. I worked a full-time job—sometimes double full time. My entire paycheck was taken by the center despite the fact I paid full fees. I slept in bed bugs for a year straight. I'm Mormon and was not allowed to practice my faith; I did of course and smuggle copies of the Book of Mormon in, but they were confiscated if found.

I was constantly hounded by staff. You are not allowed contact with the outside world; you get one phone call a week, only to people they approve of, and they screen all your letters. I take Remeron for anti-anxiety and they wouldn't let me have it. I had panic attacks daily for months straight. They said I just needed to pray it through.

I finally got my family involved and after a long laborious process of going to multiple doctors and PROVING to them that my diagnoses of anxiety and clinical depression, are, in fact, correct, they finally let me have it. Do not ever, ever send anyone you know to Teen Challenge. It's an absolutely atrocious organization.

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6. Intolerance Leads to Cruelty

I was sent to one such facility when I was 15, around six weeks after coming out as gay. I was abused in ways I don't want to talk about, leaving me with severe PTSD. There was no escape from the facility I was sent. There were two successful breaches, but on both occasions, it was a team effort. I don't believe there was a way to do so individually because I searched for a means to do it constantly.

I ended up attempting suicide and almost dying. That's the only reason I got out. These places are not rare or unusual in the US. Look up the documentary Kidnapped for Christ on YouTube. You'll be amazed at what's legal.

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7. A Wild Choice

I went to a therapeutic wilderness program for three months before going to a residential treatment center for a few months more. Most people there were surprised by their visit with transporters in the middle of the night—big guys who basically restrain you to get you there. My parents gave me the option to go to the wilderness first or directly to the treatment center. I chose the wilderness and went willingly.

I hated both places at first, but never tried to escape. I know I wouldn't have made it far anyway. Coming out of it, I'm glad I went. I'm a much better person now.

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8. There Won’t Be Blood

It was a special school for violent kids or something like that. The kids there looked like crack dealers. I got kicked out after like, a week. I have no idea why I got kicked out, but they sent me back to a "normal" school afterward.

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9. One Pill Won’t Make You Happier

I was either 14 or 15 years old, came home tripping after chugging three bottles of Vicks 44. My parents sent me to a Christian rehab for kids in Grand Rapids, MI. I think it was called Pine Rest. I never tried to escape; I actually tried to do well. The place seemed legit, gave us free will—no locks, if we want to leave we can but it will only hurt ourselves.

A few people did, but they came back. One guy tried to kill himself by eating a whole bottle of Unisom. I think he slept for like 36 hours but lived. I was there for only about a week. Got out, did a lot more drugs and drank, went back to rehab in Florida at 22 years old. Now at 30, I finally realized I have problems that I want to fix.

I have more faith I'm on the right path because I want it this time, not because I'm being told I need it.

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10. Who Holds Authority Accountable?

I'm going to break from the norm because my experience was relatively positive. Quick backstory: I had extreme social anxiety, got bullied and refused to go to school for a period of time. My folks got desperate, so they decided to send me away. I awoke one morning to two transporters, and they took me out to Red Cliff Ascent in southern Utah.

Spent 89 days there, then was sent to residential treatment in northern Utah after that. All in all, I felt that everything seemed pretty reasonable. In the wilderness we would wake up, eat, hike, eat again, and go to sleep, except on days we had therapy. In residential, they made us do dumb things like make everyone go to NA. The education was bad, but I still got into a good college anyway.

We had to keep things super clean, but that was more annoying than anything. And all in all, it did help me with my confidence, and I can say definitively it made a positive impact in my life. However, I have come to realize that the industry is plagued by horrible people. And one of the things that scared me about Red Cliff especially was that I had no ability to communicate with the outside world or even try to run to a police station.

So, if there was a staff member who was molesting people, I would have had no ability to do anything except report it internally, which would have been laughed at. There also was never a clearly defined goal. Like when you go into the hospital with cancer, once your cancer is gone you leave, regardless of if it takes one week or one year.

But there is never a clearly defined measurement of success in these places. You could be fine, but your therapist will tell your parents you need more work because a year or so is typical. And considering how many of my friends have either relapsed or died, these places simply aren't effective, and for that reason will always choose not to quantify their results.

I guess it worked out alright for me, but god damn there are some serious rights violations here. Part of me thinks this whole industry needs to just be shut down. I never did try to escape, but I knew a few people that did. In the wilderness, they literally chased the kid down and restrained him by bending the palms of his hands against his inner forearm.

In residential, the kid got out and tried to hitchhike when he flagged a cop, who brought him back.

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11. The Straight and Narrow Ain’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

I had gone to this church camp back when I was in middle school. It was called Lakewood. We were part of the Church of Christ and this was a non-denominational camp. It was really fun and so years later, in high school, when my mom suggested I go back for this winter program right between Christmas and New Year's Eve, I was like sure.

It was junior year and most of my friends were going on this ski trip, so I figured Lakewood would be fun; maybe I'd see some old friends. Well, it turns out that I didn't know two things about that trip. One, that my mom had found the sexy toys I had bought online. And two, that the camp I had attended was not the same during the winter. It was a scared straight program.

It was a four-day program where they divided us up into groups of five to each cabin. One counselor and four guys who were in the age range of 14-17. The cabins we were in were built to hold 10 people, so we were all pretty spread out which was kinda the point. During the day it was your basic bible study but with a hard slant on marrying a woman and raising kids in the faith.

Lots of trust-building stuff and thinking of our male friends as family and brothers and never as a romantic or sexual interest. Thank God it wasn't as bad as some stories I've heard. There were about 40 of us and at least in my cabin we were all just going along with whatever they said to get out of there. On the third night, me and another guy in my cabin stayed up reading on purpose until about an hour after everyone else had gone to sleep.

We snuck out for a cigarette, but we both knew why we were really sneaking out there. That was the only redeeming moment of the week.

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12. Bad Girls Do It Better

The initial shock of randomly being sent away affected me the most. I cried all the way there and spoke to no one on the bus. On arrival, I was swept up by a guy who had a crazy violent reputation. Together, we created chaos. Locking everyone out of the recreation room. Setting the dining hall on fire. Smashing china when on kitchen duty for punishment.

Two failed nightly attempts at running away. Myself sleeping naked with another girl in the female dorm. The second week, I was mentally exhausted and totally compliant. All my anger was gone and I returned home an angel.

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13. Escape is Cold Comfort

I was sent to a camp in Idaho, in the middle of winter, where there were no showers, we had to camp in tents, and make our own fire. I tried to escape at least three times. First time, I was with another guy and we started walking at night, tried to make it to some random light in the distance, gone a few hours and didn't seem like we were gonna make it since it was so cold, so we went back.

Second time, I was by myself and a similar thing happened where it was too cold and too long of a distance, so I stopped to rest, and they were looking for me so I let myself be found. Third time, I just walked away, and they just followed me, not trying to stop me or anything but it started to snow, and I accidentally stepped in a puddle and was freezing so I let them take me back to camp.

I eventually went through the program and I think I'm a better person for having gone through it.

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14. The Sadness Swallows Your Hygiene Whole

I went to a suicide prevention center where they'd keep you for a week and teach you how to cope and stuff. I got what they were trying to convey, but the bad thing was that if you still were suicidal or if you behaved incorrectly, they would keep you for more days, so it was basically bury your thoughts until you get out.

I could not keep up with the schedule, for I am in no way a morning person. Due to depression, I rarely shower, so showering daily was a struggle. I guess I didn't like being told what to do or sit and wait for the next activity. It was also constantly cold, like almost freezing temperatures; it was not comfortable or pleasant at all.

To this day, I still have nightmares about that place.

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15. A Killer Ending

My brother's friend got sent to one of those. He didn't try to escape, he tried to take over. He's now serving a life sentence for murder.

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16. Some Kidnappings Never Heal

Long story short, I had a lot of family problems when I was a teenager. One day, my parents woke me up, put me on a plane, and sent me to a wilderness therapy program and subsequently a therapeutic boarding school where I remained until I graduated high school (they lied and told me I would be home upon completion of wilderness).

I would be lying if I said it wasn't complete hell, and although my relationship with my parents has improved, I still harbor some resentment seven years later. I never tried to escape, but there were certain talks of it with my fellow "students.” While I would never wish it on my worst enemy, everything happens for a reason and I'm at peace with the fact that it brought me on the trajectory I am today.

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17. A Fool-Proof Escape

Been to one of the adult ones in northern Indiana, which means I was dumb enough to agree to it. Joke's on them, though, I got myself kicked out!

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18. In Bad Company

21 years ago, I went to what was basically a scared straight program but by a different name, I can't recall. Either way, I was supremely stubborn, and it didn't have near the impact on me personally that being around all the other "bad" kids did. It ended up being a turning point where I got worse and continued down a pretty bad road, until meeting my wife who ended up being the one to get my feet back on the right path.

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19. In Fights, There’s Sometimes Friends

My father lost custody of me for domestic violence, and I got scooped up by CPS and put into the group home system. He got custody back a couple of months later and I ended up running away. They sent me to a place called "Vision Quest," which was a place with troublemakers, but not that bad. The thing that was bad was that there wasn't any food.

I was eating little single-serving cups of cream cheese. Ended up running from there with another dude, and when we got picked up, I ended up in a residential treatment facility, mostly because they didn't know what to do with me since I didn't earn any jail time along the way. That place was full of mostly Native American kids.

Some of them were from rival gangs, and the violence would get pretty bad. There were midnight beatdowns, gang fights, racial violence, sexual abuse, etc. The people running it really seemed to mean well and were actually pretty fair about seeing "what really happened" vs "everyone gets punished, no matter what." But still...

Despite what the other kids were like, it was the first time anyone really told me that it was my family that was wrong and to just focus on the program and work towards an independent living program, which I did.

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20. It Only Takes One Hit

I was sent to the infamous PCS (Provo Canyon School) from 1994—1996, at the crescendo of the "standing ips" era. I witnessed a lot of beatings and rapes, but thankfully I was never party to either one of those things. I kept to myself enough and got along with everyone. The worst thing was during a stint in investment, I noticed a few other kids working on loosening a pipe from a drain trap on a sink. I thought that stuff was funny at the time, because "Hey, petty vandalism, right?"

Well, our group goes to the gym and these thugs hid the detached pipe in a towel. I didn't know until I see our big dopey councilor get whacked hard as heck in the head. I was the only one who stayed behind while the rest took his keys and escaped. They didn't get far, and when they were caught, they were all beaten mercilessly and restrained for days before being hauled off to juvie, or real jail, or the hospital/morgue or whatever.

What was messed is that the councilor was one of the few good ones. I used to stay up and play chess with him when he worked the night shift. Worse yet, he had two brothers working there, who went from kind of jerks to violent psychopaths after all that. And I got singled out because I was the only one left who was there when it happened.

When the dust settled, I still did another few months in investment, stood over 1,000 ips, didn't see the sun for over three months. Plus, I took a lot of blame for not preventing that whole thing. Still no regrets, because I would have also taken a pipe to the head if I tried to do anything.

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21. With Friends Like These, Who Needs Abusers?

I was definitely a troubled teen. A lot of running away, drugs, alcohol, etc. My parents sent me to Elan School, in Maine. When I arrived, I was strip-searched and showered by a girl, not staff. It was pretty hellish; abuse was the norm. It was a couple hundred kids and a very small handful of staff. Essentially, if you won privileges, you got to run things...

Until you messed up and had to begin the status climb all over again. We weren't allowed to make friends, that was called a "contract" and other kids would report you. Our days were spent watching each other, waiting for a chance to tell on someone, because that helped elevate your status. If you messed up enough you'd get "shotdown."

Sometimes that meant a costume meant to provoke ridicule, sometimes being put in the corner. Literally. Unable to speak, not allowed to move around. Guarded for however long by another kid. If the corner person wasn't cooperative, then both got in trouble. There was also the boxing ring: one house or multi-house general meetings where you’d stand while everyone rushed you, screaming as loud as they could about what a terrible person you are.

I can't type anymore tonight because I'll have bad dreams. Almost 40 years later, I still see certain faces.

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22. An Improvised Return Trip

I did Outward Bound when I was 18. The group consisted of about 14 of us, all between the ages of 16 and 20. One girl was "sent" by her parents, I assume to straighten her up. On the first night we camped, she fled. She took a map, a compass, and I think some matches and was gone when we woke up. We were told later she had made it to a road and hitchhiked to somewhere. I think she eventually made it home.

If there are camps specifically for kids in trouble, her parents should have sent her to one of those.

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23. Soft Crime, Hard Time

I was in juvenile detention for a few weeks when I was a teenager. I had a third-degree misdemeanor. It was basically just jail but for teenagers. The only major difference I can think of is that we mostly had our own cells. I came out suicidal and would get panic attacks for years at the smallest things that reminded me of the place.

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24. It Pays to Take Punishment?

I did the Northwest Youth Conservation Corp. It is not exactly a troubled teens program, but I was put in an interesting situation. I joined because it seemed like a fun way to spend a summer outdoors, doing some hard but worthwhile work in the wilderness, and make some money to buy a PC gaming rig. I knew another person joining for the six weeks and it just seemed like a normal teenager summer thing.

For the most part, it was. See, usually, the crews are five guys and five girls. But they did not have enough girls, so I got put on the all guys crew. The all guys crew had what seemed like mostly troubled kids and a few outright dangerous kids. We also got all the hardest projects and worked our butts off. Still loved every minute of it and reflect upon it fondly.

If you are ever walking the trail along the coast to Cannon Beach in Oregon, I helped build some of it!

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25. Putting a Price on “Recovery”

Went to Discovery Academy in Provo Utah for two years, until my parents went bankrupt and the school kicked me out. They also refused to release my transcripts, so I ended up having to get a GED because I was technically two years behind. This place had some amazing tools for parents with troubled kids. They had goons who would fly to your home and take your child out of their bed in the middle of the night and escort them to Provo.

They had comfortable rooms that were probably 4' x 12' with no doors that you got to stand in all day in nothing but your underwear with a councilor guard outside. Hazing and bullying were essential to the therapy. An attempted suicide in your room was an indicator you were going to succeed there and generate them revenue until you were 18.

It had decent moments, but there was so much misery, so much Mormon indoctrination, and so many abuses of power over the students.

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26. Battle of the Sexes

I went to a therapeutic away program for a month, and I witnessed a lot of messed up things. They gave me some unneeded medication, and I witnessed a girl beat another girl up on the ground and get her hair pulled out of her scalp. The same girl also poured chocolate milk on another girl’s head. We also weren't allowed to speak to the boys because apparently a girl and a boy had sex in the guy’s dorm thing.

Also, a girl was accused of sexually harassing another girl and had to sleep outside.

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27. Not the Doctor’s Orders

Got the snot repeatedly beat out of me at a Mormon boarding school in Provo, Utah. Almost everyone there was kept on incredibly high doses of anti-psychotics to keep us in line, and so we couldn't fight back. When we did, there was getting beaten, strapped to a table, injected with drugs like Haldol, and the tossed naked into a concrete cell.

"School" was a joke there. They didn't actually bother to teach anyone anything. And the "therapists," well, what they and the other employees deserve probably isn't allowed to be said on here. Those who have been know what I'm talking about. Basically, the whole experience was rather quite unpleasant.

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28. A Matter of Care and State

Went to Dundee ranch academy when I was 15. I am 32 now. It was shut down by the embassy for child abuse and living conditions among other things. I was there for a year and I still have nightmares of being trapped or jailed and other triggers. Sucks, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

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29. The String of Fate Strike Back

Just got out of a yearlong program for drug abuse/ behavioral therapy type stuff. It was religion-based and it was definitely something that I was not prepared to get myself into. I ended up getting an assault charge and sent to basically a prison for juveniles for a few days while I was there because a kid dumped two gallons of water on my bed.

I whipped him with a guitar string (not the best choice I’ve ever made). Now, it's off my record, but that was definitely a turning point in the way I treat myself and others.

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30. The Sweet Smell of Survival

I got sent to a military school across the country for a year because I smelled funny one night. Now I was drunk and high on ether, but that’s beside the point. I went in with a shallow knowledge of drugs and came out with a master’s degree. Fortunately, I found my feet after a few years of the lifestyle and am just an average drinker now that will occasionally indulge in some reefer.

Overall, I would suggest that putting a bunch of people with similar problems together for an extended period of time isn’t really a great idea. I was definitely one of the fresh fishes there. Most of those kids had way more serious issues, just based on what they claimed. Hard to say.

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31. Boys Will Be Smelly Boys

Got sent to a Christian boys’ ranch mostly because of rampant ADHD. I could tell stories for hours of all the stuff that went down there. There were good times, like a weekend at Tablerock Lake, and bad times. I once was forced to spend a total of four days in a field spreading manure with a pitchfork in a field. Another boy was regularly locked in a blue bunny trailer as a consequence.

Two more ended up running away (which happened fairly regularly) and killing an old couple. Pretty sure it was in the news. Now living with one of the guys I was friends with there and his girlfriend.

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32. Born to Be Wild

I was hospitalized for a week, and then spent three months in wilderness therapy when I was 17. I actually turned 18 while there, so I ended up needing to switch groups. I had a waayyyyy different experience in the adult group than the teen group. Being hospitalized was extremely traumatic and I still deal with PTSD symptoms from that experience.

The wilderness was actually good for me. I went to a program where we did yoga and meditation every day and ate organic—the whole nine yards. I still had to call my name when I peed and give up my shoes at night, though. However, the adult residential rehab screwed me up after I got out of the wilderness. Crazy people don't make great roommates, obviously.

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33. Good Grief

Went to a camp after my brother died when I was nine. I was completely lost beforehand because we were attached at the hip, but this place significantly helped me process and understand death as well as life. It gave me a lot of help as far as starting to move on. Mostly had a lot of outdoors activities that incorporated grief techniques considering the other participants had lost someone close to them too.

Hope everyone else is doing ok.

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34. Scared to Be Less Than Perfect

I went to a therapeutic day school and then ultimately a school for at-risk delinquent teens. I wish I could share my full story but even thinking about what happened to me was hard. Short answer: I have been mentally, emotionally, and physically damaged by abuse, I'm terrified of doing something wrong because I'm used to extreme consequences like no food or being locked in a padded room, and I learned that expressing how I felt would ultimately lead to more punishment.

As an adult, I'm now struggling with multiple disorders, PTSD among them.

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35. A Plea for Cancellation

A friend of mine was sent to a few as a teen. They have some really terrible stories. Even the less abusive ones are run by people who have little to no (or really bad) training in behavioral health or psychology. A while ago, my friend was working to try and help some legislation pass to make them illegal, or at least more regulated. It didn't pass.

The stuff that's allowed to go down in those places would make individual parents or even the administrators of a group home or freaking jail be stopped or arrested. It's horrifying and if you can ever hear of any laws to help regulate and stop these places, please get involved. And if you hear of anyone ever trying to send their kid to one?

For the love of god please stop them.

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36. Playtime is Over

Went to a video game addiction camp when I was 15. This was 100% one of the worst experiences in my life. I was in the desert in Utah for nine weeks. I was only given my shoes to go on hikes, I had to make my own fire if I wanted to cook food for myself (every meal). My mom also had her wedding while I was there and didn’t tell me about that until after.

Just a bad period of my life and I would’ve never recommend anyone sends their kids to one of these camps. I was a video game addicted nerd before the camp, but the camp pushed me into substance abuse. Getting me out of the house more and telling me do whatever I needed to do to replace that addiction led to tons of drugs.

(The camp was called Outback Therapeutic Expeditions if you're curious).

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37. What's Not Said is Telling

I went to residential treatment for a year and a therapeutic boarding school for another six months after. I finally, eight years later, I managed to talk to my current therapist about it for a few minutes the other month, but aside from that, everyone knows that they're not to bring it up at all, ever. You're just supposed to keep quiet.

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38. Scared Straight off the Edge

Dude I work with got put in Straight! drug treatment as a young man. He can barely talk about it. Says that of the kids he knew there, almost half of them have committed suicide. No way to know if that really happened but evidently being there was pretty screwed up. Straight was run by former Republican National Finance Chair Mel Sembler.

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39. On the Border of Nowhere Good

I was unfortunate enough to be sent to one of these that operated out of Ensenada, Mexico. It was one of the most terrifying and horrific experiences in my life. A little backstory: my father left at an early age and it tore me up inside. He came back once because his new wife wanted a daughter and tried to take my sister.

He made it clear he wasn’t interested in being around me or my brother, and it sent me into a depression that eventually evolved into a rage issue. Cut to me at 14; my mother cannot handle my rage and decided to contact this "rehabilitation center." We lived in San Diego, so my mom convinced me we were going down there for a lobster lunch.

After lunch, she drove me to the facility and left. I was there for seven months. The program was designed in five levels. You had absolutely no rights at the first level. At the second level, you got trivial things like a weekly candy bar and other such nonsense. At the third, you were trusted to lead other low levels—that's where people usually became power-hungry.

You could always spot them because they were allowed to wear watches. The fourth and fifth levels were practically the same and they were allowed to call their parents and move about the facility without your group. The groups were called "families" and were usually made up of an adult employee, one or two level threes and then 20 or so level one and twos.

The place was like a military school and a prison wrapped in one awful package. We wore these silly denim uniforms and had to comply by the rules that were stacked against us. If you got in trouble you were knocked down a level and the punishments were usually worse, like this one room set up with several benches all facing a table with a radio on it.

The radio played tapes of literal classics, and you had to sit and listen to them for an hour. The benches had no backs and you needed to sit up straight. If you slouched during your hour, you would have to restart from the beginning. This was the tamer punishment, by the way. I once spent three days in a room with no furniture or people and had to stare at a wall.

It ended on September 10th, when I was escorted out by the Mexican Government. I lined up for my medicine and a SWAT team came in with assault rifles. They shut the place shut down to some political turmoil between the US and Mexico. I was so relieved.

“Troubled Teen” Programs facts Shutterstock

40. Less Than Picture Perfect

When I was 14-15 my grandparents sent me to an inpatient treatment center because I had been doing illegal stuff with my friends. Things like shoplifting liquor, drinking to excess, smoking pot, etc. I had always been a stubborn kid and very headstrong. They finally had their last straw when I was busted stealing bottles of vodka with my girlfriend at the time.

The treatment center was way out in the middle of nowhere about 40 miles from the nearest town high up in the mountains. They convinced me that it would be therapeutic and like a vacation. They showed me a catalog with horses in it and smiling teenagers. I thought this could be fun and healthy for me to get my life on track.

The system they had in place at the center was....confusing. It was called a "peer-run culture" which basically meant that everyone your age was to hold you accountable for your actions (which, in hindsight, is some pretty messed-up psychological warfare stuff). The way they held you accountable was with "The Seven Levels of Intervention."

1: They would non verbally tell you to stop (shake their head at you). 2: Another nonverbal, with more expression. 3: Verbally tell you to stop ("Please stop doing blank"). 4: Verbally INSIST you to stop. 5: Group Intervention (all your peers stand around you and tell you what you're doing wrong and to stop it). 6: Staff Intervention (The Behavioral Health Counselors would surround you and tell you to deescalate). 7: Physical Intervention (the staff physically restrains you if you become physically combative).

To deescalate the intervention, you had to say "Okay" without any backtalk or negative facial expression. Do you know how frustrating that is? No reaction at all, just dead face. When someone your own age is telling you what to do? It was all girls and the girls were in short very sick in the head. A lot were ex-heroin or meth addicts, prostitutes, or gang members.

I remember being shocked at the time that there were girls there maybe 11, 12, 13 who were prostituting and shooting heroin. I was confused as to why I was sent here; these girls seemed so much worse off than I was. There was also a system that restricted who you could talk to or associate with. It was called "Force fields."

There were positive, neutral and negatives. Positives FFs could talk to anyone. Neutral could only talk to neutrals and positives. Negatives could only talk to Positives. New people to the program could only talk to Positives and had to be escorted by people in the advanced programs for two weeks after admission. The girls in the advanced programs were like trustees in a prison. They could go places without a staff member and had other privileges.

No one was allowed to talk in the bathrooms, the dark (like outside at night), or the dorm rooms. No one was allowed to touch each other for any reason ever. Ever. I remember once there was a girl I had become friends with and she found out her mom had suffered a heart attack and died. She sobbed uncontrollably and her force field fell to negative for six weeks because she fell into a terrible depression.

All I wanted to do was hug her, but I couldn't. No one who wasn't in the advanced program was allowed to be alone ever. I remember the only times I was ever alone was the five minutes a day I was allowed to shower, and when I did, I cut myself because of the immense peer pressure to be perfect 24/7. Always on my thighs where no one would ever see.

A lot of the girls there were suicidal or extremely violent. I remember once there was a fight in the computer lab that ended with a girl getting stabbed in the throat with safety scissors. There was so much blood, I thought she was going to die. She went to the hospital and never came back. There was another girl who smashed her head repeatedly on a toilet. Another who drank a bottle of hand sanitizer trying to kill herself.

I was there only for three months, but there were girls there who had been there for three YEARS. The program wasn't over in a set amount of time; it was whenever the staff determined that they were ready to go live in the real world again. There were some who were over 18 too, since they were CA residents and there was a law saying that they could stay until they were 21 if the staff deemed them unfit to graduate.

The only reason I left in three months was that my insurance coverage ran out. The whole thing was a mind screw. They made me think I was a screwed up kid, when in reality I was probably doing most of the things my friends had done. My grandparents were just so strict and they thought I was out of control. There were so many strange girls there, the types of people I never thought I would meet.

I became friends with a girl names Kiera, and she seemed so timid; she was a tiny, bookish, quiet girl like me. When I asked her why she was there she said it was because she assaulted a boy. She tied him to the steering wheel of his truck and strangled him and tried to make him drink bleach because she thought he was going to rape her sister.

I was so glad to be out of there when my time was up. I just remember crying in the shower when I got home, crying and shaving the five pounds of hair that had grown on me since I wasn't allowed to shave for three months. I took as long as I wanted. It was glorious, though I realize that my story isn't as traumatizing as others.

I wasn't abused in the sense that I was hit or assaulted, but the immense pressure of being perfect 24/7 and not being able to talk or touch anyone at all or allowed to be alone for three months was horrible. I hated every second of it and felt nothing but relief when I finally left. Life at home with my grandparents never really improved until I moved out.

All I needed was a bit of distance and independence for our relationship to improve.

“Troubled Teen” Programs factsShutterstock

41. Maybe It’s Not a Phase

I was sent to Diamond Ranch Academy in Utah in 02-03. It was long, soul-crushingly depressing, boring, MISERABLE, and I made friends that I'll have for the rest of my life. I learned to manipulate, toe the line, keep my mouth shut, and get through periods of incarceration. I never tried to escape, it didn't solve my drug problems, and it didn't save me from a life of legal trouble and jail.

I am now in my 30s and still a troublemaker, though I think this last run of trouble will end up being my last.

“Troubled Teen” Programs factsShutterstock

Sources: ,

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