My name is Kristin E. Stattel. I would like to share my personal experiences regarding residential treatment for adolescents. I will begin by saying that I appreciate the GAO and all contributors, for analyzing this “teen help industry”. It is such a major concern in our world, and it is very dear to my heart. I want to personally, from the bottom of my heart and soul, thank you for recognizing and investigating this issue. I remember when I was in these treatment centers, I was always wondering, how it is ultimately possible for this “living nightmare” to exist. I recall, like it was yesterday, and the feeling was immensely heart wrenching.
Now, I would like to share with you, my testimony. It all began, when I was fourteen years old, my mother, who was my best friend, my angel, my whole world, and passed away of ovarian cancer. The days before she passed, she was home on Hospice care. I spent every waking moment, by her side. It was such a traumatic time in my life, when she passed away. I was on home instruction from my freshman year in high school. When it came time to begin sophomore year, back at Marlboro High School, my depression and anxiety skyrocketed. I had trouble coping, and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder as well as Social Anxiety Disorder. My sophomore and junior years of high school, were so difficult. The last day of my junior year, is when the real nightmare began. I was woken up at four in the morning, by my father, and standing along with him in my bedroom, were two complete strangers. They told me to get out of bed, that I had a plane to catch at Newark Liberty International Airport, to Asheville, North Carolina. Completely confused, I stated I was not going anywhere with them. I did not know who they were, why they were telling me I was going to North Carolina. They then came over to my bed, grabbing my arms, and dragging me out of my bed. I asked if I could change out of my pajamas first, which of course my request was denied. They dragged me down the stairs, through the first floor of the house, and out the door, and pushed me into their car. I tried to fight these strangers off, but they defeated me. A short time later, I arrived in North Carolina, where I was taken to SUWS of the Carolinas, a wilderness therapy program. During the program, we hiked miles a day through the mountains, we were forced into such a rigorous routine, hiking everyday, no matter what the weather conditions were, no matter if anyone was feeling ill. Finally, after completing this program, it was advised that I should go to a “therapeutic boarding school” and not return home.
I went from SUWS in North Carolina, to The Academy at Swift River, which is owned by ASPEN. The academy is located in Cummington, Massachusetts. Upon my arrival there, all new patients had to go through Base Camp before we were allowed to go onto campus, where we would start our schooling. Additionally upon admission, we were given a ration of nutrition which consisted of a bag of granola, an apple, some carrots, and some celery, as well as a plastic bottle for our water. A short time after my admission, a group of us from Base Camp, decided to try and escape by running away. Needless to say, we were caught a few hours after we went AWOL. A couple of days later, I was told I was being sent to a more “intense therapeutic environment”. Once again, at around three in the morning, two “transporters” picked me up from the program, took me to Buffalo airport in New York, and once again was off on a flight now to Knoxville, Tennessee. I arrived at Peninsula Village on September 3, 2004 which is a level 4 lockdown facility in Louisville, Tennessee. Peninsula Village was the gate keeper to the abuse I would endure for the following six months. My very first day, I was overcome with fear and the highest level of anxiety I have ever felt. I was strip searched, and following the search was instructed to take a shower, however staff would be monitoring me. They would be able to be in plain view of me at all times. Privacy at Peninsula Village did not exist even in the least bit. I refused to shower if they were going to watch, so two staff came over to me, as I was collapsed on the bathroom floor, shaking uncontrollably and absolutely hysterical. They grabbed my upper arms, and dragged me across the bathroom floor, out across the carpet of the unit, and dropped me on the cold blue floor of the “time out room”. I was told to sit there, with my back against the wall, and not to move until permitted to do so. They then left me in there, for a substantial amount of time. Little did I know that the “time out room” would be come ever so familiar? Later on that day, I stood up; I had been sitting there for a long time, in which I was ordered to sit back down. I refused, and said I just needed to stand up for a minute. At that moment, two staff came from behind, grabbed my upper arms once again, and started kicking the back of my knees, in which I inevitably fell to the floor, face down, an alarm went off, in which staff from the entire property came running in. They were pinning me to the floor, and upon others arrival, there would be seven or eight staff members on top of me, holding me facedown to the floor. There was a staff on my arms, on my back, on my legs, and on my ankles, as well as one holding my head to the floor. During this first restraint (out of many more to come in my stay) I vomited, while being pinned to the floor. I tried to lift my face from it, in which a staff would hold my head down, right into my own bile’s. I felt like I was suffocating and honestly did not know if I was going to make it through that restraint alive. I was in ultimate fear for my life. I was only around 120 pounds, which for my height of five foot and nine inches, is underweight. I struggled trying to breathe with all of these people sitting on me, as well as trying to breathe with my face being held to the floor, and in my bile’s. After this 30 minute restraint, I was carried into the “time out room” in which I was stripped of my clothing, and was changed into blood stained hospital gowns.
The first two months I was at Peninsula Village, I was restrained a total of forty two times and twenty two of those restraints, were mechanical and chemical restraints. That was only the first to months, which many more to come. Some days, I would be restrained several times in one day. An example of my longest restraint is from October 14, 2004. Physical restraint was initiated at 7:13 AM; I was transferred to the restraint bed in which a body net was used, at 7:40 AM. At 10:50 AM, I was released from the restraint bed, only to be physically restrained again, at 11:02 AM, moved back to the restraint bed, and was not released until 9:25 PM. During that time, I was given 0.5 MG of Klonopin and 5 MG of Zyprexa.
As a result of restraints, I had bruises all over my body. At one point, they had to order X-Rays of my wrist and jaw, from one of my restraints. I had also filed a grievance against one of my counselors, in which Child Protective Services had to come in and investigate. The results of the investigation; however were supposedly, that the abuse was unsubstantial.
A simple breakdown, of what life was like at Peninsula Village, beyond all of the restraints was sickening as well. We sat on our beds, most of our waking hours, were prohibited from looking and/or speaking to any of our peers. The only time we were allowed to speak at all, was if granted permission by staff, or in therapy groups. I was denied access to a phone at all times, unless I had the privilege of family therapy. Our mail was monitored, both incoming and outgoing. In communication with my father, I was prohibited from speaking about what was going on daily. We were forced to attend a chemical addiction group, even if we had no substance abuse issues. I have never had a substance abuse issue, yet they convinced me I was addicted to downers and being restrained. Confrontational therapy is what they practiced. We were also forced to study the Native American Medicine Wheel spiritual opinion. Bathroom times were on their terms. If we had to go when it was not bathroom break, we had to wait, and if it was a real emergency they would allow it but then you would get consequence for it later on in consequence group. Who ever thought of being consequence for having to use the bathroom? We were not allowed to talk except in group therapy or if we raised our hand and were actually called on. You had to sit on your bed with your back up against the wall. If you got off your bed, or just hung your legs out (from sitting Indian style) to stretch them, you would be restrained. There were level systems which always made me feel bad about myself. When you were restrained they would strip you of your clothing and make you wear hospital gowns until you contracted to move up to wearing scrubs then contracting to wear your clothes. The director of my unit at the time was not licensed he was actually denied by the board of health so he was misrepresenting himself. He told me once, "If you think you are smart enough to get kicked out of here and escape it here you are wrong" I would not see my dad for weeks sometimes over a month. My family therapy sessions would get taken away from me in which I could not talk to my dad much less see him if when I was talking to my dad and I tried to tell him how bad it was there they would end the family therapy session right there. They also told him I was incompetent and did not know what I was talking about when he heard me tell him about my bruises. I was covered in bruises from the head down. My mail was monitored by staff both outgoing and incoming. When we went to the bathroom, we were timed. We had to tell them how long we needed in the bathroom. One minute to pee, two minutes for a bowel movement, and an extra 30 seconds if we had our period. A level 2 would check our stall before we could flush, and if we were not out of the bathroom on time, we were consequence. Our showers were monitored, in which a level 2 would run shower time. We had 7 minute shower time, in which you had to shower, brush your teeth, comb your hair, put on your deodorant, and get dressed. If there was hair left in your brush or toothpaste in your sink, or a hair in your shower stall, you would be consequence. The level 2 would watch us undress, and would keep a close eye on us, which made me feel highly uncomfortable, as some of them would stare at me as I was undressing to shower.
In order to talk to staff, you had to raise your hand, and if 3 hands went up in the air, we had to do a 5 minute halt, in which we all had to stand (completely still) and stare at the clock on the wall, and staff would walk around and check to make sure our eyes were focused on the clock; if we were not, or if one of us fidgeted, or moved, we had to start the time all over.
We ate our meals on our beds, we did our schoolwork on our beds, and we would have quiet time for about 4 or 5 hours a day. We were not allowed to look at our peers, make any form of contact with them. Peers would confront others for any little thing you did wrong, everything from leaving a hair in your shower, to being "entitled".
We never went outside, except to walk out the door (escorted) and down the stairs to nursing. We were not allowed to look out the windows, not allowed to look at male staff if they came on the unit. The staff would pick on me, because when I got nervous, I would have an "incongruent smirk" on my face. A nurse that I speak to now from Peninsula Village claims that they knew from the very beginning that I did not belong there, yet they kept me there. I was a private pay patient.
Our counselors had no formal training, nothing more than a GED or high school diploma. Some of them were only a few years older than me. They were the ones there with us all the time, running our groups, and everything that was done on the unit.
It was constantly beaten into my head what a worthless excuse of life I am and that I am just an entitled little bitch.
They performed psychological testing on me, and determined that I was "malingering", yet they kept raising my dosage of Antipsychotic Medication, to a dose that most have never heard of.
(I have attached a breakdown of the psychotropic medication regimen, from admission to Peninsula Village to discharge.)
After discharging from Peninsula Village, I was transported to Liberty Hill, Texas and was admitted to Meridell Achievement Center. At Meridell, they helped me to “break away” from the abuse I endured at Peninsula Village. They helped me transform from a “bruised girl who was afraid to speak, move, or do anything” to a more normal state of mind. After discharge from Meridell, I finally returned home to New Jersey.
After all of my personal experiences, I am now highly active in working to prevent what happened to me, from happening to any one else. I am committed to being proactive and constructive, every day of my life. For a long time after the abuse, I would ask myself why this happened to me, and the reason that I came up with, that I can live with, is simple. It happened to me, because I am now, going to do everything in my personal capacity, to make a difference.
Once again, I want to personally express my gratitude, to all of those involved in making a difference. I have met some wonderful people in the short time that I have been involved in working vigorously to make a difference and stand up for what is right.
In Greatest Sincerity,
Kristin E. Stattel
The Following Survivor Story was sent into TroubledTeenSurvivor.com
After the first time I attempted suicide, in 1998, I ended up in a long-term “treatment” facility called Peninsula Village, which is located outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. Yes, I was a troubled teenager -- like most, I suppose -- but the only difference between some others and me was that I had untreated depression and anxiety disorders. These factors made it very hard for my family to deal with me at times, and my parents eventually fell under the spell of Peninsula Village’s staff and their lies. However, my parents did not inform me about the extent to which I would be staying at the Village -- at least 11 months until I turned 18 and could sign myself out. My parents also did not inform me about the extent to which the staff will go in order to “discipline” the children, but in fairness, the Village staff lied to my parents and omitted key facts. The issues this caused me during my stay eventually led to my escape -- the second, fully successful one in 13 years at the time -- but the memories of that place haunt me to this day.
The staff at Peninsula Village view discipline as treatment, but not “time-out” discipline, I’m talking about “slamming.” Slamming is a word we used to describe what was done to us (the children) if we “acted-up.” It involved the staff pressing a siren button that hung around their necks. Then, at least 6 burly staff members would come flying into the room through every entrance, and basically, they would tackle the child, slam his (I only witnessed the males) face into the ground, and dig their elbows and knees into his back and limbs, making it hard for him to breathe. This would last a relatively long time, and would always lead to the removal of the child’s clothing in exchange for bloodstained hospital gowns. The child would also get a one-way ticket to the “quiet room” -- a slightly padded, tiny, cold room with a cement floor covered by linoleum -- for an indefinite amount of time. On occasion, the child would also receive a hefty IM (intra-muscular) dose of a sedative, like Thorazine, that would leave him drooling for hours. Even more disturbing, there were many occurrences of bloodshed during these slammings. The emotional and physical pain I heard in the cries, screams, groans, and sobs during the slammings, coupled with the sight of blood pooling around a child’s head, and 8 adults kneeling on him, is truly haunting. Most of the slammings occur in the STU (Special Treatment Unit), but the staff will not hesitate to slam someone outside in the gravel, mud, manure, or whatever else one might be standing in.
STU is where they put all the new admits, and a stay there can last anywhere from 2 months to more than a year. While in STU, the staff forced me to strip naked, bend over and expose my anus, and expose and lift my scrotum. They also put me on an anti-depressant medication called Paxil, but immediately at a very high dose that left me buzzing and tingling. I had them decrease the dose soon after. In addition, they forced me to sit, Indian-style, on a small, cubicle-like bed all day under fluorescent lights -- lights that they never fully turned off. One day, a staff member caught me slouching very slightly, and made me stand and watch the clock for ten minutes, then forced me to sit back down on the hard, wooden bed box, but without the mattress for the remainder of the day. That’s not the half of it because the entire time one is in STU, one has to remain silent and non-communicative with other peers; however, the staff will sit and chat all night long while we try to sleep under the dimmed lights, then, they wake us up at 6 A.M. by yelling, and slapping the cubicle tops. I didn’t dare speak though, aside from the occasional group “therapy” session where the staff tells everyone how much he sucks, and that he’s a worthless piece of crap. The Village’s lead psych. doctor was very good at this. They also force everyone to “admit” he has a drug and alcohol problem, join AA/NA, and become spiritual, even if he doesn’t have a problem or have spiritual beliefs. Aside from groups, bathroom breaks were the only other time we could get up from our beds. We only got 3 minutes to defecate, 1 minute to urinate, and 4 minutes to shower. If we went over our allotted time by even 1 second, we would loose minutes from our next shower time. I never lost shower time, but I frequently had to let soap dry in my hair or on my body, and it would sometimes become itchy. The other bad thing about STU was we were allowed no time with our parents, on the phone or in person. I spent 2 ½ months in STU, living as a monk, and the only communication I had with my parents was my outgoing letters that were read, and censored, by staff. I could not write anything slanderous about the goings-on there, or my letter would not be mailed. The staff does not show STU to parents on their tour of the facilities because I doubt any parent would allow their child to stay at the Village if they witnessed what went on in there.
All of the slammings I witnessed were during my stay in STU. The first time I developed a fear of the alarm buttons was after I saw one guy’s scabbed face early in my stay. The entire right side of his face was covered in scabs, and he was wearing the hospital gowns. I managed to ask him about it before the start of a group session one day, and he said it was from the staff slamming him, and then dragging his face across the carpet. The next time I saw a slamming, the boy ended up getting a large dose of Thorazine in the butt because, if I remember correctly, he was in the quiet room afterward, and couldn’t stop sobbing. I remember during his slamming he was in a lot of distress from all the force being applied to his small body. He was having difficulty breathing, and he was in a lot of pain, and he was voicing these complaints to the best of his ability, but the staff wouldn’t let up. I think they enjoy restraining children just to feel powerful or something. They could have easily restrained him with half as many staff members, and quickly put him in the quiet room, but no, they decided to prolong the enjoyment. Eventually, once he was good and high, they let him come out to join us in group therapy. I don’t see any reason, other than to scare the rest of us, for them letting him join us because he was droopy-faced and drooling on himself. Another slamming I witnessed was even worse. The boy was smaller, and the slamming was more forceful, so much in fact, that he might have had his nose broken. All he did to be slammed was shrug his shoulder when a staff member grabbed his arm to lead him back to his bed box after he wouldn’t go by command. I saw him lying in a large pool of his own blood, where they held his face for quite some time, and then they swapped his clothes for the gowns, and stuck him in the quiet room as well. I heard a number of other slammings happen on the other boys’ side of STU, although I didn’t witness them. I did see the aftermath of at least one of those though. One boy was crying, and sitting in a padded room with a straight jacket on. This boy couldn’t have been older than 12 or 13.
Once I “graduated” to the outdoor cabin program, I was able to speak again, but there were a completely new set of rules, and I was forced to do even worse things. I was also constantly condescended, laughed at by staff, and made to feel stupid and worthless. The staff all acted as if they were gods or something. As far as strange rules go, one was that I was never allowed to look at another female. One guy in my group did, and we were forced, as a group, to do a “pyramid 15.” That’s where we had to do 15 pushups, 14 pushups, 13 pushups, etc. After that same guy was caught looking at girls three times, our group had to eat our meals in our cabin for a week. That meant hiking a half-mile to pick up the food, hiking a half-mile back to eat it on a wooden cabin floor, hiking a half-mile to bring the food tub back, and then hiking a half-mile back to our side of the grounds to continue with our daily activities. Two miles of hiking for each meal, and every meal ended up being cold for a week. Then, one time, a staff member (notice I don’t call them counselors -- I don’t think they were qualified) forced us to clear a path that was overgrown with poison ivy, but he forced us to do it with our bare hands! We complained, but he said not to be babies and that if we washed our hands, we’d be fine. It took us over an hour to clear the path, and we all ended up with poison ivy. That wasn’t even the worse day I can remember though. I think the worse day I had, physically, was on a day the temperature reached the upper 90’s, and the humidity was probably in the same range. We were working in the garden, breaking up dirt clumps, and had very little water available to us, relative to the conditions. There were at least eight of us, only 5 gallons of water on site, and we were working there all day. I got so hot and red, and had so much sweat dripping from my face, that I started to have blurred vision and lose my balance. I was very near heat stroke. We worked in that garden 3 or 4 times per week during the summer. If we weren’t working in the garden, we were building a brick barbeque pit -- hardly things that were conducive to the therapy for which we were there. We only had school two days per week, and even that was a half-ass, teach-yourself kind of thing. After working, we would run around the cabin trails. They would force us to train for occasional 5k races. This training was mandatory. After working outside most of the day, I had to run in the Tennessee heat and humidity for over an hour, 3 times per week. In the beginning, it was too much for me, and I was so tired that I wouldn’t swallow to conserve energy. I was barely jogging to avoid being reprimanded, I was dizzy and had blurred sight, and I was drooling, but I could not stop. We were reprimanded for any number of things, even leaving hairs in the shower. For every hair left in the showers, we would have to do a pyramid 15 as a group. We usually had to do pushups after shower time, so I’d get clean, do some pushups, and then go to bed sweaty. We never cleaned our sleeping bags either. Once per month we would find a spot of sun peaking through the trees in the woods, and try to drape the bags over foliage to catch the sun in an attempt to “sterilize” the bags. Sometimes kids would wet their beds -- probably due to stress -- but they didn’t dare say anything to staff for fear of the consequences. They would just sleep in it. This is how much psychological stress and fear the staff impose on the children during their stay. The worst consequence I ever had while at the Village was when I had to carry a 40lb. Limestone rock in a milk crate, wherever we went as a group, for a week, while still carrying all of my other responsibilities (water gott, backpack, notebook, etc…it changed daily). During that same week, on July 4, 1998, I had to do 2,600 pushups, and 12 one-minute-leg-lifts. This punishment was a plea bargain I made, for the original punishment would have required 3 months of the rock and crate, and about 15,000 pushups. How ridiculous is that? It makes no sense. The staff also has no sense of safety, for one time we were made to dig out a large stump with shovels and an axe. The stump could easily have weighed as much as a small car, it was just as big, and we were forced to climb around it in a 4-foot deep trench to cut at the roots. If the stump had shifted on anyone, he would have been crushed to death. Not only do they have no sense of safety, they have no sense, period. They forced all of us to attend outside AA/NA meetings, and they tried hard to make us spiritual. I never believed I had a problem with drugs or alcohol, but they said I did. I have also never been spiritual, but they forced some Indian Spiritual Wheel belief system upon all of us. That was the whole basis of our level system. Just for the record, I still have no problem with drugs or alcohol 10 years later, and I stopped going to AA/NA after I left the Village.
It would have been nice to voice all my concerns to my parents, but the staff “preps” all the parents by warning them that their children are excellent manipulators, and that they will say anything to leave the Village. During therapy sessions with my parents, the therapist would try to avoid letting me say anything about the Village. If I was able to say something about the conditions, she would quickly respond by making it seem like I was just a whiner and manipulator, and that that is part of my problem, and she would change the subject. Then, for the next week, during group sessions at the cabin, I’d have to talk about how much of a whiner I am. It’s like they brainwash everyone. They brainwash the children into thinking they have issues they do not really have, they brainwash themselves into thinking they are real therapists, and they brainwash the parents into thinking they are doing the right thing by sending their child there. I think this allows them to keep kids there indefinitely in order to gain more and more money. At $500 or more per night, I think they are motivated.
I played their spiritual-level-system game for about 5 months in the outdoor program until I eventually had my high level stripped from me due to someone else’s mistake. Our group was put on shut down, which is essentially the same as STU life, complete with silence, but in a non-air-conditioned cabin, and we cannot sit on our beds, so we sit back-to-back on the hardwood floor all day. We also have to do the two miles of hiking for every meal while holding onto a small length of rope, and trying not to trip over each other’s feet. A shut down can last for months, and I had already worked so hard to gain my privileges. I was not going to be able to sit on a hardwood floor in silence for another 4 months until I turned 18. This event woke me up, and broke me of my brainwashing. I decided to escape the hell of Peninsula Village.
I decided to make my break for it during morning twilight, right after the group used the tubes (PVC tubes buried in the ground near the cabin that are used as urinals). I let my group get ahead of me a few paces, then I ran into the woods behind me, and never looked back. I had to run through the girl’s side of camp, so I was cautious, and fearful that a female staff member would come outside looking for me any moment. Eventually, I made it to the edge of the property, and with the sound of SUV’s roaring in the background, I jumped across the property line, and into more brush, just as a vehicle went by. The staff didn’t see me, but I lost my glasses in the brush, and I couldn’t find them after a few minutes of searching. Therefore, I continued my hike with limited sight, and tried to keep the only road into the peninsula within view as I kept myself hidden in the woods. I followed the winding road for hours, became dehydrated from the exertion, and soaking wet from the morning dew. Eventually, I found a shed near a house where I was able to hide, re-hydrated from a nearby spigot, rest, and change my clothes. Another few hours later, I made it to the end of the road just as one of the nurses drove by, but a couple minutes after that, someone stopped to pick me up since I had my thumb up. The staff missed me by minutes. I hitched many rides over the next 3 days to get to a friend’s house a few states away. One man gave me $20 for food, and drove me 20 miles out of his way. Another man tried to get a room with me so I could take a bubble bath, drink a beer, have a warm bed to sleep in, and sit back so he could “play with it a while.” Needless to say, I stayed in the woods on the side of an off ramp that night. I barely got any sleep, and I nearly got hypothermia, but it was better than the alternative. Remember, during this entire trip, I’m hiking and hitching without my glasses, so it was very hard to tell if a cop was coming down the road or not -- I just had to chance it. The morning after my cold night, I managed to “thumb” a Virginia State Trooper as he drove by, but he never came back, and I got a ride with an eighteen-wheeler about ten minutes later. I spent about 66 hours on the road to get away from Peninsula Village. Once I got to my friend’s house I managed to get a job in food service, but soon quit in order to move out of state again to live with a different friend -- away from bad influences -- and finish high school.
Even though I attained a relatively high-level while at the Village, I don’t think I actually achieved any kind of gains in my emotional recovery, nor was I put on the right medication or dosage. My parents were conned into spending the $50,000 college trust fund, set up by my grandfather, to have me verbally abused, indirectly physically abused, brainwashed, emotionally tortured, and to have me witness, beyond reasonable cause, the direct physical abuse of other children. In the end, my “treatment” was all a farce. I was stripped of all my privileges for something I had no control over and no part in, and I was able to put everything I “learned” behind me and see the truth. I think the events surrounding my escape prove that I was merely brainwashed the entire time, and once I was shocked awake, nothing, or very little, had changed in me. To this day, I am haunted by my memories of the sights and sounds in the STU, and I remain forever begrudged by the tasks, rules, and punishments for which I was forced to comply. I even find myself quickly looking at the ground when my eyes meet a female’s from time to time, because of how taboo the Village made it. Just to affirm how much Peninsula Village affected me, it took me 10 years before I so much as googled it, and once I did, I found numerous “survivor” stories that truly struck a nerve in me, and I began to sob. The stories of others took me right back to the time I was in the Village, and I realized it wasn’t just a dream I had -- it all really happened, it’s happened to others, and it’s happening to others right now. I hope someone else can identify with my story as well, and know that they are not alone in this sort of thing. I am amazed that these “treatment” places exist, and that people allow them to continue to exist for so long without consequence. I hope, through the shared stories of other survivors, and the diligence and courage of advocates like Ms. Stattel, that places like Peninsula Village will soon face their due consequences.
- John O.