"Seven Days I Will Never Forget" - Taylor Kirkpatrick, 2006
I would like to share my story about the seven days I spent at Carolina Springs Academy (CSA), a World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS) program.
I was a normal teen who had some issues at home, but I never dreamed the issues were big enough that my mom would have me taken to a place far from home. I understand she was frustrated and the people she talked to made her think they had all the answers for our family.
I woke up in the middle of the night and two strangers were in my bedroom. They made me get dressed in front of them and even made me go to the bathroom in front of them. They said the usually handcuff kids but that if I cooperated they would not use them on me. I was so scared I decided to cooperate with them so they held onto my wrists instead of using handcuffs. I asked to see and talk to my parents but they would not let me. Finally, once we were in the car they allowed my parents to come outside and I was able to say a quick goodbye from the car window.
One of the girls from Imagine group at CSA said when the escort service was taking her through the airport they put their hand in her pants and held onto her panties so they could pull hard and hurt her if she tried to run. They tried that on another girl at CSA, but she would not let them put their hands in her pants. So instead, they attached a dog leash to her belt loop and dragged her through the airport on a leash. She was embarrassed, hid her face in her hands, and put on her sunglasses.
Mr. Billy is the person who transports children. He transports girls alone which doesn’t seem right to me. When my mom came to pick me and another girl up from CSA, she saw Mr. Billy get into a van alone with a girl.
One of the girls at CSA was transported to Tranquility Bay in Jamaica while I was there. The contract my mom signed says they can send kids there without even getting the parents’ permission. They say they will try to reach the parents but if they can’t get a hold of them then the kids can be transported there and they can get a passport for the kids. And if that happens, the parents are responsible to pay for everything.
My first few days:
I spent the first three days at CSA with my host buddy. During that time I was only allowed to talk with her, and only if an upper-level girl was around. For those first three days all she did was teach me about 200 rules. One thing she told me that I thought seemed strange was that I would get fat there and that I would feel great when I left the program. The people who had been there for a while seemed strange to me. Most of what they said did not make any sense.
When girls had been in the program for about six months, they made fun of new girls. They acted like we were crazy for not wanting to be there. Upper-level girls worked in shifts and were responsible to take care of the lower-level girls. Staff did not take care of the girls. Instead of talking with us, usually upper-level girls used hand signals. For example, if they were trying to tell us we could brush our hair they would tap the top of their heads. It seemed really strange to me. I had to have permission to do everything including using the bathroom, and then someone was always with me. I could never talk to anyone or go anywhere within the facility without permission. The girls had to wear skirts but they would not let us cross our legs. Some of the rules were very petty and seemed ridiculous.
We had to be silent most of the time. We talked less than an hour a day on most days and when we did an upper-level girl was always there to listen to your conversation. You could never talk to another lower-level girl without staff or an upper-level there to listen. I felt we were treated very unfairly. For example, if one girl talked the rest of us had to be in bed at 7:30 p.m.
None of us were allowed to shave our legs or armpits until we reached upper-level status. Everyone was dirty because they did not have enough time to take care of personal hygiene or to use the bathroom to have a bowel movement. My mom was shocked to see how dirty I was when she came to pick me up. During the week I was there I was not able to have a bowel movement. The girl that came home with us said she did not remember having a bowel movement the entire month she was there. I never had privacy or enough time.
Boys were mostly skinny while girls were mostly fat. The girls were given large plates of greasy, poor-quality food and were forced to eat at least ½ of what was on their plates. I threw up my first day there. The food is greasy and horrible. The kitchen is filthy.
I was not allowed to go anywhere alone. When girls looked at the field as if they were thinking of running they were told that an old man lives out there and that he shoots anything that’s yellow. We all wear bright yellow sweat suits to make us less of a runaway threat.
In the week I was there we were allowed to go outside only twice for less than an hour each time for PE. There was no real PE and no PE teacher. There were only upper-level girls telling us what to do.
Everything we did at CSA was repetitive. During my stay I was not allowed to go outside every day, I was never allowed off the property, I was not allowed to have fun, and I did not have a regular teacher helping with my school work. There was nothing to do but school work for a few hours and listening to inspirational tapes for hours on end.
I met with my buddy who was on level 2. She explained it “takes forever” to move up a level. I was allowed to talk to my buddy, who was on level 2, for 30 minutes a day. We had to have an upper-level girl there who listened to our conversations, someone who had already attended at least one seminar and who had reached upper-level status. If we were caught talking alone we lost hard-earned points.
Parents must attend brainwashing seminars so their kids can advance in the program. The parents of an 18-year old girl were convinced by the program that their daughter was not ready to graduate and that she should go to another facility, Pillars of Hope, in Costa Rica to finish her program. Her parents wrote her a letter telling her she was going to have to stay to graduate from the program. She cried, no senior prom, no pictures, she was sad she would spend her 18th birthday there. She was pressured to stay after she was 18 by upper-level girls and staff who told her she could not make it in the world, that she would make the same mistakes again, and that she could not make the right decisions. Staff and her parents finally convinced her to go to Pillars of Hope to finish out her program. They promised to give her some spending money and that she could go on the beach so she agreed.
I saw girls who were very sick while I was there. Five girls were throwing up blood and one looked like she broke her hand. There were about 92 girls in the building that is fairly small so when they were vomiting it was all in the same area. They had nothing like Lysol to clean things up. The staff did not help the girls when they were sick or hurt. Because they did not have any cleaning products or Lysol they sprayed air freshener instead. Staff kept the temperature of the dorms very cold to try to kill the germs.
A.J. had horrible sinus problems and was very sick. She vomited every day after she ate and got in trouble for not eating all of her food. Staff and upper-level girls would not allow her to even lay her head down or let her rest.
I remember when the girls were throwing up Miss K.K. said she wanted to leave to buy some Vitamin C because, like she said, she wanted to get the devil out of her. She said she did not want to take the germs home.
The only time I saw staff helping kids was when they gave out medications. They lost my medication and did not give it to me for two days. Then, when staff finally found it, they tried to make me take more than I should have. When I tried to let them know they were giving me too much they got angry and took away some of my points. I remember one day when they could not find the keys to the medication cabinet. Girls were sick and wanted their medications but could not have them until the next day. Over-the-counter medications were kept in a cabinet with a lock on it. Prescription medications are kept in the office away from the kids in another building.
One girl complained all day that she could not breathe. She was very sick and hit the floor when she passed out. They would not do anything to help her. It was students who took her to bed and changed her clothes. Staff and upper-level girls said she would be accountable and get lost points if she talked. She was supposed to leave the program in 20 days.
Another girl got mad and punched a wall. She had gotten frustrated and was sent to OP. During lunch a staff member told her to move her fingers because they knew she was in a lot of pain. She tried, but her middle and ring fingers cracked and she screamed and cried. They wrapped it and put ice on it and would not take her to the doctor though she begged them to. They kept putting ice on it for 2-3 days. She hit her hand accidentally on the trash, she screamed, vomited in the trash can because it hurt so much, then she hit the floor and rolled around holding her hand. Miss Nancy said they’d get some ice.
The bathrooms were filthy. The showers had mold growing on the tiles, the floors were filthy with used menstrual pads left lying around. The bathroom smelled terrible.
The PE area and other areas smelled terrible. We went to “buddy” meetings. We took our blankets because it was so cold, but it was disgusting when I saw other girls’ pubic hair on my blanket. The pubic hair is all over the floor.
The cafeteria was disgusting too. We were not allowed to keep our binders on the table. I did not want to put mine on the floor because it was so filthy.
My mattress had big wires poking through and I could feel them when I tried to sleep. We were not allowed to move once we were in our beds and could not even turn our heads without getting in trouble.
We had to sit Indian style on the hard floor of our dorm to listen to education videos four hours each day, and then on and off throughout the day. We were not allowed to lean against our beds so we had no support for our backs.
During school hours we were forced to sit on a chair and not move or talk. The chairs were close together and it was very uncomfortable.
Sunday was supposed to be “clean day”. We were not allowed to go outside and have fun, not even on Sunday. We cleaned for most of the day and were allowed to watch videos if everyone did what they were supposed to do.
There was no toilet paper in the bathroom for two days. One time I had to use my bath towel. There are no doors inside the building and when you go through a doorway you have to count. There are cameras in the dorms watching as you sleep. They leave a light on at night. They say they have to do that to avoid girls from trying to run away.
If you don’t do your homework in a regular school the teacher reprimands you, but at CSA the student will reprimand you – you’re supposed to keep your eyes on your books 100% of the time – if you twirl you hair or scratch yourself a student will call you out. Staff only cares about upper-level girls. They don’t even have to do school work, basically what they do is pick on lower-level kids.
School – it’s not school, you teach yourself. I was told many of the girls have fallen behind in their school work since they got there. One girlwas having problems in Geometry and asked to see a teacher. It took 5 days to see one so she was stuck on the same problem all that time. During school you are sitting in the lunchroom with other kids but no one is teaching you. You read a book, do the workbook and turn in your assignments. Then you turn in your notes and take a test. You can take two tests between Monday and Thursday, and one on Friday. You cannot take a test on Saturday. If you do not get at least a B grade you have to do that lesson all over again.
Communication with the outside world:
We were not allowed to contact anyone outside the facility. The only communication was with our parents, and those were monitored. I wrote my mama letters when I could on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Things seemed alright on my first day. I wrote two positive letters to my mama, she got them both.
After I was there a day I knew something was wrong and wrote my mama letters to try to warn her and to tell her the Discovery seminar brainwashes parents into thinking their child must graduate the program, meaning the child will usually be there at least 2 years, instead of 6 months to a year like they tell the parents. She never got those letters. I could not understand why I did not receive any letters from my mama while I was there. A girlsaid staff discourages parents from writing to their children. My mama wrote to me every single day and sent them overnight but I never got her letters.
I did receive a package from my mama. When I saw it, it had already been opened and was at Ms. Lynn’s desk. There was a note to Ms. Tara in the box but no letter to me. My mama said she put an envelope with my name on it saying “I’m coming to get you, there’s something wrong with this program.” I did not get the letter, it was not in the package.
I was told that if parents get close to Ms. Tara she would convince them their child must stay in the program and graduate. I was confused and cried when I saw other girls opening letters from their parents and I did not receive any. Miss Lynn gave me a “break in silence,” and made me write an essay. Everything we did there was repetitive.
Ms. Anne is a strange woman, she makes strange comments, is scattered-brained, and does not seem to care about the girls.
Miss Teresa is very mean. When my mom came to pick me and T.R. up from CSA Miss Teresa led us to believe we were being transported to Tranquility Bay in Jamaica when we were really being taken to be picked up by my mama.
Miss Tara, the family representative only spent about 30 minutes a day with the girls, if that. The rest of the time they were supervised by upper-level girls.
The upper-level girls are the ones who take care of the lower-level girls and who hand out corrections. Kids take care of themselves for the most part. The only time I saw staff caring for the girls was to hand out their prescription medications.
Miss Kathy was mean and rude and was in charge of watching us while we slept. She stayed up very late socializing with other staff and upper level girls, keeping us awake. She forced us to sleep with the light on. Most girls did not get much sleep most nights I was there.
One girl told staff and upper-level girls she had to use the bathroom, but they would not let her. Because she was on level 2 and was considered a run risk, she was not allowed to go alone (only upper-level girls can go to the bathroom alone). She had to hold it. Finally, she could no longer hold it and stood up. She said she had to pee and that she was going to go if no one was going to take her. A male escort came in and told her if she did not follow the rules they would take her to OP. He tried touching her and she got angry. She said she was just trying to do her work and go to the bathroom. She told him she did not want to go to OP. He tried to pick her up and she got upset, putting her fist up in the air. I was told she was taken to Tranquility Bay in Jamaica.
If you look at a boy you get what is called a Cat 4, which means you lose a lot of your points.
OP is Observation Placement. Kids are taken there as punishment. I was told if you go there you have to sit in a chair and write sentences, lie on the floor, or stand with your face against the wall. They make you sit in an uncomfortable position. OP is in a small metal shed. It gets very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I was told they don’t use the heat or air conditioner. I saw that doors inside and outside are dented where it looks like they were beaten.
I was told if you tell anything that happened at seminars you lose all of your points.
I feel very fortunate that my Mama followed her intuition and started doing research about this program. When she read stories of others who had bad experiences, and when she realized this program was about discipline and that they used brainwashing techniques, she came to pick me up. I will always be grateful to my Mama for doing this and for not believing everything someone else told her.