Troy Weisenberger's story, 2002
I was "enrolled" at Casa in the fall of 2002. I had gotten myself into some trouble in life like most of the kids there. As an alternative to legal trouble, I was offered an opportunity to complete a "program" to finish school. I was shown pictures of sunny San Diego, surfing, team building activities, and it was explained as a very positive experience in SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA! Where I am originally from, so I actually thought it sounded decent.
So I willingly went to Casa by the Sea to get myself out of trouble - I flew in to the San Diego airport, and was immediately met by some burly guys at the terminal waiting for me. I thought, hmm, well maybe this is procedure. They were very stern with me, and I wasn't allowed out of their sight.
We got into a car and started driving south, so far south, I started seeing signs for Mexico, I started to get worried.
I asked the escorts questions like "I thought this was in San Diego?" "Where are we going?" etc...
They laughed at me - literally, they responded, "You have no idea what you are in for kid.”
We stopped at a gas station, they offered me beer and smokes, saying I won't have freedom for a long time! Then I really started getting nervous.
We crossed the boarder into Mexico, and pulled up to Casa by the Sea.
I was greeted by a large Mexican named Arturo, who searched me, brought me down a long tile corridor, pulled out a nasty old mattress and told me to go to sleep (it was about 2am). I was pretty scared at this point.
When I awoke, there were lines of kids with shaved heads in uniforms, chuckling at my hair and clothing (I was still in street clothes and had shaggy hair)
They took all my personal items, wallet, cash, clothes, shoes, etc and shaved my head forcefully...
I got the standard dickies and blue collar shirt with some sandals.
I knew I was tricked somehow at this point. Where is San Diego, where is the fun team building, where is positivity?
I was introduced to the "Freedom" Family, how ironic, right? A group of about fifteen kids that followed each other around in line, counting off in Spanish everywhere they went.
School consisted of working on your own with a textbook and busy work packets. I graduated the school portion with ease, the standards were not the highest for that.
The whole program ran on a points system, giving you rewards for behaving - but everything I did seemed to be a "CONSEQUENCE" and my points were deducted often.
During meals - we would sit in silence and eat, while listening to these crazy Tony Robbins tapes about his theories on life. It felt like brainwash.
Girls and boys were separated - and if you were caught even glancing at the opposite sex, you would lose significant points!
Once a month there were these seminars where a facilitator would make the kids feel bad about their previous lives, and really belittle people. If you were chosen to pass, you could advance to another level. But they would make "cuts" throughout the process to kids that weren't participating to their satisfaction.
Every so often kids would try to run away. But they would always be caught and punished severely.
One punishment was called "worksheets" where you had to sit in a "form" while listening to Tony Robbins tapes, if you moved, you would get more time. Once an hour you were quizzed on the tapes. I remember kids that would be in there for weeks!
The next step was called room restriction (R&R) - where they would make you sit or stand in uncomfortable positions for hours at a time, if you moved, they would get physical with you.
I had experience with all of the above - not very fun. If you want to try it, hold a piece up paper up with your nose against the wall for over an hour, knowing if it drops, your face is getting pushed into the wall!
Another thing that bothered me, was they would screen all your letters to your parents or loved ones. Anything negative said was thrown out and not sent. And the incoming letters were all coached by the program. It was very frustrating.
I convinced my parents how bad the program was, and was eventually transferred to Spring Creek Lodge, which was another WWASP program in Montana. But that is a whole other story.
Explaining places like this to friends and family can be frustrating, as most people don't imagine these types of places exist.