Last week, it was announced that the Change Academy Lake of the Ozarks (CALO) received a favorable ruling in order to expand an internment facility for youth on Horseshoe Bend, despite opposition from the community. The article announcing this expansion, from the Lake Sun, focused on money the facility brings to the Lake community and in it, CALO founder and CEO Ken Huey called CALO the ‘best kept secret at the lake’.
According to Huey, from CALO’s own web site, the facility specializes in ‘reconditioning’ children and teens who have been adopted, to transition them into accepting their new families.
To have a complete understanding of this ‘reconditioning’, a look into Huey’s past is necessary.
Ken Huey joined Provo Canyon School at the beginning of 2003 and was named as their Director of Business Development in June of 2004. He left Provo Canyon in July of 2005 and joined West Ridge Academy (known as the Utah Boys Ranch until 2005) as their Director of Clinical Services. The account below was taken from a woman who sued the Provo Canyon School in Utah.
Provo Canyon School Experience – 2003
(Author wishes to remain anonymous pending lawsuit)
It is now May 2005 and I am now nearly 19 years old. I am attending college part time and work as a sales representative for a printing company. I’ve been promoted to vice president. I graduated from High School last year and have been successful because my parents rescued me from a private prison in Orem, Utah. It wasn’t called a prison of course. It was called Provo Canyon School.
In December 2003 I was 17 and became a patient at Provo Canyon School. My experience there was horrific and abusive to the best of my recollection. I had been diagnosed with severe depression and post traumatic stress syndrome. The treatment I received was in no way therapeutic for my diagnosis. On the worst day, I was given a forced injection of a powerful chemical restraint, Haldol, while 6 people brutally held me down on the ground. One staff member cried and said, “if I hold her down any harder I may break her arm.” This was punishment for getting out of a chair to use the restroom without permission and speaking my mind to a rude staff member.
I was put in solitary confinement for hours upon hours with out being able to use the restroom or get a drink of water because I fought against this injection of an unknown drug. When I discussed this maltreatment in a group therapy session my therapist was called and he ordered strict isolation and seclusion for a week. This meant that I could not look at or talk to any other person. I was forced to stare at a wall most of the day and do chores.
I was not allowed to go to school or church. I had to eat my meals alone. I was punished for smiling at another patient. Could this in any way have been therapeutic for a depressed patient?
Before being placed in solitary I was thrown on the ground and against the wall to have my jewelry and clothing stripped off. This was punishment for not allowing an unlicensed staff member read a letter I was writing home.
I was tormented by the staff who I thought should be people we could talk to in time of need. I truly believe that some were sadistic. My therapist would breach my confidentiality to the staff, who would then use my innermost thoughts against me.
All of my civil rights were taken away from me. There was no freedom of speech, movement, religion. I was punished for verbal communication as well as non verbal communication. I was not able to attend church meetings and was not allowed to read my Bible.
I also witnessed abuse besides my own. I witnessed a 15 year old girl who had her nose broken by Provo Canyon School staff while they were attempting to give her a forced injection of Haldol. This dose of Haldol caused her to overdose and it was an over dose for me as well. We both had facial contortions, blindness, difficulty swallowing, and severe pain. We both asked to see a nurse and were neglected. While in observation/solitary confinement I was neglected while unconscious. I later learned that my vital signs were not taken, I could have been dead. Luckily I am alive to this day and the 22 days of hell I experienced are in the past.
My abuse started with a full body cavity search on day one. Ten days after admission I had been the victim of two human take downs and restraint, isolation for eight hours in a concrete room with a concrete floor, forced to sit in a chair for 80 hours, drugged against my will with a dangerous drug used as a chemical restraint. This drug caused severe side effects – blindness, coma, shortness of breath, rash, facial contortions, drooling, pain, and lethargy. Staff did not seek any emergency care for me or monitor me in any way. I was kicked by staff for not waking up after being placed into a drug induced stupor. My hair was pulled and I suffered verbal and emotional abuse.
When I was finally allowed to call home to speak to my parents after 10 days I was still under the influence of the forced drugging. I was only allowed to speak to my parents twice in one month and both of those calls were monitored by my therapist.
The treatment I endured derailed me mentally. I went along with an irrational escape attempt with 5 other girls. One other girl, L.D., and I were caught. Staff stripped us naked and left us in the concrete observation rooms where they had turned the air conditioner up to 50 degrees. I was turning blue. After a half hour of this nude/hypothermic torture they threw us some bright orange sweat suits to put on because police officers were coming to investigate the escape attempt. We talked to police and pleaded with them to take us to juvenile hall. They did as we asked. I felt safer there and was finally allowed to speak to my parents.
Within days my parents came to Utah and rescued me. They were horrified when they saw me pale, nervous and bruised. The other girl, age 15, was not so fortunate. Her family did not come out to rescue her and she was sent back to Provo Canyon School. Her fate still haunts me. The last time I saw her was at the court house wearing her bright orange, tattered sweatsuit with four staff members surrounding her so she could not run again. She was not allowed to speak to me, so I never had the opportunity to say goodbye.
If you are considering this facility or another one that uses behavior modification, or if you have your child friend or relative in this facility – PLEASE subject yourself to the following experiment: Sit on the concrete floor of your garage when it is about 40 – 50 degrees outside, have nothing more than a sweat suit on, stare strait ahead for two hours. After the two hours ask yourself if any person should be punished in such a manner.
Realize that your child will be punished like this for any arbitrary reason – like talking without permission, standing, looking the wrong way, rolling their eyes. Imagine if you had to do this for 4 hours, even 8 hours a day.
This is what children are subjected to on a daily basis for any minor infraction at Provo Canyon School. One girl was in this room every day. Staff told her it was “her home.”
The United States signed the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Would you consider being forced to sit in a cold, small concrete room on the concrete floor for hours degrading, even painful. State authorities who are supposed to protect children in the states that host these programs allow these atrocities to occur. My mother informed many authorities in Utah about the abuse I experienced and witnessed and they did little to nothing to protect the children from this type of abuse. In my opinion these authorities should be removed from office because they are allowing children to be abused, degraded and inhumanely punished in the name of treatment. These tactics are used solely to brainwash, terrorize and change minds.
DEFINITION OF TORTURE:
UN definition: Part 1 Article 1: the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or FOR ANY REASON based on discrimination of any kind…
PCS uses a concrete closet to imprison students. The children must sit on the cold floor for hours, isolated from others. They also use powerful and dangerous drugs as chemical restraints to place adolescent patients into drug-induced comas. They force children to sit in chairs for most of the day as punishment. Any child with a will or “attitude” will be broken by this punishment. They may never be the same – but that is what the intent is – TO CHANGE. Whatever works – includes torture. This must not be allowed in our country. I’m sure Provo Canyon School is not the only facility doing this.
All of these programs must be better regulated and the patients/students must have their basic civil and human rights protected by the government.
The only thing that possibly benefited me was that I was better able to appreciate my freedom and home life because I had just spent time in HELL.
Provo Canyon School was shut down once before in the 1980’s. The authorities must close it again.
After leaving the Provo Canyon School, Huey was named Director of Clinical Services for the West Ridge Academy in Utah. He was part of the administration of West Ridge Academy from August 2005 through November 2006. In 2007, he brought his practices to the lake.
The piece below was taken from the website http://www.mormongulag.com and has been reprinted, cited and reported on by several news outlets, including The Atlantic and the Salt Lake Tribune. It is a first-hand account of Eric Norwood’s experiences at the West Ridge Academy/Utah Boys Ranch.
Written by Eric Norwood, 2009 Brodie Award Winner
His filthy digit tasted like rust and fish. “I can hurt you without leaving any marks,” Brent growled as I writhed in agony on the ground. I struggled for breath as he mounted my back, put his finger in my mouth, and pulled back on my cheek, fish-hooking me. The pain was incredible. I tried to beg him to stop, but the words would not come.
After he finished beating and bludgeoning submissiveness into me, he pulled me up by the rope that was lassoed around my waist. The wool army blanket I had fashioned as a skirt had shifted askew and I stood there in my boxers bleeding from my nose, humiliated.
My green Utah Boys Ranch t-shirt had been ridiculously stretched out and looked more like a low cut blouse. I loosened the noose around my waist and pulled the itchy blanket through the loop and folded it over so it looked like a brown bath towel secured by a belt. He wasn’t satisfied, he wanted more. I just wanted out of this classroom. I started to think about how I got here.
The Utah Boys Ranch appears to be a kind of tough-love school with a Christian-esque undertow. My parents thought as much when they employed its services in hopes of corralling their spiritually wayward son.
Being kidnapped was probably the last thing I was worried about at 15 years old. I was staying at my grandma’s house that fateful night. My step-dad and I had been at war since I had refused to go to seminary, a church service for Mormon kids in high school that began at the ungodly hour of six in the morning.
I loathed early morning seminary more than the three hours of my Sunday regular LDS church service consumed, or the three hours on Wednesday nights. My opposition, paired with my step-dad’s religious fanaticism, resulted in being grounded almost to the point of indentured servitude. Grandma’s house was my sanctuary. Ironically, when I looked up at the clock that next morning – as two imposing silhouettes entered the house my mom grew up in – it was five minutes to 6 a.m. on Valentine’s Day.
I was camped out on the sofa bed in the TV room with a plate of leftover lasagna from the fridge. It was half eaten and a Roseanne re-run was playing when they first walked in. They looked around as if they had been told where to go, but hadn’t quite envisioned it right. They looked to their left, saw the terrified eyes of a 15-year-old, and pounced. They shoved clothes and shoes on me and I was gone before I was able to think about which way I should run. They told me very little. Their first names were Paul and Barry.
Barry was a white guy, a big mother. At least 6’5″, and I would not be surprised to hear that he weighed more than 300 pounds, but he was not fat. Paul was shorter and had a darker complexion. He was big too, and meaner than Barry. He turned to me when we first got into their white mid-sized rental car and said, “You have a choice. You can be cool and get on an airplane with us and be there in a couple of hours, or you can sit back there with handcuffs on for the next 12 hours. Non-stop.”
“Where are we going,” I asked, still in shock.
“Utah,” Barry answered casually from the passenger seat, without turning his head. “We are from the Utah Boys Ranch, Eric, and your parents have asked us to take you back with us.”
“What?” My head was spinning. I felt like I was going to throw up. There is no way that this was happening. My mom would never allow this. Utah? What the hell is a Boys Ranch? I couldn’t breathe.
“I guess we’re driving,” Paul said odiously.
I knew the child-lock would be on and as I saw the familiar houses of my grandmother’s street pass by, I started to roll down the window. We weren’t going fast enough for them to notice yet and the warm Agoura Hills climate didn’t tip them off. I rolled it down enough to fit my arm out and open the door from the outside when Paul paused at the stop sign at the bottom of the hill, looked back at me, and stopped the car.
He shoved the gear into park and pulled handcuffs out of somewhere and told me to give him my wrists. I sat there cuffed for a moment when I realized that I really would die from this feeling in my chest – a physical manifestation of angst. My heart was beating furiously, and I knew that I couldn’t last 12 hours.
“You can take me on a plane. I’ll be cool.”
“Now that’s more like it,” Barry said kindly. “My wife will be happy.”
The first person I met in Utah was Senator Chris Buttars. I had no idea who he was until that point. All I knew was that he was to be feared, and I was scared to death of him from the moment I first saw him.
“Sit down,” he squawked in a loud, high pitched, galling voice that sounded like a cross between a buzzard and an old cowboy. He continued to make it very clear that I was at his mercy. He told me who he was – politically – and the influence he had. If I ever wanted to leave I was to do what he said. “How old are you?”
“Fifteen,” I mumbled.
“Three years might not be enough for you. I can have a judge order you to be here until you are 21,” he croaked. With that he sent me off to be “changed and put on work crew.”
I was led down a long hall of doors with nameplates. I had no clue what kind of place this was. I didn’t see any cows or horses…no sign of what I thought a “ranch” would resemble. Paul took me into a small room that was no bigger than a broom closet, which was stacked to the ceiling with three colors of cloth, blue, green and brown. There were green t-shirts, blue t-shirts, and blue jeans.
There were also brown army wool blankets, and I remember thinking that I didn’t want to sleep under such a coarse covering before I was told to “put it on.” I was told to wrap a thick, itchy blanket around my waist like a towel and wear it like a dress.
I was then given a “leash” made of climbing rope and what I think was a square knot to tie around my waist. I had never imagined being tethered and walked like a dog, but here I was, being walked like a dog towards a cluster of about 12 other boys. They were lined up facing a wall while two large men in red sweatshirts watched them from a couple of chairs off to the side.
Some of the boys had camouflage pants on, a few others wore dresses. I wondered how long I was to be in this blanket dress. I was later told that it was so I wouldn’t run away – and they were right – I literally could not run in this humiliating getup. I could barely get a full stride walking.
That’s when I saw Brent – or ‘Captain America,’ as he was called disparagingly – for the first time. My leash was handed off to him, but he told me to wrap it around my waist and go join the group of young men who were standing with their noses touching the wall, all spread out about arms length from each other.
I turned to the boy who was standing to my right and asked him how long he had been here, but before I could get my question all the way out, my forehead careened into the carpeted wall in front of me. A sharp pain stabbed the back of my head, and suddenly bad breath filled my nostrils. “Are you talking on my work crew, boy?” a red-shirted man screamed at me.
My head was ringing. I was still trying to piece together what had just happened when I looked behind me and massaged the pain in my head. Suddenly my legs fell out from underneath me and I was on my back. He had just slammed my forehead into the wall, and now he had put his foot behind mine and pushed me, sending me to the floor flat on my back.
He stood over me and bawled, “Don’t look at me. Don’t look around. Don’t you MOVE without permission! You don’t do anything without permission! If you talk, I think you are talking about running away, and I will restrain you. Do you understand?” I nodded. I knew then that I had to get out of this place. I wasn’t going to last here.
It was only my second week on work crew when Neil Westwood refused to turn his back to Brent and place his nose on the wall, which is what the command “face the wall” plainly meant. It was a Mexican standoff for a few moments. Stunningly it seemed like Brent was going to let Neil get his way. I had never seen an older boy in a pissing contest with a staff member before. The younger kids refused commands, but they were always quickly thumped into docility.
Neil was a big kid, a lot bigger than me – probably 230 pounds or so, and over six-feet tall, but dispelled any image of toughness with his glasses, disproportionately small arms, and frizzy hairdo. Neil was as obnoxious as he was an easy target, but I still can’t believe that no one reacted when Brent stood up in a flash of rage and chucked a full, unopened gallon of milk at Neil’s face from about five feet away, crumbling him to a pitiful puddle of tears, blood, and non-fat milk.
The work crew was depraved. When they didn’t have us facing the wall for hours at a time we were digging ditches with spoons, only to fill them back in again. We made huge piles of heavy rocks taken from the field, the field that both surrounded and contained us, only to be told to move the massive mound to another location. They worked us in ways redolent of Stalin’s Gulag.
There was an agonizing week of all-day sod laying – with bits of mud and grass sticking to the inside of my wool dress – in preparation for some ceremony the work crew boys weren’t privy to. The Scarecrow Festival was even worse. We worked for weeks from eight in the morning till eight at night in preparation and to take down that contrived fall carnival/ fundraiser. Boys wished for death. There was also a dry-cleaning service that they operated somewhere in town, which was supposedly much better than any job on campus – even kitchen duty.
Getting off from work crew meant school during the day, and considerably less work. Some sadist there created a t-shirt caste system that involved wearing either a blue t-shirt or green t-shirt. “Blue shirts” could talk, receive letters (which were opened and read first), talk to their parents, and possibly go off campus.
“Green shirts” were allowed into school, but that was about it. No speaking, sitting, or anything but working or reading LDS literature. A “green shirt” was forced to read the Book of Mormon, in particular the first 22 chapters. We were interviewed by one of the four full-time Mormon missionaries that worked there and had to paraphrase all of “First Nephi” before receiving a blue t-shirt. What good derives from reading the Book of Mormon under duress is anyone’s guess, but I did it. I had to. I had to go to church and seminary too.
It turns out that any form of decadence – smoking a little grass, telling your math teacher to sit on it, being gay or bi-curious, sexually assaulting a family member or young girl – is curable by a little hard work, tough love, and Mormon doctrine. Boys with “sexual issues” are housed together in what could only be some cruel showing of satire.
They were constantly being caught jerking each other off onto each other, or, more tragically, assaulting younger boys. Whatever it was, they would be shoved into blankets and thrown on work crew. On Tuesday night they would meet with all the boys with sexual issues and provide remedies like IcyHot on the penis to stifle homosexual urges.
I was kept there until they couldn’t keep me any longer, and on my 18th birthday I walked out the front doors into a cold October morning with nowhere to go and nothing but my freedom. If I didn’t experience it myself I would not believe a place like this exists. A Mormon Gulag.
How do they get away with all of the abuse? The forced religion, the stifling of freedom of speech? Was it legal to prevent us from reporting abuse to authorities, or to restrain us with ropes, wool blankets, and duct tape? Is it legal to force young boys to talk about masturbation with Mormon clergy and missionaries? How does all of this go unnoticed? We were young and naive and didn’t know that most of what they did to us was illegal. Buttars was famous for telling us that we had only three rights: food, safety, and shelter. They failed to even live up to those standards.
Besides being callow, we hardly had the chance to report any abuse. They instruct parents to ignore any claims of abuse from their children. They call any complaints from children a manipulation tool – “fear factor” – and instruct parents to be wary of the “tactic” they say they encounter most.
There were also no phones to call the police. No nurses or medical examiners to talk to. No government authorities to check in on us. Incongruously, this Orwellian facility desperately needs government oversight.
Senator Buttars said it all when he told a reporter, “What sets us apart is that we’re the only residential treatment facility that doesn’t seek or accept government funding. If we did, they’d control us.”
This account was not unique. Two suicides occurred at West Ridge Academy. Brian Andrew Poulson took his own life. As did Greg Taggart.
The practices described above are not exclusive to the West Ridge Academy. They were in practice at the Provo Canyon School as well. They appear also to have been exported to CALO and Horseshoe Bend. In recent interviews with former staff members of CALO, it was discovered that one female resident had her arm broken not once by an adult male staff member, but twice, in a three-four month period. The girl was under the age of 16.
As part of the Lake Sun article announcing the expansion of the internment center, one resident was quoted in opposition to the expansion of CALO. In the article, Ms. Pam Williams, a neighbor to CALO, spoke about children attempting to escape this internment facility. The children were chased by CALO staff, dressed in red shirts, through her yard.
Currently, the majority of youth in CALO have been placed there by their parents. A large percentage of these children are adopted from other countries and are sent by their wealthy parents to the internment facility in Lake Ozark for Huey’s brand of ‘reconditioning’.