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Memoir: Thompson Falls Montana Maybe you’ve heard of those schools where they pick you up in the middle of the night and you disappear. They picked me up in the middle of the day. I called my sister and told her that some people are here and I don’t know where I’m going. I packed a few books for the road and got into a car with two ex-cops. It was a two day drive to I didn’t know where. They told me not to run. My last meal was an egg mcmuffin. That morning we drove deeper and deeper and higher and higher into the forest on a mountainside. There were signs everywhere that said “private property” and “no trespassing”. I wished I would have run sooner. I soon learned that I could not call my parents. I could not talk to boys. I was on lockdown; I had no rights and could not leave. The behavioral boarding school was called “Spring Creek Lodge Academy”. There were eight giant, two-story, log cabins on campus with a communal cafeteria in the middle. Each cabin was divided into four dormitories. Mine was ground level on the girl’s side appropriately entitled: “Serenity”. I was assigned a “family” and a back-stabbing bunk buddy. There were twenty bunk beds in our dorm all along the walls.
It was attached to another dorm by a door, but we weren’t allowed to talk to the girls living there. There was also a large bathroom connected to our living space with several sinks and small showers. I then began my life in “the program”. It was a cross between a military school and a cult. I also like to think of it as an Orwellian concentration or internment camp for minors, but I suppose the term “private prison” might be less offensive. I was introduced to levels and a complicated point system. Something like an automatic twelve points a day, minus twenty-five points per “consequence”, and one-hundred-and-fifty points to get to level two. At the end of the day I was always in the negative and never got past level one. This was accomplished mainly by talking. Whenever we went outside we had to march around heel-toe and “in sync” in lines. If you talked in line it was a T.O.S. (talking-on-silence) infraction. I also got in trouble for talking to other level-ones as level-ones can only talk to their buddies or level-threes and higher. I grew somewhat accustomed to the monotony, floating through the same day over and over and over again. The bell in the morning, the five minute shower, the ugly uniforms- khaki and maroon. They wouldn’t let me keep any of my belongings. I was strip-searched upon arrival. This included the confiscation of my black and purple polka dot underwear. Only white cotton undergarments from now on. They took my Dostoyevsky and even my Calvin and Hobbes. Our rare trips to the little library (which I was usually barred from attending) were depressing. The selection consisted mainly of Goosebumps and other preteen literature. With no access to telephones or computers, my only connection to the outside world was through letters to my parents. It eventually became clear that they had become almost as brainwashed as some of my peers. My pleas to come home or to be allowed to move in with my best friend in Los Angeles were met with program lingo i.e. “work the program” or you will be there until you turn eighteen. I was fourteen. I tried to comply once against my better judgment. I decided that the level two privileges of butter, sugar, and a weekly candy bar were not worth it. I saw level sevens crushed because they lost all their points for a trivial reason. I saw the special treatment given to girls that had been there too long in order to speed up their graduation.
The futility of compliance with a nonsensical, arbitrary set of rules where years of confinement are worth more than good behavior led to daydreams or what they refer to as “run plans”. Staring into space is categorized as either looking-at-boys or planning to escape. Although I was often penalized for the former by the upper level girls, I was usually doing nothing except not looking straight ahead of me. We would often have to stop in the middle of marching from place to place to accommodate other lines or stop at the restrooms. Instead of standing in formation, I’d sit down and start a conversation considering I stopped caring in the least about points. I made friends with girls who felt the same way. We shared rumors and strategies to get out. One day we heard that two boys managed to leave. They were upper level and took advantage of their good standing to make a run for it. Supposedly they ran, stole a car, and stole a boat before being caught by the police and put in juvenile hall. Whether or not there was any truth in this, it inspired me. During our P.E. we would jog around in circles in our fenced area and discuss whether or not we thought that there were guards, dogs, or just upper level boys waiting for us if we tried to run. My friend Jennifer and I decided we would find out. There was an emergency button we could push to get out of our cabin. The only problem was that our shoes were locked up at night, so we only had flip-flops. We pushed the button and ran for a bit, but the boys were faster. They caught up in our pathetic attempt and put us in “intervention”, basically a little cabin with lavender walls where they put you on time out. We were isolated from any houses or people way up there, and didn’t have any food to bring with us anyway. There were small victories however, occasionally vicarious ones. We could only eat three meals a day, plus one snack, so when we snuck extra pop tarts for friends that was a triumph. There was also this one time when a girl from one line saw her boyfriend from home walking in another line and they ran to each other and kissed. The same girl headed a mini-rebellion consisting of some girls from her cabin breaking out and running around the campus naked. In the end I had my own successful demonstration of defiance. I couldn’t convince my group of friends to do the same- at that point they couldn’t talk to me. One by one they were participating in the program due to fear of their parent’s threats of leaving them there. I was also afraid of having to celebrate my sixteenth birthday there, of finishing high school in another state, of having nothing when I finally got out. In any case, I staged an individual silent protest. I stopped talking and listening until they didn’t know what to do with me. At first they put me in intervention for long periods of time in solitary confinement. They threatened to send me to a facility in Mexico or Jamaica where there are even less regulations.
They tried to restrain me, prevent me from sleeping, and other methods of unpleasantness. Finally they kicked me out. It was completely unexpected, I didn’t get to say goodbye, and I was permitted to return home like I wanted. When I got home I looked up the school online. Their website recommended that parents watch the movie Thirteen to understand what horrible things their teenagers are doing. In 2009 Spring Creek was closed. Other schools like it have also been shut down for similar reasons including suicide/attempted suicide of the students and lawsuits thanks to allegations of child abuse and neglect/ human rights violations.
Finally they kicked me out. It was completely unexpected, I didn’t get to say goodbye, and I was permitted to return home like I wanted.