Magical Truthsaying Bastard Shadesong (shadesong) wrote,
Magical Truthsaying Bastard Shadesong

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Desert scars

I've referred, sometimes flippantly, to the wilderness survival camp my parents sent me to when I was a teenager. "Because I was a bad seed," I've said, or "because they gave up on me."

I don't know if you know what a wilderness survival camp is, really.

Read these links.

That's where I turned seventeen, out in the Utah desert. That's why I have a GED instead of a high school diploma. That's why I have a torn disc - they didn't give me the pack frame they were supposed to give me (my pack weighed over 20% my body weight). That's why I had trouble drinking water for a dozen years after... the one horrible day I've posted about before, where they caught me not drinking my full pre-hike quart of water and made me drink another quart, made me chug it, and I gagged, vomited on sand and sagebrush, and they fucking laughed and made me finish that quart and then drink another and I vomited again...

Sequoia Wilderness Institute was formed by the people who ran Challenger. Why did they form it? They killed kids in Challenger. The owners weren't considered legally responsible, just the corporation, so all they had to do was dissolve the corporation and set it up under a different name. Same program.

Two months in Southern Utah, hiking and learning to make fires and stuff. Sounds fun, huh? No. Not with power-tripping "counselors" who taunt the girls, ridicule the gay kids, who made kids load their packs with rocks for mostly-imagined offenses - verbal and physical abuse, all sanctioned by our parents. Because we got high. Because we were gay. Because we were rebellious. Because we weren't the kids our parents fucking wanted. So they turned a blind eye to the risks, didn't do or just ignored the research, and threw us out there to be traumatized for life in the hopes that it would scare us straight.

And when it didn't? They'd hold us back for an extra month. Or they'd send us back if we weren't Fixed.

I spent six months there. My body is permanently damaged. I have other issues from there that I'm still getting over - counselor-ignored torture by another of the "campers", the water thing...

I wonder how many thousands of us are out there.

i_of_the_storms is right. It's child abuse.

And I spent my entire fucking childhood and adolescence being shoved into shit like this - residential treatment centers, a group home from my final Sequoia release til I turned 18...

I kept my journals from Sequoia for years. Finally threw them out... don't know. When I was in Atlanta. Not too long ago. They still stank of smoke and filth.

I don't tend to talk about this. Because it makes me nauseous, it makes me shake.

From Sami's post, re: the founder of Challenger and Sequoia:

Like Outward Bound, most Mormon-run wilderness schools offered kids tough challenges but generally treated them with care and sensitivity. Cartisano disdained this approach as too touchy-feely. Instead, he ran Challenger with the in-your-face discipline of a boot camp.

"There was nothing complicated about the Challenger philosophy," explains Cartisano, who these days shuttles between Costa Rica, where he still runs courses, and an undisclosed residence in Oklahoma. "It was all about setting limits and sticking to them. Every other type of treatment had failed for these kids. Many had been sent to us by the courts. We showed them that their actions had immediate consequences. And the results we got were phenomenal."

A videotape of a 1989 Challenger course shows a vanload of new students looking shocked and confused as they arrive in the desert in the middle of the night to begin a 500-mile forced march. A hulking bull of a man starts pounding on the windows and screams at the kids to assemble around a bonfire. "Move it! Move it!" he bellows. "My name is Horsehair. For the next 63 days you'll be under my care... Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir!" the kids answer in unison.

"I can't hear you!"

"Yes, sir!"

"I have a phrase that I use," Horsehair explains impassively to the camera. "I'm gonna love you till it hurts. You."

Horsehair was Lance Paul Jaggar, an air force vet who served as Cartisano's field director. He and another devout Mormon, Bill Henry--an Idaho acquaintance of Larry Dean Olsen's who had been active in Scouting--supervised daily operations out of Escalante, allowing Cartisano to concentrate on marketing from his Provo-area home, a lavish residence that previously had been owned by golfer Billy Casper.

A brilliant promoter, Cartisano persuaded his "good friend" Oliver North to put in an appearance during his Iran-Contra notoriety and hired a publicist who booked him on Donahue, Sally Jesse Raphael, and Geraldo. "All the big talk shows," Cartisano boasts. "They loved me. I'd go on TV with kids who'd been through the program, these beautiful 14- to 15-year-old girls who'd talk about how they'd been out on the street stealing and doing drugs and turning tricks until Challenger changed their ways."

"The television appearances were a marketing gold mine," says a former associate of Cartisano's who declined to be identified. "The phones were ringing off the hook. Parents begged him to take their kids. An incredible amount of money started rolling in. Unfortunately, Steve didn't know how to handle it."

When Cartisano would go on the road to recruit customers, alleges the ex-associate, "Sometimes he'd spend $2,000 a week to rent a Lamborghini. He'd run up $1,000-a-night hotel bills." With such expenditures, despite all the money coming in, Challenger had trouble paying its bills. Checks bounced. The Internal Revenue Service inquired about $196,000 in unpaid corporate taxes. By early 1990 Cartisano was embroiled in numerous lawsuits filed by creditors and disgruntled clients, and the state of Utah was investigating him on several fronts.

At the same time, charges started flying that Challenger staff physically abused their students. According to Max Jackson, former sheriff of Kane County (Challenger ran its courses in Kane and adjacent Garfield County), "We pulled one kid from the program who was so bruised and scarred he looked like he'd been at Auschwitz. When another kid tried to run away, Cartisano got in a helicopter, found him, flew him up to the top of a mesa, and slugged him in the gut a couple of times."


"Steve is real smooth, real slick," Jackson reflects. "He likes to hear himself talk. But I'll tell you what: I went to the FBI Academy a couple years back, and we studied the typology of sociopaths. Out of a list of 20 characteristics, Steve was a perfect match with about 19 of 'em."

This is where my parents put me.

I have posted elsewhere that my character Alanna is basically an expression of me at 16. Abandoned and abused, subtly or less so, by the adults in her world. Screaming. "They're hurting me. Please, please help me." A scene I wrote with her begging her father to stay... yeah.

How could they do this?

I'm sitting here now with tears in my eyes, remembering. Remembering the staff coming to get me, dragging me out of my house, with me begging my dad to let me stay.

I did not do anything that was so bad. I never did anything that hurt anyone but me.

I did not deserve this. Dammit. I did not.

No child deserves this. No one deserves what is done in those camps. No one.
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