I Am A Captive

C.Kapela 2012 – I am a Captive

I can still remember the way the humid air felt against my skin as I stared at the white gated facility that would house me for months and haunt me for years.   I can still recall my hand shaking as I frantically inhaled the last few drags of my cigarette – a final favor granted to me by my father before he walked away and left me there alone.

It has been eleven years since I arrived and nearly eleven since I left.

Though the years continue to pass the memories of what I saw and experienced remain vivid – festering beneath the surface like an open wound.

I was abused.

Systematically and purposefully, my rights were stripped from me – much like my clothing as I leaned over the nurse’s bed for my initial contraband search minutes after my father’s taxi pulled away.

I shivered and cried in the dark nightly as I tried to rest on my thin mattress while loud Jamaican voices echoed through the corridor.  Though we were never allowed to speak without permission those who enforced such rules did so often and carelessly.

I heard the screaming of children being restrained and injured on a daily basis.  I saw those who needed medical attention denied care and writhing in pain.  I heard whispered stories of atrocities I have tried to forget.  I ate food that made me sick – small portions of meat, mostly fat, with hair still stuck to the tough skin attached to it.

I saw blood each time I went to the bathroom.  When I complained, I was told it was normal.

I listened to useless tapes for hours each day and wrote meaningless essays until my hands burned.

I felt bugs and worms crawling on my feet as I showered in ice cold water, twice daily.

I ran laps around a barren field.

I stood in lines, eyes cast down, turning my head each time a boy was present.

I learned how to take verbal assaults and put downs from my peers and family representative without crying.  I learned how to attack others – seeking out their vulnerabilities and darkest secrets to use as weapons.  I learned that to move ahead I had to climb over my friends.  To be seen as progressing, I had to show how others were not.

I sat in a sweltering basement for days at a time receiving vigorous experiential seminars from an organization that is now directly labeled as a cult.

I slapped towels against the tile floor with my eyes closed, screaming at the top of my lungs, listening to the cries of anguish from those around me as I did so.

I walked from person to person and told them if I thought they should live or die with just a glance.

I called people fakers, I called people on “their crap,” and I called myself a strong, independent and beautiful young woman.

I dressed in costumes on command.

I watched a sweaty, overweight woman named Jan scream at rape victims as she told them their choices led to their molestations.  I joined her.  I joined the crowd.

I listened as children poured out their stories, weeping and screaming, and told them they weren’t saying enough.  I stared blankly and accepted it as I was told the same.

I believed in a magical child that lived inside of me.  It was all that was beautiful in me and somehow I had stifled and killed it.  I wrote it letters.  I spoke at length about it.  In moments that felt like drug-induced hysteria, I convinced myself I could feel it inside me.

I learned to follow orders, to deny the existence of wrong and right, to admit my own fault for anything painful that had happened in my life.  I let the system take my mind and bend it until the part of me that screamed, “this is wrong,” was stifled into silence.

I watched a bald suntanned man pull up in an expensive car a few times each week, sauntering through the complex with the casual attitude of one who has everything.  I watched him as I stood in flip flops and a faded hand-washed uniform that I had scrubbed myself in a bucket the day before.  I watched him take a pretty young blond to his office – the same girl every visit – for private discussions.  I told myself to believe it wasn’t what it appeared.

I can still remember the smell of sewage and vomit that wafted through my room nightly, sweat dripping from my forehead as I mopped up the spills in the morning.  With each push of the mop my muscles became more accustomed until I no longer thought it was strange.

I stood in lines doing jumping jacks, yelling out the moment my name was called, reciting pledges and words until they became second nature and I no longer had to think about it.  I learned to ignore the sad eyes around me, to become hardened like the others, to let my dreams wander into the darkness until they never returned.

I watched as girls were told that they would never see their families again.  I watched as new adults, reaching the magic age of eighteen, fought to walk through the barbed wire fencing that restrained us all.  I watched as staff ignored their pleas, denied their legal rights, and forced them back into line with the rest of us.  I watched the hope drain out of others as quickly as it leaked out of myself.

I remember my anger, silent dreams fueled by vengeance.  I remember longing to return to the island, a free woman, to play music loudly from a nearby hilltop for everyone to hear.  I envisioned tossing candy and food over the fence, a rallying of other young adults around me, screaming loudly to those captive that they could leave, that they were human, that they were not prisoners – that no wall, no staff, no man with an expensive car, could take that away from us.  I longed for someone to do the same for me.

I am free now.

I am long past eighteen.

I can speak when I want, go where I want, cross through doors when I choose, go to the bathroom without publicly declaring what I intend to do, walking with shame and humiliation to the front of the room to collect my allotment of toilet paper squares.

I never returned to the island and I still feel guilt.  My only redemption comes through these pages, this idea – the notion that somehow freedom can be granted to those who are denied a true existence.

Though I am free, I am still a captive.

I am a captive until the day no more children are roused from their beds in the middle of the night to be deposited into the care of money-hungry strangers.

I am a captive until those who imprisoned me are given due justice.  I am a captive until everyone, no matter their age, has basic human rights and cannot be detained against their will without due trial.

I am a captive until the words that I write are read by someone with the power to make changes.  I am a captive until there is no more WWASP, no more Tranquility Bays, no more children’s gulags preying upon the lives of the weak.  I am a captive until behavior modification becomes a thing of our past, a shameful dirty part of history which we are not proud to speak about.  I am a captive until child abuse is no longer legally prescribed as help for those most needing love.

I am a captive until we are all free.

Tranquility Bay, I remember.  I am angry.

I am angry, Jay Kay.  I will not forget what you did and I shall never forgive.

I am angry, Mom and Dad.  I don’t care what you say this wasn’t your best and it isn’t my fault.  I will not take responsibility for this abuse no more than a beaten child should take responsibility for their bruises.

I am angry, Kathleen Sullivan.  You call yourself a doctor, a therapist, yet you hand out glossy brochures and accept commissions from a place that causes more harm than good.

I am angry, I am still a captive – haunted by the memories that you created.  But I am a fighter, and I will keep fighting.

I will fight until I am free by death or until freedom is granted to those who, like me, are facing the degradation and abuse that will hold them captive too.

I will fight until those who are simply standing by begin to fight with me.

I will fight, I will be angry, I will remain a captive, until we all are free.

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12 Responses to “I Am A Captive” Subscribe

  1. Paula March 21, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    WE parents were duped and it is appauling to think there were people out there that seemed so concerned about our children. How much they cared and they opened out of love for children that had lost their way. But it was all for the money for those bastards! They should all be in prison with the exception of one brave, brave lady, who will remain nameless, that called me and told me to get my child out. I wish I could thank her for saving my wonderful daughter. I wish someone had spoken up for all the children. It is a guilt I will always live with as a parent. Paula

    • Chelsea Kapela March 21, 2012 at 12:11 am #

      Hi Paula – I applaud you for speaking out so openly about both your guilt and the fact that you found WWASP to be deceptive and wrong for what they did. I wish more parents would join you. I think it is the very guilt you speak of, though, that leaves most of them struggling in denial.

      • fuckwwasp September 18, 2012 at 1:32 am #

        i agree, i would love an apology or acknowledgent of it from my rents. they have never even asked me questions of what it was really like there and honestly dont care all that much lol

        • Charles Bombalier November 26, 2012 at 5:22 am #

          Your comments are sad, and it hurts me, because being a survivor myself, i feel your pain. I would like to be friends with you.

    • Kain March 25, 2013 at 9:42 am #

      Fuck you, Paula! YOU should be in prison! You and every sickening, pathetic, disgusting excuse for a human being like you!

      You sent kids to be TORTURED! RAPED! BEATEN! STARVED! And they came out shells of children, trapped in almost adult bodies (some of them actual adults). With NO future because their education and psychological, many cases physical as well, scars have turned them into nothing.

      How DARE you fucking attempt to blame anyone else but yourselves for this sickening bullshit. You want an apology? Go fuck yourself. You sat there as monsters dragged your children away in handcuffs in the middle of the night!

      What the FUCK did you think was going to happen? They cry “help! help!”. They woke up thinking they were going to be attacked or raped by strangers who had broken into their home, only to find out that their parents were the monsters who said it was okay!

      The WWASP scum are sub-human. You? You your child, your fucking CHILD, actually cared about.

      And here you are making your sick fucking excuses! FUCK YOU, SCUMBAG BITCH!

  2. kiersten April 3, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    my name is kiersten. i am 24 years old and when i was 13 i was put into cross creek, a wwasp facility in utah. my first two weeks at cross creek i spent in the seclusion room. they woke me up one night and told me i was going to high impact in mexico. i had no idea how bad that camp actually was gonna be. to this day i still have so much rage inside me from what happened to me in mexico and utah. i was forced to eat my vomit on a regular basis, put into cages in the dirt, and degraded more than any human should ever be. there truely is a hell on earth. i too feel like a captive. i tried putting all this behind me but the truth is that it effects me on a daily basis. after trying to avoid my past in mexico and utah for the last 11 years, i stumbled across antiwwasp and found people with similar experiences. i had no idea all the things that happened to me are still happening to kids around the world. i would go to any lengths to stop wwasp. if anyone reads this and has any information on how i can get involved to stop what is going on in these facilities, please leave a reply. i can’t sit here and do nothing knowing what is going on behind those locked doors.

    • Chelsea Kapela April 3, 2012 at 2:16 am #

      Hey 🙂 Thank you for having the courage to speak out! If you would like to submit your experiences to this blog, that would be a great start. We’re also looking for 30-60 second video campaigns in support of new Federal legislation that would help to regulate the industry (including degrading/humiliating punishments, inappropriate usage of restraint and seclusion, etc). You can e-mail me at wwaspdiaries(at)gmail. I’ll publish anything you share, and edit if you want. The more people who share what they experienced, the stronger our voices become. Your story may be one that some other child stumbles across, shortly after returning home from captivity, and learns they are not alone. 🙂

  3. Elisabeth Feldman July 28, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    Thank you for your fantastic work putting together the narrative timeline for the troubled teen industry horrors. This story must become iconic soon; iconic of the worst form of free market capitalism, now especially. as we have a presidential nominee running as capitalist-in-chief who is one of the industry’s profiteers.
    I. hope to be collaborating with you soon.


  4. ethan August 31, 2012 at 6:07 pm #

    I’m so so sorry :'(

  5. fuckwwasp September 18, 2012 at 1:29 am #

    beautifully worded, i can never seem to find the words to ever explain what it was like(i was in three wwasps) yet also still feel captive because of those still suffering and my constant nightmares and fear. it just comes back every once and a while, and all of a sudden i am overcome with fear again. i just wish i could do more to help those still suffering in the programs.

  6. Cody seth crawford November 14, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

    Thank you..This is a Media account of my WWASP expierience..They cut out so much..But the basic idea of abuse is still there…Thankyou sarah..your site was very inspiring========================================Mom of Lost Dundee Student
    Date: 2003-06-06
    Weekly Edition: Vol. VIII, No.69- San Jos=E9, Costa Rica, June 6 – June 12, 2003=20
    Mom of Lost Dundee Student=20 Grateful to Tico Samaritan=20
    It’s not every day you see a scared 16-year-old Gringo trying to flag down passing cars at 2 a.m. And it’s not everyone who would stop his car on a darkened street to ask if everything is okay.=20
    But that’s just what Costa Rican father Isaac Wabe did May 20, when he passed Cody Crawford wandering down the streets of San Pedro, east of the capital. And Robin Crawford says she owes her son’s life to the Tico samaritan.=20
    Cody, a former student at Dundee Ranch Academy, escaped from a Child Welfare (PANI) shelter in San Pedro shortly after being taken there May 20, following the government intervention of the U.S.-run behavior-modification program in the central Pacific town of Orotina. Cody and three other Dundee students asked to be taken to the shelter when government agents arrived at the remote ranch to investigate allegations of physical and emotional abuse. The visit sparked violent rioting among many of the kids, and 35 students ran away.=20
    The facility has since been closed and its 200 U.S. students sent home or relocated to sister programs in Jamaica and the U.S. (TT, May 22, 30.)=20
    Afraid that he would become a forgotten orphan in Costa Rica, Cody sneaked out of the PANI shelter shortly before midnight in hopes of seeking help from the U.S. Embassy. With no change of clothes, no money, no working knowledge of Spanish and no idea where he was, he set out with only a small photo album of his family and the scribbled address of the embassy.=20
    HAPPY ending: Cody (second from left) with sister Ashley, rescuer Wabe, mother Robin.=20 Tico Times/Julio La=EDnez=20 After wandering in circles through San Pedro for three hours, the teenager – whose home town, ironically, is Dundee, Oregon – was robbed of his empty wallet by two young men at gunpoint. Desperate, scared and lost, he began to flag passing cars, until Wabe happened by.=20
    “He stopped me on the road and asked me if I spoke English,” remembered Wabe, a 43-year-old father of two boys. “I said yes, and he said he needed help; he needed a safe place to spend the night.”=20
    After taking Cody to his mother’s house in San Pedro, Wabe – who lives with his wife and younger son in the mountain town of Aserr=ED, southeast of San Jos=E9 – said he fed the disoriented teenager and offered him a spare bed fo= r the night. The next morning, Wabe – who says Cody reminds him of his teenage son who lives in Florida – helped Cody call his mother in Oregon. Mrs. Crawford, a part-time court clerk, wired money to Wabe to buy her son clothes and food, and made plans to arrive in Costa Rica the following week.= =20
    But the teenager, sent to Dundee Ranch last April for substance-abuse problems, soon found his Costa Rican odyssey was just beginning.=20
    Cody said he got bored sitting around with Wabe’s family, with whom he couldn’t communicate, and asked Isaac permission to go to the movies at the Mall San Pedro, promising to take a taxi back to the mother’s house afterwards.=20
    When the movie ended, Cody said he decided to save his taxi money and walk back to his adoptive family’s home. He promptly got lost when he tried to “take a short cut through the jungle,” obliging Wabe to make a late-night phone call to Mrs. Crawford to inform her that her son was missing again.=20
    “It started raining and I ended up sleeping in the jungle; I had to dig under the leaves to get out of the rain,” Cody recalled. Based on his account, it is not clear where he spent the night. “I eventually found a small town and got a store owner to let me use his phone to call my mom collect.”=20
    After Mrs. Crawford relayed the phone message back to Wabe, the helpful Tico – whose taxi was recently stolen – had to borrow money from his mother and take a taxi to search for the errant youth. Wabe eventually found Cody shirtless, filthy and famished in the district of Cipreses, east of San= Jos=E9.=20
    By the time the Judicial Investigative Police (OIJ) issued a missing-persons report for Cody last Friday, he was already back with his mother and 14-year-old sister Ashley, who arrived in Costa Rica May 29.=20
    Cody said he had asked Wabe not to inform anyone here about his whereabouts, out of fear that he would be returned to Dundee Ranch. Wabe, who had been following Dundee’s problems in the local press, agreed, despite his family’s concerns that they would get in trouble with authorities.=20
    “My mother thought I was going to get in trouble with the police, but I wasn’t scared because I knew from news reports that they were going to close Dundee, and Cody’s mother had granted me the power to take care of her child; she had sent me a copy of his passport and birth certificate,” Wabe told The Tico Times this week.=20
    In a letter to Wabe and his family, Mrs. Crawford wrote: “Thank you for finding my lost son and taking him into your home and safety. You became like a father to him, watching and protective. Costa Ricans like you show how great this wonderful country is.”=20 “I would have gotten him a cooler card,” joked Cody, who is razzed by his sister for acting like Huckleberry Finn.=20
    Although the wandering youth was in good spirits this week, he was admittedly shaken by the events of the last 10 days.=20
    “When I went to Dundee, I was promised that nothing else would happen to me,” he said, referring to the safe environment the academy advertised. “Now the biggest thing in my life just happened, with the rioting and staff beating kids. It is so crazy what has happened to me, it doesn’t seem real. This was a big thing for me.”=20
    As Cody and the other 200 students removed from Dundee struggled to understand the events of the last couple of weeks, Mrs. Crawford met with Prosecutor Marielos Alfaro Wednesday and filed two criminal complaints against Dundee owner Narvin Lichfield and four former staff members, alleging abuse, computer theft and misrepresentation of the services Dundee offered troubled teens. At the request of the prosecutor, Cody met Wednesday with a forensic psychiatrist and is scheduled to testify next week before a judge. Mrs. Crawford said a former Dundee staff member – Cody’s favorite at the academy – was also at the prosecutor’s office offering declarations Wednesday.=20
    Alfaro told The Tico Times this week that she now has depositions from two former students, and is waiting for others to return to Costa Rica to offer testimony.=20
    Meanwhile, an underground parents’ network opposed to Dundee Ranch’s “tough-love” tactics – including the reported use of physical restraints and solitary confinement and the alleged drugging of students – has raised funds to bring six former students back to Costa Rica to testify against Lichfield. The group reportedly is meeting with a large California law firm to study the possibility of filing a class-action lawsuit against the WorldWide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP) – the behavior modification umbrella under which Dundee Ranch operated.=20
    Lichfield, who was jailed May 25 for 24 hours on allegations of coercion, rights abuse, and detaining children against their will, said this week that the “skeleton staff” remaining at Dundee is working to repair damage caused by vandalism during the riot and recreate the students’ transcripts. He hopes the academy will be able to reopen in two months, after making the changes it needs to get legal.=20
    “It has just been a nightmare,” he told The Tico Times this week.=20
    Lichfield and his Costa Rican wife Flory Alvarado are prohibited from leaving the country for the next six months while the prosecutor investigates and decides whether or not to file charges.=20

  7. Justin Tigrett October 7, 2014 at 1:48 am #

    I know how you feel my name is Justin Tigrett I was in that hell hole Tranquility Bay from May of 2004 til my 18th Birthday of November 2005. It has been 8 and 11 months since I left which was the happiest day of my let behold I am still suffering each and when I sleep at night. The terrors and shake are still haunting me. Even today another sleepless night. For some reason tonight I looked up the place that haunts me and I saw this sight for us survivors not just for tranquility bay but all the wwasp programs it hurts to know that they are still open can’t tell you how many times I tried to end my life early before I left the memories of Ms Carmen and Mr Gooden ,the albino Jamaican , all the male staff. Honestly I don’t know what to say really but at least there are some ppl that are willing to speak up against them and share their experiences I wish I had that courage.

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