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.