What is “Tranquility Bay” and what does “WWASP” stand for?

What is Tranquility Bay?

Often considered one of the harshest of WWASP’s facilities, Tranquility Bay was a coeducational behavior modification school located in rural Jamaica.  The school operated from 1997 until 2009.  It housed children (mainly American) ranging from age 12 to over 19.  The annual tuition cost was anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000.  The school was led by director Jay Kay, the son of WWASP’s president.  He had no college degree, nor any experience working with children on any level.

In addition to the level system and seminars, Tranquility Bay used various other methods to help “modify” behavior.

Daily “group therapy” sessions were held.  These sessions were led by Case Managers – not professional counselors.  Students were required to share intimate and personal details about their choices and life, as well as to give and receive “feedback”.  Feedback was a highly confrontational method of addressing these issues.  Each student was expected to “call out” the others for “pulling their crap,” “running their routines,” and “relying on their image.”  This method led to an environment in which sharing was required and regularly met with deeply hurtful and emotional responses.

There were two primary punishments that were issued at Tranquility Bay.

Study Hall was a common punishment given for less severe infractions.  This required students to stay in a small, non air-conditioned room on lawn chairs for three hours.  Their task was to hand write a 5000 word essay on a makeshift desk of books on their lap within the allotted three hours.  Should the student be one word short, they had to repeat the process.  While in Study Hall, students had to eat and shower within the Study Hall confines.  This meant – typically – cold food, with no utensils, and utilizing the “dreaded” Study Hall shower, which was often filled with worms, roaches, and other vermin.

For more severe offenses, students were placed in “Observation Placement” or OP.  OP was held in a small room at the back of the complex. Here, students were required to lay flat on their faces on the cement floor, unable to move or leave, except for ten minutes each hour where they were permitted to sit or stretch.  The length of stay in OP was determined entirely by staff.  Once a child was deemed ready to “work the program” they were permitted to rejoin their groups.  The longest stretch a child spent in OP was a total of 18-months.

Corporal punishment, though not explicitly promoted, was definitely used at Tranquility Bay.  In the early stages, pepper spray was permitted.  This was banned in early 1998, per program statements.  As late as 2001, “restraint” was still regularly used.  In literature, restraint was reserved for students who were out of control, trying to harm themselves, or posing a risk to others – unfortunately, this was not the case.  Most anyone who received OP punishment was brought to OP through restraint.  Having witnessed restraint, and heard the screaming of those enduring it nightly, this was not something that was used sparingly.

WWASP stands for the “World Wide Association of Specialty Programs” 

Per the association, “The World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP) is an association of Residential Programs and Specialty Boarding Schools for teens ages 12 through 17.  These Programs and Schools are designed for teens who are struggling in their home, school, or community.  All of the Programs and Schools in the Association are independently owned and operated, yet follow a successful model that has been developed and refined over numerous years of experience”

WWASP represents the following schools (links and information taken from www.wikipedia.com):

  • Academy at Dundee Ranch, Costa Rica (raided by authorities on May 22, 2003 after an investigation into child abuse)
  • Casa By The Sea, Ensenada, Mexico (investigated and shut down by the Mexican government after allegations of abuse; raided by Mexican authorities on Sept. 10, 2004)
  • High Impact in Tecate, Mexico (investigated and shut down by the Mexican government after allegations of abuse)
  • Mentor School, Costa Rica, closed in March 2011. Mentor was housed in the former Hotel Carara near Tárcoles and was headed by Robert Walter Lichfield. There were approximately 20 U.S. teenagers enrolled at the time of closure. It was closed by Costa Rican child welfare authorities on March 18, 2011, following complaints of abuse by parents of enrollees. At the time of closure, it was reported that the program had not been licensed by Costa Rican authorities. Officials who visited the facility said that “physical, psychological and verbal mistreatment” were “apparent.”
  • Morava Academy, Brno, Czech Republic. Opened in 1998 and closed later that year when Czech police arrested its managers (Glenda and Steven Roach, former police officers from Utah) and charged them with child torture.
  • Paradise Cove, Samoa (shutdown by Samoan authorities because an investigation determined credible allegations of abuse)
  • Sunrise Beach, Cancún, Mexico (raided and closed by Mexican authorities in 1996 over abuse)
  • Tranquility Bay in Jamaica (subject of several documentaries detailing severe abuse; closed in Jan. 2009)

WWASP facilities were not rehabilitation centers – rather, they operated under the premise of “Behavior Modification”.

What specifically does Behavior Modification entail?

According to Program literature this system is defined as the following, “Every WWASP facility uses a 6-level Behavior Modification Program to help get teens back on track and functioning.  Students are required to maintain high standards.  Appropriate behavior is encouraged, reinforced, and rewarded.  Poor behavior brings immediate consequences.  The philosophy of the program is to offer each child a basis for making responsible choices in the future.  Levels 1 through 3 of the program basically reteach a child to learn to follow rules.  Levels 4 through 6 build on the successes a student has achieved in the first three levels.  Teens are taught greater personal responsibility and accountability, and are helped to internalize appropriate coping strategies to help keep them on track when they return home.   Teens on the upper levels work with those on the lower levels in a role-reversal type of situation, which helps teens gain greater understanding of what their parents might have gone through.  As a child advances through the programs, he or she is given additional opportunities to make personal choices.  The program becomes a testing ground to ascertain each child’s level of commitment towards changing past negative behaviors.”

In addition to the level system, teens are also required to participate in a series of seminars titled “TASKS” (Teen Accountability, Self-Esteem, and Keys to Success).  I participated in Discovery and Focus.

Resource Realizations, the company responsible for hosting these seminars, offers the following overview of each seminar (www.resourcerealizations.com):

Teen Discovery

This is a three-day seminar addressing such issues as accountability, integrity, choice, trust, anger, and honesty.  Your child will attend Discovery generally 4-7 weeks after entering the program.  Your child must have recommendations from your Family Rep (FR), and his/her family/group. This seminar requires the teens to deal with the issues that brought them to the program.  It is their first step into beginning a process of connecting problem behavior and the work which must be done within the program to make a change in their life.  This seminar lays the foundational concepts for continued work within the program.

Teen Focus

This three-day seminar centers on critical life experiences and self-limiting beliefs that have created low self-esteem and inappropriate behavior.  Your child will attend Focus after successful completion of the Discovery seminar.  Generally Focus is 8 weeks after Discovery.The aim of the Focus seminar is for your child to begin to make new choices regarding their behavior.  This requires the risk of releasing their old image and self-limiting beliefs.  The standard for participation is much higher in Focus than in Discovery.  This is the major dealing seminar and to be effective we need to be beyond compliance and looking good for the program or parents.

Articles and Links

Parents Divided Over Jamaica Disciplinary Academy by Tim Weiner, The New York Times, June 17, 2003

Baja raids shut boarding schools for U.S. teens, by Sandra Dibble & Anna Cearley, The Union-Tribune (San Diego), September 11, 2004

Czech school accused of torturing pupils, by Adam LeBor, The Independent (London), November 20, 1998

Desperate Measures, by Lou Kilzer, Denver Rocky Mountain News, 1999

Rough Love, by Joanne Green, Miami New Times June 22, 2006