Friday, February 11, 2005

You've been sold down the river, Jordan: Why child boot camps don't work

How do you explain to a kid that you are deserting him?

I have spent the last year trying to break through the code of silence that protects "behavior modification" schools from outside scrutiny. It is impossible to do and I am giving up. I have called senators, contacted child protective services, joined survivor group chatrooms and even enlisted the help of librarians, prayer lists and consumer hotlines, trying to find out what goes on inside these places or how to get a kid out of one. It's been no use.

Even if a child commits a MAJOR crime and is sent to the deepest bowels of Juvenile Hall, he or she is still allowed to make phone calls, receive letters and write to the outside world. This is NOT true of the places that my daughter's friend "Jordan" has been dragged off to -- without having committed any crime at all.

I talked with someone else who tried to extricate a boy from one of these programs. "I did EVERYTHING," he said. "I hired a lawyer. I took it to court. We went up to the federal level. We subpoenaed everyone we could think of. We cited examples, we cited case law, we cited the blooming 14th Amendment! Nothing. These boot camps have a LOCK on the kids they hold hostage. Our only hope is that the boy we tried to rescue won't be too traumatized by the time he turns 18."

If I COULD break through these programs' code of silence and communicate with Jordan -- who, along with thousands and thousands of other American teenagers, has been trapped in one or another of these secretive programs well-hidden in the backwoods of the USA -- this is what I would say: "Although we have tried everything that we could possibly think of to let you at least know that someone in the outside world still cares about you, we have not been able to break that code. You are on your own now. I'm sorry."

As of now, Jordan is in a completely unaccredited and unregulated "behavior modification" program in Montana. I suppose that's better than the boot camp horror he was in last summer. But, since these programs are totally unregulated and uninspected, I have NO way of knowing.

"I have discovered the hard way," I would tell Jordan, "that as far as the law is concerned, when one of those programs gets a hold of you -- let alone your parents' $4,000 a month -- there will be NO communication with the outside world. You might as well be on the moon. But, even despite all this, I would STILL keep on trying to find out if you are okay -- except that one law has finally stopped me: King Solomon's law."

Your father called me the other day.

He told me, "If you don't stop trying to contact Jordan, I will send him back to that boot camp." I don't know what the program he is in now is like, but Jordan has told us all about the so-called boot camps he has already been in. And I wouldn't do that to my worst enemy let alone someone nice.

"Even if your father is willing to destroy you just to prove he is right, Jordan, I am not willing to do that. King Solomon knew what he was doing." Jordan, I know that you begged us to protect you from him, but your father has won. I'm backing off.

"You used to be a great kid, Jordan. I just keep my fingers crossed for you and hope when you get out that you will have retained some of that spark of innocent puppy-dog joy that made you so unique."

I pray that somehow, of all the terrible programs out there that enslave thousands of kids each year -- of all those terrible programs that put our children in mental and physical cages like they were dogs instead of children of God -- I pray that you will have landed in a "program" that might possibly be kind.

But I will never know, will I? And neither will all the other grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, friends, teachers and concerned adults in my same position who, under law, have absolutely no say.

PS: Do "behavior modification" programs and boot camps work? NO. Want some proof? Here it is: Jordan's older brother Nathan -- another sweet kid who at age 12 finally dared to hit back -- has been shipped off to one "program" or another for the last five years. Finally, this fall, his father relented and allowed Nathan to come home. And now Nathan is in juevie -- for trying to rob a bank.

But what DOES work? All this effort, expense and craziness could have been easily avoided if Jordan's father and all the other parents of rebellious teens had just read John Gray's book, "Children are for Heaven." Gray maintains that children are born with an inherent need to cooperate -- and that there are loving, kind and FRIENDLY ways to make a child want to behave. Shaming, controlling, manipulating and beating children the way that Jordan's father did may be satisfying to the father but it kills forever a child's need to do what parents say.