“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
~Zora Neale Hurston~
We here at DRA Survivors are both encouraged and horrified at our recent discovery that Diamond Ranch Academy has set up a website specifically designed to refute the allegations made by survivors on our own website. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the very existence of DRA’s website means that we are, in fact, making a difference, we shudder to think of this website muddying the waters or misleading the general public, media, and most of all the prospective parents.
“The Real DRA Survivors” website makes a number of laughable claims and utilizes many time-tested industry tactics for blaming and shaming the victims, obfuscation, and the deception and exploitation not only of naivete and ignorance about the industry by the general public and the media, but more importantly, the hysteria and desperation of parents who fear the worst for their children.
These parents, searching for help and answers, often feel terrified and confused about what they feel is going on with their children and take to Google or other search engines in an attempt to find answers and perhaps help and support. Instead, they are hammered with ads for boarding schools and wilderness programs offering them the miracle cure for all their worries while simultaneously seeming to confirm their worst nightmares: Yes, your child is an ADDICT! Yes, your child has a DISORDER! Yes, your child will DIE without help! IT ISN’T YOUR FAULT AND WE CAN HELP!
With a sigh or sob of relief, these parents, much like Jack and his magic beans, hand over all their money, and all their responsibilities and rights to these charlatans without doing the same level of basic research that many people do when buying a new refrigerator. Unfortunately for these parents, and even more unfortunately for their children, unlike Jack, they generally don’t get a fairytale ending. They end up paying tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for “treatment” that is at best ineffective and at worst abusive, neglectful, and even fatal, and that often creates new problems or exacerbates existing problems rather than fixing any issues that the child may have.
To be clear, however, parents themselves are not (always) at fault. They are often themselves victims of a sophisticated marketing machine that aims to turn their very real and laudable fear for the safety of their children against them in the most cynical way in the name of pure and unadulterated avarice. Parents, in their fear, are often not equipped to make rational decisions, and programs take advantage of this, hurrying parents along through the process of hard-selling them one of the largest and certainly most important decisions of their lives. What parents often end up with is a mind-numbingly expensive impulse purchase and a case of buyer’s remorse that lasts a lifetime. The ones who truly pay the price for naive parents who fall for disingenuous marketing, however, are the children. Abused and neglected, sometimes they even die locked in these hellholes.
That children have died in Diamond Ranch Academy is an undeniable fact. Even DRA themselves admit this. How could they not? It is, after all, a matter of public record. On their rebuttal website, they seem to attempt to try to address this fact, but fall woefully short. For starters, they only address one death at the facility, while in truth at least two children have died there. In November of 2013, a child “successfully completed a suicide attempt” at Diamond Ranch Academy. This death, completely unaddressed on DRA’s rebuttal website, was completely foreseeable and avoidable, according to reports received by this website. He apparently spent the entire day leading up to the suicide writing in his journal about how unhappy he was, and had been on a suicide watch by DRA’s own doctors. He was removed from the suicide watch shortly before ending his own life by hanging himself in the shower.
There is a valid argument to be made that it is easy to sit removed from the situation, with the full advantage of hindsight, and armchair-quarterback the health team’s decisions. It is true that the admin of this website are not privy to all the facts of the case, nor do we have medical training ourselves. However, according to reports, after an investigation, Utah DHS recommended the following corrective action: the installation of collapsible shower curtain rods. Let’s repeat that just so it sinks in. Diamond Ranch Academy, a “treatment center” that, in the words of its own admission agreement admits “adolescents who have a history of aberrant, uncontrolled and sometimes dangerous behavior” did not have suicide-proof shower curtain rods. Moreover, the staff, despite knowing this child had just come off a psychiatric hold for suicidal behavior, somehow missed the obvious warning signs and allowed this child enough time alone to “successfully complete a suicide attempt.” Why wasn’t this child moved to an actual psychiatric hospital for more appropriate treatment in the first place? Furthermore, since DRA admits it is not well equipped to treat and properly monitor a child with a history of depression and suicidal tendencies, why was did DRA admit this child in the first place?
When you look at the other reported death at DRA, the sad story of James Shirey, you find more of the same exact questions. Diamond Ranch Academy addresses this death directly on their site, although they fail to give this poor boy the dignity of a name, probably in an effort to keep people from Googling it and finding out the truth. As reported on DRA’s rebuttal site, James Shirey did in fact suffer from a rare, per-existing medical condition. But that isn’t where the story ends. Shirey’s mother reports his condition had been known and well-managed since he was four years old through injections of medicine. His condition required in times of elevated stress and sickness that he needed an extra dose of his medication to prevent dehydration and organ failure The evening before he died, Shirey was reportedly suffering from a bad case of the flu. He had a high fever and was vomiting profusely. Reportedly, the staff made him clean up the vomit, and even cited him for a rule violation for using too many paper towels to do so. They refused to contact the on-call medical staff, and apparently none was actually on campus during the overnight hours. Instead of getting Shirey the lifesaving medical help he needed, they accused him of faking his illness to be manipulative and reportedly forced him to sleep in his own vomit, literally ill unto the point of death. The next morning, after he was first required to finish his morning chores he was finally allowed to see medical staff. Sadly, it was too late. All he needed was an extra dose of the medication he was already on and that was already in the possession of the DRA staff, but rather than give it to him, they neglected his requests for medical attention.
James Shirey died from a condition that was fully treatable. His death was fully preventable. Whether or not it can legally be attributed to Diamond Ranch remains to be seen. Regardless, it can be morally attributed to them and the adversarial environment it created between the staff and the students they are supposedly there to help, treat, and protect. When patients are the enemy, when they are automatically liars, when everything they say is viewed through the filter of manipulation, then tragedies like these become not only likely, but even unavoidable. In war, soldiers are often taught to think of the enemy as a faceless, nameless entity rather than as individual human beings because this helps them to be able to take lives with less self-doubt. Diamond Ranch Academy staff, whether deliberately or otherwise, dehumanize the children in their care, and that creates a dynamic that directly leads to situations like James Shirey crying away his last few moments on earth in a puddle of his own vomit right in front of the staff that had every ability to save his life and did not.
If these were the only examples of Diamond Ranch Academy’s neglectful, abusive, and dangerous treatment of children, they would and should be enough to make any prospective parent think twice about spending over $60,000 for ten months of treatment. Sadly, they aren’t the only examples, not by a long shot. Next on the list is the DRA tradition known as “Homeless.” In many ways, “Homeless” is the beginning of the aforementioned process of dehumanization. All incoming students are placed into “Homeless” (although it’s now called O&A, for Observation and Assessment, which DRA obviously chose because it sounds more scientific or legitimate.) This process consists of alternating hours of calisthenics, meaningless manual labor and self study. All this, while observing a strict rule of absolute silence and no contact with parents, therapists or peers. This process can last for a minimum of 2 weeks up to several months.
We here at DRA Survivors have made a very specific accusation against Diamond Ranch Academy- namely, that they have put students through a process called being “homeless”. Instead of responding to our allegations, DRA disingenuously sidestepped them by discussing whether or not students are treated as if they are homeless while not addressing the allegations at all. In the end this trick falls far short of addressing the serious concerns and allegations leveled against Diamond Ranch Academy by its clients: the students and parents. The truth is that Diamond Ranch Academy can hardly refute these accusations, as they are mentioned repeatedly by a myriad of students across a wide time range of attendance. Even a website run by Mrs. Shirey as a memorial for her son which Diamond Ranch Academy uses as a reference in their own rebuttal site mentions that James Shirey was in fact on the homeless process himself. Diamond Ranch Academy holds Mrs. Shirey up as a reputable source therefore it can hardly deny her allegations in this regard.
Admittedly, some of the testimonies on our website are older and it has come to our attention that Diamond Ranch Academy- perhaps motivated all or in part by the allegations on this website- has changed the name of the homeless level to “O&A”, which stands for “observation and assessment”. In the end, what name Diamond Ranch Academy chooses to call this inhumane and ridiculous treatment is utterly irrelevant. Seclusion, isolation, menial labor, poor food, denial of privileges- these are the conditions children are STILL subjected to on the “Homeless”/O&A level at Diamond Ranch Academy.
If Diamond Ranch Academy was really committed to real, meaningful change, they would end these harmful polices and methods that contribute to the negative feedback leveled against them online. They would do away with this process and simply admit these children with intention to build them up, not to immediately break them down in order to make them “get with the program”. Any program that requires such an introduction should be under immediate suspicion of coercion and questionable methods. Instead of responding to this legitimate criticism with meaningful actions, Diamond Ranch Academy chooses to take the offensive by discrediting the experiences of their former clients by calling them liars and “psychos”.
Diamond Ranch Academy has made it clear through its actions that it is uninterested in improvement. It chooses not to engage with critics to ensure the safety of children, and acknowledges that criticism in only the most backhanded way, by setting up a dishonest and disingenuous rebuttal site and utilizing juvenile name-calling in a shallow attempt to discredit those genuinely concerned for children. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and Diamond Ranch Academy’s pudding shows that they are more concerned with money and coverups than with protecting the safety and promoting the general well-being of those children about whom they claim to care so much.
This is not our only critique of DRA’s rebuttal site. We demand Diamond Ranch Academy make different choices and act immediately to implement meaningful changes to promote and protect the safety of the children entrusted to their care. We sincerely hope they will; however, we seriously doubt they will. If and until they do, we will continue our fight to end these harmful practices and protect the well-being and lives of those vulnerable children.