Diamond Ranch Academy Survivor Survey – Megan M.
Date of Submission: 10-01-2004
Do you wish to grant further testimony to investigators? – Yes.
Age and year of admittance – 15; 2004
How long was your stay at D.R.A.? – 9 months
How long have you been back home? – 12 years
Did you graduate from DRA? – No
Before the program did you have a serious drug problem? Please describe severity – Yes. I believe most of my issues stem from, at the time, being undiagnosed bipolar.I was self-medicating, and by drug use had escalated very quickly from 12 – 15. My depression was unbearable and my first overdose is what sent me to DRA.
Before the program were you admitted to any other residential treatment, for instance a mental hospital? – I was initially admitted to a short-term psychiatric hospital while my parents researched various institutions I could be sent to. They decided upon DRA a week later.
Before the program did you have a criminal record or spend time in Juvenile Hall? – No.
Where you court ordered, or did your parents choose to send you to DRA? – My parents chose to send me to DRA.
Did you consent to treatment at DRA? Did you sign a contract? – No.
Was there a medical admissions process? Please describe – Not that I am aware of.
Were your medical records considered before you were admitted into DRA? – Not that I am aware of.
Were you strip searched? How many times? – Yes, upon intake.
How much was your tuition? Approximately $86,000, plus travelling expenses.
Considering how much your tuition cost, Do you think you were given an adequate education at DRA.? – Not even close.
In your opinion were the teachers, good teachers? Did they have degrees and certifications? – I’m not sure.
Were your tests open book, multiple choice tests? Would you consider them easy to pass? – The tests were extremely easy to pass. The “teachers” were hardly monitoring us, and the answers to the tests were easily accessible. I cannot remember if they were open book or not, but I, and many other students, regularly cheated on all of our tests. We would just keep the binder containing the answers open next to us while we took the tests.
How many school credits did you earn in what period of time? – I am not sure of exactly how many, but I went to DRA in the first semester of my sophomore year of high school, and I graduated a month after my release from DRA. Quarter credits were extremely easy to earn, and the tasks to achieve the credits were completely elementary. For social studies, I remember all I had to do was write out term definitions, or make brochures or marketing materials. There was no teaching whatsoever – you earned credits on your work alone. Granted, I grew up in a Montessori environment, so I prefer to teach myself and had great discipline. I really buried myself in “school”, but I don’t see how other kids could have excelled if they needed tutoring or one-on-one teaching, or someone telling them they had to complete a task. Most of the other kids that were with me were goofing off the entire time.
Did you receive a diploma from DRA? – No.
Was a certified medical professional available to students at their request? – Hardly. We had one nurse, Virginia. It was extremely difficult to receive attention from her if something was wrong. Typically, we were told to “drink more water” if we were complaining about something. A doctor would occasionally come to DRA for check ups for everyone.
Were proper check ups, dental cleaning, and medication observation appointments held regularly? – I did not receive regular check ups or dental cleaning. I had a doctor perform one check up while I was there, but I did observe other students being occasionally taken into town for orthodontist or chiropractor appointments.
If you got sick were you given adequate treatment and rest? – No. We were told to drink more water. I never witnessed anyone who was able to “sit out” or rest if they were sick. We had to participate in the daily activities as usual.
Were you ever refused medical care because staff said that you were “faking it”? – 99% of the time. I suffered a hip injury when I was younger, and was not allowed to participate in physical education prior to being sent to DRA. After arriving at DRA, my parents specifically told them of this, but the staff continued to make me participate in the daily exercise periods – calisthenics, running, soccer, weights, etc. It took months for DRA to finally allow me to sit out from these activities, but staff regularly shamed me for not participating, and made it very clear that they thought I was faking it – even after receiving documentation from several of my doctors.
Was a medical service offered for drug detox or drug rehabilitation? – No.
Was there any kind of “Drug Education” available for students who had used drugs in the past? – No. None.
What is the name of your case manager/ “Therapist”? Did they have degrees/ licenses? What were their qualifications before taking the job at DRA? – I’m not sure.
Was group therapy considered to be of a confrontational nature? – It was extremely awkward. We rarely had group therapy sessions, but when they did occur, we were forced to talk openly about highly sensitive issues in front of everyone. They frequently broke out into other girls teasing one another for being a baby, or “faking it”.
Do you feel you were forced to confess to things you did not do in order to progress in the program? – Absolutely.
Were students encouraged to accept that they were alcoholics or drug addicts? Was this required to advance in the program? – No.
Were students encouraged to follow a 12 step program in order to earn levels and graduate the program – No.
Were students encouraged to accept a “higher power” contingent to their recovery? – Yes, it was mandatory to participate in a “higher power hour” every Sunday. We had to write in our journal or read religious material. We could not eat until the food was blessed. Spirituality and/or religion was forced down our throats in innumerable ways.
In your opinion, How was the food quality? Was it prepared properly? Were safety and health codes followed in the kitchen? – The food in homeless was appalling. Cold oatmeal and hard-boiled eggs for breakfast, a mystery meat patty and rice for lunch, and some sort of left-overs with rice at night. I was once told I still had to eat my hard-boiled egg after I dropped it on the ground. The different “families” of DRA rotated preparing food, and we often heard of people doing disgusting things to everyone’s meals.
Did you ever go hungry? Were you given proper portions? Was food ever withheld as a punishment? – Food was never withheld except as stated above – that we could not eat until the food was blessed.
Did you gain a lot of weight? Were you forced to eat more than you were able to eat? – I gained a lot of weight, but I was disgustingly skinny when I arrived to DRA. Homeless was miserable because I had to eat everything, when I used to go days without eating. In addition to three meals, we had to eat two snacks as well. I’ll never forget when I said I didn’t want a snack, and the homeless staff laughed and told me it wasn’t an option. We were forced to eat everything we were given. If we didn’t eat everything, we received a citation. I still struggle with this – I always have to finish everything on my plate from the conditioning I received at DRA. I struggle with maintaining my weight because it’s a constant battle I face trying to assure myself that I do not have to eat everything I’ve been given.
Were you ever punished for vomiting? – I was not, but there was a girl I lived with during my stay who had a horrible aversion to tuna fish. We had tuna fish sandwiches every Tuesday night for dinner and it was absolutely horrifying to see how the different staff members would handle it. They forced ***** to eat two sandwiches every week – even if she vomited on them, which was regular. They would bully her, threaten her, and laugh in her face when she vomited. Again, she was forced to eat the original sandwiches if she vomited on them.
Please describe the “homeless” (Observation & Assessment) experience. How did you feel about this? – Homeless is designed to break kids like horses. A lot of us came from wealthy families, in which our parents rarely were involved in our lives or disciplining us. It was a shock for most people to be told what to do by authority figures, and most kids rebelled. A majority of students would be in homeless for months (it’s a two week minimum level) because they simply refused to be told what to do by random authority figures. We had to get up at 5:30AM, walk the cart (a pioneer wagon that carried our supplies) through the desert for an hour, then participate in calisthenics, eat breakfast, then do various schooling or level-related tasks for a few hours (crochet a beanie, fire drill, etc). We would break for lunch, then two hours of work (digging trenches for electrical lines, pulling weeds, cleaning the big building, etc), then additional schooling or level-related tasks, break again for dinner, another hour of exercise, then an hour of “therapy” (journal writing). We would finally go back to the dorm at 8PM. We would be outside the entire day, even if it was raining or in the middle of the winter, and we were not allowed to speak unless we had permission. I am ashamed to admit to how willingly I succumbed to questionable authority. It was absolutely disgusting that we were thrown into an environment where our lives were at the hands of control-freak strangers who got off on telling kids what to do.
Were upper levels or any level students asked to babysit the staff’s children, or taken to the staff’s house for any extended period of time? – No.
Where you aware of anyone being restrained and isolated from the group? – All the time. It was very frequent in homeless, and was very common with the boys. I have heard horror stories about Robbie Dias and his overly aggressive restraints.
What reasons were these people restrained? (please describe actual events) – Usually kids rebelling against authority, not wanting to do something they were told to do. We never actually heard why someone was being restrained, because we would be cited if we asked what happened.
Where stress positions utilized? Were there more time in isolation given if the student would move, cry or speak? – Absolutely. Kids would yell out in pain, and they would hold the restraint until they were silent.
(Please describe the rules and structure that would pertain to a level 1 student.)
Was contact with your parents limited? Where your letters (to and from) intercepted? Were your letters opened, read, crossed out or cut? – We were given a postcard everyday to write to our parents, so they did not have to be opened, but they were read and monitored. Mine were never crossed out, but the admissions packet they give parents describes the various stages to expect when receiving communication from their kids i.e. Manipulation (I’m so sorry, I’ll behave…or this place is so horrible). This automatically conditions our parents to believe that genuinely horrible things we were experiencing were just ploys to get us out of there. Things we disclosed to our parents in these postcards were often brought up and used against us in our weekly therapy sessions.
How long before you were able to speak to your parents on the phone? Were your phone calls monitored? – I spoke to my parents for the first time on a “therapy call” two months after I first arrived at DRA. I was an absolutely perfect student to receive this call, so two months was the shortest time possible to advance through the various levels to receive the call. The call was with your therapist and your parents, so there was an agenda to discuss, and anything outside of that was dismissed. When I first arrived at DRA, the more advanced levels (director and graduate) would be able to call their parents weekly under the distant supervision of the night staff, but this privilege was taken away before I reached those levels.
If you felt you were being abused, was there anyway you could get to a phone and have a private conversation with your parents, child services or an officer of the law? – No, absolutely not. We were monitored 24/7 and there was absolutely no way to report abuse to anyone outside of DRA without it first being seen by multiple staff members. Students would then be punished or held back for trying to manipulate staff members.
If you wanted to leave were you discouraged to tell your parents how you felt? Were you afraid that you would be punished if you were to describe any incidents of abuse to your parents? – Students were cited and demoted if we spoke of any abuse or ill treatment by staff members for trying to “manipulate” parents and/or staff.
Were there other students (upper levels) assigned to watch over you? What was their role? Did they give you consequences/ “hold you accountable”? Were they instructed to restrain you or monitor the isolation area, bathrooms and showers? – When I was at DRA, graduate level students had to participate in homeless again for a week to mentor the new students. By this time, long-tenure students were brainwashed and craving the opportunity to have some sort of authority, just like their staff members. Mentors were extremely judgmental, and gave their opinions to the homeless staff as to whether the new students were ready to advance “inside”. Mentors were indirectly encouraged to be harsh with their judgments and opinions, because it signified their emotional separation from the state they (the mentors) were in when they first arrived to DRA.
Did you have to raise your hand and wait to ask permission from staff (or upper levels) to speak, stand, eat, go to the bathroom and do other normal activities? – In homeless you had to ask permission to do everything. You only spoke after you were given permission, bathroom and eating were at designated times when everyone participated. Inside was less strict – you could speak openly, except when told not to or during higher power hour. We did have to ask permission to use the bathroom, and either a staff member or a higher level student had to escort you.
How often were you allowed to speak freely? Were you not allowed to speak with others in your group? – Lesbians were ostracized at DRA. Most of the staff members of DRA are mormon, and homosexuality is frowned upon by LDS. We were told not to interact with lesbians by being threatened to we would not be advanced to the next level.
Did you have to walk in line? How often? Were there consequences if you did not line up properly? – Walking in line was rare once you were “inside”, but most common when walking from the big building to the dorms, to other parts of the campus, or if we were walking in the desert.
Would you be given a consequence if you forgot something? (for instance, a pen or a book) – An “unprepared” citation was issued. We would not be allowed to go back to the dorm to retrieve the item, and the various staff members would communicate that we were “unprepared”, so we would receive multiple citations for one infraction.
Were your personal items inspected by other students? (upper levels?) without your consent or presence? – Upper levels were given positive cites (EXTREMELY RARE) if they monitored the lower levels doing something “wrong”. This obviously created a very hostile environment among the students.
(Please describe the rules and structure that would pertain to an “upper level” student.)
What were the requirements in order to progress in the level system? Was approval from the other upper levels required? – Reviews of students were made when it was time for them to advance, in addition to various therapy and level related tasks, and educational requirements. The reviews were completed by family/night staff, upper levels, work and school staff, and therapists. The night staff reviews held the most importance, and this is one of the most aggravating aspects of DRA that I experienced. The night staff were all young – typically 18/19 years old and in their first years of college. Night staff were always nice when they were first employed at DRA, and then, very quickly switched to negative reinforcement from an already dwindling reserve of positive reinforcement, became controlling, and quite frankly, downright mean. They held grudges against students, and they would let their personality differences interfere with objective judgment of the students’ progression through the program. Upper levels also participated in the review of students, and again, it was encouraged to be overly analytical, negative, and scrutinizing. Everyone was walking on pins and needles. You could not afford to make any mistakes, or else you would be at DRA longer.
What kind of staff responsibilities were upper levels given? – Escorting lower-levels to various places on campus or restrooms and reviews of other students.
Were upper levels required to give out consequences, citations or to hold lower levels accountable for minor rule violations? – Upper levels were instructed to tell staff members of any wrong doings that were occurring among other students. Upper levels would be held accountable if it was discovered that lower levels had been doing something wrong, and the upper levels hadn’t said anything. Upper levels claiming they did not know of something was not an acceptable excuse.
Were the rules upper levels enforced specific to the rule book or were the definitions of those rules assumed? Could rules easily be made up or given under a category that was vague enough to be given out for any number of things? – Yes. “Rules” were fluid and ever-changing and could fall under a slew of umbrella citations of serious magnitude.
Were you punished/ held back if you chose not to pass out citations, and opted to verbally warn students instead? – Upper levels could not issue cites during my tenure at DRA.
Did an upper level have to power to influence a child being taken to the isolation room? Were upper levels instructed to watch or participate in restraints? – Upper levels were not instructed to participate in restraints. We were all instructed not to watch or ask about restraints being given.
Were upper levels required to give visiting parents a glowing testimonial of their experience in the program, or make testimonial videos or letters? Were pre-written scripts required to be read during the filming of promotional videos? – I am not aware of pre-written scripts, but students would be severely punished if we gave anything less than a glowing testimonial of DRA. Cites would be issued for “bad attitude” and it would be brought up in reviews, and ultimately lead to a demotion or exemption from being promoted to the next level.
What would happen if an upper level student mentioned anything bad about the program in front of a parent? Were students afraid of punishment if they told the truth? – Cites would be issued for “bad attitude” and it would be brought up in reviews, and ultimately lead to a demotion or exemption from being promoted to the next level.
How easily could an upper level get dropped (start the program over)? What infractions would make an upper level drop and what level did they usually go back to? – Being dropped was common with everyone. It was rare if someone hadn’t been dropped at some point in their program. Students and supervisor levels had more wiggle room when it came to committing infractions, but the more advanced you became in your leveling, the lower the cap for cites became. I believe graduates were allowed a 1 or 2 point citation cap. This means that graduates cannot do ANYTHING wrong, or else they’ll be demoted to director. Staff members were constantly looking for anything wrong. It literally drove us to insanity. We all became zombies. We had to restrict everything, not just our behavior, but our thoughts as well, because they would ultimately affect our actions or behaviors. You could not trust anyone because everyone was encouraged to turn one another in. Again, staff members’ personality differences with the students would really come into play in issuing cites. Staff members would choose favorites and they’d be more lenient with the girls. Other students who didn’t fit into the perfect Mormon girl mold, would be targeted by ALL staff members.
What are your opinions of the owners/ Directors of D.R.A? – I am honestly at a loss of words for my opinions of the owners. They seemed to be nice, though I probably interacted with them twice. It’s hard to really know if they were good people because of all the odd events that made DRA what it was. The directors of DRA, the owners’ children, are not good people. They are power hungry and I do not think they are interested in fostering the recovery of troubled teens. I think they get off on inflicting emotional abuse and control.
Do you believe that the program acting within the means of “Tough Love” was appropriate treatment for you in your adolescence? – Again, this is something that I have not been able to come to a complete decision about even twelve years after going through it.
Do you believe that the staff and junior staff usually acted within the US standards for health, safety and well being of the students? – No. We were regularly pushed to the edge of survival physically and emotionally.
Considering long term effects, do you think your experience at DRA has an effect on your life today? Positive or negative?DRA has an effect on my life on a daily basis, and I’m sure in more ways than I’ll ever realize.
Full Testimony (if provided)
There are a few positive aspects of DRA, but negative events and effects, unfortunately, grossly outweigh the positive. I was coming very close to death when I was taken to DRA, so obviously the 24/7 monitoring kept me alive. I gained much-needed weight, I was put on medicine and participated in weekly therapy sessions that cultivated my management of depression. Obviously, there are no drugs or alcohol at DRA, so I was clean and sober for 9 months. The work-at-your-own-pace education system allowed me to graduate high school at the age of fifteen, though I cheated on all of my science tests. The curriculum to earn credits is a complete joke and does not ensure in the slightest way that you are actually learning anything. I do not feel that I earned my high school diploma and am embarrassed to admit that I do not know many things that were taught to the people I grew up with. I boast about beginning college at fifteen, and graduating with my bachelor’s degree by nineteen, but again, I am secretly ashamed by believing and knowing that I cheated the system. The negative emotional conditioning of DRA is what is most haunting to me, and all of the other girls I attended DRA with, whom I still communicate with regularly. We will frequently wake up from nightmares that we have committed a hilariously minor infraction that leads to us being demoted and having to stay at DRA for another month. My family and I regularly wonder if DRA was the right decision, though we have learned that there is no point in dissecting and analyzing what has been done and what could have been. I believe that I am currently overly analytical and expect the worst of others because of the systematic destruction that was encouraged among us at DRA. I laugh with as many people as possible about the fact that my parents paid an exorbitant amount of money to have us dig frozen ground and do other physical labor for the benefit of the campus and to teach us humility, breaking us like the beasts the staff saw us as. I am haunted by knowing that I readily accepted authority, and said, thought and did everything they told me to to advance through the program – regularly betraying friends for my rewards. I do not feel that I stuck up for the well being of myself or any other students at DRA. I feel as though I have a hardened core because I now know that at any moment the carpet could be ripped out from underneath you, and your entire life as you know it will be shattered, just as it was when I was enrolled at DRA. I have learned that everyone is on their own and you cannot rely on anyone to help you. I learned that I am incredibly strong and have the confidence that I can emotionally shut off to endure any kind of hardship such that I experienced at DRA. I know that I am a stronger person because I survived DRA, though it is sickening to think of the sheep I became to leave the program. The emotional manipulation and conditioning is the most horrifying aspect of DRA because it leaves us all in a state of wondering – Was it really that bad? Was I really that bad? Was I that bad of a kid to deserve that? It was ingrained in us that we were bad – we were bad enough to deserve being sent to a place like DRA. What a horrible thing to teach teenagers – you are a bad person. At this point in time, I constantly battle with seeing myself as a “bad kid”. Ultimately, I do not think I would recommend DRA to anyone. I do not know of a solution for parents in a similar situation, but DRA definitely lives up to the pressure aspect its motto – that rocks will turn into diamonds under enough pressure.