HEAL-online.org – Diamond Ranch Academy – Survivor Statement
Hello, my name is —— and I am now 19 years old. It is very hard for me to write this email but I find it to be more than an obligation. I discovered your site today, June 21, 2005 and immediately had to contact you. I was physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused at Diamond Ranch Academy from late July 2001 to late June 2002. I speak not only for myself. 20-60 other kids at any given time went through some of the same sickening and humiliating torture around me every day. Years have passed, but a lot of the pain has not. In fact, I still keep contact with about five people I went to “DRA” with, and we all feel the same way. Some still have nightmares to this day related to this program. (There’s something strange to me about considering the idea of having a child woken up and literally kidnapped by strange men in the middle of the night to face a year of incarceration “theraputical”.) It is a very dangerous game these people are playing, indeed, and I speak from experience.
The first two weeks I stayed at Diamond Ranch was the sickest display of an abuse of power I have ever witnessed. I quickly made it out of their gruesome hell of a “first level” they called “wilderness” at the time out of sheer fear and terror. Our sleeping, eating, and working conditions were absolutely filthy and barbaric. We were barked orders from four in the morning until very late into the day, then, when we finally were allowed sleep, we were woken up repeatedly during the night to do “calisthenics”. Our days were entirely filled with busy work that mainly included making the facility look better for interested parents touring the ranch. We were not allowed to talk to one another whatsoever. If we were caught doing so, it resulted in group calisthenics for hours on end. We were not allowed cold water, only warm water out of dirty canteens provided by the staff. The staff always seemed ready to remind us they were only ‘legally obligated’ to provide us with two meals a day. Meals consisted of white rice or lentils for dinner and (sometimes) lunch, and oats for breakfast, and we were occasionally allowed rotten fruit. Spices and seasonings were only allowed twice during these two weeks because we were told we didn’t deserve them. We prepared these meals ourselves over a burner. We had to use dirty sticks found on the ground as utensils. If one of us vomited, they were forced to eat another bowl or the result was more group punishment. We were only allowed to bathe/ change clothes every two days if that, (in freezing cold outdoor “showers” of course.) We were more than once told that that we were worth less than dirt, etc. The staff would mockingly eat healthy, delicious looking meals from the “inside” facility and candy bars in our faces to taunt us. When traveling from site to site, we were forced to march and sing marching related songs at the same time. If one was caught not singing, or crying from pain, exhaustion, or hunger; more physical and verbal group punishment. Once, the owner’s son Robbie was our staff, just for the day. He set me aside from the group and physically punished me personally by making me do pushups with my hands in sharp rocks until my arms collapsed and then decided it would be a good idea to start yelling in my face; “What’s the matter with you ____?! You can’t do a push up, you can’t do anything! What are we gonna’ do with you boy?!” etc. I later discovered what he did there, among other things, was against the law. Another night that stands out, was a night when an abusive, and in my personal opinion mentally unstable wilderness staff member named Brad decided to make us do “calisthenics” until every last one of us was breaking down crying. That in itself wasn’t out of the ordinary, but this round, every time one of the poor students in our group who suffered from terrets syndrome uncontrollably uttered an obscenity, Brad would make us keep going and going until we were literally screaming in pain, our muscles locking up. Kids were getting sick, passing out, falling over crying and begging for mercy. Later in my program I heard him utter things to other staff members that personally made me beleive Brad enjoyed making kids suffer. I also remember activities such as lying on the desert floor holding large boulders above my head in the blazing hot Utah sun until I felt like I could barely take it anymore. The individual shocking instaces of abuse of power i was exposed to during those two weeks were endless. Luckily, my stay was short. Some people were in this phase up to six months. Half way through my stay at ‘DRA’, ‘wilderness’ was shut down due to illegal activity and changed to “unemployment”, a much tamer and regulation-friendly version of what I had gone through. Needless to say no kind of contact to anyone outside of the facility was allowed during this period.
The rest of my stay at Diamond Ranch Academy was better but we were all still very manipulated and controlled. For example, after a few months I was able to mail my parents, but mail was closely monitored and read, and they ultimately decided if it was sent or not. If you did anything to expose the ranch for what it really was, you were instantly punished and knocked back down on the level system, promising you an even longer and harder stay at the program. Same with phone calls. They were always monitored and you would be instantly cut off if you said anything that could be deemed as “manipulative”. Rob Dias and the staff were the real manipulators of Diamond Ranch Academy. You were always part of their scheme. If you sold the place, you went home. If you fought the place, the harder they’d make it for you. They play a sick game of power with you up until the moment you sign your release paper. You were seen as more of a dollar sign rather than a patient in the eyes of Rob Dias, the owner, who used scare tactics in order to gain respect from students, and his sons and staff are well known for physically abusing kids in ways that go WELL beyond what they would classify as “necessary restraint”. What I saw there was not necessary restraint. It was bullying, physical abuse, and torture. The difference between that place on a regular day and a day when an interested parent thinking about sending their kid to Diamond Ranch came to look around was as different as night and day. Bottom line: We were treated as objects and sales tools. It was a living nightmare.
We were always hungry, scared, and filthy. We were always living and cooking in horrible conditions. Always being used as an ad campaign for interested parents. Always being hurt by staff or the conditions of our work situations. I don’t know how many times I had to go the hospital for being cut with sharp objects while working in the junk yard. I can only hope someone out there thinking about sending their kid to a program reads this, and does a little more research on these places. Everything in my statement is true. I give HEAL permission to use my statement in any way they please.
*** UPDATE JULY 29, 2009: ***
I wrote the above testimony four years ago and have noticed it’s increasing popularity over time. I would like to add some thoughts and memories I had forgotten to share, as well as some updates. One thing I would like to note first about my stay at the ranch; I was considered a top student. I was never a problem. I never ran away, barely received any citations, was never personally physically restrained (just witnessed,) I advanced all of my levels on schedule and was never demoted. No one’s program is completely flawless, but my run is as close as it gets. I held every job possible there and was constantly used an example for other students to follow. I ‘mentored’ countless ‘new intakes.’ In fact my last four months spent in the program mainly included working the cushier job, such as head or assistant program cook, assistant staffing, and selling the program to interested parents touring the ranch almost every day. I was most definitely their ‘go to’ sales boy. I would sit there with desperate parents, convincing them this was their last option.. lying through my teeth time and time again about how great the program was and how it saved my life.. secretly biding my time, waiting for freedom. That is a big part of my motivation for writing this statement; to hopefully right some of those wrongs. Through my false endorsement of the program during my tenor there I was surely responsible for countless new kids being sent to DRA circa 2002. The guilt lives on with me, but that is how these programs are designed, and I did what I felt I had to do to advance and eventually be released.
Here are some things I forgot to originally include in my statement, as well as truths I have read in others’ statements I would like to confirm:
* The word is spreading: Thanks to popular social networking websites I am now in contact with many more former students. The numbers are growing and it will be become harder for us to be ignored. The ratio of students who feel unsatisfied or damaged from their time spent in the program is overwhelming.
* Cult like tactics used by DRA: The use of heavy jargon. The use of jargon to manipulate the true meaning of a word, masking their intentions. Cult like seminars which include using music as a trance. Forcing bogus therapeutic solutions to students while attempting to sell these values to said students’ parents. Namely Taylor Hartman’s ‘Color Code’ — which holds no actual psychological, therapeutic, medical, or scientific ground. It should be noted Mr. Hartman happens to be a close personal friend of Mr. Rob Dias.
* Unnecessary length of program/ Playing on the desperation & naivety of parents: I can speak for myself and I’m sure many more can relate; I strongly feel I did not make any personal growth in my last four months of the program, if not longer. I was simply kept there to assist with staffing. Like most students, the program had a firm grip on my my parents’ desperation. It is Rob’s business to squeeze every nickel possible out of a naive family by the time he’s done with them. This is how he finances his numerous luxury homes, vehicles, boats, big screen televisions, the list goes on and on. (Note: I have stayed at his house, and became well acquainted with his entire family. Interestingly enough, in most witness opinions, his children are far, FAR more troubled than the actual students of Diamond Ranch Academy. Which brings me to my next point..)
* Rob Dias’ own abusive & deeply troubled children who happen to staff the facility: Rob’s sons, Robbie and Ricky, are allowed to come on to the facility and staff the children whenever they so please. They are well known for their abusiveness in the facility. I have experienced it first hand. These guys are without a doubt mentally unstable bullies with severe issues.
* DRA website false reports on students/ Tricking kids into smiling for photos: The DRA website actually started while I was in the program. It was referred to as ‘the dailies.’ Of course, students were never allowed internet access at any point, but a group of us more tech savy kids made our way online occasionally and discovered the dailies were roughly 90% a hoax. That’s all I can really say about it. If your kid is attending DRA, most of the updates you’re reading could be fabricated. Another tactic they liked to use was tricking us into smiling for photographs to be put online; for example, a staff telling an innapropriate joke that was out of their character, and proceeding to quickly whip out a camera to snap a quick photo.
* DRA’s more recent front to appear as a boarding school/ incorporating ‘normal’ high school atmosphere & activities: It was beginning as I left the program and over years I have noticed DRA attempting to crossover into a respectable, boarding school type facility. An obvious attempt to regulate all the negative press they have been receiving from former students since the rise of the internet. Regardless of their current exterior and any changes that have been made to the program over time, it should not be forgotten that Diamond Ranch Academy was founded on child abuse and blood money.
* The student dorm buildings were originally ostrich pens: Not everyone is aware, but like so much of the makeshift architecture at the ranch, the dorms were originally built to serve a completely different function. It was my generation that got to breathe in heavy amounts of dust and rat feces into our lungs for months on end while preparing these dorms for future students to enjoy. Just one of many unhealthy tasks we were forced to slave over. Imagine all the money the program receives from tuition, AND not having to ever pay for labor!
Fellow former students, please speak up with your experiences. Do what you can to help bring down the ‘troubled youth’ industry. Everything in my statement is true. I give HEAL permission to use my statement in any way they please.