Diamond Ranch Academy Survivor Survey – Cassandra
Date of Submission: 02/19/2014
Do you wish to grant further testimony to investigators? – Please contact me with further information.
Age and year of admittance – I was 15 at the time of admittance, 2013.
How long was your stay at D.R.A.? – 11 months.
How long have you been back home? – About two weeks.
Did you graduate from DRA? – No.
Before the program did you have a serious drug problem? Please describe severity – Not at all.
Before the program were you admitted to any other residential treatment, for instance a mental hospital? – No.
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 grandmother sent me to Diamond Ranch.
Did you consent to treatment at DRA? Did you sign a contract? – No, and no. I had no choice.
Was there a medical admissions process? Please describe – I was taken into medical after having my belongings searched. The person doing my intake, Kaycee, asked me if I did drugs. I said no , and she informed me that I would need to be drug tested anyways. They made me pee in a cup with the door open, then took my weights and vitals. Later on, they needed to take my blood and could not do it correctly. They stuck me with a needle 11 times before successfully drawing my blood.
Were your medical records considered before you were admitted into DRA? – I was admitted to DRA only after my tour because my grandmother became convinced that it was a great place that could “help me” with my “issues”. There were no present documents about my medical history upon singing my contract, as it was somewhat of an impulse decision.
Were you strip searched? How many times? – I was strip searched on my intake, after both of my visits, and when two other girls drank hand sanitizer. The entire campus was strip searched as a punishment for their actions.
How much was your tuition? Around 83,000 dollars, plus an extra month that has not yet been paid for.
Considering how much your tuition cost, Do you think you were given an adequate education at DRA.? –
In your opinion were the teachers, good teachers? Did they have degrees and certifications? – I think some of the teachers were good teachers, and genuinely tried to help as much as was possible. Other teachers were consumed by their personal agendas and spent the day on their iPhones and when you asked for help, they would rant to you about completely irrelevant topics. My history teacher, Jason Hansen, told students that President Barack Obama is a muslim and was not born in the United States, and that the rocky mountains were formed in the course of less than 10 years. My science teacher preached against the theory of evolution. The english teacher would refuse to help students if she felt that they were ” bothersome”, “attention seeking” , or that they disrupted her work. As far as I am concerned, her work was to help us and refusing to do so should have been grounds for termination. She also made several homophobic comments in front of students. Once, me and a friend were discussing a The Garden of Eden, a book by Ernest Hemingway about a man who’s wife brings him into an affair with another woman. Keep i mind that this is a book which she gave us to read, and I am almost positive that she NEVER read the book herself. My friend said ” Ernest Hemingway wrote about lesbians a lot.” and the English teacher said ” It’s a shame, Ernest Hemingway was a great man, I don’t know how he could have liked lesbians.” Given that Diamond Ranch is intended to be “therapeutic”, their staff making comments about sexuality is completely out of line. The math teacher was usually very busy trying to help other students that she did not have time for me. The math program is online and the problems can be very challenging, even for the teachers.
I am unaware of their credentials, but they did not act like they had them.
Were your tests open book, multiple choice tests? Would you consider them easy to pass? – The tests were not open book, but were mostly multiple choice. The were too easy to pass. I can count on one hand the amount of tests I did not pass in the entire 11 months I spent at DRA.
How many school credits did you earn in what period of time? – 11.
Did you receive a diploma from DRA? – No.
Was a certified medical professional available to students at their request? – Yes and no. Often when you had a medical issue, you had no constantly pester the medical staff whenever possible in order to have it addressed, and when it would finally be addressed, they would ay that there was nothing that they could do for you. When I had an allergic reaction to lotion and broke out into hives all over my legs, they told me that they had “bigger fish to fry”. Another time I broke out into hives for reasons unknown and they told me take a shower, which did not help and provided no further treatment. I once threw up for three days straight and they only gave me gatorade for one of those nights. I woke up throwing up and was cited for not making my bed within five minutes, and instead dealing with the vomit that I was choking on.
Were proper check ups, dental cleaning, and medication observation appointments held regularly? – No, I only had one check up the entire time I was there which was held while I was in O&A. I never once saw a dentist. My glasses broke and I did not see an optometrist for 2 weeks, and then I did not receive my new glasses for two months. I have severe astigmatism and was unable to anything during this time period.
If you got sick were you given adequate treatment and rest? – It would depend on the medical staff. Often, I would be told to drink water and deal with it. We were not allowed to carry water bottles, so this was very difficult. Once in the middle of summer when it was 115 degrees, we had to run ladders on the field and I suffered from heat exhaustion and could not see anything. My face was bright red and I had trouble walking. I had to walk up to medical, which was very difficult at the time because it was “against protocol” to use the elevator and they gave me a prescription of cold paper towels. If you refused to participate in such activities, you would be sent to RFI where you had to do hard calisthenics and do things like pull weeds or clean already clean things around the building. If you refused to do this, you could be restrained or kept in RFI longer.
Were you ever refused medical care because staff said that you were “faking it”? – Yes. They thought I was faking throwing up. I don’t even know how this is possible, but they seemed to think I had found a way to do this.
Was a medical service offered for drug detox or drug rehabilitation? – No. I had a friend who was detoxing off of crack cocaine and had seizures. He never went to the hospital.
Was there any kind of “Drug Education” available for students who had used drugs in the past? – No. Talking about drugs at all, even when discussing their negative effects was considered glorification and would result in a citation.
What is the name of your case manager/ “Therapist”? Did they have degrees/ licenses? What were their qualifications before taking the job at DRA? – My therapist was named Brent. He is licensed clinical social worker, and I believe he predominantly worked in substance abuse counseling before coming to work at Diamond Ranch.
Was group therapy considered to be of a confrontational nature? – No. Group therapy was often an uncomfortable experience. I was placed in many groups which did not pertain to me, such as self esteem and coping skills therapy. I have perfectly normal self esteem, it’s actually higher than most of the girls I know in my age group. We would all sit in a circle and stare at each other while our group therapists awkwardly tried to relate to us. We never really hit any big issues in these groups or made any tangible progress.
Do you feel you were forced to confess to things you did not do in order to progress in the program? – Yes. If you did not have some kind of self inflicted guilt trip by a certain level about something you have done then they did not think that you had progressed enough and would hold you back. I felt like I had to pretend to have nonexistent issues to get out of there.
Were students encouraged to accept that they were alcoholics or drug addicts? Was this required to advance in the program? – Often times, yes. I was afraid to tell them about my limited drug history because I felt that they would spin it into a problem and try to keep me there longer. I only drank once and experimented with a few other things but never regularly used anything. I never told my therapist about anything I did because I was not addicted to anything, I was just a teenager.
Were students encouraged to follow a 12 step program in order to earn levels and graduate the program – Yes. If you tested positive for any drugs on your intake or admitted to ANY use of any kind of drug then you would be placed on substance track, which requires you to complete substance abuse packets. Students who did not really have a drug problem would be required to do them, and students who did have legitimate issues with addiction would get away with not doing them.
Were students encouraged to accept a “higher power” contingent to their recovery? – Yes, it is in the level work which is required to complete before advancing through the program. There is a prayer before every meal, and non denominational services are held on Sundays, led by a Mormon man. He prays in the name of Jesus Christ and preaches Christianity and creationism.
In your opinion, How was the food quality? Was it prepared properly? Were safety and health codes followed in the kitchen? – The food was honestly disgusting. It was undercooked, expired, and moldy. The kitchen staff don’t wash their hands or use gloves when preparing food. I worked in the kitchen and there were flies that buzzed around in the trashcan and into the food all throughout the summer months. If the fruit was molded and we asked for something different, we would be called ungrateful and entitled.
Did you ever go hungry? Were you given proper portions? Was food ever withheld as a punishment? – No, I was never hungry. I was very often overfed because they would give you much more than you asked for or would put on the opposite of what you asked for out of spite. I never had food withheld as a punishment, but if Gus ( the head chef) did not like you he would give you worse food than others, or over/underfeed you
Did you gain a lot of weight? Were you forced to eat more than you were able to eat? – I gained about 20 pounds. If we did not finish our food, we would be given citations. I still have a habit of eating everything that is put in front of me as fast as I can because I am afraid that I’ll be yelled at or punished for not eating everything or finishinf fast enough.
Were you ever punished for vomiting? – Not exactly. I threw up in O&A because of an egg intolerance and then was forced to eat the rest of my breakfast, including the eggs.
Please describe the “homeless” (Observation & Assessment) experience. How did you feel about this? – This was honestly the most traumatic and degrading experience I have ever had to go through. They took everything I own and all of my rights. I remember trying to fight back tears so that I could do my calisthenics, eat my food, do long, grueling work projects, and get through the back breaking day. I never had enough time to wash my hair properly because the showers were only 3 minutes long, and had dirty hair with unrinsed conditioner built up on my scalp for weeks. I hardly spoke the entire time, because I was so scared of being punished for accidentally saying the wrong thing.
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? – Yes, it happened right in front of us. They would usually take them out into a separate area from the group before restraining so that we couldn’t see the brutality of it.
What reasons were these people restrained? (please describe actual events) – My roommate was restrained numerous times for speaking out of turn, giving ” attitude” or crying. Another girl was restrained for not getting up and moving away from the door which they intended to lock to prevent her from running. She was crying to hard to get up so they picked her up and threw her into the middle of the floor. I saw a boy get his faced smashed into the turf and his arm twisted behind his back. I’m unsure why he was restrained.
One time, a girl hit our staff in the head with a shovel, stole her radio, and ran for it. The entire RFI group was interrogated by Brigham. One girl said that she apologized in advance if she laughed, but it’s only because she was nervous. He said ” If anyone wants to laugh about one of my staff members being hurt, I tell you what, I am The PCS (positive control system) instructor, and I don’t care if you’re a woman, I am not afraid to put my hands on you and it will be painful!” he went on to say that if it didn’t hurt, we wouldn’t be obedient. My O&A staff told me that he restrained students for not doing calisthenics and would drag them up the stair for refusing to run up and down them.
Where stress positions utilized? Were there more time in isolation given if the student would move, cry or speak? – Yes. They would often not stop holding you down until you stopped crying, but it was hard for people to stop crying because they were in so much pain.
(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? – You could not speak to your parents until you completed O&A, which basically meant that you had completed 28 successful half days which verified that you were scared enough to follow the rules. You would then have a 5 minute phone call. If you tried to tell them how much you felt abused or mistreated, the person giving the phone call ( the O%A director) would hang up the phone immediately for you being “manipulative”. Letters were read by your staff, and if they did not “flag” it to your therapist, it would be given to the front desk to read and sent to your parents. It would vary on your therapist, but often you could be punished for trying to tell your parents how you felt.
How long before you were able to speak to your parents on the phone? Were your phone calls monitored? – 2 weeks minimun, and always.
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? – Never. I tried to help a friend of mine to get emancipated by getting in contact with her former guardian and was placed in RFI for a day. She was in for 8, and they threatened to send her to wilderness in Idaho.
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? – Yes. You would be called manipulative and dishonest. People were very often punished for talking to their parents about the abuse.
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? – The upper levels could monitor your use of the bathroom or travel in the academic hallway between classrooms. Upper levels were expected to tell on you for almost everything, and if they didn’t but were aware of someone breaking the rules, they would be punished as well.
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? – Every single day.
How often were you allowed to speak freely? Were you not allowed to speak with others in your group? – During recreation and constructive free time we could speak freely, but had to be doing something ” productive”.
I would say that 90% of the time, we could not talk to each other.
Did you have to walk in line? How often? Were there consequences if you did not line up properly? – We had to walk in lines in the hallways and when going outside.
Would you be given a consequence if you forgot something? (for instance, a pen or a book) – Yes, you would be cited.
Were your personal items inspected by other students? (upper levels?) without your consent or presence? – Yes. They would do contraband searches for the staff.
(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? – Upper levels had to “hold you accountable” for anything yu did, even if it was as minor as forgetting to raise your hand before speaking.
What kind of staff responsibilities were upper levels given? – To call everyone out about everything they do. Some upper levels watch us more closely than the staff do. Upper levels were instructed to find out about anything that people did and tell on them for it.
Were upper levels required to give out consequences, citations or to hold lower levels accountable for minor rule violations? – They were required to hold people accountable but could not actually write the citations. They just told the staff to cite us and then they would, sometimes without any actual proof that any rule was broken.
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 twisted out of proportion to fit the staff’s current preference. Students would be cited for “inappropriate behavior” for getting off of their beds or speaking without permission after 8 PM.
Were you punished/ held back if you chose not to pass out citations, and opted to verbally warn students instead? – Yes. If we simply advised a student to stop breaking the rules, we would be punished for ‘enabling’ them. Staff could be fired for not filling out a certain number of cites. I received many citations and the staff told me that they wouldn’t give them to me, but they were afraid of losing their jobs.
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? – There was not an isolation room during my time at Diamond Ranch, but there was RFI. Usually students did not participate in restraints as they would try to isolate the student before restraining. Upper levels were encouraged to chase down people when they ran.
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? – It was not openly required but if you didn’t, they would tell you to “express gratitude” to your parents and Diamond Ranch or you couldn’t have made any progress.
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? – Yes. If a staff member was present they would wait until your parents left and then punish you.
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? – I was dropped a level for calling a friend of mine while on a visit. Another girl was dropped all the way back down to supervisor for drinking and having sex on a home visit while another girl, at the same level, who did the same things, was allowed to graduate on the same date. Their policies were inconsistent in dealing with these punishment.
What are your opinions of the owners/ Directors of D.R.A? – I think they are mastermind manipulators. They could make you believe anything. I was thoroughly convinced upon my tour that DRA was a great place to be. I didn’t realize how awful it was until that night, after my intake. They’ll lie to you about anything that you want to hear. You’ll be told that you can have all of your own clothing and have an iPod and talk to anyone that was healthy for you. They’ll feed you lies until you sign the contract and then shut you up as best they can.
Do you believe that the program acting within the means of “Tough Love” was appropriate treatment for you in your adolescence? – Not at all. Every person at Diamond Ranch came from very different circumstances. I had a fairly rough childhood and as a result, I don’t handle being yelled at very well and gives me a great deal of anxiety. I don’t like when people put their hands on me and even seeing others restrained would scare me out of my mind.
Do you believe that the staff and junior staff usually acted within the US standards for health, safety and well being of the students? – Depends on the staff. Our YDC’s usually were, but the kitchen and medical staff certainly did not.
Considering long term effects, do you think your experience at DRA has an effect on your life today? Positive or negative?I prefer to look at Diamond Ranch as a neutral experience in my life, because it has had both positive and negative effects on me. I am generally much more anxious and tend to worry about everything. I have a tendency to think of ways to manipulate my way out of things rather than face or work through consequences, because that’s what got me through Diamond Ranch. Honesty always got people punished and displays of emotions were reprimanded. I have trouble expressing myself now much more than I did before. Positively, I have a much stronger work ethic in my academics and am now planning to attend college which is not something I would have done before Diamond Ranch. I learned the art of “sit down and shut up” as it is necessary in dealing with people in the real world. Whether this is healthy or not, I am not entirely sure.