Escaping the Cycle: A Troubled Teen's Story
Escaping the Cycle: A Troubled Teen's Story

Escaping the Cycle: A Troubled Teen's Story

Inspired by the Netflix series "The Program": I want to share my personal experience within the troubled teen industry. Just like the documentary highlighted Ivy Ridge, I too was impacted by similar facilities during my teenage years.

I faced challenges in the past, and to be honest, I still do. My family went through a rough patch, and I started behaving rebelliously. Initially, my actions were not too extreme, but as I spent more time in these facilities, I became exposed to criminal behavior. One facility housed troubled adolescents in a psychiatric ward with severe issues. It was evident that my situation was not as severe. The 90-day cottage provided valuable counseling and group therapy. The County Detention Center was a different experience. Although I had no criminal charges, I was briefly held by the County without cause. Each facility had its unique characteristics, but The Family and Phoenix House left a lasting impression on me.

The Family Foundation, located just outside Handcock NY, was promoted as a school for troubled teenagers and was recently exposed in the memoir "I See You Survivor" by Liz Ianelli. I was at The Family in 1989, when I was around 14 or 15 years old. My mother and stepfather took me to the school under the pretense of exploring it as an option. Upon arrival, I was separated from them and introduced to AJ, a resident of the program. AJ eagerly guided me around and shared exciting details about their activities. While walking through the spacious dining area, I noticed my mother's car speeding away on the dirt road. Locking eyes with AJ, we both understood what was about to happen. I raced through the doors, trying to intercept my mother across the ranch field. The chase was on. AJ couldn't keep up with my pace, and I couldn't catch the departing car. In hindsight, it became clear that my mother had intentionally dropped me off there as part of a prearranged plan. Back then, The Family was more like a working ranch run by the Argiros family. It was a diverse mix of individuals, including troubled teens and hardcore adult drug addicts serving their time to avoid prison. While my encounters were distinct from Liz's, they shared many similarities. I swiftly grasped the importance of maintaining a low profile and focusing on my tasks. After a couple of weeks in the barns, I transitioned to the facility kitchen, where I prepared meals for around 50 full-time residents. I managed to navigate through the facility without drawing much attention until the end. Staff closely monitored our mail and restricted phone calls. To escape, I formulated a strategy to flee in the dead of night and coordinated with someone outside to pick me up by the highway. By morning, when my absence would be discovered, I could have covered a substantial distance from the facility. Any misstep in the plan could have led to a catastrophe. Fortunately, the plan unfolded seamlessly, and by the time my absence was detected, I was already hours away. Envision Andy's escape from Shawshank...without the sewer pipe.

Phoenix House, part of the WWASP network of facilities as seen in the Netflix documentary "The Program," operated under strict regulations within a vast network of institutions. I was asked to participate in the launch of a new facility in Northern New Jersey by Phoenix House Academy, which aimed to provide education for troubled teenagers, resembling the Ivy Academy in many aspects. During my nearly year-long stay, the facility was highly secure, offering limited access to the outside except for a small walled-in courtyard. I faced challenging situations where blending in and going unnoticed, like I did at The Family, was not as easy. Perhaps it was because I had been in resident treatment for a long time and had grown accustomed to it as time passed. Being in a structured environment, I felt the need to push against the limits and explore my boundaries as I was maturing. I jumped from a second-story window and ran from the facility without a solid plan only to return a few weeks later. Eventually, I aged out of the programs and was able to move on. 

Imminent Danger: The actions taken against my freedom were not unwarranted. I used to be quite rebellious and needed some guidance in my life. I do not justify the actions of the Troubled Teen Industry facilities in any way. They neglected the safety of the children under their supervision, plain and simple. My mother was doing her best. Every time I got a taste of freedom, I would lose control and go after it at a thousand miles an hour. The more they restricted me, the more I behaved like a wild animal when I did have moments of freedom. I was a mess and my mom was desperate for help. These facilities promised reform but rarely delivered.

Both my mother and I were being influenced in a manipulative way, almost creating a divide between us. We felt pressure from different directions, all for the sake of money. Despite this, I had brief moments of clarity that prevented me from fully succumbing to the influence (Kool-Aid anyone?). Occasionally, in the midst of a challenging situation, there were rare instances when I could learn something valuable or share a laugh with another resident. They did not warrant being classified as therapy or education, however.

This documentary evoked a mix of emotions and memories that I usually keep to myself. Describing how my high school years were without prom, academic achievements, or sports letters is not easy. The film's raw and sometimes challenging content is appreciated as it conveys the message that such situations are unacceptable.

Though the troubled teen industry left its mark, I emerged with a newfound strength and a story that sheds light on a system in need of change. My experiences serve as a call for greater transparency and a focus on genuine rehabilitation, ensuring young people struggling like I once did find true support, not just confinement.

This year, I will be hitting the milestone of turning 50. I am fortunate to have a loving family, fulfilling work, and a dedication to keeping my body active. Prioritizing my health is crucial to me. Every experience in my life, whether positive, negative, or neutral, has played a role in shaping the individual I am today. It's just a part of who I am.