The documentary follows several young troubled teens who have been sent to Escuela Caribe, (photo left) a Christian “school” in the Dominican Republic, specializing in “Culture Shock Therapy” and behavior modification programs.
One of the children the story follows is 17 year old David. He recounts how he was awakened one day by his parents and told that he was being sent to a school in a foreign country. With much protest, David was eventually “dragged to his parent’s car with a belt around his waist” and sent off to the Dominican Republic.
In the beginning of the documentary, the school allows a camera crew to follow the daily activities and interview the students; even some staff were interviewed. As more and more of the story unfolded, I sat there feeling anger growing inside of me thinking, this isn’t school, this is abuse. Child abuse!
These kids were being broken down by pastors and so called house fathers (older peers that help enforce punishment and oversee the dorms). The kids are encouraged by the house fathers:
“We have great opportunity once again to see what God is about in our life. Are you willing to submit to God’s will in your life? Persevere through these failures that sent you down here?”
One house father, Brian Wall, was captured in an interview discussing the QR - Quiet Room - which could be compared to a prison solitary confinement:
“I’m not going to say there was not any form of abuse, there’s no denying that whatsoever”.
The kids’ daily routines consisted of, cooking, cleaning, manual labor and bible studies, with punishment for deviation. Routine inspections were also performed on their dorms, with what seemed like military or prison expectations. The beds were made in military fashion with special corners. If clothes weren’t properly hung, they were ripped out of the closet and thrown on the floor and then the owners were punished.
The students were subjected to a range of abuse including intense forced labor, physical beatings (called “swats”), and various forms of emotional abuse. Student progress was recorded on point sheets. The higher you scored the higher the level you attained and the less abuse you were subjected to. The house fathers would coerce the students by bribing them with the point sheets. Students had to ask permission for everything. “May I step in and eat?” was a question from Beth, one of the female students, at dinner time. When she didn’t get an answer, she just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Patience is a virtue, I guess!”
I have to tell you, I as watched this play out on my television screen, my anger turned to sorrow. I literally had tears running down my face. I felt for these kids who had no choice in their own daily life. Granted some of these children were troubled and even stated that this place saved their life, but for David and many others, they were dumbfounded by why they were there. David (right) could only guess that his parents were angry with him after revealing to them he was gay:
“They sent me here to hide me. I don’t trust my parents for sending me here. So I don’t trust the program. I’m trying to find the trust because I want my parents back so bad.” David went on to say, “I feel like I’m going to lose my mind here, I feel like I’m going to crack.”
The documentary team stated that the school didn’t allow them to film confrontations between the staff and students. They ended up setting up equipment in secret to capture some of these moments. The school only wanted “pretty” scenes. One of the students went on to say:
“If you knew what really went on, you would be sad. Maybe it is abuse, maybe it is training. I’m supposed to be leaving in August but things change, they can always change your parents’ minds, for money.”
With a yearly tuition of $72,000, Escuela Caribe has a higher tuition than the average tuition at Harvard University - $38,000 to $60,000 a year.
This so called therapy is doing more harm than good. Parents are deplorable for sending their children out of the country and out of the federal government’s reach to God’s Boot Camp! I have to say that I was very grateful for the parents I was given in this life!
In the film it was coming up on David’s eighteenth birthday and he was sure that he would be able to leave then:
“There has to be some king of law against holding you here past the age of eighteen. I know this is the Dominican Republic but this is a US establishment and I’m a US citizen. I should be free by my eighteenth birthday.”
But no! David was told by the staff and the pastor at the school that he didn’t have rights in the Dominican Republic.
Soon after the film crew was kicked out!
David’s friend Angie, heard about the place through a note David sent through the documentary crew. She began getting a group together to go down and get David out on his eighteenth birthday. They tried to get Marc Ellis of the United States Consulate involved because David was an adult, but when they confronted Escuela Caribe with paperwork, they were told David wasn’t there and they were not able to see him. It became clear to Angie and the other would-be rescuers, that they were not going to gain access to David.
They returned to the United States empty handed.
Seven weeks later, a U.S. Judge ordered a writ of habeas corpus requiring David to be set free. Upon his release David was scared into not talking to anyone. Escuela Caribe threatened to sue the documentary team. At first, for fear of getting anyone in trouble, David complied and wouldn’t speak about his ordeal to Angie or the documentary team. But shortly thereafter, David reached out and explained that the staff had warned him that if he went further with the interviews, he would destroy any chance of having a relationship with his parents.
David met in Colorado with the crew and wanted his story told.
Towards the end of the film, the crew caught up with some of the children who had been released from Escuela Caribe earlier and were now living their lives.
“The Quiet Room was the worst thing down there.” - Former student.
“I still get nightmares about the swats, (a running punishment- inaudible) until the point of coughing up blood – I can’t forget these things.” - Former student.
“I try to think about the positive, I am angry at the staff members who watched the bad things that happened to students and did nothing.” – Former employee.
“It’s crazy how they would twist the words of the bible just to make their actions and what they were doing seem legit.” – Former student.
“I did whatever they said I should do to get out.” – Former student.
Facts from the Film that are shown on the films ending —
These schools exist because they are in places out of reach of the federal Government. None of these programs are subject to any federal regulation. Since the 1970’s, at least 157 American teenagers have died in behavior modification programs. According to Forbes magazine, programs like this are a 2 billion dollar industry. Most parents they say are tricked into sending their children to programs like this.
Retiring Rep. George Miller from Ca, has tried bringing action in Congress 4 times, failing to ever have this matter voted on.
In January 2012, New Horizons Youth Ministries and Escuela Caribe shut its doors. The property in the Dominican Republic was donated to Lifeline Youth and Family Services. They renamed it “Crosswinds”. They are currently enrolling teens in their behavior modification program.
For more information on how you can stop abuse in adolescent residential programs go to:
Watch the trailer: