Monday, January 16, 2012
Elisabeth Stubblefield at Brightway Adolescent Hospital and Cross Creek Programs
This testimony was given by Elisabeth Stubblefield on the FactNet message board. All rights belongs to the author.
In early 1995, I was 16 years old and had just been discharged from a private psychiatric hospital in Pontiac, Michigan. While in the hospital I was treated for depression and an eating disorder. I lived with my Mom, who was divorced from my Dad. My Mom was increasingly worried about my emotional health and decided she wanted me to spend what she told me would be "just a few weeks" at Cross Creek Manor. I flew to St. George, Utah voluntarily under the assumption that I would be there for no longer than 6 weeks, because that's what my Mom had promised.
Imagine how scared and upset I was to land at the tiny airport in St. George late at night to find no one there to meet me. My Mom had said I would be met by some people who would take me to Brightway Adolescent Hospital. I called my Mom from a pay phone and told her that there was no one at the airport to meet me. This should have been the first of many red flags for her. She called Brightway and about an hour later a nurse showed up in a van, accompanied by a big male technician.
When I arrived at Brightway, I was shocked by the rigid, controlling, cruel atmosphere. There were about 17 other kids there, boys and girls, from all areas of the country. We were not allowed to talk to each other and if we did, we were punished by having to write an "essay" explaining why it was wrong to break the rules. I thought this was a little excessive, given the fact that teenagers are social and like to make friends. I also thoght it was excessive that we could not even enter a room without first asking a staff member, "May I cross?" Every tiny thing we did wrong, from having a wrinkle in our bedsheets to spending thirty seconds too long in the shower, was punishable by having to write an essay.
I was kind of confused as to why my Mom would choose to put me in this type of environment when I was dealing with depression and bulimia. I had never been involved with gangs, had trouble with the law, or been sexually promiscuous as had many of the other kids. Every single staff member at Brightway at that time, with the exception of 3 or 4 nurses and one psychologist, was male.
The male staff were rude, cruel, and manipulated their power over us. On many, many occasions I watched staff members yell, shout, and generally berate the kids who were entrusted to their care. Once I watched four big males "take down" a skinny 15-year old boy because the boy turned his back to them while they were berating him. There was a seclusion room with a bed that had two belts across it. One belt went across the chest area and one went across the legs when a child was said to be "out of control".
I am a nurse today and this form of restraint is illegal in my state, as is locking a patient in a seclusion room, even if the patient is "out of control". The technicians at Brightway would regularly threaten us with the seclusion room.
After four weeks of hell at Brightway, myself and two other girls were taken by van to remote La Verkin, Utah, home of Cross Creek Manor. Conditions there were no better than they had been at Brightway. Staff members were mean and manipulative. I had the feeling that a lot of the staff were on a "power trip", so to speak. Quite a few of them were young, not many years older than the teenage girls they were in charge of. I will never forget one disgusting male technician, a huge red-haired guy named Adrian, who was particularly fond of intimidating us. His sister Andrea worked there as well and she was equally sadistic.
During my first week at "the Manor" as we called it, some of the veteran girls gave me some very valuable information. They told me that I would be there for a much longer time than I had believed. I learned that my Mom had been encouraged to lie to me about staying only 6 weeks. Many of the girls had been told the exact same thing by their parents, including girls who had been there almost 18 months.
Naturally, I was really upset to learn this, but having been tricked into going there was not nearly as traumatizing as having been "kidnapped". I remember one very sweet, friendly girl named Polly, who was from the San Juan islands of Washington state. She was walking down the street in her hometown when 3 strangers physically grabbed her and forced her into a van. She was driven to St. George, the whole time she said she felt very angry at her parents for helping plan the whole thing. The veteran girls also informed me that my parents were paying $150 a day to keep me at the Manor, that the Manor and Brightway were both owned by the same for-profit group, and that this was big business.
In other words, some people were making lots and lots of money on the backs of troubled teens and our parents. I was also warned not to write home to my Mom about how bad conditions were at Cross Creek. If a girl were to mention in a letter to her parents that staff members were abusive and that we were seldom served anything but macaroni and cheese for dinner every night, there could be big consequences, such as having to spend an entire day locked in a seclusion room. It was pointless to complain to our parents anyway, because parents were warned in advance that we would complain of such things as a guilt tactic.
So the parents were really the fools in all of this. They believed they had sent their unruly, out-of-control daughters off to be gently redirected, when in reality, we were being treated very, very poorly.
About a month after arriving at Cross Creek, it was time for me to attend my first Seminar. The seminar was run by a lady named Jeannie and she was assisted by some of the veteran girls, or student staffers.
I will never forget having to stand before my peers and have them scream and shout at me about my issues. My Mom had sent me there to get help for depression and bulimia, but Jeannie said she did not believe me. She told me that I was sitting on something much bigger. It seemed to me as the seminar progressed that she was kind of encouraging us to come up with other issues, encouraging to make things up. Jeannie continued to berate me and tell me I was "full of crap"; until I decided to share with the group that I thought I might have been sexually abused as a child. When I shared this bit of information, her attitude toward me changed and she said that I had arrived. I thought it was strange how bringing up the possibility of sexual abuse made everything change.
It was really as if they wanted us to come up with fake issues. During one seminar exercise we had to beat a towel against a chair as a means of venting frustration. There's nothing creepier than being in a room full of screaming teenage girls whaling towels against chairs.
After graduating from the first seminar, we were forced to attend a second seminar led by Jeannie's ex-husband, David. The central theme of the seminars seemed to be ripping us completely apart, then trying to build us back up.
What I remember most about the second seminar was the way David treated a girl named Melissa. She was forced to stand in front of all her peers and he told her she was being kicked out of the seminar. Melissa was one of my roommates at that time and it was extremely painful for me to watch her be humiliated in front of everyone. When David had finished yelling at her, he invited the student staffers to continue to humiliate her by hurling insults and accusations at her. She was very quiet and depressed after that incident, and I was happy when her parents took her home before she had to go through the seminar again.
In October of 1996, 6 months after she had tricked me into going to Utah, my Mom flew in from Michigan for a visit. During her stay, she was informed that my Dad had not paid Cross Creek any money in almost 3 months. They told her that they would keep me if she made a payment that day, but my Mom had made up her mind that my Dad should be responsible for paying them, even though he had nothing to do with me going there. She was so adamant that I needed to go there, but when she was put on the spot to make a payment out of her own pocket, she refused to do it.
I was released that very day. 9 years later, I look back on that time in my life with a mixture of emotions. Disgust at how our parents were deceived into paying thousands of dollars, thinking that their daughters would be miraculously cured. Sadness at how few of the girls made any improvement whatsoever. Longing because I made some really good friends at Cross Creek and have no idea what became of them. We were forbidden to exchange addresses or phone numbers. If we were found to possess a friends address, there would be severe consequences. I remember a really nice girl and dear friend named Leslie Suarez from Arlington, Texas, Lindsay Lazarus from Dallas, Texas, Shelley Karn from Las Vegas, Nevada, Kim Stout from Malibu, California, Katie Goode from San Diego, California, Nicole Krieger from San Leandro, California, Shelley Anteshevich from West Bloomfield, Michigan, Michelle Harbottle from Anchorage, Alaska, and Carrie Baake from Seattle, Washington.
My name at that time was Elisabeth Thomas. If any of you girls should happen to see this, know that I still remember each and every one of you. I wish you all the very best and hope that life has been good since those dark days at the Manor.
I got married in 1999 and went on to graduate from nursing school. I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee.