Sunday, April 8, 2012

Reflextions: Water at Gateway Academy in Salt Lake City Utah

This story was originally written on the message board called the Fornits Home for Wayward Webfora. All rights and credits goes to the author known as Water:

I don't know where to begin. I have read the past few posts, and almost cannot believe the experiences some of my fellow Gateway-ers say they've had. I'm am really sorry your experiences were so bad. I know how it feels not to have some last resort program do no good for you, and it is an awful feeling. I'm sorry.

That being said I would like to put in my own two cents. It is true Gateway is not for everybody. Let me outline, through my experience of going through the program (and even briefly working there) my thoughts on the matter. As there is no other means but to believe me through my own word, I would like to say I will be as unbiased and I can be, which I think can be objective.

  1. Your child must have a strong sense of yearning to get better (whether shown inside or not.)
  2. Your child must not be overly aggressive.
  3. Your child must have some sense of social skills within their conscience.
  4. Your child should be agreeable to some extent in character, since he will be living in such close quarters with other students.
These are the major things I can think of, and here I will elaborate what necessitates each.

  1. No matter what the staff says or the help the therapists offer, or the medication the psychologist prescribes, if your son has not even shown an ounce of a desire to get better, again, no matter what is done, he will not improve. I would again like to reiterate these are just thoughts, as much as the other poster's are. In a program so in depth as Gateway, each helping hand can be interpreted real easily as an attack on character, or personal rights, or whatever justifies they're anger. I have seen many students drown and go down in a spiral this way, as once you do bad, it's real easy to continue to do so because of the punishment system that is involved. It is just too easy to think, "I'm doing do fucking bad, there's no point to trying in this place anymore." Now that I think about it, as crude and unfortunate as this is, this program is almost a luck of the draw, of whether your son is compatible or not. If he is, then he WILL get better, in one way or more or maybe even turn out a new person. But on the other hand, as behavioral disorders and other problems are so complex, the program may only scratch the surface. In other ways, kids may even turn out worse, but if this is the case, he will most likely be taken out of the program by management because it is so obvious the place isn't working for him.

    With even an ounce of a yearning to get better, the programs offers -- and almost forces -- tools for the student to improve. It is largely a process dependent on the son. Your son should also be patient to a degree, because it does take time for the rules and other things to settle in actually have a chance for it to improve him. I will say this with concreteness, however; the management and staff, at least most of them, do care for the kids. However, let me also add this. The staff changes in quite a quick term, due to their own educational reasons and such, that this too is a luck of the draw. If your son takes a liking to a particular staff and the staff seems to really help him, this one staff can potentially make all the difference. Remember, the staff there, however temporary, are the ones supervising and guiding the students to follow the rules. They are the ones that do directly influence the students, other than the other students themselves. This also is almost a luck of the draw, that is, the other students there. I learned as much from the staff, maybe even more, from the other students. They taught me qualities I admired in them; they taught me about their home towns, their unique skills; their whole being. Remember the students spend 24/7 with the other students. They live and breathe the other students. They eat together, sleep together, time each other's showers, make sure they follow rules, and almost a militaristic comradeship is born between them. It can also act in reverse. I've seen many students not succeed in the program because they had trouble with one other students -- either a feud/nemesis or maybe a buddy to ruminate and retaliate against 'the system' with.

    It is, unfortunately, largely luck, again. I will try to highlight aspects that were not concerned with luck however, pertaining to the program.
  2. If your son is overly aggressive, and against any form of 'superior' being, and hates all living things, etc. etc., it may be difficult for him to adjust in a setting consisting mostly of rules, rules, rules, and some more rules. However, in between the spaces of rules there is a community, a culture built of a relational web between the house, the staff, the students, the therapists, and time. The long period of impending ten months, or just about, or just over, or who knows how long. This is scary stuff. My first day, I was pooping in my pants, metaphorically speaking of course. Imagine being faced with a prison, surrounded by more than a dozen unfamiliar faces, and even more unfamiliar rules, and even more unfamiliar adult faces, and maybe add to the fact the last few months were spent possibly in a wilderness program or another in-patient program. It is enough to make Clint Eastwood shed a fearful tear. It is enough to make him squeak at least.

    To go back to the topic of aggression, verbal aggression or physical aggression is the easiest way to fail in this program. To have such a heavy problem that the student can't get (in any sense) in touch with himself is the worst thing I've witnessed in the place. It is so sad I feel something in my chest thinking about it now. One good indicator is, if the student has improved during the stay at wilderness or the previous program before Gateway, there is a good chance, I'm guessing here, that he will continue to improve at Gateway. Gateway is more of a soft program than other inpatient places that seem like wards compared to it, but it is quite condensed either way. If your son is retaliatory and has no desire to get better, and quite frankly, is immature, he will not succeed at Gateway.

    Gateway program in my thoughts, requires a disciplined student, almost so much so that it is scary to think they request that from a person so troubled as to have to be sent here. But at the same time perhaps that is the point -- to implore discipline to your son that you could not. To hope that someone, or something else could get through to your son in a way that you could not. Discipline to avoid trouble, to get used to the rules, to somehow get better, to somehow enjoy even the slightest of joys (however slim) offered in the program, to make best of the situation, to make healthy friendships in light of the circumstances: This is almost too much to ask for a student. But to those who can handle it, they will transform. Maybe in a small way, but for me, it was in small enough way to become a literal gateway to trying to solve my problems. It gave me a platform to leap from, to build upon, to get to higher ground.
  3. and 4) Your child must be to some extent agreeable. Other wise, he will not make friends here, and without being liked or liking another as a friend here in this program is detrimental. It can become very lonely, very easily here in this program. It is real easy to say to oneself, "These people suck, I want to be with my old friends, I don't need this place, no one likes me here anyway, I'm getting out no matter what." As normal as this is in the beginning stages, this thought process will continue if he doesn't make friends, or if he doesn't get along with the others. In fact, not getting along with others most certainly compounds the issue. Even one friend, better yet two, can make a huge difference in accepting the program as barely a necessity. And once that door is open within his mind, somehow he becomes accustomed to the program, and he gradually sees himself rising in phases, and quite faster than he realizes, has graduated and witnessed a tear flowing from his father's eye, a tear of relief and joy. I'm describing my own circumstance here, of course, not everybody's, but just mine, and a few other students as well, whose graduations I've witnessed.

I don't know a lot about the program from a management perspective, but only from an emotional one, and that tends to be subjective, which I apologize for, but that's how my mind works, and the above I think is my attempt at putting those to words. One should be extremely cautious of placing their son anywhere, but at the same time, they should think of the risk of not putting their son anywhere. For me, it took a suicide attempt, an hospital in-patient program, a teen in-patient program, an out-patient program, and me quitting the out-patient program, and a few forced visits to an educational consultant for me to suddenly be forced awake at 2 am in the morning to fly to Utah state, where at the time I had no idea was on the map. This wasn't to gateway though, it was to another, more extensive in-patient program. Then finally I went to gateway. In less words, it took quite a while for my destination to be chosen, almost I think by Chaos Theory more than anything, to have, in my opinion, the good fortune to land in Gateway. I was relatively calm, had severe depression, had severe social anxiety, and some OCD and slight ADD I was not aware about at the time. I came out with a few close bonds and experiences in nature I probably can't forget even if I wanted to; canyoneering, whitewater rafting, hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, bouldering, camping, snowboarding, and many other activities with companions I lived with and breathed with for ten months. Of course many graduated, many were kicked out, and many new ones [students] came in, until I found myself to be the most-veteran there. I was lucky enough to be among those where the program succeeded, persay, in that I graduated with one block the whole program and was fortunate enough to get to Gateway phase. The rules of the program were succinctly and trivially detailed in a previous post, and I thank him for that, as those were similar guidelines to the situation I was put through. The rules do change, however, and so do the countless other factors, for better or for worse. The program does have a marginal amount of flex on account for every student, as each is radically different most times.

It is true, the Richard Simmons did get on my nerves. I cringe every time I hear "Peggy Sue" thanks to the experience.

I think what kept me different from the other kids there was my strong desire to improve, to know I could improve, maybe, if I tried hard enough. I cried many times, I thought of death many times, I went crazy in my head a couple times, I lost a sense of self and control of myself as well. It was largely a battle with myself. Luckily I was disciplined enough toward myself where i had relative ease following the rules. I actually didn't mind them that much at all. I was also not too greedy either, which helped allow things to flow around me more than create waves. -- life in Gateway was in many ways tough enough as it was to create any new drama.

Now that i think back on it, there was just an over-abundance of time. And to a person who isn't dedicated, that is as deadly as a two-sided scalpel. Essentially ten months of time, other kids with problems, random adults, a some-what qualified (but definitely dedicated) therapist (although this position too could change [and let's face it, the therapist is a HUGE part of the success or recovery],) random outings (sometimes lasting a week straight,) long group therapy sessions almost every day, more time, eating around a huge table, chores, time, school, time, time, sleep, time. I'm not listing the schedule here, I'm trying to express the significance of emptiness one may feel at the program. It's not that nothing is being done, it is that it feels as if everything being done is nothing, as life is largely routine, and you're directed to activities and the next part of the day like a herd of sheep. It is what the student decides to do with the time he has to himself, and to self-preservation within the program, that largely dictates his success, I think. I feel like I'm using pretty words here with little concrete meaning, and I think I'm absolutely right; my words have little meaning. It's almost as if I want to say, you'll never know until you put your child behind the facilities walls, whether he will 'make it' or not. It's quite an expensive risk, to further confuse the matter. Is your situation dire enough to constitute the risk? I suppose I'll leave this post with that question, as I could go on and on about this place, as it seems I have already droned. So; is your situation dire enough to constitute the risk?

Let me add one last point; the managers of the program I believe will stay the same, despite the frequent changes in other member of the faculty. And I honestly know very, very little about them. At times, it is as if they don't quite care directly what the progress within the program is, but this is purely speculation based on the fact that the managers -- or should I say owners -- are rarely on site of the facility. While I was there, early in my stay, they were running a decent place. I suppose that is all I can say.

Note: I was at the Salt Lake house. The "Victorian" house. The house makes a large difference, more than one would expect, but that is also speculation, as I haven't really spent any significant portion of the program at the other house. I could say this however; the large Draper "ranch" house seemed a lot more "institution" rather than "home" (I spent one night there, as well as many, many short visits) while the Salt Lake house's almost too-confined quarters made for more rapid social interaction, which could be a good or bad thing, but it was more home-like. It does many times feel quite stuffy, however.

It does pain to me stop reminiscing of those days spent in there, as it was an intense experience and there's so much more to say, but that may very well be my OCD speaking. Okay good bye.

P.S.; these are opinions, my thoughts, but my experience is as real as the pulse in your heart. Take it for a grain of salt; better yet, a pinch of salt; maybe even a bag of salt, if you are so kind as to let these few words guide you in anyway. Agree or disagree, thank you for the giving me your time in reading. I hope at least one of you gets something out of this post -- I sure did.


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