Sunday, February 15, 2015

Asher at Bellefaire JCB

My name is Asher (formerly Rayah.) I'm twenty years old, now almost twenty-one. I was sent to Bellefaire JCB's intensive residential treatment program for nine months, from ages 13-14, in Cleveland Ohio. At the time I lived in Hudson, Ohio. The reasons for my being sent there were family conflict, breaking rules and psychiatric diagnoses--mostly anger issues, though. I had undiagnosed Asperger's and diagnosed Tourette's which no one fully understood. I'd been bullied horribly in middle school, and at home my stepfather constantly criticized and bullied me too. I had also started to feel like I didn't belong in a female body--I already knew I was bisexual, but I didn't know what gender dysphoria or transgender was at the time. I had (and still have) a gifted IQ, but my grades weren't very good save for AP English. At the time I also had a very active imaginary world with my own alter ego and pretend husband/imaginary friend--I knew the difference between fantasy and reality (it's just that I didn't give a damn as long as it made me happy,) but people saw this as a problem. It's true that I got in fights with my mother and some bullying classmates, both verbal and physical, and I was enamored with violence and aggression. I challenge anyone else to say THEY wouldn't react similarly if they'd been subjected to constant bullying for factors out of their control.

Before Bellefaire, my mother sent me to Akron Children's psychiatric ward twice, both times because I fought back when she tried to use physical force to make me comply with her. The first time, I refused to go to sleep because I wasn't tired, and she tried to shove Benodryl down my throat. The second time, I'd just been "mouthy," she grabbed my wrist to drag me someplace and I stabbed her in the hand with a spiked cuff I'd been wearing. After two trips to psych, both of which were painful on their own, I was told I'd be sent to Bellefaire. I do remember the phrase "tough love" being bandied around, and having the impression that Bellefaire was a nice, calming, quiet place where I could work out the strife on my mind. When I drove out for the initial evaluation, everyone was nice, and the buildings looked pretty.

I was dead wrong.

During intake, I had to sign a form of some sort, and I was asked if I'd been sexually abused (the reason for this was related to restraint policy--they didn't restrain rape victims, and since I wasn't a rape victim, apparently it was o-tay!) They asked about food allergies, but when I told them I had non-allergy dietary restrictions (there are lots of foods which I cannot stand the taste of, to the point of nausea,) they didn't believe me. Just outside the unit, which had doors that only opened one way without a key, I was strip-searched. I wasn't allowed any jewelry, or any clothes deemed "inappropriate," i.e, that showed any shoulder, back, chest or stomach at all, or that had any so-percieved "objectionable" associations or messages. I wasn't allowed to have CDs or a CD player.

Once on-unit, the first thing I noticed was how disgusting the living conditions were. Everything had a layer of grime on it. The furniture and carpet was ratty and stained. In the eating area, the tables had food residue on them, and there was an old tomato stuck to the ceiling. My room had no lock on the door, just like all the others. There was a large patch of dried orange juice on the wall, which I initially thought was a bodily fluid. (Needless to say, I never drank the orange juice.) The bedframe and windows had graffiti and gunk on them.There was a color-coded level system in place, based on how well we obeyed and complied--level red was punitive, for those who had recently been restrained. On level red, one could not have access to the radio or any of the supposedly fun activities in the commons. No using the cruddy foosball table, no watching the movies the staff had picked out for us, no leaving one's room after a very early time in the afternoon. At first, level reds weren't allowed to wear their own clothes, but this rule was lifted to avoid legal action, if I remember correctly. Level orange was the basic level most were at--still no access to one's own CD player, but at least you could leave your room in the afternoon...after asking staff permission to cross the line, which they could and did refuse from time to time. Level green, which I only saw two people get to, had CD player allowed, maybe a few other minimal "priveleges." To get to level green, the rest of the kids on the unit had to give you a majority vote of "yes," which often amounted to whether they liked you or not. Level green could be revoked if you stepped on too many toes. As for the highest level, blue, I never saw anyone get to it, so I can't comment. There were also point cards to be filled out by the staff based on whether whe did what they said or not. In the "cottage," as the locked unit was called, there were certain invisible lines in places we had to ask a staff to cross. Not asking permission and crossing them, or just crossing them anyways, was grounds for restraint. Restraint itself, I found, was often used punitively--if the staff didn't want you to do something, and you didn't obey their orders, you'd get tackled. Face-down restraint was used--I remember the first night I was there, I got restrained face-down with a large man sitting on me and my limbs wrenched behind my back in a position that even those into sexual bondage wouldn't advise. As one staffer said, more or less, the staff WERE the rules. (This particular staffer seemed to enjoy power trips, and used his authority as a dick extension.)

Some of the staff verbally taunted the kids rather often, (one of them liked to scream like a damn drill sergeant--"This ain't Burger King have-it-your-way!" was his pet phrase,) and let them bully each other, including allowing fights to happen without intervention until they either got too vicious or they stopped being amusing, at which point one or both of the participants were restrained. On several occasions, other girls entered my room to shove me around and recieved little or no consequences for doing so. The staff criticized me for lots of things, including the fact that I got restless and needed to pace back and forth. When I said I couldn't eat the meals they provided (which, for the record, were moldy at times,) I was told to "take responsibility" and that I was "choosing" not to eat the food...never mind that the taste made me gag. I ended up drinking water out of the shower from a styrofoam cup most of the time. I was also mocked for being smart, using big words, etc., and told I "wasn't that smart" or I was trying to act superior.

Speaking of showers, every morning had a regimented hygiene routine, which involved taking a shower and washing exactly the way the staff said. I have sensory integration disorder, which many people with Tourette's and Asperger's also have, and taking showers is physically painful for me. They made me do it anyways. Some mornings I would curl up on the floor of the shower whimpering in pain until I could collect myself enough to get up. I wouldn't wash my face or my hair, which I was yelled at for. I got yelled at a lot for my less-than-perfect hygiene, I think in particular because I was physically female. I eventually found ways to cheat.

During the day, everyone had to attend an on-unit school. That wasn't so bad, but we were still graded on our behavior in addition to our academics. The academics were ridiculously easy, and I didn't feel like I learned anything new. Then there were the PH (i.e, group therapy) sessions. We would sit around a table, do worksheets designed to instill in us the "correct" way of thinking, not all of which even applied to my own issues, and then discuss our answers with the rest of the group and the supervisor. Other times, we would have to read rather disturbing and lurid stories about abuse, rape and other nastiness, and then discuss either our reactions or our similar experiences. Of course, in both scenarios, there was a line to be towed, and certain opinions that could not be expressed without getting criticized and/or bitched out by the other kids. And we did have to discuss, whether we wanted to or not. The worst of the groups, though, was "girls' group." All it consisted of was sexual shaming and guilt. You could only ask questions about topics deemed "acceptable," i.e, state-sanctioned safe-sex shit, nothing remotely kinky, nothing involving unusual sexual proclivities or male sexuality. Lots of people were told their sexual practices or interests were gross and sick. For me, as a boy trapped in a girl's body AND someone with non-standard sexual interests, it was hell times a thousand.

On the topic of sex/gender shaming...I received a lot of it. My assigned therapist and the staff alike seemed to view my bisexuality, gender dysphoria and sexual fetishes as manifestations of some neurosis or behavioral problem. The therapist refused to understand why I was disgusted and uncomfortable with female body-related stuff, including menstruation ("but doesn't it make you feel special and fertile?" she asked at one point. PUKE.) I tried to express to her, at one point, that I wanted to be a boy, and she flat out told me that she didn't believe me. As for the staff, they told me such charming things as, "you don't want to be a boy, because that's like Sodom and Gomorrah," "it shouldn't be your job to protect a husband, the man should protect you," and "you should be more ladylike." When I developed infatuations with other girls on the unit, this was viewed as a problem because 1) emotional connections like those were not allowed, be they very close friendships or romantic interest, and 2) the crushes I had were same-sex. At one point, I was coerced into sexual activity by another girl on the unit, and when I tried to tell someone, it was "my word against hers" and nothing came of it. I wasn't believed until she tried the same stuff on some other people.

I was eventually allowed home visits, but only after the staff and my assigned therapist saw enough change in my behavior, i.e, compliance, i.e, breaking into obedience. On these home visits, I was not allowed to argue with my mom or stepdad about close to anything--it was do as they said or they had every right to send me back to the locked unit. They also did not allow me to listen to any music they were told or considered to be inappropriate. They and I were told I was "suggestible," meaning something along the lines of "this kid will turn into a violent psycho if she views or listens to ANYTHING remotely edgy," which was as far from true as it could get. I tried time and time again to tell people, in my own way, that I enjoyed the media I did because I felt moved by it, I could relate to it, it helped me feel strong and confident and happy when I went through difficult times etc. etc., but they dismissed my words as manipulative--"you just want to listen to metal music and watch R-rated movies, and we can't let you do that. Nice try." I also wasn't allowed to listen to music at a volume in my headphones that my mom thought was too loud. On home visits, my stepdad would keep antagonizing me as usual, making his critical little comments, and I had to sit there taking it and do what he told me, or else it was back to Bellefaire.

On the topic of media: I was a huge Marilyn Manson fan. I liked various metal genres the most, and dark, violent, action-packed and/or transgressive movies like The Crow, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and A Clockwork Orange. I had my own religion which I made up, based on the short story "Sredni Vashtar" by H.H. Munro (it's in the collection called Surprising Stories by Saki.) I was also into anime and the Harry Potter series. Any or all of these things were seen as a problem, threat or red flag at one time or another. It varied. Looking back, it seems rather bizarre that I wasn't allowed to openly enjoy the things I did and felt passionate about, i.e POSITIVE EFFING COPING MECHANISMS, but at the time I felt like a heretic forced to worship my gods secretly--and that's precisely what those things were to me. The building blocks of my personal religion. Just like the devout find inspiration and joy in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Wicca, Buddhism or any faith right up to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, so did I in mine. I couldn't help what moved me. No one can. Yet I was singled out for condemnation and pathologization on these grounds because I was "maladjusted." "Emotionally disturbed." I was bad and crazy because of what I liked, and I liked what I did because I was bad and crazy. There was no way out, in that vein of thinking...and I was trapped in the middle of it. I wasn't even allowed to talk about it on-unit.

After I was discharged, the experience being bad enough on its own, I was emotionally and psychologically abused again by two therapists, which is beyond the scope of this topic. It's taken me a long time to feel anywhere close to functional again. My mom regrets what happened now. She divorced my stepdad when I was seventeen. Eventually she let me listen to my favorite music and watch my favorite movies again, and stopped seeing my imagination as a malevolent force in my life.

By now, though, the things I used to love are poisoned. I know I enjoy them on some level, and I want to do so again, but after what I went through everything in the world feels...dull. Bleak. Obsolete and dead, like all the magic has been sucked out of life. I keep remembering what I went through, over and over again. I have flashbacks that cause me physical pain. I have nightmares. I lose sleep over them. To this day I have trouble trusting my mother, even on little things. My mind is clouded with an obscene amount of self-doubt and self-deprecation, to the point where I feel as if I can't trust myself to know what's true or false. I've always been somewhat nervous as a person, but afterward I developed such excessive anxiety in everyday life that I'm often afraid to leave my apartment or talk to people I don't know. I apologize compulsively, which I never did before. When I try to do things that I enjoy, I'm often struck by a sense of crushing and sickening guilt. Again, I was never like that before.

So those are my experiences, in a nutshell. Even now I'm hesitant about posting them on the internet, because I don't want to sound self-pitying or whiny ("oh boo hoo, I couldn't have a CD player for emo devil music" and so forth,) and I still struggle with feeling like I deserved to be locked up because I'm a transgendered aspie wierdo with tics and an aggressive personality. Other people's experiences, I know, were far worse than mine...but mine was still, by definition, bad. Unless I'm full of shit.

The original testimony (Fornits Home for Wayward Web Fora)

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