3 on a theme: Teen boot camps

3 on a theme: teen “boot camps”

You hear about teens getting threatened with being sent to juvie, to reform school, to boot camp. Within the past few months I’ve come across three books that deal very realistically with the phenomenon of the “boot camp” and how corrupt and dangerous these places truly are.

Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler was the first book I read on the subject. This was a memoir, about a teen who had “drug problems” (e.g. smoked pot twice) and after running away a few times, her mother sends her to a rehab called Straight, Inc. Cyndy takes us through her first few terrifying days, where other teens in the program on higher levels are in charge, isn’t allowed to speak or do anything without permission, and is constantly watched and locked up. In order to leave, Cyndy must become indoctrinated in Straight, Inc.’s beliefs and convince herself that she is a drug addict. She sees other kids subjected to what amounts to torture: having their heads shaved, being beaten, and getting put into isolation. Cyndy reveals the racket behind places like Straight Inc and how they avoid persecution for what is essentially child abuse: mainly, because the parents consent to it. And teens do die in these kinds of places.

And these places are very successful. The protagonist of Boot Camp by Todd Strasser has very wealthy parents who don’t want to deal with the scandal of their son’s affair with his teacher and send him to a place called Lake Harmony, where he undergoes a similar experience to Cyndy. In this case, he’s forced to run long distances, given strict rations, put in solitary, and beaten until he eventually complies. While Lake Harmony is fictional, the author adds an afterword about the real places it is based on.

I honestly don’t make a habit of reading about teens being tortured, so I was surprised while listening to Anne Rice’s Prince Lestat on audiobook, when one of the characters, Rose, ends up at a reform school similar to those in Dead Inside and Boot Camp. She experiences similar treatment, in particular the girls in this Christian camp are verbally abused, have words like “slut” and “whore” written on their skin, and Rose in particular is beaten and thrown in solitary, where she very nearly dies.

I’ve honestly never thought much about these types of places, even though I’d heard of them. I worked at a residential school for boys with behavioral issues, and while I imagine the boys might have seen it as a place like those described above, I know that we regularly had social workers and parents visiting, therapists on staff, and any hint of abuse had to be investigated by the state.

Bonus: Along the same lines, the book Firstlife by Gena Showalter had a lot of similar themes as the above three, but set in a fantasy/sci-fi universe: the main character, Ten, is placed in a prison and subjected to torture. This prison is actually a prison, however, not masquerading as therapy, rehab, or reform. After reading the first two theme books, Firstlife left a sour taste in my mouth, because I now knew that these kinds of tortures are very, very real.

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