Surviving The Troubled Teen Industry
By: Brett Harper
So now, let me tell you where my experience with these kinds of places begins. When I was thirteen my dad and mom told me, I was going to a counseling session. The idea was for us to all get on the same page and stop fighting so much, or so that is what I was led to believe. We loaded up in the car and I remember feeling a strange feeling as we left; a feeling like something really bad was about to happen. It was like this deep pit opened up in my stomach. I shook it off and got in the car anyway.
We drove into town. My dad lives on forty acres about twenty minutes outside of Prineville, OR. When we arrived, I felt that same bad feeling, but now a tingle went down my spine as we opened the doors to my dad’s work. Something was up! I could feel it! My pulse raced. My dad was a parole and probation officer for the state of Oregon. It was a Saturday so the offices were closed but my dad was able to use his key to host our meeting at a conference room at his work.
We walked into the room and met Tim Smith, who I was led to believe was a “counselor”. I noticed something wasn’t right when Tim would constantly take my parent’s side on every issue. I could tell he was definitely on their payroll but I felt like there was something even more disturbing about the situation. Long story short I was completely correct.
When the “counseling session” ended we all walked outside and I was told to get in Tim’s truck. I was told my mom had packed a bag and I was going to go live with Tim in a program for troubled teen boys like me. That program was called West Coast Academy and it is no longer open.
It’s impossible to really describe the hopeless sinking feeling in my stomach and the weight that crushed my heart and soul at that moment. I felt like I was just being tossed off to be someone else’s problem; like I was garbage and utterly dispensable. Obviously, nothing I had said mattered to Tim or my parents and they had no interest in any sort of compromise. I was to be shipped off to a boy’s home like a dog to obedience school. I was going to be forced to think and act exactly like they wanted me to and they’d erase my personality. I was so scared I was shaking from head to toe and felt like I could throw up as I climbed into Tim’s raised pickup truck.
What would happen next? Would I spend the rest of my childhood away from my family and my parents? What would it be like there? Did anyone really care about me or was I just “too much to handle”. I felt thrown away like a piece of garbage. Those feelings have stuck with me for decades and a part of me doubts I’ll ever be free of them. They effect my relationships even till this day. Till this day I worry about being thrown away by anyone and everyone I care for and love. I constantly feel like I’m not good enough or I’ll just be abandoned. It has had a long-lasting effect on my mental health; one that has required an awful lot of therapy and medication to address, but still that feeling persists.
Tim did his best to ensure me that everything was going to be OK. I cried so hard as we drove off. I loved my parents. I really, truly did. In spite of all our fighting and inability to properly communicate they were all I knew and had. Even though we didn’t get along all I really wanted was for them to listen, to be there, and now they were gone and couldn’t.
We arrived at the home Tim, his wife, and five “troubled boys” shared. When we first arrived. I took my bags from the truck and was shown around the house. I was introduced to the other children and Tim’s wife. I was again assured I’d be fine and that I’d actually grow to like it there. Nothing could be further from truth of course. My gut impulse was to run but I figured I wouldn’t get far; especially since the boy’s home was still in Prineville and my dad was a parole and probation officer there. He could easily mobilize the town’s entire police force to come find me. In fact he had when I had run away once before.
Almost as soon as we had arrived, we were told we needed to do a dump run. There was a ton of rusty metal in the back of another pickup truck that we had to haul to the dump and unload by hand. I didn’t dare tell them how incredibly shook up I was or that I needed a moment to adjust. I just got in and helped two other boys, the older ones, unload the truck. Chad and Barrett, the two other boys tasked with helping us unload the metal were 17 and let’s just say they weren’t exactly the nicest people in the world. They were your typical bully types. They saw me as fresh meat to push around and get their kicks from.
Within moments of us being there unloading this scrap metal that really shouldn’t have been handled by kids, Barrett pushed me from behind. “Initiation day!” He laughed. “Get used to it! Today’s gonna be a lot of fun!” I fell and scraped my arm on a rusty piece of metal that put a sizable gash on the inside of my left elbow. In fact I still have a scar I can show people of where it had happened. I was too scared to speak so I just kept unloading the truck.
A few minutes went by until Tim noticed noticed that I was bleeding. He asked how it happened and I just said I fell. He gave me a dirty shirt from the car to tie around it to soak up the blood and then barked at us all to keep unloading the truck. I knew then I was in big trouble. This guy didn’t care about me! He only cared about getting the work at hand done; work that was really his to do and not ours. I knew right then I was just a source of cheap labor to him. A tool he could use to accomplish things faster while spending far less money. It would be a reoccurring theme I’d experience again and again in the years to come as I suffered at the hands of people in the corrupt troubled teen industry.
We returned and I was told the rules. The older kids in the program were to watch over the other three kids at all times that Tim and his wife and two hired helpers weren’t around. It seemed like the two hired helpers were almost never around so Chad and Barret were “in charge” often. Anything they told us was to be followed as if Tim and/or his wife had told us to do it themselves. This wasn’t good. I could just imagine right off the bat how these two bullies would treat us and the terrible things they would make us do when nobody was around to watch us. The hired staff were bullies too. They weren’t much nicer or much more mature than Chad or Barrett. In fact, in some ways, they seemed worse. They were at least adults in their mid-twenties but here they were acting about as immature as Chand and Barrett and they let them get away with all kind of stuff.
That first night I went to bed feeling more than hopeless. I was truly terrified. I pondered suicide for the first time in my life. Should I grab a kitchen knife and slit my wrists? Would that do the trick I thought. In the middle of the night I tried to sneak into the kitchen, determined to end it all before anyone woke up. I opened the knife drawer. Fortunately, one good thing Barrett did was catch me.
He snuck up on me and grabbed my arm as I grabbed a sharp knife from the drawer and after he got the knife from me by squeezing a pressure point on my wrist, he punched me hard square in the jaw.
“What the fuck are you doing kid?!” He yelled. “Back to bed! Stupid fucking kid! Did you think you could end it all?! Huh! Wuss! Did you think you could just take the easy way out?!” I went back to bed terrified of him but still wanting to just die and get it over with. Could I sneak past him sometime? Was there something else I could kill myself with? Idk. Lots of thoughts that luckily never came to fruition.
The following day I was introduced to their collection of strange animals and the chores that all of us would share. I’m not sure how they got an exotic animal license, but that seems to be a theme among abusive Christian institutions, crazy animals and the need to have students who can care for and clean up after them. They had two horses, two monkeys, a wallaby, a black bear cub, and two blind dogs. The blind dogs were sweet for the most part, but the other animals were mostly terrifying to me. I hadn’t had a lot of experience around animals, let alone dangerous ones with razor sharp claws and teeth. Our job was to feed and clean up after these animals and I was pretty sure they’d kill me in the process.
The monkeys were insane and when feeding them they would often hop on your back and claw you. Depending on how fast you moved or how much you startled them they might actually start to attack you. One of the boys showed me scars in his back. He was the one that regularly fed the monkeys. I guess over the course of him being there for a couple of years they had attacked him over a dozen or so times. Nobody else wanted to feed and care for the monkeys.
One time I’ll never forget they got out and got into a pack of razor blades. When we discovered them, they were not happy we were interrupting their little discovery and decided to start throwing these razor blades at us like ninja stars. They were surprisingly good at it too. Took us a long time to get them because they climbed up on the roof and brought the box of razor blades with them, screeching and throwing razor blades at anyone who got close. It took us several hours and four people to get them off the roof.
My first night there I was tasked with feeding the black bear cub they had in a cage a ways from the house. I was terrified. I was told it would be OK, they opened the door then shoved me in with the food in hand locking the door behind me. I freaked out! I did not want to be locked in with a black bear cub three times my size. Barrett and Chad told me this is what they did to every new kid and that it was just part of my initiation to “the club” as they called it.
The bear seemed to sense my fear at first. He roared and came closer to me, pinning me against the cage. I put my arm up as Chad and Barrett walked away laughing. I thought, “This is it! Just make it quick please!” But then the bear cub just started suckling on my arm. I could hear Barrett laughing as he walked away. Then he warned me, shouting in the distance, “Don’t pull your arm away too fast! He will think you want to play and will tare you to pieces. See you in the morning!”
I’m not really sure how long I was there frozen, the bear suckling on my art and occasionally biting softy down; but soft by a bear’s perspective it still hurt and actually made me bleed in several places. Finally, the bear seemed bored and retreated to his hut, a dog house like shelter they had built him to sleep in with blankets and pillows. I proceeded to take his food and put it in his trough.
I was exhausted so I decided to curl up in a corner using my jacket as a blanket and a rock as a sort of pillow. I was convinced I would have to spend all night with this bear and tried to sleep but was constantly waking up nerves on edge because the bear would make noise.
“Ok. It’s going to be fine. The other kids went through this too right?” I told myself over and over again but it did little to comfort my racing mind. Eventually a kid by the name of Cody, older than us two youngest, I think he was sixteen but I can’t be sure it’s been so long, came out and unlocked the cage. He told me it was all a cruel joke, that Chad and Barrett are bullies and that they did this to him when he arrived to. He explained I could now come in and have dinner.
During my stay there I soon found out that fighting and pain would be a big part of my life going forward. Chad and Barrett loved playing this game where they would sit around corners with boxing gloves on waiting for us to pass while doing chores or something and they’d clock us in the head as hard as they could. If we fell sometimes, they would just keep swinging on our faces while telling us, “Get up you pussy!” Fun stuff. Really enjoyed that game.
Chad was really into boxing. Sometimes he would make Cody and I and the other kids at the school box for their entertainment. Whoever won then got the privileged of getting beat up by either Chad or Barrett who wouldn’t stop even when you were bloody and blue on the ground out of breath. They were brutal on us younger kids. Any chores they were given were or course ours to do and we were made to do them fast and early so the hired staff could load us up into the Suburban and we could cruise the city.
Chad and Barrett treated us younger kids like we were being initiated into a gang. They beat on us to toughen us up and would take us out on “errands” as they called them. Whenever the two hired staff would drop us off at the park they’d tell us to do stuff that we knew was wrong. We beat up kids in the park and sometimes we were told to rob them or else. Sometimes we took their pants so they would have to wander around in the park their boxers. This one time we tied a kid up to a tree in the park naked. Knocked him out and left him there for someone to find him. The hired staff just left us there in the park without supervision and none of us dared to say anything to them or the Smiths for fear of what retribution Chad or Barret might take out on us.
At first I really didn’t enjoy it. In fact I hated it! I didn’t want to do these things! It was against everything I had been taught. I was a lover not a fighter; kind of a pussy honestly but that was fine with me. To this day I abhor violence except to protect yourself or those you love. But over time I grew to hate my life and began to enjoy beating up on people or destroying property. It became my outlet. It was my way of saying fuck the world and everyone who has hurt me!
The punishments for not doing what Mr. or Mrs. Smith said, or disobeying Chad or Barret were pretty severe. Everyone was pretty careful not to get caught doing something that would provoke the staff or Chand and Barret to tell the staff something they had done. I remember some of the punishments. This one-time Tim told Chad to deal with me because he was doing something and I can’t remember what I said that had pissed him off but I had mouthed off. Chad told me to “shut up or he would put my head through a wall”. I told him, “Whatever! You wouldn’t do that!” Chad responded by doing just that. We were at this apartment they rented as a base of operations in town. He grabbed the back of my neck and slammed my head so hard into the wall of the apartment that my head went fully through the wall and my nose gushed with blood. Everyone laughed. I was told I would have to work extra hard to pay for the damaged wall. Not Chad. I would have to.
I seem to remember being body slammed a few times on that apartment’s floor so hard everything turned white and I couldn’t hear, see, and couldn’t taste anything but blood in the back of my mouth. This was Chad and Barret’s idea of fun. Beating up on the younger kids. Occasionally Tim and his staff got in on the fun as well.
This one time I was chained to a large tire and was made to drag it up a very steep gravel road a mile and a half to the house in the dead of winter in about two or three feet of snow. The task seemed impossible. When it took me longer than they expected they sent the two hired staff down with the Suburban.
They decided the best way to get me to go faster was to terrify me into thinking they would actually run me over so they hovered behind me revving the engine and occasionally bumped me with the SUV. Terrified I did move faster. Every time they hit me with the car I could feel it in my spine.
I think the worst parts of West Coast Academy was the sex abuse. At thirteen I was heavily sheltered and I really didn’t understand sex and had never been sexually abused. I hadn’t even kissed a girl yet. I awoke one morning to the other kids gone and Tim’s wife on my bed trying to unbutton my pants while massaging my cock on the outside of my pants to get me hard. To this day I have no recollection where the other boys were, why I was alone with her in the house and so tired but I can tell you with certainty it happened and when it did I freaked out! I felt drugged but still I managed to kick her off me, run off and hide under the back porch. She ran around the house yelling and screaming for me saying I was “dead” when she found me or if I said anything, she’d “kill me herself”. Lucky for me her husband and some of the boys soon returned from a project they had been on and she said nothing of the incident, of course. She hated me ever after that though. She would snarl at me whenever we would pass and constantly made up stories about me to her husband saying I was a perv and was checking her out. It got me in a lot of trouble. That was my first experience with sexual abuse but it wouldn’t be my last. In fact, it wouldn’t even be my last there at that house and in that program.
As I mentioned before they had two horses. One male horse and one female horse that they apparently wanted to breed in order to sell the offspring and make some money. I was charged many times with cleaning up their poop. I shoveled those stalls often with Chad or Barrett coming to check on my progress.
If they felt I wasn’t moving fast enough or just especially cruel they would shove me face down into the manure. The taste of horse poop is one you don’t forget. It’s absolutely terrible. I puked quite a few times.
One day Chad and Barrett decided that since it was just me and them they were going to be especially cruel and twisted. They told me as punishment for not doing my chores fast enough I had to jack off the male horse. I was told if didn’t do it they would beat me to a bloody pulp and say I tried to run away. I resisted and they started doing just that. They lorded over me kicking me punching me until I finally caved and did what they told me to do.
I’ll never be able to get that sick image out of my mind. That day will always be there and to this day I generally avoid horses so as not to bring back the memory of being forced to ejaculate a full-grown male horse while being beaten and shoved around in horse poop. By the way that may be one of the hardest things I’ve ever come out and admitted happened to me. It’s hard to talk about stuff like that.
It isn’t easy reliving that abuse and coming out with it especially since there is such a stigma around men coming forward when they are abused in today’s society. Men are supposed to be strong and able to take care of themselves without much help or sympathy from anyone else, or at least that’s what society would have you believe. We are suppose to be “grateful” if an older female approaches us for sex or tries to molest us as a kid.
They’d have you believe that we don’t need to talk about things or that we don’t get into horrible situations that are way over our head and we are unable to control, such as this one, but we do. We get assaulted, raped, hurt just like anyone else. We just are slow to talk about it for fear we will be seen as weak, a sad sob, a beta male; worthless and frail.
So instead of reaching out to anyone I internalized everything and started to get physical with my bullies at school. I got into a little bit of some trouble but nothing too major. They didn’t really bother me too much after that. I went from being bullied to being the bully or, at least, someone people feared and didn’t mess with.
Needless to say me coming to school with black and blue patches on my face and becoming more and more violent and angry was a huge warning sign to my teachers that something was very very wrong. I had always been such a good student and was a gentle soul but now I was the complete opposite. My math teacher Mrs Mapes was especially concerned.
She was awesome. She pulled me aside after class one day and whispered in my ear, “It’s OK. You know you can tell me if something is wrong at home. I’m concerned. You look like you aren’t getting any rest and why are you getting into fights?! You were always such a good kid. Is there anything we need to talk about?” I caved. I told her with tears in my eyes everything which she later related to the principle and my parents who didn’t believe me despite my dad coming to a few basketball practices and him seeing me with black eyes, bruises, etc.
Eventually my dad got word that the boys home had snuck me into an R rated movie, my first, House on Haunted Hill. He was furious! He decided that was it and that he needed to pull me from that place. Admitting he made a mistake he promised to never send me away like that again. I found out pretty quick that he was full of shit. By this time, I was thirteen and had just finished the 8th grade. I was starting to become more aware of my parents lies and when people were lying to me in general. You could say my eyes were beginning to open to how fucked up this world really can be. I was starting to develop social anxiety and after being pulled from that boy’s home I went into a state of shock that lasted the rest of my 8th grade year.
Most people I tell this story to dismiss Tim and his wife as “not real Christians”. I would like to say that that is a lie. They were Christians just like any other Christians you meet. They went to church, forced us to go to church and youth group, and beat us when we did things they considered “unchristian” or wrong. They quoted scripture and made us memorize Bible verses.
They tried to instill Christian morals and values upon us and quoted scripture to back up their warped view of the world. I think Christians and other groups love to try and distance themselves from the bad apples in their group instead of standing and purging them from their ranks. It’s disgusting and easy to see through. I don’t tolerate bullshit too terribly well, nor do I accept hypocrisy. If you are going to preach it then be it!
Am I saying that all Christians act this way? No. I’ve met some good ones. However, what I am saying is that those Christians do in fact exist and their faith isn’t somehow invalidated by their actions; in fact, sometimes they justify those actions by their faith. They claim they are “doing god’s will”, when in fact their own Bible would beg to differ. Still, they warp scriptures and take them out of context to justify their sin or simply believe that when they do something bad everyone should instantly forgive them like Jesus supposedly does.
When I was 13 almost 14 I was sent to Agape Boarding School. These are just a few of my memories that haunt me and cause me to have night terrors. This is my truth as best I know how to tell it and can recall it. The years I spent at this place have scared me beyond repair. Many years of therapy and meds have failed to fully free me from my PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), and social anxiety. My doctors and counselors agree that the boarding school is most likely responsible for the bulk of it.
I’d like to start by identifying a group of religious radicals that believe that child abuse is OK if it instills the fear of god into their children. It’s important to keep in mind that these people are not the only type of religious zealot that is prone to abuse children and there are many other sects of Christianity and other religions that also do the same.
Please also keep in mind, they will deny such abuse. Child abusers always do. They will make excuses like, “Well this isn’t what I’d consider child abuse.” Don’t be fooled. They know in their heart that what they are doing is wrong but they continue out of a religious fever that directs them to do extreme things to further the reach of their parishes and gain power within their churches and church run organizations.
The people that founded and run Agape belong to a group of Baptists called Independent Fundamental Baptists. The IFB or Independent Fundamental Baptists are about as right wing and extreme as Christians get. If you want to know where a lot of the “Christian Terrorists” come from this is where you need to look. They consider themselves to be the purest form of Christianity and will often even tare down other denominations and sects of the Christian faith calling them false or abominations. They have a long history of abusing children in abusive boarding schools, group homes, at home and in churches. They believe in extremely strict discipline, corporal punishment, and don’t believe the government has any right to tell them what to do with the kids in their care. They believe god’s law supersedes the laws of the land and that they are called to lead and serve in these places and abuse children.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I came home from school with my dad driving me home in his Nissan only to see my mom in the Suburban driving the other way. She appeared to be crying uncontrollably and seemed to have a hard time driving because of it. I knew something was wrong but when I asked my dad just said she was just being emotional and that she was headed to go get movies and pizza for us to enjoy later.
When we arrived home I noticed that the screen door and front door were open. Very odd as we lived in the country but my mom would never leave the house unlocked unattended let alone the doors wide open. As soon as I entered the house I knew something was terribly wrong. Two men came out of my bathroom and flashed badges that reached from their shoulder down to their knees and told me they were transport agents here to take me to a boarding school. My heart pounded.
I realized then that my dad’s promise to never send me away again was a lie. He was sending me away. He was sending me to a boarding school far from home; away from my friends, school, and anyone or anything I knew! My mind flashed backed to my mom driving. This is why mom had been crying and struggling to drive. This is the bad feeling I had entering the house!
A feeling of hopelessness swept over me. It was all happening again! I would be sent off, abused and used as cheap labor somewhere and when and if I ever got to tell my parents they would just deny it as they did previously at the boys home when I told them about the abuse there. I knew I wasn’t able to run away with my dad behind me and two transport agents in front of me. This was it. I was going to boarding school.
I was told to go get dressed into something comfortable. I thought about breaking out the back window in my room and running but I knew they’d catch me. They were standing at the door too my room which didn’t have a door and knowing my dad he most likely would have the police out and after me in no time given his job as a parole and probation officer. So I got dressed and submitted. I came out and seeing the cuffs outstretched my arms for them to be placed around my wrists. I figured it would be easier if I didn’t struggle. I was later assured I was right.
They handcuffed me and put a leg brace on me so as to keep me from running then loaded me into the family van and my dad drove us to the airport. On the way they explained they were going to un-cuff me because they couldn’t bring me on the airplane in cuffs. They told me to just “make it easier on myself” and not fight them so we could take a plane and not a bus. I didn’t feel as if I had a choice. They left the leg brace on and when someone at checkout asked they claimed it was because I had hurt my leg. My dad signed over his parental rights to them which allowed them to transport me. Again, I felt as if I had been thrown away or ownership of me had transferred which is exactly how the transport agents described it later on our trip.
I had never flown on an airplane before, at least not that I can remember. I was super nervous. Not a good first flight to say the least. The nerves of being plucked from home combined with not knowing where we were going and being that high in the air for the first time flying was enough to make anyone sick to their stomach and made their head swirl.
We landed in Denver for a layover and got lunch. The transport agents did their best to convince me that the school I was going to was a wondrous paradise where I would be able to have a normal high school experience with both boys and girls and that if I didn’t like it after six months my dad had told them I could come home. Of course this was all lies. Agape Boarding School was boys only and there was nothing normal or paradise like about it! After lunch one of the transport agents took me outside the secure area to smoke. He even offered me a smoke to which I replied, “I don’t smoke.” He seemed shocked and asked I don’t tell my dad about this. I could have cared less at that point so I just nodded my head to assure him I wouldn’t.
We landed at the Kansas City Airport sometime in the afternoon and they loaded me into a van. From there they drove me to Agape. The drive was long. During it they explained to me that other students they had brought here loved it and continued to talk to the place up and lie.
When I first arrived at Agape Boarding School I was taken directly to the owner, Jim Clemenson’s office. It was a huge, luxurious office with a giant bronze statue of an eagle about 8’ tall and the wingspan was at least five or six feet. It looked like a lot of money had gone into decorating his office and that statue. Money from parents and church folk convinced the school would have to close if it didn’t get more funding soon no doubt!
His desk was lavish. He sat behind it with a cold, shit eating smirk on his face; his eyes a cold steel that matched his hair. It was if he lacked remorse. I would later discover those cold, dead eyes were a window into his icy heart. The transport agents said goodbye and there I was face to face with the man running Agape Boarding School. He proceeded to tell me that I was a bad kid and went over all the complaints that my parents had raised about me. He made me feel so small and insignificant I almost began to cry.
In the room with him was a tall, built man with a harsh face, one that you could tell had seen battle and hard times. Mr. Vanderkoy was an ex-Marine and one of the school’s main disciplinary figures. He ran the boot camp students started the program in. He was strict, mean, and verbally, mentally, and physically abusive.
Mr. Vanderkoy poured out my belongings onto Mr. Clemenson’s desk. They kept throwing items in a trash bag. “Can’t have that. Can’t have that. Can’t have that yet. You won’t be needing that. It’ll be awhile before you see one of these again,” Vanderkoy chuckled as he threw item after item my mom had packed for me into a garbage bag. I thought they were throwing my stuff away and so I raised my voice and said, “You can’t do that! …” That’s all I remember saying before being slammed to the ground. Before I could even finish what I was saying I was being restrained by Mr. Vanderkoy.
“You ungrateful punk! You don’t get to talk like that in front of the owner!” He said! Obviously trying to impress Mr. Clemenson.
“It’s alright. Let him up.” Mr. Clemenson said. “Have you learned your lesson young man?” He asked me, that shit eating smirk on his face growing wider as if he knew they had made their point that if I was going to mouth off it was going to be a very long and terrible stay at their school. So with frustration but fear I answered his question, “Yes. I understand.”
“Good.” Mr. Clemenson said, in a voice sounding like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.
Then said, “Mr. Vanderkoy! Please take this boy to be fitted.” Vanderkoy directed me to a closet where I was dressed in a bright orange shirt and jeans far too tight for me so as to prevent me from sagging. All of my possessions were confiscated including my clothes. Unannounced to me my parents had sent a “care package” with a New King James Bible and some Christian books. They were also confiscated as the only book other than text books allowed we’re the King James Bible. Any other version of the Bible was considered heresy. So not even Christian stuff was allowed in. I felt completely stripped of my identity and that was the point.
From there I was taken to have my head shaved in the typical military buzz cut fashion, the only real haircut you were allowed to have while attending the school. I was assigned a “buddy”, which was a guy I had to stay three feet in front of at all times who was tasked with teaching me the rules and if I broke them giving me push-ups or reporting me to one of the staff for harsher punishment, if he saw fit. If I had a question for my buddy I was to raise my hand. If I talked without raising my hand I had to do push-ups. Sometimes my buddy would make me do sit-ups and push-ups. Sometimes I was required to do leg lifts then keep my legs raised in the air until I simply couldn’t anymore and sometimes me not being able to keep my legs raised while laying on my back or being able to stay in push-ip position resulted in yet even more exercises. It really depended on how cruel that staff and your buddy wanted to be to you. If they wanted to be you would be living in a Hell all day every day so it was best to keep a low profile and not piss people off.
I’ll never forget when I first sat down I was sitting next to another orange shirt for a little bit. He didn’t look well. He was feverish and shaking and would sneeze and cough. I raised my hand and asked my buddy what was wrong with him and he replied, “Heroine withdrawal.” I had no idea what that even was. I had never heard drug names other than marijuana. Sure I had heard things like “drugs are bad” and my dad constantly warned me not to be a “dirt-bag” like the ones he worked with that had thrown away their life for drugs, but this was my first experience seeing someone come down off a drug. It scared me. Little did I know I’d learn a lot more about drugs at that school and would see a lot more kids coming down off of various substances.
I was placed in boot camp, which is like military boot camp for but adapted for their program. You go around working all day, picking up trash and doing military style physical training or P.T. exercises until you puke or drop. Some students passed out from dehydration. The staff were incredibly physically, mentally and verbally abusive during this time; more so than any other time in your stay. They try to beat you into submission during this time from all the angles; verbally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. The goal, make you crack and submit and until they thought that happened, they wouldn’t let you graduate.
Every day before boot camp all the students would line up in the dining haul for what they called “morning work crew”. During this work crew over a hundred students were supervised as we carried large rocks, chunks of concrete and placed them in foundations being laid for staff housing, school facilities, and projects like the indoor lap pool Mr. Clemenson claimed he needed because he had been diagnosed with cancer.
For one hour in the morning sometimes several hours we would carry very heavy logs and branches and clear areas for construction and lay these giant rocks in the foundation so other students could later pour concrete around it and build on top of it. We worked like tons of little ants walking back and forth in neat lines. We often discarded a lot of the things we cleared from fields into piles which were later moved again or burnt or used as fill.
A lot of the work, especially the rocks we hauled, should have been done with equipment and by grown adults or professionals. Whenever I’d complain about my back hurting I’d get in trouble. I’d either get yelled at and told to work harder or push-ups or both. I tried to be honest with them about my back pain but they didn’t want ot hear it. They just saw me as weak, a woosie, less of a man. They would make me do more wok or work extra long sometimes because I spoke up about it.
The way they had us pile up rocks or logs or branches in are arms was insane. No child under the age of 18 should be carrying that much weight, especially children with back issues or prone to back issues. If we didn’t carry these insane amounts we were called lazy and made to do push-ups or work on additional work crews or stuck on a wall when we got back inside.
You weren’t allowed to talk to each other. You weren’t allowed to work with another student unless directed to and under close supervision. You weren’t allowed to get too far out of sight of a staff member unless you wanted to be tackled. If you asked for water you got push-ups or had to work longer. Sometimes it even meant we all had to work longer. They fed us water out of a dirty hose when they felt like it. Not often. Kids passed out from dehydration.
Sometimes afternoon work crews were called and students were taken from their studies to work outside in the hot Missouri sun sometimes for four hours at a time! If you so much as complained about the back breaking work you were punished and made to do push-ups, sit-ups, leg-lifts or put on a wall when you returned. I am absolutely positive from the accounts of other students with back issues that this school caused my sciatica which has made finding and keeping work almost impossible and has left me in pain for over a decade. I will go more into that in another chapter when I discuss the long lasting mental and physical effects these places can have on people.
But boot-camp was the worst. After everyone else had gone to the dorm and began to prepare for school us boot-campers were lined up and taken out to collect all the trash and recycling from all the staff houses that were sprawled around the campus. The walk in and of itself in the hot Missouri heat was taxing but carrying all that garbage for miles until we reached the bins was harder. Anytime someone stepped out of line or didn’t hear their name called or mouthed off they were told to do push-ups on the hot white gravel. Sometimes they even required everyone to do push-ups because of one person’s rebellion. You know, just to make sure we knew who was in charge. They yelled at us and made us dig trenches, haul rocks to put in large foundation molds where they would eventually build more staff houses and made us carry huge logs and brush to clear out whole areas of field where they planned to expand the facilities. It was just work crew but all the time. We worked 8-10 hour back-breaking days for two weeks minimum. Some people would be in boot camp for a month or month and a half. The faster you submitted the quicker you were out. The more you fought the longer you stayed in there.
I still have scars on my hand from a time when a kid mouthed off and we were made to stay in push-up position on the hot white concrete for almost a half hour. It completely blistered both of my hands. Several times we were left in push-up position on hot, white, concrete by the pool and a pond where it was extremely humid. The pond had sharp rocks and broken glass and debris in it. They called it The Vanderpit. Vanderkoy would have us remain in push-up position for 5-10 min with our heads facing downhill and our legs above us so all the blood would rush to our heads and we’d struggle not to fall while he screamed and threatened to throw us in. It was rough. Sometimes we’d do PT in “the sandpit” which was the volleyball court when it was super scorching hot sand.
The rocks would cut our hands and the sand would sting as we completed our exercises running in place, doing push-ups, sit-ups and leg lifts whenever a number was called. The numbers were assigned to different exercises. If one or more of the boot-campers got the exercise wrong our PT time was extended and it was regularly extended. Sometimes a third session of PT was ordered for around the middle of the day.
Tired and worn out, soaked in sweat and not allowed to change we were brought in to sit with the other students for meals. Meals at Agape were interesting. Most of the time the meals were descent meals but sometimes they were a bit lacking. We lined up by dorms and were called in a certain order to come up and get our meals. We were only sometimes allowed seconds, not all the time. Portions were reasonable. . Dessert would sometimes be provided other times it was left out, but they were rarely all that great.
Once out of boot-camp I opted to work in the kitchen. Lucky for me my buddy had worked in the kitchen a lot and had connects. Thankfully working in the kitchen sometimes helped me avoid carrying large rocks and logs but meant that I was to clean dishes for all the students and sometimes prep food. I honestly didn’t mind kitchen duty that much. I liked Mr. Blake, the leader of the school choir/ensemble and kitchen. He often let us bend rules just a bit and talk to him and discuss stuff among students in front of him that other staff would never have allowed. He seemed more real than the other staff. Working in the kitchen was hard work and eventually I was promoted to grill master. My job as grill master was to make sure the grills were clean and take charge over two other students who were there to help me clean the large grill and small grill plus all the vents and stove tops. It was really hard work and still hurt my back pretty bad but it was better, I felt, on my back, then being out there in the field hauling rocks and logs, and since Agape wouldn’t allow me to get an MRI or get my back imaged and checked out thoroughly and didn’t believe me about my back pain, this was the best I could hope for.
On kitchen duty you had to work sometimes when other weren’t working. You had to work work when others had free time or time for their studies or were in the dorms. You had to work longer and were rewarded with coupons towards a burger and shake which would normally take you forever to get but because it was the only treat allowed in there pretty much people would work kitchen duty to get it.
One day they had me training a student on how to scrape the grill. Everything was going fine until this student accidentally cut my right index finger to the bone with one of the grill scrappers. It cut so fast and so clean at first I didn’t realize how bad the cut really was. I tried to put a paper towel around it but it just kept gushing blood so I ran to the sink. I screamed to the staff sitting in for Mr. Blake, a Mr. Ingleman, but everyone, but everyone, including him thought I was just exaggerating about how bad I had been hurt. They no on-site doctor, just a nurse that I hardly think had a degree in anything medical let alone nursing. They just had some guy that had dropped out of medical school that was playing nurse. At the time I cut my hand open he didn’t even have an infirmary or office. I filled an entire deep, industrial sized kitchen sink full of blood before someone said they better get me to the hospital and got me a bandage. I still have the scar today. 7 stitches later my hand was stitched up and I was kicked off kitchen duty until it healed, which was stupid because that meant I had to go outside in the dirt and grime and pick up giant rocks and branches again which was way worse for my healing finger. I could have easily gotten an infection and lost my finger.
I remember the first night in my bunk. I cried and cried and demanded that they let me call my mom and dad while the other students jeered and made fun of me for crying. I insisted that even people in jail get a phone call. A staff member in charge of heading up our dorm told me, “Kids don’t have any rights. You’ll learn that! You don’t have any rights here. You do what you are told! Now shut up!”
One really cruel punishment they inflicted upon us was the wall. If you got in trouble enough they sent you to the wall. There you had to stand perfectly still with your hands at your side and stare at wall paper for hours on end. Your “free time” was revoked. You weren’t allowed to do homework. You could only stare standing at the wall. Sometimes if they were nice they would let you sit but if they caught you looking off the wall they would take your chair immediately. I remember this one staff member made me stay in the squat position for an hour plus because he caught me looking off the wall at the clock. It was if I had a chair but I didn’t and I had to keep that position the entire time. I failed a few times which resulted in push-ups
Some people could handle the punishments there, some could not. A lot of it bordered on torture. Some of their methods seemed to be even militant at times. I’ll never forget some of the more horrendous things I saw there.
One day I was sitting on the wall when the guy next to me went crazy. He started beating his head as hard as he could into the sharp edge of the wooden window sill. None of the staff caught it so he just kept doing it harder and harder until he cracked his skull and blood sprayed over my lap from his head. It looked like I could see through his skull and see a part of his brain as he flopped on the floor in pain and anguish for about a minute before a couple staff members scooped him up and brought him up to Mr. Clemenson’s office. I never saw that student again.
Later we received a post card from a mental institution where he was apparently being held. It seemed oddly suspicious to me that they wanted everyone to know about this card and read it out loud. It said that he was fine and that he didn’t fault the boarding school for his injuries. My guess is it was a fake.
One time a kid broke his collar bone trying to break a horse for them. They hauled him back quite roughly and I could hear them saying, “He’s just faking it.” for a half hour before they finally took him to the doctor only to find out he wasn’t faking it and that he had fractured his collarbone in three places. Once all bandaged up he still had to participate in work crew by using his “good arm”.
A section leader was defined as a student who rose through the ranks of kissing ass and not getting in trouble to lord over a dorm of students and tell them when to get out of bed make sure they only used 3 minutes at the sink and 2 minutes when going number 2 and one minute when pissing stuff like that. He reported to the dorm supervisor who was a full fledged staff member that slept in a private section at the end of the long row of metal bunk beds and 3ft by 10ft sections where we slept and spent a little time each night memorizing scripture or working on our school work. When I say little I mean like maybe a half hour to an hour. We were not there often.
This one time a section leader, our section leader for our dorm, one of 5, started complaining about not feeling well and a sharp pain in his gut. They didn’t treat him any better than anyone else with a medical problem. They simply thought he was sick and denied his request to see a doctor. It wasn’t until his appendix burst and he started to turn yellow that they rushed him to the doctor. Man was he in pain. They set a staff member to watch over him in the dorms. It took him at least a week as I recall to be able to function even half-way effectively.
One of the first nights there I was jumped by kids with pillow cases with soap in them. I was pretty beat up in the morning. When asked what happened I said I fell out of my bunk. If I said anything else I would surely be beaten up even worse. Another time I went to go pee at night, which was allowed, only to be followed by another student who was much older and stronger than I was. He made me keep my pants down and pulled his pants down sticking his cock up to my face he said, “Suck it bitch!” That’s all I remember of that moment. To be honest it almost feels like a glitch in my memory. The kid scrambled to get back to his bunk because the rule was only one person in the bathroom at a time and he started to hear someone walking downt he hall. The section leader accused me of using the bathroom without permission because the other kid said he asked and the bathroom guy said he only let one person in and I was the newer student. I tried to tell him what really happened but he wouldn’t even allow me to speak.
I never knew what gangs were until the boarding school. I found out really fast. Occasionally kids claiming to be Crips or Bloods would get into fights and a couple of times they made shanks which they cut or stabbed each other with. These fights were broken up quickly in most cases but sometimes staff didn’t act quick enough and several kids were severely injured during my stay. One time a kid tried to strangle me with a coat hanger. That was great. His reasoning? It was a red coat hanger so I must be a Blood!
We weren’t allowed things like coffee, hot cocoa, TV, newspapers or magazines; anything that could be a connection to the outside world or make us feel more at home. They made us watch old war reals from WWI and WWII and occasionally would put on Fox News. I actually watched the coverage of when the twin towers fell as it happened. It was one of the few things they let us watch.
It was pretty obvious they wanted to encourage us to go into the military. They would talk about it all the time. They even allowed recruiters to come and meet with some of the students who weren’t even ready to graduate. We had military personnel come and talk before the student body on multiple occasions and it seemed all some staff could talk about was their service in the military and how everyone should serve. They made it sound so great! They would even bring back old staff and students who had been in the military to prove it was the best option for a lot of us.
One of the staff I guess got in trouble for shooting horse tranquilizers and molesting a boy. Apparently he was getting students to get high with him too. I don’t know how long this went on but I know he offered for me to go on a “special trip” to “have some fun” and I’m glad II feel like ai dodged a bullet there. There have apparently been a few staff that have done this with horse tranquilizers and drugs on campus with the boys. The time I encountered a staff doing this wasn’t the first or the last time it would happen at the school.
The school fed our parents with constant lies telling them they needed more funding or they were going to have to shutdown the school! In truth students on various work crews built half a million to million dollar homes for the staff. They hung drywall, sheet-rock, laid shingles, the foundation, everything was done by students. We put chandeliers worth thousands into some of the homes. We built a personal luxurious lap pool for the owner after he discovered he had cancer, as I mentioned before, and his wife, affectionately known as Ma’am, drove a brand new Ford Mustang when they were making a comeback. It was an expensive car back then.
The staff mostly drove nice cars too and you could tell there was a lot of money floating around. Most of the staff wasn’t paid that much but some were given nice houses, nice cars, nice things to compensate. The Clemenson’s made the most money by far. They were the favorite family.
With the cost of attending the school over $1,200 a month my parents blew through a good portion of my inheritance from my grandfather. Essentially they used my own money to have me abused and mistreated and I’m still paying for it today. Imagine finding that out!
Often when students would get out of line and physical force was needed they were either brought to Mr. Clemenson’s office where they used a large paddle to tan their hide something fierce so it hurt to sit down or pressure points designed not to leave marks but inflict a lot of pain. When they couldn’t control a student and couldn’t avoid bruising him up they just played it off as the students fault for being out of control and exaggerated the students offenses to make him seem like a danger to himself or others.
I survived an F4 tornado there. We didn’t have a proper shelter. We are lucky that nobody died. When the tornado warning came in we all thought it was just another drill. We soon figured out it wasn’t. I remember sitting in the back of the school against a wall that was built against a concrete wall and into the side of a hill but still feeling wind coming through the walls. It ripped the roof off of several buildings, sent toy trucks through trees (literally used to have a picture of a toy truck stuck in a tree that they gave us on a disc to prove how cool they were and how much god loved them and saved us from the storm).
I’ll never forget Mr. Cleveland rushing inside and the door sucking itself closed with a THUD! It was a big metal door. He yelled, “Here she comes boys! Start praying!” When the storm hit we prayed and I had to have a paper bag because I started hyperventilating. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more scared in my entire life and I’ve lived through some very scary situations.
I remember we went up dorm by dorm to get our stuff from the dining hall. The roof was ripped open. Patches of it were just hanging there ready to fall. Water pouring down from the gaps in the ceiling. Staff yelling for us to hurry up and get our stuff off the table and save what we could. I saw my school stuff and grabbed as much of it as I could, even the soaked stuff hoping it would dry out and I wouldn’t have to do it all over again. I saw my guitar floating on top of the water in it’s case and snagged it just in time. The roof started to cave in. Huge chunks came falling from the ceiling. Me and this other kid I played games with named Dave had to jump over a few tables with all of our stuff in our hands to get to safety and just as we did they told kids to leave whatever was left and get away as a bunch of the roof caved in all over.
The whole school flooded. We had to boil water. We had to work all the time. We literally had to rebuild most of the school and facilities after that which meant everyone was on 8 hours work crews and school was shoved to the wayside for a good long time period. We removed insulation with our bare hands at times, no ventilators, no masks. Lots of hazardous waste was removed without proper safety gear, experience, and kids got hurt. I still have a scar on my left hand from when I student shoved me in the back and I fell forward and stuck my hands out to catch myself and my left palm had a nail go straight through it. Was extremely painful. Very lucky it didn’t sever a muscle or tendon.
I’m lucky to have kept my head low for the most part while there and I graduated a year early so I could leave just after my 18th birthday. The education at Agape Boarding School is horrible. Almost none of the teachers have any real teaching experience or background let alone a degree in teaching or the field they are supposed to be teaching in.
My first principal, Mr. Burton, was the pastor and guy who gave you the paddle if you were severely out of line. He was like a giant angry bullfrog that belched angrily at you all the time. He never knew the answer to anything unless he had the answer key in front of him. He wasn’t qualified to teach a middle school class let alone run the entire school as principle and president. My next principle’s name was Ronald McDonald. He only ever got his GED if I’m not mistaken. He used to joke about how dumb he was 24/7. He could be a complete jerk or he could be one of the more tolerable staff. It really depended on his mood at the time.
There were hardly any computers there and nothing in the way of learning on them except the most basic of word processing and their cheesy Christian math games played on floppy discs. We never typed up and printed essays. We just wrote them. In the end I graduated a year early and my diploma is signed by Ronald McDonald. People often ask if I was given fries or a pair of big red shoes with my diploma. The answer is no but I often feel that the education they provide could and should be improved. Nobody should be able to charge what they charge and cheap out by not hiring qualified staff for their school.
But that’s the story of schools and programs like Agape. They don’t hire licensed medical staff, psychiatrists, teachers, principals, therapists, trainers, workers, builders, contractors, etc. because they rely on people who come from other churches who feel called. In fact the only qualification for someone to work at Agape is they must feel called and Agape needs someone to do whatever. They hired plenty of people that turned out to be horrible staff and put their students at risk or hurt them. The parents almost never heard about these staff. They came and went so fast the school was able to conceal a lot of their bad hiring decisions.
When Agape could it would recruit students and turn them into staff. This meant they were usually already brainwashed and perfectly broken down so they would do whatever asked for practically no pay at all in exchange for a place to stay and not having to go out and face the real world. They tried to convince to me to stay. They would loosely make it sound like a staff daughter might like you or that god would bless you if you stayed. They made it sound so much less scary than the outside world. So warm and welcoming. Several students have gone on to marry staff member’s daughters. One woman, Anna Cleveland, has actually been married to two former students. She cheated on her first husband Scott, a former student, with another student who had just turned 18 and graduated. This type of hiring from within and marrying within makes Agape and places like it very cultish. These boys often have no idea what they are in for when they join the staff even after being at Agape for so long. Their brains are literally brainwashed and their fear of an outside world they have been cut off from for so many years overtakes them. It seems easier to stick with the routine and what they know and they really instill a feeling that you need to make up for your past sins and that staying on as a staff member is a great way to do that!
Later I found some YouTube videos advertising the school and thought it important to post some links about Lester Roloff and the history of Agape and how they had been shutdown in Washington and California for child abuse before moving to Missouri where the laws are more lax. My dad, who transport kids to these schools under the business name Touchdown Transports Inc. and several of the staff there pressured me to take those comments down. I refused stating it was my testimony and people needed to hear it. They insisted the school has changed and offered to explain to my work I needed to fly out there, reimburse me for my hours at work, put me in a nice motel with my dad and show me around while treating me like “royalty”. They basically offered me a lump sum of hush money as well just to keep me quiet. I refused. My family pressured me to take down the comments as they put my dad’s business of transporting children to facilities like this in an awkward spot. I refused and still refuse to this day to change my testimony, lie, or keep quiet. I think its shameful that they transported children to Agape and affiliated schools after their son was abused there. They now claim they have stopped and will no longer associate with them or places like them. I have found that to be a lie and no longer speak with them.