The truth... Funny isn't it, how little of our time we spend reflecting on a period of time that has had such a permanent impact on our lives. This is not about what got you sent to Mountain Park. This is not about your relationship with your parents and whatever problems they had that made them choose to allow someone else to parent and choose what was right or wrong for their flesh and blood child. This is about me. About you. About right and wrong and some scars that will last forever. What did Mountain Park do to me? How have they covered it up? I have seen Bob and Betty Wills. I have seen Sam and Debbie Gerghardt. I remember the lies they told me when I was there the first time when I was twelve and thirteen. I remember the things they did to me when I came back when I was fourteen. Their faces as they told their lies a couple years ago in a courtroom. I accept that they will not see justice in my lifetime. And still, I am unsatisfied. Does a child abuser abuse every child they come across? Or do they single some out? How did they choose those of us that they singled out for torture? Was it random, or was there some twisted guideline they followed. I cannot tell you your own experience. I can only tell my own. The story of a frightened little girl who was sent to Mountain Park for the first time at the age of twelve.
I cannot begin to imagine what my parents were thinking when they decided to send me to Mountain Park. I was in 6th grade. A straight A student involved in some sports, I loved my family, most especially my sisters. My oldest sister was home on a Christmas visit from MP. My parents decided to send me to Missouri when she went back. At first I remember being a little excited. Living with my big sister again, being in a boarding school with other girls, it almost sounded fun. I remember my sister trying to break things gently to me. On a plane... On a bus... cautioning me... telling me she loved me... and apologizing to me for the way things would be. I didn't understand.
I knew things would be weird. I didn't pack my jeans. I wore a skirt. I packed according to the dress code even if I didn't understand or agree with it. Upon arrival I got my first sense that things were not as they appeared. I was told by my parents that I was going to "help keep my sister company", upon arrival I was immediately separated from her. We got off a bus and I walked into the front doors that would signify the beginning of my first stay in the illegal prison the Wills and Gerghardts called "my home".
After separating me from my sister I was taken to a shower room where I was forced to strip while being watched, use a "lice treatment", and forced to take a "worm medicine" (chlorpromazine, the first of many doses that would be administered over the course of my stay; a drug that makes you easier to manipulate and control). Sound familiar?
If your initial memories seem foggy, I understand. I remember feeling disoriented, groggy, confused. How much is the affect of the drugs they so freely gave us making us easier to manipulate and control, and how much the result of the trauma and shock of being thrust into an alternate reality? I was given an orientation guide. A girl a couple years older than myself. Jennifer Jones. A name that can still give me nightmares although I no longer hold her responsible for her actions. She was as much a puppet and product of the program as any other. Those who are abused themselves are much more likely to cause abuse. Particularly in MP where leaders are encouraged and rewarded for degrading and forcing compliance to rules... no matter the means. This first time, prior to "the murder" things were different. Staff was more involved. Students were still relied on in the hierarchy to mete out discipline, however, the adult staff was much more likely to assign and carry out punishments as they saw fit. Things would change after the murder.
Do you wonder why I'm telling you this? You should. It will make no difference to your own life. To others. I wonder why I would expose such a painful period of my past. Will it bring me closure? I doubt it. I have already faced down my demons in a court room. I was not allowed to tell my story to the jury. I was not given the opportunity to see justice served. I did not finish what I set out to do. I cannot help but feel that I failed somehow when I here about the "new schools" that have sprung up from Mountain Park and their founders. But my story is unfinished. There are new stories to be told. Every child and teenager that crosses the threshhold to one of these schools and hears the lock click into place behind them, has a story to tell. Mine is one of them. I will be silent no longer. The scars remain but I am whole. I will survive and I will not be silenced.
Orientation was the beginning. So many rules to follow. Such harsh punishments. Stay in arms length of your orientation guide. Don't look at other new students. You may not acknowledge what they say or do. You may not speak to anyone alone. You may not talk to your sister (wait... didn't I come here to be her companion?), you may not call your parents. In fact, you are cut off from all outside influences and will do anything and everything we tell you to do. Sometimes staff tells me what to say or do. More often than not I am subjected to whatever my orientation guide deems appropriate to my training.
I cannot remember the rules. I am scared. Alone. I have been forced to retreat into my mind. The one place where noone can hurt me. Noone can tamper with my mind. But they can. They are older, they have more practice. They have perfected techniques to break down even the most hardened of wills (no pun intended). There is no escape. The drugs (yes, they drugged some or all of us) break down my resistance. I find myself cooperating even when my mind screams that they are wrong. I fear their punishments and avoid their attention. I try to live below the radar. Not call attention to myself. I am failing. No matter how ordinary, obedient, and robotic I become they single me out. My letters to my parents telling them about the rules and daily life are brought back to me by the staff. I am forced to sit still and rewrite them. They must be rewritten again. Staff explains my "errors". They will not send my letters and I am required to write a minimum of once a week. My outgoing mail is censored as well as my incoming. I give in and rewrite.
My peers tell me it will get better. Stop fighting it. Tell them what they want to hear. I am not allowed to think or say anything that contradicts them. My mind is my own. I will not surrender. Daily life is a blur. By night I recite phone numbers, birthdays, my personal preferences, music; I swear I will not forget. But I am. Sometimes I am singled out for extra punishment in the form of lines, threats, and intimidation. I comply, but my mind is my own.
My orientation guide tells staff I have attitude. I have questions. I want to know why. Why is this rule in place? Why can't I see or talk to my family? Why do I have to pretend that other girls do not exist? Why must I be silent?
I am taken to a staff member. My guide feels I don't get it. Dorm staff takes me to Debbie Gerghardt. Debbie orders swats. Laura matthews and Sara Day administer and witness. A card is signed. I am beaten until I cannot stand. I am shaking, broken, hopeless. But someday I will be eighteen. I count the days. They cannot hold me forever. I am twelve. I will count the days, one at a time, and I will survive. They will not break me. But they have. I am split. I fear the pain. The humiliation, the physical abuse, but even worse, the silence. I am no longer allowed to speak. Debbie has decided to isolate me further. Noone may speak to me. If I disobey my guide they will beat me again. Debbie informs Betty (they made me call her mama during my stay) of her sentence. She ridicules me in front of the students. They cheer her on. Even then I am not the only one. There are others. I feel sorry for them. I remember some of their names; Rebecca Carper, Tiffany Cummings, Charise Fispera. There are more at other times and their faces haunt me.
My parents call. It is my birthday. I have not been allowed to speak for a week. I am told I will be given a one minute phone call. They will hang up on me if I break the rules. I break them anyway. I tell them I am not allowed to talk to my sister, they have hurt me and I want to go home. Someone has prepared them for this conversation. They have a script. They don't listen to me. The staff does. They heard me. I am in worse trouble. Things cannot be worse. Everything has already been taken away right? How else can they harm me? But they are creative. They cut off my nails (strange punishment, I had always had long beautiful nails though), staff takes away all of my clothes but two outfits. My toiletries consist of only the bare minimum. No scented lotions, no makeup. I am allowed a piece of my birthday cake, and eventually allowed to talk to my guide again. Her attitude towards me has changed a little. She no longer torments me for fun. She torments me primarily only in front of staff, hoping to be elevated by mimicking their behavior. It works. She gains some priveledges. I obey their rules. Months have gone by and I am finally released from my guide. The murder occurs....
There is so much more I would tell you. Perhaps I will continue later, or perhaps not. Some nightmares cry to be relived and talked about. Others are better left locked away. Right now I am tired and too emotionally drained to continue. Regardless, I will never forget. Do you remember? Would you force your own child to endure what you did? Have the Wills and Gerghardts lied to your face since you left? My own memories haunt me. The demons smiling and lying in a courtroom confident of their outcome with the testimonies properly silenced. A judge that knows the truth, but does not care. A judge that refuses to allow a jury to hear my experience. A judge that tells me the courtroom does not care about right or wrong and justice. Truth? Irrelevant. Money? Politics? Hmm.... Do you remember? Do you want to?