Eleven years ago today, I left.
I didn’t have much warning I was leaving– the staff preferred to only give a week’s notice. They didn’t want my eminent departure to give me an “exit mentality,” and it’s one of the first rules of maintaining control of another person: severely limit the information they have access to. The staff at Provo Canyon School were very committed to control.
Provo Canyon School is a lock-down institution for “troubled teens”. They have a website that I don’t care to link here, but you can google it if you want. It’s also interesting to see what pops up when you add keywords like “abuse” or “lawsuit” to your search.
Eleven years is a strange anniversary. It doesn’t have the neatness of 10 years, or the “a lifetime ago” quality of 15. Eleven is too much, and not enough. In ‘This is Spinal Tap,’ Nigel is very proud of his amps that go up to 11– it’s one louder than 10, an extra bit of power for when you need it. I suppose eleven does feel like an extra bit of power, but it’s also slightly ridiculous, a palindromic anniversary. I hesitate to follow that to it’s logical conclusion, because this 11 years certainly would not be the same backwards as forward.
I feel like I should have some pithy things about survival and growing into the self-actualized queer I am today. Some people have asked me, “How do you know that PCS didn’t give you the skills you needed to grow? How do you know that PCS isn’t the key to your survival?” It’s always hard to keep a straight face when I respond. A PCS success story is the bland pinnacle of normal– for the girls, that meant sensible domesticity, (heterosexual) marriage, and children (in that order).
The person I’ve grown into is exactly the person that PCS tried to kill. It was the realization that PCS wanted to kill that part of me that gave me the strength to hold on while I was there, to preserve myself deep within my skin and fight back against their poison once I was released. They said they knew I was the enemy, and deep down, I knew that they were wrong.
Last year, on my ten year anniversary, I wrote a post to the teens that are still locked up in private facilities–or really, I wrote to the recent releases, because there’s no way anyone incarcerated in one of these institutions has access to the internet, let alone to this blog. Remember what I said about the staff being committed to control?
From where I am now, I try to do what I can to educate people about the existence of places like PCS. It’s always a bit chilling for me when someone responds, “I had no clue things like that still happened.” Eleven years later, and I can still see the threads of control, and the way that the troubled teen industry limits and controls the information that the outside world can access about what goes on within their walls.
Still, for all their efforts, they can’t control those of us who survived, and they can’t stop us from speaking out.