Copper Canyon Academy Survivor Survey – Anonymous
Date of Submission: 10-04-12
Do you wish to grant further testimony to investigators? – No.
Age and year of admittance – 15, 2006
How long was your stay at Copper Canyon Academy? – 21 months.
How long have you been back home? – Four years.
Did you graduate the program? – Yes.
Before the program did you have a serious drug problem? Please describe severity – No.
Before the program were you admitted to any other residential treatment, for instance a mental hospital? – One outpatient center.
Before the program did you have a criminal record or spend time in Juvenile Hall? – No.
Where you court ordered, or did your parents choose to send you to the program? – My parents chose.
Did you consent to treatment at CCA? Did you sign a contract? – No.
Was there a medical admissions process? Please describe – No.
Were your medical records considered before you were admitted into D.R.A.? – No,
Were you strip searched? How many times? – Never.
How much was your tuition? – Not at all.
In your opinion were the teachers, good teachers? Did they have degrees and certifications? – Half the teachers were good, half weren’t. All had degrees, not all had certifications.
Were your tests open book, multiple choice tests? Would you consider them easy to pass? – None of the tests were open book, but most were multiple choice. They were all easy to pass except for Miller’s, in his government and social studies classes.
How many school credits did you earn in what period of time? – I don’t remember, though it was enough to graduate a year early.
Did you receive a diploma from CCA? – sur-17]
Was a certified medical professional available to students at their request? – We were only able to see a nurse practitioner if we requested to see a doctor. She would refer us to other medical professionals.
Were proper check ups, dental cleaning, and medication observation appointments held regularly? – Only if your parents made sure of it.
If you got sick were you given adequate treatment and rest? – No. You were only allowed to be treated or to rest if you had vomited (and the vomit was witnessed by a staff member) or if you had a fever.
Were you ever refused medical care because staff said that you were “faking it”? – Yes.
Was a medical service offered for drug detox or drug rehabilitation? – No.
Was there any kind of “Drug Education” available for students who had used drugs in the past? – Workbooks.
What is the name of your case manager/ “Therapist”? Did they have degrees/ licenses? What were their qualifications before taking the job at CCA? – Linda Cathcart. She had the proper degrees and licenses and had a background in adolescent therapy.
Was group therapy considered to be of a confrontational nature? – Somewhat.
Do you feel you were forced to confess to things you did not do in order to progress in the program? – All the time.
Were students encouraged to accept that they were alcoholics or drug addicts? Was this required to advance in the program? – Yes, and yes.
Were students encouraged to follow a 12 step program in order to earn levels and graduate the program – We were encouraged, but it wasn’t mandatory.
Were students encouraged to accept a “higher power” contingent to their recovery? – There was a mandatory “quiet time” on Sundays that was supposed to serve as a time for praying, but we were never forced to do anything religious if we didn’t want to.
In your opinion, How was the food quality? Was it prepared properly? Were safety and health codes followed in the kitchen? – The food, except for breakfasts and some food prepared for special occasions like graduations, was pretty horrible. It was prepared properly and safety and health codes were always followed.
Did you ever go hungry? Were you given proper portions? Was food ever withheld as a punishment? Please describe “Non-Compliant” meals. How many days in a row were you on “Non-Compliant” meals? – I was hungry all the time. I hated the food so much (except for the breakfasts) that I mastered making it appear that I had eaten much more than I actually had by pushing my food around on my tray. By the time I left CCA, I was clinically underweight and malnourished.
Non-Compliant meals were given to girls who refused to follow staff directions. They usually consisted of creamed spinach, black beans, and white rice. You weren’t allowed to use salt or pepper on the food, and it was served cold. I voluntarily ate them on several occasions because they were better than the food being served to everyone else.
Did you gain a lot of weight? Were you forced to eat more than you were able to eat? – I lost 30 pounds.
Were you ever punished for vomiting? – No.
Please describe the “Work Hour” experience. How did you feel about this? -
Work hours could be given by a staff member or teacher for any student infraction, no matter how minor. I was given a work hour for annoying a staff member by singing during free time outside, with no warning. If you felt like you didn’t deserve a work hour, you could submit a grievance, which involved filming out a form describing how you’d been wrong and putting it in the grievance box. I’m 95% sure the grievance box got opened maybe once every three months.
To work off most work hours- usually if you had more than five, people with less were let off easier- you were woken up at 5 AM by being shaken awake by a staff member. You had to walk across campus with them to either clean classrooms, bathrooms, or pull weeds or shovel rocks. Shoveling rocks basically had no purpose except to punish us with physical labor, and was abusive and pointless.
Some of the more self-serving staff members would allow you to work off a work hour by doing something like throwing a soda can away for them, which happened to me once. I got six work hours taken off by the drama teacher, Adam, for stepping in to play a role in the school play last minute. There was no formula or any written rules regarding work hours.
Were upper levels or any level students asked to babysit the staff’s children, or taken to the staff’s house for any extended period of time? – I lived with staff members both on and off campus for several months. One of the rules for staff members was that students were never allowed to be left alone with the children of staff members. Some girls in transition with Paul and Sarah asked to babysit their children so they could have a date night out of the house, but they weren’t allowed to.
Where you aware of anyone being restrained and/ or isolated from the group? – I was never restrained, but I witnessed several girls being restrained by staff members.
What reasons were these people restrained/ isolated/ made to sit in stress positions? (please describe actual events) Where stress positions utilized? Were there more time in isolation given if the student would move, cry or speak? – Non-compliance. We weren’t allowed to talk about what was happening and I never witnessed an entire situation, as we were quickly moved out of the area if something did happen. I never saw anyone being put in isolation.
Please describe “Staff Buddy”, “The Desert Process” and the purpose of the yellow/ orange construction vests.- Staff buddies were made to wear bright yellow or orange shirts, the reasoning being that they were easier to see if they ran away. You were put on staff buddy if you were considered to be a “run risk” or if you were suicidal. Staff buddies had to sleep on an army cot in the common room and use the bathroom with the door open and a staff member watching, so staff buddies would be observed at all times. They were also usually put on silence- I was on staff buddy once, but not put on silence. Staff member assumed I was lying about this because my therapist forgot to write me a note stating so, and I was punished for talking to other students while on staff buddy.
The yellow and orange construction vests were called silence vests. They were worn by students who weren’t allowed to talk, look at, or make eye contact with any other students.
(Please describe the rules and structure that would pertain to a level 1 student.)
Was contact with your parents limited? Where your letters (to and from) intercepted? Were your letters opened, read, crossed out or cut? – Level ones wore red shirts. They were not allowed to wear any non-uniform clothes except for pajamas, and weren’t allowed to wear sneakers except for at exercise- only flip-flops. During my first winter at CCA, the school nurse felt so bad for level ones walking around in flip-flops during 35 degree weather that she bought us all toe socks for Christmas, using her own paycheck.
We weren’t allowed to use the restroom without an upper level student standing outside the door. We weren’t allowed to walk anywhere alone. We could only talk to our parents for five minutes a week, and that was on the phone with a therapist. Emails were probably intercepted, but letters weren’t.
How long before you were able to speak to your parents on the phone? Were your phone calls monitored? – I didn’t speak to my parents until my second month at CCA.
All phone calls made on campus were monitored throughout the program.
If you felt you were being abused, was there anyway you could get to a phone and have a private conversation with your parents, child services or an officer of the law? – No. If you told your parents that you were being abused, they had already been informed by the school to expect to hear such things from you and to assume that you were lying, and to report to the school that you were being negative.
If you wanted to leave were you discouraged to tell your parents how you felt? Were you afraid that you would be punished if you were to describe any incidents of abuse to your parents? – We were discouraged from telling our parents anything “negative” about the program. So, yes.
Were there other students (upper levels) assigned to watch over you? What was their role? Did they give you consequences/ “hold you accountable”? Were they instructed to restrain you or monitor the isolation area, bathrooms and showers? – Part of the responsibilities of upper levels was to watch level ones. They had to walk level ones everywhere, including classes and the rest room. If they caught you breaking a rule, they would hold you accountable. They were never instructed to restrain anyone, though I did witness a situation in which a staff member had two level fours go after a runaway student with her.
Did you have to raise your hand and wait to ask permission from staff (or upper levels) to speak, stand, eat, go to the bathroom and do other normal activities? – I had to ask permission to go anywhere, use the restroom, leave a table at lunch, but not to speak or stand unless we were all on silence.
How often were you allowed to speak freely? Were you not allowed to speak with others in your group? – I was not allowed to speak with other level ones when I was on level one. We were allowed to speak freely outside of classes, before shutdown at 9:00.
Did you have to walk in line? How often? Were there consequences if you did not line up properly? – We had to walk in line as a group everywhere. People who didn’t line up properly would get work hours.
Would you be given a consequence if you forgot something? (for instance, a pen or a book) – Yes, work hours.
Were your personal items inspected by other students? (upper levels?) without your consent or presence? – No.
(Please describe the rules and structure that would pertain to an “upper level” student.)
What were the requirements in order to progress in the level system? Was approval from the other upper levels required? – Upper levels were required to hold other students accountable for infractions, and followed most of the same rules as everyone else. They would get privileges, though.
Approval from the majority of students in your house was required to advance to a higher level. You also needed therapist approval, good grades, to be working out in exercise at the proper level, staff approval, and to have done a certain amount of pages in your workbook and journal.
What kind of staff responsibilities were upper levels given? – Upper levels were allowed to watch level ones.
Were upper levels required to give out consequences, citations or to hold lower levels accountable for minor rule violations? – All they could do was hold people accountable. They were never allowed to give out consequences or citations.
Were the rules upper levels enforced specific to the rule book or were the definitions of those rules assumed? Could rules easily be made up or “held accountable” under a category that was vague enough to be given out for any number of things? – There were way too many rules to be in the rule book, but what rules there were were pretty specific. Making up rules was never an issue. If someone was held accountable it was generally for a specific reason that they knew would get them in trouble, like swearing or violating the dress code or stealing food.
Were you punished/ held back if you chose not to tattle or pass out citations, and opted to verbally warn students instead? – No. I often just asked people to hold themselves accountable. It was up to them to do it or not; I’d done my job. The exceptions to this were if students were in a romantic relationship together or planning to run away. If I knew about this and didn’t tell a staff member, I would be considered guilty of conspiring.
Did an upper level have to power to influence a child put onto “staff buddy” or into any isolation process? Were upper levels instructed to watch or participate in restraints? – No.
Were upper levels required to give visiting parents a glowing testimonial of their experience in the program, or make testimonial videos or letters? Were pre-written scripts required to be read during the filming of promotional videos? – We weren’t required to give “glowing testimonials”, though we were required to give parents tours of the campus. I personally never said that I liked CCA or recommended it and stayed neutral on the subject.
What would happen if an upper level student mentioned anything bad about the program in front of a parent? Were students afraid of punishment if they told the truth? – I was dropped for jokingly telling two parents on a tour “Don’t send your daughter here!” We all laughed, but Tammy found out, was pissed, and personally got me dropped. I wasn’t allowed to go back up a level until I apologized to her in person, which was humiliating.
How easily could an upper level get dropped (start the program over)? What infractions would make an upper level drop and what level did they usually go back to? – Level fours got dropped two or three times during my program back down to level one usually after screwing up tremendously during a home visit, either by running away or sleeping with someone. I also knew graduates who were sent back to CCA post-graduation.
Please describe your seminar experience. – I attended six seminars. The level one and level two ones twice, and the level three one once (no one did a level three seminar twice.) My parents attended the level one seminar.
Mike Gurr and Lance ran the seminars. Mike Gurr is a licensed therapist and Lance was a step-parent of a graduate.
What are your opinions of the owners/ Directors of CCA? – That their original goals were good but implemented entirely in the wrong way.
Do you believe that the program acting within the means of “Tough Love” was appropriate treatment for you in your adolescence? – No.
Do you believe that the staff and junior staff usually acted within the US standards for health, safety and well being of the students? – Yes.
Considering long term effects, do you think your experience at CCA has an effect on your life today? Positive or negative? - The only parts of CCA that had a positive effect on my life were what I learned in therapy with Linda Cathcart, and the friends I made there. Oh, and the scones. The scones were awesome.
Full Testimony (if provided)
Also, about Randy Young.
Randy was always on my radar as a “sketchy” guy during my time at CCA due to his elaborate stories about his wife, Amy, their adopted teenage daughter, Holly, and Randy’s best friend (name forgotten.) The stories were interesting, sure, but none of the main players ever actually came to campus in real life. Randy had plenty of excuses for this, but I started joking with him that he had just made the people up.
Not long after that fun conversation, he told us that Holly had died the day before from a sudden bout of spinal meningitis. This was tragic and we all cried because we’d heard so much about this girl, and she was our age! 16! Not long after that, Susie, a staff member in Juniper, resigned. We assumed it was because she hadn’t gotten the vacant position as the head of Juniper, though some girls said it was because she refused to accept that CCA wouldn’t try to cure girls of lesbianism, given her Christian beliefs.
Turns out that she had attempted to bring flowers to “Holly”‘s memorial service and found out that Holly did not exist. The church, which Randy claimed to be a youth pastor at, had never heard of Randy. In fact, it turned out that he wasn’t even married. Susie brought this information to Paul’s attention, but Paul decided that it had no impact on Randy’s job at CCA and wouldn’t even discuss Randy’s lies with Randy. Susie resigned in protest.
A few months later, Randy told us that his wife Amy had left him. During this time, he acted much angrier than he had before and was a lot meaner to most girls. Before, he had taken a special interest in most of the prettier and sportier girls in Juniper, and sometimes the other dorms. He would make good friends with them and their parents, and sometimes take the sports teams he coached on long distance and overnight trips. The girls who had gotten pulled or graduated that he had made friends with would send them photos of himself- I once caught him looking at photos on a staff computer of a former student washing cars in her bikini. But he started even being mean with the girls he had specially chosen and befriended. Being even harder on them, in fact. But always apologizing later.
I graduated. He left CCA a year after me. You can read the police reports and newspaper articles about what happened with him and the girls at his next school.