Reform at Victory is a non-fiction memoir I have written about an experience I lived through as a teen in a locked-down fundamentalist Baptist reform school. I wrote this book to share my personal story and to inform the public about the dangers of unlicensed/unregulated reform schools. The book begins by showing the reader who I am at age 16: coming of age in Southern California and grappling with teen angst, which eventually leads to me quit on Christianity and get shipped off to reform school. When I began flirting with the idea of writing this book ten years ago, I was bitter and angry over the experience; an experience that left me brainwashed and emotionally broken. However, throughout the writing phases, breaks in between, consulting with other survivors, and seeing that something is being done to raise awareness (recent congressional hearings), that bitterness and anger has dissipated and turned into a genuine desire to be a supportive voice for women who have experienced a similar event in their lives as I have. This is not just about me.
When alternative residential treatment facilities, religious or secular, are not licensed or regulated, those inside have no recourse for help. Basically, the owners/staff can make up their own harsh rules to keep order while denying basic rights and constitutional freedoms, and many go as far as to use illegal restraint procedures which have resulted in deaths. As I type this, teens in some of these unlicensed/unregulated reform schools are being denied basic rights that all people should enjoy in a democratic society. Like I once was, they are being denied dental visits, doctor visits, phone calls, freedom of speech, books, an education, radio, equality, access to news and information, and personal choices including when to talk and use a restroom. Verbal abuse and use of solitary confinement are used regularly to break those inside into submission and can be horribly debilitating causing a teen's emotional issues to be exacerbated. Having lived through this experience myself, I feel I owe it to teens who are currently incarcerated to alert the public about the dark underbelly of these facilities, many of which use an extreme and oppressive version of fundamentalist Christianity to impose their unrealistic and archaic views about life. The fundamentalist schools claim to preach a message of good morals and values, yet the demeaning and often humiliating rules and regulations that teen girls are forced to follow at these facilities are anything but moral, and leave intense emotional scars. I feel a responsibility to speak out.
People have often asked me how these places can be legal. The answer is: many of them are not. The fate on whether these schools can operate without a license depends on the individual laws that are implemented in each state. There are a few other factors as well. The reality is when these facilities are permitted to operate without a license there is no accountability and no oversight. This is of particular concern since some of these places are guilty of numerous safety violations; have solitary confinement rooms, which are illegal; and some refuse to allow fire departments, social services and health inspectors to conduct safety inspections of the grounds. Furthermore, there have been documented deaths, and rape and abuse allegations are common. What parents see when they drop their kids off and the reality that occurs after they leave are different. Staff in these facilities are generally not paid well and do not have college degrees. Any health care professional will tell you that if you are dealing with teens in a locked down setting who have mental health issues you should have at least a master's degree in the field of mental health. When you have unqualified staff treating teens with issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, anorexia, sexual abuse and/or addiction, it is a cocktail for disaster. Parents deserve to know the truth about what goes on in these facilities.
In the pages of Reform at Victory, you'll meet the preacher, staff, other girls, and my parents (who were duped into thinking VCA was actually a loving place). You'll relive the experience with me from the moment I arrive, to the moment I leave. I hope you'll read it and then write to me to tell me what you think.
Please check the articles and links section of this web site for more information about the issues I've mentioned here. Thank you for visiting.
- Michele Ulriksen
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