Friday, July 04, 2003

The Observer has a two-part report (here and here) on Tranquility Bay, a "behavior-modification center" for rich kids who misbehave, some in minor ways. One student, a Lindsay Cohen, is described as "[a] straight-A high-school graduate, ... heading for Harvard until an unsuitable choice of boyfriend had her sent here at the age of 17." But the parents have higher expectations:

... striking is the assumption parents make of entitlement to their child's affection, as though this is a legal right. 'She's a neat kid, she really is,' a former student's mother says. 'She just didn't like us.' But now, 'I don't believe she's lying to me any more, and that's a neat feeling.'

Messy divorce and remarriage are the norm among these parents. Their expectations of loyalty from their children, though, suggest a gilt-edged ideal of American family life so brittle any rebellion or defiance is literally terrifying. This culture then creates its own logic - for once adolescence is criminalised, Tranquility becomes the obvious solution.

The regimentation is brutal:

When most children first arrive they find it difficult to believe that they have no alternative but to submit. In shock, frightened and angry, many simply refuse to obey. This is when they discover the alternative. Guards take them (if necessary by force) to a small bare room and make them (again by force if necessary) lie flat on their face, arms by their sides, on the tiled floor. Watched by a guard, they must remain lying face down, forbidden to speak or move a muscle except for 10 minutes every hour, when they may sit up and stretch before resuming the position. Modest meals are brought to them, and at night they sleep on the floor of the corridor outside under electric light and the gaze of a guard. At dawn they resume the position.

This is known officially as being 'in OP' - Observation Placement - and more casually as 'lying on your face'. Any level student can be sent to OP, and it automatically demotes them to level 1 and zero points. Every 24 hours, students in OP are reviewed by staff, and only sincere and unconditional contrition will earn their release. If they are unrepentant? 'Well, they get another 24 hours.'

One boy told me he'd spent six months in OP.

I didn't think this could be true, but it transpired this was not even exceptional. 'Oh no,' says Kay. 'The record is actually held by a female.' On and off, she spent 18 months lying on her face.

But the results are as desired:

Jim Mozingo got the result he wanted. Twenty months after sending his son Josh away, he arrived from North Carolina to collect him. ...

'He was real disrespectful to his mom,' Mozingo sighs. 'Not to me. Never to Daddy. He lived with his mom until a year-and-a-half before he came here, and I knew the day would come when she would call me and say, "I can't handle it."'

But Mozingo had baby twin sons with his new wife, and Josh was a disruptive addition to the household. 'I knew I had to do something. I didn't want to lose him. I would do anything for him, that's why I sent him here. We tried therapy at home, but you know.' He laughs conspiratorially. 'God love 'em, we've got to have therapists, I guess. But I come from a class where if you've got a problem, well hell, you just work it out. Josh just needed to get his head on straight. And he has.

'Sure, he complained like hell at first,' he recalls fondly. 'Typical case of manipulation, just like they said in the handbook. He said the staff were mean and violent, they beat you, the food is terrible.' He chuckles, pleased by the neat symmetry of the handbook and letters. While he is talking, Josh hovers nearby, with bright eyes that dance longingly on his father's face. It took Josh a whole year to reach level 2, some of it spent in OP, but his father feels only awestruck gratitude for the treatment his son has received.

And as for the kids, they all wind up brainwashed into believing that they literally would have died without the program. Or they don't leave.

Lets you know what some people might be running from...

(via BoingBoing)


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