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Current Events & Hot Topics Current Events & Hot Topics

Brutal offshore Christian reform school exposed in new documentary

Posted by on Dec. 14, 2013 at 12:58 PM
  • 79 Replies


By David FergusonFriday, December 13, 2013 12:11 EST

Deirde Sugiuchi 1990 Escuela Caribe

“Kidnapped for Christ” is a new documentary that tells the story of teenagers sent to an evangelical Christian boarding school outside the U.S. where school personnel attempt to rid them of feelings of same sex attraction or other “ungodly” influences.

“They mess your mind up,” said former student Deirdre Sugiuchi to Raw Story. “Prisoners have more freedom than we had.”

The “school” is Escuela Caribe, an evangelical Christian reform school that is run like a prison camp by an organization called New Horizons Youth Ministries.

Many of the students are the children of Christian parents who believe their sons and daughters’ nascent feelings of same sex attraction can be eliminated by the school’s program of Bible study, brutally hard work, exercise and physical punishment to break the students down.

Other students, like Sugiuchi, were the children of well-to-do evangelicals who were just being normal teens.

“My parents were fundamentalist Christians,” she said, “and they didn’t like the way I was turning out.”

So, at 15, Sugiuchi was sent to school in the Dominican Republic at Escuela Caribe. There were only about 40 students at the school at any given time, she said, and from the moment students arrive they are placed on a stringent system of punishments and rewards.

Students were broken down into levels, with lower level students forbidden from speaking or even looking at higher level students.

“When you start at zero level, you then had rules about who you could look at,” she explained. “You couldn’t talk to members of the opposite sex until you were on second level and you had to fulfill a wide variety of requirements to move up.”

“At zero level, you’d have to be three feet away from a staff member or a supervisor at all times. You had to ask to go from room to room. It was insane,” she said. “Prisoners actually have more freedom than we had.”

Sleep deprived and worked to exhaustion, the students are fed on a diet of “sugar and fat,” Sugiuchi said. “It was in no way adequate to the amount of manual labor we were doing. We weren’t getting the nutrients we needed.”

While only one student is known to have died at Escuela Caribe in a flash flood, Sugiuchi said that school officials pushed the students to the very brink of their physical endurance in order to make them more malleable and open to what she called a program of straightforward “brainwashing.”

“They mess your mind up,” she said. “The whole time I was down there I thought, ‘This is all going to be for the good, I must be living through this for something,’ but instead I came out incredibly traumatized.”

“People get sent off to these places and it ruins them,” she said. “I’m lucky. A lot of my friends have serious drug problems, broken relationships, broken lives, suicides, you name it.”

Treatment of the kids at Escuela Caribe often hinged on the moods and caprices of staffers, she said, so it would be hard to say who had it the worst at the school. LGBT students, however, were consistently singled out for abuse.

“That’s the thing,” she said, “the kids that were gay, most of the time they were picked on, and always kept on lower levels.”

Sugiuchi is currently working on a book, Unreformed, about her experience at Escuela Caribe. The film “Kidnapped for Christ” is premiering at the next Sundance Film Festival. She hopes to raise awareness of these programs, which have deep ties to groups like Focus on the Family — who referred her parents to New Horizons Youth Ministries — and the Republican Party.

“If you follow the money, you’ll see that the Republicans are so, so in bed with these people,” she said. The Romney family contributes heavily to the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP), an umbrella organization for evangelical reform schools like Escuela Caribe — which was briefly closed down, then reopened under the name Crosswinds — and their Mormon equivalents.

Someday, she said, she hopes to see legislation against people sending their children to these types of schools, “but the legislation always gets stalled,” she said.

Watch the trailer for “Kidnapped for Christ,” embedded below:


David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
by on Dec. 14, 2013 at 12:58 PM
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Replies (1-10):
.Bubbles.
by Silver Member on Dec. 14, 2013 at 1:11 PM
This is horrifying. How can anyone believe this is what is best for their child?
..MoonShine..
by Redwood Witch on Dec. 14, 2013 at 1:16 PM
1 mom liked this
Because a book tells them so.

I try very hard to be respectful of other's beliefs, but this just makes me so so angry...

I don't think I have anything more constructive or kind to say right now.


Quoting .Bubbles.: This is horrifying. How can anyone believe this is what is best for their child?
ashleighmama
by Member on Dec. 14, 2013 at 1:18 PM

I was in a school, a therapeutic boarding school, in Utah when I was 17. Though it was nothing as bad as this, it was still bad. I still have nightmares about it and I'm 41 now.

AlekD
by Gold Member on Dec. 14, 2013 at 1:22 PM
1 mom liked this

I don't know how a parent could put their child through something like this.

MeAndTommyLee
by Gold Member on Dec. 14, 2013 at 1:41 PM
5 moms liked this

Cultish, oppressive, mental/physical abuse tactics in any faith are dangerous and wrong.  I noticed the deliberate parallel betweens Christians and Republicans mentioned in this piece more than once.  Leading a reader to believe that you can't have one without the other is bullshit.  I'm a Catholic democrat.  The abuse of these children is not indicative of all people of faith and I'm tired of it being implied that it is.  

GrettieMeh
by Bronze Member on Dec. 14, 2013 at 2:03 PM
3 moms liked this


Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

Cultish, oppressive, mental/physical abuse tactics in any faith are dangerous and wrong.  I noticed the deliberate parallel betweens Christians and Republicans mentioned in this piece more than once.  Leading a reader to believe that you can't have one without the other is bullshit.  I'm a Catholic democrat.  The abuse of these children is not indicative of all people of faith and I'm tired of it being implied that it is.  

Agreed.  But I took it as indicative of the funding.  If the info presented about who is funding them is true, that doesn't paint an entire group bad for me.  I'm more smh and stunned at the parents that would do this to their child.

AdrianneHill
by Platinum Member on Dec. 14, 2013 at 2:29 PM
Dh said one of his nieces was sent to one of those places as a huge "screw you" to the niece's dad because of a nasty divorce. The entire family had to pool hundreds of thousands of dollars to get that kid out of that place. It took a month to get it to family court and family court sent a guardian at litem to Argentina or some other south American country to see if the claims of abuse had merit. The layer showed up at the school unannounced and spazzed when she saw what was going on. The niece was taken out of the school immediately and the entire school was shut down within a month.
The mother was dhs aunt so she still holds a grudge against her own side of the family because they took the father's side over hers and helped pay to get the girl out of there. The mother felt betrayed that they could think anything she would do as a good Christian could be effectively questioned by her loser ex husband and that her own mother gave money to hire a lawyer for the sole purpose of undermining her. That's the reason the mom gives anyway. Been almost ten years and she refuses to accept any blame for that.
Dh said whenever people tried to talk about the situation, the mother could only harp that the school cost her a hundred thousand dollars and that it was for her daughter's own good. Because it was all a vast conspiracy to make her look bad by the ex husband and drive a wedge between herself and her daughter. Yeah, the niece didn't have much nice to say to mom for a couple of years especially since mom said that the school wasn't that bad, the girl wad a known manipulative brat who didn't want to be helped.
So glad I haven't met that woman, she doesn't speak to anyone on that side of the family anymore and I'm sure that is a tragic loss (eyeroll).
"The place couldn't have been that bad! They were good Christians!" Yeah, shut up moron. And other good Christians shut that place down.
EmmeBee
by on Dec. 14, 2013 at 2:33 PM

I think I read an auto-bio about this called "JesusLand" about two kids sent off to a place just like this.  The boy was adopted and the parents just didn't like him, and the girl had been raped so the parents thought she was slutty. 

TranquilMind
by Platinum Member on Dec. 14, 2013 at 3:39 PM
2 moms liked this
You can't seriously think you just read a factual piece, can you?

Having never heard of such a school, despite lifelong Christian affiliation, I would say we need more evidence than the word of one 15 year old who did not like it there, assuming it exists and anything she said is true. And since parents RARELY send kids away and almost never for "not liking how they are turning out", I would also need to hear from her parents what she actually did to merit such a drastic outcome.


Quoting .Bubbles.: This is horrifying. How can anyone believe this is what is best for their child?
TranquilMind
by Platinum Member on Dec. 14, 2013 at 3:41 PM
2 moms liked this
Glad someone else sees this ridiculous and tired tactic.

Quoting GrettieMeh:


Quoting MeAndTommyLee:

Cultish, oppressive, mental/physical abuse tactics in any faith are dangerous and wrong.  I noticed the deliberate parallel betweens Christians and Republicans mentioned in this piece more than once.  Leading a reader to believe that you can't have one without the other is bullshit.  I'm a Catholic democrat.  The abuse of these children is not indicative of all people of faith and I'm tired of it being implied that it is.  

Agreed.  But I took it as indicative of the funding.  If the info presented about who is funding them is true, that doesn't paint an entire group bad for me.  I'm more smh and stunned at the parents that would do this to their child.

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