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Programs in Alabama, Georgia & North Carolina

 

Also see: www.heal-online.org/threespgs.pdf for an admission of wrong-doing by Beverly Richard, Senior VP of Three Springs of Paint Rock Valley

 

 

Survivor Report #2:  Three Springs of Paint Rock Valley

By Jay (You may contact through jay@heal-online.org)

 

Everything in my statement is true. I give HEAL permission to use my statement.  I would like to start by saying that this is in no way reflective of the Three Springs program as a whole.  I transfered to Three Springs of North Carolina during my stay and was blessed to find a much more productive program.  While strict and tough, the North Carolina program was a true treament center and children should consider themselves lucky to be helped there.  The Paint Rock Valley program, however, is no more a treatment center than Alcatraz.  Make no mistake about it, Three Springs of Paint Rock Valley, Alabama is a prison. 

 

This starts by a client base that is well over 50% committed by the state and the court system.  Many were there as a stop between youth detention centers.  Many were waiting until they turned 18 to be transfered to a maximum security prison.  This meant that a confused or troubled 14 year old boy was incarcerated with a whole lot of hardened criminals by the wishes of his own family.  That itself is enough to drive a young mind to mild insanity, but there is so much more.

 

Now, I still see the value in the creative punishments.  For example, a runaway risk may have to hold the beltloop of a fellow group member wherever he goes.  This is mainly used as a humiliation tactic, which to be honest, tends to work.  The work detail, while vigorous, was pretty fair.  I still have a hard time understanding the starvation methods.  I found myself collapsing pretty regularly from dizzy spells caused by lack of nutrition.  Also, the counselors, in my days there, weren't very abusive themselves, even the ex military ones.  The ones that were became quickly reprimanded and were terminated.  As a whole, I think the front office had decent intentions, but it was after they went home for the night and the campus got quiet that things got scary. 

 

Even during the day sometimes, you could see a group "punishing" a trouble maker with a disturbing mob mentallity.  They would mix creative punishments (thought up by the group) and enforce them in bulk to the point where it was nothing more than torture.  Making someone run laps while following them and "aggressively re-enforcing" them, while a boot camp tactic, is hardly torture or abuse.  However, when you add shoving, tripping, tackling, and punching, it crosses the line.  I would watch the group surround someone and antagonize them physically until they tried to squirm out.  At this point, any movement by the person at all was considered "spazzing" and would require the group to restrain them.  Restraining meant that the entire group of about fifteen to twenty able bodied teenage boys, many of whom were lifelong criminals, would hold the perp down and sneak one punch after another, hold their face in the dirt so as to keep them from breathing, and inflict large amounts of pain.  Reports of sexual abuse were normal.  An attempt from a large group member who had a lot of respect in the group to assault me sexually ended in a physical confrontation (fight).  As a newer member, I was heavily reprimanded and called a liar.  I was put on "primitive campsite" restriction, which put me in the woods for a week by myself.  Again, a relatively creative punishment, but wrongly enforced.  Three months later, I was still denied letter writing privileges due to my "outburst".  Basically, they wanted to keep me quiet.  Luckily, I was blessed with a decent amount of smarts, so I was eventually able to manipulate my way into a respectable position and didn't suffer much abuse.  I'll never be able to forget what I saw done and did myself to those considered weaker.  Watching a child who hasn't even had time hit puberty being tortured to the brink of insanity sticks with you, believe me.  I hated being this way toward people, but it was truly a mob mentality, and if you weren't with the group, you were against them.  Thank goodness I was offered the chance to finish the last half of my two year term in the North Carolina program before I completely turned into an abusive, emotionless danger to society that I was beggining to become.  You either took the torture and hoped for some kind of outside salvation or you joined the group and hardened yourself like an inmate, killing off your innocence at 14-16 years old when you've never truly committed a crime in your life.

 

So, Three Springs is no different than any prison system.  The clients bully, beat, rape, and torture each other while the counselors turn a blind eye to it.  Assaults are kept quiet from the public.  Clients are starved, kept on work detail, and forced to basically join gangs to survive.  The front office assures the parents that their kids are making progress, so the parents sit comfortably without the distraction of little junior.  All the while, this innocent, potentially brillaint child is being stripped of his sanity and turned into a shell of a human being.  His mind will become so troubled, that his once bright future will be dampered by visions of violence and horror.  At this point, the best thing he can hope for is to keep his sanity enough to get by in life, constantly struggling and quite possibly battling drug or alcohol addiction with no empathy from his family who gave up on him when Three Springs didn't "help".

 

I am 31 years old and have been clean from a terrible heroin addiction for almost a year.  I can't keep a relationship together, including an attempt at marriage.  I can't hold a job or just be a good man.  My self confidence has been a problem since the TS experience.  Lately, I seem to be getting my life back together little by little.  I managed to muster a high school diploma and associates college degree and work on computers these days.  My father and stepmother, the ones who gave me that wonderful trip to Alabama, haven't spoken to me in a long time, I don't make them proud.  I am beginning to make myself proud, however.  I certainly don't blame TS for all my problems, most of them stemmed from poor decision making on my part, but the trauma never left my head.  I shut it out for years, but now that I'm out of a drug haze and ready to face my demons, I feel like I can talk about this.  This was a very vague description, it just gives an idea.  Thank you for reading.

 

Jay

 

SURVIVOR REPORT #3

Deleted…  Survivor was coerced to remove report by outside forces.  HEAL would like to take this opportunity to tell all parents and programs, You have no right to squash a person's free speech regardless of their age or your relation to them.  By doing so, you are a hypocrite, unconscionable, and prove yourself to be an unfit human being.  HEAL supports free speech and supports survivors.  We will help all survivors get legal remedy when they reach majority.  Parents and programs have been held equally liable in lawsuits.  Keep that in mind when you choose to deny your child his/her experiences, thoughts, and feelings.  It can, and likely will, come back to bite you!

 

SURVIVOR REPORT #4

By Anonymous (Contact Through HEAL at info@heal-online.org)

 

Everything in my statement is true. I give HEAL permission to use my statement." This Happened while i was at THREE SPRINGS of BLUE RIDGE, GEORGIA In October 2004, i was struck in the face by a male Counselor very hard just because i refused to get out of bed one morning i told one of the other staff what happened and they did not believe me and I got in trouble just for telling on a counselor i was abused but that's 3 springs for you there just lucky my dad did not SUE the shit out of them to if anybody's interested i will give names of the counselor that did this to me and other things i saw cause it was a very bad place now I'm still struggling with my drug problem with CRYSTAL METH i mean the whole reason i was sent there was because of my drug using which has gotten worse and 3 springs did not help me at all i did not receive one bit of ADDICTION Therapy...

 

 

FORMER EMPLOYEE REPORT #

 

Please keep me Anonymous.

Everything in my statement is true. I give HEAL permission to use my statement. The following is a true statement of my experience at Three Springs as an EX-Counselor for their Georgia Girls program.  The programs in Georgia, both for girls and boys, have been shut down by Three Springs due to withdrawal of state funding for the programs in 2006.  Other Three Springs programs remain open and are equally as abusive and dangerous as the ones in Georgia.  The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) funded the Georgia programs.  Other Three Springs programs are privately owned and operated.

 

All the children who attended the Georgia programs were legally in the custody of the state for a period of 2 years. Three Springs had two separate programs, Short Term and Long Term.  The Short Term program was dubbed the “emergency shelter”.  This program usually lasted between 1 and 90 days and usually had residents who were awaiting placement in a Long Term program either at Three Springs or elsewhere in the state.  A small percentage of the residents who attended the Short Term program were actually sentenced for a period of 60-90 days in confinement.  We were used to alleviate the overcrowding in Youth Detention Centers (YDC).  The Long Term program was usually 6 months to 2 years, with the average stay being 1.5 years.  The Long Term program had different expectations of residents than the Short Term program but similar goals for rehabilitation.  Average group size of the Short Term program was 10-15 residents and of the Long Term program 8-12 residents.  Typical number of counselors on duty in the Short Term program was 2 at a time with occasional days of 1 counselor on duty at a time.  The Long Term program found counselors alone with the residents most of the time with occasional days of 2 counselors at a time.  Most of the girls were in the programs due to truancy from school, stealing, drug, and alcohol use.  The age range was 11-18 yrs old.

 

I worked for Three Springs from May of 2004 to September 2004.  Initially I was taken in by their website.  It was appealing and looked to be a good program.  I agreed to relocate and work for them after college graduation.  I did not know it would be emotionally and psychologically as well as physically damaging.

 

I worked for the Georgia Girls in their Short Term program.  Training lasted 1-2 weeks (I really don’t remember much as I’ve blocked most of it out.)  During training, we were taught how to de-escalate a situation and restrain residents.  As counselors, we were required to stay overnight on campus during the length of our shifts.  Our shifts usually lasted from 2-4 days with some exceptions being 5 days or more.  The days began at 5:45am and ended whenever the residents would decide to quiet down and go to sleep, usually anywhere from 10:30pm until 1:00am on some nights.  Average amount of sleep obtained on any given shift after paperwork was done every night was approximately 2-3 hours.  Counselors were not allowed breaks during the day and had to be with their group of residents at all times.  Calls for supervisors to relieve counselors for short bathroom/sanity breaks often went unheeded. 

 

The everyday schedule included meals, school, therapy, vocational, and recreational time.  The meals consisted of pre-packaged easy to prepare things like hamburger helper, tuna helper, or other simple foods.  Usually calories were high to meet the state standards, but the quality of the food was poor with very little fresh vegetables and fruit to supplement the diets of the residents.  Counselors were expected to cook for the residents.  Occasionally residents earned the right to cook for the group, but that was rare.  Qualified teachers did school on campus.  It was mostly an independent study and the residents were expected to complete material on their own.  The supervisors or counselors, most of whom did not have psychology degrees, usually oversaw therapy.  Actual face time with a qualified psychiatrist averaged 30 minutes per month and it was usually an adjustment of the medications residents were placed on.  Therapy at Three Springs usually consisted of watching a couple movies (28 days and some Lifetime movie on rape) and discussing the movies.  Vocational time was where a majority of the focus was spent.  “Voc time” as it was called by many of the counselors usually consisted of manual labor done by the residents and counselors.  Mowing lawns, picking up trash, cleaning the cabins, weeding, and raking were just a few of the activities performed by residents.  Counselors typically supervised and assisted occasionally.  Recreational time was usually limited to 30 minutes to an hour and was a sport such as basketball or kickball, although most of the time our time was limited.   Most of the time, the recreational activity was an exercise tape that played while the counselor supervised and made a meal, usually lunch or dinner. 

 

Some of the common interventions included:

 

Run Risk:  A consequence and intervention implemented when a resident decided to make a break for it and run.  Usually involved wearing an orange reflective construction vest and remaining within 10 feet of staff at all times.  On rare occasions, or when there were no more vests available, the resident would be required to wear an orange prison jumpsuit.  Due to the nature of the jumpsuit, the resident was denied pants or shorts during the period of time they dressed in the jumpsuit.  The jumpsuit was usually only worn by the highest risk offender (any resident who had been on run risk and had decided to take off a second time).  Usually if they were placed in the jumpsuit, they would also have to be on “Contact Buddy.”

 

Contact Buddy:  A popular intervention that included the resident wearing the orange jumpsuit.  The resident would be denied their privilege of free movement.  They, or a piece of their clothing that was attached to their bodies, had to be held by staff at all times.  This was usually implemented with staff holding the tee-shirt the resident wore at all times.

 

Suicide Precaution:  A safety measure taken for when residents are threatening to harm themselves or others.  Bathroom protocol included making them strip to their underwear, making them keep one hand visible to staff at all times, and the resident having to sing or keep talking to ensure the resident wasn’t doing something that would harm themselves.  This procedure was done in front of another resident for safety of the counselor on duty.  The resident on suicide precaution would also have to run their fingers under their undergarments in order to ensure nothing had been hidden there.  During showers, the residents on suicide precaution had to shower with a counselor watching.  The shower curtain covered them, but the middle loops had been taken down so the counselor could observe their face and neck while in the shower.  The counselor also had to hand the resident their soap and shampoo.

 

Many of the residents admitted to the Three Springs program were violent and aggressive towards counselors and each other.  I left Three Springs shifts with bruises on my arms from attempting to restrain a resident due to violent outbursts.  The residents had threatened me.  There were days where I had to continually watch my back. 

 

The administration of the facility was equally as unresponsive.  The administration refused to look out for the safety and health of ANY of the counselors employed at the facility. Most of the feedback given to counselors was in the form of negative criticism with the threat of termination.  The administration also failed to look at possible alternatives for poor program performance.   When I went to them with concerns and solutions, I was shot down with “We can’t do that because” or “That’s not a good idea because”.

 

A fellow counselor for the Long Term program had been beaten up by one of the residents.  The resident kicked, punched, hit, and bit her. The resident also used a broomstick or metal pole to strike the counselor.  The counselor had to be removed by other counselors and she promptly fell into unconsciousness.  The administration refused to let her go to the hospital and she had to continue working her entire shift.

 

Prior to my employment, there had been a riot at the school on campus.  It resulted in a cabin getting shut down and residents shuffling to other cabins as well as leaving the facility.  It ended up overburdening counselors and overcrowding cabin rooms.

 

There were other things that occurred too.  A counselor locked herself in the bathroom because she didn’t want to be with the residents. She was scared to be with them. She was having panic attacks due to the stress of the job and being around the children.  Additionally, two counselors walked out mid-shift. Both counselors walked out while I worked at the facility. 

 

I once sat for 26 hours with 2 kids refusing to do anything with no instructions on how to deal with them and approximately 4 – 5 minute bathroom breaks.  I did receive a break when night staff came in to watch the residents overnight, but the next morning, I was right back in the same room.

After being employed for one month, I began having panic attacks.  They progressively worsened and I ended up crying for 6-8 hours at a time. I could not bring myself to stop crying at times. When I would get it under control, I would be good for about 1 or 2 hours then go back to crying. I couldn’t mentally function or physically bring myself to function.  I was so tired and exhausted mentally and physically that eventually I just shut myself off from everything and everyone. I became a zombie. The stress finally got to me and I quit September 10th 2004 and it’s a decision I DO NOT regret.  I am ashamed that I worked for a place such as Three Springs and allowed my safety and common sense to be overruled for so long.

If you would like to submit your statement regarding Three Springs, click here.

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