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Inside a sadistic Christian 'troubled teen' program: Failed local mental health options spur 'tough-love' programs

Inside a sadistic Christian 'troubled teen' program: Failed local mental health options spur 'tough-love' programs

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Solid Rock Ministries in Mobile, Alabama. Three officials from the church’s program for troubled teens were convicted in January
Solid Rock Ministries in Mobile, Alabama. Three officials from the church’s program for troubled teens were convicted in January 2017 of aggravated child abuse. MOBILE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE

Shocking recent reports in Newsweek and on ABC News “20/20” expose brutal torture and abuse by now-convicted felons and at least one accused pastor targeting troubled teens — and gay youths singled out for “gay conversion” therapy.

As illustrated in a police complaint filed by now 17-year-old Lucas Greenfield, who escaped from a Christian boot camp, Pastor Gary Wiggins allegedly declared, “I’m going to get the demon out of you and make you straight.”

As I first reported recently in Newsweek, in an adaptation from my forthcoming book, Mental Health, Inc.: How Corruption, Lax Oversight, and Failed Reforms Endanger Our Most Vulnerable Citizens, Captain Charles Kennedy of the Prichard, Alabama police department fought a nearly five-year battle to close down and arrest the overseers of a program originally known as Restoration Youth Academy (RYA).

Newsweek, following the pioneering reporting of The Mobile Press-Register, reported:

As Kennedy investigated, he found that many of the school’s “cadets” were afraid to talk. But those who did left Kennedy with the impression that he had stumbled across something terrible. The boys, for instance, told him they were often grabbed out their beds in the middle of the night and forced to fight one another until one was beaten to a pulp. All of them were subjected to a brutal, daily regimen of exercises, sometimes stark naked—pushups, jumping jacks and running in place. Drill instructors, including Knott, frequently punched them, choked them and body-slammed them as they worked out. On his first day in the program, one boy claimed, Knott crouched down next to him, and, after yanking his head up by his hair, started pounding his skull against the floor while shouting, “You will exercise until I get tired!” Another told Kennedy he had been held upside down in shackles and hit with a belt, an allegation later supported by an eyewitness letter by another teen. (Newsweek either provided anonymity to the minors in the program or changed their names to protect their privacy, unless granted permission to quote such young victims as Lucas Greenfield.)

But he was thwarted by local and state child protective services and law enforcement agencies up through the then-Attorney General, now-U.S. Senator Luther Strange.

“These children are from out of state, and their parents don’t vote here, and I don’t want the churches mad at me,” Kennedy says Strange’s top investigator told him early in 2012 in regards to Strange’s views. (Strange disputed the the claim in a letter.)

Yet until there was a raid on the facility’s new location in nearby Mobile in 2015 and the program’s top three leaders were convicted on all counts of aggravated child abuse in January 2017, sentenced to 20 years each last month, nothing was done.

Kennedy’s feeling of triumph and vindication is tempered by the fact they got away with it for so long. “They all knew,” he says of the government agencies that ignored his pleas, “and they did nothing.”

You can read more here in The Huffington Post and Newsweek.

As  my book points out:

The chaotic and dangerously incompetent local mental health systems leaves families vulnerable both to the siren song of the snake-oil salesmen of the behavioral health care field—hucksters for poorly-regulated treatment facilities— and irresponsible overmedication. The key selling points for the antipsychotics that are prescribed off-label so recklessly are that they offer a relatively quick fix for difficult mental health problems, and they can rein in troublesome behaviors. An entire multi-billion dollar residential treatment industry has flourished offering a comparable set of illusory promises, while profiting off of the misery and suffering of all those mishandled by their communities’ outpatient programs. These inpatient-style treatment enterprises target emotionally troubled substance abusers and, especially, parents at their wit’s end dealing with difficult, misbehaving kids who are struggling in school and in their lives.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in one of the most common types of private programs marketed for errant youth: the largely unregulated religious schools marked by fundamentalist beliefs and often violently harsh discipline. Inspired in part by the programs of a fiery Baptist radio preacher, the late Lester Roloff, they have been periodically exposed for whippings, beatings and alleged rapes in media outlets including CNN, Mother Jones, The Daily Beast and The Tampa Bay Times.

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