Surviving Survival Camp
by Keri J.
I went to survival camp five years ago when I was sixteen. It was a three-week-long program in Idaho. My experience was definitely a negative one in most ways. The weird part was that I went voluntarily. I wasn't sent by my parents. I was under the impression that it was an outward bound type experience. When I called the school to ask them about the program, I told them about myself and asked if the program was appropriate for me and of course they said it was perfect.

Going into the program, I knew what my physical condition was going to be. I had to get a waiver signed by my doctor saying that I could physically handle hiking up to twelve hours a day and going for up to three days without food. I knew I'd be out there with nothing and that I might have to eat things like mice and snakes. I also knew I was going to be strip searched. I can't complain about those things because I knew about them before I went. My issues are with the way I was harassed and insulted and demeaned verbally and emotionally. I also take issue with this kind of treatment being "rehabilitative" in any way.

Throughout the time I was there they accused me of having eating disorders, throwing up on purpose after they forced me to drink a gallon of water in five minutes, lying, and being sexually promiscuous -- none of which were even close to being true.

The biggest problem with these programs is that they target kids as being the source of all the problems in society and in their homes. It doesn't even occur to them that violent and emotionally disturbed kids come from violent and emotionally disturbed parents. I, along with other kids in my group, were stopped numerous times in the middle of hikes to be lectured about how we were destroying our families, and how we were HURTING OUR PARENTS. I was told that I was lucky that I have parents who love me and care about me and would do anything for me and that when everyone else was gone it was going to be my family that was still there for me.

1) I'm adopted. 2) I was sexually molested by my adoptive father. 3) My adoptive mother has tried to kill my sister and may have tried to kill me. (I'm not sure.) I've listened to her talk to therapists about her desperation and how she didn't think any of us (her or my siblings) should be here and she was afraid of what she might do. I've sat before in the back seat of the car while she was in a rage, knowing that she was thinking how easy it would be just to drive into the middle of oncoming traffic. 4) My adoptive mother has tried to kill herself and spent six months in a mental institution when I was four. At that time I was left with my adoptive father (the one who was molesting me) as well as a babysitter who was also abusive. 5) I spent the rest of my childhood listening to her insult me. Threatening to put me into foster homes, telling me I'm a fuckup, fat, ugly, etc. Anything you can think of for hours every day.

My point is that it's kids with histories like mine who end up in survival camp programs. And if there is any "success rate" like they claim, I'm sure it only lasts until these kids have children of their own and repeat the cycle. And the counselors who run these programs are either sadistic and have the same sicknesses my parents have, or else they're incredibly, dangerously ignorant. Either way, they're obviously not qualified to deal with what a lot of these kids have been exposed to in their lives.

Also, at the end of the three weeks one of the counselors told me she thought I should be held back and be kept in the program longer because I hadn't "changed" enough, even though I was in the program by my own choice. That shows that they're operating by rote and not even thinking about what they are saying or doing.

Because I've had experiences that I feel to be much worse than the ones at survival camp, I don't feel like I was really traumatized by the experience. I'm resentful of it because it was so blatantly wrong, but I don't have flashbacks or anything. It just makes me think if Susan Smith hadn't drowned her two boys she might have sent them to one of these programs instead, years down the road. "Maybe if her kids had been better behaved she wouldn't have had to kill them." That's the mindset of the people running survival camps, which is pretty stupid.

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