The Dam Breaks

In 2015, someone I had reconnected with on Facebook, my “big sister” from Phoenix House added me to an online group of adults who, as adolescents, had been residents of the same facility I experienced. The catalyst for the creation of this book was the news of the closure of our our Phoenix House program for findings by San Diego County of sexual abuse of a resident by a member of their staff, another staff member providing pornography to adolescent residents and violent fights involving upwards of 20 residents at a time and resulting in major injuries. It was upon reading this news and the subsequent reminiscent discussions between members of the newly-formed social media discussion space that I was faced with my past in living color and the fact that I was not surprised by any of the findings in this article hit me like a ton of bricks.

For the next couple of years, unbeknownst to me, I carried the guilt of the two decades of victims of this program since I was there. I knew rationally that I wasn’t to blame for the abuse of anyone who encountered that program since I was there. The thorough brainwashing that I had from the cult experience of Phoenix House had forced me to tell myself for all of those years, like a mantra “but they saved my life” and “but I’m better off for having been there, aren’t I?” like a mantra and the door to my past had been slammed shut years ago. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like if I had understood the emotional and deep psychological damage created by my experiences there and later my excommunication, my casting out of by “family”, perhaps I would have felt compelled to start thinking about it, talking about it, seeking professional therapeutic help about it and writing about it sooner. Still, better late than never. If one survivor of Phoenix House or any other abusive “troubled teen” program hears that they are not “crazy”, that they WERE abused and victimized and that their problems that may have resulted are not their fault, it is worth every bit of the ripping open of this wound that has been part of my necessary path to healing.

In 2015, the same year that Phoenix House closed the Descanso, California facility before the State of California forced the closure, they also quietly closed the rest of their adolescent inpatient facilities, but are still providing care in an outpatient setting to children. Many of their adult facilities remain open and are expanding.

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