Thank you, Kathleen B Cook, Ph.D., BCBA-D Associate Professor, Special Education at the Sharon Lust School of Education at Augustana University, and students for allowing me to come to speak with your class and share my book and experiences with you.
Here are some wonderful emails I received from some of the students.
Thank you again and I wish you and your family all the best!
Kari Blog Wilderness 11/5/21
***This is my account of how Lauren and our family related to Wilderness. This is my experience, not everyones experience. ***
I was at a parent’s weekend at “Wilderness” and was visiting with other parents. Many of the other girls were sent to Wilderness out of the shoot (from home before they went to an RTC (Residential Treatment Center). Wilderness Therapy is great; trees, birds, fresh air, and exercise, who wouldn’t thrive in that environment. Then I heard about 5-mile hikes up and down a mountain, the poop bucket, cows in the kitchen, standing on bags during a lightning storm. and bleaching water to kill bacteria because it was taken out of a pond. Showers once a week and stopping at base to get your weeks rations. My eyeballs were saucers. What the hell?
What is Wilderness Therapy?
I had never heard of this until Lauren was at her first RTC. Many of the girls come from Wilderness (as they call it ), as their first journey through the system. Parents will decide that a child needs treatment and as they are looking either on their own or with an education consultant, they are persuaded to go the Wilderness route as a start.
Wilderness therapy is a means of getting the girls in a situation that takes them away from social media, make-up, the right outfit or shoes, their phone, their besties or boyfriends, bullying, abuse, or being around unhealthy people.
We however discovered Wilderness after Lauren was at an RTC for 13 months. She had come home and all was well, then like many other teens, the wheels fell off. We decided on Wilderness as we were desperately trying to 1. Keep Lauren safe; 2. Keep her in school; 3. To help us figure out how to help her and her emotional outbursts.
Off we go to Salt Lake City, UT. Wilderness is an expensive route, upwards of 10-12K a month. Some but not many insurance companies will pay a small percentage. There is a giant warehouse full of really awesome gear. Lauren received a hiking backpack, hiking boots, clothing including rain gear, socks, underwear, bras, t-shirts, pants, jackets for warmer weather or winter gear. A few toiletries, items for cooking and living for her pack, sleeping bag, tarp, nets, smaller day packs, and more. NO pillow, No personal items, No phone, none of their own food, No make-up, and No face wash. (There are more items included in their pack that I have forgotten to add)
There are about 6 girls in a group. 2-3 leaders/counselors in each group. Packs weigh about 80lbs. Everything they own and will need to survive for 12 weeks is in that pack. The girls become very responsible and resourceful. They learn to lean on each other for help. The leaders/counselors are also carrying a pack etc.
We went to parent weekend after about 6 weeks. I was astonished. The girls shower once a week at base camp. That is usually the only time ( at least Lauren) that the hair was brushed. So we were looking at some dreadlocks in the making. (Also, there is a thing called perma-dirt. I had no idea what this was but you get dirt under your skin, and it doesn’t wash off. It is not harmful, many people who are outside in the wilderness or fields, etc get perma-dirt.)
They get weekly rations of food. Good food and enough food, many calories as they are expending a great number of calories.
Feet checks, the staff does feet checks 3 times per day to make sure there are no hot spots on the feet. ( FYI-They have amazing gear that is very high quality.)
They have what is called a poop bucket. This was probably the most unreal topic I could not wrap my head around. When they poop, they pick it up in baggies as they can’t leave waste lying around. They put the baggies in a bucket of sorts and have to take turns carrying the “poop bucket”.
Food is cooked entirely on your own. You pull food from your rations. Lauren can start a burner and cook an entire meal outside with her supplies in her pack.
When it thunders at 3 am (there is no radio) the girls scramble to their feet to get the tarps up, or they get wet. Natural consequences.
When it’s lightning, they are taught to crouch down on their packs as to not get electrocuted.
Hanging food from trees to keep it from animals. If an animal gets into your food ration you have to throw it out, not knowing what germs might be in the eaten food.
Coming across wildlife or farm animals, you learn quickly not to piss off a bull.
Getting to do your solo was the big deal. 2 days on your own completely, away from the group. (the counselor was actually about 20 feet away, so they were not entirely alone) The girls had to find food, sleep alone, entertain themselves, and learn to become self-sufficient.
These are hilarious scenarios, we still laugh about them today. Lauren had a love-hate relationship with Wilderness.
She thinks of it fondly as she “made it” through Wilderness.
I admit, I had no idea how the mental health system worked until Lauren needed assistance and resources. I’m here to tell you, that after living the past 21 yrs with a child that suffers from mental illness, these systems need some change.
Lauren struggled in school. She has had 9 school placements in 12 yrs. 7 of those schools she was asked to leave as they didn’t have the resources to support her. Everyone kept telling us, Lauren needs to be in school. We were so fixated on what the school and Laws wanted from us that we didn’t stop and look at the bigger picture. After many trials at multiple schools in SD, we realized SD didn’t have a program to support her. So we sent Lauren to a Therapeutic boarding school out of state.
After about 8 months at the last school, she was at, we finally started to see the abuse she was being exposed to. So of course we “pulled” her from this school. We were not seeing any improvement, We were now seeing regression.
But at this point, We were overwhelmed by fear and apprehension of her coming home. From the RTC placements, Lauren was traumatized, scared, and lost. When Lauren came home, she was afraid of everything. She wasn’t sleeping at night, she had nightmare after nightmare, She was terrified that we were going to send her away again.
That breaks my heart as a mom. Jared and I did the best we could …with what we knew… at the time. We were so worried about her not being in school. We really thought we were doing the right thing. We were following direction from the mental health professional that we hired to help us. (Education Consultant $3000.00)
Lauren was extremely depressed and moody. She was so lonely. She would not leave my side. She would follow me around the house. She wanted to sleep in our room, on our floor in a sleeping bag. I would run errands, she may come along, but I didn’t know what or when something would trigger her anxiety…a person, a smell, or a sound? Nobody knew what her mood was going to be hr. to hr. and day to day. Lauren didn’t even know.
Lauren was struggling. Our family was struggling. There was constant stress in anticipation of what was next.
I was sad when I saw that Paris Hilton had been through this same trauma. I saw that she was speaking out, to get a Federal Level Reform.
As a parent, I am in a different situation than she was. As a parent I was also traumatized when I realized my daughter was being abused, isolated in solitary confinement for days on end, food was withheld. We were never informed and lied to when we asked specific questions. They used us for punishment, by withholding our visits and phone calls as punishment. I knew something was off, but everyone kept saying “ride the wave” It gets worse before it gets better.
Nope. Nope it does not get better.
Our family is in therapy weekly. Lauren, Megan and I have done EMDR ( trauma therapy), We also all see our own therapists weekly.
The whole family is affected by the abuse from this particular RTC.