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Breaking Point
  • Boot Camps Take On Rebellious Teens
  • Are They Abused?
  • 'It Doesn't Work For Everyone'

Wednesday, September 15,1999 - 01:27 PM ET
Sergio Alva: still haunted by his experience
(CBS) What would you do? Your child is failing school, taking drugs or running away for months at a time? Some parents are responding by taking drastic action, and sending their teen-agers away for months, sometimes years, to special rehabilitation schools.

CBS News 48 Hours takes a look at several of these programs, updating a show that first appeared last October.

The most remote of these schools is Paradise Cove, in American Samoa; others are in Montana, Utah and Jamaica. Paradise Cove is one of several schools worldwide that receive students through an umbrella organization in Utah called Worldwide Association of Specialty Programs.

These behavior modification schools, which cost $30,000 to $42,000 a year, operate almost like boot camps, and students must conform to a strict schedule of chores, exercise and studying.

While Paradise Cove sounds like a Club Med resort, some former students said it's anything but bliss. One of them, Sergio Alva, claimed he was once hog-tied for two days as punishment for trying to run away.

"They tell you to lay down on your stomach and put your hands behind your back," said Alva. "And they handcuff your hands or duct tape them.…And then they'll put shackles around your feet and connect your feet and hands together behind your back."

Brian Viafauna, owner and director of Paradise Cove, said that the former students' claims are exaggerated or are outright lies.

And then there's the "Observation Room," a dark, tiny closetlike space where students were locked up for as long as two days, they said. Several Paradise Cove students also complained about the sanitary conditions at the school, and said they have developed ringworm, scabies and lice.

Viafauna insisted Paradise Cove promotes health.

Furthermore, although some of the students at Paradise Cove suffer from psychiatric problems, the school has no licensed therapists.

A psychiatrist visits the school once every six weeks and prescribes medication, which, Alva said, is doled out without much thought: "I didn't even talk to [the psychiatrist] the first time. He looked through some papers and he said, 'Well, we're going to put you on Ritalin'."

Viafauna, though, claimed that when children leave the program, they are usually off medication.

And where does all that tuition go? At Paradise Cove, the students live in simple huts, sleep on thatched mats, eat simple food and learn by teaching themselves. There are no American-certified teachers, only tutors and teachers to assist them.

Viafauna, the director, doesn't go into detail, but said that "it's expensive to run a business."

Eddie Bueno: getting in touch with who you are
But many students - even some of those who complain about being mistreated - believe they have benefited from the program. Eddie Bueno, who spent almost two years combined at Paradise Cove in Samoa and Spring Creek Lodge in Montana, said, "They help you get in touch with who you are, like get rid of all your emotional baggage."

Some worry that the schools will brainwash their charges. Psychiatrist Gary Glass said the programs can damage certain children, especially those with serious psychological problems. Simply modifying their behavior may not be the answer, he said.

"While you can modify the child's behavior and structure the behavior, for many of these people, by breaking their spirit, you're going to create an incredible sense of anger and resentment that may not come out for many years," he said.

Kyrsten Bean's parents feared she was being brainwashed.
Kyrsten Bean's parents were worried about just this kind of problem. They actually removed her from a behavior modification school in Jamaica called Tranquility Bay, because they were worried she was being brainwashed.

Bean, an alcoholic before she attended the school, said she had a good experience, though.

"Since I've been home I've accomplished a lot. It definitely worked for me," she said. But, she said, "It doesn't work for everybody. It's not like one size fits all."

Since the program "Breaking Point" was first broadcast in October 1998, the lives of several of those profiled have changed.

Bueno is living in his native San Francisco, drug-free, and working in an auto body shop.

Bean is in her second year of college. Her parents are cautiously optimistic after taking her out of the Jamaica program a year and a half ago.

Alva said that he is still haunted by his experiences on Samoa. "I'll wake up sometimes sweating and crying and stuff," he said. He plans to file a lawsuit against the Samoa program.

Another former student, Stanley Goold, has already filed suit, charging abuse.

The company that oversees the schools, Worldwide Association of Specialty Programs, denied the charges, and said that it has found that more than half the parents whose children completed the program rated their children's progress as "excellent."

The State Department recently advised parents to personally visit schools before enrolling their children.

Email us: Do you know a great story that you think 48 Hours should cover? Let us know. Or just tell us what you thought of this week's show and site.
Produced by David Kohn; Copyright 1999, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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"While you can modify the child's behavior and structure the behavior, for many of these people, by breaking their spirit, you're going to create an incredible sense of anger and resentment."
psychiatrist Gary Glass

Sergio Alva tells Erin Moriarty about his experiences at Paradise Cove.