Treatment Abuse, Behavior Modification, Thought Reform > Mission Mountain School

Blaire Webbe RIP

<< < (7/8) > >>

Hye Liz- since you mentioned Foucalt I thought I would post this paper I wrote recently.  In the interst of keeping things concise and shoretnening the paper I switched around a few punishments/'consequences' and described them to be all in the beggining, but everythign actually happened over the course of a few months.

                        Kathryn Whitehead
                        September 18, 2005
                        Professor Petchesky

?Welcome to Montana, it?s your lucky day.  You may not know this now, but this is the first day of the rest of your life.? said to me a big burly man named Mike.  This greeting, I would come to find out later, was reserved to virtually all the new students who were escorted there, or who arrived voluntarily with their parents.  I had come there voluntarily after a suicide attempt with the understanding that I was getting the help I needed. I was wrong.
With a brief introductory group led by the headmaster, John, I would come to later find out had only a masters in ecology, each girl sitting in the circle gave a long list of issues that brought her there, namely drug abuse and sexual abuse- many expressing emphatically their gratitude at being given a second chance by the school for they otherwise surely would have died or ended up in jail.  I noticed they all used their words uniformly, as if reading from a script. Shortly after group ended, I was allowed to walk my mom to the door of the lodge, but no further. I did this as stoically as possible.  She left me that day in a state of sheer terror at what I sensed was not quite what I had in mind when I hoped for help.  
Once she was gone, I could barely contain my stoic posturing.  I did not understand the rules of my new home, but quickly discovered it was an environment unlike any other I had ever experienced.  I asked the headmaster, John Mercer, when I could call my mom and suggested I felt that maybe I was not in the right place.  I have never done drugs as was pretty sure I had not drunk enough to be an alcoholic yet ? I thought my problems to be far more complicated.  He shook his head and smiled knowingly, explaining that until I was able to ?get honest? with myself about why and stop resisting being there, which would probably take at least several months, I would not be allowed to speak to my parents so as to prevent manipulation.  He then told a girl to show me to my new room.  
Decidedly, this was a hierarchal model of power and, I was soon to realize, one that heavily relied on the role of the other students.   The girl explained that she would be my ?chore partner?, with whom I would do daily chores, rotating cleaning the common areas. As we walked to my room I expressed despair and the desire to runaway.  The girl quickly left me and the next thing I knew an emergency group was called to discuss the nature of my infraction.  Just as Foucault describes the immediate surveillance of the subjects? body in French prisons as a necessary component to domination , surveillance at MMS was ever present through fellow students, who exhibited leadership and demonstrated their loyalty to school philosophy by pointing out to staff or confronting a student who was not assimilating properly and subscribing to school philosophy in word and deed, if not in thought, during regular group meetings.   Such unacceptable behavior was punishable by exercise, labor or, most frequently, humiliation and ridicule as being singled out as problematic.  Underlying all this, of course, was the realization that you would be going home to be with your family far later than if you were one of the leaders who set an example.
Unacceptable behavior was characterized as ranging from talking about past life, parting your hair, speaking, walking in such a way that reinforced your past identity.  Other acts punishable were not doing chores properly (standards were high), being late, or not ?being honest? in processes of disclosure, which were detailed accounts of your life, sexual history, drug history, and abuse history.   Words, such as ?being honest?, came to mean purging yourself of thoughts contradictory to program philosophy as prescribed by John and his ?intuition?.  The aim, as was later explained, was to create an environment where the students are too exhausted to keep anything inside, forcing the child to confess their demons, eg. confessing the desire to escape the environmental ?stressors? with food, sex, drugs.  If you weren?t busy confessing John?s intuition may dictate the need for you to go out and do more work, thus this system required students to became a part of what Foucault calls the ?economy of power?.  It was for this reason that if any ?hidden transcripts?  existed at all, they were a rarity and it was only between newer students and occurred when new students did not understand their place and what was expected of them as condition of their ?treatment?.  
Foucault explains that ?the perpetual penalty that traverses all points and supervises every instant in the disciplinary institutions compares, differentiates hierachizes, homogenizes, excludes.  In short, it normalizes?   and that became clear.  John decided that, for me, the punishment for my publicly revealed ?hidden transcript? should be 2 hours of skiing in circles along with the other girls in the school.  This technique was particularly effective in creating and reinforcing John?s own creation of power reality, as 20 exhausted girls geared up angrily to ski because of what I had done.  I was singled out that day, for the purpose creating of a homogenous student body, while simultaneously reinforcing/recreating Johns power as the dominant force, and setting as an example as the abnormal one who was different from the was on ?ought? to behave.  Foucault points out that ?each society has its regime of truth?that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true? (Power/Knowledge p. 131) So long as John said we were sick, that is, unwilling to accept of as defined by him, the possessor of the knowledge of which we were not privy to, we were not healthy and not of sound mind, justifiably removed from society and the objects to be known, who did not themselves know.   Word, signs and representations like ?being honest? and ?getting healthy? truly came to take on meaning determined by John, who outlined the discourse that supported his truth-regime.
The following morning it was decided that my infraction warranted a far more severe punishment.  I was placed on what the school called ?intervention?, which could be personal or involve the entire group and ranged from a few weeks to months of daily labor from early morning until dusk, depending on the level of ?resistance?, with breaks only at meal time.  This labor consisted of improvements to their for-profit facility, such as building fences, ice picking, wood chopping, and what Young describes as exploitative structural relations.   It wasn?t much longer after that day that I came to some degree of acceptance and let go to a large extent, my mind, greatly encapsulating what Foucault refers to as the creation of a real non-corporal soul, born out of punishment.   I left 18 months after I had arrived and lived for a short while as if Johns words were my own, carrying this soul which embodied Johns power over me for years to come. Foucault writes ?the soul is the prison of the body? (p.177)   It took over 5 years after graduating from MMS to overcome that prison, manifested by the anxiety surrounding my attempts at understanding by questioning what had occurred and later to challenge that truth-regime.  It has taken another 5 to find ways in which I may empower myself and discover ways to alter the manner in which this industry has done business.  On October 16th a group, founded by Allison Pinto, PhD - Alliance for Youth in Unregulated, Private Residential Treatment Programs (A START)  at USF Dept. of Child and Family Studies- along with myself and several others interested parties will be holding a press conference on Capitol Hill detailing our concerns at this growing industry and in support of End Institutionalized Child Abuse Act of 2005.  
  In my estimation my experience was absolutely unfair on many levels.  A just scenario would have involved, first and foremost, a system of power that took into consideration student thoughts and feelings, that is, a system that distributed power far more equitably by which youth feel empowered, not humiliated and frightened.  Secondly, industry regulation where there are certain government assurances that this billion dollar industry is run ethically, with access to advocates to ensure the facility is appropriate for the individual.  I would expect facilities such as Mission Mountain to cease using exercise, labor and humiliation in the name of care as coercion.  Aside from preventative measures, my hope is to bring awareness to this long ignored issue by the mental health community and the public, which has only served to further alienate youth or adults who have experienced such abhorrent ?care? by appearing to sanction such mistreatment and has allowed an industry to flourish, with unqualified workers and questionable philosophies.  They may claim effectiveness, but with no data collected it is difficult to say with certainty that these schools are truely helping youth.  Sadder still, in a recent article in the NY Times business section the problematic aspects of the industry is downplayed, while readily pointing out the financial rewards.  Interestingly enough, the Times has also covered numerous reports of death and allegations of abuse.  Perhaps the truth-regime that dictates children who are on the path of growing up to be ?non-productive?, literally, members of society that appear unable to become economic producers are in need of disciplining.   In this sense, what Foucault describes as points of power that are not centralized, but scattered and systematic by nature, like building blocks of one upon another, appears clear in forming this ?political economy?.  It is hard to explain the absence of public outcry, as well as the reason why the outcry by mental health professionals has equally been slow to come, and lack of Congressional action- especially given the many lawsuits, deaths, and public allegations of abuse. Certainly, as Foucault defines the intellectual as being equally susceptible and not at all immune to the ?general functioning of the apparatus of truth,?   I can think of no other explanation for the longstanding inaction by mental health professionals and Congress.  Such outcry is crucial, particularly in our society, where the industry has fought regulation heavily, lobbying to protect their interests.  It appears we have a long road ahead in replacing the truth-regime that agrees that the 'abnormal' youth of our society ought to be ?cured? by any means necessary rather than empowered and considerations made of their own humanity. Coercion is replaced by words like ?tough love? and framed as common sense approach despite the lack of consideration given to the inherent value of youth and underlining reasons for behavarioral problems which are likely to reflect a larger systematic problem in our society, a truth-regime far more difficult to alter b/c it is not in our economic interest to care for youth.  Apparently a great deal of money is being made in reform, however...  


Foucalt, Michel,  (1977) Truth and Power.  In Rabinow, Paul (Ed) The Foucalt Reader,  Pantheon Books, NY (1984)

Scott, James Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts.  Yale University Press. New Haven, (1990)

Young, Iris Marion Justice and the Politics of Difference.  Princeton University Press.  (1990)



[ This Message was edited by: katfish on 2005-11-24 12:35 ]

wow thats is increideble writing! Everything written here is absolutely honest and I can almost relate exactly. I hope that everyone gets a chance to read this. It is sad to say though that this might not get all the credit it deserves. Perhaps you should post it on other sites. Here is one statement you made that I feel everyone can directly relate:

"I have never done drugs as was pretty sure I had not drunk enough to be an alcoholic yet ? I thought my problems to be far more complicated. He shook his head and smiled knowingly, explaining that until I was able to ?get honest? with myself about why and stop resisting being there, which would probably take at least several months, I would not be allowed to speak to my parents so as to prevent manipulation."

You said "I thought my problems to be far more complicated" This sentence struck me because a "DR" who can't admit he can't help his patients and continues to treat them is only doing this case emotional harm. John Mercer I hope that you can read everything that was written here and for everyones sake just admit that you tried to do more than you were capable of and in doing so you made issues worse for many girls.

it's been almost 4 years since blaire's death and you know what? i'm still upset. i still blame mission mountain school for many of the reasons she felt it necessary to end her life. i also think it is ridiculous that any former MMS student feels it is necessary to attack any other fellow student for feeling a certain way about the school. everyone had their own experience, some worse than others. some did great. most people "faked it til they made it." i know this because multiple former students have spoken to me about making up drug addictions, molestations, and other problems simply because the staff did not believe that they did not have these issues.

i will admit that mission mountain school helped me in some ways. it was not, however, a self-esteem building experience when i was there. i feel traumatized by my experience. i do, and i'm not ashamed to admit it. (attack me if you want, former peers, i really don't give a shit what you have to say. i have my opinion, and you have yours. i will listen to your opinion, but i don't care to give it any credibility, just as you are doing to me. duh.) i was forced to believe i was a sex addict at 14 because i liked to masturbate, because i had a hormone imbalance and a raging libido and was fat and not popular so all boys thought i was a cretin. i'd never had sex or even, like, touched a penis (because, like i said, i was a fatso and all the guys told me frequently how disgusting they thought i was...) i had issues, for sure, but was in no way a sex addict! i'm sorry, but masturbation is totally normal and i'll stand by that opinion forever. being forced to believe that it is a sin and abnormal is wrong, and that's what they told us all the time. we were forced to "report" ourselves and other people if we masturbated at the school! you group together a bunch of teen girls with budding sexuality and raging hormones who were completely deprived of any male contact and you think no one's gonna masturbate? fuck you. anyone who disagrees with me can shove it, really. i'm almost 25 and in a committed relationship and i am still ashamed of and disgusted by my sexuality and that's my issue but MMS certainly didn't help, considering i still have this problem 11 years later. i remember i was forced to write an apology letter to staff member/ODR coach paul AND his family and read it to the whole group (DURING A PARENT VISIT) because he pressured me into admitting i had a girlish crush on him, surely to feed his own superiority and vanity, which was then reported to my therapist as a terrible transgression. fuck, everybody wanted to do it to paul and everybody thought he was hot. i heard so many girls say they were glad i took the heat because they agreed with me about being attracted to him but didn't want to admit it because they knew they'd get in trouble. i have never felt comfortable about liking a man since. i feel ashamed, scared, disgusted with myself. again, not the school's fault but what they did is not the appropriate way to handle anything! also, i don't know if anyone remembers when mike interrupted me while i was in the middle of a sentence and told me, "god, shut up! can you even imagine what it would be like to be married to you? UGH!" that did wonders for my self-esteem, for sure.

the way the staff spoke to us was unacceptable. blaire was ostracized and deluded and abused, and we, her peers, were forced to do the same. i can't even tell you how awful it is to be a person singled out to watch all their friends be punished for something you did. i'm not sure if anyone remembers when we were sent on intervention in 2001 and blaire was blamed. that was handled very badly. colleen (who was very pregnant at the time) told her that if she miscarried because of hiking into the woods, she would blame blaire for it. dude - she could have stayed home. who said she had to hike out there? and who says to a child they will be blamed for a possible miscarriage? when they sent blaire away to a mental institution, everyone was told to be relieved. it meant that our scapegoat had left and now we had to find another one. a moment of peace. but boy did we love to prey on one person at a time. i feel sick when i think of how we, as children, were encouraged to treat each other with such disrespect, following almost a gang-like mentality. 40 vs. 1. not a fair fight! and the staff encouraged it! i'm sorry, that is fucking sadistic. anyway, when blaire came back from that awful place, and who knows if she had shock treatment or was doped up or what, but her eyes were glazed over and she was NOT the same. and i don't mean that in a good way. she was never the same. i was not surprised when she quickly resorted to acting out, falling in with the wrong crowd at her new high school and getting into hard drugs. she was looking for love in all the wrong places, and hung out with people who were just using her and taking advantage of her. they were cruel, selfish, idiot people, lazy and mean and heavy drug users. it's what she was used to, that kind of treatment. you can disagree with me if you want. but nobody gets over the kind of abuse she endured. nobody is strong enough for that. blaire was crushed. just as liz said, her personality was crushed. also, that girl who said blaire was stupid up there at the beginning of this thread: she was not stupid. she was far from stupid. and she was sweet. but you are right in one respect - she was not given any means to express herself and she had SEVERE adhd for which she was not treated correctly, not to mention she had incredibly haunting adoption issues and fear of abandonment! come on.

anyway, i have tried my best to move on, but still am haunted by nightmares of being sent away. i still resent my parents (though i would never tell them this) for abandoning me. this is not a correct way to feel, i understand this. i do not blame my parents for anything, because they did the best they could, and i certainly did not belong at home. i was acting out, was extremely anti-social, a violent bully at school, to my parents, to myself. i had to go somewhere. but i just wish MMS had been a gentler place. i wish we had been treated with respect. i wish we had been given opportunities to learn a good work ethic that didn't feel like torture. there were some times that things were so wonderful, when it felt like the best place in the world to be, when i felt liked and respected. but there were some times that were so awful i still shudder when i think of them. there are some staff i keep in contact with, that i feel were positive attributions to the community. gary is the main one. he was gentle and kind. he could be firm sometimes, but i rarely saw him get mad like john or mike did. i keep in contact with carla also. i enjoyed mary's company immensely. but that's it. sorry, but everyone else was such a jerk! i know everybody loved doug but that guy was an asshole. sorry. and remember when former students would come back as staff and abuse us the most because they had been so abused by the staff that they saw it as their opportunity to abuse us because they were the staff now? perhaps they were trying to regain some of the power taken from them? that's fucked up. what was the worst one's name...? betsy? betty? she was awful. poor thing.

so go ahead. if anyone still reads this board: attack me. blame me. call me names. i don't care. i learned my lesson at MMS. i'd never touched a drug or had more than a few sips of alcohol before my experience there, but it took me less than a year after i graduated to develop a full blown substance abuse problem. i don't blame MMS for this but i was so weakened by the experience i started to believe i didn't have a proper adolescence, started to feel like i had a lot to catch up on. my self-esteem was so low and i was so susceptible to peer pressure. MMS did not prepare me for the real world. I was there from the time i was 14 until i was newly 17, and when i returned to civilization i felt like an alien. and i was desperate to fit in. i entered a second rehab in 2007 and have been sober for 2 years and 5 months today. i do not thank MMS for one single day of my new sobriety. thanks to the gentle and helpful program i entered (adult treatment facilities are so much better than kids' ones because you are over 18 and they don't have much power over you anymore), i was able to re-build my life and fix my relationship with my family and make new friends. there are other ways to help people than punishment, especially children. i am glad mission mountain closed down. hopefully a new program will start that will encourage healthy development, not grim consequences and conformity.

I am Blaire's (Birth name Jessica) birth mother.  Is there anything you can tell me.  I just got adoption information today and I see how tragically she is gone.

Is there anything you can tell me.

My sister, Lesley Graham (the birth mother of Blaire Webbe) made a posting yesterday searching for any information regarding Blaire's history. In spite of my sister's registered consent to have contact with Blaire, Lesley was never notified that Blaire had tried to search her out and until yesterday was unaware that Blaire had committed suicide five years ago. My sister gave Blaire up because she loved her and felt that she deserved more opportunities than my sister was able to provide for her at that time. The news about Blaire is tragic. Can someone that knew Blaire give us some insight into what happened.
Thanks, Melanie


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

[*] Previous page

Go to full version