Treatment Abuse, Behavior Modification, Thought Reform > Hyde Schools

Forced Painful exercise - near torture - from a former Hyde School student


[First & last part of this former Hyde student's blog post has been cut out. You can find the whole blog post here]

Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The Gym - The Most Depressing Place in America

When I was about fifteen, I stopped going and found myself gaining weight at an alarming rate. I?d been taking ADHD medications since I was eight, and was often told that I was in danger of serious weight gain. My mother had heard that a friend of hers got a trainer for her overweight son at the gym of the Pikesville Hilton who helped him lose quite a bit of weight. I went to the gym, and that?s where I met Kathleen.

Kathleen was twenty-one, a petite blonde shikse from Glen Burnie, whom for reasons I could not fathom worked at the Pikesville Hilton. She constantly wreaked of cigarette smoke and had a giant, multicolored tattoo on the small on her back. She was constantly telling me how much she couldn?t stand the other trainers. Half-hour sessions turned into two hours as she regaled me with stories of her ex-boyfriends and how much her girl-friends slept around. I was in love.

One of the most heartbreaking moments of my adolescence was when Kathleen told me she was leaving the Hilton for a better job. Going to the gym after Kathleen as gone was simply pointless. Not that it mattered. A few months later, I was at Hyde School in Connecticut, and I would be whipped into shape whether I liked it or not.

Physical activity was Hyde?s default solution. There was nothing in their minds which it could not solve. If a student needed to be disciplined, they?d be coerced into doing regimented, military-level workouts for three-quarters of an hour. If a student didn?t do their homework, they were made to run laps around the building. If a student was disobedient rules, they could be made to do physical activities for hours at a time - along with any other student unlucky enough to be around at that moment.

It was illegal for Hyde teachers to slap us or use canes, so they used the pain from physical activity as a form of torture - and it was most certainly torture, torture was precisely the point of what they administered. But even though it was torture, some people thrived on this routine, and developed a lifelong (and no doubt rather morbid) passion for physical activity. For a little while it appeared to many that I might have been one of them. I was a svelte (though not sexy) one-hundred thirty-five pounds, and the immense amount of sweat gave me an acne-pocked face like a pepperoni pizza. There were many times in wrestling we were coerced into doing a ?six-minute drill.? For those who don?t understand what a six minute drill is - it is a period of physical activity so intense that it approximates the physical exertion one must exhaust in a six-minute wrestling match. In itself, that is not terrible, and doubtless exactly what?s used for wrestling teams around America. But one day, as punishment for a few students arriving late, our coach required us to a ?twenty-five minute drill.? The equvalent of four full-length wrestling matches in a row. At the end of the drill, he put the latest kid in the middle of the room - a kid from Hyde?s abortive Middle School who couldn?t have been more than twelve or thirteen. We were ordered to look him dead in the eye, strike the floor with maximum force with our arms and yell out ?Thank You Kevin? every five seconds. The poor kid stood in the middle of the wrestling room, sobbing as we all directed our exhausted hatred at this poor little boy. Shortly thereaftetr, he seemed to undergo a personality change, no longer a happy-go-lucky boy but one of the most rebellious teenagers in the school. I often wondered what happened to him, but I can?t imagine he ever got over that day, it?s probable that here was yet another soul Hyde set irrevocably on a poisonous path.

One of their favorite exercises was what they called the ?block?. You keep your feet running in place at full speed, and then you dive into the floor with your hands being all that stops your head from hitting the ground while your feet remain the air until a half-second later. You?re then expected to get up from this - all in less than a second. One day, for our perceived inattentiveness, the entire wrestling team was made to do five-hundred of these in a row. If that doesn?t sound so bad, try doing twenty of them in a row and see how you feel. At the end of it, the captain of the Varsity Wrestling Team, still the most impressively muscular person I?d ever met, came up to me and said ?Holy shit man, that was not right.?

Another technique of theirs was called the ?wall-sit.? A wall-sit in itself in no way terrible: physical therapists use it to help their patients stretch and build up endurance. However, fifteen minutes to an hour of wall sits without a break is most definitely is a form of torture, and bears an eerie though admittedly curtailed resemblance to the Bush Administration?s Guantanamo technique of not letting prisoners sit down for twelve hours at a time (at least they could stand comfortably if they liked).

If we were wrestlers, we were often expected to go on mid-winter runs at 5AM. If we were disobedient, we were expected to have 5:30 military level workouts - come winter come summer. Exposing prisoners to extra-cold temperatures has always been a favorite technique of authoritarian organizations.

But even now, I expect there are some people who will see all this and say ?this is not so bad and certainly not torture.? It?s not surprising, these techniques are designed for people like you to say exactly that - just as the Bush administrations techniques were designed to do and no doubt just as many, many organizations in charge of discipline design themselves around the ?civilized world.? Like those at Guantanamo, I suppose it?s possible that we deserved no better than we got, but people should still be aware of what transpires in their back yards, and I don?t think they are. 

I?ve gone over the next part before. I swore many times at Hyde that nobody could ever make me do physical activity ever again. And I stayed all too true to that vow. Six years after I left, I was a hundred pounds heavier than my wrestling weight. I suppose that one could argue that perhaps Hyde was a special case and not indicative of larger problems in the society that allowed it to exist, but I would argue that what went on at Hyde was simply a byproduct of a macho society grown fat with ill-gotten muscle on its own testosterone. We?re a culture that caters to sports - American industry may disappear tomorrow, but professional American sports leagues have enough money from overpriced tickets and merchandise to outlast the rest of America for a hundred years. And we?re bombarded with so many airbrushed bodies on television and the internet that many Americans assume it profits them nothing to get in shape if they can?t look like Arnold Schwartzenegger or Kate Moss. Our country?s turned into the physical equivalent of the Eloi and the Morlocks. It often seems as though everybody who doesn?t look beautiful topless looks like a living room sofa. Can you blame us fatties? What hope have we of getting in shape when we?re told that if we can?t work a miracle with our bodies, we might as well stuff our faces on Chipotle?

I don?t ever want to be in wrestling shape again. I don?t want to be an athlete. I have no physical ambitions beyond the ability to play senior-league softball in my mid-seventies should I so choose. I want a normal body. I want to weigh somewhere in the area of one-hundred sixty pounds, and I want to weigh that before I?m incontrovertibly bald......

You can find the whole blog post here:

More on this topic from the same blogger, original full post:

...I suppose I can’t talk about my weight without talking about the high school itself which to this day controls my feelings about my body, a subject I try not to let come up on this blog too often. I avoid talking about Hyde in part because there’s far too much to say about it, and in part because I worry how some people might co-opt anything I have to say about it for their own agendas. I will say very simply, I don’t have any truck with most of the students who pick fights with the methods of that place. Nevertheless, few people will be happier than I on the day that the Hyde Schools are shut down for mistreatment of their students, and it’s only a matter of time before they are. To this day, I view Hyde as the defining experience of my life, as I imagine most people would who went there, for good or ill. Opinions on that school differ from student to student, teacher to teacher. But given the extremity of their methods, it is impossible not to have an opinion.

After three years at Hyde, a boarding school for bad high school students who’d exhausted normal options, I swore to myself that no one but me would ever make me do any physical activity for the rest of my life. When we all read the reports about the detention camp in Guantanamo, certain methods of theirs rang eerily true to the punishments which Hyde faculty administered (or that students administered to one another). The more I read about the methods of authoritarian regimes, the more similarity there seemed to the methods of extracting information to which Hyde students were subjected. The more I read how propaganda machines manipulate language to create submissive citizens, the closer Hyde seemed to such a model. One day perhaps I’ll write about my experiences there, but even now – eleven years after it was over, much of it is still too painful to revisit.

By no means should anyone compare the methods of a New England boarding school to a totalitarian regime (I feel ridiculous even writing that), and as someone whose grandparents lived under both Stalin and Hitler I should feel particularly sensitive to that sort of comparison. But even my father, a PhD in Eastern European history who spent a year living in Caucescu’s Romania, agrees that the comparison is not without merit. So have Eastern European friends to whom I described what students like us were subjected. Even so, on a basic level, it is absolutely ridiculous to make any comparison between Hyde and any sort of police state. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that in its own infinitesimal way, Hyde School gave me an insight I never wanted into what my grandparents endured.

The greatest benefit Hyde gave me was that it was the greatest possible training for a budding writer – forcing its (often fascinating) students to observe one another to the minutest possible detail. At any moment, any one of us could be accused of doing something wrong – sometimes truly and just as often falsely, and every student there had to evaluate whether or not another student could stab them in the back with these sorts of accusations. In theory, we were all supposed to evaluate one another to help each other achieve our best in all areas of our lives. In practice, such evaluation usually dissolved into a mob mentality in which bullies found an outlet to pick on weaker kids that was completely sanctioned by the school...

...But back to the weight problem. Even in my last year at Hyde, where for my last six months I managed to ‘trick’ the school into not making me play sports, I began to put on weight. By graduation, I was certainly well over a 150 pounds, perhaps even 165. During the last ‘punishment-workout’ I ever had to do at Hyde, a mere two days before I graduated, I did the one thing I’d avoided in three years of extreme physical activity – I threw up.

Six months later, my wrestling coach saw me for the first time when I came back to visit. The first thing he said to me was: “Tucker!....Step on the scale!” I was 184 pounds. By the end of my freshman year I was probably 190. By the end of sophomore year, I passed the landmark I thought I’d never reach, two hundred pounds. By graduation, I was 220.

I don’t doubt that there was an enormous confluence of reasons that made me gain so much weight in so little time; everything from laziness to medication to gluttony to anxiety played its own part. Like so many college students, I was eating like there was no tomorrow, drinking like a fish, and smoking like a chimney. All the healthiness I’d gained in those three years I happily gave up for the chance to be a different person. I felt as though I had three years of my life to make up for, and if I could help it I was going to enjoy every minute of it. I can’t say that I derived enough enjoyment to justify gaining eighty-five pounds in seven years (maybe forty-five…), but at least for days at a time, I managed to dispel the crippling fear, guilt, and insecurity with which 3 years at Hyde would leave any student with a shred of humanity.

After college, I went to live in Israel; and as Israel has done for a century of Jewish kids, it boosted my health - to the best it had been since before college. I found a workout partner who became a close enough friend that we’re travelling Europe together for a month this summer. The Harris is a good four inches taller than I, yet weighed less than 130 pounds. The experience of working out with him was everything Hyde was not. He never pushed me to overexert, was always understanding when I couldn’t complete a set, and our workouts often took three hours because we’d talk for twenty minutes between each exercise. By the end of my time in Israel, I was down to 190 pounds, and could do a strenuous, hour-long workout with no break that made me feel better by the end than I did at the beginning.

But when I returned to America, I had no idea what I was doing with my life; without a job, utterly without prospects, stuck in my parents’ house in Baltimore with no sense of direction. Within a year, I’d gained another 45 pounds. At this time five years ago, I was a full 235 lbs. It is, I vow, the largest I ever will be. For normal sized people, 235 pounds is not really that fat. But when you’re 5’4 ½, 235 pounds is enormous – not quite morbidly obese, but certainly obese with a capital O. Were I a foot taller, it would be the equivalent of being well over 300 pounds.

Most of this extra weight is carried my Falstaffian gut. My physique is surprisingly well maintained in other areas, but for years I’ve had a paunch to rival any sexegenarian. A pot belly usually comes with a greater risk of heart disease, and at my largest, I had all the symptoms of heart disease at far too young an age; pain in my chest, tingling in my arm, dizziness, windedness, and constant fatigue. On the other hand, I was eating some damn good food.

I can’t help that I love food – I love all types, all flavors, from the most gourmet to the grossest fast food.  If left to my own devices, I would probably eat every minute of every day. For whatever reason, my body has very little sense of when it’s full, and I can’t understand why people would leave some food on their plate untouched. What an alcoholic is to booze, I am to food. I long since gave up cigarettes with little trouble. I could even see myself cutting out alcohol completely with little regret. But the mere thought of limiting my food intake seems like a cross too great to bear.

In the last two years, I’ve been to two cardiologists, both of whom told me that I have no heart problems whatsoever. I do, however, have rather severe heart burn, terrible back pain, a probable ulcer, and still more severe hypochondria. The last few years have been a steady stream of constant diets and inconsistent physical activity – Atkins, calorie counting, biking, and weight lifting. Today, I start the severest diet of them all – a week-long ‘detox’ diet of nothing but fruits, vegetables and six ounces of protein a day that will hopefully take the edge off some of my most extreme cravings.  For all that effort, my weight has steadily yo-yoed between 225 lbs and 200, and never below 200.

Thin people simply never understand why a person would go to such weird lengths to lose weight. Why not simply limit your food intake and consistently get exercise? Why not indeed? Fat people have been wondering why they’re incapable of following these prescriptions for good health at least as much as their thin friends. There are only two options to believe – either fat people are simply lazy, or we have a biological problem that is not easily cured. Many people, particularly many thin people, believe the former. Perhaps they're right, but my experience tells me to doubt them. Bulimia is considered a disease, yet the condition still involves the somewhat involved process of a bulimic person finding a drain in which to throw up. In the same way, even if one has a choice to stop eating, perhaps one doesn’t. Alcoholism, compulsive gambling, anorexia are all diseases that involve a free choice as much as compulsion – yet they’re still considered diseases.

One day, I will be thin again. I truly believe this. I just hope it’s before I turn 35 or 40 or whatever age it is when ailments from bad body maintenance become truly irreparable. I want to be thin, really I do. But it’s goddamn hard. Asking me to stop eating so much is asking me to amputate one of the biggest parts of myself (no pun intended). It’s almost as though can no longer imagine my life as a thin person.

I never read Lord of the Flies before last night. It was never assigned at Schechter or Beth Tfiloh when I was there, and my sense is that Hyde would have been idiotic to come within fifty miles of the book, lest it give their students any ideas. I'm sorry I've waited this long to read it, because beneath the simplicity - perhaps simple-mindedness - of its grim philosophical questions is a story about the torments we all face - regardless of age.

The parts of the book that will always remain with me are not the faux-cinematic spectacles of fire and blood, but the small moments of cruelty when the powerful subsume the powerless - it's a cliche that power corrupts, but power also infantilizes. It makes powerful people the least qualified to know what the best course of action is, both for themselves and the people over whom they rule. Civilization was and remains a hard-won achievement that's constantly corroded and rebuilt. If it functions properly, more and more of the powerless will gradually gain something resembling an equal footing with the powerful, and will add their natural gifts to the gifts which civilization bestows.

In other words, civilization (in this case perhaps, 'civilisation') was built for Piggy to flourish. He deserved better, and yet for every Piggy who has to endure being the victim of the work of fiction, there are billions of Piggys through human history, brought down by the brutality of the world before they had a chance to show what natural gifts they could offer to make our lives better.

I have no doubt that at that age, I'd have been a Piggy too, though perhaps without his common sense. Like all nerds from time immemorial, I had all those Ralph-like friends who turned their backs on friendship the moment it was expedient, and the sadistic Rogers who got a brief a taste of blood and became obsessed with drawing more, and oh boy did I ever know Jack Merridews - one of them even became a rabbi.

There is a cruelty about late childhood that is particular to itself, no other age can ever imitate it. You're old enough to grasp the basic conceits about right and wrong, but not old enough yet to internalize their importance. You're old enough to understand that your person and individuality can have power over others, but nowhere near old enough to internalize that power's limitations. It is an age when the terror of not understanding what you see can be all too real. I recall vividly the horrible dread I felt I was when my mother told me that in 4 billion years, the Sun would turn into a Red Giant and burn up the Earth. I still remember how terrified I was of the five foot stuffed bear that would sit right across from my bed, staring at me every night with its immobile smile - but I was too proud to tell my parents how horrifying it was. But it's also an age when you can become another kid's terror all too easily - I'm sure I was that too. There is no child too rough to never be a Piggy or a Simon, and no child too timid to never be a Jack or a Roger.

The problem is that while it gets better for us all as adults, or at least more domesticated, it doesn't get all that much better. One of the most striking details about Lord of the Flies, which I suppose you have to squint a bit to notice, is that the book portrays a dystopia within a dystopia. It takes place in some unspecified future date in which the world is already at nuclear war. The kids were not simply on a plane, they were on a rescue plane that was supposed to take them out of harm's way. For all we know, these kids were already traumatized like millions of children during the World War that occurred ten years before the book's composition in the early 50's. What happens on the island could be considered a microcosm of a world at war, and what happens to some of the characters in the book is downright merciful compared to the deaths that could await billions in a nuclear war.

Lots, far too much, is made of the symbolism and fable-like nature of these various characters: Simon seems saintly and prophetic, so perhaps he's Christ or Peter. Piggy, even with his low-class dialect, seems like a 10-year-old intellectual, so maybe he's Socrates or Galileo. Perhaps Jack is a stand-in for Hitler or a pint-sized Colonel Kurtz or even Satan himself (there's far more evidence for the latter than any other alleged symbol in the book...), and perhaps Roger is a Nazi torturer like Mengele or Dirlewanger or perhaps even a pre-teen complement to O'Brien from 1984. And perhaps the Beast can be anything from the human Id, to the primeval instinct toward fear and superstition, to our awareness of our limitations and mortality, to the burdens of history and consciousness. But to attach any particularly specific meaning to any of these characters is to completely miss the point - the point is to elicit comparisons and metaphors which are personal to each reader. If a metaphor occurs in this fable between a character and a larger figure in history or literature, that's certainly valid - and it probably will, but the point is not in what this fable means, but in wrestling with what this fable means.



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