Several former students of an Iowa boarding school for troubled teens that is being investigated by the FBI, have given reports that the school officials regularly placed students in small concrete “isolation boxes” for days or weeks at a time with the only hope for release being if they sat in a specific posture for 24 hours.
The Therapeutic Boarding School Midwest Academy in Keokuk city, Iowa, first came to public attention when federal, state and county law enforcement officers raided the grounds and confiscated truck loads of files on January 28, and again on Thursday, for an investigation of alleged sexual abuse to former students by the academy’s staff members. Now, six former students from the Academy have taken the time to speak out about the injustice they suffered when the school would imprison them in dark, cell-like punishment rooms that were filled with the sound of students’ screaming and the motivational recordings that were piped in through the speakers. Staff members allegedly kept watch on surveillance cameras.
The Midwest Academy is known to host students from around the world and states that it provides “struggling teens with a safe, structured and disciplined environment.” It costs approximately $5,000 per month to attend the academy and many of the Midwest states middle- and upper- class families were known to send their misbehaving teenagers there. Academy owner Ben Trane, has stated that the students were very fortunate to have had his staff in their lives and many other supporters, including parents, stand by their views that the program saved the lives of many teenagers.
Seventeen-year-old Emily Beaman, of Wheaton, Illinois, is among those who highly disagree with that view.
“You spend your time pounding your head against the wall. You can’t sleep because there is a lot of noise. A lot of girls like to scream in there. You basically look forward to bathroom breaks and those moments when you can get out of your box.”
ABC News posted coverage of the academy’s isolation box and in it Beaman reveals that she spent weeks in isolation and that her first attempt at escape was a failure. Her successful escape from the concrete isolation box came after she cut herself with a bottle cap then desperately pleaded with the first responders to be taken elsewhere.
Three of the students who have come forward about the isolation box also mentioned that they have spoken with the FBI and all attended the academy between 2008 and last September. Being in the isolation box is said to have caused many of their classmates to mutilate themselves, lose a significant amount of weight due to small meal portions and went a bit stir crazy because of their hatred of the lack of activity and natural light. Some have said that the experience scarred them for months and even years afterwards.
Lauren Snyder of Springfield, Missouri, told of how an employee turned up the volume on the motivational recordings when she was in the small isolation box to the point where the speakers blew out and left a loud screeching noise. She too begged to get out of isolation but was ignored until she was sent to a psychiatric hospital for attempting suicide by using a sock to try and hang herself. The 17-year-old says, “It was complete hell.”
According to the Daily Gate the first search of the Midwest Academy also involved the Iowa Department of Human Services and they conducted 28 abuse assessments before ordering that the 90 students who were at the academy be removed and the school temporarily shut down. Trane has declined to comment on the investigation into his school’s operations and the sexual abuse allegations.
Jerry Foxhoven, a Drake University professor and Iowa juvenile law expert had not heard of the program previously and says that the academy “flew under the radar” because it was a privately funded school and thus did not require a license to operate and went unregulated, especially as there were no state-ordered placements to the institution.
Foxhaven went on to discuss how long-term isolation can damage juveniles by exacerbating mental illnesses and creating long lasting effects that could include post-traumatic stress disorder. The professor says that no parent would be allowed to keep a child in isolation for weeks and not face abuse allegations and the academy should face charges.
Rachel Adkisson, 19, of Des Moines was put in isolation for refusing to run during gym and by the time she was released two weeks later she had lost 20 pounds. She also told the FBI of another female student who tried to hang herself with her bra straps.
“It’s like torture. You think it’s never going to end. You think, how can a human do this to another person?”
One student’s recollection of his experiences with the concrete isolation box also involved sessions behind the security cameras used to monitor those being punished. Shaun McCarthy, 19, of Avoca, Iowa, was in isolation twice but students who reached “level 3” in the academy’s points-based advancement system got to watch the boxes. During his time in that role he saw a student puncture her finger, use her blood to smear the wall and use the room’s floor as a bathroom before the staff intervened.
Fighting, or insubordination are said to be some of the reasons you can be placed in isolation but 24-year-old James Farris recalls that sometimes they would use the isolation box “preemptively and as a punitive measure” and he himself awoke to find himself in one on his eighteenth birthday. His screams to be released went unanswered and he suffered nightmare for years afterwards.
The students said communication with parents was strictly monitored and limited in order to keep the academy’s practices in the dark and many are just finding out and taking claims made by students seriously.
[Photo Courtesy of Nati Harnik/AP Photo]