Students were kept inside a concrete ‘isolation box’ for many days and even weeks as a punishment at a private school designed for troubled teenagers in Iowa. According to some ex-students, the officials would not let them out until they sit in a specific posture for more than 24 hours. The school is now under FBI investigation.
Six former students of the Midwest Academy in Keokuk, Iowa describe the isolation chamber which was like prison cells. The rooms in which the students were kept for punishment used to be filled with sounds of students screaming and motivational recordings piped in through the speakers. All of this was under the close watch of surveillance cameras, they said.
Emily Beaman, 17, of Wheaton, Illinois, a former student had the following to say about the school.
“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.”
After spending weeks in the isolation chamber, Emily Beaman says she could only get herself out after cutting herself and begging for emergency care. She said that her earlier attempt to escape failed.
The students, who attended the academy between 2008 and last September, had a grave account of their experiences to share. They said they and their classmates cut themselves in desperation. They loathed the lack of activity, and natural light was a rare sight. They lost a lot of their body weight due to small meals. Some students even said they were scarred from the experience for months and years.
The academy claims that it provides “struggling teens with a safe, structured and disciplined environment.” Many middle- and upper- class families from Midwest states and beyond sent misbehaving teenagers to the academy, which costs roughly $5,000 per month. Trane has said the students were fortunate to have its staff in their lives. Other supporters include parents who say the program saved teens’ lives.
Sarah Wilson, 20, of Rock Island Illinois said she decided she would never return to that hell of a place after she was placed in an isolation chamber on her first day for refusing to take out a belly button ring. “I knew I would lose my mind in there,” said Wilson.
Some parents are even grateful to the school in their belief that the program saved their children’s lives.
The school was a privately funded school that was being run without state ordered placements. The school didn’t require a license to operate and was otherwise unregulated. “It flew under the radar,” said Drake University professor Jerry Foxhoven, an Iowa juvenile law expert. He said that he had never heard about the program before, according to ABC News.
Another student Lauren Snyder, 17, of Springfield, Missouri, remembers begging to get out of the isolation chamber the previous year. This agitated the employee and prompted him to turn the audio recordings up so loud that the speakers blew out and were making a screeching noise.
“It was complete hell,” says Snyder. She recalls that she was so frustrated that she eventually attempted suicide by tying a sock around her neck. She was sent to a psychiatric hospital the next day for her attempt.
“That is the worst I’ve ever been treated,” says Shaun McCarthy, 19, of Avoca, Iowa, who says he was lucky to be placed in isolation chamber only twice during his stay. “It’s not humane,” he says.
Foxhoven says that the long-term isolation can be very emotionally shattering for the young minds. The isolation can cause exacerbating mental illnesses and cause lasting effects that may include post-traumatic stress disorder.
[Photo By Omar Havana/Getty Images]