“In June of 2016, at 4 am, two days before the end of my freshman year in high school, two large men burst into my room and asked if I wanted to do this, “the easy way or the hard way.”
My mom was crying hysterically in the hallway and told me I was going somewhere where I would be safe. She wanted me to be safe from public ridicule over an explicit video taken of me without my knowledge and sent to over 500 people. All my mom wanted to do was hide me.
I followed the men into a child-locked car, where they drove me hours away from my home to KW Legacy Ranch. As soon as I arrived, they drove me far into the desert and had me walk for five hours, in 110°F heat, with almost no sleep. They then drove me to a place called “the Canyon,” where the new kids and punished students were sent. We had to sit on a wooden stump for the entire 15-hour day, sleep in a tent on the hard ground with only one blanket, and were given a can of raw spam for food. I was vegetarian and told them I would not eat it, so they kept me there longer and screamed at me for hours a day every day until I ate it. I was there for four days.
After that, I was taken to the “girls’ house,” where I was woken up every morning at 6 am to start strenuous physical labor. Our labor consisted of cleaning dirty cow stalls, carrying large concrete slabs, throwing heavy hay bales onto a truck, milking cows, pulling weeds, and so much more. The heavy lifting and massive amounts of disgusting, unhealthy food, made me gain over 60 pounds, in only four months. We were forced to eat the butchered animals that we cared for, along with a combination of expired canned foods.
Their method of “therapy” consisted of manipulation, brainwashing, and fear tactics. There were many strict rules, such as having to ask to enter/exit the bathroom before opening the door. We were not allowed to spill even a drop of milk, our ponytails could not have a single bump, and we had to walk backward and keep our heads down if we were near the boys’ house. We were only allowed to shower every other day for 10 minutes, and we only had three minutes to brush our teeth, wash our faces, and put up our hair.
There were three different levels of punishments. The least harsh punishment was having to sing and act out the motions to “I’m a Little Teapot,” in front of everyone three times a day. After that was Contemplation, which was just like the Canyon, except it was in the backyard of the girls’ house. The harshest punishment was getting sent back to the Canyon. I got sent back there three times.
We were routinely ridiculed and subjected to verbal abuse. We were only allowed to communicate with our families by writing letters that the staff usually threw away because it was against the rules to speak negatively about the ranch. Most of the letters I received had parts blacked out with a sharpie so I could not read them. They did not let my parents visit me until after four months of being there. The second I was alone with them, I told them everything I endured on the ranch. They cried and said they thought they were sending me to a place where I could clear my mind in nature with animals. They could not have been more wrong.
I’m speaking out to help shine a light on the cruelties of the troubled teen industry and to stand with everyone else that was forced to spend their formative years in treacherous places like KW.
This is a picture from while I was on the ranch. It brings me to tears remembering how I felt in that moment and how fake that smile was. I looked like an entirely different person.”