Survivors Want to Speak Out.
As of now, many of our readers are survivors of the “Tough Love” industry. Many are friends and families of survivors.
Sometimes survivors and/or their friends and families write to us. They want a voice. They want to be heard.
We are the first generation of program survivors to have the opportunity to speak out about what goes on behind the closed doors of residential programs. Because of this, we have no previous references about how others before us have dealt with and recovered from being locked up in such brutal and bizarre places. So, this is our place to share our stories.
Vulnerable populations have been institutionalized since the early days of our country.
Young (and old) people in need, since the early days of our country, have been institutionalized either in orphanages, in foster care, in hospitals for physical or mental ailments, in schools, in churches, in destructive cults, and in many more ways, even some family units are considered destructive institutions.
We have never heard the stories about how they survived their abuses or institutionalization, how they integrated back into everyday life, or if they were successful in doing so. This is usually because of the shame that accompanies the institutional experiences.
Times have changed and we have better ways of communicating our stories, and we have learned that any shame that accompanies any involuntary and unjust time done in residential institutions that claim to help its clients, patients, parishioners, family members, (whatever their people may be called) belongs to the people who perpetrated the crimes or abuses (with the exception of prisons, where if an inmate is truly guilty of a crime, s/he should hold take full responsibility for his/her own choices and actions that landed him/her in a prison or jail).
Survivors are doing their best to reintegrate into mainstream society, often without a guide or map.
Often times, survivors are simply trying to do the best they can to move beyond their experience, redefine themselves, and find meaningful ways to contribute to our society. Just as often, survivors are navigating this journey back to the real world without any maps, compasses or advice.
With the ‘information age’ upon us, survivors want to either tell cautionary tales of their experiences to future generations or simply share their own personal solutions to moving ahead in life after bizarre and often cruel experiences.
If you would like to share your solutions, please feel free to write us via the contact page.
A letter from a reader
The following letter is from a 1980’s Straight, Inc. survivor named Melissa, addressed to other survivors.
(The author of this letter requested the letter be published on this site. The opinions and suggestions are solely those of the author of the letter.)
Dear Straight Kids,
I am a silly ass. Without a doubt I am a silly ass. Over the years I’ve had this habit of calling my girlfriends and singing into their voicemails silly-ass songs like I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston, but in my own silly-ass voice (yipes!). Well, this morning in my stoner yoga practice I was inspired about a long train of thought that came from thinking about Billie Holiday and how she was a victim of the Drug War. When my mind came to my silly ass singing into girlfriends’ voicemails I thought how Whitney Houston – just like Billie Holiday – is a victim of our wicked-ass culture that loves to exploit singers, actors, musicians, etc. instead of letting their art be about their art. You know who they are. Elvis, Marilyn, James Dean, etc. and I thought about how all of that can point to the wicked-ass Drug War, Harry Anslinger, and Billie Holiday.
So, my silly ass is practicing stoner yoga to a Whitney Houston album and thinking about all that crap. Then I’m shocked out of my stoner yoga pants two seconds into The Greatest Love of All. Holy shit. That’s a Straight Song. I fucking hated that song in Straight, but I started remembering all the sobbing that used to happen during that song. I never listened to the lyrics because I blocked them out. Because I hated that song. It used to make me angry and ever since Straight I turn it off when I hear it. Now I’m in a stoner yoga sun salutation and I’m listening to my teen trauma from The Greatest Love of All but I’m listening with my adult sense. I’m on my yoga mat, but I’m also in The Building in a Blue Chair and girls are sobbing around me and I’m finally listening to the lyrics and now, in my stoner yoga practice, I’m sobbing, too. I’m sobbing because of that scene in my head. I’m sobbing because that twisted place made us sing those lyrics while we were trapped in a fucking warehouse far away from any love. I’m sobbing for all the people who have died because of that fucked up place. I’m sobbing because Straight did take away our dignity. I’m sobbing because all the stuff in that song about self-love is so fucking true. It fucking IS the greatest love of all: The love inside of me. Shame on Straight for taking away the self-love of our brothers and sisters. Shame on Mel Sembler. Shame on The Bush Dynasty. Shame on that frosty bitch Nancy Reagan. Shame on people who still claim Straight was justified.
Dear Straight Kids, I will always love you, and the greatest love of all IS inside of me. But it’s also inside of you. Please sit with your self-love once a day and let it grow until nobody can take away your dignity.
P.S. I recommend listening to your druggie music while you’re stoned because they were wrong. It’s awesome. It’s still awesome. And fuck them. And do it to yoga poses because the greatest love of all is inside of you, but keep tissues handy.