This testimony was found on Reddit. All rights goes to the author. Tranquility Bay was a so-called residential treatment center located in Jamaica housing mostly children from the United States who had parents who made the choice to let the organization WWASP house them while they were busy doing other things.
A girl died there. The staff confiscated the coded letter left for her family. Her uniforms, beddings and books were given to the next girl who entered the facility. Stricter passport rules after 9/11 shut the facility down as the authorities began to ask questions.
I’ve written some experiences, I hope I may post them.
Anonymous To whom this may concern: I want to talk with you about a few things and how they changed my life. In fact, just the mention of certain words makes me shudder, however I rarely show it. These are simple words, well recognized words for anyone who desires to better themselves. Unity, Integrity, Dignity, Foundation, Honor, Challenger, Excellence, Success, Triumph and Victory.
By the time I finish telling this story, and I will be brief, you’ll never hear these words the same way again. For me the mean so much more. Humor me for just a minute and let’s imagine that there’s a new war. Imagine that this war is different than the ones you’ve seen before. This isn’t overseas, it’s domestic and often in our own homes, often however people find themselves in another country. Imagine that in this war you aren’t fighting a common enemy or terrorists.
In this war let us use two examples. In one case it’s a family with a 14- year-old soon who’s doing and selling hard drugs. This dad decided something must be done. That’s simple and maybe justifiable. In another case it’s a single mom with a new boyfriend that doesn’t care for her son. Humor me for a moment and let’s talk about this mom and her choices. In imagining this war, this mom hires a former policeman. He comes at night, often at 3 am, to get a check. He leaves with her son and was ok with using handcuffs when the young man did not want to go. There was no trial, court order or judgment. The former policeman never asked or qualified what this young man did to deserve what’s to come.
In this moment justice and liberty for all is something I pause to think about, because what happens next, bleaches the flag I have always flown in my yard. Later that morning or the next day the young man finds himself in Jamaica, Western Soma, Mexico, The Czech Republic or one of many other underdeveloped countries. After arriving in this country there’s a few hours riding handcuffed on the floor of a work van and he will arrive at a guarded compound filled with bars and razor wire. Soon he’s stripped of everything including his clothing, searched, and given uniforms. Escape maybe a possibility for him, however even he managed to slip away under the watchful eyes of his 24-hour direct supervision, where can you go on foreign land, when the locals know your uniforms. They know that to capture you and return you, even by illegal force, your worth a year’s salary to them.
Usually the law never knows you were there, let alone escaped and was returned, regardless of how it may happen. In that compound mental abuse, physical abuse, food deprivation, sexual assault and brainwashing and among other things run rampant. One thing you might not expect would happen in our imaginary facility is that some of these children won’t make it home alive. Another thing you may not expect is that this war could later cost lives or effect the individuals for years to come, if not the rest of their lives.
Now we don’t live in an imaginary world so let’s get real. Instead of saying a former policeman, his real name is Rick Strawn of Atlanta or the Prescott Family of Miami.
Instead of physical assault we can mention Shannon Levy of Carol Springs Florida who has had four surgeries and still needs another, 17 years later, from injuries she suffered at the hands of the staff at Tranquility Bay. If that’s not bad enough other lacks of medical care by the staff has left her in serious medical trouble. She’s hospitalized even as I wrote this tonight.
There are names for groups of kids in Tranquility Bay. When you first arrive, you are given a letter written by your parents instructing you that you must fully comply with the program to graduation. You are given a new name that you take on as your family name. You are to refer to your guards as father or mother. You are assigned a buddy to help indoctrinate you in to the program. Often, within these families, kids spent their days together, eating together, showering together, most groups even slept together with anywhere from 10-16 teenagers in the same room.
Remember these words Unity, Integrity, Dignity, Foundation, Honor, Challenger, Excellence, Success, Triumph and Victory? I personally feel for the girls of Challenger Family.
In August of 2001, Rick Strawn had brought a young lady to Tranquility Bay. Her name was Valerie Ann Heron. I want to tell you a little about her. She was 17. She had left high school and gotten her GED. She had been working at a daycare and loved children. At one point she told her mom that she came home covered in snot and crayons but she loved her job. She was struggling with depression and a failed relationship. Her mother felt she was sending her to a safe place where she could get help and sort things out. On that evening she had felt she had lost her last connection with anyone. In honesty she truly had. She had no one she could reach out to. No police, no preacher, no stranger, no embassy worker, no family or friends. She was alone and facing hell. The reality of facing the suffering to come lead her to jump off a balcony to her death. Although, Jay Kay the programs director, formally stated she fell because of being disorientated in regards to her surroundings.
In Unity family a man turned 18. He tried to leave the compound and received the bloodiest “restraint” of all. Most all kids were coerced or forced to stay past the age of eighteen. Not for their benefit but because they were worth around $4,000 a month to the facility. (Add stories of others referencing their family names) To the world May 5th, 2018 slipped by as just another day. For some, it was a day of drinking after work and just maybe they were starting a new hang over from Cinco de Mayo. For me it’s an anniversary. Certainly not the happy kind.
It’s been seventeen years ago on that day. I was 14. I still remember being walked out of the airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The man that had taken me from my bedroom the morning before removed the handcuffs and passed me over with my Rubbermaid container to a tall Jamaican man who said we had a four-hour ride ahead of us.
Later that day we arrived at the gates of this place. Painted on the wall to the left was a sign that said, “Welcome to TRANQUILITY BAY.” I didn’t know it at the moment but that’s where I died, at least as a child. In a minute I would be walked through that gate and into a place that was said “to look like a death camp”. That was my new home and my new life for many months. I lived within the walls of that compound. The New York Times later said of these places that this one, which I was in, had a reputation as being “The harshest of them all.”
Just three months later I would watch Valerie die alone in the courtyard. One detail I never could share, speaking with her mom years later was that I was one of about a dozen boys that ended up with her blood stains on our towels. On the girls side her program items and uniforms were reissued, except from one. The one she died in. Sadly, she was just one of a total of eighty six documented in program deaths since 2000.
I could describe to y'all the rigid and demanding structure every day, or the wide spread abuse, the lack of food and even punishments of food deprivation. But it’s easier to say what we didn’t have. We had no phone calls, no air conditioning, no objections, no talking, no hot showers, no sugar, no shoes, no hair, no laundry and no freedom. You were left to nothing more than yourself and your consequences. These consequences were relentless and filled every day. It was more than just your consequences.
Sometimes it was others consequences that affected you. Things like trying to fall asleep, while listening to a 15- year-old kid thrown to the ground off his bunk, and then dragged out into the hallway and “restrained” for half an hour by 6 Jamaican men. Or being forced to lay rigid, face first on the ground for days, weeks, maybe even months while being forced to exercise in the same room with no ventilation to the point of exhaustion. This was called “observation placement” In O.P. you received only water, beans and bread for food. As always you were under the threat of physical punishment if refused. Sadly, I did not hold the record for O.P. The record was held by a girl who suffered through O.P. on and off for a combined total of 18 months.
The director himself stated the previous fact on camera adding that he’s ductaped and pepper-sprayed a boy, the same boy, but not over three times in one day. Life at Tranquility Bay, as I came to understand it was different than anyone can imagine. Ultimately it was a complete separation from literally everything and everyone you ever knew and cared about. There would be fights and riots.
I would leave without any one knowing until I got back to Miami that I’d lost 60lbs, I had a broken finger, a herniated disc in my back, damage to my right knee joint and two ringworms the size of a softball. The two nurses there were of no help. We were explicitly told not to come to them with restraint injuries because restraint injuries never happened.
There were no evaluations, no teaching. No one to recognize and realize What my “problem” was. The staff however did a wonderful job at beating the “defiance and laziness” out of me. So, after 17 years I still live with these memories. It’s like being a prisoner of a war that no one knew about. With everything bad I just shared, this was not my first traumatic childhood experience.
I was only 5 when hurricane Andrew hit my home town of Miami. We had gone to bed the night before and it was a normal night from my point of view. By sunrise the next morning our barn was gone along with the horse. The garage was ripped from the house. In town my Father’s business was for the most part reduced to nothing more than a 3ft high pile of rubble. During that week my dad would come up missing. He was found in a tent hospital. The stress had separated a valve in his heart. The impact of this storm would later put my father into survival mode and my mother through a depression.
Eventually our family would fall apart and I, as an adopted child, would become a leftover of a divorce. In fact, the week my parents divorced, was the same week three large men walked into my room, taken me, cuffed me and the next morning we were on our way to Jamaica.
After Jamaica I hung out with the misfits. They accepted anyone or almost any behavior. I lived in the shadows almost but not because I was necessarily some horrible person. The shadows comment will make more sense in a moment. I never told anyone of what I went through in Jamaica because I felt it was normal and that I deserved it. When I did share people felt it so far out there that I must be lying or crazy. A lot of the things I went through are human rights violations that do not occur in American prisons or even on those interned at Guantanamo Bay. To be clear UNICEF the child branch of the United Nations has stated publicly that the things that happened were violations of the rights children, even children deprived of liberty.
By the time I was 19, many of my misfit friends would die from their choices of drinking, drugs or other things. My mom said that she wouldn’t be surprised if she got the call that I had committed suicide. At the time I wasn’t a very likable person. Not that I am any more likeable today. In fact, from the time I came home from Jamaica till about the time I turned 21 I went through a very self-destructive spell. Most of us who were lucky enough that we came home did. Some came home and killed their parents. Others have committed suicide. Slowly each year, including this one, the death toll for those who survived has gone up. The Miami New Times stated that “Death stalks these kids”.
Eventually a man whom I will call Rex handed me a tract of salvation at the urinal in the men’s room at work. I started going to church after that. One day I realized that you can’t hate someone and not acknowledge his existence. That was my first realization of God. How can you feel anything, hatred or love for something that doesn’t exist? So, from 21 to 28 I slowly became a better person. I blamed myself. I internalized all the pain from Jamaica and never told anyone the extent of what happened because to me it was normal, and I guess ok.
Back to when I turned 28... Someone whom I will call Steve noticed a symptom. Maybe that person was an angel? I know he was a church member and a doctor with a gift to recognize something. Later on, a team of doctors would tell me I have a significant case of narcolepsy and after telling them what I had been through they added CPTSD. It’s taken 3 years to process things I went through. In those three years I also had to relearn who I am as well as face repressed memories of what had happened. One doctor asked me how I’m still here. I still don't know but maybe it’s to share these stories for the ones who lost their lives and their chances to share.
There’s an issue with tough love. To use the words of the late Arron Bacon’s mother “for tough love to work you must first love the person”. These words came from the court hearing over her son’s death in one of these programs. Only one guard received any jail time. He got 2 months. So remember these words? Unity: Being joined as part of a group Integrity: The quality of being honest Dignity: Being worthy of honor and respect Foundation: A firm, solid base Honor: High level of esteem and respect Challenger: Willing to engage in contest or debate Excellence: Being outstanding or extremely good Success: Accomplishment of a purpose. Triumph: Great victory of achievement Victory: defeating an enemy, winning a game or other competition In the words of Dr. Phil, whom was recapping another students story, he said we were “dehumanized, trapped, and torture”. We were taken from our childhood, from our family and I became part of dignity family and eventually unity family. To me these words mean so much more. But you know what? None of that matters because by grace I'm still here. (Insert reason for sharing.)
So now the question is will the next time you hear these words, Unity, Integrity, Dignity, Foundation, Honor, Challenger, Excellence, Success, Triumph and Victory, will they sound the same or is it possible that today you were changed?