Editor’s note: This story was initially published in 2014, but we are posting it because the topic is still relevant. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in September that will regulate the “troubled teen” industry.
By Pamela Powell, Special to Q Voice News
Child abuse – if done in the name of the Lord – is perfectly acceptable.
That’s the message conveyed by officials at Escuela Caribe, a Dominican Republic-based “Christian reform school” and the focus of the documentary “Kidnapped For Christ.”
Escuela Caribe has an enrollment policy that includes workers getting parental permission to take their kids by force to the island, where they use a twisted interpretation of religion to justify their barbaric treatment of the teenagers – all in the name of “helping” the youth work out their problems.
Many of these children really need help: Some of them had been in trouble with the law, some had emotional disturbances such as anxiety disorders. For others, such as David, a 17-year-old honors student, their only crime is being gay.
Initially, director Kate Logan targeted this reform school in 2006 as a project for her senior film assignment. Logan, who was a 20-year-old senior at the time, wanted to make “…a short, heartwarming film” about “rough and tumble kids learning about Jesus and another culture at the same time.”
What Logan found was a nightmare. Within two days of filming, Logan said she saw signs of “punishments that seemed at best inappropriate and at worst, abusive.”
In 2011, Escula Caribe closed and its property transferred to another Christian ministry called Crosswinds, which reopened the school under the name Caribbean Mountain Academy.
“Kidnapped for Christ” is available on DVD and iTunes.
Reel Honest Reviews’ Pamela Powell spoke with Logan about her experiences making “Kidnapped for Christ.”
Q: Was there a turning point or a particular incident that occurred (during filming) that made you think this was not what you thought it was supposed to be?
A: In some ways it was kind of a culmination of a lot of things not fitting right. I think it was maybe my second morning there, I saw a girl who was scrubbing steps outside all day, at least 8 hours. A staff member came by and told the girl that she couldn’t rest her knees on the ground. Right off the bat, it seemed like it was cruel and unusual. As I learned more about the program, I learned that they gave students swats on the ass with a paddle. There were isolation rooms where they only had a bucket to use for a bathroom.
Q: Before you went to Escuela Caribe, what were your thoughts about someone who is gay and conversion therapy?
A: I didn’t know much about conversion therapy, and Escuela Caribe doesn’t really practice conversion therapy. Their point of view is that being gay doesn’t really exist. It’s just a symptom of being abused as a child or not having a good relationship with your parents… Once you give your life to Jesus, you won’t be gay.
When I went down there, I did believe at the time that being gay was a sin. Just because that’s what good Christians believed.
Q: How has this film changed you?
A: The biggest thing I took from this is that good, normal people can end up doing really bad things if they’re in the wrong environment. That taught me to always be aware of what you’re doing and who you’re listening to. It really shook my faith a lot, too.
I no longer consider myself a Christian in great part because of what I saw at Escuela Caribe. That was a big turning point in my faith because I could no longer rely on saying that God called on me to do this. I had been around a bunch of people that all claimed that God called them to go work at a school that abused children. Either God was an asshole or everyone was hearing him wrong. I couldn’t reconcile that.
This article is a condensed version of Powell’s interview with Logan. To hear the entire interview as broadcast on WKCC’s The Reel Focus, click here.