Rough Love

Kids from South Florida and beyond are sent to Jamaica to straighten up. Or else.

Multiple guards patrol the grounds. "Staff are hired not necessarily by credentials," states the enrollment agreement all parents sign. And according to British media, workers are all Jamaican and required to possess no more than a high school education.

Life at TB is based on a system of points and consequences. New arrivals begin on Level One and must ask permission to talk, stand up, sit down, use the bathroom. Students gain or lose points based on whether they follow the rules. Looking at a member of the opposite sex, for instance, is a serious offense.

Carter Lynn says Level Ones are required to act like "complete zombies." Even if they move to higher levels and gain privileges, they can be demoted. "This one kid," he scoffs, "got so pissed because he got to Level Three and his dorm guide gave him consequences for nothing. So he flipped [the dorm guide] off, and [staff] swung him to the ground," Carter says, getting out of his chair to demonstrate. Then he clenches his fist and brings it to the ground. "And they came smack-down right down on the kid's face. They drag him out and there's blood on the floor."

Robert Neubecker
Robert Neubecker

Johnny Dwyer, 22 years old, left the school four years ago and also alleges the staff was violent. He now lives with his father in Maine, while his mother resides in St. Petersburg, Florida. After his father caught him smoking pot, Johnny accepted parental advice and went voluntarily to TB in April 2001, twelve days after his seventeenth birthday; his father assured him he could try out the school for ten days. If he didn't like it, he could leave. He was there for ten months. His father was not available for an interview.

"I myself was punched in the face," he states matter-of-factly. "But I will concede that I deserved this one. I used a racial slur to address one of the staff members. I called him a nigger. I was in a study hall-type setting, and I had to go to the bathroom. And the staff member would not let me leave.

"And I said, 'What is this? Some kind of a power struggle, you poor, ignorant, you-know-what?' And that's when he got up and ... he laid a good one on me. Put me on my back."

Johnny alleges such incidents were common, adding staff restrained him numerous times, once soon after his arrival for taking extra food in the dining hall. "I was hungry, because we were kept drastically underfed," he says. "I had my right arm bent [behind my back] in such a way that my fingers were able to touch my left eyebrow. Think of the back of your right hand on your shoulder blade. Now start pushing it up to such an extent that your right fingers are able to touch your left eyebrow from behind your head." Johnny claims he often heard kids screaming while being restrained. "Parents think, How could it possibly be that way? These things are so outrageous — how can it possibly be true? That's what this program uses to pit the parents against their children. They say, 'Your child was a liar when he was at home. What makes you think it's any different now?'"

WWASPS president Ken Kay did not respond directly to the claims by Carter Lynn and Johnny Dwyer but said there is substantial oversight at TB. When students' behavior reaches an acceptable level, parents are encouraged to visit, he says.

Yet similar claims have been made in other media. In June 2003, the New York Times published a lengthy article about TB. It states, "A striking number of youths say that, while the program's goals may be noble, its methods are not." It goes on to claim that "many children, mostly boys, say staff members twist their arms behind their backs until their hands touch their heads, inflicting intense pain without bruises."

Complaints come from "one-tenth of one percent" of past clients, TB's Jay Kay said in 2003. They come from a few people with "axes to grind."

Also in 2003, a fifteen-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, said he had two teeth knocked loose by a staff member's fist. In 2005, 23-year-old Layne Brown told a Missouri newspaper that during a nine-month stint at TB beginning in 1997, staff members made him defecate and urinate in a black garbage bag tied around his waist like a diaper. They also, he says, dragged him across a cement floor face-down, scrubbed his genitals with a hard-bristle toilet brush, and pepper-sprayed him.

More recently, Layne described the mistreatment to a French film company at his home in Kanab, Utah, for a documentary titled Tranquility Bay. Released earlier this year, the film also includes an interview with a man identified as former TB assistant director Randall Hinton, who stated he and Jay Kay used pepper spray. "I think I can remember Layne being pepper-sprayed more than once a day. I know he was pepper-sprayed more than two times a day. I don't think it would have been more than three times ... and from somebody on the outside looking in, I would say it would be abusive."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets