Longform

Teens Tied Down and Shot Up With Drugs at Pembroke Pines Facility

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"What the hell is that?" Wright says she said.

"Something to calm you down." When Wright saw they were going to drop her pants and deliver the injection into her ass, she screamed louder. The nurse spiked the girl's arm instead.

Wright's energy began to leave her like air gradually leaking from a balloon. Soon, she was too tired to scream, too tired to open her mouth, too tired to keep her eyelids propped. She awoke later — how long later, she didn't know — red-eyed and woozy.

"I went in with an open mind. I was ready to change," Wright says today. "After that first day when they restrained me, I didn't care."

New Times interviewed six female and one male former residents of CATS, plus several of their parents and grandparents. Each of the youths had done prior long stints in group homes and juvenile justice programs, but all gave similar accounts of Citrus' program.

They said that during the week, they'd met with therapists in group and one-on-one sessions. Some staff cared, but the majority were "very unprofessional," says Monica Lyons, now an 18-year-old who did two stints at CATS. "The staff acted like the kids."

Hillary, who asked that her real name not be used, was a pixie-ish repeat runaway from a broken home. She says the staff "were always taunting us, bullying us. It was a sick environment." Staff would laugh at patients who were so medicated they could barely speak or who were constantly drooling.

Residents interviewed by New Times said there were unclear rules and little consistency in the doling out of punishments. Lyons recalled the facility being so cold, she stepped into the courtyard to get warm. She was punished. Another time, Lyons missed an order that everyone had to stay in their rooms. She walked into the hallway. Punished. Another former resident, Monique Carter, says that when her grandfather passed away, she wasn't allowed to go to the funeral. She became depressed and stopped eating. She was punished.

Hillary says two battling girls once turned the hallway into a cage match, one dragging the other across the floor by her hair. The staff didn't react. But when Hillary ignored an order to come in from the courtyard, she got smashed against the wall by staff, blood spurting from her nose.

Every day, someone was dragged out into the side room where booty juice was administered, Samantha Wright claims. She could hear the screams until the subject would slip under. None of the former residents knows what "booty juice" consisted of, and all say that sometimes the sessions were administered multiple times a day.

Ashley was a mouthy adopted 15-year-old who'd been abandoned by her new family. The girl was already documented as bipolar with two serious suicide attempts. "Honestly, I went crazy at Citrus," she says today. "They had instilled in my mind that I was mentally ill. It came to the point where I believed it. At Citrus, all they wanted to do was restrain you or give you shots."

Ashley would jam whatever she could find — Bics, pencils, combs — into the flesh of her left forearm. The injuries were so severe that she was continuously hurried off to the hospital. She would be sent back to CATS, then tear open her bandage and mutilate herself again. The repeat trip to the hospitals were cries for help, she says today. "At the hospital, I would try and tell people about the place, but they would always take me back."


Tanisha Howell's high hopes were in a tailspin. Weeks stacked up into months. Octavious couldn't seem to work himself out of level A. Howell believed by constantly busting down kids, there was no feeling of traction. It was a frustrating hamster wheel."Then what kind of hope do you have of getting out of the program?" she says.

Howell says the punishments for Octavious were unjustified. He fought with his roommates — but only because other boys stole his new underwear and threatened to urinate all over Octavious' clothing. If he went to the bathroom without permission, he was busted for trespassing. "The bathroom?" Howell wondered. The concerned mom says she always got the same response from staff: "It's up to the child, how the child reacts to the program."

Still, Octavious was generally upbeat whenever Howell stopped in for family therapy or chatted on the phone. He led Bible studies and only griped about the bad food. But Howell suspected she wasn't getting the whole story from her normally talkative boy. Howell says she does not know the full extent of ETOs used on her son; she remembers being told that he'd been restrained and that Benadryl had been administered on occasion.

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Kyle Swenson