Trigger warnings in the “About Page“, this one is about torture.
I mentioned in my first post that I feel like what I went through is insignificant to what happens today.
Hopefully you read my history and ongoing struggles with Bullying/PTSD/Depression, as I will be referring to some of those experiences in this entry.
So, as I mentioned , There was a wake up call a couple of years ago that really caused me to pay much more attention to the disabled communities and my country. A place in Boston, Massachusetts. Technically, it’s a suburb of Boston.
It’s old news, Anderson Cooper and others had covered it back in 2006, but it doesn’t feel old to me. Most people I’ve talked to didn’t know about it. It’s been haunting me since I learned of it in 2012. It raises larger questions and has been a devastating eye opener to me. I’ve been seriously out of the loop and am still catching up.
Normally when I think of Boston, I think of a place of Historical Significance. A place where one of my notable ancestors was born(on my father’s side), Benjamin Franklin. The Boston Tea Party. The Boston Marathon(and the recent terror attack there). I think of people with a lot of Pride. There’s a certain mother and daughter I’ve met who are great people.
That changed, now I think of something darker and significant as it is unique to the area. Not unique to history or the rest of the world, but it is something that should have been left behind in history. It’s not my intent to drag anyone or anyplace through the mud, nor is it my intent to stir mindless outrage. I simply want better answers. To also ask the questions that begin with Why? and How?
I remember being in shock when 9/11 occurred, it woke me up to the outside world.. I paid more attention to politics, etc.
But learning of this place put me in shock about my own country.
It’s easier to understand the existence of a radical twisted ideology, an enemy that has never met you but wants you dead none the less for not conforming.
This is much harder to understand.
Before proceeding, understand that this re-traumatized me in some ways. If you are on the Autism Spectrum or other condition and are well adjusted, happy or suffering from depression and don’t already know about what I’m talking about, I highly suggest closing this. It’s been making me feel physically ill just writing about it.
I don’t know how best to soften the blow, so I’m going to get straight to it. Maybe you’ve heard of it but didn’t know what to make of it. Learning of it and seeing it affected me very personally and deeply, I’ll explain why.
Consider this the Red Pill or Blue Pill moment
So what is it?
The Judge Rotenberg Center(JRC). It’s a special needs live-in school with 40 residences. Though unlike Charter hospital back in the day, it’s designed for people like me too. They deal with all kinds of people with developmental differences, disorders, mental illnesses. ADD, ADHD, Autism, epilepsy, Cerebral Palsy, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Mental Retardation, etc. Formally called The Behavioral Research Institute(BRI), specializing in behavioral modification. A major feature is that they have a zero rejection policy, taking students that were rejected elsewhere. It is taxpayer-funded.
In this “School”, people not unlike I was as a child have been tortured worse than we treat our prisoners and captured terrorists using Powerful Aversive Shock Therapy as “Treatment” using devices strapped all over the body called GEDs. They are not FDA approved because they have been modified to be more powerful, powerful enough to burn flesh. Because apparently some students developed resistance to it. They use it to “shock” behavior out of kids.
This treatment has been used by the psychiatric industry in the past as a “treatment” to cure Homosexuality, back when it was considered mental illness instead of a difference.
It’s been going on for years, some employees who regretted being a part of it spoke out. Some parents appealed to the courts after they realized what was really going on. There were already protections, including court judge approval being required, parental consent, etc. Some parents had no idea what was actually going on there.
I first learned of it seeing the petition to end it started by a former employee, because for the first time taped footage of the torture was released to press during a court case and is now on youtube. I’m not sure everyone can handle seeing the footage, so first I’ll describe my reaction to it and the contents.
The first time I saw that footage, I felt the deepest pain, a pain like I’ve never felt before. I’ve felt pretty terrible during the loss of loved ones. This was different. Maybe I’m just really sensitive at heart.
Normally I shed few tears when sad, eyes get moist but I don’t cry much, I hold back. Which is a habit I learned due to the bullying, and because it wasn’t cool to show emotion if you wanted to be accepted by your peers.
But this.. this shook me to my core. My knees gave out, I went to the floor and trembled, I really cried then like I’ve never cried as long as I can remember,I couldn’t hold anything back. I thought I would throw up. I felt physically ill, that deep pit in my stomach for several weeks. Even typing this makes me cry today, and this isn’t the first time I’ve typed it.
I was in utter awe and horror. It was an Autistic kid, and it was for reasons I would have been shocked too.. and it was in my country. It was in a special needs school, not a fanatical cult or kidnapping, not a terror attack on the country. It was LEGAL.
I had been in the dark for so long, and came out of the dark only to realize that there are nightmares in my own country. I didn’t believe anything like this could possibly be happening here. I thought for sure we were more enlightened.
It was the same feeling of being helpless, powerless and desperate that gave me PTSD originally.. This time not for myself, but for others like me.
The kid just didn’t take his jacket off on command, so they begin shocking him and he jerked out of his chair and went to the floor under his desk. They continued to shock him and strapped him to a board over 7 hours and their reason for shocking him 31 times is because he tensed his muscles, trying to brace for the shock. Tensing muscles is considered an “aggressive action”, he was additionally shocked because he cried out “No” “Please” and “Help” until it was just pure horrific screaming. This resulted in him being in a catatonic non responsive state with burns on his body, not responsive to even a hand waving in front of his eyes, like no one lives there anymore.
I didn’t have to be told he has PTSD after that,I knew he would have it. To my understanding, he has not fully recovered today. His name is Andre McCollins, hailing from Brooklyn, New York. The footage was from 2002, and he was shocked using the GED-1, which is the FDA approved version, not the more powerful version being used now.
I take this deeply personally, because the way I would shut down. I would not be quick to respond to a command either, often needing it to be repeated when I was a kid, such as taking off my hat(I’ve always liked wearing hats) right away, I didn’t want to. Or not hearing someone talking to me right away, or thinking they might be talking to someone else in the room.
There are other behaviors that I would have qualified me to receive more shocks as well. In sensory/stressful situations, I like to close my eyes to shut off sensory and think more clearly. 10-15 seconds of closed eyes or appearing to stop working meant shocks. How can not taking off a jacket call for such treatment? IMHO, this is more like training for absolute obedience and breaking people of their will like mine was broken. Conditioning.
This very treatment can lead to someone shutting down, see the potential for a feedback loop here?
I later learned that he had been abused at a previous facility and that there have been deaths at JRC/BRI in the past.
They are supposed to be only using it in the most extreme life threatening self-injury cases, but previous investigations have revealed that they use it for minor reasons. The petition was started by Gregory Miller, a former employee that found it sickening, who has blown the whistle for years now.
According to his testimony as well as survivor testimonies, they do this to mute children who can not speak for themselves or tell their parents what is happening, from which I would assume means they did not have access to assistive communication technology like other non verbal autistic people, who by the way, have proven they were intelligent when “experts” thought they were not in some cases.
They would use shock for the most minor reasons: Not responding fast enough to a command, a child wanting to hold hands or hug seeking human warmth/security. “Getting up” from your seat to ask to go to the bathroom was considered an act of aggression and resulted in shock. They also shocked students who were reacting to the student next to them that was being shocked. Or reacting with fear when an employee reached for the remote for another student, and then shocked them for that reaction.
It is not restricted to Autism, for example, shocking a child with cerebral palsy for making moaning sounds or reaching with her hands or any other conditions with abnormal behavior or attention problems.
During the court case, the founder of JRC, Mathew Israel, destroyed additional tapes against court orders and was charged with misleading a grand jury over the destruction of those video tapes, but ultimately resigned with a plea deal. The full truth of what was on those tapes never came out as far as I know. I want to know what was worth hiding, such as staff members laughing, as if they gained sadistic pleasure in their job?
There have been multiple investigations, but the one I thought would draw even Presidential attention was the United Nations, not just one but TWO Special Rapporteurs on Torture who did determine it was Torture and urged our government to investigate.
I’ve seen a lot of terrible things, such as radical/cartel beheadings, which I really couldn’t watch and looked away from. I am rather desensitized to seeing fictional and videogame violence. This is just so different, because it’s not considered a crime, and it’s in the place I call home, the USA.
This is the link to an 18 minute compilation of press coverage put up by Miller, including the torture footage(really starts later in the video) and UN specialists commenting on it. Hopefully I’ve given you fair warning, you may wish to continue reading. Sometimes seeing is believing.
What’s been done about it?
There have been multiple investigations in the past, and whistle-blowing that went mostly ignored and got lost in deferrals and bureaucracy IMHO.
There have been protests from multiple advocacy groups(save for one), human and civil rights groups(not to mention Anonymous), an occupy movement, SEIU, that you can read about in the links I’ll post below.
Some politicians have tried to get it shut down for years. As of September 2011, No NEW students can be subjected to this “treatment”, problem is there are students staying in there for years.
There have been multiple petitions on change.org, I just noticed the previously closed petition has been restarted, only 185k signatures, not enough yet. Which leads me to believe the general public is still largely unaware or unsure. Not to mention, the videos don’t exactly seem to have gone viral.
If I understand correctly, the DOJ launched an investigation last year at the request of the UN. I have no idea what the results of that are or if it is still on going. I am skeptical, wondering if they even have people qualified to investigate in this case, are any people Autistic part of that team? There is still a lot of flawed thinking and outdated schools of thought. After all, I still see that the CDC, Journalists, Politicians and Civilians are still referring to people like me as an Epidemic to be Combated. Guess how that makes some of us feel? Being compared to an infectious disease.
The FDA is currently recommending banning the use of the devices for Autism, though I believe that is a very narrow scope, Shocks are only the most dramatic example. Other methods that are not exclusive to one State are Restraints, confinement, starvation, stuffing children into sacks with tie strings, an adult laying on top of a child making it difficult to breathe, etc. None of that is going to help with Trust.
There is however, another side to the story that has kept the facility going.
Looking at this more objectively and looking at flaws in thinking
I am definitely looking at this from an Autism perspective, which is in itself a diverse spectrum. I am certainly biased in this case.
I don’t doubt there might be cases where they are genuinely helping, especially when GEDs are not involved and positive reinforcement is mostly used. The facilities sound nice with lots of activities, Very fancy looking.
I am also aware of how horrific the self-injurious behavior can be, that parents feel that this is the only option saving their children’s lives or fear their own children in some cases. I will say, that if it is truly life threatening, then their treatment clearly needs to be switched in order for a ban to take place. From the sounds of it, they do not try alternative approaches.
This is where the flaw in thinking begins.
There’s a major step missing in their treatment plan after the first step “Identify the inappropriate behavior”.
The step that is missing is “Identify the underlying cause of the behavior”
In other words, not all behavior is necessarily inappropriate or willful. There are many possible factors. Co-morbid or other transient conditions not of a psychological nature.
My behavior was a response to a combination of overwhelming factors resulting in extraordinary stress. It was not willful, it was more like instinctive reflex, like removing your hand from a burning stove. Something about the pressure sensation.
This is what I call the “reactionary band-aid approach” vs diagnosing the root cause, which may require some outside the box thinking and different kinds of specialists.
A couple short articles that emphasize how behaviors can be mistaken, when they can actually be communication:
http://www.ageofautism.com/2009/11/when-autism-behaviors-are-physical-pain.html [Check the Comment Section as well]
In other words, aversive shocks may be simply be treating pain with more pain. Treating it like it’s normal willful misbehavior, when it’s actually not. It really seems to be based on conformity to normal, the problem is normal for some people is simply different.
Anti-psychotic medications may not have worked because it was not that kind of behavior to begin with.
I also question by what standard are they determining what is inappropriate. For a normal person, certainly.. For a mute person or someone that simply cannot understand what’s wrong? That changes things.
The term “programming” is being thrown around, which is not going to help someone understand what is causing their own behavior. I didn’t understand mine at the time either, and I was extremely frustrated with myself.
They say that it is a good reaction when a child responds with fear when staff reach for the remote activation switch. I would compare it to the same reaction you might expect when an abused dog sees it’s master raising a stick to beat it with.
I seriously doubt any amount of positive reinforcement is going to counter being restrained and shocked. As the man said, you can’t be anymore helpless in that situation. You might get them to repress as I did though, but that isn’t same as healing. I suspect every feeling person knows to some degree that we often mask or hide our pain, everything can look fine on the surface. Something unpleasant comes up and you turn to jokes or act out, you avoid.. This can be conditioned as well.
Circus and other performing animals are often abused as part of their training, but when the time comes for the show, the unsuspecting audience is amazed at the flawless performance.
So yes, it’s possible you’ve trained people to shut down and repress parts of themselves. The problem with repression is that it does fester and can eat away at you. It may be much harder to determine underlying causes if this “treatment” has gone on for years, if you’ve successfully trained someone to repress. It may stifle future progress and keep someone stuck in time.
The measure of severity in which someone feels pain can differ from person to person as well. Not to mention the sensitivity to cold and heat. I have a hypersensitive sense of smell, touch and hearing. I had to have desensitization training to touch when I was a child and there are still certain fabrics that wreak havoc on my nervous system, that I feel in my spine or give me goose bumps.
None of the positive JRC video testimonials from actual students mention GED or other students receiving the treatment.
Why can we not even separate the good from the bad?
The only reason I’ve been able to become more self-aware is because I had the space and time to do so. If I had been constantly re-exposed to my “Hell” with no escape. I probably wouldn’t be in any condition to communicate now.
Further loss of trust
I already had reasons to be highly skeptical of political parties and group thinking, with all due respect to politicians that tried to do something, I’ve never distrusted politicians more in my life.
There is an epidemic surrounding Autism, it’s called ignorance. This one of the cases where the psychiatric/psychology industry does not yet have everything figured out. Perhaps there is too much trust placed in ordinary human beings sometimes known as public servants to even have awareness and see all situations. Putting too much power in their hands expecting they’ll be able to play the role of savior.
I’ve reached the point where I do not trust “The System” to hold itself accountable, correct itself or surrender authority(Thank you George Washington), whether there are new Laws or not. I believe that real change can only come with public awareness, I trust more in the voices of people. The media only covers sensationalized political topics, social media helps to a limited degree.
New laws may go into effect, but will that truly change things or just cause them to become more hidden? As there are cases where existing laws are not enforced, do not account for some variables or can be interpreted in different ways.
Somehow the phrase Taxation without Representation doesn’t seem strong enough.
I’ve seen people complaining about autistic people always complaining about being misunderstood. Well I’d say this a rather compelling reason to make those complaints, when it’s not a criminal act to torture and treat us as less than human or animal. The larger issue is not a question of just banning shocks, but of human rights for people with disabilities in general. Why what would be considered torture in other circumstance gets a free pass.
I find it extremely disheartening that the United Nations clearly recognize torture, but my government apparently doesn’t? I would have at least expected some serious charges based on what is already known regardless of a ban and investigations into why officials dismissed the warnings from Miller. It seems there was a breakdown in information being able to reach the people it needed to somewhere.
I love my country still, and will continue to support the troops as best I can. You can say what you will of wars and argue, but they still defend us all unconditionally.
Re-traumatized, increased sensitivity, loss of passion
To a degree this did re-traumatize me, though I’m better able to handle it now. Like I mentioned in my original post, my story is more of a case study. There are people I’ve never met that I am very concerned about.
I definitely cry easier, and watching some fictional depictions of torture disturbs me now, because it reminds me of that footage.
A good example is Serenity(which I love), the movie follow-up to the Firefly series. The River Tam torture scenes make me cringe a bit now and more emotional(great acting). The River Tam story definitely has some similarities to this and is a character I can relate to in some ways.
I won’t watch most pure horror exploitation movies now for the most part, especially when they are more realistic.
As far as artwork, I haven’t touched Zbrush since then. I used to enjoy just exploring shapes and concepts and patterns in Zbrush, I do still keep up to date with developments though.
I also stopped playing video games, which I used to find to be enjoyable escapes from reality. Don’t get that excited about movies or television anymore either.
I was pretty excited about the release of the Unreal Engine 4 game engine because it empowers artists and non-programmers like never before and studying that for a while, but something kept interrupting my ability to stay focused. That would be my guilty conscience for not speaking out sooner because I was terrified. I’ve put everything else on hold in order to do so now, with the exception of some comic cons and house hunting trips.
Many folks still only think of the worst perceived cases of Autism, or people who have trouble with social queues, difficulty with eye contact. Many mistaken preconceived notions out there and stigmas that have been made worse due to bad journalism.
When you think of Autism, you should also think of people who have more visual minds sometimes, an obsessive focus which makes us very creative with a different attention to detail, capable of making distinctions others sometimes miss. Outside the box thinkers that instead of spending time socializing or worrying about the latest fashion, might be busy inventing something that will benefit or entertain everyone.
The old man for example, isn’t overly social but more so than I. His real passion is science and mathematics, he always has a technical book with him and anything he chooses to study, he studies until he has mastered. He gets depressed when he isn’t being challenged or researching something and upset when his skills aren’t being taken advantage of. If he’s not studying something new, he’s refreshing constantly.
So if we could just get around issues like this, that cause depression, PTSD or heavy weight on the conscience, it would be a lot easier for us to commit to that obsessive focus and put it to good use.
For the most part, I’m having trouble looking away from all the bad things here and around the World. Rethinking everything, trying to think of creative ways to do both.
Closing thoughts, more on PTSD and distrust
I wanted to share Jennifer Msumba’s recent extended interview for a specific reason. She is a survivor that was released in 2009.
What they did to her is sick, despite JRC’s claims in other interviews. What I wanted to focus on, is being afraid of people.
I’m not positive she meant the type of distrust I have in mind, but if it is, then I can testify it’s not a fun way to exist. It’s a problem with being able to trust sincerity.
I want to provide a deeper example of conditioned distrust and doubt.
I’ve had what most people would describe as “fanboy” or “fangirl” experiences that would normally leave one with positivity that would last a long time.
I only started going to comic cons this year, because it seemed like a good place where you don’t have to worry about fitting in or being different. I’ve had some “real” VIP experiences on multiple occasions with different people. Which, for obvious reasons I can not go into detail about. I went to see certain people for reasons beyond characters they’ve played, to appreciate the real person because I sensed something special, and in turn have been treated as more than a fan in some cases. One of them actually encouraged me to write. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d be doing this blog among other things.
Part of me knows it’s sincere and genuine, but part of me also feels that conditioned distrust and doubt. I desperately don’t want to feel that kind of doubt.
I don’t like sharing that, because it feels cruel to those people and to me, and I want to be rid of that feeling once and for all. Having increased awareness of conditioning isn’t enough, I’m still in conflict with it.
That conditioning of distrust makes it very difficult to appreciate all the positive things in life. It feels so cruel to have doubts.
I feel genuine kindness, I care deeply, I’m loyal to those closest to me, I smile, I laugh, I joke. I would like to fall in love some day, but I feel that requires more than just kindness and to not have feelings of doubt. Right now, I’d settle for just a sense of peace.
I honestly feel stumped and am not sure how to respond when someone pays me a compliment.
Think about how many Soldiers with PTSD have trouble coming home and being around even their own friends and family members. I don’t know if it’s the same as what soldiers truly experience or not. Not being able to trust, not being able to let your guard down? I wasn’t extremely social before PTSD, but it was nothing like this. Keeping your guard up and staying vigilant is how you survive sometimes.
Someone puts you through hell, and then try to positively reward you when you satisfy them? Like my own experience, sometimes it is the action or inaction itself that drives how you will respond regardless of words. I would say this definitely makes it harder to trust anyone. In my case, it was one of the teachers that I admired and liked, who also thought well of me that was telling me to “just ignore it”.
I can’t find words to fully express that feeling in a form that justifies its magnitude.
Like I said, my case seems insignificant. Now imagine…
If this is similar to what Jennifer feels, then she should win her lawsuit against JRC on that alone in my opinion. Being afraid or unable to trust.
I wish I could go back and sue sometimes, but it’s been too long and it’s not worth the misery. But I know what I would do, obviously money doesn’t buy happiness. But there are a lot of alternative counseling and therapies I would like to try. PTSD treatments tend to be geared toward soldiers, autism programs are geared towards parents and children. Not to mention, I don’t know which kind of “help” I would get in the official programs, whether I’ll be treated human or subhuman, I prefer to pick my own help. Then of course there’s various tutoring, maybe even college, even though you can do a lot of self educating these days, a tutor or someone to discuss things with in person is still of value, being able to frame questions towards my way of learning.
Insurance doesn’t cover the alternative therapies I would like to try or travel to. To the insurance company, it’s going to look like I’m going on vacation or something just for fun, not to heal.
I know some thought I was sharing my story out of courage. It doesn’t feel like courage to me, more like surrender to fate.
I’m somewhat terrified of even using Freedom of Speech, because I believe due to my labels, my rights can be dismissed at the wave of a hand by those in positions of authority. One thing you can count on from many in elevated positions, is that they will defend their stations of authority or benefits viciously if challenged. Especially when there are millions in research funding involved. There’s nothing on their site acknowledging their mistakes, deaths or cases where it truly is torture unless I overlooked something. They’ve responded as mildly as possible to Andre’s case from what I’ve seen.
I also worry about sharing this because I realize it will likely alter people’s view and affect objectivity.
What’s left to do that hasn’t already been done?
Considering everything, this is all I know to do. That’s why I started this blog, to add my voice and continue to try to raise awareness. Though I don’t know if awareness is truly enough. Somehow, I suspect many of my questions will linger long after I am gone.
I’d like to be able to go to sleep at night knowing that there is not some kind state sponsored torture and abuse going on against people who are different. This place is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s an entire Disability Underworld.
P.S. Links below, but this sums up what I first felt. Feel free to comment.