Monday, September 7, 2015

Zack Bonnie's "Dead, Insane, or in Jail" ~ A Book Review in Two Parts

The in-print copy of Zack Bonnie's book about his interment in a remote facility for "troubled teens" became available on Amazon TODAY!

The title echoes the (stated and allegedly) altruistic intent of the founder of that facility to rescue  those teens who would otherwise end up "dead, insane, or in jail," as it was put to him by a staff member there — at the Rocky Mountain Academy, a facility founded by Charles E. Dietrich University or CEDU (pronounced "see-do").

I'm disappointed that I failed to get entirely through the book by today to celebrate the print edition, complete with new linoleum cut print artwork which I happen to love.  I decided to seek the best of both alternatives, posting the review in two parts.

Several formats of the the e-book may be purchased online at  The site also features some information about the book and the subject as well.

The Pros and Cons of a Tender Topic

I had the pleasure of meeting Zack in Stockholm in June at the International Cultic Studies Association meeting and found him so likable.  He has a quick wit and a depth of melancholy, but while a part of me couldn't wait to read his saga, I knew that it would be painful.

In the book, Zack describes the unpleasant anticipation of group interrogation sessions that were a part of his secular program.  When I read this paragraph describing how he felt, I thought of my own reluctance to dive into the book that I downloaded days after returning from the meeting.  As I anticipated, I feel compassion for the author, I am reminded of the suffering of my friends who survived teen homes, and I identify with so many of the common experiences of the process of dissociation in the midst of thought reform.  (He describes his experience of dissociation quite elegantly — which only a very good writer can do.)  Those elements have slowed down my usual reading speed as I stop to ponder and think and feel.

That said, the pain is also healing for me because it gives me another opportunity to realize that thought reform does most all of the same kinds of things to us.  We struggle with the same elements of losing ourselves as we attempt to cope.  Because the quality of the book's writing communicates so much so well, I think that anyone who has endured intense psychological manipulation will benefit from reading it.

The Troubled Teen Industry

As readers here may note, I have a special interest in the plight and the suffering of the young women who have suffered in similar teen homes that the Independent Fundamental Baptists (IFB) administer.  Hephzibah House and New Bethany are numbered among those residential programs whose survivors trusted me with their accounts of suffering and torture.  My heart breaks for them and the life long and pervasive effects that their experiences create for them. Their families (of origin and of their own) suffer with them as they all find their way through life which already contains enough pain for everyone — even for those from "charmed life." (Please click HERE for more info.)

Note of Warning:  If you are religious, a "Hephzibah Girl," or a former resident of another IFB home for teens that was patterned after Lester Roloff's program, please note that the author's account makes use of offensive language that classifies as "vulgarity" (that of common use which differs for me from the profane).  As part of the true-to-life memoir, I don't find it to be inappropriate, though religious folks who are sensitive to language should take note of it.  I think that the benefits of reading it far outweigh the issue of language for those who might find it distracting. 

If you are new to the subject of the Residential Troubled Teen issue, Kathryn Joyce wrote a shocking yet excellent article about it which Mother Jones published a few years ago.  If you're reluctant to read the book, I ask that you take a look at Joyce's article to see if it engages more of your interest.  I believe that material about these homes is essential reading for all Americans — so that they can understand what too many children endure when they serve their sentences in such places.  They're convicted without hearings, sentenced without an advocate, and locked away in a land that we were taught was the home of the free.

The Epigraph

For now, I will stick to the subject of this industry itself  by noting two quotes from the author.  These caught my attention immediately on my first reading of them, and I copied them without hesitation for inclusion here.

  They echo the same sentiments that I hear from those who endured their own prison sentences in similar facilities.
Others can mince words, I will not. It boggles my mind to consider that these reasons may simply all be reduced to a money-making scheme to dupe parents and warehouse their children for a spate when things got “tough.”     (Kindle Locations 157-159)

In fact, the only thing that qualifies me to request your time reading this account is that thousands like me have lived in these mandatory situations with interesting social dynamics that, to me, defy reason. 
     (Kindle Locations 182-184)

Part Two of my review will soon follow.
  In the meanwhile, enjoy this video that a friend of the author created to help launch the book.