Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Zack's Memoir, "Dead, Insane, or in Jail": Book Review, Part II of II

Libraries and bound text purists may purchase

 Dead, Insane, or In Jail:
A CEDU Memoir

Several formats of the the e-book may be purchased online at author Zack Bonnie's website at

Take the tour of additional resources while you're visiting the site.

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Original Artwork by ZACH ATTACK! (Used with Permission)

In the previous post, I prefaced the heart of this review with a description of the unregulated "Troubled Teen Industry" where parents warehouse their "problem" children as owners reap much profit.  In this part of my review of Zack Bonnie's book, I consider the primary ways that the content impacted and continues to haunt me.  I will write in this post only of the personal elements.

However, one poignant element of this industry included in the memoir does deserve honorable mention for me. The author includes excerpts documenting the formal information given to parents which stand in stark contrast to the "hidden curriculum" and actual practices within the program.  (Read more about the "hidden curriculum" and the unwritten rules in a high demand, closed group HERE and HERE.)  He also includes letters from his mother and excerpts from his journals which help orient the reader, reminding them of the blatant deception these programs promulgate.

A friend of mine who is precious to me (a Second Generation Adult who survived to thrive after the Patriarchy/Quiverfull Movement) has a son who recently drew this image. You've already heard about her on this blog once or twice, but I want to preserve the artist's privacy.  He is also a "Zach" (spelled differently from our featured author today giving rise to my own misspelling onf his name) and chose the name Zach Attack to give him appropriate credit for his work.

This picture reminds me of such abusive teen programs that utilize nothing less than torture.  The programs sound like unique last hopes for parents, but unlike Zach Attack's rendition of a deadly confection that uses notably honest advertising, the Troubled Teen Industry omits the grave, honest, and vital warnings.  They conceal knowledge of their own proverbial equivalents to rat poison and razor blades.  I'm grateful that homes restrict razor blades and other contraband, or many would bleed into oblivion as their only viable escape from the hell suffered that is worse than any jail or prison in this country.  Some groups even restrict access to both toilet paper and the restroom.

Grief for Survivors of IFB Programs

I've listened, read, and written much about this topic already, so I will seek brevity which is rare for me.  So many things and the literal voices of survivors that I've talked with rang their audible imprints in my mind as I read the memoir:  the ache in Susan's voice about hunger and "so much food";  A__'s anxiety of powerlessness while incarcerated mingled with angst — and her note to me about how hard she finds it to read what seems like an anatomy of her soul on paper.  I can't begin to recount the tenderness in my heart for all of you, my sisters-of-sorts.  I can identify with you through my own heartache which stands as an infinitesimal, wispy of a blade of grass by comparison to the obelisk of your depths of suffering.

When Zack described his thoughts and emotions about what suddenly absent sojourners — kids that suddenly go missing from the program without word or warning -- I felt as if the marrow of my bones literally winced then ached.  I can't begin to even describe the sense of that experience that the author reveals in words, save to describe my own response.  I've thought about the women who told me that the first thought in their heads was first that they'd finally killed a girl, followed by the hope that their missing peer had broken out and ran free from the prison you shared with them. the Author's Eyes

As Zack describes the events leading to his exile at Rocky Mountain Academy (RCA) and the early stages of his indoctrination process, I found myself contemplating the nature of the progressive death of healthy optimism under the crushing of the process of awakening to betrayal.  As noted in the first post, the program was meant to rescue those who were otherwise destined for early death, insanity, and/or prison for breaking the civil law.  As everyone who endured thought reform or cultic abuse knows well, when compromising and unethical means accomplish the ironically lofty and grand objectives of a high demand group, the system sacrifices the very individuals that they seek to help.  Paradoxically, they end up creating that which they seek to oppose and eliminate.

RCA and the additional punishment of the physical torture of the survival element of the program accomplished something very different from reforming an insightful, intelligent, clever individual who acted out against the hypocrisy he saw — the acting out which landed him in the program.  In effect, RCA created the death of the innocent optimism of a talented young man who I found to be especially likable and good hearted under the misunderstood exterior with which all teenagers wrestle in their quest to find themselves and figure out who they really are.

I recalled the too familiar, predictable process of dissociation which is, in fact, a very sane and effective means of coping.  Again, let me say that his acute description of dissociation struck me as elegant, reminding me of the pain descriptor that I learned as a nurse:  "exquisite pain."  Watching that process vicariously through Zack's words depicted the feeling of insanity that covers the gift of dissociation that preserves us through the cruel, fully orbed process of a thought reform process that aids our survival.  And I still contemplate now, with as much empathy as I have by comparison, how that precious gift of survival becomes a life-long process of struggle for children forced to realize its power.

In jail?  The program was an interment camp of multi-leveled torture, in and of itself.  It is one thing to be "scared straight."  It is yet another feel the pain of grinding down into dust to be left with little the black abyss of hopelessness into which to gaze.  I didn't read such a strong and harsh description of such in the book, but I suspect that it could well be where the author ventures in the book's sequel (in development).

My Reflection in the Mirror

I think that good writing gives a mirror to others which allows them to see themselves.  One who nurtures does this for those they love so that they can see themselves realistically without threat or shame.  In this mirror, honesty validates those who have endured similar experiences in a way that no other mirror can.  By opening up to vulnerability, those who are also vulnerable and wounded can learn that they are not isolated and lost.  The physiologic process of trauma that takes place physically creates the feeling of isolation, in and of itself, so this is already a hurdle to overcome.  But healing shines through writing and encouragement and care which comes from someone who has walked a similar mile, because it informs (or in my case reminds) the recipient of the raw truth that they are part of a kinship.  And if one uses those elements of kinship well, they become a potent force of healing.  Zack speaks the language of such pain and the ongoing process of surviving it well to pursue thriving.

I was hesitant to include this, but many elements of the nature of the work felt common and familiar.  Some have nothing to do with the trauma that the author endured at the facility and the tall pines of its pain.  Most notably, the sardonic wit and humor as a means of coping with the unimaginable, sublime, and ridiculous aspects life and trauma in particular bore an endearing,  familiar feeling for me.  I do the same and gravitate to those who do the same — some secret language that comes with the kinship of so much pain.  Oh, and the compulsion of what I used to call the "lust for justice" in my own life before a lot of therapy that I heard in the wit spoke to me of my own memories of my dying naive idealism.  Chronic injustice gave me a penchant to find and ensure as much justice for others (and then self) which I pursued like a bloodhound.  Healing from my own trauma (mostly) took away that irresistible compulsion, but I see the reflection of what once was in the mirror of the prose.

I asked Zack a couple of questions as I read the book, and he noted that my questions seemed unusual.  He wrote that most people respond with shock over the experiences that he had at RMA.  I asked questions about who he was, then and now.  I wrote them out of the process of realizing that he and I are not really that different, save for the means by which we coped.  I played the part of "the good girl" to survive my own traumas at that age.  Zack coped by way of playing the part of what some would call "the bad boy."  I thought that if the variables in my own life had been different (if I was born male, didn't grow up on a somewhat remote steep mountain in the woods which kept me from wandering into other neighborhoods to meet other kids with more destructive means of coping), I could well be Zack.  [And more discussion of that is its another blog post all its own.]

In Closing
Naughty Note:  For Levity, let me add that I don't know that I've read such a glimpse into the mind of a healthy male teen before, noting that i did perceive him as a healthy person at the time of his admission to RMA.  He was struggling to cope with the hypocrisy and disappointment that meets all of us who try to live life consciously like his friend whom he nicknamed "Done Rough."  I don't believe that girls understand the power of a libido, especially for a teen.  
I found Zack's window into male adolescence much wider than that of Salinger's Holden Caulfield of which and whom the book reminded me in some aspects.  And I found even more amusing levity in the use of a creative expletive which I will take the risk to write here. 
Those tender to bawdy language should just stop reading now.  (I burst into laughter when I read the term "Torpedo Tits" which I have not heard used since it fell out of my beloved yet estranged father's mouth into my ears.  I needed the laugh, and the joy of the phrase was an unexpected connection to who I once was.)

Zack Bonnie gets the last word today with a notation from his Epigraph which I hope encourages others to relentlessly pursue their own healing from trauma:

This [traumatic events in later life after RMA] caused me to look back in time faithfully, and account for wherever that took me.
I needed to write with that voice – of that person who was me, then.  
(Kindle Locations 164-167)