Hello, my name is James Mason.
I am an alumni of Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch from 1994 to 2000. During my time at Pinehaven, I experienced and witnessed many deplorable acts of physical, mental, and spiritual abuse.
For the past three years, I have worked with alumni and concerned citizens across the country to prevent the abuses I suffered and witnessed. To my regret, we have yet to win this battle. Every night in Northwest Montana, another child lays in bed contemplating the decision to either run for their life, continue to live the life of a victim, or commit suicide to end it all for good. No child should have to consider these options, and I will not stop fighting until every child institutionalized in the state of Montana is free to heal, grow and prosper without fear of abuse and neglect.
Do not be fooled by the rhetoric of people whose entire lavish existence is dependent upon the survival of the troubled teen industry in Montana, and the necessary silence of those who are harmed by or object to the inevitable abuses that occur within this system. To this day there are absolutely no regulations in place to ensure the basic health and safety of children imprisoned within “adolescent treatment facilities” run by faith-based organizations in Montana. Facilities like Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch are encouraged to operate without any oversight, prevent residents from reporting abuse, and develop behavioral health programs based entirely upon religious extremism, with complete disregard for any proven medical or psychiatric principles.
This regrettable condition is the side effect of state level legislation was passed in 2005 when Bob and Andy Larsson (Directors of Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch in St. Ignatius, MT) lobbied my friend and colleague Jeanne Windham, who at the time represented Lake County in the Montana State Legislature. This legislation passed with flying colors. Years later, after researching the after effects of this legislation, Mrs. Windham began to work with former alumni and staff members of Pinehaven to spearhead a revision to the bill. Earlier this year, with the tireless guidance of Rep. Ellie Hill from Missoula, House Bill 394 was heard by the MT House Business & Labor Committee. Although the bill covered all faith-based residential treatment facilities in Montana, the conversation quickly turned to Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch. Members of the general public, including representatives from the Montana Association of Churches stood, on the record, in support of the bill. Additionally, all of the members of the Business & Labor committee were inundated with mail and messages from supporters all across the country. With the room split, due to the supposed “religious nature” of this bill, a request was made to delay the hearing for a few days in order to investigate the matter.
During this investigative break, Jeff Lazloffy, President of the Montana Family Foundation (a legislative lobbyist group for Focus on the Family), got wind of this bill and immediately sprang into action by setting up an off-the-record meeting between key Republican members of the committee and Bob Larsson, Director of Pinehaven. During this meeting, Bob Larsson was able to fight for his personal and financial stake without ever having to get on the record or provide any evidence or supporting testimony. Returning from this meeting, the bill was voted down in committee 12-9, with only one Republican member of the committee voting in favor. This properly constructed, and absolutely viable bill was not allowed to be voted on in the House because of the influence of special interest groups, and the vocal religious bias of committee members such as the Larsson’s representative from Lake County, Dan Saloman, Matthew Rosendale of Glendive, and Christy Clark of Choteu, who operates a similar unregulated facility.
February’s defeat reminded everyone working for the rights and safety of children in Montana that the faith-based residential treatment industry in Montana, including Pinehaven, is deeply entrenched, strongly supported, and must be respected as worthy opponents. Also specifically evident was the fact that the administrators of Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch would stop at nothing in order to preserve their religiously exploitive lifestyles. Whether hiding behind a veil of conveniently utilized religious freedoms, outright manipulation of supporting churches, partnering with corrupt local law enforcement, or simply attempting to switch roles with their victims – the Larsson’s have demonstrated that their livelihoods, their vacations, their hobbies, their reputations and their cultish extremism is to be guarded at all costs.
Another strategy that Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch has employed in order to maintain their abusive lifestyle is child trafficking. For years the Larssons have used the infamous “waiting list” as a key tool in manipulating and gaining spiritual and emotional control over residents, their family’s and supporting congregations. The truth, however, is breaking through the jingling tones of Bob’s classic sales presentation, learning about what really goes on at Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch. The kids and staff members they’ve seen smiling in pictures for years are the same young adults and professionals who are now telling them a much different story. The coffers are shrinking, the traveling circus has fewer stops – and Pinehaven’s supply of free child labor is dwindling. In response, the Larsson’s have utilized their nearly two decade long connections in central Illinois to maintain their resident population. Pinehaven has enlisted the services of the region’s primary Truancy Officer, Charlie Duke, to forward as many cases of “juvenile delinquency” to their care as possible. Rather than using any number of local or in-state opportunities, juvenile judges are shipping children over 1500 miles away from their homes and families to an unlicensed, unprofessional, religiously extreme facility in Northwest Montana for offenses as minor as missing school, petty larceny, or in some current cases – as wards of the court for no fault of their own.
Many of these children suffer from severe mental health issues, and are received by Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch without any resources for treating or caring for diagnosed illnesses. In fact, 100% these children are taken off psychiatric medicines under the direction of local small town doctor, Dr. Victor Davis. The end result is multiple covered up suicide attempts each year, and the eventual release of increasingly emotionally and mentally unstable young adults back into these communities years later. The State of Illinois has turned a blind eye to this illegal practice, however, over the next twelve months, it is my intention to eliminate this source of child labor for the Larssons, by ensuring that local, regional and national media are made aware, and that both the State of Montana and the State of Illinois are held accountable to enforce current laws regarding this very serious issue.
For more information, please visit: http://www.pinehavenabuse.org/