“Escuela Caribe.” When I first read those words in the glossy pages of a pamphlet handed to me by my parents, images of beaches, palm trees, and coconuts filled my mind. It appeared to be a fun, exotic Christian summer camp. Things had been tense at home and agreeing to go through this program in the Dominican Republic would make my parents happy. So, after being promised that I could enroll in college in the fall, I agreed to go to the Dominican for the summer. Just in case they planned on keeping me there longer, I had saved up enough cash to buy a plane ticket home. Little did I know that my passport would be locked up along with any hope of leaving even after I turned 18.
I paused for a moment before I stepped onto my flight. I remember that moment perfectly. Later, I used to dream about that moment wondering, “If I just hadn’t gotten on that plane, I wouldn’t be trapped here.”
When I first arrived on the remote campus, way up in the mountains, it was immediately clear that it wasn’t a regular Christian Bible camp. None of the other students spoke to me or made eye contact. Armed guards patrolled the campus and the windows were barred.
I got a crash course in “the Program” – the complex points and levels system and seemingly endless list of rules governing our every move. Some students couldn’t even walk from one room to another or go to the bathroom without asking permission from a male staff member. Standing, waiting for permission to just walk across the living room was humiliating. I was often ignored so that I would be late on my jobs, which elicited more punishments.
Consequences for breaking rules were severe. Students were sometimes locked up in “the quiet room,” which was a tiny concrete room with just a bucket to go to the bathroom and a thin pad to sleep on. Students would have to spend hours doing pointless labor like scrubbing a pot, digging a hole and re-filling it, or moving rocks from one end of a field to another, sometimes ALL DAY.
Every night as I struggled to sleep, I asked myself what I was doing there – what had I done that my parents would send me to this place? I wasn’t a “bad” kid – I had never tried drugs, never had sex, and I had done well in school. Still, when I looked around at my fellow students I felt lucky. At least I didn’t have to deal with recovering from a drug addiction or a mental illness in this messed up place, and thank God I wasn’t gay.
We were all monitored closely, but a gay student was always under a microscope. I learned this the hard way. On a rare free day I was playing monopoly with several students; my back hurt. Using a machete to cut grass will do that. One of my housemates started giving me a shoulder massage. Immediately, veteran students around us reported this to our house staff. For the next 20 minutes I was yelled at and berated by a staff person for touching a gay student. He couldn’t understand how I could let someone so filthy touch me. I remember the loathing and hate that was in his voice. I remember him saying, “If you only knew who he was you never would have let him touch you.” My punishment was swats on the ass with a leather strap, administered by a 30-something male staff member with others watching. My housemate’s were much worse.
For the next few weeks, I lost the few privileges I had. I wasn’t allowed to talk to my gay housemate and we had to keep at least 8 feet between us at all times. We needed special permission to sit at the same dinner table. Then he wrote in his “private” journal about wanting to run away, so they took away his shoes. He drank window cleaner, a cry for help, and instead of helping him he was punished and no one was allowed to talk about the incident. Like I said, you did not want to be gay at Escuela Caribe.
We all wished for the day we could finally leave, but there was no definitive day. I had no way to leave. They had my passport, and I had no money or unmonitored access to a phone or computer – not to mention the barbed wire that surrounded the remote campus. I was one of the lucky ones; I only had to spend one year at EC. I remember staff telling us that in the DR they could hold us past 18 if they wanted. Legally, this was a lie, but they did simply because no one would stop them.
One student who was at Escuela Caribe at the same time as me has begun to bring attention to these injustices in the documentary Kidnapped For Christ, which is in progress right now. They are fundraising on Indiegogo to complete the film. David, who was sent to Escuela Caribe after coming out to his parents, was kept at the school past the age of 18 and faced many of the same types of abuse that I and many others did.
David was brave enough to say something to the director of Kidnapped For Christwhen she was at Escuela Caribe filming. Most of us were too afraid that we would get in trouble or that the film was just some elaborate plot by the school to catch us saying negative things about the program, which equaled punishment Yet, by some miracle David got away with telling her the truth and now I hope everyone will be able to see what that place was really like for us. Together we can bring awareness of other schools out there like Escuela Caribe.
Please Watch the Trailer and HELP: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/kidnapped-for-christ—4