Abuse in the Name of Help... Survivor of Unregulated Christian Reform School Tells All in Compelling Memoir

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Imagine being a teenager dropped off at a lock down Christian reform school in the middle of nowhere...Michele Ulriksen tells a harrowing story of life there... and how she has become an advocate of searching out and shutting down similar schools in America.

Many girls I have spoken to got into trouble after leaving VCA. My story is not unique

Reform at Victory, A Survivor's Story is a harrowing first-person account of a year spent in a lock-down, all-girl, fundamentalist Baptist reform school. It's also a manifesto, warning people -- especially parents -- that American youth are being mistreated and abused every day in unlicensed, unregulated, alternative residential treatment facilities.

Author Michele Ulriksen is on a mission to close down dangerous schools, and require state licensing and regulations for all private, residential programs for troubled juveniles.

Michele Ulriksen was a typical teenager growing up in southern California. She liked to hang out with friends and listen to music. She also had a rebellious side, and tested her parents' patience to the limit by staying out late at night and experimenting with drinking.

When she was 16, Michele's worried parents sent her to Victory Christian Academy (VCA) in Ramona, California in the rural outskirts of San Diego to "straighten her out" and become a Christian. Her parents thought they were sending their daughter to a loving, religious school, but it was a nightmarish prison-style program that harmed Ulriksen's heart and soul.

"The reason these schools fly under the radar of public scrutiny is nobody bothers to look into them and alert the authorities. They figure it's a nice Christian school where they're teaching troubled teens about God and Jesus and what's wrong with that? Well, it's not OK. There are illegal practices going on that put children in grave danger. I should know. I lived through it and have the scars to prove it," Ulriksen said.

Her worst experiences included:

·     Locked in the "Get Right Room" on Day One, resulting in feeling terrified, isolated and trapped
·     Daily verbal and emotional abuse in demeaning "rap sessions" and preaching tirades
·     Separation from family; able to talk to parents by phone only once per week for 15 minutes
·     Denied the most basic rights that most U.S. prisoners have like medical and dental treatment
·     Education so poor that Ulriksen was far behind after one year
·     VCA was not licensed by the U.S. Dept. of Education
·     No books, except the Bible
·     Forced to watch films about The Rapture, from which fear-based brainwashing took place
·     Not permitted to wear pants, and told wearing them was a sin

"It was a very strange world. There was no normalcy of any kind. I strongly believe there are better ways to deal with a rebellious teenager than to place him or her in an extremely oppressive environment where independent thinking is discouraged, verbal abuse is practiced and encouraged, education is denied, and only an Old Testament view, centered on fear, guilt and sin, is embraced and tolerated," said Ulriksen.

Ulriksen, now 39, came out of Victory disconnected from her parents, more rebellious than ever, and bitter about the verbal and emotional abuse she endured. She tried to take her own life, suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and night terrors, and began to escape with the help of drugs and alcohol.

"Many girls I have spoken to got into trouble after leaving VCA. My story is not unique," she said.

"Many of the "graduates" of other reform and boot camp programs experience the same trauma and after-affects. At Victory, we had to conform to the school's nonsensical and abusive ways. Overzealous religious staff masquerading as educators and counselors hijacked our civil liberties and freedom of speech. Locking teenagers up in a little closet won't make them Christians, and besides, it's illegal," said Ulriksen.

Now a healthy adult after years of therapy and hard work, Ulriksen is a crusader and public speaker advocating the licensing and regulations of reform schools. She works for the closure of schools that have documented proof of physical abuse, neglect and even deaths.

A big part of Ulriksen's mission is warning parents about what to look for in a reform school or "boot camp," and educating the public about red flags that may warn of problems and abuse.

"Parents deserve to know the truth before signing the custody of their teenager over to strangers for a year, or longer, to live in a facility that may be dangerous to their loved one's emotional, mental, physical and spiritual health," said Ulriksen.

She includes a checklist in her book to help parents decide whether a facility is right for them and their child. Ulriksen also notes that, unfortunately, many teens that are sent to reform schools are suffering from mental or emotional disorders. She urges parents to seek out medical and psychological help first, which is a healthier alternative to an unlicensed, unregulated boarding school.

Michele Ulriksen wrote Reform at Victory to share her own story and help others recover from similar experiences. She also hopes her book will help teenagers to avoid the situation entirely. Her book has been endorsed by Clinical Psychologist Alison Pinton, Ph.D., and coordinator of A START: Alliance for Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate Use of Residential Treatment (http://astart.fmhi.usf.edu).

Michele Ulriksen lives in Portland, Oregon and has a teenage daughter. She juggles public speaking about schools like Victory with a graduate school program in communications.


Reform at Victory, A Survivor's Story
Author: Michele Ulriksen
ISBN 978-0-615-22253-0

For more information, contact:
Sharon Cook


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