You’re sleeping soundly in bed when suddenly you’re being yanked awake.
Men crowd your bedroom and force you from your bed. Your parents stand idly by and watch. You’re disoriented and confused as they take you from your home, put you in a car and drive you to the airport.
No one will answer your questions. You board a plane for the Dominican Republic leaving your friends and family behind. Your new home is now a religious camp/school in the quick span of one day. There is no way out.
This is what happened to David, a gay 17-year-old honor student from Colorado; Beth, a 15-year-old from Michigan; Tai, a 16-year-old girl from Boston; and countless other teenagers sent to stay at Escuela Caribe, a non-denominational Christian behavior modification school for teenagers.
“Kidnapped for Christ,” a documentary by filmmaker Kate Logan and produced by pop singer Lance Bass (of ’N Sync fame), follows these three teenagers during part of their stay at what Escuela Caribe called a “therapeutic boarding school.” It premieres on Showtime Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Logan was a film student in college working on a project. As an evangelical Christian, she wanted to document the supposedly good work Escuela Caribe was doing for wayward teens. The school allowed her and her crew to film on campus, interview students and show what day-to-day life is like there.
“We got permission to film there because we had no idea anything controversial was happening,” she says in an interview with the Blade from Los Angeles. “I thought I was making a short, heartwarming film. Investigative journalists wouldn’t have gotten permission. We got permission because we were naïve.”
The film was always meant to follow the students around and get their insights on how they felt about the school. But the more Logan interviewed the students and saw how they were living, it became clear that abuse was at the forefront of this so-called behavior modification school.
David was one of the students Logan frequently interviewed during her stay. In the film, he says that once he came out to his parents they sent him away to Escuela Caribe for “relationship issues.” David never explicitly told the school he is gay. During his interviews with Logan, David becomes increasingly hysterical and frightened as he talks about the punishments the students receive for bad behavior and the amount of control the staff has over students.
David is forced to out himself to the school after a private conversation with a fellow student, who is bisexual, is overheard. In the film, he describes how shameful he felt having to tell everyone his sexual orientation. But it would be the last time it would be recognized.
Logan says the gay conversion therapy used on David was more of a gay aversion therapy.
“There wasn’t anything specific geared toward converting David from being gay. They denied it existed and never let him address it.”
Punishments toward these students ranged from bizarre to inhumane. Logan observes one girl standing outside facing the wall for hours on end. There would be morning bedroom checks by the “house father” or “house mother,” fellow students given more authority. Clothing hangers had to be spaced apart at a certain angle, shirts buttoned up on the hangers and shoelaces tucked inside the shoes.
If anything was not done in accordance with the rules, the “house father” or “house mother” would throw the clothes or shoes on the floor or even in the trash.
The worst punishment was being sent to “QR” or “the quiet room.” Explanation on the quiet room was vague but the consensus is that students were left in an isolated room with just a sheet for days and beaten.
Beth was sent to Escuela Caribe for severe panic attacks and a suicide attempt. The film shows that she is not allowed to do anything without the permission of the “house father.” She asks permission to sit down for dinner and even enter a room. She claimed it was done for her own good to keep her from hurting herself.
Tai, sent to Escuela Caribe by her parents for drugs and stealing, is agitated with the system like David. She wants to come home and says she will do “whatever it is I need to do” to get home. This includes going on Escuela Caribe’s yearly summer hiking trip and playing in the mud — a trip that is meant to be fun but that all the students despise. Tai confesses to Logan in a whispered conversation she hates it and thinks the practices at the school are suspicious.
David frequently tries to send messages to his friends in the outside world by asking a student leaving Escuela Caribe to find them and even asking Logan to send a letter pleading for help escaping to his best friend. Both times the school discovers his attempts and he is punished severely. Meanwhile, as Logan documents David’s struggles to get out, she also shows David’s friends and teachers wondering where he has disappeared to and trying to bring him home.
Executive producer Mike Manning, who is bisexual and a former cast member of the “Real World D.C.,” is friends with David and took a personal interest in the film.
“It was kind of a happy accident,” he says. “David was a friend of mine from Colorado. He stayed with me in L.A. and told me he was doing this film. He told me about it and I asked how could I help.”
Shortly after Bass was shown the film, he took an interest in the story and came on board as another executive producer.
Escuela Caribe has since shut down and re-opened under a new name, Crosswinds. Logan says their practices are still much the same. Crosswinds has only commented about “Kidnapped for Christ” to say that they are not the same institution as Escuela Caribe.
Crosswinds isn’t the only teen behavior modification school of its kind. There are more throughout the world and many in the United States, none of which are government regulated. Logan says she has spoken with students who have attended these schools in the United States and their experiences are the same as Escuela Caribe, if not worse.
Logan now says she is no longer Christian and considers herself agnostic. She attributes making this film as one of the factors for her change in beliefs.
“Most of the staff were normal people and harming students because they said God wanted them to do it. That kind of scared me. I left the school not able to pray. They said God sent them here and God sent me here to expose them, so who is right?”
Despite what has transpired, Logan is optimistic about evangelical Christians changing their views about gay people.
“In 20 or 30 years they will look back and feel embarrassed,” she says.
“I absolutely think there’s hope,” he says. “I attend a church in L.A. and they are very accepting. They are very forward thinking. Being a part of that community, there’s no doubt in my mind Christians will get it one day.”