I recently spoke with someone who was a resident of an adolescent Phoenix House facility within the past five-ish years. They gave permission for me to publish the recollections they recounted to me under the condition of anonymity and omission of certain identifying details. Here’s their recollection of their time at Phoenix House:
I was addicted to benzodiazepines and opiates. Funnily enough, I checked myself in. I knew I would kill myself if I wasn’t taken out of the environment that I was in, and I had the wherewithal to voice that. So that adds another layer of confliction, firstly, because while I wouldn’t say it helped my addiction issues, it did save my life (physically), and secondly, because by admitting myself I was complicit in my own experience there. It was all my shit insurance would pay for. The rest of the girls there were all wards of the state, DCFS, sentenced there on probation. The Lake View Terrace branch was definitely just an extension of the CA juvenile criminal justice system, and was run as such.
I didn’t complete the program. My insurance stopped paying after the second-ish month and I was kicked out. They told me 30 minutes before I had to leave and gave me cardboard boxes for my things. I was weeping and begging not to leave, because as fucked up as life was there, I knew I couldn’t make it “on the outs”. A staff member sat across from me on my roommates bed and glared at me silently before saying “I give you two days, maximum, before you relapse”. It took me two hours. I didn’t get clean again for another two years.
We scrubbed the floors for at least two hours a day, and on Saturdays it was all day. It was a complete lock down facility, so I only went outside once in the two months I was there. There were checks every 5 minutes to confirm our whereabouts within the unit. The staff deterred is from going AWOL by telling us that the KKK was extremely active in the area, and that men would patrol the gates to pick up runaway girls, that they would drug us and rape us and drop us back off on the doorstep the next day. Two girls went AWOL when I was there. We never saw them again. They got sent to Juvenile Hall. Another girl attempted suicide while I was there and was removed in the middle of the night. We never saw her again.
As far as I know Phoenix House was state funded and it was very apparent the funding was not adequate from the food they gave us and the state of the grounds and facility, and the amount of staff (lacking, the client to staff ratio was probably not what it should have been). Some of the staff were also very young with no apparent qualifications. It was my understanding that the [Phoenix House] Lakeview Terrace facility had some sort of deal with “central” and one other juvenile correctional facility….to house juvenile offenders on probation. I have no idea why girls from so far away were there, besides that the ones that were from further away usually had been shuttled in and out of different group homes for years prior, already. Lost in the system.
They tried to farm me out to Utah, to a wilderness program. When that didn’t work, they sent me to Partial hospitalization at this place called Adolescent Growth. It was coed, and a nightmare. The lead therapist believed being gay was a sin and like….tried to “convert” other clients and I. I was badly, badly bullied by a very scary young man there, no staff intervention. I would not be surprised if individuals within the organization were incentivized monetarily to farm kids out to other institutions.
I understand that in doing this there is justice for those who have departed. I respect that immensely. I don’t grieve for myself, for that lost time, for what that place and the places that came after it did to me. I do actively grieve the children that this is still happening to. I think what you’re doing, the research, the outreach, is highly admirable. And I believe you.
Like myself, this amazingly strong individual told me that they don’t talk about their time at Phoenix House to anyone, ever and cited the fact that unless they’re a survivor, others don’t understand if you do attempt to reveal these details of this experience.
There’s a certain amount of bravery and selflessness it takes to share about the institutional abuse, cult programming, and like most of us, an experience we would sooner compartmentalize and forget. They report that even reflecting on the experience, and now sharing it, is immensely triggering of trauma surrounding their time at Phoenix House Lakeview Terrace.