Meaghan Thomas


Answers to questions I’m often asked. You may also want to read third party references about the cults I was in. Other questions? Email me.

Where is the Book Available for Sale?

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Why Were You Sent to These Programs?

I was a troubled kid, and I got into a lot of trouble. Starting around nine years old, I started fighting back against my dad, disrespecting my mom and sneaking out of the house to just roam the neighborhood.

At 12, I started sneaking out for parties and raves. I’d run away for a night or two, sometimes longer. That’s when I was sent to the first institution, Ascent, a summer bootcamp in Naples, Idaho that has since been shut down. I came back traumatized from their bogus forms of therapy and extreme forms of punishment.

The new trauma coupled with continued unresolved issues at home led to more trouble. I spent the next two years in screaming matches with my family, running away, getting kicked out of schools, doing drugs and going in and out of juvie jail. Eventually I became a Ward of the State. Just before my 15th birthday, my mom collaborated with the court to place me in New Horizons’ program “Escuela Caribe” in the Dominican Republic.

What Were the Names of the Programs & Are They Still Operational?

Ascent was the bootcamp I attended at age 12. It was in Naples, Idaho. It’s part of CEDU (pronounced see-doo), which was eventually bought by Brown Schools. CEDU’s origins go back to Synanon, a “rehab cult” founded in Santa Monica in 1958 by Charles Dederich. Ascent was closed in 2005.

New Horizons Youth Ministries was “the Program” Christian cult I was at from ages 14-17. It was located in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic, Missanabie, Canada and Marion, Indiana.

New Horizons was founded in 1971 by Gordon C. Blossom, who made up all the strange rules and coined the term “culture shock therapy”. In the book The Whisper: Some Secrets Shouldn’t Be Kept, his daughter Shirley Jo Petersen writes about her father being diagnosed as a pedophile and recounts many occasions of him sexually abusing children and women.

Interestingly, Blossom and the Program were kicked out of Michigan before it landed in Indiana. It was also kicked out of Haiti before it landed in the Dominican Republic. Blossom’s son, Tim, later took over operations of the program.

New Horizons and its properties were eventually shut down by 2011.

Even though these institutions have been shut down, many staff still work with youth today in other institutions.

The troubled teen industry is not well regulated and many programs like these still exist today. To learn more, visit Survivors of Institutional Abuse.

In the Book, Many Girls Have Nicknames. Did You Have One?

We were so rough and tumble in the DR, we didn’t think our polite-sounding first names were properly representing us, so we took to calling ourselves by our last names, like soldiers or linebackers tend to do.

Most the girls called me “Ols” because my last name was “Olson”. (In 2015, I legally changed my name from “Olson” to “Thomas” to shed my estranged father’s name and honor my beloved Gramps, E. Michael Thomas [1919-2017].)

I believe Clam (Bridget) went a step further and gave me the nickname “Old School Ols” because, in her words, “I was always talking about ‘back in the day.”

How Have You Tried to Heal from Your Past?

A few years ago I was diagnosed with complex PTSD. The most successful path to healing I’ve experienced so far has been:

I’ve learned trauma can live in your brain for decades, sometimes forever. Working through it is a journey, and I still have work to do today.

What Do You Do Now?

I guess I’m a writer! I left a marketing career in Chicago to move to Louisville, KY and take time off to process my trauma. This is when the book was officially birthed, although it has been swirling in my head for decades.

I live with my best friend and the love of my life, Thomas, and we run an organic, fair trade culinary spice business together (that he founded years ago).

Why Did You Write this Book?

I felt compelled to get my truth out on paper. Not everyone is loving that idea, including some people in my family, but I’m fine with that. They have had their own narratives for decades now. It’s time for my truth to breath.

I wrote it first for myself, to get closer to my memories and process them in a more healthy way. I wanted to reacquaint with my teenage self and look her in the eye. The truth being out there is also one satisfying form of justice, because, while the cults have been shut down, there has been no real justice. Many staff of these places still work with children. Many parents and staff still deny abuse happened.

I also wrote it to better understand the past from other people’s points of view, especially people in my family. I tried my best to put myself in their shoes, and represent them as the three-dimensional, complex people they are – we all are – instead of the people I thought they were when I was an angry teenager.

Additionally, and most importantly, I wrote this for those former students who don’t have a voice today – too many have struggled to cope with the trauma and have died prematurely, and many still feel they can’t talk openly about the emotional, psychological, physical or sexual abuse they experienced. I don’t pretend to know their personal stories of survival, we all have our own even if we were at the same places, but I hope I did justice representing what these places really were like.

What Music Did You Listen to While Writing this Book?

Music is a strange thing for me because the Christian cult I was in during my formative teenage years didn’t let me listen to non-Christian music, so it’s a bit of a blind spot for me. However, this book helped me get back into it.

I started to listening to music while I wrote and it helped me charge forward through the hard bits. I wrote a blog post where I share the songs I listened to (over and over again) while I wrote.

How Has Your Childhood Shaped Who You Are Today?

This is a doozy of a question. I’m still understanding how my trauma has affected me emotionally, and also physiologically. There’s so much the scientific and therapeutic community is learning about trauma and its impact on the brain, especially the impact on a developing brain (the brain isn’t fully developed until about age 25!). It’s wild to me that we know more about the Universe we live in than our own human brains. That said, I’ll share a some of the concrete things I know for sure, for good or bad (usually a mixture of both):

Who or What Inspired You to Keep Going Then? Now?

When I was imprisoned in the cults:


If This Book Was Made into a Movie, Who Would You Want to Play You?

A friend asked me this and it cracked me up. My response: I would like a teenage mashup version of Kevin James, Ellen Page and Sigourney Weaver please!

What Are Your Favorite Books?

So many… here’s some of my favorites:

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