Meaghan Thomas

Tim’s Story

Tim Schipper Interview

Tim in the bedroom in teh Dominican Republic compound Tim (’88-’90) in the Dominican Republic Tim today

In his own words…

Why were you sent to the program?

I was depressed, failing school, skipping school, and using alcohol and drugs.

What do you want people (the public, your friends and family, anyone) to know about the program?

It was a place that really messed with your mind. Things that should have been weird began to seem normal…

It was also a place with total control over almost every aspect of your life. You had to ask permission to sit, stand, eat, walk from room to room, use the bathroom, go up or down stairs, step outside, begin running for punishment, begin doing push-ups for punishment, drink water, step in the shower, rinse off in the shower, step out of the shower, etc. Even looking at the wrong person or having a “negative” or “spaced-out” facial expression could get you in trouble. It was insane.

What was the scariest experience there?

There was one time when I felt that I was close to being killed or badly hurt by staff members. It was a few months into my stay at Escuela Caribe. It was a few minutes into a slam session with Mike Harmon and Jon Mayberry in the Huyck house bathroom. Mike had been yelling at me and forcing me to do push-ups and had forced me up against the bathroom wall. He continued to yell at me, but he backed up a couple steps and paused for a second. I felt very much in danger and felt that he may attack me at any second.

Something snapped inside of me. The months of abuse had taken their toll, and I had finally had ENOUGH. My fists were clenched and my entire body was tensed up and shaking with adrenaline. I had decided that if Mike took another step to me and touched me again in any way I was going to attack him instantly with everything I had and try to kill him. Punch like crazy. Gouge out his eyes, attack his groin, bite his neck and face, whatever it took. Then I would have to run for my life.

Mike was a huge man, plus there were two of them, but I was ready to kill or die trying. Without realizing it, I had begun to growl like a caged beast. I glared ferociously at Mike, waiting for his next move. Unexpectedly, he did not step towards me. His tone softened, and I detected a surprised look on his face. Maybe even a little fear. He must have seen something in my eyes that made him pause, because he was not normally one to back down.

I remember him asking me what was wrong. I could barely speak, but I managed to growl through my gritted teeth, “I’M MAD!” Mike asked me who I was mad at. “MYSELF!” I yelled. Even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t true, but I didn’t want to escalate the situation by telling Mike that I was actually angry at him.

Mike lectured me a bit more, but with a much softer tone. The dangerous moment had passed. I don’t remember Jon saying anything the whole time. He just stood a couple feet back observing everything. It was a very scary experience for me.

I am so glad Mike chose to back off, because it could have turned out much worse for all of us, and I probably would have been badly injured if I had tried to fight back.

Another very scary experience happened in Canada during the summer of 1989. I heard the camp director Budd Teare screaming that he was gonna beat the shit out of one of the students. There was a lot of yelling and the sounds of a struggle then Budd repeatedly yelling for the student to get up off the ground.

The next day the boy’s face was a mess. He had been badly beaten, but said he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. Several of the other students participated in beating up the boy. I think Budd told them to beat him up while he watched and maybe joined in.

By this time in my life I had been in a few fights, witnessed a ton of violence and had been assaulted several times, but this incident was especially scary because it was so out in the open and showed that Budd and other staff could do whatever they wanted to us with no consequences and nobody would help us. It was also scary because I could only hear the assault but not see it.

A lot of the violence in the program took place behind closed doors. You could usually hear it but not see it, which made it even more frightening sometimes.

Unfortunately, the boy who was beaten in this incident died of a heart attack several years ago. He was only about 40 years old when he died. He had also been sexually assaulted by a different staff member while in the program prior to this beating.

What was the saddest experience?

It was very sad when friends would leave and you kind of knew you would never see them again. Although I was glad they would no longer have to suffer in the program. I believe 13 of the kids I was in the program with are now dead. There are probably more that I am unaware of. I find that very sad.

What is your happiest or funniest memory?

The day I left for good. I felt like life was starting over for me and I was so excited.

What was the hardest thing you had to do in the program?

Probably survive the forced exercise sessions and slam sessions that crossed the line into assaults and torture. Pushing through the constant exhaustion was incredibly hard.

Also, the complete lack of privacy was tough. Someone was with me 24/7 even while using the toilet or shower.

What was the program’s strangest rule/practice?

So many come to mind, but one of the strangest was having to bend over and spread my butt cheeks during shower time and ask staff to check my “soapiness.” Then, I had to request permission to rinse off the soap and shampoo. It was very humiliating.

What was the cruelest thing you witnessed in the program?

Watching kids have to carry around black pails all day that they had to shit and piss in. Then, they had to show the contents of the bucket to staff before being allowed to flush it down the toilet. This was called “bucket support.”

Also, seeing kids locked in the solitary confinement cell with nothing but their underwear and the concrete floor to lay on. They were also only given a bucket to use as a toilet. We weren’t supposed to even look in their direction while they were in there, but I snuck a quick peek a few times.

What was your favorite part of the day?

Going to sleep after a long day of abuse.

What was your least favorite part of the day?

The horrifying feeling of waking up and realizing you were still here and needed to get through another long day of abuse. Also, knowing that you had to endure many more months before you were released.

Can you describe the main feelings you experienced while in the program?

The main feelings were fear and helplessness and that I was never good enough. What are they gonna do to me next or what am I gonna see them do to another kid?

One of the toughest things was not being able to talk with anyone to process the abuse you were experiencing and witnessing. You just had to keep it all in your head and bury it, which became a habit that continued for many years after the program.

Do you think the program was abusive? If so, in what way(s)?

It was absolutely abusive in countless ways. Hopefully my answers to some of these questions demonstrate that.

If you’re willing to share, were you physically hit or abused in the program? Can you explain the circumstance?

Many times, either by myself or in a group, I was forced to run and exercise to the point of torture.

I was also tackled and wrestled or slammed into the ground or into the wall about 6 times during my stay in the DR. Sometimes, my house father Mike Harmon would just randomly attack me from behind and take me to the ground. I think this was to assert his dominance and control and keep me from ever being able to relax. I always had to be on guard.

On two other occasions Mike Harmon took me into the bathroom for “slam sessions.” The first time he poked me in the chest repeatedly and pushed me into the wall while yelling at me and forcing me to do push-ups. The second time I don’t remember if he actually touched me, but he did get up in my face again and backed me up against the wall while screaming at me and making me do push-ups.

In Marion, I was hit with a canoe paddle and shoved and punched in the shoulder several times by staff member Paul Senger who claimed he was just “playing” with me.

If you’re willing to share, did you witness anyone get physically hit? Can you explain what you witnessed?

I saw or heard physical abuse almost every day. Too many instances to list here in total, but I will list a few to give an idea of what it was like:

  1. I saw Budd Teare smack a kid in the side of the head which knocked the kid’s hardhat off of his head.
  2. I heard kids being slammed into walls, doors, and furniture dozens of times. This was mainly done by Charles “Phil” Redwine and Mike Harmon. I also remember Budd Teare doing this to a kid in Canada.
  3. I saw Mr. Redwine slam a kid into the wall and pin him to the wall by his throat, choking him, then throw him back on the floor.
  4. I heard many kids being beaten with a leather strap. I saw the bruises welts and blisters left by the strap. I heard this dozens of times. The beatings were mostly done by Mr. Redwine, but several other staff also participated.
  5. I saw many kids being forced to run and exercise or stay in “stress positions” to the point of what I would consider torture. This was almost an everyday occurrence with many different staff members participating.
  6. I saw a kid get shoved off a 40 foot cliff into a lake because he couldn’t swim and was scared to jump on his own.
  7. I saw a kid who was attempting to run away get tackled and pinned to the ground.
  8. I saw kids get dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to get punished in various ways.
  9. I saw a girl get dragged down a flight of concrete stairs by her hair and thrown into the solitary confinement cell. This was done by Mr. Redwine.
  10. I saw kids forced to exercise outdoors in the middle of the night while being yelled at and having buckets of cold water thrown on them. I was one of the kids this happened to.

There were many instances of abuse. Probably every day. I could go on and on…

If you’re willing to share, were you sexually abused in the program?

I considered the soapiness checks to be sexual abuse. Also, being observed while on the toilet I considered to be abuse. I was also strip searched in the bathroom by Gary Martens and Mark McReynolds which I considered to be sexual abuse. I also had my clothes confiscated by Mike Harmon, and was forced to sleep naked in a tent with 3 other naked boys.

I also witnessed sexist and inappropriate “sermons” about sex and masturbation given by the founder of the program, Gordon Blossom. I was also forced to talk in a group setting about how often I masturbated.

If you’re willing to share, did you witness or hear of sexual abuse in the program?

I heard of several incidents of sexual abuse of students by staff. I am aware of 7 staff members from my time who were accused of sexual abuse. Only two were fired.

I think I saw one kid strip searched and forced to exercise naked in front of us, but that memory is a little hazy. I’m not sure if it actually happened, but I can see it in my mind. I did see him handcuffed to the bed at night by Mike Harmon. That part I remember for sure, partly because Mike threatened me with the same treatment.

What was it like leaving the program? What happened in the immediate years after you left the program?

The day I left was one of the best days of my life. I was so happy to be free. After 3 months at home I went to college. I started drinking and using drugs again about one month into college (4 months after leaving the program). I moved on with life and did fairly well for the most part, but the trauma has always been there lurking in the background still affecting me to this day.

I live with severe anxiety, depression and PTSD. It has been quite bad at times leaving me suicidal and unable to function. I have been hospitalized and had one suicide attempt. I also got divorced in 2012 partly due to my program trauma. It has been better in the past few years but is still a great struggle at times.

What did the program teach you?

It taught me that I am a sensitive yet also incredibly strong, ethical and kind person.

It also taught me that seemingly normal people can be capable of incredible cruelty. It taught me a lot about human psychology both good and bad.

What is the best thing you got out of the program?

It allowed me to visit some beautiful places in Canada, Indiana, and the Dominican Republic. It made me tougher and a better judge of people’s character. It also got me a high school diploma and decent grades.

The best of all is the interesting people I met and the life-long friendships with my fellow survivors.

What is the worst thing you got out of the program?

Bad memories of horrible abuse. Self-doubt. Intense anger towards former staff. Depression, anxiety, PTSD. Also, I lost all my childhood friends and a lot of family time due to disappearing for almost 2 years.

Is there anything you hate doing in your life because it reminds you of your time in the program?

I wouldn’t say hate, but sometimes certain chores, exercises and activities can trigger violent flashbacks. Taking a shower has consistently given me bad flashbacks for years.

How has being in the program impacted you today?

Many traumatic memories and a lot of anger, but also a great sense of inner strength and pride for what I have overcome.

How often do you think about the program in a given week?

On a good day, maybe 3 or 4 times a day. On a bad day maybe a thousand times, literally all day.

Did you try to tell your parents what was happening in the program while you were there? What happened?

I tried to hint at it in letters, but all letters were read by staff and torn up if deemed “too negative.” My dad didn’t know the true nature of the program until many years later. My mom died before I was able to tell her what it was really like.

What helped you survive the program?

I would usually wake up a minute or two before the dorm room door would be unlocked and the lights would go on. The initial feeling was absolute horror that I was still here and had to go through another day. Then, I would quickly push that thought out of my mind, so that I’d be ready to face the day. As I heard the staff members footsteps approaching to unbolt the door, I would say a quick prayer: “Lord give me strength,” or “Help me God.” Something like that. Then, I would tense up my body and prepare to leap out of bed the second the lights went on and the door opened.

I would instantly become the robot I had to be to survive another day in that place. At that time I did believe in God and saying those little prayers helped me to feel that there was someone watching over me and helping me.

Imagine yourself as a child in the program. If you could talk to him, what would you say?

You will make it through this, Tim, and you will have a good life. You are stronger than you realize. I am so proud of you for how you do what you think is right no matter what the cost. They hurt you, but they could never steal the goodness and kindness from your heart.

These experiences will haunt you, but they will not destroy you. You will be a better man for having gone through all of this. They may never apologize or do anything to make it right. There may never be justice in this situation, but you will live your life with integrity and you will tell the truth and that makes you the winner. They lost. You won.

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