"Residue": an excerpt from Deirdre Sugiuchi's book Unreformed 


click to enlarge Deirdre Sugiuchi
  • Deirdre Sugiuchi

45-degree hospital corners on your bed. Measured by Eric with a protractor. If you don't get it right, you will never leave. Measure the bed's collar with your hands. Make sure it's 10 inches. You will die here. This will never end.

Eric calls you lazy. Eric calls you forgetful. Do not flinch. Do not cringe. Empty the drawers. Feel for roach droppings. Remember, he checks with a flashlight. Or you could be a low-ranker, permanently.

Related: Sugiuchi describes the torture of "teen treatment"

Clean the lid of your shampoo. Check your soap for hair, your brush. You are never going to go home and start that band. Make sure that your T-shirts, pants, and underwear are folded in threes, that your clothes are hung in order, everything spaced one finger-width. 

Remember cross-country; conserve your energy during exercise sessions. Stay within an arms' distance of Eric at all times. Ignore the way his eyes crawl over your body. Never let him know that you see.

Check your shoes for dust. Check the floor with your flashlight. Run your hands over its surface and scoop up loose hair. Not one drop of water on the Pyrex, or you could be assigned a discipline session. Where they'll slam you into a wall. Yell. Bend you over a chair. Beat you with a strap they call Mr. Brown.

Scrub the same tile over and over with a scrub brush, bristles worn to the nubs. Smile when Eric tells you to do it again. Cut the grass with a dull machete. Work faster. Everything Eric says about you is true.

Be compliant. Be compliant. At all times, be compliant.Don't ever give him a reason to break you.

During lunch I log into the survivor's group. Jenny's talking about how last night she had THE DREAM, the one we all have, the one where we are sent back to reform school in the Dominican Republic.

I used to get it. All the time. Sometimes I'd be married and a mother. Sometimes a student at the University of Georgia, all gothed-out. Sometimes I'd be small town Mississippi Delta, helpless and fifteen.

I know what it feels like, to dread sleeping because you might have the dream again. I suggest Jenny try eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, a therapy that helped me. That night I post to her thread, the one about the dream:

I'm over it, but never really. Because of everything I lost. Because of everything we went through. Because the school's only changed their name (again), and it's still happening. And, yes, I'm happy in my life now, but all that doesn't go away. Does anyone ewlse have similar feelings?

Jenny writes back. In less than three minutes. Yes, Deirdre. I have all the same feelings. 

It doesn't all go away. Because we always have that monkey on our back. 

In some way.

You think about the ones who transformed with you, when you became no longer that Deirdre. The ones who helped you survive the program.

You think of the one arrested for carjacking. Of the sex worker jailed for stabbing her pimp thirty-seven times. Of the one whose body is found burned in the California desert. How at fourteen he had the face of a choirboy, that curly hair, those large blue eyes. You think of all the ones who attract predators, of the ones who marry abusers. Of you, stalked by a twice-convicted rapist, six months after you "graduated."

You think of the drug addicts, the workaholics, the eating disorders, the ones who succumb to suicide. All these kids, all these faces, they stay in your head, all these kids who aren't shown compassion at that crucial time.

My therapist says, Do you really want it all to go away? Do you want to lose the perspective you have, the strength? Do you want to give up what you are working on now?

I shake my head no. I tell her that it's my story, that I have to write it. That I hope to convince the government to regulate the teen treatment industry.

But I tell her I'll never stop wishing this wasn't my story to tell. I tell her I'll never stop wishing this didn't happen to me. 

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