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Document Life

Document Life EXCLUSIVE: Kidnapped for Christ [INTERVIEW] 


You’ve (hopefully) seen the documentary and are wondering what happened to some of the kids after the cameras stopped rolling. TV Goodness spoke exclusively to David, the main subject of the documentary. We were interested in learning more about this journey, what his parents knew or learned about his experience at Escuela Caribe, what happened to him after he was finally able to leave the school and what he’s doing now to help prevent this type of institution abuse from happening to other misunderstood kids.

Photo Credit: Kidnapped for Christ, LLC/SHOWTIME
Photo Credit: Kidnapped for Christ, LLC/SHOWTIME

TV GOODNESS: Have your parents seen the film?

David: “No, they have not. They have chosen not to be a part of the making of it. My parents and my relationship has definitely rekindled, but they definitely don’t want anything to do with the film so that’s sort of the agreement I have with them.

TV GOODNESS: Do you think they’ll ever realize what you went through at the school? Have you had a chance to talk to them or do they just not want to hear about it?

David: “I really hope that they see the documentary. Even after I first got out of the program, I tried to talk about it or they would ask a couple questions and it would essentially end in flames. I remember one time my mom asked, ‘Well, did you learn any Spanish?’ and my immediate response was [to get] upset. I was like, ‘We weren’t allowed to learn Spanish.’ They’ve acknowledged, ‘Well, we know they gave swats’ and that sort of stuff and I think they know, but they don’t want to know. As the years have gone by, I don’t necessarily think it’s my responsibility to make them feel that hurt, but I definitely think it would be a good thing for them to see the film.”

TV GOODNESS: How is your relationship with them right now? This is an important part of your life that they don’t seem to want to know more about, but at the same time they’re your parents. How do you feel about that?

David: “We tried to get them to interview with the documentary and get a full circle idea of essentially how they were victims of this cult, essentially. They declined and it put some tension between us, especially when they found out that the trailer went public because my dad had asked me to have no involvement with [it.] It’s important that I tell my story. I don’t have them connected to any of my social media, but they’re not completely unaware and I know they can look up stuff if they need to. They just choose not to. Other than that, they have come so far in accepting me for who I am. A few years ago I brought my first longer relationship home for Christmas. It was pretty awesome. Everything other than the documentary, things are great.”

TV GOODNESS: When Kate, the director, caught up with Beth years later her thoughts about the school were very different from yours and Tai’s. It seems like she felt like she needed that experience. What are your thoughts on that?

David: “I can’t diagnose anything, but it’s pretty indicative that she has an ongoing anxiety issue that she needed actual medication or treatment for and that program was definitely not the answer. This mentality [of], ‘Yeah this place sucked, but I needed it and it saved my life,’ I guess it’s easier to accept after you’ve been there. In some ways it does help people to just go numb to everything and just say, ‘Yes,’ and have no emotion. Like one of the goals of the place is for kids to essentially become emotionless and go through life emotionless and kind of become robotic. If Beth can’t decipher between what was actually abusive or what was helpful, then that’s her opinion. I certainly feel that she could be lost.”

Photo Credit: Kidnapped for Christ, LLC/SHOWTIME
Photo Credit: Kidnapped for Christ, LLC/SHOWTIME

TV GOODNESS: Are you in touch with any of the other students from the time you were there and if you are, how are they?

David: “I’ve been in touch with a few of them over the years. I’ve definitely distanced myself from the majority of them just because coming fresh out of the program and talking to the other kids about all the stuff we essentially weren’t able to talk about and ways we could possibly get this place shut down, it really almost became unhealthy. I saw a lot of their lives unraveling because [of] the inner turmoil they were dealing [with] because of the program. And I certainly went through my own post-program revamping of who I am and gaining my self-confidence back. It’s hard to constantly talk about the memories. I feel that everyone has to go through their own journey after the program, but I definitely have caught up a lot with Tai, especially recently and another former student Peter. It’s neat to see some of the student’s lives develop in a positive way because I’ve also seen some former students go off the deep end and some of them have passed away due to extreme circumstances. Other than that they are in jail.”

TV GOODNESS: It seems like this program didn’t help that many or any people.

David: “I think a former statistic of the actual success rate of the program was somewhere around 15 – 17%. I’m not quite sure.”

TV GOODNESS: This experience really challenged your faith. Has anything changed since the end of the film? Does religion play any part in your life right now?

David: “Not currently. I have issues with wanting to step into any sort of church environment or community, but I’m definitely a very spiritual person. The program definitely ruined a lot of aspects of organized religion for me. I’m still not sure I would say I’m a Christian. I’m a believer, I’m spiritual. I don’t think you’ll see me going to church anytime soon.”

TV GOODNESS: That makes sense to me. What was most surprising about the film for me was that not even one person denies there has been abuse in the past, but it’s interesting that they don’t seem to want to acknowledge abuse going on in the present. Do you have any idea what their mindset is? I know you can’t speak for them, what are your thoughts?

David: “Delusion. [They’re] caught up in this whole loop of, ‘Well, it might be but I’m just gonna ignore that. We’re helping kids.’ There were a few instances where new staff members would actually come in and then suddenly without any notice they would leave. I can assume it might be because they felt what this place was doing wasn’t right. But I’ve heard almost nothing from any of the staff members.”

TV GOODNESS: Maybe if they see this they’ll realize, if they haven’t already, that what they did was wrong. At least, I hope so.

David: “Yeah. An example of that was Mary Powell, in the documentary, which is absolutely incredible. I think she is a leader in standing up to say, ‘You know what? I was there. I was part of it, but what we were doing was wrong.’ It’s absolutely incredible. I have yet to meet her, but I would greet her with very warm welcomings. When we premiered at Slamdance there was another former staff member by the name of Rochelle who also acknowledges that what the place was doing was wrong and [came] to support the film. It’s really, really incredible.”

TV GOODNESS: People like Doug and Mark did a lot to try to get you out, which was great do see. What did that kind of support mean to you when you found out about it later?

David: “It meant the world. I mean, I didn’t find out for a few weeks until after they left that they were actually present at the school and that they had gone to the extent that they did to try and help me. When I left the program and got home I was strictly told not to talk to anybody, that there were a lot of rumors being spread and that I had been on the news and there were a bunch of lies said about me, which it’s crazy. Honestly I’m not even surprised the program would make things up like this, but a counselor from Escuela Caribe was calling me once every other day keeping me updated, saying, ‘Oh well, we care about you. What we were doing wasn’t wrong.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ I reached out to Mark and Doug on my own and once I did and kind of got the picture of how much my community did for me, it is probably the most humbling experience of my life. To know that, to be at the program, to hope and to pray that there’s somebody out there that cares and that is wanting to help and coming back and finding out it really was true is absolutely incredible.”

TV GOODNESS: You would hope other kids who are put in similar situations have that support system too.

David: “Yeah. A lot of kids don’t and that’s the sad part. I feel so lucky because I had that. But for kids that don’t I can’t imagine and I really hope that through the film that there’s a way they can start talking about the program to other family members or friends who can say, ‘I would’ve gone that far for you had I known.’”

TV GOODNESS: At the end of the film we see some of your interactions with other survivors of institutional abuse. We know these facilities aren’t regulated. What do you want to see our federal government do? What do you think is a good first step for reform?

David: “I want to see accountability in all rehab facilities or any sort of institution that deals with troubled teens or even private schools in general. I know they have to keep up with standards as far as academia goes, but if it’s a residential facility I feel that there should be some accountability once every 6 to 12 months, a visitation and interviews from the kids about how they feel.”

TV GOODNESS: If people only take away one message after seeing this film what do you want it to be?

David: “That’s a big question. The big takeaway is that this industry to bigger than we can imagine and even the most intelligent of people can get sucked into a cult, but essentially the fingers are pointed at these places and you can’t blame the parents.”

Edited for space and content.

You can watch Kidnapped for Christ on Showtime.

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