Taken in the Night

A few years ago, my two half-sisters each spent two weeks in a treatment center for teens. Not for drugs or drinking or criminal activity - Holly and Nicole were being treated for bad behavior. They were "out-of-control," which, I have to say, they really were.

I won't go into all the gory details, except to say their family went through some serious trauma that was more than my stepmother could handle by herself. So she put her faith in a psychologist and checked her daughters into the treatment program at Bayview Hospital.

The program was very structured. They were told when and where to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, read, express their feelings, and practically everything else. It sounded terrible to me. Holly agreed and said it didn't help her out at all. But Nicole, maybe because she is older, liked it and seemed to get a lot out of the program.

What my sisters experienced was a type of behavior modification program. The term sounds a little sketchy, sort of like brainwashing (which is what some critics actually call it). What it means is that through a combination of therapy and behavior modification they were "cured" of their out-of-controlness (in theory, anyhow).

And it's more common than you might think. My stepmom isn't the only freaked out parent who turned to a program to help straighten out her kids. In fact, more and more parents across the country are discovering that there's a growing business of private-pay behavior modification (or BM) programs out there sold as last-resorts for teens seriously at risk.

They come in all sorts of different packages, from those cool-sounding wilderness adventure trips to attitude- adjustment boarding schools to short-term, turn-around programs. But these tough-love programs all have one goal: to fix up "out-of- control" teens before they end up dead or in jail.

The BM programs have names like Turn-Around Camp, Paradise Cove, and High Peaks Wilderness and sound in their brochures almost like vacation spots where troubled teens can take a rest while getting it together. Some of them even operate out of the country in hot spots like Mexico, Jamaica, and Western Samoa.

The programs are not cheap - parents are willing to pay up to $5,000 a month ($60,000 a year!) to get their sons and daughters out of their hands and turn them around with some hard work and therapy. But as more and more kids go through these programs, there have been more and more horror stories and critics who say it's the programs themselves that are out of control.

Los Angeles-based psychologist Diana Devilliers, who has worked with troubled teens in a residential facility, says these programs can definitely help. But, she says, the BM programs that work the best include some sort of family therapy, because teens don't usually become "out-of-control" without help from their families.

"If the kids are out of control, it's because parents have usually lost their effectiveness," she says. Oftentimes, a teen's bad behavior has to do with larger family problems such as divorce, lack of supervision, a parent depending too much on their children, alcoholism, and abuse.

While some of these BM programs offer family therapy, some seem to focus just on the teen's behavior. But if a teen is sent away for attitude adjustment and her family members don't do their own adjusting, Devilliers says, then she will likely come back to the same situationÑand have the same problems.

But these schools and programs must be doing something right or they wouldn't be so popular. Surely parents have something better to do with $5K a month. In fact, in press accounts and testimonials, many parents said they totally helped their kids out. (Check out woodbury.com for information on the different programs and what people say about them.)

Case in point: Justin Bell. Justin went through eight months of one of the more intense programs, Tranquility Bay in Jamaica. He told the Associated Press last summer that it saved his life. "If I hadn't gone into the program I'd be dead right now, because I would have killed myself," he said. Sure, it was a hard and scary experience, but "desperate situations need desperate solutions," Justin said.

These BM programs aren't the right solution for everyone. In fact, some former students and their families said they were more like private prisons than therapy programs. And in the past year, their rep has been hurt by a rash of critical reports on TV and in magazines and newspapers.

Also, several of these programs have been sued by parents or teens who were in them, and tell scary stories of kids getting hit and kicked, tied up, forced to sit or lie on the floor for hours, and put in cells and isolation.

One of the things that has upset people and been played up big in TV and magazine investigations is that a lot of the programs suggest that parents hire an escort service to take their reluctant kids to wherever the program is located. But people who have been through them say it's like being kidnapped, with the escorts showing up in the middle of the night, using force, and sometimes even handcuffs on the surprised kids.

An estimated 20,000 teens go through these BM programs every year. What's scary is that it's not only teens with serious anti-social and dangerous behavior who go through BM. Getting defined as "out-of-control" can be as ridiculous as having different views from your parents. Some kids were sent to BM programs because they were confused about their sexuality or their religious parents thought they're weren't devout enough.

David Van Blarigan didn't see it coming. He didn't use drugs and didn't have any problems in school or with violence. What he did have, it later turned out, was a disrespect for his Christian parents.

One night, about two years ago, he woke up in the middle of the night to his parents and two big strangers who turned out to be his escorts to Tranquility Bay in Jamaica. David's grandparents fought to get him out and David later sued his parents for sending him to the program.

Donna Burke's two sons also went through Tranquility Bay, though not with her approval - her exhusband signed the forms. When Burke visited the facility she was horrified to find something more like a prison camp than a school: "Not only was every child frightened to death, they were all very thin, sunburned, covered with rashes and bites and living in overcrowded conditions."

She said the experience traumatized her kids for life and put a permanent nix on their relationship with their father. (You can read their story at intrepidnetreporter.com.) People under 18 don't have as many rights as the older group, and are considered to be property of their parents, to do with as they see fit. But kids do have rights, says child advocate Alexia Parks, and there are things they can do to protect themselves from getting sent to a BM program against their will.

Parks got involved with BM schools when her niece was involuntarily shipped to one. Parks has written a book, "An American Gulag," in which she casts a critical eye on these programs. (Check it out at teenliberty). She believes that BM programs and schools are thought-control camps for nonconforming teens.

If you suspect your parents are planning to send you to a BM program and you don't want to go, there are some things you can do:

"Teens can sign a document ahead of time saying they want legal representation if they 'disappear,'" says Parks. "They can also become emancipated...depending on age requirements in each state."

You can also go to a local juvenile court and file an emergency child-in-need-of-services report, which will get you an attorney or you can let the local law enforcement agency know that you do not consent to getting put into a program. Generally, letting people - and your parents - know what's happening and how you feel about it is the best defense.

Though my sisters' program was pretty tame compared to these new batch of pricey programs, it had mixed results for my sisters. I think Nicole's experience helped her survive the hell that is junior high and keep it together while she works through high school. But Holly hated it and said it was a lot like jail (which she would know - but that's a whole other story).

Mariel Garza is freelance writer and magazine editor based in Los Angeles.
This article originally appeared on ChickClick's teen channel Missclick.

Less Than Zero-Tolerance

What if you were an artist in high school? And you were putting together your portfolio for acceptance into art school, working hard to represent yourself with different styles, all recognized by other serious and professional artists? What if someone then told you your work was threatening, assuming that you might even be a danger to your fellow students, and took you out of school for the remainder of your senior year?

It's hard to imagine, but 17-year-old Sarah Boman, an honor student at Bluestem High School in Leon, Kan., faced this very situation just a few months ago.

It started with a piece of artwork she posted on the door. It was done in a style known as "repetitive art" in which the artist spirals words from the center outward. Boman's piece detailed the psychotic ramblings of a schizophrenic man obsessed with finding out who killed his dog. "I did it in the last 10 minutes of school, during tutorial -- I just took it and hung it on the [art classroom] door. I did that with a lot of my work," Boman says.

The next day, a school office employee saw the work and immediately took it down, according to Boman. It was brought before the principal. The principal felt it was inappropriate, even threatening, and Boman was called in for questioning.

During the meeting, Boman was allowed to go to the bathroom. "I took the original and tore it up and flushed it down the toilet. I was so scared. I never got in trouble before," Boman says.

Judging Sarah
She was told the school operated under a zero-tolerance policy for violence. She was suspended for five days and was only allowed to return to school after a hearing with the school board.

Boman went home and called her mom. "I told her, 'I think I'm going to be arrested for a piece of artwork I did.'" Boman wasn't arrested, but that day was the beginning of a fight that involved the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the school board, and the U.S. District Court House in Wichita, Kan.

First, three representatives of the school board, gathered to hear what had happened and to hear people defend her. Thirty people showed up, including her parents and her sister. While the board agreed that Boman wasn't dangerous, they refused to allow her to return to school.

"They decided I wasn't a threat, but in case anything happened they didn't want to be held responsible," Boman says. She didn't get officially expelled, but she received a suspension of 81.5 days--the rest of her senior year, exactly.

"I couldn't believe it," Boman says, remembering the moment vividly. "I told them that I would do anything to get back in school. I told them that I would take a psycho test. I would paint backdrops for the school plays. Anything to get back in."

Fighting Back
Since the school board wasn't going to let that happen, Boman asked for help from the ACLU, who got her a lawyer, Paul Rebein. They began a negotiation with the school board, during which Boman and several other witnesses testified for her. Jill Eggers of Wichita State University and Mary Kay of Bethany, both women artists with a Master's of Fine Arts were among her supporters.

Boman's hometown also rallied around her. "There were people outside with signs and they were singing 'Kum ba yah.' The whole town wore yellow ribbons. A lot of people didn't understand the [art] piece itself, but they know me. They thought the school went overboard."

During this time, Boman's initial fear turned into a sense of injustice. "I felt that the school board was trying to use me as an example," Boman says. "I've never been in trouble. I'm a straight A and B student. They all know who I am and what I'm about -- they know that I'm not a threat and that I am a serious artist. But at that point they didn't really care."

Boman's legal council agreed. Once they felt they had built a strong enough case in Boman's favor, they went before the U.S. District Court for a preliminary trial. Judge Wesley E. Brown heard from both sides, and decided not to send it to trial.

"The judge said that I should go back to school and the five days of original suspension was punishment enough. Anything further was basically uncalled for and really not legal," Boman remembers. Judge Brown told the school board they were right to pursue the situation, but should have known within 15 minutes that Boman did not present a threat.

Back to School
Boman immediately returned to her senior year. But things were not quite back to normal. "I didn't expect anything would change, but some people were kind of mean," Boman admits. "As time went by people loosened up. I think there was kind of hard feelings--I don't know if some people felt that maybe the judge ordered the wrong thing--I'm not sure what it was really."

Now Boman is looking forward to starting this fall at Bethany College in Linsborg, Kan., where she has received a scholarship and plans to study (of course) art. "I'm very much looking forward to college. You can explore every realm of being without having to worry about limitations, about the way things are going to be perceived. People are more open-minded. You can focus on improving the meaning behind your art."

The experience may be behind her, but Boman says that her art continues to be influenced by what happened. "I used to draw people scared of clowns and weird creatures. All I've drawn since I got back is people."

Things have settled down, and Boman seems pleased at where her life is now headed. Remembering something Judge Brown told her the day of her preliminary trial, Boman gets serious.

"He told me not to prove him wrong. He said, 'Young lady, you and your father know that today you received justice. Now it's up to you to calm things down.'"

With a bright future ahead of her, Boman is doing exactly that.

This article originally appeared on Missclick, Chickclick's teen channel.

Putting School On Hold

Do you ever feel like your life has been planned out for the next 10 years and you can't do anything about it? Finish high school, go to college, choose a major, study for another four years, get a job in the real world, and hole up in a small apartment. Guess what? It doesn't have to be that way.

But I thought it did during my senior year of college. While my friends were planning for grad school or interviewing for the perfect job, I couldn't bear to think about my next step. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I didn't feel ready to make that decision. I wanted time off to travel, to meet new people, to learn more about myself. I wanted independence and a chance to live by my rules.

Most students feel the same way I did a few years ago, says Robert Gilpin, founder of Time Out Associates (a company that offers consultations for teens wishing to take time off from school). "Many high school and college students reach a point where they realize that another year of school or work is not the right way for them," Gilpin says. My case was different because I waited till my college graduation to take time off. Most students do it right after graduation from high school or in the middle of their college career, according to Gilpin.

Close to 2 million teens will graduate from high school this year and very few have considered alternatives to going to college. But plunging back into academic life isn't the best route for everybody for a variety of reasons.

Some girls have lived in the shadow of their male classmates and want to taste achievement, independence and adventure. "Other students need a chance to collect [themselves], refocus and find a better sense of herself," Gilpin says.

Your teen years are about discovering who you are and what you want out of life. If school can't give you those answers, maybe a different kind of experience can. College is expensive, so there's no use in enrolling when it's not the right time for you to be there. Besides, unhappy students are more likely to fail school.

Convincing Mom and Dad Once you decide that you're ready to tromp off to Asia or do community service in South America, you might run into an obstacle -- your parents. Gilpin offers the following logical arguments to convince Mom and Dad that taking time off is a smart thing to do.

Colleges Love It

Taking a year to discover something new about the world and yourself looks great on college applications. Learning Spanish in Peru or building houses for the poor in Arkansas will shine brighter than great SAT scores and piano lessons, which so many other applicants have. A mature student with real-life experiences has a clearer idea of what she wants to get out of her education, and people in the admissions office know it.

It's Cheap

Your parents might fear that they'll have to pay for another year of tuition if you go abroad for a year. While some programs do cost a hefty amount, most are on the lower end. Some community service programs are paid for by governments, and work abroad programs allow you to earn money while you're there. Tuition at foreign universities is often lower than tuition in the United States, so Mom and Dad can let you explore and still make their next house payment.

You'll Be More Focused

Many parents worry that their kids won't return to their studies after taking a break from them. But students who take a break often come back more focused on their studies, Gilpin says. If all else fails, you can always negotiate a summer adventure between school years.

Pick a Program

Now that your parents are on your side, you can figure out how to spend the year and when the application is due. If you want to take time off before college, plan on asking the admissions office if you can wait a year to attend after being accepted. Colleges are usually happy to let you start a year late, as long as you give them a good reason.

Finding a program can be easy, given the large number of opportunities available. Check out Transitions Abroad, the Time Out Associates Website and Peterson's to find a range of study, work, travel and community service program ideas.

Some programs, like Sojourn Nepal and Cultural Homestays International, allow you to get into another culture while you study abroad. Career-focused girls can try programs like Dynamy, which offers internships in various fields. Do-gooders flock to City Year to do community service in the United States or Involvement Volunteers to help out in Australia and around the world.

I worked in Scotland thanks to The British Universities North America Club, an organization that provides work permits and job-hunting assistance to Americans in the United Kingdom. I showed up in Edinburgh with no more than a suitcase and a hostel reservation, and soon had a job and a house-sitting gig. I traveled and made friends from Australia, Scotland and England, and even learned to drive on the left side of the road. Best of all, I gained confidence and learned that taking risks can be fun.

Three months after I graduated from college in the U.S., I stood on the craggy hills of Arthur's Seat looking down on Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and the waters of the Firth of Forth leading out to the North Sea. I knew that for six months this land would be my home. I would become a person who belonged here, and I was looking forward to meeting that person.

Check out these resources for taking time off from school:

Transitions Abroad: Alternatives to Mass Tourism A quarterly publication about alternative ways to travel the globe. Subscribe to the magazine and purchase travel guides online or just browse the database of travel, work, and study-abroad programs. There's also a Work Abroad Forum where you can ask experts questions about working in another country.

Time Out Associates Features real life stories and a Q&A section about taking time off. Soon to have a database program and an online counseling service. Robert Gilpin also meets with people to discuss programs and options. PO Box 503, Milton, MA 02186; 617/698-8977.

Peterson's Tons of study-abroad programs, other educational programs and career opportunities. Also includes articles about what it's like to study abroad.

Worldwide Classroom: Library of International Programs Search for study-abroad programs by country or category, or fill out a form and they'll do the research for you.

Boston University International Programs One of the largest selections of study abroad programs includes language/liberal arts programs, internships, fieldwork and summer programs. Don't have to be a B.U. student to participate.

Studyabroad.com Program directory for high school and college students.

Cool Works Alternative-job database for out-of-the-ordinary jobs. Lots of outdoor and camping positions.

The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts Small visual arts and creative writing program in Greece. Financial aid and university credit is available. Director John Pack, Paros, Cyclades, Greece; studyart@ aegeancenter.org; +30 284 23 287.

The British Universities North America Club Provides work permits and resources for college students to work in Britain for six months. New programs available in Australia and New Zealand. You must have completed one semester of college. Apply at least three weeks before you want to leave. PO Box 430, Southbury, CT 06488; 800/402-8622 or 203/264-0901.

City Year Spend a year working in urban communities as a teacher's aide and mentor, and help break down race barriers. Programs in several cities throughout the United States. Must be 17 to 24 years old. 285 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA 02116; 617/927-2510.

Cultural Homestay International Live with a family in another country while taking classes for one to two semesters. Programs for high school and college students. Must be at least 15 years old.

Dynamy Spend a year doing an internship that combines an Outward Bound program and community service with apartment living and career exploration. Must be 17 to 22 years old. Financial aid and college credit available. 27 Sever St., Worcester, MA 01608; 508/755-2571

Involvement Volunteers Association Inc. Places people around the globe in programs that focus on social service in the community or the conservation of the environment. Must be 18 years old. Apply at least three months in advance. PO Box 218, Port Melbourne, Victoria 3207, Australia; +61 3 9646 5504

National Outdoor Leadership School Eight school locations teach outdoor skills like safety, judgment, leadership, teamwork and environmentalism. Sea kayaking, rock climbing, camping and mountaineering are typical classes. Apply at least four months in advance.

Sojourn Nepal Three-month program in Nepal combines language study, field trips around the country and a Himalayan trek. Also learn Nepalese crafts, medicine or art, and stay in a village to experience life outside the city. Courses begin in September and February. Contact Jen Warren. 2240 N. 56th St., Phoenix, AZ 85008; 602/840-9197

Student Conservation Association Inc. Internships allow high school grads to work in natural and cultural resource management agencies around the U.S. for up to a year, like the National Park Service or the National Fish and Wildlife Service. Must be 18 years old. Also have a one-month program for high school students 16 to 19 years old. Earn a salary, a scholarship and college credit, and the program is free. PO Box 550, Charlestown, NH 03603; 603/543-1700

This article originally appeared on Chickclick's teen channel, Missclick. Erica Silverstein is an editor at a travel Website based in San Francisco.

Living Without Mom

This Sunday, many sons and daughters did something special for their moms. Maybe they made or bought a card. Maybe they took their moms to brunch or the movies. But not everyone celebrates Mother's Day. In 1992, 90,000 American women between the ages of 25 and 54 died and 125,000 kids under 18 were left motherless. Mother's Day for them and for the millions of adults whose mothers are dead is a reminder that they are alone in ways you can't ever imagine.

Lisa's mom had clinical depression when Lisa was 12. After many attempts, her mother succeeded in killing herself when Lisa was 15. Lisa emotionally withdrew and became, in every way, an adult -- a self-sufficient person with her emotions and her life under tight control.

But the loss, she says, comes back to her at those points in her life when a mother would be expected to be around: graduation, birthdays, holidays. She feels she became "stuck" at the age the death occurred, that she hadn't had a chance to learn the "secrets a mom teaches a daughter."

Lisa threw herself into her ballet classes, which not only occupied her physically and mentally, but gave her an emotional outlet as well. "What saved me was to have something important in my life where adults who knew me were available to me."

Missing In Action

Kids can lose their mothers in ways other than death. Mary's mom was sick and in the hospital for a year when Mary was 12, which in some ways was worse than a death, she says, because there was not the finality and publicity of a funeral to unite the community with the grieving family.

Mary was alone, her mother suddenly gone with no one in her place. Mary stole from her father's wallet and shoplifted to get attention, but nobody noticed. She wasn't doing well in school, so she was put back a year, which made her even more sad because her friends moved on to the next grade and high school. When Mary's mother returned, things got better. But Mary always feared her mother would again abandon her or die, always remembering that terrifying year when her mother disappeared.

Illness isn't the only way a mom can be "lost." Some mom's just don't care about their children. Take 16-year-old Deena. Her mom did drugs while she was pregnant with Deena and continued to float from abusive relationship to abusive relationship and drug addiction to drug addiction, repeating the pattern she experienced with her own mother. Deena rarely saw her mom because her mom was always away partying and trying to score drugs. Deena finally left home when she was 15 -- her mom was dead inside and caused only pain for Deena.

How To Heal

Dealing with the loss is key, says Carol Weston, author of "Girltalk" and "Private and Personal," a book that deals with issues facing teen girls. Weston points out that the loss of a parent, especially your mom, is probably the worst thing you are going to have to go through for a long time, and you are allowed to be sad about it for as long as you need. She recommends a few survival techniques for healing:

Reach out. Your dad, aunt, grandparent, sibling, guidance counselor, school nurse, teacher, neighbor, friend's mom -- there will be somebody who will want to talk with you about your feelings. You might think that these people don't want to be reminded of the death or problems, but odds are they would welcome the chance to talk and cry with you.

Express it. Keep a journal. Write poems. Draw, sing, dance, perform. Try something -- anything -- that lets you express your feelings. Getting them out in the open is a good way to see them more clearly and deal with them coherently.

Forgive yourself. You're going to feel jealous of your friends who still have mothers or mothers who care about them. That's normal. You're going to be angry at your mom for leaving you. That's normal, too. You have to let yourself feel what you're feeling -- don't waste time and energy on the guilt that says you're a bad person to be jealous of a mother's love or angry with the dead. You're allowed to be happy again, but it's normal to feel guilty for being happy, too. Remember, you owe it to yourself to move on, to embrace life.

The loss, says Lisa, never goes away, but you can find ways to ease it. Her father, she says, became a more sensitive and open person to compensate for the lack of a mother. When she married, her mother-in-law filled many of the roles her own mother would have performed. She is still motherless, but she is determined not to be helpless.

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Chat Smarts

In 1995, Katie Tarbox was a 13-year-old 7th grader in the affluent community of New Canaan, Conn. That summer, Katie found America Online and her life would never be the same. What began as a chat room friendship with a young man turned into a frightening in-person encounter with a man who was not 23 as he initially said, but instead was a 41-year-old man who had a history of molestation offenses against minors.

Katie's case, along with others, marked an increase in the prosecution of Internet pedophiles (adults who have sexual desires for children and meet them online). Though Katie pressed charges, the saga didn't end there. In the following years, she learned who her friends really were and fought her way back from a severe depression and bouts of shame and guilt. Today, she is a successful high school senior bound for college in the fall. And her book Katie.com, which recounts the events of the case and its aftermath, hits bookshelves this week.

We recently chatted with Katie about what happened to her, how it's changed her, and what we can do to be safe on the Web.

Why do think the chat rooms were such a draw for you?

I really thought the chat rooms were all AOL had to offer. At that point there was nothing out yet about cyber predators. It was very positive -- you know, you could talk to kids all over the country. The first time I went on there I had a ball. There were some raunchy people but for the most part I thought it was supercool.

How responsible do you think the AOLs of the world are for what happened to you?

I never thought AOL was responsible for what happened to me. I really think the parents out there have taken stepped-back roles in kids' lives. Parents should take responsibility for their kids. I think they forget that the best morals and lessons can be learned through the home and they should make sure their kids are safe online.

How do you advise teens not to have this happen?

I think there are instances where it can be safe and wonderful. In my case I know there were blatant warning signs that I ignored, and I think you can't ignore them. Go slow, don't give out your phone number immediately, don't give out your personal information so you can be tracked down. If you decide to meet someone in person you need to tell someone you're doing it and to meet them in a public place. If you encounter an Internet pedophile, the best place to go is the FBI. Go to the local FBI branch or the local police station and make a complaint.

In several passages in the book before you met Frank, some of the things he said to you made me nervous as the reader. Why do you think they didn't raise any alarm for you, like when he offered to fly you out on your 14th birthday?

I was too involved. I look back at myself and I have to laugh at some of the things I didn't catch. I was ashamed for a long period of my life afterward. It was just a really intense relationship and I was so happy about it that I think I was willing to overlook things and make sacrifices.

In the book you mention that in the aftermath of the events you had trouble looking at people when you spoke with them because of the shame issue. Have you been able to regain that confidence?

That has taken me a very long time, and it was moreso with men than with women. My editor is a man about the same age as Frank and the first time I met him I couldn't look at him and I didn't even realize I was doing it. I did well at school my junior year and then I won a lot of academic prizes so I started getting myself on solid ground and my confidence came back. I realized that I just had to get used to it again. I had to practice it.

How has the experience changed the way you form friendships offline, or in the real world?

Well, first of all I don't chat online at all anymore. As far as relationships in person, I've had to meet people that are much more accepting. It's been life-changing just in terms of my outlook on life and the things I want to accomplish and the goals I have and that has influenced my friends, but I don't think anything in particular has influenced how I make friends.

How long did it take you to feel comfortable going online again?

I didn't get online again in terms of regular e-mail for almost three years. But I do use the Internet for everyday things -- like downloading applications and printing stamps. There are so many great resources. It's such a wonderful tool and it would be a shame to stop using it because predators are out there -- it's wonderful if used correctly.

How are things now when you go back to New Canaan?

I keep a low profile when I go back. What's strange is that some of the friends I had in school here before, who I haven't talked to since I left for high school, are contacting me again now that the book is coming out and I'm not sure what their motivations are. But I've tried to at least keep in touch with different people because I went to school with them for so long.

How did the book come about?

After Frank was sentenced I needed to get my life on track again and I started writing. I started a journal and I wrote every day for two months. I realized at the end of the summer that I had what looked like a book. So we contacted an entertainment lawyer and he put us in touch with a literary agent.

When you told your mom exactly what happened, she seemed very unsympathetic to your situation. She placed a lot of blame on you and cared more about how it would affect the family reputation. How are your relationships with your family now?

My mom and I had to work really hard on our relationship and we're very close now. And I'm really close to my older sister. My younger sister is the age now that I was in the book so she's going through all of those things of trying to figure out who you are. It's been harder on her because a lot of the attention shifted to me when this happened, and now with the book coming out it's shifted again.

What has been the most profound change on you in the aftermath of the whole trauma?

I think it's night and day. I used to be so unaccepting of people who were different or who made mistakes. I was so embarrassed about mistakes. For one, I realized that life is anything but fair, and two, it's really about mistakes. I realized it's OK to make mistakes if and only if you take them and turn them around to be positive situations. I think I've done that successfully. I really take mistakes now as learning tools in my life and I think it's sad when people fail but I hope they'll turn it around. I think that I'm trying to be more down to earth and more accepting of people now. I no longer look at what happened to me and feel shame. I feel an overwhelming sense of pride knowing what I've done and I've worked really hard for it. That brings me such joy in my life that I'll never be ashamed to share this story because I realize it can help people.

What are you doing now? What's next for you?

I'm looking at colleges and I want to take a lot of writing courses. I think writing will always be part of my life. I'm working on another nonfiction book about the college process. I've got a website, with information and links about how to keep kids safe online. I speak at schools. I'm just trying to tell people about my story in the hopes that it will help. If only one girl gets helped, that's one girl that doesn't have to go through what I did.

Heather McLatchie is a Texas-based freelance writer who's been writing for the Internet since 1995. This article originally appeared on ChickClick's teen channel, Missclick.

Cold Streets

James was 17 years old when he left home in 1998. Two years later, he still hasn't gone back. He found himself failing a couple of classes in his junior year of high school. He didn't know how to tell his parents about his situation, so he went to a friend's house to cool off and prepare for the eventual confrontation with his mom and stepdad.When James called his mom to explain where he was, she was furious. "My mom told me to 'either come home right now or don't come home at all,'" James remembers. He chose not to go home.James is one of thousands of this country's homeless youth. While he did find shelter at a friend's house, he fits the definition of homeless youth because he has no permanent place to call home with adult supervision.Tina Carlson, 26, is an outreach worker for the Sweetser Homeless Youth Program in Saco, Maine. Carlson says it's hard to pinpoint exact how many youth in this country don't have a place to call home because many of them work very hard to find shelter."You're usually not going to see them on the street or sleeping under a bridge," she says. "These kids will do a lot to have a place to stay. They're fairly invisible."According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, about 25 percent of this country's homeless population is under the age of 25, and 3 percent are classified as "unaccompanied minors," a fancy way of saying under-18 and living without an adult. The National Center for Homeless Education estimated that there were more than 600,000 homeless youth in 1998.Carlson says that many of these unsupervised teens become "couch surfers," or kids who move from friend's house to friend's house, never really staying in one place for very long.The program Carlson works with targets homeless youth ages 6 to 20, but the average age of her clients is 17. Carlson's main goal is to connect homeless youth with programs and services within their community to get their basic needs met, like food, clothing, education, medical care, and counseling -- and whatever else they may need.A big problem Carlson faces is getting access to the community programs. Doctors, landlords, and school officials sometimes won't help homeless kids because they assume that if a kid is homeless, she must be bad news and totally irresponsible, Carlson says."The myth is that this is a population of kids who don't want a family or just refuse to get along," Carlson says. "That's just not the case. They're kids living in an adult world, but the world is saying 'you may be [parentless], but you're not 18, so you can't receive these services,'" she says.When kids decide to run, they usually don't think about what to bring with them, Carlson says. While they're probably busy packing their favorite clothes or CD's, she says, they should be grabbing their social security card and birth certificate, because without those documents, it's difficult to apply for health insurance, or to receive any kind of social services.In fact, if a homeless teen wants to go to school, she might find it impossible to do so. According to a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, barriers like reliable transportation, residency requirements, birth certificates, and immunization records often keep teens from attending or enrolling for school. And even if they're enrolled, Carlson says, it's tough to get them to show up each day.Unfortunately, for many of these homeless youth, Carlson says, school is very low down on their list of priorities. "It gets pretty hard at age 16 to think about going to school every day and working a full-time job because you have to pay for a place to live," she says.There's no one around to get them up in the morning or to make sure they're doing their homework, and the teens are often very tired in the morning because they usually stay up pretty late at night, Carlson says. James has no regrets about leaving home, and is sure he'll never go back. He got his grades up and graduated from high school, and is working hard to keep himself together. He said while he's confident he made the right choice about leaving, he admitted he's sometimes jealous of his friends because they "have parents to take care of them and they have that bond."Carlson said that the kids she works with are not that different from any other teen today. "When you hear of all the things that homeless teens need, it's not that different from what we all need," Carlson says. "Everyone needs a stable place to live. If you don't have that, everything changes. All of the kids I work with had hopes and dreams at one point, but some have been out on their own for so long that they've lost [them]."If you'd like to find out how you can help -- or to receive help -- contact the National Coalition for the Homeless at (800) 635-0861 or (202) 737-6444. In Canada, contact Youth Without Shelter at (416)748-0110.Kathy Labuski is a freelance writer based in Maine. This article originally appeared on ChickClick's teen channel, MissClick (www.missclick.com)

Jamie Morales Takes on AIDS

Life's thrown 15-year-old Jamie Morales a bunch of curve balls. Her mother, uncle, and godfather have all died of AIDS-related illnesses and her father is currently infected. But instead of crying foul, the Kansas teen has stepped up to the plate to educate others about the deadly disease.

"I wanted to get involved because I know what it is like -- not being infected, but being affected," says Jamie. "I did not want anyone to have to go through what I did in order to learn about this disease."

Jamie started working with youth education groups when she was only 8 years old to warn peers about the risk of contracting HIV and to explain how they could protect themselves. One group she worked with developed ads that ran in local movie theaters and an educational video that was shown in the Wichita, Kansas, school system.

In the 8th grade, Jamie traveled around Kansas, sharing her family's sad story with about 5,000 people -- kind of puts that class oral presentation in perspective, doesn't it? She's also been involved in fund-raising events, designing hand-painted scarves, and participating in AIDS Walks every year.

Her personal crusade hasn't gone by unnoticed. In 1998 she received the Metropolitan Life Foundation/National AIDS Fund "Caring Counts" award for her efforts to educate and her positive attitude in the face of tragic circumstances.

Jamie recently spoke at World AIDS Day in Washington, D.C., and at the Ryan White National Youth Conference on HIV and AIDS. And she says her plans for future include more of the same.

Those that know her say she's pretty shy but becomes empowered on stage when sharing her intimate knowledge of being affected by AIDS. Jamie says it's simple: "The more that is done to educate, the more that is done to save other people."

Juvenile Injustice

"Ain't no power like the power of the youth 'cause the power of the youth don't stop!" The chant rose up among the crowd along Market Street in San Francisco this week as youth activists mourned California's voters' choice to pass Proposition 21.The rally, originally meant to be a victory party, was a somber moment for youth and youth activists who have worked so hard to rally for better preventative programs rather than the stronger punishments that Proposition 21 will bring.But as more and more participants took to the street to protest through poetry, dance, songs, rap, and rounds of applause, it was clear that youth power is alive and strong. As one young speaker said, "We lost a battle, but we're fighting a war!"The war to which she is referring is the United States' political trend towards tougher crime laws for young people. While many states across the country were determining presidential candidates last Tuesday, California voters also had the opportunity to vote on Proposition 21, referred to by its sponsor as the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act.When it goes into effect, Proposition 21 will completely change the juvenile justice system as we know it, spending millions of dollars to shift its focus from rehabilitative and preventative treatment for youth to hard-core punitive punishment. In response, California youth and youth advocacy groups are outraged. And because the laws that are passed in California usually catch on in other states, teens across the country are worried about their rights.The Skinny on Proposition 21In an attempt to crack down on youth crime, Proposition 21 allows more children ages 14 to 17 to be tried in court as adults. In the past, the judge has decided whether to try the juvenile as an adult, but Proposition 21 shifts that responsibility to the district attorneys and the prosecution, opening up more room for bias.It also expands the definition of a felony to include lesser crimes. For example, in the past, graffiti damage above $50,000 was considered a felony, but Proposition 21 reduces the damage amount to $400.The proposition expands California's "Three Strikes" law so that penalties increase significantly and the death penalty can be applied more often. Optional probations will be dropped and mandatory sentences will be enforced.By removing confidentiality rules, Proposition 21 opens juvenile records to the public.The proposition gives police the authority to label as gang members any groups of three or more individuals who are dressed the same, share a common name, or are closely affiliated. Once labeled, a teen would be required to register and be tracked in a database the same way the state tracks sex offenders.Room for RacismCindy Downing, 19, a youth activist and student at San Francisco State University, voices the concern that such a broad definition for gang members is dangerous, "It's totally under police discretion -- there is so much more room for bias." Along with many other youth activists, she fears that if police can stop anybody because they look or act a certain way, they will abuse this power, leading to more arrests of youth and people of color.ColorLines magazine supports this theory, saying that the definition of gang members used by Proposition 21 will unfairly target the young, the poor, and people of color.In addition, by shifting the decision to try a child as an adult to the prosecutor, Proposition 21 opens up more room for bias. Judge James Milliken of the San Diego Juvenile Court explains, "Proposition 21 would let prosecutors move kids like mentally impaired children to adult court where they don't belong, without judicial review. These important decisions must be reviewed by an impartial judge."Many share these concerns. According to Schools Not Jails, two-thirds of all American youth are white, yet two-thirds of jailed youth are people of color. By allowing for more discretion on the part of the police and of the court, we run the risk that these numbers will be perpetuated and will reflect even more heavily institutionalized racism in our country.Will Proposition 21 Decrease Crime?Former Republican Governor Pete Wilson, the California District Attorneys Association, and Crime Victims United believe the initiative will lower crime. These groups explain that, although the overall rate of juvenile crime has dropped, violent juvenile crime has increased by 60 percent since 1983.But this number only applies to the most violent felonies, the smallest number of juvenile crimes committed. According to the California Department of Justice, California has been reporting its lowest juvenile felony arrests since the 1960s.Perhaps even more significant, this argument says that putting more people in jails alleviates crime. However, opponents such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Schools Not Jails point out that prevention programs have been shown to be more effective in reducing crime than sinking money into the prison system.According to a 1996 study by the Rand Corporation entitled "Diverting Children from a Life of Crime, Measuring Costs and Benefits," early prevention programs such as graduation incentives and parenting programs can prevent as many as 250 crimes per $1 million spent. One million dollars invested in prisons, however, would prevent only 60 crimes.The California Legislative Analyst estimates the cost of new prison facilities to accommodate the estimated rise in incarcerated juveniles as a result of Proposition 21 to be in excess of $750 million initially with a yearly cost of $330 million. Proposition 21 allocates no money to be used on preventative or rehabilitative measures. In fact, in order to afford the heavy program cost, money would be taken from programs already in existence.Juve Justice HistoryProposition 21 represents a radical shift in perspective in the way we view juvenile justice, which has national implications. According to the ACLU, the juvenile justice system originated at the start of the 1900s when the Progressive Movement focused on the mistreatment of children. States felt that children needed a system that would focus on rehabilitation and prepare youth to participate responsibly in society; by 1925 most states had passed laws calling for separate juvenile proceedings with a focus on prevention and rehabilitation.But now our country's politicians are shifting that focus. In the past two years, most states have overhauled their juvenile justice laws so that more youths are tried as adults and less rehabilitative services are in place. Youth activists such as Downing fear that Proposition 21 will have national implications: "California sets trends," she says. "When one of the most populous states in the United States passes a law like this, other states follow."Youth Activists Prepared for More BattlesAs the vote approached in California, William Walker, 20, a Friedman Project Fellow with the ACLU, expressed frustration, "People don't ask youth what they want or what works for them when it comes to the juvenile justice system."In California, youth have been speaking up anyway -- at events all over the state -- and organizing demonstrations, candle light vigils, benefit concerts, and rallies. And important organizations such as the California Judges Association and The Children's Advocacy Institute joined their ranks.Proposition 21 is just the beginning in the growing trend to toughen up crime laws for juveniles. As a youth activist, Walker urges youth around the country to pay attention to the changing climate for juvenile justice, and to become involved in the political process.According to Walker, Proposition 21 does not match the goals and ideals that our government holds for its juvenile justice system, "Our law says youth are not ready to vote. They're not ready to drive. But they're ready to go to jail as an adult. That does not make sense."Jessi Hempel is a freelance writer based in Berkeley, California. This article originally appeared in Chickclick's teen channel, MissClick.com.

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