A blogger at Pam’s House Blend tells the story of Eric Norwood, a young man who was forced to go to the Utah Boy’s Ranch, which he describes as a Mormon gulag (literally at mormongulag.com). Some of the stories on that page are appalling beyond belief. Norwood was literally kidnapped – at his parent’s request – and flown to Utah because, at 15 years old, he was rebelling against their Mormon beliefs and refusing to attend constant church services:
I was camped out on the sofa bed in the TV room with a plate of leftover lasagna from the fridge. It was half eaten and a Roseanne re-run was playing when they first walked in. They looked around as if they had been told where to go, but hadn’t quite envisioned it right. They looked to their left, saw the terrified eyes of a 15-year-old, and pounced. They shoved clothes and shoes on me and I was gone before I was able to think about which way I should run. They told me very little. Their first names were Paul and Barry.
Barry was a white guy, a big mother. At least 6’5″, and I would not be surprised to hear that he weighed more than 300 pounds, but he was not fat. Paul was shorter and had a darker complexion. He was big too, and meaner than Barry. He turned to me when we first got into their white mid-sized rental car and said, “You have a choice. You can be cool and get on an airplane with us and be there in a couple of hours, or you can sit back there with handcuffs on for the next 12 hours. Non-stop.”
“Where are we going?” I asked, still in shock.
“Utah,” Barry answered casually from the passenger seat, without turning his head. “We are from the Utah Boys Ranch, Eric, and your parents have asked us to take you back with us.”
“What?” My head was spinning. I felt like I was going to throw up. There is no way that this was happening. My mom would never allow this. Utah? What the hell is a Boys Ranch? I couldn’t breathe.
“I guess we’re driving,” Paul said odiously.
I knew the child-lock would be on and as I saw the familiar houses of my grandmother’s street pass by, I started to roll down the window. We weren’t going fast enough for them to notice yet and the warm Agoura Hills climate didn’t tip them off. I rolled it down enough to fit my arm out and open the door from the outside when Paul paused at the stop sign at the bottom of the hill, looked back at me, and stopped the car.
He shoved the gear into park and pulled handcuffs out of somewhere and told me to give him my wrists. I sat there cuffed for a moment when I realized that I really would die from this feeling in my chest – a physical manifestation of angst. My heart was beating furiously, and I knew that I couldn’t last 12 hours.
But here’s the part that really caught my attention:
The first person I met in Utah was Senator Chris Buttars. I had no idea who he was until that point.
At the time, Buttars was the leader of the Utah Boy’s Ranch.
All I knew was that he was to be feared, and I was scared to death of him from the moment I first saw him.
“Sit down,” he squawked in a loud, high pitched, galling voice that sounded like a cross between a buzzard and an old cowboy. He continued to make it very clear that I was at his mercy. He told me who he was – politically – and the influence he had. If I ever wanted to leave I was to do what he said. “How old are you?”
“Fifteen,” I mumbled.
“Three years might not be enough for you. I can have a judge order you to be here until you are 21,” he croaked. With that he sent me off to be “changed and put on work crew.”
Norwood describes backbreaking labor and rampant physical abuse at the ranch. And that’s not all:
It turns out that any form of decadence – smoking a little grass, telling your math teacher to sit on it, being gay or bi-curious, sexually assaulting a family member or young girl – is curable by a little hard work, tough love, and Mormon doctrine. Boys with “sexual issues” are housed together in what could only be some cruel showing of satire.
They were constantly being caught jerking each other off onto each other, or, more tragically, assaulting younger boys. Whatever it was, they would be shoved into blankets and thrown on work crew. On Tuesday night they would meet with all the boys with sexual issues and provide remedies like IcyHot on the penis to stifle homosexual urges.
I was kept there until they couldn’t keep me any longer, and on my 18th birthday I walked out the front doors into a cold October morning with nowhere to go and nothing but my freedom. If I didn’t experience it myself I would not believe a place like this exists. A Mormon gulag.
How do they get away with all of the abuse? The forced religion, the stifling of freedom of speech? Was it legal to prevent us from reporting abuse to authorities, or to restrain us with ropes, wool blankets, and duct tape? Is it legal to force young boys to talk about masturbation with Mormon clergy and missionaries? How does all of this go unnoticed? We were young and naive and didn’t know that most of what they did to us was illegal. Buttars was famous for telling us that we had only three rights: food, safety, and shelter. They failed to even live up to those standards.
Besides being callow, we hardly had the chance to report any abuse. They instruct parents to ignore any claims of abuse from their children. They call any complaints from children a manipulation tool – “fear factor” – and instruct parents to be wary of the “tactic” they say they encounter most.
There were also no phones to call the police. No nurses or medical examiners to talk to. No government authorities to check in on us. Incongruously, this Orwellian facility desperately needs government oversight.
Sen. Buttars said it all when he told a reporter, “What sets us apart is that we’re the only residential treatment facility that doesn’t seek or accept government funding. If we did, they’d control us.”
Except, of course, now Buttars IS the government in Utah. You can read much more, including the testimonials of other kids sent to this vile place, at the mormongulag link above.