"First Level/First Phase"
During my time on first phase, I endured almost every thought reform technique used in Cults. Most of the abuse I endured was psychological and almost identically resembled brainwashing techniques used during the Korean War. However, this was carefully hidden from the public and even the parents. The program's explanations were very well rehearsed.
Kids Helping Kids Wiki including first phase rules for newcomers.
I had no rights and no communication with anyone outside of the program. There are five phases in the program that we went through before graduating the program. First phase is torture. I was on first phase for five and a half months. First phase is basically the phase of breakdown and brainwashing. The brainwashing is achieved by an intentional, systematic conditioning where the entire environment is controlled, group peer pressure is utilized and any remnants of life before the program are eliminated. We were deprived of almost everything. These are known Cult tactics of thought reform and are dangerous.
First I was horrified and tried to run away. I was caught repeatedly. Then I would try to rebel and would not “work the program”. I remember going crazy, the boredom was more than I can explain. Boredom wasn’t the only bad aspect of the first phase, there was also restraint, antagonization by the group and staff, threats of seclusion and repeated indoctrination through oldcomer's constant barrage of program jargon. I had no personal or private time to reflect or think for myself.
The element of time is important to understand when it comes to brainwashing. It took about four months to drive me to a complete nervous breakdown. My parents were told that I was understanding my addiction and was having an awakening. Over those four months I went through various stages of attempting to hold onto reality. At one point I realized I couldn’t get out and devised a plan to kill myself. I tried to cut my wrist with my broken glasses but was caught by staff. I then cried because I knew that I couldn’t even escape through death. I was never suicidal before that time and I have never been suicidal since that time. At one point I carved tracks of skin from my arm with my thumbnail. I had no idea why I did this but I assume I was psychologically breaking down. I have since read that this is a known sign of humans and animals that are going crazy due to their captivity and unnatural environment. My parents were never aware of anything that went on in “group” including my suicide attempt or the arm carving. Staff would laugh at these behaviors and say that I was trying to get attention. I was not trying to dig the skin off of my arm, bleeding all over myself to get attention. I was not trying to get attention by attempting to cut my wrist to end my misery. Parents have no idea what happens to newcomers in “group” and they have no idea about what first phase really is. If I had one request for parents in the program, it would be to demand that they be able to walk into group unannounced and talk with their child privately. This is most important when the kid is on the first level of the program.
Every minute of every day, every month. How can I explain with words what they did to us in the program? Rotting away on those benches, Every position seemed to be a stress position. Suggestions repeatedly made that I had done more drugs, constantly accused of lying and pressured for information about my past. The time is what broke me, all of that time.
First phase was the first level we were on in the program. This is where the most damaging psychological tortures were implemented. I was so deprived and stressed by the treatment I received that I was mentally broken over the course of first phase. I was so tired, hungry and stressed.
There was no communication with parents until staff decided to allow a short "Talk" after Open Meeting. This was explained as time needed away from the dysfunctional family dynamic. In truth, this was a way the program kept my parents from knowing the details of my hidden abuses in the program and in the foster homes. The program staff knew that after a lengthy amount of time on first phase, kids wouldn't have the mind or courage to expose what had been done to them. This is why we were allowed more rights as we progressed in the program. These human rights were given out as rewards and could all be taken away as a punishment if staff so desired.
"Let's Have A Rap"
Raps were sessions that were held throughout the day by staff that involved the entire group. A “Rap” is a generic term used to describe any session where group is interactive and focuses on a specific problem, situation or ideology. The best way to describe what went on during raps would be to explain negative peer pressure and confrontational therapy. The most common rap would be designed to lead the phaser (kid) to talk about their past, how terrible they were in their past and how they hate themselves for the way they were. This was usually followed by confrontation by the group at the direction of staff for any number of reasons. The typical confrontation would include accusations of the person lying, not being completely honest or bragging about their past instead of “sharing” with the group. “Sharing” was a reference to confessing and discussing your feelings. If a person were to talk about thoughts, the staffer would immediately redirect the speaker to talk about their feelings and vice versa.
Raps could last for several hours and were very frequent all day, every day. Raps were the bulk of our existence in the program. During raps we were required to keep perfect posture, pay attention to the person speaking (by never turning your face or eyes away) and “Relate” which means that we were required to hold our arms perfectly straight in the air and when called upon by staff, tell the speaker how we also had a similar or identical experience and how shamed we were. Staff would keep note of who related and this would be written down and used to determine if a person was “working their program”.”Working the program” means to follow and adhere to all program doctrine. It also means to do what ever is suggested by the program staff. Mostly raps were used to humiliate the kids and derive confessions. Although we were in an isolated room, I still consider this to be a form of forced public confession because there were always approximately sixty kids or more in group and all staff including executive staff could walk in and examine the group’s status at any time. There were also other raps used to expose kids who had broken rules and at any time we could be stood up by staff and asked to recite any rule from memory. Memorization of all rules, ways and doctrine was expected by the kids or they would not be considered to be “working the program” and would not progress. Forced public confessions are a known thought reform technique used by the Chinese to humiliate and degrade their target. The program used these techniques on us and they broke down our self-esteem.
"Focus on Your Past"
We weren't allowed to talk about anything else besides how bad we were in our past and about our drug problem. We were occasionally allowed to tell on ourselves for inappropriate thoughts we had or a rule that someone had broken but mostly we had to stick to talking about our horrible past. We were sometimes allowed to express our gratitude for the program because the notion was adopted that it had saved our lives. These are well known Cult techniques and are used to rewrite the past and view the Cult as the only salvation. I eventually had to make up false stories about my past and, in time, I actually believed these lies.
"Singing Children's Songs"
Singing the same children’s songs over and over every day without being allowed to listen to any regular music was humiliating and redundant, so much that my brain seemed to turn to mush. Deprivation, psychological torture and time will destroy an identity and brainwashing will come easily thereafter. Those songs drove me crazy after a week or so. Singing and chanting is a known Cult technique. I think they used it to drown out our analytical thinking.
"Druggie Lifestyle/Druggie Behavior"
The parents were never aware of what we experienced as “clients” in the group. Almost everything was hidden and what could not be hidden to the foster home parents was explained away as a druggie kid wanting to go back to the druggie lifestyle. In all actuality, I had no desire whatsoever to abuse drugs or alcohol when I was in the program, I just wanted out. The so-called treatment I was receiving was terrifying and brutal, not to mention the level of stress I endured due to the bizarre stripping away of all rights and dignity. On first phase, I would not comply (act out) because I didn’t want to be tortured anymore. Unfortunately for me, the foster home parents were told, and believed that my outbursts were due to my drug addiction and that I was just being manipulative to get back to my “druggie lifestyle”. This was just another lie from the program operators and because parents knew relatively nothing about brainwashing techniques, they were blind to the psychological damage being inflicted upon our minds. I was reacting normally to being placed in a very unhealthy and dangerous environment.
"The Outside World, Not Conducive for Treatment"
Isolation from the outside world – explained as getting me out of my old lifestyle. In truth, I was being entered into an environment where I was to be mentally broken and eventually brainwashed. This also kept me from telling anyone that I was being abused in bizarre ways. "Milieu control", (control over a person's environment) is a known brainwashing technique as well as a Cult technique. This might be the single most important factor to examine when studying damaging thought reform techniques. It was explained that the kids in the program needed total isolation from the outside world on lower levels so we wouldn't fall back into our druggie ways. This was a lie. The whole program was a string of lies and nothing else.