'Wilderness Experience' Called a Private Prison


     SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - A "private prison" posing as a "wilderness experience" tormented a teen into "robotic obedience" by forcing him to work in burning sand without shoes or adequate water, leaving "a trail of post-traumatic stress, nightmares, and damaged, destroyed families," a family claims in court.
     Ryan, Shawn and Mark Stencel sued White River Academy, USA Guides and four individuals, in Federal Court.
     The Stencels, of Alaska, claim the "private prison" locked up Mark Stencel against his will and without consent, based on false promises of "a supportive, safe, healthy, camp-like setting with regular and productive therapy/counseling."
     White River Academy, in Delta, Utah, markets itself as a boarding school, academy, therapeutic treatment center and wilderness experience "designed to straighten out troubled, truant or failing teenage youth," according to the lawsuit.
     Mark Stencel was among many teens damaged at White River, the Stencels say, which relied on "rough tough love" to enforce its supposed treatment.
     "Mark Stencel was thrust into White River without the slightest understanding of what he was getting into, and had no choice in the matter. For White River, Mark represented one in a string of damaged teenagers that it boasted of helping, accompanied by some unjustified theory that rough tough love was just the treatment they needed," the 24-page complaint states. "At White River, there was no forum for complaint, explanation, appeal, or grievance against the placement, before, during, or after it occurred. The only option available to Mark was to bear it, for White River is a lock down, closely guarded private prison, where punishments are harsh for any rule infraction, real or imagined."
     Mark Stencel was made to complete "mindless tasks of blind obedience enforced by cruel punishment" at White River, the Stencels say, and was punished by isolation and loss of earned privileges.
     "Mark was forced to work in 100-degree weather without protection and insufficient water, no shoes to protect against the burning sands, cuts, thistles, or other foreseeable injury. This was done to thwart any potential attempt to escape to seek help and freedom and to intimidate Mark in to robotic obedience to any and all commands by White River," the complaint states.
     Mark was not properly fed or clothed while at White River, the Stencels say.
     "Defendants failed to provide nutritious food, clothing, shelter, and education, even though they represented to the Stencels that they were doing so and specifically lied to them about the living conditions at the facility, to the detriment of Mark's well being," the complaint states.
     "Defendants were negligent in adopting and implementing regimens and tactics specifically designed to induce anger, helplessness, and worthlessness in Mark Stencel and other inmates, much to their mental and emotional distress, with lasting effects, potentially changing the entire course of Mark Stencel's life unless plaintiffs prevail in this case so they have the means to continue to help Mark with the additional issues and pain caused by White River, in addition to the initial problems that caused the Stencels to seek help for Mark by sending him to White River."
     Defendant USA Guides, "a transport service trafficking in minors ... kidnapped Mark by force" and took him to White River, the Stencels say in the lawsuit.
     White River then charged "extravagant" fees for its bogus treatment, the Stencels claim.
     "Mark Stencel was emotionally and physically harmed at White River and his parents did not receive the quality care, services, and facilities, destined for Mark and for which they paid," the complaint states.
     "Defendants were aware that the harm caused to children at these facilities, including Mark Stencel, was so grave that the Utah Department of Human Services should have stepped in and shut down White River, but it did not."
     Individual defendants include White River owner Justin Neilson; camp therapist Gary Anderson; parent liaison Barbara Habe; and Robin Reber, allegedly "responsible for propagandizing the plaintiffs about White River."
     Delta, pop. 3,436, is in central Utah.
     The Stencels demand a refund and punitive damages for fraud, false imprisonment, involuntary servitude, intentional infliction of emotional distress and constitutional violations.
     They are represented by Thomas Burton.