This is part one of a three-part article detailing one young woman's bewildering confinement in a "prayer room" at the Indianapolis Training Center.
My Indianapolis Training Center (ITC) prison sentence started in 1996, when I was 18 years old. My parents had gotten to the end of their rope with me. I had been the family project, constantly in need of guidance and discipline, ever since our family joined ATI when I was ten. I desperately wanted to be the model ATI girl. But I now know that I struggled with ADHD, and my parents’ extreme structure and scheduling of every minute of my day was smothering me to the point of massive depression and spiritual disillusionment. Suffice it to say, I was not fun to live with.
Even though I wasn’t a rebellious child by anyone’s standards, I constantly failed to measure up. My parents were ready to throw in the towel when an invitation came in the mail from IBLP introducing their brand new Cosmetology School in Indianapolis. My parents knew I had some interest in this sort of thing, so they served me an ultimatum: Go to this school at ITC or move out! I was in shock! I had no where to go! There was nothing to even consider. With a heavy heart I started packing. I was to leave in three weeks.
When I first arrived at the end of June, I was lost. I didn’t know anyone. I was one of the first girls from this inaugural class to arrive and no one was there to greet me. But, within days, all 20 of us had arrived and been paired up with roommates. Most of us were between 18 and 24 years old. I was one of the youngest and was quickly singled out and made to feel immature and socially awkward. Because of my ADHD, I was a little slow to adjust and pick up on the new way of living. I was constantly called out for being “too friendly,” usually with the opposite sex, but sometimes even for choosing the “wrong” girls to hang out with. I was so confused. Before long, it didn’t matter that I avoided all the things I was told to avoid. I was constantly under suspicion.
By November I was drowning. The training center was oppressive. Our classes were so disproportionately focused on “inward beauty” that our academic instruction in cosmetology was sorely behind. Our instructor would assign homework with little to no classroom instruction — but we had almost no time to do homework!
We were required by law to log eight hours a day in the Cosmetology School. But training center life was expected of everyone in the building, regardless of the program your parents were paying for you to attend. We had to participate in song, prayer, and meeting times as well as helping with general cleaning around the hotel and keeping the school sanitary and our own rooms inspection-ready. I simply wasn’t able to do all of this and complete the homework too. I didn’t ask around — I just figured the other girls were struggling like me. Nothing happened when deadlines came and went, so I concluded that the homework was optional study helps and nothing more.
In mid-November my parents came for a visit. While meeting with my instructor they heard that I was behind on homework. This was no surprise to them. Deadlines and I didn’t go well together, and time management was not my strong suit. They were, however, embarrassed that others were noticing my failures and it showed in irritation and disrespect for me. They told the instructor to “do whatever you need to to motivate her.” What followed is, by no means, what they had in mind, but I don’t think that’s how it was communicated to my instructor. I think she took from that meeting that she now had free rein to deal with me as harshly as she wished. And that’s just what she did.
A few days after my parents left, I was called into the office. “You are the only girl who hasn’t turned in homework in over a month,” she said. I was shocked. How in the world was everyone doing this? As if reading my mind, she sheepishly added that most of the other girls were turning in things with only a few questions completed — but at least they were turning in something. I had no idea I could have been doing that! I had hundreds of papers in my room with one or two questions answered on it. I could go get them and turn them all in now. But no. I was informed that was no longer an option. Now I must complete every question on every page of back homework or face further punishment.
I had no idea what “further punishment” meant, but I didn’t want to find out! I was told not to leave my room except to attend meals or classes. I asked about other “mandatory” training center activities and she said if I must, I must, but for everything else: Don’t leave your room until it’s all caught up. With tears brimming in my eyes, I left. Why me? Why was I being singled out? Why did all of my homework have to be brought up to date and not everyone else’s? It seemed par for the course for me at this point. I seemed to attract leadership scrutiny like bees to honey!
(Click here for Part 2)