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As a teenager I was sent to an Advanced Training Institute (ATI) young men’s program called Life Focus. Life Focus was not explicitly advertised as a program for the troubled youth or “rebels” of ATI, but, functionally, that is what it was. The young men in Life Focus were regarded as and spoken to as if they were deviants. The majority of the program consisted of performing manual labor at ATI training centers. We worked as “volunteer” construction workers, janitors, and kitchen assistants, and were loaned out to various ATI training centers and programs for projects.
One of the goals set for Life Focus participants was to memorize the New Testament book of James. Early in the program, I fell behind in my scripture memorization and was soon looked on as a problem student. One night, several Life Focus staff members sat me down and told me that I must not be willing to commit to God. They persisted in this accusation until I admitted that I was not committed, and I prayed to God asking forgiveness.
I was told that, until I had memorized the assigned scriptures, I would be allowed to work but not to take part in evening events with staff and other students. I was confined to my room for several nights while the rest of the group attended a baseball game, went out for ice cream, and went on an outing with Bill Gothard. I was not catching up on the assigned memorization, however, and over time it seemed that the Life Focus staff began to give up on me.
I was confined to what was called a “prayer room.” The room had a camera monitoring the door outside and a speaker playing hymns inside. I was told I would remain in the prayer room until I had memorized the remaining chapters of James. Meals would be brought to the room three times a day. I was allowed no more phone calls to my family, and I was permitted to exit the room only for a fire alarm. I “escaped” the prayer room and walked to the training center director’s office, pleading with him to allow me to call my father. My request was denied. I was told I needed to immediately return to the prayer room.
Some time before I had been placed in the prayer room, a young man in Life Focus had disappeared from our work and activities. Most of us assumed that he had left the program and gone home. One night as I sat in the prayer room, staring at the walls, I was startled by a crashing noise. I looked out my window and saw that a chair had been thrown through the window of the room adjacent to mine. A moment later, to my astonishment, the young man who had disappeared from the program climbed out of the window, placed a shard of broken glass in his mouth, and began climbing the fire escape ladder. I heard men rushing down the hallway and yelling. I waited a bit, then left my room to see what had happened. In the lobby, several staff members were walking this guy out the main lobby doors. He was covered in blood, which still dripped from his wrists, though there was a tie around each arm to stem the flow. I was later told that this student had climbed to the roof, threatened to jump, then slit his wrists with the glass he had carried in his mouth.
I returned to the prayer room and remained there until my father came to retrieve me on graduation day. My father had had no idea I was confined to a prayer room for twelve days.
At that point I cut ties with the ATI community.