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 Posted October 12, 2000 

OBSIDIAN TRAILS
By: Mr. & Mrs. H. C. (Names on file)

Dear Mr. Woodbury: 

We are the parents of a fifteen year old boy who is a current student at Obsidian Trails. This letter shall describe what required us to seek intervention with him and why we picked Obsidian Trails. We earnestly request that you read this carefully and consider our story. The following will explain why we believe Obsidian offers the best chance for restoring our shattered family and saving our child. 

Our son always had behavior problems that included isolation and defiant rejection of rules and authority. We have been to three highly recommended counselors over the years without getting anywhere. This summer he found a job where (we later learned) he was able to get drugs and alcohol. Shortly after school started this September he was suspended from school for showing up at an after-hours function intoxicated. Following that we discovered he was engaging in self-mutilation, cutting symbols and pictures into his skin with razors. We sought help from our HMO

First we went to the emergency room. An ER psychologist interviewed him and, despite the extensive cuttings on his chest and arms, described our son as "charming." We pleaded with this health care provider to at least order some sort of in-patient evaluation, but he declined, advising us that mutilations by kids are becoming increasingly common and that teenagers "rarely" cut their faces, or kill themselves. Besides, he reported with a sanguine smile, our son had promised not to do it again. 

This health care professional sent us home that night, prescribing a session of "intensive" out-patient therapy. After a one hour meeting with a psychologist the next day, the message to us and our son was clear: The psychologists couldn't make him do anything. He walked out and refused to participate further. All we were offered was an encounter group where we the parents sans our child could talk about our "feelings" and learn to "deal with" (i.e. adjust to) the increasingly defiant behavior of our son. We continually asked for some sort of in-patient intervention. The social worker suggested that if our son did anything else we could call 911 and perhaps a 72-hour hold could then be ordered. However, it was made clear that this would be a judgment call of the health care professional who looked at him at the time. The point: Even in the event of another emergency, intervention was no sure thing. 

After that "intensive" session, our adolescent advised us that no one was going to tell him what do any longer. He painted the anarchy symbol all over the leather jacket we gave him for eighth grade graduation, went to his room, began to play his guitar, and responded "F---- you" to every request we made of him. 

Oh, as an aside, our HMO did an ER drug test at our request, but then advised us that state law, and our minor son's privacy rights, prevented them from telling us the results. 

In short, after seeking help, we were left with a defiant boy, who was likely doing drugs (we later found this to be certain); who was listening to music with suicide themes; and who was cutting designs all over his skin with razor blades. A day after our sending him to Obsidian Trails, we also found a personal journal entry with strong suicide themes and a poem written by our son describing a suicide . The HMO refused to listen to us that we thought he may be suicidal. We tried our best, we sought help, and nothing was available. Our home, never a restful place with him, was now a war zone and our lives had became a living hell. 

In desperation, on the Friday night following our "intensive" out- patient therapy we checked web sites and came to Obsidian Trails. After leaving an e-mail, Gregory Bodenhamer called us the next morning and we spoke for approximately 2 hours. Before this current crisis, a family counselor we were seeing recommended Gregory Bodenhamer's book, "Back in Control" and thought we should send him there at some point if things continued to worsen. We were very impressed with it. Interestingly enough, it is also on the reading reference list of our HMO's department of psychology. We believe we had more answers and just plain common sense solutions presented to us by Mr. Bodenhamer in that one conversation than we had received in over 10 years of family therapy. 

Mr. Bodenhamer makes an interesting observation in his book: Children prefer to do things in their own way and, if they feel they can get away with it, they will do as they please. Our son has always been defiant and self-willed. However, a critical change occurred: He has just become taller and stronger than we are. In short, on that Saturday morning when we spoke with Mr. Bodenhamer, we had no way to make our boy do anything and he knew it. Faced with behavior that was growing more bizarre and out of control by the hour, with no other outside help, we made the heart wrenching decision, as a last ditch effort to save his life and save our family, to send him to Obsidian Trails. 

We reiterate that no acute local intervention was available and we felt we had to act quickly. After we removed him to Obsidian Trails we began a full-scale inspection of his room. Without going into details we confirmed that the situation was even more critical than we had suspected and that we had run out of any other options. We honestly do not believe we had even one more day. 

Here is what draws us to the principals of Obsidian Trails: These kids are taught accountability and community through back-to-basic survival skills. They are removed to remote areas where they are clean from the drugs, music, toxic culture, friends who encourage the bad behavior, and they are forced to work together. Disobedience is not an option they are told and these kids make life changing positive choices which we were able to hear first hand from three graduating students. Two of these kids were one step from prison, in fact one was ordered there by the courts of Idaho. We also spoke with five parents including one involved with law enforcement. They all advised us of 180-degree changes in their children and spoke very highly of the staff and program. In fact we spoke with one graduate a few days after our son went up there. We did so in person and at length. He also affirmed the program. 

We are aware of the terrible tragedy that occurred with the death of the young man. Ironically, this event occurred the same day as our son arrived at Obsidian. Here is what we did to check out Obsidian in the wake of this event. Our son was removed from our home on an emergency basis, so we had planned to visit the facility as soon as possible to see the physical premises and to meet with the staff. The passing of this poor young man prompted us to go up even earlier, the weekend following our son's arrival. The death, of course, is a terrible event and we grieve with the boy's family. However, after meeting the staff members who are working with our son, we are convinced that this place is his best hope for turning around. After hours of interviews and after reading letters from our boy we are convinced that the safety of each child is paramount in the eyes of the staff, that food and nourishment are never held hostage to behavior and that our troubled son who we love so much is receiving the most intensive one-on-one attention that can be made available to him. We do not believe there is another service which is capable or able to provide our child with so much attention, therapy and the treatment that is necessary to save his life. 

Our child is at a critical juncture now. The drugs have been cleaned out of his system, and he has been removed from the bad influences. However, he needs this full program to learn accountability and how to function in a family/cooperative situation and he needs the one on one intensive counseling. He still has not come to the point where he is able to express remorse or empathy for those around him. We believe earnestly that he must undergo the whole program up there. Nothing else has worked and we assure you that this is our last chance. His letters indicate that he is doing fine. If we believed for a second that there was any danger to him physically, mentally or emotionally, he would be pulled out of there immediately. On the contrary, we believe Obsidian Trails is our best and likely last hope. 

We urgently request that you do everything in your power to prevent the organization from being closed down. Mr. Bodenhamer is a proponent of having state guidelines and regulations for these out-door schools and we anticipate you will receive Obsidian's full cooperation. Further, his program, which is nationally and internationally acclaimed, presents the best likelihood of reaching troubled kids, who need to learn accountability and what limits are. We strongly recommend that you read his two books "Back in Control" and "Parent in Control." Therein you will find more common sense and insight regarding child rearing than we have ever read in two books. Finally, we are convinced that the Obsidian staff is compassionate, concerned, alert, and fully dedicated to these children and their parents. They have made themselves fully and easily accessible to us including on weekends both by phone and in person at very short notice. They call and give us lengthy therapy and field reports weekly at least and more if required or desired. We can have access to our child whenever we want. All of our questions have been answered openly. Our child needs what they have to offer and we ask you to assure that the program continues. 

We are sending this letter by e-mail to assure your fast receipt. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will be delighted to be of any and all assistance. 

Very Truly Yours, 

PO Box 1671 | Bonners Ferry, ID 83805 | 208-267-5550
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