The Sagewalk wilderness program operated around Bend in Oregon. They closed in 2009 after a boy lost his life in the program. The entire concept was dangerous according to the sheriff who investigated the death but not illegal, so none were convicted for the death. Years before Sagewalk was used in a reality survivor-like show called “Brat Camp” leaving parents to believe that the wilderness therapy concept was safe. It wasn’t. Unfortunately it took a death to prove that. Here is a testimony found on Fornits.
I don’t know how to really dispell the myths about Sagewalk being a “boot camp” and students being “tortured and abused” other than just describing how a typical day went for me. This is rather long so pop some popcorn or something…
Day starts off by counselors calling 5 minutes. This means that everyone has 5 minutes to be dressed, have their sleeping bags hung on a tree, grab their food bags, and be sitting around the firepit. If everyone does not have this done by 5 minutes, everything gets put back the way it was, then you do it again until every thing is completed in the 5 minute slot. After this, there is hygeine. This involves filling your cup with water and soap, taking your rag and washing your face, hands and feet. I believe 8 or 10 minutes was given for hygeine. You had to be checked off by a counselor. If not everyone was checked off by a counselor in the allotted time, everyone had to do it again, although it was fairly easy the second time around, since most everyone was already clean and didnt need to do additional scrubbing. Then came breakfast, usually 20 minute time limit. Breakfast consisted of usually cold oats, with water, powdered milk, and then if you rationed well, brown sugar and raisins. If a fire was going, campers had the option of heating their oats, although only a few did so (I preferred my oats cold). You were required to eat at least 2 cups of oats, and one quart of water, both checked off (one girl forgot to check off that she had drank her quart of water, was forced to drink another and promptly vomited next to me) After this, you needed to clean your cup, which involved taking making mud and scrubbing the inside of your cup with it and rinsing it out until it was spotless. If everyone did not have their food eaten and cups cleaned by time limit, then spices would not be available for later meals (you needed to make 3 time limits in a row in order to have spices). All food that was prepared is required to be eaten, regardless if you feel full or the food doesn’t taste good. Some people vomited because of this, including myself after using too much spice on my rice and lentils. After this, usually came some sort of planned activity, gathering firewood, some sort of group therapy, or when we were moved to a site in the Orinoco (?) Forest, day-hiking (food and water only, no packs) up mountains and through forests and what not (probably the most fun activity there, incredibly beautiful) although we couldn’t really do this at the high desert site and apparently, SW has moved back there where I spent my first 10 days or so. Gathering firewood was rather difficult in the high desert, since we were required by both SW and BLM policy to take only dead and down trees. Lunch was usually very light, just some granola and another quart of water. Very easy to make time limit, if there was one (sometimes we would stop hiking and sit and snack then continue). This meal wasn’t required, but was only taken away if the group was misbehaving (never taken away if we were hiking or going to hike). Afternoon activities were performed, sometimes our “homework”, coursework that focused on goals, aspirations, management skills, etc. not your typical math, science, english etc. or more firewood collecting, therapy, etc.
Dinner was usually at sunset or so (preceeded by hygeine again), since we could not really do much after dark anyways. Dinner was rice and lentils except for Wednesday nights and Thursday nights. Wednesday night, we were given dehydrated refried beans and tortillas, made absolutely amazing (well, in comparison to the rice and lentils) burritos and Thursday nights was Macaroni night, which if you still had some cheese (most was used during burrito night) could make mac and cheese. Even without cheese, however, just regular macaroni was much better tasting than the rice and lentils. Since Rice and Lentils take at least 20 minutes to cook on the fire, time limit was either 40 minutes or 60 minutes depending on behavior (longer time limit for better behavior). While food was cooking, we were required to write a page in our journals. We also had a moment of silence (controversial, i think) and this was also the time when most of the group therapy occurred, when counselors encouraged the campers to express greivances, whether it be with SW, the counselors themselves, other students, or just problems in general. Usually, this either allowed for compromise and conflict resolution, or sometimes flared tempers (some girl I remember believed in Creationism, which I was fine with, but then she started ripping on evolution, which I was not cool with). Food was then eaten, then cups cleaned, food bags put away and we were dismissed to bed. Although we did not have any concept of time of there other than what day it was, I could guess that we received at least 11-12 hours of sleep a night (7-8pm till 7-8am).
Perhaps the least fun activity, and the one with the most controversy, would be the hiking. This involved taking down camp, with a time limit, packing up, then hiking upwards of 8 miles. Taking down camp involved dismantling the shelter, usually 2 or so tarps tied up to trees with rope. Filling in the firepit, filling in the latrine, then rock and sticking it. Filling up the “reds” (small water jugs). Spilling excessive water from the reds would require you to lift a full “red” above your head 25 times yelling at the top of your lungs “I will not spill the red, this is for my safety (rep number)”. After the camp was taken down, next (still during time limit) was to pack our packs…usually involved rolling our gray mats (what we sit on around the campfire) and our tarps up, strapping to the back of the pack, then filling our packs with our sleeping bags, extra clothes and food bags. Packs usually weighed somewhere around 80 (supposively) pounds, depending on how full the food bag was. In addition, several were assigned to carry the full “reds” (probably between 10-20 lbs) in their hands, and someone with the empty whites and siphon hose. Hiking was what you made of it. I had undiagnosed diabetes, I weighed 115 (when I finally got diagnosed and started insulin, I spiked at just under 150 lbs, 35 lbs weight gain in about 3 months) and was chronically fatigued. My first hike, we need to scale a small rock face, basically about 100 ft of steps. I fell over a few times and threw up. I was reassured by my peers that this was normal, and the counselors would make us continue until we reached our destination, regardless of fatigue level. The counselors gave us a break after 1/2 mile after we finished the rock face climb. After I got some water in me, I felt much much better and we hiked another 5 miles or so, me only falling over once more due to a misstep. I was also taught early on in my program that the biggest key to hiking is packing your pack correctly, putting your heavy stuff on top and making sure the waist straps are above your hips. After this tip, hiking was fairly easy, with the only real problem being overall fatigue from high blood sugar (all food is high in carbs to provide energy, which was not good for me). After hiking, camp set-up, opposite of camp take-down with time-limit. If camp setup or takedown took longer than time limit, rules dictated that we were supposed to re-do it all over again (45 minutes worth of work) but many times, the counselors, if they saw genuine effort and hustle (or if problems out of camper control came to light) they were pretty lienent.
I’m positive I’ve forgotten many things, or certain details are incorrect, it has been 3 years since I attended. If you have any questions as to other stuff, feel free to post them here, or im usually on AIM/AOL at phawktard. Please, if you’re going to contact me on AIM, don’t abuse this. I’m more than willing to answer questions as long as they’re not of rhetorical nature…leave your criticism here on the board.