|Bobby was a 14 year old boy, growing fast. I'd stayed in his home as a foster sister to Bobby's sister Cathy. Bobby had recently run away and been found weeks later sleeping out in the cold in an abandoned hotel near the beach. When he was captured by former clients and returned to the program, he was half starved, fatigued and none too happy to see us. Bobby refused to concede that he needed to be in the program. And that was the one unforgivable sin. In retribution for his sin, ostensibly to save his life by bringing him to his senses, Staff ordered a line of treatment euphemistically termed "Time Out". TR (Timeout Room) meant that the client was taken out of group and placed in one of four large closets, maybe six or seven feet square. Three or more other clients were selected from the group to provide intense "confrontation" therapy. The TR upstairs just under the aluminum roof and almost out of ear-shot to the group was particularly uncomfortable in the Florida Summertime and was usually reserved for the real hard cases. This is where Bobby was taken. Staff would hand down the sentence pretty much on a whim after having the client stand up for confrontation by the group. Staff would ask the group "Who wants to take so-and-so to TR?" It was a rhetorical question as the slightest perceived lack of enthusiasm for anything that Staff asked was tantamount to treason and might be met with swift and severe punishment. Or it might not; uncertainty is an important ingredient in this recipe. Bobby's "Time Out" was the most brutal and sadistic event that I have ever witnessed. As I recall, it lasted for two & a half to three days. During that time, Bobby was subjected to constant verbal and physical abuse at the hands of three to six other male clients, each replaced after a few hours by another client selected from the group by Staff. During TR, the client was usually forced to remain standing, often denied food, water, sleep and every human dignity up to and including the "privilege" of using the bathroom. A couple of times a day, Staff would order Bobby to be trotted out in front of the group where various other clients would be selected to "confront" him about his problem, unwillingness to "be honest" about the "objective reality" of his current stature as a worthless, filthy druggie piece of shit and his need for "rehabilitation".
The overall effect of this exercise was to re-enforce in his mind that the group was solidly behind whatever was going on inside that tiny room. The effect on the group was to re-enforce in our minds just exactly what might happen to any of us, including his big sister, should we choose to break ranks. By the middle of the second day, I'm pretty sure the effect was lost on Bobby. He was gaunt, glassy eyed, slack jawed and unable to remain standing without the assistance of the clients providing his "confrontation therapy". I don't even think he was aware of his surroundings. Over the past 17 years, Bobby's face has hung in my mind. I've often wondered what happened to him; if he ever got over the trauma, if his parents ever realized their grave error or if he even survived.