Teens Are Trapped in Abusive, Cult-Like ‘Drug Rehab Centers’
If you like Army Wives, Preachers’ Daughters, Dance Moms, or any other TV show attempting to create a taxonomy of women based on the professions of their husbands, fathers, and children, then you may well have caught an episode of Teen Trouble. It’s a reality TV show on the Lifetime network where a guy named Josh Shipp sends “at-risk teens” to “alternative rehab centers,” where they’re forced to endure emotional and physical abuse before being allowed to rejoin society.
Shipp is your classic Jerry Springer brand of therapist—no real qualifications, a huge ego, and a penchant for money and entertaining TV over science and genuine psychology. “I’m a teen behavior specialist,” he says in the intro. “My approach is gritty, gutsy, and in your face.”
But the show is a lot grittier than you might expect from that typical teleprompter spiel. The unregulated “troubled teen” industry is able to persist despite numerous allegations of physical and sexual abuse,torture, and death at various institutions, and Shipp is exploiting that same system for monetary gain. Even when they aren’t abusive and/or deadly, the pseudoscientific practices used at “tough love boarding schools” have often proven to be ineffective and can lead to PTSD, anxiety, depression, and drug addiction. Maia Szalavitz, author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids, told me about some of the horror stories her own research uncovered.
“The classic list is food deprivation, sleep deprivation, public humiliation, beatings, and denial of access to the bathroom to the point where you wet or soil yourself. But I’m also constantly hearing stories of people being forced to re-enact various traumas, like being raped,” she told me.
‘No Condom as Evidence’ Legislation Up for Debate in Albany
It’s the first Thursday of the month, and as per tradition, a cadre of affable, semirowdy hos have filled every seat in the Lower East Side’s Happy Ending Lounge.
Shivering from the residual cold, the crowd—pretty, riot grrrl types in Daria bangs and Doc Martens—lets out a collective giggle as Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” floats through the loudspeakers. “Tonight, we’re playing ho anthems,” the host explains, drowning out Fiona’s molasses admission that she’s been a bad, baaad girl.
The evening’s theme is “Pretty Woman Redux,” part of a monthly storytelling series from the sex-workers’ rights group, the Red Umbrella Project. For two hours, a handful of New York’s most articulate “hos” (as they endearingly call themselves), share intimate, industry tales.
As in past sessions, donations from the event will benefit a cause vital to every sex worker in the city: banning the New York Police Department’s well-documentedpractice of using condom possession as evidence of prostitution.
It’s a battle health rights advocates have fought for years. In every legislative session since 1999, proponents of a “No Condoms as Evidence” bill have asked state lawmakers to squelch the practice, citing evidence that it’s forced sex workers to stop carrying and using condoms all together. In every session, the bill has died on the committee floor.
In recent months, however, efforts to engage lawmakers have accelerated, thanks to studies released in 2012 by the Pros Network and Human Rights Watch—two Manhattan-based organizations that say the policy has led to a serious public-health crisis.
In the Human Rights study, among a slew of other anecdotes, a sex worker named Anastasia L., claims she had unprotected sex “many times” to avoid the risk of arrest.
Here’s how absurd the war on drugs has gotten: firstly, an activist from Keene, New Hampshire, is facing 81 years in prison for dealing marijuana; and secondly, even though he’s admitted on camera that he did sell about a pound of pot to an FBI informant, he’s still fighting the case in court in hopes the jury will acquit him.
The man’s name is Rich Paul, and his ordeal started last May, when he was arrested for selling weed and LSD (he claims he sold a legal chemical compound that wasn’t LSD). Instead of being charged with a crime, he wrote in a Facebook note about the incident and was taken to see an FBI agent named Philip Christiana, who threatened to throw the book at him unless he turned informer on his friends. According to Rich, Phil wanted him to wear a wire into meetings of a local political group he belonged to called the Keene Activist Center, lie to them about his arrest, and encourage them to commit crimes. Rich said no, and shared his story with the public—even going so far as to explain on video that he had been busted after selling ounces of weed to a confidential informant on multiple occasions.
There are several odd things about this trial, which started today. (Follow live updates through this Facebook page.) First, it’s not clear why the FBI, or this particular agent, was so keen, pun intended, to go after the KAC. Although the organization is “liberty-minded” (in other words, not fans of the police or other forms of government), it’s also explicitly nonviolent. Those kind of libertarian/anarchist/whatever-you-want-to-call-it politics are common in New Hampshire—in fact, groups like the Shire Society and the Free State Project encourage people who are tired of being hassled by the Man to move to the state, and the Keene area in particular. Acts of civil disobedience by the KAC and other activists are relatively common; Rich himself organized 4:20 PM “smoke-ins” at Keene’s Central Square to protest drug-prohibition laws.
In an email to me late last night, Rich said that his prosecution is an outlier. “Local law enforcement in Keene has always been extremely respectful, courteous and professional. Many of them, I will not say which, sympathize with us on many of our concerns, though most do not condone civil disobedience,” he wrote.
Are Anti-Gun Murder Squads Killing Pro-Gun Campaigners? Of Course Not, but That Hasn’t Stopped These Conspiracy Theorists
On January 3, the producer of popular gun-loving YouTube channel “FPS Russia” was found dead in Georgia at his business. Keith Ratliff, 32, was discovered with a single bullet in the back of his head. Scattered around him were various weapons, some of which he’d modified himself. Some early articles also suggested Ratliff had been tied to a chair at some point before he was murdered and then found on a rural road, but those reports now seem to be false.
So far, the motive behind this execution is unclear. The police recently ruled out a burglary gone wrong, due to the fact that nothing was stolen from the scene, but—of course—with Ratliff’s line of work, there are now a few far-flung theories sending gun forums into a frenzy, and whispers that this was an arms deal that turned sour.
An example of the insane weapons and dodgy Russian accents on FPS Russia.
As the producer and business partner at FPS Russia, Ratliff reportedly provided the channel’s host (the guy with the corny fake Russian accent) with most of the rare, powerful weapons and explosives they demonstrate to their 500 million viewers. Getting hold of weapons like the Golden Desert Eagle, an AA-12 automatic shotgun, and a 40mm machine gun is something Ratliff prided himself on. Kitty Wandel, a manager at FPS Russia, commented on this a few days ago, saying: “Keith Ratliff has been with the FPS Russia channel for quite some time now, helping us […] to find almost impossible weapons to use in videos.” Ratliff managed to get most of these “almost impossible weapons” using his Federal Firearms License (FFL).
Now, if we look at various videos on the FPS Russia channel—the firing of an explosive crossbow; theassembly of a DRD Paratus-18, which is an assassin-type “suitcase machine gun;” and even the unloading of a rocket launcher—it’s fair to presume that Ratliff obtained these weapons with his “type 10” FFL connections. This type 10 license allows the owner to “manufacture firearms, ammunition, ammunition components, destructive devices, ammunition for destructive devices, and armor piercing ammunition.” It also permits the owner to deal in all the aforementioned items. The money to be made with one of these licenses is incredible if you have the right kind of connections—someone with a type 11 license, for example.
David W Dyson.
I spoke to David W Dyson, firearms consultant and barrister, about the type 11 FFL and FPS Russia’s extensive arsenal of weapons. He told me:
“Regarding the way in which FPS Russia got hold of the weapons, we know that someone with a type 11 FFL could import them.”
The type 11 allows the import of almost any weapon in the US. With these two connections combined, you can effectively set yourself up as an arms dealer who can import a weapon once and then reproduce or modify it to sell on a large scale. Modifying and designing guns was one of Ratliff’s specialities.
“If someone with a type 11 FFL imported the items [FPS Russia’s guns], and if Ratliff had a type 10 FFL, he could simply buy them from the importer,” says Dyson. “Any supplier trading with the US could be a potential source of the weapons. There seems to be quite a few guns that could have originated in the former Soviet Union, but I think a lot could be US produced.”
There is no specific evidence that Keith Ratliff or FPS Russia are involved in any kind of arms dealing—something I did try to contact them about—but considering the way Keith was killed and his very public connection to guns, it’s a clear possibility that can’t be ignored.
Ratliff was also unhappy about the amount of paperwork you have to get through to own a military assault weapon in America. Speaking on a YouTube video titled “Obama Vows to Ban All Magazine Fed Weapons,” he rants on about how it should be illegal for some people to have guns and not others.
If you believe certain online news outlets or people who tell you things in bars, then you probably think the scrap metal collection game is the preserve of people who value heroin over their own teeth. However, by the looks of things in the documentary Scrappers, Chicago’s scrap collectors are of a much more wholesome, friendlier ilk—sucking on the industrial teat of the city and posessing a sixth sense for anything metal and shiny. A bit like Magneto, but without the lame costume and proclivity to be total dicks all the whole time.
The film follows the daily routine of Otis, a 73-year-old, self-confessed Casanova and father of 12, and Oscar, an illegal immigrant with a family in both Chicago and Honduras. It’s kind of good vibes, until the scrap metal market nose-dives into a deep, dark grave and leaves Otis and Oscar in gruel-level poverty. Anyway, I don’t want to ruin it for you, so instead I spoke to two of the co-directors—Brian Ashby and Ben Kolak—and found out about following their two protagonists around for three years and how the world of scrap metal collection is intrinsically linked to crime.
VICE: Hi guys. So why did you make a documentary about scrap metal collectors? Ben: Well, Brian and I both studied here in Chicago on the south side of the city. There’s a nice university and money there, but it’s surrounded by other neighborhoods that very classically have inner-city problems that the whole first world is dealing with—the loss of manufacturing jobs, crime, guns, and drugs. We found the immediate landscape fascinating.
So how did you go about finding the characters in the film? That was definitely the most challenging part of the process. We spent about six months hanging out at scrap yards, which in itself was a pretty life-changing experience. In the United States there’s a huge problem with scrap metal theft, so a lot of people who were selling were concerned that we were looking to bust them, or the scrap yards would be concerned that we were inspectors. One guy we met at a scrap yard—and credited as an associate producer—has a long history in the Chicago Mafia. He took us to a lot of yards, told us all kinds of funny stories, and really enlightened us to the situation.
Co-directors Brian Ashby, Courtney Prokopas and Ben Kolak.
It seems like there’s a lot of crime that goes hand in hand with scrapping. Yeah, it’s a frequent enough news story involving people who smoke crack and kill each other over the metal or something like that. It’s a commodity that’s been tied up with gang issues and definitely something that’s tied up with race. A lot of the construction trade in Chicago has shifted from the Polish and African-American communities to the Latino communities, and since construction is a big source of this scrap metal, the race shift has gone with it, too. So those traditional racial tensions have definitely translated into scrap metal.
So the crime is still there? Brian: Yeah, but all the scrap metal yards have very close relationships with the police. They don’t last very long if they don’t. Most of them have police there almost every day because people are always bringing in stolen stuff. Nonetheless, tons and tons of material gets thrown on the pile and processed with everything else, so it’s not black and white—it’s impossible to really tell what’s stolen, which made it interesting to us. Also, the whole trade is so necessary—the city would stop functioning without it. You can’t look too closely or regulate it; it’s just kind of impossible.
On September 12 of this year, a mother of four named Lorry Ann Santos opened her door to find three members of a Western Canadian gang called the “White Boy Posse” at her doorstep. They shot her dead. The police believe that this was a case of “mistaken identity.” Last week, three White Boy Posse members were charged with her murder along with the killing of two others. Two of those men were also charged with the murder and decapitation of a man named Bryan Gower, who the police believe knew members of the White Boy Posse.
In 2008, the White Boy Posse was subject to a major sweep of arrests and seizures by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Organized Crime Unit. The gang associates themselves with white supremacist Nazi iconography, and along with swastika flags, the RCMP seized 28 firearms, $500,000 in cocaine, over $300,000 in cash, 3,000 ecstasy pills, and a bunch of stolen stuff, according to an Edmonton Sun report. At that time, the RCMP said they had “crippled” the White Boy Posse.
According to the most recent numbers the overall crime rate in Canada has dropped, though the homicide rate is on the rise. Getting more specific, Edmonton has the third highest homicide rate behind Winnipeg and Halifax. Saskatoon also rates second on a chart of crime severity, just behind Winnipeg.
Regarding the rising problem of gang related homicide in Western Canada, Michael told me that it all stems from the demand for drugs in the Western provinces; “There’s been a lot of gang members moving over to the Alberta area because of the oil sands projects. Those young guys that are working 12-hour shifts… what do they want when they’re done? They want their booze, they want their girls, and they want their drugs. So, it’s been a little bit of a ‘go west young man’ right now. Certainly in Edmonton, the population of gangsters is growing, I would say faster than Toronto.”
Evidently, both because of its major infrastructure for drug production and its positioning as a port city, a lot of these drugs come from Vancouver, which “acts as a port for both the Mexican cartels who bring drugs up in fiberglass submarines and also from the Asian continents. It’s a victim of its geography in terms of where it sits, but being a port city matters because a lot of those ports are allegedly controlled by the Hell’s Angels.”
Grave robbing—or tomb raiding, or pot hunting, or fucking around with archaeological sites—occupies a strange corner of our culture. Part Tomb Raider, part cartoon horror punk, traditionally it’s been the territory of savvy locals who’ve wanted to make a quick, immoral buck selling historical trinkets on the black market. But more recently, digging up dead bodies to steal their shit has attracted a different breed of asshole, as keyed-up meth-heads have been lured out into the sticks to spend nights on end searching for ancient loot they can flog to fund their habits.
To get more of an insight into the kind of people who dig up the graves of the deceased and rifle through their stuff, I spoke to the archaeologist Delfin Weis, who has worked on digs across the country.
VICE: Hi Delfin. It seems like grave robbing goes on quite a lot. When did it start up? Delfin Weis: General grave robbing has been happening forever, but meth-fuelled looting started in the late 1990s and got really big in the early 2000s. Archaeologists started noticing it in the field around then.
How would they notice that? They’d show up at a dig and see it had been looted? Yeah, either that, or they’d see tweakers at the site, or find that tweakers were following them to the site. Of course, on meth, you have to do something, so these guys have nearly limitless energy and time, giving them the ability to dig holes all through the day and night. They can also keep surveying the site until they find something worth taking. They have the time, they have the energy, and they have a drug addiction that they need to fund.
So the meth gives them the energy to fund their habit? Yeah. There are areas where pot hunting goes on without meth, but this is just another dimension. Meth addicts who grow up near burial grounds and other archaeological sites know the area and know they can make money from it.
Ever wonder how to sell $100,000 worth of drugs in a week? We learned the secrets of the biggest drug dealer in NYC - a man who will deliver any substance you want, 24/7. He told us everything - from where he gets his drugs to how his crew operates. Come with us as we take a rare look into the dangerous life of a NYC drug delivery-man.