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The MTC and Treatment Centers

I started a new job about a month ago at a treatment center. It is basically a very small private high school, that takes students with all sorts of problems, including depression, ADHD, alcoholism, drug abuse, anorexia, bulima, cutting (ie physically cutting oneself for emotional reasons), and many other behavioral disorders. I’m a math teacher there. The students are monitored 24 hours a day, and live at the treatment center.

The job pays very well, and has a few perks. I get free lunch, and I get paid to eat lunch. That is because I am required to supervise lunch. The teenagers have every moment of their lives evaluated. They have point sheets. On these point sheets, all staff basically grade their behavior–even during lunch. Their lives are HIGHLY regimented. For example, new students are told that they can only use the following 5 items to keep clean: shampoo, body wash, deodorant, soap, and one more thing I forgot. When they have been on good behavior, they can upgrade to using conditioner, makeup, perfume, hairspray, and they can shower in the morning.

It has been quite an adjustment for me. One day while eating lunch, I heard 2 students talking. Occasionally, students get a pass to go home for a few days or even a week, and they were talking about what it is like in the “outside world”. They talked about what it was like, would they get along with their parents, could they handle the freedom, etc. Anyway, it reminded me of the conversations we had in the Missionary Training Center (MTC). What would the mission be like? What if we got a bad companion? Can we handle the rules?

I was talking with a coworker from a previous job about my new job. She said, “wow, this treatment center sounds like it is just one step away from prison.” In many ways, she is right. The students do not wear shoes for a few reasons. (1) If they decide to run away, they will have to find their shoes first, and hopefully a staff member will be alerted and catch them. (2) If they run away without shoes, it is much harder to run in your socks. (3) It helps the carpet last longer. (I was told this, but I really think this is a stupid reason.)

I took the job, because it paid well, and I was really getting tired of my old job. My co-worker asked if I might like to return to my previous job, but I said “no.” I will be graduating with a master’s degree in statistics in December, and will look for a less emotional job then. I have really enjoyed teaching, and have taught at a community college for about 5 years. I was recently passed over for a full-time position at the community college, so I thought I would try out this private school (which actually paid better than the community college.) In the job interview, I was told that there would be no discipline problems, but I guess he and I have different definitions of discipline problems….

Anyway, this whole thing got me thinking about regimented life. On the one hand, my mission was a great experience, in large part due to the regimented life, but I’m sure glad I don’t have to live that way any more. I also highly respect people who can help these teenagers get their lives back in order, but I’ve decided that this just isn’t a job I’d like to do for any long term period of time.

Do you have any comments?

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2 comments on “The MTC and Treatment Centers

  1. When I was living in Provo in the 1980s, I worked at a facility that sounds like the one you’re working at. That place where I worked housed teenagers who had been sent there either by California courts or their families. Very few, if any, of the kids were LDS — I think the facility got high marks because of the LDS people who worked there.

    When I first arrived I was a little bothered by the intense regimentation and prison-like feeling, but after working with some of the kids and seeing some of the behavioral problems, I quickly grew to appreciate the disciplined, regimented approach. The only thing that I would have changed is that for many of the kids, their problems revolved around dysfunctional families. I saw one kid make great progress, but he was quickly returned to the Provo facility by his ultra-rich parents who wanted him “fixed.” When I talked to him about his situation, I felt like the whole family needed intense counseling and the parents needed training on how to be better parents.

  2. Jeff, I really admire the people who work there, and I think it does have a place in some of these messed up lives. I didn’t like working there, and lasted less than a year, mostly because I didn’t like some of the office staff’s treatment of us, but I also didn’t like following kids to the bathroom and watching them like a hawk at all times. I’m glad some people can thrive in a working environment like that, but it just wasn’t a place for me.

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