“Tranquility Bay” Locked Up in Paradise

It was just another typical day. I had skipped all my classes that day with my friend Collin, and we had schemed some way of buying some bud and smoked all day. When I got home I realized that I had forgotten my keys so I thought it was a good idea to just take a nap in the hallway right outside my apartment until my dad came home. When my dad arrived he just stared at me with a gaze of disappointment which I had become all to familiar with. I went straight into my room and continued my slumber. A few hours later there was a knock on the door and my dad told me some gentleman were here to see me. Being in a burnt out haze I didn’t really understand what was going on. Then the door open and these two huge, body building type men, walked into the room and told me I was going with them. I tried to make a quick run for it but found one of there forearms in my throat, and got to choke on my Adams apple, as I fell onto my back. I was handcuffed and taken away. I spent the night handcuffed to a motel bed and then the next day was escorted to the airport. The gentleman used fear as a way for me to cooperate this entire time. I was put on an airplane heading for Jamaica, and thought to myself, “oh this can’t be so bad.’ I was wrong.

I landed in Jamaica and passed though customs and had a lady waiting for me. I took the long drive to the south western parish of St. Elizabeth to a town called Treasure Beach, Jamaica. As I approached the high walled compound I would call my home for the next 18 months, a sense of gloom and despair washed over me. My new home was called Tranquility Bay. As I approached the nursing station for my physical check in, I saw a group of men, all with a buzz cut and dressed in what appeared to be a cheap UPS like uniform, walking passed me in single file line, all staring in the same direction. “What the fuck did I get myself into!!?” I thought to myself. After my check in I was assigned to my new family. The Excellence family. A group of mostly rambunctious trouble makers. I was assigned a leader of sorts, who was the only boy I could talk to, to explain me the rules of how things went. He did his best that first day to fill me in. I was assigned a room, which had no a.c., and a bunk, which came undone from being bolted up to the wall, and had a flimsy one foot mattress on it. As I lay there to fall asleep ill never forget the shrills of a boy coming from O.P., Observation Placement, and my roommates breaking the rules of silence explaining to me to get used to the regular occurrence.

Tranquility Bay was a “Center for Change”. I say was because it has since been shut down. They used the same principles that Vietnamese prison camps used to break down there captives. They stripped you of your individualism by shaving your head and making everyone wear the same clothes. Days were all the same including waking up as the sun rose, taking cold showers, eating horrible food, hand washing your clothes, teaching yourself the curriculum they had set up, and groups lead by your case manager. Your case manager was the only direct link to your parents at first. You could write letters but they would take weeks to arrive to your parents. When you would explain to your parents the horrible conditions and the torture and abuse that was happening, your case manager would just brush it off as manipulative tactics we were using to try and make our parents feel bad, to pull us out of the program, and get us sent back home. The program worked on a level basis. You entered the program at level 1 and through earning points made your way up to level 5, which was called being a star fish. You would earn points by behaving and completing seminars they had set up. You got points taken away from breaking the rules. Anything from talking to someone else without permission, to not looking directly at the person in front of you while in line, got points taken away. As you moved up in levels you had to deduct points from others at a lower level, calling them out when they broke the rules. It was harsh.

My mother made it very clear that the only way I would be welcomed home was if I completed the program. I had no other choice then to “work the program”. As I began moving up in the levels I had to start giving my fellow inmates consequences. Calling them out for trivial things so that the staff could see that I was on there side and working the program. This cause an immense amount of tension. Behind closed doors whenever possible I would be getting ridiculed and punished for doing my best to get out of there. One night while I was in my sleep a blanket got tossed over me and a bunch of the guys hit me with socks filled with heavy objects. That was just some of the things done to me. My toothbrush was used to clean the toilet, my food and drinks were filled with salt, things got stolen from me, I was called every name you could think of and more. Just writing about it makes me emotional. I was stuck in between a rock and a hard place. If I did nothing I would be left alone while I was there. Yet, I had the promise of my mom saying she would rent me a hotel for a month and basically disown me, if I choose to sign out when I was 18. I saw so many horrible things. Inmates, some being as young as 14, would get sent to observation placement when they would refuse to obey instructions or go crazy and become destructive. Observation placement was a room where these kids would be forced to lay on there bellies only allowed to change which cheek was on the floor once an hour. If they choose to not follow instructions while in there then the staff would grab their arms and legs and spread them out using there knees to brutally grind their joints and faces into the ground until they were sobbing and would agree to obey. Some of these kids were tough and would endure up to 30 minutes of this torture but they all broke at some point or another. I saw multiple suicide attempts. I saw a staff punch the front teeth out of a fifteen year old and simply walk out the front gate and quit, never having to endure any consequences for his malicious actions. These are just some of the horrendous things I witnessed.

I moved up in the program and it took me 18 months to graduate. I was named honorary graduate. Tranquility Bay did not fix me. In fact I was inspired to try harder drugs when I got home because of all the romanticizing and glorifying of these drugs done by my fellow inmates. Looking back I just can’t believe such a place was allowed to exist. Yes I was an extremely difficult child and did whatever I wanted but what I see clearly now is that fear is never the answer. I was a boy who had lost his way. Sure I needed discipline but I also needed love. I could write a whole book on my experience but just wanted to but this little bit out there because it has been on my mind lately. Tranquility Bay taughht me a lot about myself and the resiliency I have within. I don’t wast my time trying to be bitter about the experience or blaming anyone for it. Having been there gives me a deeper understanding of the human experience and allows me to be grateful for my freedom every day.