Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare (2023) Movie Script

[reporter] Reality TV star Paris Hilton
embraced the spotlight
on Capitol Hill, Wednesday,
telling lawmakers about her personal
experiences of trauma and abuse
while at a behavioral treatment center
in Utah when she was 17 years old.
I was strangled, slapped across the face,
watched in the shower by male staff.
[man] This is happening in our country
to our young people.
And if it can happen
to Paris Hilton and her family,
think about all those people
who can't be here today.
[insects buzzing]
[woman] I went to sleep thinking
I'd be going to school the next day.
I was 15.
The house was dark.
My parents weren't there.
[dogs barking]
And I was woken up
by two men standing over my bed.
They were big.
They looked like mountain men.
They were like, "Get up. Get dressed.
You're coming with us."
[tense music playing]
[woman] They told me if I tried to run,
they would handcuff me.
They grabbed me
and forcibly removed me from my house.
[tense music continues]
- [door slams]
- [engine revs]
[tense music continues]
[woman] I was taken to the airport.
They had hired a private plane.
When we were on the flight, he's like,
"Do you wanna know where you're going?"
I'm like, "Nope."
Because I didn't want them
to know I was afraid.
[tense music continues]
[woman] I got in the car with a woman
who called herself "Mad Cat"
and a guy who called himself "Mad Dog."
And I remember being like,
"What the fuck is this?"
[tense music continues]
[woman] They drove me
into the middle of the desert.
And then there's a fire in the distance.
And they handed me a note written
on the back of an empty bill envelope.
"This is for the best. We love you."
[tense music continues]
And that's when I knew that my parents
paid these people to kidnap me
and take me to the program.
[music stops]
[man] Let's go! This is it!
Come on, let's move!
Let's go!
Get out of that truck!
Let's go! Move!
Welcome to Challenger
in the southern deserts.
The next 63 days,
you'll be under my care, my staff's care.
Do you understand?
- [teenagers] Yes, sir!
- [man] I can't hear you!
[teenagers] Yes, sir!
[choral version
of "Teenage Dirtbag" playing]
How do you handle it when the child
that you've loved and raised for 16 years
suddenly rebels and becomes someone
you don't recognize anymore?
I have a dream about her...
[man 1] The '80s were a time
when the world was changing.
There was a deep concern
that the youth of America
was taking a wrong turn.
Thank you.
Today, there's a drug and alcohol abuse
epidemic in this country,
and no one is safe from it.
Not you, not me,
and certainly not our children.
'Cause I'm just a teenage dirtbag...
[reporter 1] The country is facing
a crisis in dealing with its children.
You know, it was, "What do you do?"
Listen to Iron Maiden...
[reporter 2] When nothing else
seems to work,
some desperate parents
send their troubled teens
to these so-called
"wilderness therapy camps."
Designed, supposedly, to kick them out
of their bad habits and rebellious ways.
[reporter 3] It is a brainchild
of 35-year-old Steve Cartisano,
a former Air Force sergeant.
[Steve] So many people
in our society today
are giving kids excuses.
Kids need to learn this valuable lesson
that they are responsible for their lives
and accountable for their actions.
[man 2] Steve Cartisano was a genius.
Such a colorful character
who knew all about
how to fix all the problems in your family
with just a simple phone call.
'Cause I'm just a teenage dirtbag...
The thing about Steve was
people either loved him or despised him.
[woman] I think he was ahead of his time.
He had this great idea.
[reporter] It's called
The Challenger Foundation.
It claims to transform bad kids
through ordeal.
And then I think it got too big too quick.
[reporter] The kids are worn down
until they're good again.
[man 1] The concept
behind it was excellent,
and the core of what he did
was quite remarkable.
That's not what I do or my staff does.
It's Mother Nature, Phil.
[man 1] It still lives today.
[woman] This industry has just grown.
[reporter] The trouble is
some of the teens are not coming back.
Teenagers find themselves
in brutal conditions
far beyond the reach of US authorities.
When is it survival and discipline,
and when is it abuse?
- It was bad.
- [man 2] Death and abuse.
His business became a total disaster,
but he would rise from the ashes,
like, "Never say die."
[Phil Donahue] All right, Mr. Cartisano,
we're talking about
your Challenger Foundation.
Is your kid talking back to you?
[audience chuckle]
Have you got a smart-ass
on your hands at home?
[audience laugh]
[Phil] What do you wanna do
with these kids?
Who can kidnap whom?
Who is watching these people
who are presuming
to straighten your children out?
And how much of this...
[man 2] Steve Cartisano
launches Challenger in 1988.
They basically take kids out of their beds
in the middle of the night.
The parents have signed away
their parental rights.
Where are the kids' rights in this deal?
There are 16-year-old-kids...
The kids are having the rights
when they're not going to school,
and they're using drugs,
and they're being real jerks.
They're introduced to a big, burly guy
who says, "I own you now,
and you're gonna go
on a 500-mile forced hike
across the Utah desert."
My name is Horsehair.
Anything and everything your staff
tells you, you will do. No hesitation.
Is that clear?
[teenagers] Yes, sir.
- [Horsehair] Is that clear?
- [teenagers] Yes, sir!
[Horsehair] Tell me your name,
your age, where you're from.
April Schmidt, 15.
- [Horsehair] Speak up.
- Bonney Lake, Washington.
[louder] April Schmidt, 15.
Bonney Lake, Washington.
[Chris] That first day, kids would realize
they're in a whole different world
than where they came from.
[Horsehair] Better start treating your own
mother better than you have been, right?
Yes, sir.
[Horsehair] This is not a temporary thing.
She sacrificed a lot for you.
Do you understand what that means?
Yes, sir.
Too late to cry about it now.
You should've thought about that
when you were dealing with her, right?
Yes, sir.
[Horsehair] You better make it
a permanent fix.
Is that clear?
Yes, sir.
[tense music playing]
[Horsehair] We broke 'em down.
But we didn't break 'em down to hurt 'em.
We didn't break 'em down to punish them.
We were breaking them down
to get rid of all the old crap
and to rebuild.
Help them to be a better,
more positive person.
[tense music continues]
[Horsehair] Some of the kids
were so scared, they'd almost pass out,
and that was fine by me
because I wanted them
to have a little fear.
Um, a lot of these kids, this was it,
or they were going to jail.
[tense music continues]
[Steve] Kids aren't going to be happy
to be here. They're going to be hungry.
They're going to be tired,
going to be dirty.
We have to do things that work.
Talking to 'em and just loving them
won't get them to change their minds.
Are you all listening to me?
[teenagers] Yes, sir!
Steve Cartisano was in the Air Force.
I was in the Air Force.
So when we met, we had that in common.
He felt that the youth needed
some sort of different way to help them.
We were way ahead of our time.
[tense music continues]
[Horsehair] It was a 63-day program,
and we had three different sections.
We took 'em
to that very bottom level first.
We gave 'em what they need,
but that wasn't free.
There was a cost to everything.
We provided 'em food,
but the food was at a different location.
They had to travel on foot to get there.
We weren't punishing anyone.
There are consequences,
both good and bad, for our actions.
You determine whether
it's a negative or positive consequence.
[Steve] We're not talking about kids
that are going to church on Sunday
or that are going to youth dances
during the middle of the week.
We're talking about kids,
for the most part,
that are out of control, that are violent,
that are going to seduce your children,
give them drugs, and steal your car
and your jewelry if they can.
They're here because they're manipulators,
and they've learned
how to work the system.
[music fades]
[Nadine] I've always been a rabble-rouser,
black sheep of the family.
You know, as a kid with no power,
the only power you have is your behavior.
So I would... Yeah, I would act out a bit.
Like, I would drink,
and I would go to parties.
I loved to smoke pot.
So I was a bit of a stoner.
That could worry someone.
I had a boyfriend,
and he was noted
as sort of a troublemaker in town.
My parents didn't like me dating him,
and my mom didn't like me.
So, like, she was trying to find a way
to get rid of me since I was 12.
So I packed my shit and ran away.
I was at my boyfriend's sister's house,
hiding, when the police came.
The police sent me home with my parents.
Um, but they didn't tell me
where I was going after.
- [footsteps thud]
- [engine revs]
[bird caws]
[Nadine] I slept on the ground,
no tent, nothing. Like, it was rocky.
[Horsehair] Come on! Get up!
This isn't summer camp.
This is it. Come on, let's go!
[Nadine] In the morning,
there's, like, a bunch of kids.
I mean, skinny, shirts were ripped,
and a girl came up to me,
and I was chewing gum,
and she asked if she could have it.
She wanted the gum that I was chewing.
I'm like, "It has no flavor."
She's like, "I don't care."
And I'm like, "Okay."
And then another kid asked me for my soup,
and I was gonna give him my soup.
And then a girl said,
"Don't give him your soup."
"You need your soup." I'm like, "Okay."
[tense music playing]
[Nadine] It was like 113 degrees,
and I hiked, like,
500 miles in tennis shoes.
It was basically just surviving.
Keep walking. Here.
- Thank you.
- Just keep walking.
[tense music continues]
At each stage, life got a little better.
The second group, we had a handcart,
and so they could put all their gear into
the cart, but they all had to push it.
And our third group,
we brought a butter churn out to them.
We brought a Dutch oven.
[Kinney] Given everything that was
going on in my life at that point in time,
I didn't mind
that it was hard and dusty and dirty
and that we all smelled terrible.
[Horsehair] Here, we've been practicing
the balance of things.
There's a spirit in all this that we do.
It's always been that way
from the very beginning of time.
[Kinney] Living at home was hard.
My mother and I were constantly arguing.
I was not doing well in school.
And then, in the month
after my father passed away,
I did attempt
taking my own life.
[Horsehair] Okay. Everybody, gather around
over here. Make a horseshoe shape.
[Kinney] This felt different. There was
a different energy about the group.
There wasn't a lot of time
to really think about my life.
I was purely in survival mode
at that point in time.
That was comforting for me.
[Horsehair] Our Father in heaven,
we ask you to help us at this time
be mindful of the sacrifice
that this animal is representing to us.
We say this
in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
- [teenager] Oh, amen.
- [all] Amen.
[Kinney] I thrived.
I really... I really enjoyed being there.
[Horsehair] We're going to show you
different ways of cooking.
One is the pit.
We're gonna use the stomach to cook.
Get ready to stir it.
Get the meat in there.
I was asked one time, "How do you know
when they're ready to go home?"
It was their look.
It was their countenance.
They had sparkle in their eye.
They had smiles on their face
that you couldn't take away.
I think... I think most teenagers
should come here and improve yourself,
and this is probably gonna be
the best thing that happened to you.
Steve had a vision
that everyone needs a rite of passage
from childhood to adulthood,
and it usually encompasses...
something that's very difficult.
[girl] Uh, you know, but still, he...
He's the one that...
It just hurts, you know?
I just...
I pushed my mom away,
and I pushed my dad away.
She wrote me this letter telling me
how much she loved me and missed me
and wanted me to come home,
but I need to be here.
If I did go home early,
it wouldn't, you know...
All this effort that... that's gone into...
changing me
would be just a complete waste.
They were going through a rite of passage,
and, um, this was the beginning of that.
How many of you were glad to be here
the first minute you got off and arrived?
One, two.
How many of you are glad to be here now?
[teenager] Yeah.
How many of you
have learned something about yourself
that you didn't know when you got here?
And it's hard to explain
to somebody who doesn't understand it.
[uplifting music playing]
I felt accomplished.
At the end of every single day,
I felt accomplished.
[Steve] We're made better
by struggle, trial, and adversity.
It's a simple equation.
We've had over 700 kids in the program.
We've turned around hundreds of lives.
These kids need this.
We're saving so many more lives.
[woman] Matthew would have been
in juvenile detention or dead
if we had not continued
to try to do something.
[animal murmurs]
[teenagers yell]
[Matthew] I drank a lot.
I smoked a lot of pot.
[teenagers yell]
Every so often,
I used to munch a hit of LSD.
[boy] Whoo!
Or I'd smoke a little bit of PCP.
[teenagers yell]
There's a bridge down the street,
and he actually used to go
and jump off onto the trains.
[train whistle blares]
[rock music playing]
[woman] He was running wild.
- [Matthew] I had a good time. [laughs]
- [camera clicking]
[rock music continues]
[Matthew] But at the same time,
I was constantly getting arrested
for drug possession
or something like that.
I believe I was a bit of a nightmare.
At this point, the police
were here a lot with Matthew.
They would pick him up.
Maybe he'd gotten some alcohol somewhere.
Whether it was me, his father,
the school, the police,
whatever the punishment was,
it really just didn't matter.
At that point,
it was think outside the box.
[Steve] We're talking about kids
in a crack house, or they're running away,
they're out of control,
and they are master manipulators.
- They're blaming everybody else...
- [Phil] Master manipulators.
[Steve] When they're 25, all the excuses
of why they quit high school
or why they were doing drugs
aren't gonna matter, Phil.
[rock music continues]
I thought, "You know what?
I don't know what else to try,
but this sounds good."
[music stops]
I had only been there...
I had... I had not been there that long,
but I wanted so much
to get back to my McDonald's at home.
And my Oreos.
And my... my Round Top ice cream.
My good stuff.
But the adults
had already made the decision,
so I thought to myself,
"Just face it, man."
"You're here. Do the program."
"Then you'll be out of here
and you can go have a beer."
I was just afraid I would not be able
to get back for a long time,
but I thought, "They can't kill me."
That's exactly what I thought.
"They can't kill me."
[tense music playing]
Tonight, a man who says,
"Stop the coddling
and skip the psychiatrist."
Instead, give teens a simple message.
Shape up. Life's not a picnic.
So take a survival course.
- [camera clicking]
- [woman] Steve's responsibility
was the entire program,
which meant the advertisement,
the sales over the phone,
managing the finances of the company
and the employees of the company.
[drawer slams]
And it grew a lot faster than he expected.
So he was very dependent
on the people in southern Utah
who were running the program there.
[tense music continues]
I thought we got too big too fast,
and I don't think we were ready for it.
[reporter] They have no showers,
no toilets, no bunks or dining hall.
Some of the staff were...
Honestly, they were fillers.
[reporter] Their beds
are blankets on the ground.
They wanted to help, um, but they didn't
have the same understanding as we did.
[reporter] The kids will be
held accountable for their actions.
Share your food with a hungry friend,
you'll both go without.
Steal food, you'll be tied hand and foot.
So the staff were very young,
most of them.
And then there was also Horsehair,
who was the field leader.
The problem is,
he believed in Steve Cartisano.
So Steve Cartisano
called us manipulators, liars.
So that was sort of... What was ingrained
in the staff was to not believe us.
You know, some kids will say,
"I have, uh, you know, a bad back."
And, uh... Or, "My knee hurts."
You look in the medical report.
They've never hurt their knee.
They've never had a bad back.
So whenever you say you're sick,
they call you a liar.
[boy] Man, come on, man.
That hurts. God! [yells]
[Nadine] Basically, they were withholding...
everything from us.
[reporter] If your attitude isn't right,
you'll stay here beyond 63 days
until it is.
The longer we were there,
the more it became like Lord of the Flies.
Like, we would tie our hair up
with tampons 'cause of the string.
Sometimes, kids wouldn't
roll their packs well,
so they'd fall apart on a trail,
and then they'd get a rock
for not packing their pack correctly.
[crying] I could move so much faster
without this stupid rock.
[Nadine] You'd use your T-shirt
as toilet paper,
because you didn't get toilet paper.
Can you imagine if you were
hiking through the desert
and you came upon a bunch of dirty kids
with tampons in their hair?
You'd be like, "What the fuck?"
[tense music playing]
[music fades]
[Matthew] I didn't wanna live
in the desert anymore.
This one morning,
I just refused to get up.
I think the counselors told me
I had to get up.
I said, "No." They said, "Get up!"
I said, "No."
"You're not gonna force me up."
And he hit me.
He literally hit me.
There was another counselor.
That counselor told him
to tie my feet together at the ankles,
and he started dragging me.
And, yep, that hurt.
[footsteps thud]
[tense music playing]
But after only ten feet or so, he stopped.
He said, "Now, are you ready to hike?"
And I... I was in pain.
[tense music continues]
[Matthew] And so he kept dragging me.
The skin was scraped off of my back.
Every 40 or 50 feet, he'd stop
and he'd say, "Are you ready to hike?"
I kept saying, "No."
[footsteps thud]
[Matthew] "You are not
gonna make me hike."
[tense music continues]
[Matthew] Steve Cartisano did come out
the next morning.
He told me to remember
that it was my fault that had happened,
and then he left.
[music fades]
[Matthew] I thought,
"You're supposed to be counselors."
"You're supposed to be my advocates,
and you're beating me like this."
"Who can I trust now?"
[man] I was notified
by state social services
that they had removed a young man
from The Challenger program
and that he had injuries
that I needed to be aware of.
My first encounter with the program was,
I believe, in early 1990.
State officials let us know
that they were taking kids
with all different kinds of problems,
kids that were dealing drugs
and into drugs,
and putting them with kids
who were just sedentary couch potatoes
and put 'em out here in the harsh desert,
and they weren't allowing
law enforcement access to them.
I just kind of locked that away
in my memory
in case I had to deal with the program
in the future myself.
[dramatic music playing]
[Max] I drove up to the hospital,
and went in, was shocked
to see this young man, Matthew,
in the state that he was.
[dramatic music continues]
[Max] He'd been examined
by one of the local doctors.
He said, "This kid's emaciated."
The doctor had counted
over 80 scars, marks, and contusions
on his, uh, back and upper torso
that he had incurred
while being dragged through the desert.
And he told me that the wounds
were in various stages of healing
and, uh, that he was being abused
by staff members of the program.
[dramatic music continues]
[interviewer] How did you feel
when you found out?
I was upset. I was mad,
'cause I told the staff,
"If you hurt a kid
or abuse a kid out here,
you'll have to deal with me.
I'll deal with you."
I mean, some of how we did things
could look abusive.
Better start treating your mother
better than you have been.
There's a fine line in some of it.
I don't think anybody should be beat up,
but I think...
But there is a time and a place and room
for what I consider corporal punishment.
A spanking, you know?
A good spanking sometimes can do wonders.
- [Horsehair] You understand?
- [teenagers] Yes, sir.
- [Horsehair] I can't hear you!
- [teenagers] Yes, sir!
I'm sorry, I might be old school,
but human nature is we need parameters.
Otherwise, we have anarchy,
and anarchy does not work.
Never has, never will.
[Kari] Someone from the program
called me to tell me
they had taken Matthew to the hospital,
and I thought, "Well, he's...
He's in the hospital's care,
so he's okay."
So I flew out.
Some people from Challenger picked me up.
They paid for a hotel.
But once I saw Matthew, that was it.
We were headed home.
[Nadine] I understood
it was an unsafe situation,
like, from the very start.
The hardest thing about being there?
Knowing my parents did it to me.
The program cost my parents
over $16,000 in 1989.
So I don't...
I mean, that's a lot of money in 1989.
[reporter] Over the past three years,
Cartisano says nearly 800 kids
have gone through this program,
which translates into nearly $10 million.
[Horsehair] Steve was smart.
He knew that it took a lot of money.
Why should we fault anybody
that owns a business to make money?
He made a lot of money.
He goes out.
He buys a big, beautiful home.
I got a radio!
He would rent cars.
He rented a Lamborghini at one time.
This goes completely against the grain of,
like, "We're just trying to help kids."
You know?
This was very lavish.
[kids squealing happily]
[Debbie] I wasn't involved
in the finances.
[child yells]
[Debbie] I just know
that we had an adequate income,
uh, and so there was
a lot of money coming in, I think,
but there was also
a lot of money going out.
It was very expensive
to run these programs.
[Debbie] We found this house in Utah.
It was a big house,
about 6,500 square feet.
What do you think, Jen?
[Debbie] I bought a horse,
and I started riding.
So things were really good,
and it seemed to be a great success.
That's where I think
he started losing focus.
That mountain's called
the "Fiftymile Mountain."
It runs 50 miles
all the way to Lake Powell.
It's also the Kaiparowits Plateau.
This was a really bad place
for the kids to be hiking in.
This landscape can turn deadly very fast.
[tense music playing]
[Max] I was driving with another sheriff...
when we got the call
from Richfield dispatch
that a, uh, participant
in the Challenger Foundation, female,
was en route to the Panguitch hospital.
[tense music continues]
[Horsehair] While I was in Provo
at the office,
we got a call from other camps down here
that there was an incident.
So Steve grabbed the phone
to ask what was happening,
and his demeanor changed.
It was pretty serious.
[helicopter whirring]
We immediately dropped everything.
Him and I flew down.
We didn't know how bad she was.
We just knew that it was a serious thing.
[tense music continues]
[Horsehair] And we landed
right in front of an ambulance.
[distant sirens wailing]
They were doing CPR on her,
and they had her hooked up.
A physician assistant, he looked at her,
and it wasn't even 45 seconds,
and he called it. He said, "She's gone."
[somber music playing]
Steve was devastated by that.
He was very devastated by that.
I'm sure there was a part of him
that saw it as his fault
because it was his program,
and, uh, he was the one
bringing children into the program,
but he also knew
that it was beyond his control.
He did not spend that much time
in southern Utah, really, at that point,
you know, so I think he realized
that there was nothing
he could have done, really,
that could have changed the outcome.
[reporter] Kristen Chase
had spent just three days
on the rugged Kaiparowits Plateau.
She collapsed and died
after completing a five-mile day hike.
I want you to meet Sharon Fuqua.
Sharon had decided to send their daughter
Kristen to a wilderness camp
after she was failing the 10th grade
and overdosing on antidepressants.
She was 16 years old at the time.
Sharon, of course, had no way of knowing
that she'd never see
her only daughter alive again.
- [David] She looks mischievous.
- Yes, she was. [laughs]
She was, um,
just really sweet and lovable and...
- She loved dressing up and...
- Yes, she... She did love to do that.
But a little bit later,
um, it just changed.
- [David] She got rebellious.
- [Sharon] Yes, got rebellious. Yeah.
[somber music playing]
She was just having a hard time.
[sniffs] We didn't know,
really, what to do.
On the fourth week,
they go on a four-day solo period.
All the drugs are out of their system.
They wanna go home and be sons
and daughters to their parents again,
and get an education.
[sniffs] It's just, you know...
You think it's gonna help.
[Max] I grew up in a ranching family
in the harsh desert country here.
People that were raised in this area
know and understand
how harsh the desert can be.
You're out between water holes,
which may be ten miles apart.
The staff didn't have a lot of training.
Some of them
were former Challenger participants.
It became clear to me
that it was a recipe for disaster.
[reporter] Officers from the Kane County
Sheriff's Department
raided the Challenger Foundation's
offices today.
It's those records
officials hope will help them decide
what charges to file
against the foundation.
[Max] At that point in time, I said,
"I'm gonna get to the bottom of this,
and we're gonna do something about this."
[reporter] Max Jackson is the sheriff of
Kane County, where Challenger is located.
He says he's been flooded with complaints
from parents across the country.
This case absolutely took over my life.
As long as they're out there,
law enforcement is gonna stay busy.
[Steve] Kane County officials have just
decided that they're going to destroy me.
If they can't get to me personally,
they're gonna do it through the program.
You send someone out in the desert,
and they fall down,
and they're exhibiting signs
of heat exhaustion, you treat it.
Pioneers not only blaze the trail,
but they get the arrows.
I'm such an outspoken advocate
for these programs.
I've seen so many lives changed,
so many parents that are so grateful,
that I refuse to allow a bunch of petty
bureaucrats to come in and dictate
when they don't even take the time
to come and look around.
There's a great potential out there for,
uh, more abuse and possibly another death.
[reporter] Kane County officials charged
Cartisano and the Challenger Foundation
with negligent homicide.
[somber music playing]
[distant siren wailing]
[man] If Steve got convicted,
he was going to jail.
There was no question about it.
And he... he wasn't gonna do well in jail,
so he was very worried.
Because he knew if he lost the trial,
he would be going to prison
and would be leaving a young mother
with four small children.
How you doing?
We're anticipating a lot of mud
being thrown up against the wall,
and we're ready for it.
They just wanted him toasted.
[reporter 1] Eight other
Challenger children say they were hit,
starved, and tied to trees
by program supervisors.
[reporter 2] Nine counts of child abuse
have now also been leveled
against the Challenger Foundation,
from tying kids to trees
to literally dragging them
across the rocky ground.
Lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits
start piling up.
[reporter] The lawsuits have generated
considerable nationwide
negative publicity.
Challenger officials say they have
cost the program millions of dollars.
Challenger cost families up to $16,000.
[camera clicking]
But one of Cartisano's
core funding streams
was billing insurance companies
of the parents
for the kids' "treatment."
Suddenly the insurance companies
are wanting to claw it back
because they're seeing the news coverage,
and they're like, "Wait a sec."
I feel very strongly about it
because I know a lot of other kids
have been abused in the programs.
I don't think it should happen anymore.
The program was shut down.
Uh, we had no income.
I went to work at Sears.
And so then we spent
the next, uh, year and a half to two years
basically fighting the court case.
[reporter] Prosecutors once again
tried to establish
Cartisano was more concerned with profits
than with the safety of the troubled teens
he was supposed to be helping.
These guys have been lying for two years.
They have lied.
They are the most deceitful
group of people I've ever run into.
[Charles] Their case was
Kristen Chase was hiked too hard
and died of exertional heatstroke.
The findings of the autopsy
found her internal organs
to be somewhat consistent
with exertional heatstroke,
but it's also consistent
with other causes of death.
And that's all I had to show.
It was not exertional heatstroke.
That would have knocked out
the homicide count.
I'm not a doctor, but, uh,
she was taken up here to the high desert
by 6,000 feet, 100-degree temperature,
out of shape, and forced to march.
I do believe that he was negligent,
and that negligence
led to Kristen Chase's death.
[Horsehair] We were successful
in what we did do.
He made his bed,
I made my bed, and we both are in that.
There are, as I understand it,
Mr. Cartisano,
criminal charges now lodged against you
for negligent homicide.
That's right.
Was your Challenger Foundation responsible
for the death of Kristen Chase?
I didn't know Kristen. I was 500 miles
away when she collapsed, at our office...
But in the case of Kristen,
in the nine cases of child abuse,
in the various lawsuits filed against you,
in the IRS action against you...
There's this inference here...
[Geraldo] You have a great calm attitude
for a man that seems to be
facing the world ending on you.
[Chris] On the day of the verdict,
the judge sends the jury out
to deliberate.
It was really not looking good
for Steve Cartisano.
The conditions in which she died
strongly indicated
that she had been forced to hike
without water in blistering heat.
[tense music playing]
[Charles] They went out in the morning,
and they didn't come back with a verdict
until that night.
[tense music continues]
The odds were stacked against him
because he had to prove in court
that that was an accident.
[tense music continues]
Jury comes in, and the judge asks,
"How do you find on this count?"
"Not guilty, not guilty,
not guilty, not guilty."
We get out.
You know, it was very, very exciting.
The mistake
that defense lawyers make sometimes
is they try to prove
an alternative theory of the case.
That's a mistake.
You just have to show
that the prosecutor's theory
of the case is wrong.
We don't know for sure what she died from.
We speculate it could've been
toxic shock syndrome.
We speculate it could've been
septic shock.
It was not exertional heatstroke,
or at least there is reasonable doubt.
It was just a huge relief.
Relief beyond description.
It had to end, and that's...
And that's what I wanted.
After two years,
this had to stop, and I'm glad it's over.
We felt it was an answer to prayer.
[David sniffles]
Just disbelief. Still. [sniffs]
- What, is it 32 years later?
- Mm-hmm.
[Sharon] We really miss her.
A lot. [cries]
Nobody had responsibility over that.
It's something that happened.
I don't know if that sounds cold or not,
but it's reality.
[Debbie] We didn't want
any more publicity.
We didn't want
any more of the stress and strain.
I was worried about my children
and its effects on them,
and I wanted him
to quit doing youth programs.
But it was like he really didn't know
what else he could do.
[Steve] I've always had a gift
for working with kids.
I can understand them. I've been there.
They wanna tell me about their problems,
I'll say, "Okay, let's compare, pal."
You wanna talk about a life, a rough life?
Let's go through it.
And I've been able to overcome that.
So can you.
[Debbie] This is Steve when he was
maybe four or five years old.
That's Inez.
[somber string music playing]
[Debbie] When he was a baby,
he was initially given up
by his father and mother,
and he was adopted
by a couple named Troy and Inez.
She was devastated
when his natural mother and father
took him back
at about two years old, I think.
[interviewer] What's your background
and your training for this?
[Steve sighs]
It varies. I'm a graduate of
the School of Hard Knocks mostly,
just where I've come from and my own life.
My mother was a heroin addict,
spent time in prison.
She was killed when I was 17.
My father, he had a pretty hot temper.
His way of handling problems
was to smack you around.
He struggled through junior high
and high school.
It wasn't easy.
He didn't really wanna go
into his dad's concrete business,
so he joined the Air Force.
It changed his life and made him become
the confident person that he became.
The combination of the boot training
and the survival experience
and all the things that he experienced
in the Air Force,
those things helped him mature
and become a more responsible person.
And so he really believed
that it was a good way
to help young people
that would build their self-confidence
and help them make better choices in life.
[somber music continues]
[inaudible speech]
[Debbie] But now that the court case
was over, he'd been acquitted,
I wanted him to find some other way
to help provide for the family.
- [interviewer] And did he?
- [Debbie] No.
[mysterious music playing]
The rate of violent crimes by juveniles
in the United States jumped more than 25%
in the last decade.
[sheriff] I smell marijuana.
My nose don't lie.
Once you got into the '90s,
parents were still struggling with,
"What do I do with this kid?"
It seems to be definitely true.
Kids are smoking a lot of pot.
Maybe as much as they did
back in the old days.
[Debbie] Steve knew
that wilderness programs
could still help so many families,
but everywhere he tried to go,
the social services department
would shut him down.
He has basically been blacklisted.
But Cartisano, I think, took pleasure
from always being able
to outsmart the authorities
and respin it in the next location
where nobody knows his name.
Hi, guys. How ya doing?
I knew you'd be here.
So, eventually,
he went to the Virgin Islands.
I believe on Saint Thomas.
[mysterious music continues]
[Chris] As a reporter, I'm like,
"I'm gonna try to catch you."
"I'm gonna try," because
the courts weren't doing anything.
The only court we had
was the court of public opinion.
You turn one rock over,
there's another rock to turn over
underneath that.
"Stephen Cartisano, whose Challenger Utah
Wilderness Therapy Program was outlawed
after a girl under his care
died in the desert
is back in business."
"Now, he's running a program
known as Health Care America."
He's still doing it.
[Debbie] When we first met,
he was studying film, actually,
so he used his background
to help him make a sales video.
[Chris] He created a really nice,
well-produced video with actors.
[woman] Usually, the kind of rebellion
you get the first few days
is a real subtle rebellion, if you will.
They're, uh, just kind of slow.
They drag their feet.
They just don't wanna make it go smoothly.
Instead of hiking, this was putting kids
on boats, I remember?
Right? That's what it was.
[boy] Hey, what are you doing?
- Hey, calm down, Dan.
- You take the .
- What are you doing? Huh?
- Dan!
I was like, "Wait."
Undeterred from the fact
he just got acquitted
for negligent homicide
of a 16-year-old girl in his care,
he did what? You're kidding, right?
[man] Dan!
[woman] Naturally,
in a program of this nature,
there are gonna be kids
that are more aggressive than others.
Dan, in particular,
was one that was very aggressive.
Steve just takes it to the next level
and says, "I'm gonna charge even more."
The concept had morphed
from the stark Utah desert
and learning survival skills
to a little more like a pleasure cruise
in the Caribbean.
[Steve] I'll watch ya. I'll help ya.
But I'm not gonna do it for ya.
If you don't put it together right,
you have to suffer with it.
[Chris] They may land
and anchor somewhere,
and they get off the boat a little bit,
but nine times out of ten,
it's nobody else around.
You know the rules. We hike together...
- [boy] We don't need them to eat.
- We eat together. Yes, that's the rules.
He was able to attract some of the most
affluent families in American history.
The Rockefellers.
The grandson
of the late governor of Arkansas,
they sent him there.
All believing that
this was a legitimate, credible program
that helped kids get centered,
they came back respectful
and as good as new.
We just had to deal with it in a very
straightforward and controlled fashion.
It's almost something
we had to go through.
And it turned out all right.
We ended up becoming very close.
I was seeing a doctor,
and he brought it up to my...
I think it was my mom.
And we ended up
getting the Health Care America video.
[Steve] What do you think
you really wanna do?
I don't know.
I just want some freedom or something.
[Steve] The key to therapy
with a young person is relationship,
and unless they have that relationship...
[man] The movie itself
was very persuasive.
all that they might otherwise.
[man] During his teenage years,
Adam was just totally out of control.
He couldn't stand dealing with his mother.
I think a couple of times,
he threw some knives at her.
I remember that.
[Adam] I was an angry kid,
and I think I used being adopted
as an excuse to be that way.
We were basically desperate
and had to do something.
All of you, I think, know why you're here.
You haven't been taking responsibility
for your own actions.
Now it's time that you learn that.
I needed some kind of guidance in my life,
'cause I really had none.
My dad worked all the time.
[somber music playing]
[Adam] So I flew into Saint Thomas.
I was ready for something different.
I was ready to be better,
to work on myself.
For the next six and a half months,
the program was definitely a game changer.
It pretty much changed everything.
[Larry] First time I actually met Steve
was when I went to Costa Rica.
Adam, he'd been down there a while.
We hadn't seen him, and they thought
it may be good to come visit him.
[Steve] What would you say to your dad
if he were here right now?
[Adam] I'd give him a big hug.
- [Steve] Better turn around.
- [Larry] Turn around. I'm here.
[indistinct speech]
[Adam crying]
[Adam sobs]
I mean, it's very emotional.
[crying on video]
I'm... I'm not a real emotional person,
but that... that really got my emotions.
[Adam cries]
Thought I'd come for a visit.
[somber music playing]
[Nadine] Most people I talk to
who've been through these experiences...
[Adam sobs]
[Nadine]...you can't talk about it
where you're not re-traumatized by it
for at least five years.
[Adam cries]
Yeah, you might be a spoiled kid
complaining, but nobody cares.
If your own parent doesn't care about you,
nobody cares.
Like, who sends their kid
to something like that?
I mean, my parents came to pick me up,
and my mother didn't wanna get close to me
'cause I smelled.
We got in the car.
She rolled the window down,
like, "Oh, she stinks."
You know, it was just like,
"What the fuck?"
Like, "What is wrong with you people?"
[Larry] I'll never forget
when you graduated from that program.
You had been clean for a period of time.
Got back to Atlanta,
and it just, you know...
You know, it took about a week
before it started all over.
No, I... I think it was about a month,
and then I... I went back to my old ways.
Yeah, so not a lot changed.
Quite frankly, I probably should have
left you there for the rest of your life.
It was, you know...
- For the rest of my life?
- [Larry] Yes, in the jungles.
[Adam sobs]
[Chris] My first lead was
hearing from a research station
on the island of Saint John.
What they told me is that a bunch of kids
and a few adults came up on a boat
and had told them they were there
to do some training
for an organization
called Health Care America.
But then they started noticing
that the kids were very disheveled,
and there didn't seem
to be any structure there.
So the head of the research station there
called the US Virgin Islands
bureau of business licensing,
and there was no such thing
as Health Care America
licensed to do business
in the US Virgin Islands.
This was a completely covert operation.
There were no permits issued.
There was
no law enforcement acknowledgment.
There was no public health inspections
going on.
They just kinda came in, out of the blue,
dropped anchor, and started doing
"wilderness therapy" in the tropics.
[tense music playing]
[Chris] And so,
as the authorities start closing in,
Cartisano decides
it's time to make an exit.
[tense music continues]
[Chris] The captain sails
from Saint John to another island
that's pretty much almost uninhabited.
These kids,
they don't really know what's going on.
They truly are like these prisoners
on this floating therapy camp
that has zero therapy.
And they're out there in the ocean
for months at a time.
Hi, Dad. We love you.
It won't be the same at Christmastime
without you here.
We miss you very much.
- [kid] Bye, Dad!
- Bye! Bye!
[tense music continues]
[Ashley] I was in Health Care America
for nine months.
We never had any idea where we were going
or how long we were going to be there
or what the plan was.
And it seemed like we were always trying
to get somewhere
just going from island to island to island
and, you know, just staying long enough
to get essentials.
We went from the Virgin Islands
to Puerto Rico, Mona Island,
[camera clicking]
Dominican Republic,
Haiti, and then we went to Jamaica.
And then we went to Venezuela
and Cartagena, Colombia.
[Chris] These are not places
that are close together.
They're literally all over the Caribbean.
[Ashley] I was just scared
of what was going to happen.
I just... It's really hard to explain.
Never knowing when you're going home. Um...
Just feeling it was going on forever.
Just feeling like you're never going to be
good enough to go home.
[Chris] I end up finding out
that the program is down to just five kids
on a catamaran.
And after several weeks,
they're within landfall of Puerto Rico.
Several of the kids decide,
"We gotta get out of this."
They were trying to find somebody
to believe them, to talk to,
like, "Hey, we just escaped. Help us!"
The captain is so tired
of these kids escaping
that he decides,
"I'm gonna tie these kids up in a car,
put nooses around their neck,
and tie the rope to the car
so the kids don't get away."
[sirens wailing]
The Puerto Rican authorities
come swooping in,
thinking that it's some sort of,
like, organized crime, you know, hit.
The kids went back home
and started telling their parents,
"Do you know what you just sent me to?"
The authorities get involved,
the Puerto Rican Public Health.
Bottom line, no permit,
no authorization to do what they're doing,
and Cartisano has done his usual
"tough love 'em and leave 'em."
Nowhere in the picture.
So from a reporting standpoint,
everybody thinks he's gonna go dark.
He's gonna find another vocation.
[somber music playing]
[Debbie] We'd lost everything.
Money that was coming to him
for the program
that he was using for the program,
you know, I don't recall seeing any of it.
I knew that things were getting
pretty bad financially.
Um, you know, "We can't buy that.
We can't do this. We can't do that."
And at the time,
I didn't understand as much.
Yeah, we... we... we had nothing.
My dad was brilliant.
He's literally the smartest person
I've ever met.
Um, he could've done so many things.
So I was just like, "Dad,
please, like, do something different."
I was angry at him because I wanted him
to do something else
so we could have a normal life.
I just wanted our family to be normal.
[Debbie] That's real good.
Yeah. Hi.
- Hi.
- Hi.
[Debbie] Can you look at the dinosaur
for me up there?
Yeah, that's good.
[Debbie] When David was in second grade,
he was shy.
[Debbie] Can you turn around
and face the wall? Over here.
[Debbie] But then, when he turned 12,
he started hanging out
with kids that liked to drink and party
and smoke marijuana and stuff,
and he quickly...
I think he discovered
that his shyness would go away.
[Catie] He started using
really, really heavily. Um...
He didn't have, like, a stopping...
There was... There was no threshold
for Dave, right?
Like, he wanted to do as much
as he could all the time, no matter what.
[Debbie] It just spiraled down.
He got heavily into drugs.
Oh, it was really hard.
I was working full-time.
Uh, Steve was doing odd jobs
here and there.
[Chris] Steve Cartisano
was still convinced
that wilderness therapy
was a good business.
So Steve connects
with some of these businessmen
who want to start a program in Samoa.
Steve has become a consultant.
However, the legacy of Steve Cartisano
was catching up with Steve Cartisano,
so he would introduce himself to parents
as Steve Michaels.
Steve was able to get
the program in Samoa up and going.
So we made the determination
that we needed to send David.
So we actually sent two men down there
to kidnap him,
just like we had other students,
and we sent him to Samoa.
- [dogs barking]
- [engine revs]
[man 1] What is this?
This is the entrance?
[man 2] This is
the quote, unquote "guard."
Makes sure no people come in
that aren't supposed to.
There's a big sign up there.
[man 1] That's right. That's the sign.
"Pacific Coast Academy."
A far cry different than what the brochure
would lead you to believe.
[man] It was sold to my mom in a brochure.
It was a really nice, beautiful brochure.
It looks like you're going on vacation.
It was about 25 to 30,000 dollars,
depending on the kid.
[interviewer] How did your mom afford it?
Uh, she sold our house that we lived in,
so pretty major transformation for us.
[interviewer] What were
the other kids like?
[Kurt] Uh, I actually knew one of 'em
when I was there. Amber.
She was, uh, somebody
that I knew from Costa Mesa.
We had mutual friends together,
and we were on good terms.
We looked at each other and were like,
"Holy shit! How did this happen?"
"How did somebody that I knew from home
end up here in Samoa of all places?"
I was happy. It was a relief.
[interviewer] Did you ever
meet Steve Cartisano?
He just made a pop-up to check on his kid,
which is strange
that he was sending his own kid
to one of his camps.
[Kurt] Steve Cartisano was like,
"You should help other kids
by teaching them what you know,"
and I was like,
"You mean like junior staff?"
He's like, "Yeah."
Everyone wants to be junior staff.
You're at the top of it.
You get better treatment, better food.
I'd be the one delegating what to do, and...
forcing people to do it
if they didn't wanna do it.
This man was straight-up offering me
an easier time. "Yeah, I'll... I'll do it."
My dad was super, super hopeful.
Dave was doing really well.
My dad was working,
and it was more consistent.
Things were really good, and then,
of course, just like always, things went...
[mimics explosion]
[Chris] I got contacted by an attorney
who had a videotape
made by a father
and a son who was in the program
that they wanted me to see.
So I went and visited the attorney
in her office.
They dim the lights,
and the TV kinda flickers on,
and it's a really poor quality videotape,
but it was obvious
it was shot in the jungle.
And I think my first impression was
it was like something you would
maybe see for a Vietnamese POW camp.
Oh, yeah, I spent a month and a half
in isolation for being a bad influence.
They can't compare. I got the record.
Three and a half months, baby.
Three and a half months.
You couldn't even tell
that they were kids.
They were emaciated. They were dirty.
They were covered head to toe
with insect bites.
No matter how bad I am,
I don't deserve to get beat.
Yes, me too.
They were really, literally,
living like animals.
Um, I've been here about almost a year.
I've been hit about seven...
I've been hit about seven times here.
- Mom, Dad, I wanna come home. Thank you.
- [interviewer] You're 18?
I'm 18. It's Illegal for them to keep me
here, but they refuse to let me go.
[tense music playing]
This is my bed, and this is Brandon's bed.
This is rocks and a little bit of hay.
The place was nothing when I got there.
It was a clearing in the jungle.
So the place was being built
by the other kids.
So we were building roads.
We were digging ditches to put in pipes.
We were putting in the sewers.
We were putting everything,
all the general infrastructure needed
in order for it to become something
that'll make the landowners money.
It's a forced labor camp.
[interviewer] When you ran away,
what happened?
They beat the crap out of us and made us
stay up all night on our hands...
Or on our knees
with our hands above our head.
[Chris] The thing that struck me
after seeing that video
was that this was the darkest chapter of
the whole Cartisano saga that I remember.
It was a much more sinister kinda feeling.
The abuse, the situation,
the conditions... seemed a lot worse.
Hi. I'm Amber Michelle.
Um... Do you want them to know
how long I've been here?
- [interviewer] Yeah.
- I've been here for almost 16 months.
Uh, about... Around this time last year,
I was hog-tied,
slammed down, and...
Shit! Staff's listening.
They're gonna come here right now.
[interviewer] Don't worry.
[Amber] So we were cleaning tables.
I made it very clear that I was done.
And I was then called
into the head guy of the camp
at that particular time.
He told me I was going to iso,
to isolation.
And I looked at him flat-out and said,
"No, I'm not. That's not..."
I was like, "I've done nothing wrong.
I'm not going."
So, all of a sudden,
there was four of the students.
They flipped me over
to where I was face down.
Then they pulled my arms back
and tied my arms.
They just decided to go ahead
and tie 'em to my feet too.
They didn't have staff doing it
because they knew it was child abuse,
so they had students do it.
[interviewer] When you say "they,"
who do you mean?
I remember tying her up
to the pole in the hut.
I wasn't part of the initial hog-tie part.
I was with her for many hours,
and her hands
were turning purple and blue,
so when it was my turn,
I let her go, you know?
I released her a little bit,
gave her a bit of motion in her hands,
and then it got nighttime,
and not a lot of sleep.
So what are we supposed to do?
And the staff said, "Throw water on her."
It started off
with just little mugs of water.
Then it went to pitchers of water.
Then it went to five gallons of water
at one time.
They wouldn't let me breathe
when they were doing it.
I took no pleasure in that.
I don't want to do that to somebody,
but we would not have done it
without somebody
of extremely high position in the staff
had instructed us to do it.
When she was tied up,
I was explaining it to her.
I was like, "This place is full of shit.
It's an absolute scam."
This should not happen anywhere,
and she knew I wasn't in charge of that,
so I don't think she personally held
any negative feelings to me.
[interviewer] How did you feel
towards Kurt for doing that?
Like, how... How could you not tell them no?
After the two days that I was tied up,
they took me to an isolation place
called "The Vow."
It's on the other side of the island,
and when I was there...
- [interviewer] Did you get beat there?
- I was sexually abused there.
I already know
that he doesn't wanna hear it, so...
[sniffs] Um...
Girls weren't ever sent to this village.
I was the first one.
So where they had us stay was, uh...
It was the chief of the village.
Chief Tui.
One day, when all his family
was gone at church and working,
it was just me and him there,
and I didn't have to work
'cause it was Sunday.
he started to sexually abuse me.
[tense pulse beating]
[Amber] I remember I was sitting.
He... started to...
Like, he had his hand on my back
and on my arm, and then started to...
He started to f...
Fondling on me, and...
I didn't know what to do.
You know, you... you push away,
and he's the chief... chief of the village,
so it's like, you know,
he's got the power.
A few days later,
I told the head guy of the camp.
He kind of made it... He made it seem as if
I was blowing things out of proportion.
And how could I accuse Tui of such acts?
So much so
that he left me there for longer.
[Chris] Obviously, the last thing
that Pacific Coast Academy wanted
was to have a videotape like this taken
outside of their possession,
'cause they knew how damning it was.
And so the parent who made the videotape
contacted the US Embassy,
and he told them he needed
to get out of the country with his son
before the, um, staff at PCA
knew what had happened.
And the embassy realized
this is bad stuff. This is criminal.
[dramatic music playing]
[Chris] So he headed immediately
to the airport,
and with them was a staff member
from the US Embassy
who had the videotape
hidden in a briefcase.
[dramatic music continues]
The Pacific Coast Academy had contacted
the Samoan authorities at the airport,
saying, "Don't let him leave
with this videotape."
They knew
it would not only hurt their business,
but they told the Samoan authorities
if this videotape got out,
it would hurt tourism.
[dramatic music continues]
[Chris] The Samoan authorities
questioned the father
and asked him and asked him and asked him
where the tape was.
And he said, "I already mailed it
to the United States."
So he gets through security.
He gets the tape
from the US Embassy official,
and he makes it out of Samoa.
[Catie] That's when the news cameras came,
and it kind of got outta hand.
I remember there being a news helicopter
circling around our house in California.
Like, right above.
It was just constant.
[dramatic music continues]
His name is attached to something
that he wasn't even a... Like...
Just pisses me off. Honestly.
Like, he was barely there. I mean,
he was basically out at that point.
That's when, I guess,
they went in and got the kids out.
[dramatic music continues]
[woman] I was working at the US Embassy
in New Zealand at the time,
where officials had advised me
that they had this, um, problem
out at the camp,
and we need to go
and find out what is going on.
[dramatic music continues]
[Mary-Lou] These kids couldn't be left
in that situation.
[music fades]
[Mary-Lou] We managed
to gain entry to the camp.
It was very sparse.
It was basically just us there,
and all the children had been removed.
There was obviously something going on.
We walked around the perimeter,
and then we heard this noise.
We went down,
and we found one of the children there.
He was quite sick,
and he was very reluctant initially,
um, probably for fear of retribution,
to say anything to us.
But then, finally, he told us
that they had all been
deliberately moved off the camp.
But we didn't know where.
We had no idea where they could have gone.
[Amber] It was most definitely a really
weird day from the very beginning.
Uh, they were nice to us.
Nicer than... You know, it was strange.
They sent us to a beach.
[Mary-Lou] I do remember just going
through the middle of the jungle,
still not really knowing what
we were going to find when we got there.
Thinking, "How did they get these kids
through here?"
[Amber] We were only supposed to be there
for a short period of time.
And then, all of a sudden...
black SUVs with blacked-out windows,
one after the other, just came...
barreling through where we were.
I don't know where they came from.
I just remember
they were there barreling through.
[Mary-Lou] The children
were down on the beach.
I remember just looking at them
and thinking, "Oh my goodness."
[Amber] And somebody popped...
popped out of the van...
and said that they were
with the American Embassy.
It had to be fake.
There's no way that somebody cared enough.
Especially about me.
That's... There's no way.
[Chris] This videotape
became the basis for legal action.
[kids playing]
[Chris] A grand jury took testimony
from the kids
who were in Pacific Coast Academy
and the parents.
And what's fascinating is
the guy who got the videotape out,
they ask him, "How could you be so stupid
to send your kid to a program like this?"
And he pulls out the Pacific Coast Academy
brochure that Steve wrote,
and he reads what kind of a kid
Pacific Coast Academy is created for.
And he sets it down, and he says,
"They just described my son.
That's why I chose it."
Cartisano knew the emotional touchpoints
for parents in crisis who literally felt,
"I don't have a choice."
[camera clicking]
But Steve was never really
held accountable
because the world switched,
9/11 happened, priorities went elsewhere.
And Steve Cartisano,
despite everything he did,
he was not really
a national security threat.
[camera clicking]
Shortly after Dave got back from Samoa,
that's when I kind of started
to get out of control.
I mean, I was becoming a wild teenager
at that point.
I started hanging out
with my brother's friends,
and then they started using
pretty shortly after, and I followed suit.
I would literally come home from work,
and my TV would be gone,
and my VCR would be gone,
and the snowblower would be missing
out of the garage,
because they were stealing,
and, um, you know,
they would take things from the house
and hock it to pay for their drugs.
And so now I had two children
heavily using heroin.
We're talking about kids in a crack house,
or they're running away, out of control.
And when they're 25, all the excuses
of why they quit high school
or why they were doing drugs
aren't gonna matter.
I overdosed in Seattle multiple times.
And then I got
in a really bad car accident
and got arrested.
We bailed David out of jail
a couple of times
and learned the hard way
that that was a bad idea.
So, eventually, when Catie got arrested,
we left her in jail.
Kids need to learn this lesson.
They are responsible for their own lives
and accountable for their own actions.
I was so mad.
We both felt guilt.
We... We... You always question.
"Should I have done something differently?
Could I have done something differently?"
I realized what my life was gonna be
if I didn't do anything different,
so I just got, uh, heavily involved
in the recovery community,
and then, here we are 13 years later.
On the fourth week,
they go on a four-day solo period.
So all the drugs are out of their system.
They wanna go home and be sons
and daughters to their parents again
and get an education.
[Debbie] David has continued to struggle.
[interviewer] Where is David now?
He's in prison, and, uh, he'll be there
for about three more years.
[Debbie] Can you turn around,
face the wall? Over here. Come back.
[Catie] Yeah.
And that's Dad and Dave.
[somber music playing]
It was hard. Right when I got out of rehab
is when my dad got diagnosed with cancer.
Cancer that had progressed to grade four,
I believe it was. Colon cancer.
He battled it for six or seven years.
Eventually was still fighting it
and died of a heart attack,
is what they told us.
And that was, I think,
three years ago now.
[somber music continues]
[music fades]
[Horsehair] I don't think
Steve was a bad guy.
Um, I think he lost his way
for a period of time, um, is how I see it.
I don't think he was a bad human being
at his core.
Um, he was probably
a good person to his core.
The part of the story
that has always got under my skin is,
even though we got him acquitted,
he stiffed me.
Never paid me the balance,
and that just pissed me off.
I never heard from him again.
In fact, until I heard
from your production company,
I didn't even know what happened to him.
I liked Steve.
Uh, uh... I really did until I realized...
everything that he'd been doing.
I mean, he probably took 50 grand off you.
[Kinney] Several years ago,
I put in a Google search
for "Challenger Foundation."
I wanted to connect with the other people
who had been on the survival trips.
That's when I saw his obituary.
It was an extreme mixture
of feeling... shock and sadness...
to anger.
[tense music playing]
It was the catalyst
for me finally speaking up
about what had happened to me.
[tense music continues]
[Kinney] The first program I went on
was in Hawaii.
There's a section called Solo.
Solo was an opportunity
to learn that you can survive on your own,
that you can, um...
You... You can get through hard things.
And Steve made me
what was called "the runner,"
and I had a walkie-talkie.
I was terrified,
and so Steve said, "If you need me,"
you know, "If you are scared,
and you need me,
just press the talk button,
and I'll come to you."
I was 13 years old and, um, alone.
And so he came, and...
And he said, "Do you need anything?"
And I said, "Yes, I would be so grateful
if you could bring me lotion."
My skin was so dry.
[voice breaking] Sorry,
gotta give me a second.
And so he brought this lotion,
and he offered to put some on my back.
And I wasn't entirely comfortable,
but it wasn't so outside
of the range of abnormal.
Um, he asked me to lay on my stomach,
kind of straddled me,
and, um, was putting it on my back
and massaging my back.
And then he asked me to flip over.
And I...
I did not want to, and I froze.
And he said, "It's not a big deal.
Just... Just turn over." [sniffs]
And he...
began to put lotion
on my shoulders and my chest.
And, um... And then he moved his hands down...
to my breasts, and I tried
to push his hands away. [sniffs]
And he said, "It's not a big deal.
Just think of me like your father."
And all I could think was, "My father
would never touch me like this."
It's funny. It dawned on me recently...
as I looked back...
Actually, I was talking with a friend,
and I realized that all the things
that I thought were so lovely
and so nice about Steve,
it was just that he was grooming me.
I didn't know it at the time.
I didn't even...
It didn't even dawn on me
until recently. [sniffs]
Couple of years after, I told my mother.
Not in detail, for sure.
But I did tell her that he had touched me
and that he had, uh, been sexual with me.
[interviewer] And did she do anything?
Did she report it?
The reason why she didn't
was she thought that...
That he was doing
something good for the kids.
And that she didn't want to,
in her own words, "upset the apple cart."
It struck me
how often he used the word "manipulative."
[Steve] These kids come in with all sorts
of little ways of trying to manipulate.
Or how often he described the children
as master manipulators.
They are master manipulators.
Blaming everybody else for their problems.
And as an adult watching that,
realizing that he was the most masterful
manipulator of them all.
[reporter] That's certainly
a convenient out, isn't it?
Being able to attack
the credibility of the kids,
knowing that they're troubled kids
to begin with.
Well, it's not an out.
It's... It's the facts.
[Chris] This is still a thriving industry.
There's lots of copycats now running.
When I was 16, my parents sent me
to a wilderness therapy program
very similar to the one
that Paris Hilton went to,
and let me tell you how that went.
Steve Cartisano marketed trauma
as a means to a cure.
So the copycats
then turn this into a huge industry.
And at night, they would take my shoes
and wrap me up in a tarp
and lay on the end
to restrict me from moving.
There's many people, I think, who will
today feel like, "It did change my life,
but maybe not for the best."
It has definitely made me who I am today.
Well, it's played a big role.
I was the drug addict
pushing the shopping cart
down the street, homeless.
And I survived only because
I knew how to live
with very little to nothing.
I've spent most of my life...
just trying to survive,
and then I put myself in situations
where I have to survive,
you know, because that's what I know.
That's where I'm comfortable.
I still have bad dreams about that place,
and I can't get it out of my head.
It's been with me my whole life.
[man] If it can happen
to Paris Hilton and her family,
think about all those people
who can't be here today.
Teenagers aren't just these kids
we have in our homes.
They are people who trust us.
This happened to me.
I've been screaming about it for 20 years,
and it didn't have any impact.
This industry has just grown.
[unsettling music playing]
[music fades]
[dramatic music playing]
[music fades]