“How long am I going to be here?” The tremulous thirteen year old child, snatched from her bed in the middle of the night by strangers asked her adult-stranger-captors. 

“As long as you need to be, it’s up to you,” Wes replied nonchalantly.  

“What does that mean? How long?”

“A year, or more.”

“But what if I don’t belong here. I think this was some kind of mistake.” 

“Your parents paid to have you sent here. There was no mistake.”

Tears welled up in her eyes. What was this place? How to get out? She was lost and had never been to Utah. She was completely disoriented and terrified. She was being told to undress in front of strangers, to be strip-searched for contraband. What was this place? Would she ever be free again? 

Hotel California- The Soundtrack of the Troubled Teen Industry

Many programs have theme songs or soundtracks. At the facility once known as Cedar Ridge, (now rebranded as Makana Leadership Academy and Makana Outreach), owner Robert Alexander Neilson’s favorite song to play for students was “Hotel California.” The song, to this day, makes us sick. It seemed ridiculously cruel at the time, but it well encapsulates the philosophy of residential programs catering to youth.


“Welcome to the Hotel California

Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)

Such a lovely face

They livin' it up at the Hotel California

What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)

Bring your alibis

Mirrors on the ceiling

The pink champagne on ice

And she said, "We are all just prisoners here of our own device"

And in the master's chambers

They gathered for the feast

They stab it with their steely knives

But they just can't kill the beast

Last thing I remember

I was running for the door

I had to find the passage back

To the place I was before

"Relax", said the night man

"We are programmed to receive

You can check out any time you like

But you can never leave."


At Cedar Ridge, our parents were constantly told that we needed to stay, that we were “not ready” to graduate, that we needed “more time,” that we weren't "working the program.In reality, they would keep us as long as our parents could afford it. Even after we turned 18. 

The younger a student went to Cedar Ridge, the lengthier was her stay. Why? Are 13 year olds inherently more defiant and uncooperative than 17 year olds? WHAT ON EARTH COULD A CHILD DO TO DESERVE BEING HELD CAPTIVE FOR 6 YEARS? 

NOTHING. No. It is because these facilities receive funds based on the length of incarceration (even if they try to hide behind their 501c3 status). How long will children be incarcerated in the backlands of Roosevelt, Utah, counting the days until they turn 18? 

What kind of damage does this inflict on a child, knowing her life and time has been utterly commodified? That her body is not her own? As adult survivors, we attest that the WOUNDS ARE DEEP. 

Let’s not let Makana, formerly Cedar Ridge, become another Hotel California.