Experience: I paid to have my daughter kidnapped
That first day I grieved. I knew deep down I was right, but I didn’t know if my daughter would forgive me.
It was 3am. I went into my daughter’s room, woke her, told her I loved her and that she was going on a trip. She was drowsy from the sleeping pills I’d slipped in her drink a few hours earlier. Then the two strangers I’d hired to take her away went into her room. She tried to get her bag and makeup. “Where you’re going, you don’t need anything,” they told her. I stood outside the door, shaking. Had I just created a situation in which I would lose my 17-year-old for ever?
I’d quit a successful financial career and moved across the country to bring up my daughter and son in Florida, so we’d have time as a family after their father and I divorced. I loved them fiercely and we were close. They knew I had high hopes for them. But at 17, my daughter started hanging around with different people; her straight-A grades dropped and her attitude changed. We started to fight about her going to school. “Even if you drive me there, you can’t make me go inside,” she would say. Then she told me she had decided to quit school to become a high-end hairdresser and wanted me to pay for her to go to beauty school. I was distraught. There is nothing wrong with hairdressing, but I wanted her to get a proper education first, so she would have choices.
Around the same time, police twice caught her 14-year-old brother with drugs. I wasn’t having it a third time, so I sent him away to a strict boarding school in another state. On a weekend visit, it struck me how much he’d changed and how my daughter would benefit from the same intensive treatment.
But I had to act fast. Her beauty school fees were due the coming Saturday. And, legally, I had control over her only while she was still under 18. I found a boot camp for troubled children in Utah and hired a private service to escort her there, whether she wanted to go or not. That Friday night we went to dinner on the pretence that it was to celebrate her new school. It was actually to stop her seeing friends and ensure she’d be home for the escorts.
After their appearance in the middle of the night, the security service flew with her to the Utah desert. That first day I grieved. I knew deep down I was right, but I didn’t know if my daughter would forgive me: I had to be prepared to lose her in order to help her. Her friends called and I said she’d gone on a trip. “Where did she go? When will she be back?” they asked. I told them I didn’t know.
I had paid $16,000 (£11,380) for seven weeks of gruelling physical and mental challenges. The other kids were in desperate situations: young offenders, drug addicts, some were suicidal. I was aware my daughter didn’t share their circumstances. They lived like cavemen: they didn’t see a roof the whole time, took care of their sanitary waste, learned survival skills and did physical labour; some cut off their hair because they couldn’t bathe.
They had daily therapy and wrote letters to their parents. My daughter’s were full of apology: how she had made mistakes, wanted to be forgiven, how she loved me. Sure, she was angry at first when she didn’t know what was going on, but she soon understood why I’d sent her there and was embarrassed.
Experience: my plane was hijacked
At the end, parents were taken into the desert to be reunited with their kids. We could see them walking towards us from a mile away. I was scared. I didn’t know how my daughter would react. Then I spotted her; she was muscular and dirty. We hugged and cried. She was back to the daughter I knew, the one without the attitude.
She finished high school with straight As, went to college, then did a master’s. She works in the legal system now. Both my kids joke that I’m a psycho mom, but they forgave me and we remain close. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Could they have got where they are today without such drastic action? Perhaps, but it wasn’t a chance I was willing to take. I believe the more we suffer in life, the more we grow. I have two strong, amazing kids, and I’d do it again.
• As told to Candice Pires. Raye Johnson is a pseudonym.