In the United States, there exists a multibillion dollar industry designed to modify socially undesirable behavior of adolescent girls. Largely unknown to the public, the Troubled Teen Industry (TTI) is an opaque network of for-profit facilities including boot camps, wilderness programs, religious reform schools, and residential treatment centers. The estimated 100,000 to 200,000 children confined in these facilities are held indefinitely at the program’s discretion, often for years. Communication with the outside world is grossly restricted or forbidden altogether.
Young women enter the TTI through the school system, foster care system, or are directly placed in programs by their family. The so-called delinquent behavior used to justify TTI placement is arbitrary and reflects our country’s legacy of institutionalizing women for subverting traditional gender expressions and expectations. Websites of female TTI facilities list items like “losing temper,” “relationship with older boyfriend,” and “promiscuity” as concerning behaviors that necessitate a structured institution. De-facto gay conversation therapy is a common experience for queer, trans, and nonbinary female-bodied adolescents.
Widespread physical, sexual, and psychological abuse within TTI programs have been reported for decades. However, the industry remains almost entirely unregulated on both the state and federal level. It is only recently, through survivor-led activism like the #BreakingCodeSilence movement, that legislators and the general public are being forced to pay attention.
“The Corrections” presents an interdisciplinary exhibition by a group of women artists who are TTI survivors-cum-activists. Through audio recordings, digital media, painting, and personal ephemera such as journals and letters, these contemporary artists draw upon their first-hand experiences to expose the inner workings of this shadowy industry. While each story is unique, viewed collectively they share overarching themes: community dislocation, identity erasure, and the struggle to reintegrate in normative society after a period of prolonged captivity.
“The Corrections” will be presented in a fabricated cube located outdoors on public property facing the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts. The JRC is the only facility in the country that uses remote-controlled electric shock devices (essentially shock collars) as a form of aversion therapy. Lacking windows, the exhibition space functions as a barrier separating the individual from the surrounding community. Viewers inside the space will be able to hear the town’s everyday noises and are cognizant that the greater world continues around them. The project includes a series of public programming with invited guest speakers. These conversations are designed to provoke uncomfortable dialogues that reexamine who is entitled to inhabit civil society and who “deserves” removal. An accompanying exhibition catalog will provide viewers with information about the TTI, as well as a resource list for allies to support survivors and the #BreakingCodeSilence movement.
“The Corrections” confronts our centuries-old legacy of weaponizing social constructions of abnormality in order to hold women captive and “correct” their behavior. This project is a form of activism, empowering survivors to publicly share their truth and resist the institutions designed to silence them. It also celebrates their resiliency and dedication to fight this system and protect future generations.