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Author Statement:

During my time in the troubled teen industry, I was at an “all girls” residential treatment center for 18 months. I have come to understand that center as a cult that conducted conversion therapy. However, it did not fit into the most stereotypical ideas of these things, which made it hard for me to understand it for what it was. The main difference between this treatment center and a “stereotypical” cult is that it didn’t center around a specific charismatic leader. But it did have a director named Jeff. Jeff did not come to see us very often, but when he did we were expected and encouraged to fawn over him. The center was based around a point card system in which we were given numerical values for everything we said or did, and we would not get to have basic rights if we did not get enough points. When we fawned over Jeff during his visits, he would give us huge amounts of points. At the time, I thought he was just out of touch with how the program worked and was accidentally giving us too many points. Now, I understand it was calculated. I wrote this poem to acknowledge Jeff as the cult leader he was, and to acknowledge the deep internal conflict I experienced while trying to ignore my queerness in order to live by the rules of his program.

cw: the troubled teen industry

Jeff Comes to Visit

cw: cults, conversion therapy

Hello Jeff, it’s so good to see you!
Right, guys? –I mean ladies?
Jeff, it’s so so good to see you!

Jeff, I’ve been so good, please please don’t you see?
Jeff, I haven’t shown my shoulders, not since I was 13!
Jeff, look how nice I smile, admire my pure white teeth!
Jeff, I’ve been so good, won’t you give some points to me?

Jeff, I swear I’ve earned it, oh thank you so so much!
Jeff, don’t you see I’m special? I swear I’m good enough!
Jeff, you are too kind, you give more points than the staff does!
Jeff, I swear I’ve earned it, please ignore that I’ve messed up!

Jeff, where have you been? We barely ever see you!
Jeff, when you weren’t looking, I felt something strange and new– Jeff, I’m so so sorry, I know I wasn’t supposed to!
Jeff, where have you been? I’ve got feelings I can’t undo–

Jeff, it’s eating me alive, I know it shouldn’t be!
Jeff, I can’t ignore it, I fall in love with her in my dreams– 
Jeff, I try to hide it, but her smile’s so damn sweet–

Jeff, it’s eating me alive, how could I be so weak?

Jeff, I need your help now, I worry I’m hellbound!
Jeff, I swear I’m trying, that’s not what it’s about!

Jeff, if it’s not wrong, then why isn’t it allowed?
Jeff, I need your help now, or else I won’t get out.

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JAMIE MATER (they/them) is a researcher and activist originally from Los Angeles. Their research thus far has focused on the troubled teen industry, which they are a survivor of. You can read their first research project, also the first oral history of troubled teen industry survivors, here. Jamie’s experiences and research have been featured on troubled teen industry podcasts Gooned and Broken Promises. They are also a climate activist with Fridays For Future Stockholm, which sometimes involves writing as well. You can find them on instagram @jamiemater 

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