Trapped in a Mormon Gulag

This is the hottest story on DailyKos today.  Its about the West Ridge Academy (a.k.a. Boys Ranch) in West Jordan, Utah.

Go there and read it, especially the comments.  The average person cannot believe this nightmare is happening today.  Is it?  Knowing Chris Buttars…

Trapped in a Mormon Gulag

by Chino Blanco Mon Jan 05, 2009 at 05:07:42 AM PST

By Eric Norwood
Republished with author’s permission
Further info at Mormon Gulag

This story is about Eric Norwood’s personal experiences at a place called The Utah Boys Ranch, which models itself as a “tough-love” prep-school, but while Eric was there, he witnessed some unbelievable atrocities. It is a Mormon-funded and staffed facility, and religious indoctrination is a fundamental aspect of the school. There was sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, suicide, staff corruption, and escape. A major Utah political figure, Senator Chris Buttars, was the executive director while Eric was there.

This is Eric’s story:

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  1. #1 by rmwarnick on January 5, 2009 - 3:12 pm

    Interestingly enough, the West Ridge Academy does not list Chris Buttars on their staff. It might be interesting to know why he’s not there anymore. Their FAQ denies that the kids, aged 9 to 18, are locked up or otherwise confined to the facility.

    Also, their website warns parents that kids are lying when they claim:

    “All my roommates are drug addicts or gay.” “I am not as bad as everyone else here.” “The staff beats up the students.” “The food isn’t nutritious.” “The school isn’t very good.”

    The program also does not allow parents to have any contact with children during the first two to four weeks.

  2. #2 by Becky on January 5, 2009 - 9:33 pm

    This story is so upsetting, I’m unable to respond with any sense of proportion, except to ask why this place is still operatiing? Why isn’t the state investigating? What does the Mormon Church have to say about this (whatever happened to ‘loving folks into the gospel’)? And why the hell do those people in West Jordan keep re-electing that moron Buttars? I hope more boys will come forward with their own stories. This is outrageous treatment of children! The Mormons are so eager to distinguish themselves from the FLDS and their abusive ways, but it turns out there are dirty little secrets right here behind the Zion curtain.

  3. #3 by Paul Mero on January 5, 2009 - 11:05 pm

    I don’t know what’s more disturbing…Cliff’s sniveling grin as he posts this guy’s story (you know you love this tripe)…or Becky’s assuming the story is true.

    True, half-true, partly true, or not true…the sickest part of this post is that you want to believe it’s true.

  4. #4 by Becky on January 6, 2009 - 8:01 am

    Trust me, Paul, I don’t want to believe it’s true. But there’s a history with these behavior modification programs in Utah. What’s even more disturbing to me is that you won’t come to the defense of children who may even yet be receiving such hideous abuse. Whom are you defending? The Mormon Church? Buttars? Gestapo methods of childrearing?

  5. #5 by Shane Smith on January 6, 2009 - 8:45 am

    So Paul, I am just curious about two little things….

    How exactly do you know the truth or untruth of the story? (aka, who died and made you omniscient)

    What if you are wrong, and it is true?

    Just curious.

  6. #6 by JHP on January 6, 2009 - 9:49 am

    Yeah, and Mormons have horns and worship the devil too.

    This post on one of your sister blogs is very timely, you may want to consider it:

  7. #7 by JHP on January 6, 2009 - 9:59 am

    Read the testimonials on the website:

    It’s possible that those are fabricated or leave out important information, but the same goes for the story you posted. Why should anyone believe the story of one person over these other testimonials?

  8. #8 by Richard Warnick on January 6, 2009 - 10:30 am

    JHP– Would you support a government investigation?

    West Ridge Academy is licensed by the State of Utah, and their license is up for renewal. E-mail Bonnie Stuver at the Utah Department of Human Services, Office of Licensing. [Correction: my e-mail to Stuver came back “unknown addressee.” I’ve tried another e-mail address, no answer yet]

    For testimonials that offer a different view of life at the West Ridge Academy, check out the Mormon Gulag website.

  9. #9 by Shane Smith on January 6, 2009 - 10:51 am

    “It’s possible that those are fabricated or leave out important information, but the same goes for the story you posted. Why should anyone believe the story of one person over these other testimonials?”

    I think that is exactly the point. There is a history of fabrication in both situations. And no good reason to believe either side. But the facts of human history and sociology say that people placed in the kind of power position that staff at these places are put in _will_ abuse that power. There is little to no oversight and many good reasons to be suspicious of both sides. Maybe it should be looked into?

    And a side note of thanks for the “it must be true” blog post!

    It says: “Religion? You can find people on the Internet that will gladly tell you all about Joseph Smith talking about tall people who live on the moon”

    Curiously, while this is written to show us how silly some people can be, and how they believe _everything_ they read, there are actually several different accounts of both Smith and Young stating this. Not very good references, but they exist.

    It is always fun to be told not to believe everything you read from someone who would believe the poorly written dreck in the book of mormon…. I enjoyed that, thanks!

  10. #10 by JHP on January 6, 2009 - 11:06 am

    If there is truly abuse there, and someone files a formal complaint, then the state should definitely look into it.

    The problem is that if people were really worried about abuse, then they would talk about abuse. The fact that you constantly bring up the Mormon Church indicates to me that it’s more about problems with the church than with abuse.

  11. #11 by Shane Smith on January 6, 2009 - 11:10 am

    “The fact that you constantly bring up the Mormon Church indicates to me that it’s more about problems with the church than with abuse.”

    Yep, cause it was me that brought up the LDS faith. It wasn’t your post specifically naming mormons and linking to a site by a mormon defending mormon beliefs. No that was me. It wasn’t the fact that the place in question has on staff LDS missionaries, it was me bringing it up. It wasn’t the title of article, it was me.

    Also, as long as we are just making things up to suit our wishes, I would like a pony.

  12. #12 by JHP on January 6, 2009 - 11:25 am


    I’m sorry for not being clearer on my comment. By “you” I didn’t mean just you, I meant anyone who insists on linking this story to Mormonism (author of this post, the news article, comments on the post).

    If there is abuse at this place, it’s not because the people are Mormon. The LDS Church teaches people not to abuse other people.

  13. #13 by Utahn on January 6, 2009 - 11:39 am

    That story is just another smear on the Mormon church. Probably some homo who’s still mad about prop 8 and displacing his anger on the Mormons. Here’s some important info from the schools FAQ page:

    “Do you only accept young men and women from Christian homes?

    No. West Ridge Academy is a nondenominational Christian organization and promotes Christian values and beliefs. Religion, nationality or color is never a factor in considering placement. ”

    Also if you look at the board of trustees not one of them is a leader in the Mormon church. Kind of wierd if the school really is run by the Mormons. Being in Utah it probably is run by A Mormon but not by the church itself (over 50% of population in Utah is Mormon). So to say it’s a Mormon run school may be true but that doesn’t mean this school is afilliated with the Mormon church.

    Utah has many schools for troubled teens. I grew up in WA and 2 of my friends (not Mormons) went to Utah for rehab. If I’m not mistaken there have been plenty of celebrities (also not Mormons) that have come to Utah for help. Utah has some of the best institutions for that sort of thing.

    This is really sad that people have nothing better to do than attack a religion that preaches love, charity, and the importance of families.

  14. #14 by Utahn on January 6, 2009 - 11:41 am

    Here’s some more interesting info from the schools website:

    Be sure to check out the last paragraph that mentions non-denominational spritual studies.

  15. #15 by Utahn on January 6, 2009 - 11:49 am

    P.S. I’m not Mormon but I have many good Mormon friends. I think it’s ridiculous that people feel the need to make up stupid stories like this to try and smear them. Leave them alone and worry about religions that really are bad like Muslims.

  16. #16 by Richard Warnick on January 6, 2009 - 11:51 am

    Utah has some of the best institutions for that sort of thing.

    From the website of HEAL

    HEAL recommends no parent subject any child to any program in Utah as Utah is corrupt and refuses to regulate or take action against confirmedly abusive programs such as WWASPS, Provo Canyon School, Sorenson’s Ranch, etc… Don’t send your kid to UT!

  17. #17 by Utahn on January 6, 2009 - 11:58 am

    In just the last year Lindsay Lohan, Eva Mendez and Kirsten Dunst have come to Utah rehab centers. They’ve got a lot of money and could go anywhere in the world but they all chose Utah.

    That’s very interesting.

  18. #18 by Ken on January 6, 2009 - 3:36 pm

    People who go to those places are usually very troubled and some may have an axe to grind. Unless there is strong evidence of abuse then I would take any accusations with a grain of salt. That being said any allegations like this must be investigated and I’m sure if any illegal activities have been committed the LDS Church would be the first in line to remove it.

  19. #19 by Glenden Brown on January 6, 2009 - 3:51 pm

    At the same time, Ken, they have nothing to gain by making false allegations – and a great deal to lose since false allegations could create significant legal problems for the people making them. By coming out with their allegations, if true, they actually have little to gain beyond a measure of personal peace.

    I’m troubled by the notion that both the criticisms from the Mormon Gulag site and the testimonials from the school’s site could be completely true and accurate. I remember once being told by someone that he needed the harsh discipline of Marine boot camp – that it straightened him out. By contrast, another person in the same situation found the discipline abusive. There are also circumstances in which certain people simply clash and clash brutally – if one of those people is in a position of authority then it is easy for him to abuse the other.

  20. #20 by Shane Smith on January 6, 2009 - 4:17 pm

    “I’m sorry for not being clearer on my comment. By “you” I didn’t mean just you, I meant anyone who insists on linking this story to Mormonism (author of this post, the news article, comments on the post).”

    That makes exactly no difference to my post. Every single thing I said still stands. The group in question is mormon, the article has it in the title, and you posted about mormons linking a mormon blog defending mormons. To follow that up by saying other people “constantly bring up mormons” is basically a way of saying “hi pot? my name is kettle.”

    You don’t want mormons brought up in a blog about the state of Utah? Neither do I! How do we go about getting them removed from the state?

    Utahn: “That story is just another smear on the Mormon church. Probably some homo who’s still mad about prop 8 and displacing his anger on the Mormons. Here’s some important info from the schools FAQ page:”

    See the earlier post about “why should we believe party X over party Y with zero evidence. (aka, the ‘quoting the bible to prove the bible’ argument.)

    “Leave them alone and worry about religions that really are bad like Muslims.”

    Perhaps you can enlighten us as to the many ways the mormon religion is superior to the muslim religion. I know for example that both have a polygamous past and both are viewed as new upstarts by their established fellow religions in their time. I also know that both are oppressive to women and male dominated. I know they both have their own special religious books. I know they are both very pro conversion and both have a history of imposing their religious views on secular governments. I know both are anti gay, and have special clothing. I know both have special buildings that unbelievers aren’t allowed in……

    …wait, we are looking for substantive differences. Sorry.

    Oh yes, one is the local homegrown religion. The other is foreign. So Sorry.

    Glen: That notion troubles me too. The fact that both may be true and that the substantial difference is in the perspective. The article about the frat house at USU, the recently redone Milgram experiment and the Göring quote all seem to swirl together in one very sad thought.

    “The proof that there is intelligent life in space is that they haven’t tried to contact us yet.” Sad, but maybe true.

  21. #21 by Chino Blanco on January 6, 2009 - 8:45 pm

    Thanks for helping draw attention to this story, and to those who’ve taken a moment to write an email or call local officials or media about this facility.

  22. #22 by Chino Blanco on January 8, 2009 - 9:39 pm

    And, by the way …

    6-7 PM MST – Friday, Jan 9th:

    Listen in and catch the author of “Trapped in a Mormon Gulag” in a discussion with Utah Boys Ranch staff on @ 6 PM Mountain Standard Time on Friday, Jan 9th …

  23. #23 by Richard Warnick on January 9, 2009 - 10:35 pm

    I received an e-mail reply from L.J. Dustman at the Utah Department of Human Services, Office of Licensing.

    The appropriate contacts are:
    Bonnie Stuver (, and her supervisor
    Jeffery Harris (

  24. #24 by wierd on April 4, 2009 - 12:23 pm

    that chick who said she wasn’t looking for problems or whetever, if you were reallying looking or wanting it, why did you keep seeking it. that makes sense.

    something else that is interesting is one you are dealing with a lot of kids that are “sick” by a lot of society description, and “have” or “are dealing” with some major problems inside the home. i am sure you can find crap, lies,stories, make beleif in an treatment center or rehab program especially whenever they go “agaisnt their will” or when they “dont have a choice” “dont want to” or need help and dont see there is anything wrong. people not just teens and kids make up stories when they are angry. i am not saaying that that is what happened and i am not saying that that is what didn’t happen.

    face it, stuff happens everywhere all the time. why is everyone so keen to look at it when religion is brought into it?

    people, everyone, only say something if there is some personal connection to the story. hmm…..

    i wonder…

    then people with problems get even more upset.
    politics and religion affect/effect both everyone. if you dont like something truely, why do you sit and bash it with an odd fascination to keep it up. y dont you do something positive about it. that goes far beyond this situation. shut up and deal with it, the rest of the world doesn’t want to sit and listen to to you whine. people learn far more from other peoples word and example esp example of how they react to situations and how they choose to feel about how they felt in response to what they heard felt watched whatever.
    look and around the world and ask what is right and what you can do to help continue or make things right instead on constantly looking for the negative and bad all around. if you are looking for trouble, garunteed you will find it, but if you look for positive and good, you will find it to.
    grow up.

  25. #25 by Dave @ Steps Recovery Center on November 16, 2010 - 3:40 pm

    Wow, that is a tragic story. Was it funded by the LDS church or one of the various denominations fLDS, etc.?

  26. #26 by Karen Davis on November 29, 2011 - 1:14 pm

    This story is only the tip of the iceberg. All the pieces of the corruption of SLC needs to come forth. . You might ask WHY this abuse occurs and why is the LDS church involved?

    We know the LDS church is under condemnation as proclaimed by Ezra Taft Benson (famous Pride talk) and D&C 124 for its “folllies and abominations”. We also know about the prophetic last dream of Joseph Smith who foresaw the corruption of the church leaders of today and his fallibility like King David, who failed to heed the warning against his “carnal desires” aka “abominable” polygamy (Jacob 2:23-24, D&C 3:-11, etc.).

    The answers for today’s extreme sanctioned torture and abuse come from corroborating independent authentic sources.

    Read LDS Cathy OBrien’s “Tranceformation of America” on page 118-119. Senator Byrd justifies the torture and sexual abuse used for mind control purposes as scientifically prescribed in the CIA MKUltra program to create “perfect people” for a One World Order, “Afterall, the Pope and the Mormon prophet fully cooperate with The Project”.

    Read “Paperdolls: Healing from Sexual Abuse in Mormon Neighborhoods” which involves the Apostle’s daughter and son-in-law (involved in banking aka Alan Barnes). This goes on throughout Utah as seen in Lehi, Cedar City, Corrine, SLC, Provo, Richfield, Brigham City, Vernal, etc.

    Read “The Silent Witness” sltribune article about Alan Barnes confessing to the FBI of his signing the bribery checks for scholarships…and escorts/prostitution used in the Olympic scandal that rocked the nation. Barnes conveniently died from a “heart attack” prior to the judicial proceedings.

    Read “Hell Minus One” about the satanic ritual abuse (SRA) and her offenders WRITING their confession as dictated by her handlers, the Bishop and Stake President.

    Read “The Interoffice Memo” written by Presiding Bishop counselor Glen L. Pace which exposes the very real SRA existing in four western states by top church leaders!

    We have many church leaders who are confessing about the “very serious satanic blood oath” similar to what is done in all LDS temples (Howard W. Hunter confessed prior to his death). Prior to 1990 we had to slit our throats, cut out our hearts and intestines as ways that we would “suffer our lives to be taken” if we told the SECRETS!
    Is God about secrets? Does he care about silly “secret names, handshakes, rituals as seen with the “Patriarchal” hand shake of Hinckley and Monson with Bush and Cheney (see newspaper pictures). Does God not warn everyone to NEVER take an oath “as it comes from evil”? The Lord’s House needs cleansing and this abuse is typical of the torture for mind control purposes.

  27. #27 by Tyler on March 21, 2013 - 1:07 pm

    I have researched a lot about the Utah boys ranch or west ridge academy and I have found a few negative things, but for the most part all of the reviews that I see are overwhelmingly positive. I think in any industry you will have a few customers who will be dissatisfied.

  28. #28 by Cliff Lyon on March 22, 2013 - 4:32 am

    Tyler, The “customers” are the strict religious parents who force their kids to go there.

    And Im not sure the testimonials on the Boys Ranch website constitute an objective perspective.

    Furthermore, the fact that Chris Buttars played such a prominent role for so long is most damaging. Chris Buttars is an admitted racist and bigot whose legacy is a trail of tears.

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