“I’m just literally here as a hostage. I didn’t do anything. I haven’t harmed anyone. I haven’t harmed myself, and they won’t let me go home. I just want to go home to my mom, so I can have my life back. They took it from me. They are drugging me up every single day against my will.”
This isn’t a quote from a dystopian novel, or a sci-fi thriller. It is the heartfelt plea recorded by an American teenager being held in a facility in Massachusetts against her will and that of her family in Vermont. Karen Maple is very concerned about the well-being of her daughter, 17 year old Elissa, since DCF seized custody of the teen over a year ago, in December 2013.
Karen says she sought help for her teen’s anxiety, but DCF quickly got involved and turned their world upside down, sending Elissa to a mental ward/school located 6 hours away from their home, in another state. She has now been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but her mother says that the drugs that she is being forced to take are what is actually causing the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Interestingly, on the occasions when Elissa has stopped taking the medications, the symptoms also stopped. Those periods haven’t lasted long, she says, because when the staff found out that she wasn’t taking them, they force drugged her. Elissa has no choice in the matter.
The video was recorded on August 14, 2014, but little has changed. She still isn’t home. She turns 18 on July 1, but they have no idea if Elissa will get to come home then or be forced to stay until she reaches 21. The facility is designed for residents up to age 21. Her mother asks:
“Will her 18th birthday be wonderful, or will she be condemned for 3 more years?”
Help Sought Originally for Anxiety
The Maple’s nightmare began when Karen took her daughter to the hospital in late 2013 for symptoms of anxiety. Elissa was struggling with her emotions and had reportedly had a hallucination. The hospital’s solution was to whisk her away to a mental health facility and give her powerful drugs. When her mother had a problem with their approach, DCF stepped in and seized custody, reportedly to “keep her safe” and to get her the mental health services that they said they could better provide for her than her mother.
Elissa had not hurt herself or anyone else, nor was she in any immediate danger when DCF seized custody. There were scars on her abdomen that someone at the hospital allegedly said were stab wounds, alleged evidence of Elissa self-harming. Her mother says that a simple check of her medical records would have revealed that they were scars from a previous appendix operation.
Karen maintains that she wanted help for her child, but in no way did she want the state to come in and take over. She says that there are a number of issues that contributed to Elissa’s anxiety, but none of them should have required removal from her home. She does not believe that DCF considered any of the factors in their zeal to take Elissa to the mental health facility.
Creative Homeschool Student
Elissa has been homeschooled her whole life, and has enjoyed growing up on 10 acres in the country. Her family describes her as very creative and intelligent. She writes poetry, enjoys creating art with beading, and dreams of being a professional photographer. She loves animals, cooking and swimming. Her mother and teacher reports that she has always been a great student. Her Christian faith is important to her, and she has a close relationship with her mom. Like every other teenager, Elissa faced some struggles. Like many other parents have done, her mother sought help when she felt she needed help dealing with her struggles.
They could not have imagined the nightmare scenario that would be unleashed when they sought help.
Factors Ignored Which Could Have Caused Anxiety
Just 5 days before her hospital admission, Elissa had been in a 4-wheeler accident. While the motor was not on, the vehicle slipped into gear and rolled backwards down a hill, hitting a tree. Elissa fell out of the 4-wheeler and hit her head. Her behavior was just a bit off in the days following, but her mother’s request for an MRI to rule out a head injury was denied.
A few weeks before that, Elissa’s older brother had been in a very serious car accident, which required surgery. When she and her mother were trying to get to the hospital, police stopped them by showing up at their property to search because someone had allegedly reported too many puppies and that the chickens look hungry. It was reportedly a very scary and stressful time for Elissa, because her brother almost died, and she was delayed in getting to see him.
There was no food allergy testing done, and the thyroid testing that had been occurring was halted. Karen’s family has a history of thyroid issues.
Karen’s sister died 8 years prior. A dresser belonging to Elissa’s deceased aunt had just been moved into her room, and an old family photo of her aunt fell out. The hallucination that triggered the cascade of events was one of Elissa allegedly seeing her aunt’s ghost. Karen theorizes that the trauma of her brother’s accident combined with the recent memories of her aunt being stirred up could have played a role in Elissa hallucinating her aunt’s ghost.
Taken to Mental Health Hospital by Force
While Karen sought help for her daughter’s anxiety at a nearby hospital, she reports that the questions that were being asked were confusing, as well as irrelevant to what Elissa was experiencing. When Karen went to the ladies room, she was alarmed to come out to find out that her child had been whisked away from the room she had been in. She found her dressed in a hospital gown and speaking gibberish. While she was in the restroom, the staff had drugged her daughter. They told her that they would have to keep Elissa for a few days.
Elissa was forcibly transported to a mental health hospital, and subsequently transported to the Brookside Intensive Treatment Unit in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a move which seems quite extreme to the family. It is more than a 6 hour drive from the Maples home. According to the facility’s website, “The Brookside Intensive Treatment Unit strives to break the debilitating cycle of multiple failed placements and repeated hospitalizations experienced by our students.”
According to this definition, Karen maintains that Elissa should never have been placed there. But she was given no choice. DCF had already stepped in, allegedly in order to provide services that she was not able to provide herself. Karen has been fighting ever since to get her daughter back.
“She cries every night, and I cry for her.”
Forbidden to Have Bible & Forced Restricted Calorie Diet
Karen appeared recently as a guest on “The Captain,” a blogtalk radio show, where she described the treatment that her daughter is being subjected to since being locked away at Brookside ITU. Though Elissa is a Christian, she is forbidden to have a Bible, and she is prohibited from having any visits from a pastor. The reason cited for this is that the Brookside facility is a school. The fact that it is a residential program, and Elissa is only rarely allowed to leave, does not allegedly figure into that equation.
She is reportedly on a 1200 to 1400 calorie diet daily, leading Elissa to frequently complain of hunger. Her mother has requested to be able to buy healthy food for her daughter to be kept at the facility, but this request was allegedly denied.
Hear the full interview with Karen Maple here.
Students Being Watched in the Shower
One of the issues that the staff has brought up about Elissa as demonstration of her need for mental help is hygiene issues. However, Elissa has reported that they watch them and have cameras on them as they shower. For obvious reasons, she is hesitant to shower at the facility as much as she needs to, because she feels it is “creepy.” When she has been able to go on overnight visits with family, she has told them that one of the best parts about being away is being able to take a shower without being watched. The fact that it is warm, too, helps. She says the showers are cold at the school.
There have also been allegations that some members of the staff have sexually abused students. Elissa has reported that bad things are happening, but she doesn’t feel that she can say what that is.
The Berkshire Eagle reported earlier this year (February 2015) that a former Hillcrest Education Center worker is facing felony charges for allegedly sexually assaulting a young girl at the center’s Lenox facility between October 2013 and August 2014. (Source.)
Drugged Against Her Will
Since being in state custody, Elissa is on a cocktail of high doses of psychotropic drugs, including Clozapin, which she must take nightly against her will, and that of her mother. The medications occasionally change, but never has a dosage been reduced to see if a lower dose would work.
She reports that they make her sick to her stomach and give her headaches. Worse, she says they are causing nightmares and hallucinations. She reports feeling “all drugged up,” and not herself. There have been times that she doesn’t remember what she did. She reports to her family that she is scared of what the drugs are doing to her, but she has no choice about taking them.
She reports seeing children at the facility held down and forcibly drugged. Some scream and thrash and try to run away. She has experienced 4 large men holding her down to force her to take the medications. There are dogs on the property that she reports have been released to track down students who have tried to run.
For Elissa, visits with her family, especially her mother, are the means used to coerce compliance. She has allegedly been told that if she refuses to take her medications, her limited visits will be cancelled. They also take things away. She allegedly spent 2 days without her pillow and blanket as punishment for being non-compliant.
According to her mother, “when she starts feeling better, they up [the dosage of] the drugs.” This is all done without her consent. On one occasion, Elissa went for 4 months without hallucinations while taking one particular drug. When she told them this, they switched her to a medication that caused the symptoms to return. She once went for a 2 week period without taking any of her medications. She stopped hallucinating and having bad dreams, and had begun to feel like herself again. When she told the staff, she was forcibly drugged.
Because her family is so far away, some visits have been 2 or 3 day off-campus visits, (though more recent visits with her mom were restricted to 2 hour supervised visits). During these visits, Karen says that she feeds her good, quality foods, and,
“She’s my daughter [acting normally, texting friends, catching up on her iPad], until they have to drug her up.”
Some of the medications have affected her hormones negatively. In fact, hormone disruptions are side effects of some of the medications. Karen says that Elissa has been bulking up, her cycles have stopped, and she has developed facial and chest hair.
The requests of Karen and Elissa for reduced or eliminated medications has allegedly fallen upon deaf ears, as well as have concerns about black box labels on some of the medications and warnings against using them on children under 18. A DCF worker allegedly told Karen,
“We can do whatever we want, and you need to mind your own business.”
Is Elissa Being Held for drug Experimentations?
After being held for 11 months at the Brookside facility, a New York psychiatrist who comes into the Massachusetts school to treat the students, diagnosed Elissa with schizophrenia. This was one day before he was to testify at a court hearing. Karen tells the Captain of a statement that he made in court which horrified her:
“He just says, oh by the way, as of yesterday, I’ve decided that she’s schizophrenia, and I’d like to keep her for another 2 years or so, because I would like to experiment with some other drugs to get rid of the hallucinations, that he wasn’t sure whether or not she had.”
Karen Told to Just Give Up on Her Daughter
Karen says that she and Elissa have each been told by staff members to give up on each other. Karen says that they would love to have her out of the picture. They reportedly told her,
“I should let them take care of her because something could happen to me and I could die.”
During one phone call with her daughter, Elissa made a similar comment:
“Mom, they want me to give up on you because I’m all messed up, and you should get on with your life.”
The clinicians have allegedly said that Elissa is “too attached and bonded” with her mother. Karen says that 3 different people involved, including the DCF supervisor, have told her that they intend to reprogram Elissa and give her a whole new life.
There is talk of the facility and DCF keeping Elissa in their custody until she is 21 years old. They allegedly want to keep her until she is “compliant,” the definition of which is that she is taking her medications and is happy about being away from home.
However, Elissa tells her family that she wants nothing more than to go home to her own house, her own room, her friends and pets, and pursue her dream of becoming a photographer. “That shouldn’t be too much to ask for a child,” says her mother. Karen has made it clear to Health Impact News that she has no intention of ever giving up on her daughter.
She recognizes that it is going to take much time and love for her daughter to heal from all of the trauma that she has been through at the hands of DCF and Brookside, but she has to get her free first.
“I gotta get my daughter. I gotta save her.”
They don’t know what will happen on Elissa’s 18th birthday, on July 1. There is another hearing scheduled before then, on May 20. Karen says she had a court-appointed attorney who has quit the case. They are without representation now. DCF has not shown any signs of wanting to release her. That option is horrifying and unacceptable to Karen, but she has done everything she knows to do. That is why she is asking for help.
How to Help
There is a Facebook page set up for supporters to follow the story and offer support – Elissa’s Dream.
Elissa’s case involves two states, her home state of Vermont, and the state of Massachusetts, whic has custody of her.
The former governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, faced calls, letters, and a media firestorm over the Justina Pelletier medical kidnapping case.
Now, Charlie Baker is the governor. According to Governor Baker’s website, he was “elected in November of 2014 on a platform of making Massachusetts great for everyone.” The Maple family views the captivity of Elissa as anything but great. He may be reached at 413-784-1200 or 888-870-7770 FREE, or contacted here.
The Senator of the district where Elissa is being held is Benjamin Downing. He may be reached at 617-722-1625, or contacted here.
The Representative for the Massachusetts district is William Smitty Pignatelli. He may be reached at 617-722-2017, or contacted here.
Vermont’s governor is Peter Shumlin. He may be reached at 802 828-3333, or contacted here.
Senator Norm McAllister is the Senator for the Maples’ district, and he may be contacted here.
The Representative for the district that the Maple family live in is Daniel Conner. He may be reached here.
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