Gathered in an obscure industrial complex on Salt Lake City's west side, about three dozen supporters of a controversial youth treatment program told of heartbreak and healing on Saturday, while defending a program many once tried to escape.
The meeting came one day after a district court judge dismissed a lawsuit by Proctor Advocate, Inc., alleging that KTVX had defamed the program director in two news reports.Supporters and current program participants denied the allegations of physical and emotional abuse - made by former participants - that were the subject of the suit. They say they just want to proceed with the program, free of suspicion and accusations.
Most of all, they just want to get better.
"We want this off our backs," said counselor Brian Miller. "We want to be able to go on and do what we were doing before all this hit. The kids in here are getting better - getting their lives back in order."
For nearly 90 minutes, parents provided vivid descriptions of desperation. Their once-defiant children - former alcoholics, drug abusers and several who had once run away from Proctor - listened respectfully and then told their own stories. It was a time of testimonials and tears. Each said defiance, drug abuse, dishonesty and despair had brought them to Proctor Advocate when hope was nearly gone.
Now, they said, they're getting better. Some believe God played a part in bringing them to the program. Others unashamedly declare that they owe their very lives to director Layne R. Meacham and his company.
All of them defend the program.
One unlikely, but staunch supporter is Owen W. Cahoon, a professor of early childhood education and child development at Brigham Young University.
Cahoon said Proctor Advocate has turned his son around. "In my profession, I'm supposed to have all the answers, but we had problems . . . I've seen, in the last 30 days, a tremendous difference in my son. This has been a great program, and I'm going to be totally involved and totally committed to it."
Meacham, who didn't attend the meeting, said later that he hasn't decided whether to appeal the judge's ruling on his libel suit. "We haven't seen any of the paperwork. We'll just have to evaluate it and see what our situation is now."
Meacham doesn't deny his program is controversial, but maintained that no physical or emotional abuse takes place. He said a plethora of such harsh treatment programs - his involves intense peer group pressure sessions - are under way in many states, "some of them twice as harsh as we are.
"People are finding that you can no longer have kids doing a little ping pong and watching a little TV and doing a little individual therapy. The whole movement is to more responsibility and more accountability."
He says his program does use confrontational peer pressure techniques, "but it's more in terms of voice volume and its nature and intensity" in demanding honesty from participants.
He said the program is more reality than some people want to acknowledge. "To have a phony therapist sit there and use techniques with no verifiability and charge $75 an hour and assume that's therapy - kids here have tried all that, and it doesn't work.
"I'm not creative enough to sit around and come up with these techniques," Meacham said. "I've just plagiarized these ideas - taken them from other programs."