Kat Von D is commending Paris Hilton for her documentary, This Is Paris, which features Hilton’s story of being physically and emotionally abused at a residential behavior-modification school as a teenager. Why? Because she was a student of the same school.
Von D, now 38, encouraged others to see the “truly important” documentary, and she thanked Hilton for her courage before sharing her own story.
“I was 15 when I was sent, and I spent my 16th birthday in there, so I was there for a total of six months, and they were definitely the most traumatic six months of my life,” Von D said in a message posted on social media Tuesday.
The tattoo artist went on to say that she had a conservative upbringing, so it worried her parents when she began listening to punk rock and dabbling in tattoos. She doesn’t know for sure, but she believes they got the idea to send her to Provo Canyon School in Utah after it was recommended by a trusted therapist.
In the YouTube documentary, Hilton, 39, describes being kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken to Provo Canyon School in Utah. Von D said she experienced the same thing.
“One night, I was sleeping in bed and the door opens and there was these two big dudes and a pretty athletic build woman standing at the door telling me to calm down and to get dressed and that we were going to be leaving,” Von D said, “And I had no idea what was going on at the time and I obviously was terrified.”
Von D described being subjected to excruciating conditions once they arrived. She remembered that after they took the blindfold she’d been forced to wear, they immediately shaved her head and made her put on sweats and sandals. That’s when they gave her a binder that explained where she was and that she’d be released when she was rehabilitated, so Von D decided then and there to do whatever she had to do to get out.
“A few days later, a counselor set me aside and told me that I had contracted HIV and said that she was sure it was from tattooing,” Von D said. It was a lie, but the reality star was never told that, so she went through the entire stay believing that she had the virus. She eventually figured out it was a scare tactic.
She said that, at one point, her stay was extended by three months when she and another girl began creating a comic book and some drawings she’d created were discovered.
Von D described awful forms of punishment some residents were subjected to, such as being banished to a large room with nothing but a drain in the center of it. People were forced to stay there in isolation for days, with no bathroom breaks. Students were also force-fed medications, Von D said, and were not allowed to have contact with their families without the presence of a counselor from the school. She said she saw physical and sexual abuse, although she never experienced any of it herself.
For its part, Provo Canyon School has declined to comment publicly. The school addresses Hilton’s allegations with a statement at the top of its website: “Please note that PCS was sold by its previous ownership in August 2000. We therefore cannot comment on the operations or patient experience prior to that time. We are committed to providing high-quality care to youth with special, and often complex, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric needs.”
Von D said she’s been greatly affected since the moment she was finally allowed to leave the facility and she called for those kind of schools to be shut down.
“I remember the first time stepping into [a] new school, I was scared to go to the bathroom, because I was worried that, if I closed the door, I might be sent back. Looking back now, I realize I was suffering from major PTSD,” Von D said. “That’s, honestly, when I look back at my drinking, that’s when it started, and so I was drinking bottles and bottles of whisky just to escape and numb whatever anxiety I was feeling and, you know, it wasn’t until this last week… after watching this and reliving some of these things in my mind that I realized it was kind of the root to my drinking and later on doing drugs.”
Von D has been vocal about quitting drugs and alcohol in 2008.
“I’m sober 13 years now, and I’m so proud of that and I’m so grateful for that, but… after watching that documentary, I realize that I still have some stuff to work through,” she said.
Von D noted that she still hasn’t spoken to her parents about what she went through at the school 20 years ago, because she doesn’t want them to blame themselves. She believes they were trying to help the best way they knew how, but it ended up being an expensive mistake. Von D ended up having intensive sessions with her therapist for years to recover.
“Real therapy doesn’t require more therapy afterwards, you know?” she said.
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