Summer Camp Psychodrama

Journal Entry – August 10th 1975: After last nights horrific events, I’ve finally decided that I need to blow the whistle on this insanity. I spoke privately—in whispers—to Greg, Deb, Liz and Joe. I told them I was going to the sheriff but I was worried he wouldn’t believe me after his recent visit and the brilliant con job that Wayne did on him. I pleaded with them to write brief notes so that I’d have other testimony supporting my claims of abuse and the need for a rescue operation. After giving me the evidence I needed, for some unknown idiotic reason, I told them that first I would talk to Wayne and ask him one more time to stop. I can’t believe I was going to risk my life telling him I was leaving to report him but I did. Am I out of my mind?

I was at Becket Wilderness School on a remote ranch in the magnificent Teton National Park in Wyoming. It was my first trip to the U.S.A. and I was fresh out of teacher training college. Wayne and his wife, Susan, had directed the school for a few years. He was a stocky 37-year-old hick cowboy character while she was the slim heiress whose money bankrolled the business.

I was a camp counsellor, along with Deb and two others, while Greg was one of our ten teenage students who came from very diverse backgrounds. Becket was highly recommended to me from a close friend back in the U.K. However, it quickly became the most traumatic experience I’ve ever experienced and I spent every day there wondering where the hell it was going and why I was there. I told myself it was because the kids needed protection. My journal details it all and records why Greg wrote that note to support me reporting Wayne to the police. It all led to a Teton County grand jury charging him with multiple counts of physical, physiological, and sexual abuse of children.

Greg, Conner, Mark and Liz

Journal Entry—July 5th: On first appearances, Greg looked like a stalk with pimples. He was a wannabe cosmic cowboy almost sixteen years old. Standing 6’3” he was useless at basketball but eager to show his ego and his knowledge—a loudmouth—not shy to sing a song alone and sometimes spacey, like he had lots of things on his mind or was stoned. That evening he confessed to possessing some dope. Wayne was furious, made him cry, shouting that Greg was flirting with Hannah, one of the students. Greg shut down like a clam, alone and emotionless.

Journal Entry—July 9th: Wayne claims he is possessed with the guru complex and is guided by an external spiritual force. We are, apparently, his servants and slaves trying to understand but needing to stand-under with humility. Deb found it hard today but came through smiling even when Wayne’s ego was making fun of her as a ‘great Greek fucking sailor.’ Acting out our parts in what Wayne describes as a psychodrama is not easy. I came here to teach, camp, and hike through the remarkable neighbouring wilderness—not to play God head games.

Journal Entry—July 10th: Wayne has been preaching consistently during our daily rap sessions. He says we each need more humility to achieve spiritual strength and the psychodrama he is slowly developing is a reenactment of the crucifixion. I’m totally confused but this proclamation seemed to relieve a lot of tensions with others—especially for Greg—who said he now understands. There was laughter and less fear but while some seemed able to surrender to Wayne’s direction I could tell that Greg’s ego and pride would cause him some problems. It didn’t take long. Greg spoke his mind later announcing, “We don’t need counsellors anymore, we never needed you idiots; we don’t need anyone but ourselves and don’t have to be forced to live this drama. We can do this camp ourselves.” I agreed saying, “We’re all here to learn from the wilderness and to help one another by sharing, giving, and caring.” That went down like a lead balloon with Wayne—our camp dictator—and the repercussions came fast and hard.

Wayne has now cast me as Judas Iscariot in the crucifixion plot and I’m wondering how that scene will play out. I’m feeling centred in myself, having faith in my own spirit, and possessing a strong belief in my existential being. Hopefully these strengths will be sufficient to see me through and maintain resilience in the face of all his humbling activities. Ideally, like all the others here, I want to be joyful and happy and thriving…but can we?

The group all drove to Jackson Hole, except for me and two others who had to remain for punishment. Wayne called us the “anti-Trinity.” I sat looking at the nearby Teton mountain peaks: it was very peaceful—the best opportunity yet to learn from nature—to think and feel relaxed. I read Lao Tzu and got lots of strength from his ancient teachings.

The kids were noisy and excited before they left for town; but were subdued and fearful when they returned. According to Wayne, they were undergoing a spiritual awakening. Everyone was forced to kneel in the mud and beg for permission to go inside the house. Wayne was preaching and then got violent. Greg, along with others—including Wayne’s wife—were verbally and physically battered. Susan suffered badly from Wayne’s blows to her head until he broke down sobbing that she was really bad and needed the beating. “Let’s be human” he pleaded and tried to comfort Greg, Susan, and the others but he still couldn’t give up playing his God act. I was in a state of shock. He wore a stern shaman’s face, faking Tai Chi movements with imaginary zapping power emanating from his hands accompanied by wild shrieks. It was all a show but laughing at his kooky, deranged antics was difficult. He perplexingly labelled me as “The Prophet” and also as a part of the anti-Trinity with Deb and Gail.

His brainwashing continues daily. Very aggressively he demands, “Do you feel the energy, feel the power, the pain and the pleasure?” The kids continuously give him the answers he wants and where he leads, every camper follows; including me and Greg. I’m ashamed to admit that.

Journal Entry—July 15th: The physical punishment of Greg and others continues to increase. Wayne hit Susan again with his fist and she collapsed screaming. Then Wayne was full of fear and started to supposedly take pain away from her and from Greg using his ‘healing’ hands. Asking his victims, “Does it still hurt?” they opted to lie and deny the pain. Everyone is fearful of him hitting or shouting at them again if they are honest about it hurting. In place of camping or hiking, there’s only a whole lot of acting going on here.

The daily message now from Guru Wayne is “Do as I do, be like me, worship craven idols. Your body, your legs, stomach, and face should be like mine and your actions must be like mine. I am God—worship me. I am perfection.”

He continues physically threatening the group but mostly picks on Greg and Hannah. Susan was visibly scared and Greg was told he was always too loud and caste as a boy. Later, we all had to turn to look at the trees dancing; I didn’t see any movement, just a beautiful skyline. After a long wait, Wayne got pissed off, talked about unbelievers, and went to bed.

Sitting by the Aspen trees

Our evening campfires are having far less spontaneous singing and more and more directed chanting. Wayne ordered us to use our powers to make the aspen trees shake and, when they didn’t, he excluded people from the circle and made them sit alone in the fields. Tonight, Greg was told to go and left for a while but then stormed back in during the Indian dance-knife ceremony. Wayne was swinging a Gurkha knife around the circle, bringing it down on each side of people’s necks, not striking them but making very threatening moves aiming towards each persons throat. He came precariously close to Greg’s skin, saying “Just trust” and “Don’t move or flinch.” He claimed the ceremony was about showing trust but one slip could’ve ended in Greg’s throat being cut.

Journal Entry—July 18th: Greg was verbally attacked by Wayne for holding Sienna’s hand while taking a walk in the nearby woodlands. He was severely rebuked and told to leave the group. He was humiliated and cried when he was eventually allowed to return. Wayne gave a long lecture about how love is “give, give, giving without expecting anything in return” but I could see that he was really trying to break Greg down. It was easy to see Wayne’s hypocrisy because he also says—when it suits him—that love is “hitting, pushing, punching, and kicking in the arse until they do right.” He insists “love” is forcing everyone to act exactly as he wants them to act and not for them to develop their own essence, although he claims he believes everyone has one. I could see this and I knew that Greg did, too—he has a free mind.

Journal Entry—July 21st: In the evening, there was a violent thunderstorm which was very exciting. Wayne made everyone go outside and get soaked. When we were allowed back in by the log fire, we waited anxiously for Wayne’s next commands. Greg acted spontaneously: ran outside again, jumped over the fence, and danced in the rain. Wayne shouted at him for being egotistical and showing off but, for once, Greg had the guts to continue and others followed him. He paid the price: getting ridiculed and punished and forced to stay out in the cold, wet night until Wayne said he could return. Everything was always about control and domination.

Greg, dancing his own style

Wayne played ‘Zorba the Greek,’ and danced for a long time with vivid sexual gestures displaying his body in pseudo erotic moves in a pathetic act of ego exhibitionism. Others wanting to dance were told to cheer up and smile and wait for him to allow them on the dance floor. He wouldn’t allow Greg to dance his own style with Sienna but insisted he mimicked Wayne’s steps. What price are we paying for enthusiasm and initiative? The kids are never given the opportunity to entertain themselves while Wayne asserts total superiority and suppression.

Journal Entry—July 31st: In the rap session, Wayne gave a lecture on relieving frustration, arrogance, and ego. Only Greg had the guts to speak up and question Wayne’s assertions so he was pounced on again. Wayne picked up Greg’s diary and read it—what a bloody cheek! He interpreted it to say Greg wanted to fuck Sienna and chastised him severely; refusing to let Greg read aloud the last two pages which he said would explain it. Ironically, earlier that morning, Wayne had told us all it was human nature to be driven by sex and to want to fuck everyone else—now it became a crime. I realised that I needed to protect my journal carefully once I realised Wayne was prone to delving into others people’s private thoughts without permission.

Greg and Beant

Journal Entry—August 3rd: Wayne decided to cruelly evict Beant, a visitor. He was obviously jealous about the kids’ appreciation for the great yoga lesson he had led. We had a BBQ and Wayne tried to force Beant to eat meat, knowing he was a strict vegetarian. When he refused, Wayne rudely and loudly shouted at him to leave. I had the job of seeing him off the premises but wasn’t trusted to talk to Beant alone. Wayne also sent Peter and Greg, who showed his strength and feelings by giving Beant some food to take with him. Wayne later tried to justify his actions and Greg was immediately shut down for being honest about his own contrary views.

I, too, was sickened by Beant’s treatment and—after expressing my opinion—Wayne decided to give us all his new test of faith. He then kicked his heavy boot out at everyone sitting in the circle, telling them if they moved they didn’t trust him. The tyrant was getting further out of control and few of us had the courage to confront him or complain about his behaviour.

Journal Entry—August 4th: It was Greg’s birthday and everyone started dancing while the ice cream was being made. But Wayne decided we had to go through another ritual before eating: he began slapping Hannah and then Greg—just because it was his birthday and he was getting attention. Wayne convinced Sienna that she had deep hate and guilt to let out and told her that hitting Hannah would help cure her. During the lengthy sermon, the ice cream all melted and tensions rose. Greg lost it: said he was pissed off with Wayne, who then slapped him and shouted angrily calling him a baby. He made Greg’s nose bleed and then put on a phoney display of anguish, claiming he was directed to do it by the spirit and that he really didn’t want to do it. He worked on Greg really hard and made use of us all to soften him up, rejoin the group, and not be an outsider saying, “If they can take it you can take it.” He used classic dictatorial psychology; insisting that by being a part of the group, Greg would ensure his safety.

Later, when everyone was in bed, I went to the kids’ cabin where Greg told me that—when I was away—Wayne had gone into a rage, stomped on Liz’s hair, and encouraged another counsellor to kick her. I finally started getting some feedback from the kids about their reactions to Wayne. They shared their fears and doubts about events. “What’s happening and what’s going to happen?” they asked. They mostly felt that the psychodrama, the masochism, and the sadism are all ego trips for Wayne but insisted they could handle it, even though it was a load of crap. They said all the other kids were frightened about who to talk to and didn’t know who to trust because they knew they’d get punished if Wayne found out.

Journal Entry—August 5th: Wayne invited the Sheriff and a preacher to visit the ranch after our two Indian kids ran away, got caught, and were returned. Wayne played the role of a very sincere and caring camp director. He was obviously scared of me or Greg talking to the sheriff about abuse so gave us all a lecture about how no one could prove anything and how everyone else would support Wayne and deny any allegations. He was so convincing that even Greg said he loved Wayne and needed the punishment and wanted to stay. It was hard to know what to think. Everyone was told to participate in the drama with more enthusiasm and kids were told to disobey counsellors if they felt like it; but, of course, no one dared to disobey anything that Wayne said.

Journal Entry—August 6th: Mark, Greg, and Joe were required by Wayne to dress up as women. They had to wear bras and dresses, and carry brooms and have the girls put make up on their faces. Photos were taken for no real reason at all. It was humiliation, not humour. During his rantings, Wayne said any of us could take over and run another Becket if we wanted; but we would have to be sure we would do it his way. That’s not for me, no thanks…no way in hell!

Wayne ordered Greg to sit on the porch facing the Tetons and teased him with food. Greg was furious and eventually got up and walked off saying, “I’m leaving, I’ve had enough.” Wayne ordered the kids to “Get that cock-sucker and drag him back here all of you.” After Greg was caught, Wayne dragged him to the ground by pulling his hair, sat on top, and then rubbed meat grease on his face, which was bleeding. Wayne proclaimed it was Greg’s ego coming out and that he’d be okay now. I could tell Wayne was scared of hitting him anymore when he said, “Feed him, give him food, anything he wants—the cock-sucking son of a bitch.” He started praising Greg, asserting he’d made it to become ‘a Chief Lion Leo’ and was so good he needed to stay until the end of Becket.

Wayne

Journal Entry—August 7th: A massage class developed into a long saga by Wayne about sex. It was all quite unnecessary, especially as he restricted the massages to shoulders and feet. Wayne slapped Hannah on the face and pulled her nose to get her off the floor. He told her to dance—saying she was not doing it right—and then hit her four or five times more. Greg was pulled into the circle and hit around the face three times. I’m certain it was all because Wayne was jealous of Hannah having a crush on Greg. He dared Greg to go to the sheriff saying “You’ve got no proof” and pulled his hair again, telling him he was a traitor and was blocking the group. He then initiated a hatred session against Hannah; but everyone—except Greg—was frightened to criticise her because they knew she was Wayne’s favourite. He kept us all up until around 2am after threatening death to us all if we didn’t follow the path of Becket after we left the camp. The kids were confused and not together at all: they seem suspicious and fearful about one another, except for a couple who I knew talked together.

Journal Entry—August 8th: For most of the next two days, we were forced to sit in Wayne’s presence, engaged in ‘rap sessions,’ while he performed ‘rituals’ and kept us all up later and later through the night.

Journal Entry—August 9th: After a long arduous day, in the early hours of the morning, Wayne made Joe and Mark simulate anal intercourse on Greg and then Paul. Everyone was partially undressed, being ordered to pile on top of Greg and others until the pyramid collapsed. Wayne tried to get Greg to confess to wanting to talk to the sheriff and got everyone else to say they were happy and didn’t want to go home; it was an abhorrent and harrowing atmosphere. Wayne was dancing in the circle and threatening people; he grabbed Joe, ripped his T-shirt, then pushed him on the ground. Next, he told Susan he no longer needed her: he’d transferred enough of her money into his own account and could run Becket for a long time. He waved the fireplace poker and smashed a can; he pointed it at Sienna’s naval in a very aggressive manner and sent her naked out into the field. Later, he also sent Greg naked to the field to get Sienna saying if he touched her, he would use the lighter as a torture instrument before killing him. This horrifying insanity continued for hours with him threateningly swinging the Gurkha knife again, giving more warnings about not telling anyone about his camp methods. It was dawn when he got tired of his preaching and nonsensical ravings and everyone was permitted to go to bed—exhausted and fearful.

I reached my ultimate limit of tolerance and realised I can’t trust him any longer. I’ve tried so many times to get him to stop his abuses. He says he will, then he doesn’t. He says it’s good for the kids development. He says we need to trust him and he’s doing no permanent harm. He says he’s possessed by a spirit and it’s not him running the show. He makes all kinds of justifications but he’s a psycho—sick and dangerous. I’m leaving and as soon as I’m off the premises, he should stop hitting because he’ll be afraid of me turning him in to the law.

Journal Entry—August 10th: Before everyone assembled, I told Wayne that I believed the kids were in serious danger because the violence was not ending but had escalated. He said no one is hurt, no one has bruises, and then kept repeating that I had no evidence to tell the sheriff. He went into his God act and said it was my duty to follow the spiritual guides and discipline the kids. I unflinchingly told him I was done with that and was worried about him seriously hurting them, and that I was leaving.

He ordered everyone to come into the house and got them to say—one by one—that they loved him, trusted him, and they were full of joy, and that they weren’t hurt and wanted to stay and believed in Becket. Even the four who wrote me notes were so scared and fearful of him that they said exactly the words he wanted to hear. I know it’s all lies, but it seems like he believes them, too. Of course he’s going to brainwash them some more. He even started hitting Sienna and Hannah again while I was telling him it was all wrong.

In front of everyone, Wayne threatened me with beatings and a violent death if I walked out and reported him. He then got really mad, threw a fit, kicked off and continued intimidating me saying no-one would believe me—a foreigner—that I’d end up dead in a ditch; that the wrath of Becket spirit would come down on me and crush me; that I’d end up as a meal for the buzzards and never make it back to my family in the U.K. alive.

Next, he tried bribing me with $400 for a plane fare if I wanted to go straight home. I played along and said ok and left to pack to make it look like he had convinced me to just leave and abandon the kids. I was really quick and when I returned, he was working his charm overtime to further brainwash the group. He made more threats and shouted abuse at me. I was really worried about what he would do: he had a wild look in his dark eyes—piercing and on fire. He then refused to give me my passport, saying he tried but couldn’t open the safe. He wanted me to go into his study and see for myself but I refused, not sure of what would happen to me. I knew he had guns.

Susan went in and the safe opened; she handed me my passport but no money. I didn’t argue but just turned and left. I felt I’d already pushed my luck beyond reason and—at any moment—I was expecting him to physically attack me or shoot me. As I was hastily saying goodbye, Liz, Greg, and Mark told me with their eyes that they wanted to leave, too. Wayne was so confident with himself that he offered to let anyone leave with me but they all refused, scared about the consequences. As I made my exit, he was giving out cigarettes for the first time and telling everyone to relax because the psychodrama was over.

Walking away from the ranch, I was very nervous, constantly looking behind for signs of anyone following me. I continued quickly but cautiously down the eerily quiet rural road, hoping to hitch a ride before Wayne arrived and tried to run me over with the van or gun me down. When I was well clear of the ranch with not a single vehicle passing me on the deserted road, I stopped and, hiding behind a bush, I wrote my final journal entry: “Leaving Becket is the best thing I’ve done since I got here. My problem with leaving has been due to the extent that he has brainwashed me with the tone of his voice, the effectiveness of his psychology, and his preachings. The challenge writing about this is that his obscenities and mannerisms—plus his extremely contradictory expressions of love and hate—contain emotions that can never be accurately recorded with words. He has conditioned everyone to say “yes” or “no” exactly in accordance with his wishes. He’s charismatic, commanding, and calculating. The big question I ask myself, “Is he sane?”

I made it alive to the sheriff and thanks to my journal and the four letters, he believed my story and Wayne was quickly arrested. Wayne hired two very expensive defence lawyers, spent only one night in jail, was charged with 44 offences but, two years later, got off with a plea of temporary insanity. I spent a wonderful month with all the kids in Wyoming as they slowly decompressed and broke free from Wayne’s brainwashing. I flew with four of them to their home in Tuscon, Arizona and kept in touch for several years.

In letters I received from Greg and others at the wilderness school, they talked about us collectively writing the full story of that maniacal schizo summer. They wanted to expose the horrors they had experienced and to warn others about the risks and dangers of people like Wayne. This account is a mere thumbnail sketch of events that I witnessed and I’m now writing, and intend to publish the full story. I’ve often wondered what happened to my fellow campers and, if I manage to contact them, I will include their accounts, as well. Greg was definitely the renegade in the group and had a lot to share but for him sadly, it is now too late.

In loving memory of Greg Fisher: August 4, 1959 – May 4, 2016, R.I.P. Cowboy

Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

2 thoughts on “Summer Camp Psychodrama

  1. Wow, Graham, I was involved in a bunch of Encounter Groups in the 60s, but by the mid 70s I had finished OT school. Once I lived across from SYNANON during intership. I heard rumors of harsh confession sessions but nothing this terreible. Thanks for sharing. I hope you find the appropriate place to further publish this. Maybe a domestic abuse publication. Margaret Drake

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. Graham you stumbled upon  madman and am glad you were able to slide out of that viper nest. I can only hope others including the kids became survivors in whatever lesson they learned. Much Aloha brother

    Liked by 1 person

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