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Teen Says 'Ascent' Was An Act

Letters written to manipulate camp counselor

By Richard Sine

LISA, WHO HAS JUST TURNED 14, turns down the rap music blaring from her room before we sit at the kitchen table to talk. (On the side of the kitchen cabinet is a poster providing 10 tips on "How to Love Yourself.") She is wearing baggy jeans and a crop-top sweater. Her freckles are blotted out by foundation, and she's also wearing eyeliner. She sets her jaw and curls out her magenta lips when she talks about people who are deceiving her. Her mother, an accomplished dancer with a mothlike skittishness, sits by until Lisa asks her to leave.

It's hard to know what could convince a young girl raised in privilege and safety that life is basically a game of poker, to be won round-by-round through bluff and manipulation. Whatever led "Lisa Hart" to give off the attitude she did when I met her last week, it probably isn't helped by an endless divorce battle in which the two people who created her openly accuse each other of the worst intentions.

Lisa's experience with Ascent, the wilderness camp to which she was abducted after her father became concerned about her behavior, takes a chapter out of A Clockwork Orange. When the escorts from Ascent came, she said she was "pissed" but not surprised, because she had had a feeling that her father planned to send her away.

Once at Ascent she seemed to be lowering her tough exterior, confessing in letters to her mother that she was learning to be more "honest" with her feelings. Now she says this was a ruse, because she knew the camp counselors were reading the letters. "You had to act like you were changed so they would let you go home. I could manipulate the staff. They said they couldn't be manipulated, but I could do it. I even ran away, and they still advanced me [through the program] faster than anyone."

At this point Lisa refuses to talk to her father. She believes he doesn't listen to her, only to therapists and school deans. She effectively says the same thing about Kerner. But how can one listen to a teenager who so openly admits to manipulation? And so the cycle of mistrust and defensiveness grows, and nothing is solved.

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From the May 16-22, 1996 issue of Metro

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