Here's a film about a little cottage industry that I've always considered suspicious.
As a teenager, filmmaker Nick Gaglia was sent to one of those private teen rehab programs -- in his case, KIDS of North Jersey. It was eventually shut down in the face of state investigations. His film, Over the GW, explains why.
Over the GW (2007)
A teenager going through a rough period gets sent to a privately run juvenile hall. The cult that runs it beats him into submission.
This is a dreary, sometimes-outrageous account of Nick Gaglia's extended enrollment in a cult-like teen rehabilitation program. Shot for a mere 30,000 dollars, Over the GW is certainly not a film for those who can't tolerate the sorts of no-budget, straight to DVD offerings that only seem to be available on Netflix. It looks like it was filmed on a cell phone camera; many of the actors come across like (heck, probably ARE) amateurs; and the score sounds like it could have been written by a 14 year-old who hasn't even completed his first guitar lesson. Nevertheless, I found the overall experience to be surprisingly effective.
Out-of-control teenager Tony is duped by his mother into attending this program started by an ex-Methodist preacher to get him sobered up. Tony's a little scared, but mom seems to be really confident that the place can turn him around. So, he signs the dotted line. The minute he's inside, however, a variety of abuse starts. Beatings, shouted insults, psychological games -- all the things one would suspect a corrupt former minister (allegedly) might cook up if he were allowed to open a teen rehab center.
As the months drag on, it becomes clear that the program has no intention of releasing Tony, regardless of how long he stays sober. While inside, he's not allowed to read, speak, or even bathe alone. In counseling sessions, he's constantly accused of lying and given more beatings. Sometimes, he's restrained on the floor for hours at a time. Other teens in the program are abused in ways tailored to their own personalities, as well. For example, one girl confesses that she's afraid of getting fat, so the counselors start to force feed her three times her normal rations as a punishment for vanity. Another guy is accused of impure thoughts, and restrained and beaten....
I always assumed that these kinds of things went on in such places. As minors, teenagers have no real rights, so they make perfect punching bags for people with authority. Plus, no one is going to believe what they say in the first place. Hey, these kids are violent druggies!
Anyway, there's also a sidestory about the efforts of Tony's father to get his son out of that hellish place. By the third act, I actually started to like that father character quite a bit. He's the lone beacon of decency in this otherwise miserable story. At one point, Tony's sister also gets sent into the program, and the father manages to get her out with a court's help. Will he be able to do the same for Tony before the kid's been completely brainwashed into believing that his sobriety depends on the program???
Now, I DO have an above-average amount of sympathy for troubled kids who get abused by the system, so my judgment on the quality of this film may be somewhat clouded. I mean, I know it's incredibly cheap, but the fact is that I walked away from Over the GW genuinely moved. After watching a character suffer like that for so long, you can't help but feel for him. I'm impressed that Nick Gaglia managed to get this picture made at all, and I think it's a story worth telling. Privately run prisons are a breeding ground for rampant corruption and abuse. It's a shame no one really cares; at least not anyone who can do anything about it.
3 out of 5.