A Letter to Mohawk

Below is an email that I wrote to Mohawk Trail Regional High’s superintendent and co-principals. I am posting it publicly because I think that it is critical to remind the community that the latest accounts of abuse by Colin Garland are actually not unusual. Unfortunately, he is the third in a string of predators affiliated with Mohawk to have such testimonies brought against them in recent years.

Together, we must reevaluate the policies in place and hold our community accountable for the safety of our children.

Note: One former teacher’s name has been redacted, though not in an effort to protect him. Unfortunately, addressing my experience with him more explicitly than this requires more emotional labor than I able to invest right now. If you are from my small town, you can probably guess to whom I’m referring. You’re probably right.

 

Superintendent Buoniconti and Co-Principals Dole and Mendonsa,

I am writing to you in regards to the recent publicization of the abuse perpetrated by Colin Garland, owner of Raven Adventures and Global Classroom. I, like many other students at Mohawk, was introduced to Colin via Will Kiendzior, who allowed him to come into the classroom and tout his trips to remote parts of Africa and Central America. If you have not heard the accounts that recently came to light, I highly encourage you to do so, if only to understand the type of person that has been allowed not only into your school, but permitted to take your students to secluded areas of the world. I truly hope that this man is no longer affiliated with Mohawk, or if he is, that you will immediately cease allowing him contact with your students. Although I did not personally experience assault at the hands of Colin Garland, I can attest to his other manipulative and abusive behaviors. I detailed them in my personal blog here: https://lustyglutton.com/2016/09/11/shaman/   Included in that post are links to two other testimonies of young women who were groomed, manipulated, and raped by Colin Garland.
There is no question that these accounts are disturbing. However, it is not as alarming when one realizes that allowing this is not the first time Mohawk has allowed these type of predators close daily interaction with their students. As I said to [former teacher]after he confided in me that he had slept with his third former student: this is now a pattern.
I have grown increasingly concerned when considering Mohawk’s relationship with Colin Garland, especially as I took into account the past actions of [former teacher] and of the recent news regarding Ivan Grail, the former social studies teacher who is under investigation for his inappropriate conduct with his students. I am puzzled as to why the amount of predatory men allowed such close contact with your students has seemed to remain consistently high under your watch.
I was personally groomed by both [former teacher] and Colin Garland as a student at Mohawk and it has taken me years to realize the severity of these situations. Although it was common knowledge that these two men would meet with students outside of school hours or property, their actions were never questioned and certainly never put to a stop. It is disturbing to me that it was only my guardian, a lawyer and former social worker, who seemed suspicious of [former teacher]‘s actions. She believed that he was ultimately interested in developing a sexual relationship with me and the other young girls to whom he paid such special attention. Unfortunately, she was right. How can an institution charged with the welfare of so many children overlook so many warning signs?
I ask you to seriously consider the manner in which you are vetting your prospective teachers, faculty, and chaperons. It appears that whatever systems you have in place at the moment are simply not working to the extent that is necessary for the safety of your students. Furthermore, I ask that you make public a written policy regarding appropriate conduct for your staff and chaperons in terms of their interactions with students, including any revisions that may be needed. I also ask that you write and make public a list of what  constitutes these inappropriate behaviors to be distributed to students so that they may understand what is unacceptable and unethical coming from staff. Additionally, students should know their rights and resources should they ever encounter such issues.
I am hoping that you take these suggestions to heart so that we may see a change in the environment at Mohawk and change its reputation. It has been truly heartbreaking to realize that although I was initially dismayed that my little sister did not attend the same highschool I did, I believe she was ultimately safer for not doing so. Please: attend seriously to this issue.
Sincerely yours,
Marie Billiel
Class of 2007
Superintendent Buoniconti has invited me to call him with my proposals for policy revisions. I urge you to address this grievous issue as well and to make your suggestions and concerns heard. Matters like this reach much further than just a few; their effects bleed into the entire community. Let the reflection of who we are come from the steps we take to mend.

The Shaman

I recently came across an open letter to a man I once thought I knew. His name is Colin Garland, the owner of Raven Adventures/The Global Classroom.

The letter, written by a woman only two years my senior, details the multiple encounters she had with Colin, all of which were manipulative and abusive, and many of which involved rape.

It was a challenging read. However, the difficulty did not lay in struggling to believe the author’s account of her experience with Colin. Instead, I was forced to sit with the pain that came with remembering my time with this man and how all of his actions fit so neatly into the pattern of abuse described by the author. There was no relief in the realization that my gut instinct over our last few interactions had been correct.

I met Colin through my highschool ecology teacher Will Kiendzior. We dedicated a class to showcase the myriad adventures Colin had been on in Costa Rica and Mexico. We were invited to embark on his annual trip with students from my highschool to Central America to explore and learn about his conservation efforts.

Yesterday, before his website was taken down, I scrolled through all the pictures of former students, all about 16 years old. Some I knew personally. I wondered how many have had similarly alarming and abusive experiences with him. I felt sick to my stomach.

Admittedly, it was not my time spent with Colin in Mexico that makes me uneasy. Though tainted now, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Still, I have a distinct memory of affection and praise with which he showered my best friend. He marveled at the symbols she drew in the sand, saying they were rich with meaning and that she was clearly in tune to something greater. After we got home, she spent weeks corresponding with Colin through email. I was envious of the attention she received. I was frustrated that he didn’t see that I too felt I had something deep, primal, and attuned to something beyond myself.

Six years later I was in Israel when I received a message from Colin, telling me that I had been on his radar. He told me that he had been thinking of me for a long time but had hesitated to reach out. We made plans to see each other the next time he was back in Massachusetts.

In the time before he made his return I began to confide in him about my history of depression and the difficult childhood that had led me there. In fact, I later posted a short series on this blog entitled “Letters to Colin” that I copied from those letters that unreservedly and unapologetically detailed my disjointed upbringing and early introduction to mental illness. It was clear that I sought to heal in some way and Colin appointed himself the one who could do it.

It wasn’t long after that that he told me I was a woman coming into my power. He told me tales of my psychic ability. He urged me to travel with him, to allow him to teach me the ways of a healer. He spoke of Native American customs, of the medicine wheel, of shapeshifting. He told me that I simply hadn’t made love until both me and my partner had shifted into the form of a dolphin. He of course, was the one to teach me.

I remember that he was hesitant that I wanted to bring my boyfriend the night I agreed to come to his house for a healing session. I remember that up to that point, and for some time after our messages on Facebook somehow made me uncomfortable. In nearly every message he told me how much he loved me and how beautiful I was. I pushed my misgivings aside. After all, Colin was a Healer and wanted to help me. I was certain that the issue lay within myself; I wasn’t used to being loved so purely. I wasn’t being open. I needed him to heal me. I thought of the time I had heard that Colin had slept with a former classmate of mine, nearly 30 years his junior. I pushed the thought out of my head, convincing myself I did not understand the experience or the depth of Colin’s love and shamanic powers.

Now, when I reread our messages and see how I exposed my vulnerability to him I am uneasy. I realize now that this was not a safe place; his intentions were more sinister than I initially knew. While I thought I was seeking solace in a wizened old friend, I was playing squarely into the grooming tactics of a well-rehearsed predator.

I believe that as humans, we all have a deep-seated desire to be seen. We feel that there is something more we can offer the world, if only we had the means to let that part of us out. And I imagine this is particularly true of women, as we frequently have to prove ourselves as worthy and capable in ways that men do not. Colin Garland, pseudo spiritual leader, has found the perfect way to prey on young women and girls via this innate human condition. He fancies himself a shaman and uses his influence to create a harem of women to exercise his manipulation, abuse, and assault.

There are countless women who have had similar experiences with this wannabe cult leader. I am fortunate that my own did not escalate past this degree. Please consider the ties you have to this man and others who exhibit this behavior within your community.

 

A page has been set up as a platform for other victims and their supporters. Please share widely.

UPDATE: Another woman has written of her abuse at the hands of Colin Garland. TW – sexual assault

 

Note to self.

When he posts those kind of pictures –yes those ones— the kind you asked him not to, he is the person you were afraid he could be.

When he tells you to forget him and find someone new, only to punish you for weeks and weeks and months and months when you try to follow his advice, to relieve yourself of the heartache and ashes and rubble he has left behind, he is the person you hoped he was not.

When you are suffering and cannot leave your bed, researching lethal dosages of household medication, and he will not come — when you put down your best friend’s dog and are choking on your tears and you beg for him, but he refuses, he is not the person you loved.

When you plead for him to call you for some reason – any reason- except to feel your lips wrapped around his dick, and he resents you, gaslights you, he is poison.

He is not who you believe he might be.

He is not who you’re sure he could be.

There is nothing to read between the lines of,  “Are we ever going to get another guy?” and days of silence.

He is not your fantasy.

He is only what he does.

 

 

Strong Women

My introduction was young; at just four years old I stretched toward the phone to call the police while my mother screamed from across the room. I struggled to get to it, hung on the wall just out of a toddler’s reach. My mother’s boyfriend, Eric, took one long stride across the living room, leaving my mother crumpled in a heap, and ripped the entire receiver from the wall.

Days later I would sit in the bathroom with my mother as she examined the gash that ran the length of her calf. No one ever taught me about 911.

Sometimes now I wonder: How many times have I had to call the police to report an instance of domestic violence since then? How many more times will I have to?

Tomorrow marks six months since the morning my roommate’s ex-boyfriend burst into our house at 8 am, yelling obscenities and slamming doors. Eventually he left, only to crawl through our kitchen window that afternoon. Later, as I walked up my front steps, I would marvel at the amount of his blood that still clung to the sidewalk, even after a week; even after the rain. There are still drops of his blood on the dirtied siding of our house: the result of his drunken punch through the window of our front door.

Years ago, back in Amherst, I lived with my friend and her boyfriend for two years. Ernesto was an angry drunk and a serial cheater. My friend was a no-bullshit powerhouse; fierce and loyal and unwavering.

One night, months before I lived with them, Ernesto trapped her in their bedroom in a drunken rage. When she finally escaped he chased her through the woods behind their house. After they broke up he smashed the windows of her car.

They got back together. She defended him in court. I moved in.

They fought frequently; “You fucking junkie piece of shit,” echoed through the walls at night. We lived with the idea that he wasn’t dangerous as long as he did not drink. But at his most sober he texted continuously, questioning her company and her whereabouts. He demanded she dress modestly; he grew angry at her growing disinterest in sex.

One day, in the midst of a bout of food poisoning, I woke up to five missed calls from her. Ernesto had tried to trap her in their bedroom again. She escaped and ran to her car barefoot.

“What a piece of shit,” we agreed the next day, “he’s got a fucking problem.”  And that was how we left it.

Weeks later I spoke casually of my roommates to a friend; “Why the fuck is she with someone like that?” he demanded, “And why the fuck are you living with someone like that?” I had never considered the severity of what was taking place in my house.

I left, eventually. One night she called me panicked, “Are you home? You need to leave. Ernesto and his brother are on their way there and they are really angry at you.”  I had nowhere to go.

An hour later I heard the familiar slam of the front door and footsteps on the stairs. Outside my door I heard their gruff voices speaking not in their native Spanish, but in English. For my benefit: “I’m going to punch that fucking cunt in her fucking face.”  My door opened. They stood in my room and watched me pretend to sleep for a few minutes before leaving. I couldn’t move.

As I packed my things into discarded produce boxes she glared at me, her pupils pinpoints of rage, and said, “You were never in any danger and you know that. Fuck you.”

Last summer my best friend made a long distance phone call to me while I was in Tel Aviv to announce me that she had finally left her boyfriend. She had moved in with him a few months before and things had been tense ever since. Then, one night, he got home to find her sleeping and woke her up to throw her against the wall and choke her.

Three months later, “I slept with Josh. Don’t judge me.”

Some months ago I said to my roommate, “You know, I was really, really worried about you and Mitchell getting back together after everything that happened.” I was referring to the time after they broke up but were still sleeping together nonexclusively and he took the liberty of going through her phone while she was asleep. He woke her up with a fast slew of obscenities and death threats, complete with a fist through the wall and hand on her throat. “But it seems like things are going really well and I’m really glad.”

Two weeks later he broke up with her. And then he stormed into our house to find her in bed with someone else. He refused to leave and instead shut himself in her bedroom with her and demanded over and over, “Do you like sucking his dick?!” I called the police.

It was strangely reminiscent of the times I had to call the police as I frantically drove to my friend’s apartment when I was just 18 years old. The father of her unborn baby would frequently become enraged and lock her in their bedroom and sit on the other side of the door. He often spent his days sitting outside of the restaurant where we worked to keep an eye on her.

Yesterday I found out that old roommate never did get the restraining order she swore she would all those months ago.

What are we teaching girls that creates such a consistent pattern of accepting abuse? There is an idea of a Strong Woman in our society who takes no bullshit, but most of my friends have fit that archetype.  How many more women do I know who are keeping these secrets? How many women aren’t asking for help because they’re not supposed to be the kind of women who are abused? And why, why, why are there so many men doing this and being taught that they can get away with it?

When Eric came back into my mother’s life a few years ago I spent days feeling nauseous. I hadn’t spoken to my mother in almost 6 months but when things came to a head one night I got in her face and told her that she had better keep that man away from my sister. She denied the abuse that I had witnessed with my own eyes. She told me I was young and stupid. Those words were among some of the most frightening I’ve ever heard in my life.

My sister, now 17, has been going out with a boy for about a year now. They have had some rough patches; he has sent nude photos to other girls and been caught by my sister. When they patched up that particular incident my sister told me that there was now an understanding that she would be able to access his phone and online accounts at her will. I plead with her to realize the unhealthiness of a relationship like that, but she wasn’t interested. A few weeks back she messaged me with screenshots between her boyfriend and another girl in which he said he didn’t want to be with my sister any longer and wanted to webcam with this girl. They broke up and I breathed a sigh of relief. But now he has declared it was all a joke that he meant for her to see. And so the roller coaster continues, along with a heightened defensiveness to anyone who tries to reason with her about the negative ways he treats her.

And it is when my sister tells me things like this, when I am already mulling over the unhealthiness of so many relationships around me that I wonder: is this presentation of a poor sense of self-worth the first step? What kind of behavior will she defend next? Who will call the police for her?

And my heart breaks.