Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy - BREAKING CODE SILENCE (2023)

Wilderness Program

History and Background Information

Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy is a behavior-modification program founded in 2005. It is marketed as a wilderness therapy program for troubled teenagers aged 13-17 with a history of “school failure, difficulty with interpersonal relationships, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and more.” The average length of stay is between 6-10 weeks, and the tuition is reported to be around $30,000. Aspiro has been a NATSAP member since 2007. It is a part of “Aspiro Group Inc.” which is a conglomerate of Aspiro Wilderness, Vantage Point Wilderness, and Pure Life in Costa Rica.

Because Aspiro is a wilderness program, it does not have a central campus. Instead, teens are taken on backpacking trips around the area around Hanna, Utah. The base camp is reportedly located in Spring City, Utah. The address associated with the program is 560 W 9460 S, Sandy, UT 84070. An alternate address that is given for the program is 63 E 11400 S #186, Sandy, UT 84070.

Founders and Notable Staff

Randy Oakley was the founder of Aspiro Wilderness. In 2013, he was sued by the Aspiro Group, Inc. for misconduct, conspiracy, misappropriation of funds, and mismanagement of company funds. He was also the Executive Director at Kairos Young Adult Adventure Wilderness Program in Puerto Rico, which is owned by the same company as Aspiro.

Richard “Rick” Meeves is the CEO of Aspiro Wilderness. Prio to joining Aspiro, Meeves has worked at a variety of reportedly and confirmedly abusive programs. He has worked as the Vice President and National Director of Clinical Quality at CRC Health Group, which is the company that owned Aspen Eductaion Group. He is also the Founder of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, a reportedly abusive Aspen Education Group program. He has also worked as the Clinical Director of both Aspen Achievement Academy and Aspen Ranch, and as a Primary Therapist at Second Nature Wilderness Program.

Shannon Weaver is the Director of Marketing and Outreach of Aspiro Wilderness. She began her career as a therapist at the reportedly abusive New Haven RTC for 4 years, beginning in November 2002. She then worked as a therapist at Telos RTC from November 2006 until August 2009. She then went on to work as the Admissions and Marketing Director for the Oakley School from 2015 to 2016, before joining Aspiro.

Ryan Coley is the current Executive Director of Aspiro Wilderness. He has worked at Aspiro since 2009. He has held numerous positions at Aspiro, including Admissions, Program Development, Primary Therapist, and Clinical Director. His prior employment is unknown.

Woody Crowell is the current Program Director of Aspiro Wilderness. He has previuosly worked as the Regional Director of Admissions for Aspen Eductaion Group, as well as the Director of Admissions at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions. He also owns a teen “transport” company called Right Direction Adolescent Services. He reportedly began his career as a Field Guide at various Aspen Education Group facilities, including Adirondack Leadership Expeditions.

David Mayeski is the Family Services Director of Aspiro Wilderness. He began his career as a Therapist at the reportedly abusive New Haven RTC from 2001 until 2005. He then went on to work as the Admissions Director of La Europa Academy from 2005 until 2011, when he returned to New Haven RTC as the Admissions and Marketing Director. He left New Haven in 2014 to begin working as the Strategic Development Coordinator at the reportedly abusive Oakley School from 2014 until 2015. He then returned to New Haven as the Clinical Director from 2015 until 2018, when he joined Aspiro.

Gordon Day worked as the Clinical Director of Aspiro. He previously worked at Summit Preparatory School and Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, an Aspen Education Group program. In 2015, he founded Discover Seven Stars, a Family Help & Wellness program in Syracuse, UT.

Carl Smoot is the Director of Clinical Assessment at Aspiro. He has worked at Aspiro since 2012. Many survivors of Aspiro have accused Smoot of being unprofessional. Many report having various negative experiences with him.

Justin Robinson was the previous Clinical Director of Aspiro. He previously worked at Kairos Young Adult Adventure Wilderness Program in Puerto Rico, which is owned by the same company as Aspiro. He began working at Aspiro in 2006.

Jesse Irvin-Wacker worked as a Counsellor at Aspiro. She previously worked at the (now-closed) behavior-modification program Three Rivers in Montana.

Brad Carpenter worked as a Psychiatrist at Aspiro. He previously worked at the confirmedly abusive Hidden Lake Academy, which is believed to be a CEDU spin-off program.

Josh Watson worked as a counsellor at Aspiro. He previously worked for the confirmedly abusive behavior-modification program Hidden Lake Academy, which is believed to be a CEDU spin-off program.

For additional staff members, please see HEAL’s program information.

Program Structure

Unlike other behavior-modification programs, Aspiro does not use a level-system.

The teenagers are divided into groups of around 8 residents. The residents start in the base camp where they have to adjust to the wilderness life before going on hikes.

Each hike/trip is different. Among the trips mentioned on the website are:

  • 50 mile mountain backpacking trip
  • 50 mile float trip
  • 30 mile Slot Canyon trip

After each activity the detainees return to the base camp where they stay for between 24 and 72 hours before leaving for the next trip.

Survivors have reported that Aspiro does not allow phone calls and that all ingoing/outgoing mail is read and censored prior to being sent/read by the resident.

Aspiro also operates a program for 18-28-year-olds, although this program is voluntary and the participants can leave at any time.

Rules and Punishments

The teens at Aspiro are forced to adhere to a strict set of rules. Some of these rules include:

  • no touching
  • do not look at the groups of the opposite sex
  • no sharing/trading food
  • no swearing
  • cook/eat/clean breakfast lunch within 15 mins, cook/eat/clean dinner within 30 minutes
  • set up camp within 20 mins
  • take down camp within 15 mins

If the teens do not comply with the rules of the program, they are punished. Punishments that have been reported by survivors of Aspiro include:

  • If participant refused to continue hike/set up camp/take down camp etc., they cannot communicate w/ other participants (communication block)
  • If they self-harm, they must get body checks performed by staff every night, must be within a certain distance of staff at all times, and staff has to watch as they use the bathroom
  • If they run/walk too far away, staff will restrain/tackle them
  • If they attempt to have romantic relationship or kiss another participant, participants have to wrap themselves in a tarp when they sleep (so it makes a noise if they move)
  • They can have weekly shower taken fully away, or time-limited for shower

Abuse and Lawsuits

Aspiro is reported by some survivors to be an abusive program. Among the allegations of abuse are reports that teens have been forced to eat their own vomit. Many survivors report experiencing frequent nightmares about being sent back. However, there also seem to be some survivors who report that they had a positive experience at Aspiro, or at least that it was not as bad as the longer-term programs where they were sent after.

According to one survivor who wishes to remain anonymous, the following abuses occurred during their stay at Asprio:

  • “Therapist Jason made clients write down their entire life story and tell it to the group (had to include sexual history (i.e., sexuality, number of partners, abuse/rape)) – were not given the option to leave anything out
  • Therapist Jason would shame/humiliate/yell at clients (had us all sit in a circle while he humiliated client until they cried)
  • Therapist Jason would make fun of both his clients and others (he was not my therapist, but made fun of me and mocked me for crying when I found out I was going to alternative boarding school)
  • If any kid refused to do something, broke rules/caused trouble, the whole group received the same punishment (i.e., no 2 minute weekly shower, can’t sent up camp for the night until participant stops refusing to walk, can’t go to bed if participant refuses to take medication)
  • If camp was not set up within 20 minutes, we would have to take it down and redo it until we did it within 20 minutes (would sometimes be up into the middle of the night) -If camp was not taken down within 15 minutes, we would have to redo it until we met the time limit
  • If you ran out of food or animals ate your food bag, you would not get any new food for the week
  • Only 3 pairs of underwear for the week -> if you bled through them, you were shit out of luck
  • Many girls would get UTI’s -> they would not receive any medical care, just were told to drink more water
  • I peed my sleeping bag two times (because we had to drink at least 4 L of water a day) -> had to sleep in it through the night, air dry it in sun during the morning – never got a new sleeping bag
  • I came in the summer and was there when it started snowing – I only had summer “gear” – my sleeping bag was not warm enough for the temperatures (I had to boil water before bed and sleep with a hot water bottle) – they would not give me a new sleeping bag – winter came early and they did not have winter coats/socks/etc. for us so we just had to suffer through it for a couple weeks
  • We had to carry doggie bags of our feces in plastic tubes attached to our backpacks, or in a large bucket for the week -> many participants would become sick and get the “double headed dragon” (which meant they would be puking and shitting constantly) – no treatment provided (had to keep hiking/backpacking regardless of whether or not you were sick)
  • We would have to pick/push aside cow poop to clear a space for our shelter – many participants would get it stuck under their nails/hands and then become sick/get the “double headed dragon”
  • Participants sometimes puked in the shelter, staff just had us wipe it up and go back to bed (very unsanitary, led us to get even more sick)
  • If my therapist (Grace) did not like a letter I wrote, she would not let me send it to my parents -> usually the letters she didn’t let me send were explaining what the program was like
  • I had to meet with a psychiatrist -> they took me in the morning away before I could eat -> I came back in the evening and had not eaten all day -> when I was in the car to and from the psychiatrist I asked if I could eat quickly and they would not allow me because there was “no time”
  • Girl groups were not allowed to touch each other (because they told us we tend to be “gay for the stay”), but boys groups could touch each other as much as they wanted
  • I injured my foot and they took me to a doctor -> I was scolded by staff after because my foot wasn’t broken, only extremely inflamed, so it was “a waste of time”
  • When I arrived, they had no shoes in my size, so I was given shoes half a size too small
  • Girls were required to wear bras because it would be too “inappropriate” when around male staff”

On May 3rd 2013, Aspiro Group, Inc. (which is a conglomerate of Aspiro Adventure Wilderness, Vantage Point Wilderness, and Pure Life in Costa Rica) filed a lawsuit against former president & co-owner Charles Randall Oakley, citing scandalous allegations of misconduct, conspiracy, misappropriation of funds, and mismanagement of company funds. The owners of Aspiro alleged that Oakley sabotaged a planned sale of the company and brought high-level managers together to purchase it for $825,000, an offer the plaintiffs contend was far below its worth. Oakley described the situation as “we bought ourselves out.” According to the court filing, the Board’s repeated requests for financial reports and accountability fell on Mr. Oakley’s deaf ears since 2008. In or around 2009, the IRS slapped Aspiro with an invoice for over $100,000.00, since Aspiro had failed to pay any State or Federal employment taxes for at least a year; the IRS was seeking payment of all back taxes, fees and penalties. The complaint states Mr. Oakley never communicated this to the Board. Aspiro’s complaint cited scandalous, egregious allegations of misconduct, conspiracy, misappropriation of funds, and mismanagement of company funds (cooked books). The filing appears to read like a sordid tale with endless possibilities including embezzlement, extortion, and blackmail; implications of possible tax fraud/tax evasion regarding several players are quite apparent. The lawsuit maintains that Mr. According to the court filing, the Board’s repeated requests for financial reports and accountability fell on Mr. Oakley’s deaf ears since 2008. In or around 2009, the IRS slapped Aspiro with an invoice for over $100,000.00, since Aspiro had failed to pay any State or Federal employment taxes for at least a year; the IRS was seeking payment of all back taxes, fees and penalties. The complaint states Mr. Oakley never communicated this to the BoardOakley used company funds to the tune of $50,000.00 to pay a “Swingers Club.” Oakley was fired on February 1, 2013, and it is unclear what the outcome of this lawsuit was. The plaintiffs were seeking over $1,000,000 in damages.

In 2018, the parent of a teenager who attended Aspiro sued their insurance company, Aetna, for refusing to cover the cost of the program. This turned into a class action lawsuit against and involved another parent of a teen at Open Sky Wilderness who was also denied converage by Aetna. It is also unclear what the outcome of this lawsuit was.

There have been no formal allegations of abuse or neglect filed against Aspiro as of December 2020.

Survivor/Parent Testimonials

12/26/2020: (SURVIVOR) “I came back for the Aspiro Adventure wilderness therapy program about almost three months ago. I wanted to put out my opinion on the program and its effectiveness and all of that. I was sent there for depression, anxiety, and self-esteem. I was there for nine weeks in the late summer and early fall. I was put in a group ranging form 3 to 7 other people with similar issues. I have very strong opinions on this program and wilderness therapy as a whole because I’ve seen so many people like me go exactly back to the way they were before. Almost every single person there relapsed after a few months, exactly like I did. I may be an extreme case of relapse, but in just the three months I’ve been out, I’ve had severe suicidal thoughts. I attempted a few times about a month ago. My therapist was pretty good, but there was this one therapist that I hated. He was a two-faced dickhead that lied to my parents about me and told them very unpleasant things that I never said to him. He wasn’t my main therapist, but one he participated in the weekly calls that were made to my family. The reason I believe Aspiro and many wilderness programs fail is because it is only just a precursor to more treatment. The program didn’t check in on my progress or my family after I left and it became the same environment that made me so messed up in the first place. 90% of the kids were sent to RTCs or TBS’s after Aspiro because the program didn’t really do much to help. The program and general life quality was pretty decent as wilderness programs are. The website makes it seem like a summer camp though. You’d get up at eight o’clock or something, take meds, wait for one dumbass to get out of their sleeping bag and not be such a lazy shit head, then you’d wait more for that one dumbass, and by the time you actually get started to do something, that one dumbass ruins everything. You can probably tell that I’m bitter about this one dumbass. But in actuality, you’d wake up, eat beans and rice and not much else, go backpacking or mountain biking or some shit up a mountain, and then go to sleep with your toes freezing off while waiting for some kid to finish up their meal. On Tuesday and Wednesday you’d have your therapy sessions that lasted about an hour and a half or so. Considering this was a therapy program, there wasn’t much therapy. On Tuesday you’d go to resupply to get new clothes and food and take a five minute shower. On Wednesday, you’d do this thing called Milan. You’d basically get in a circle and talk about your goals and how you did that week. I had one problem with Milan though. One week someone was having a really bad panic attack and was triggering other people with trauma, except the woman who was leading it, Leigh, kept on drilling the kid that was having the panic attack and wouldn’t let them separate from the group. After Milan ended you’d hear about what wasteland you were going for the week. Then then previous guides would leave and a whole new round of incapable people would lead you around and stuff. Most of the time, the guides had little to no therapy experience so whenever some shit was going down they didn’t really do much. They’d mostly just give a copy and paste “I get that” and not do anything. Because you’d get a new set of guides every week, once you finally got a good one, they’ll be switched out for someone dickhead. This was kind of word vomit so sorry bout that just wanted to say what was on my mind. If you have any questions about more detailed stuff you can ask down below.” – u/EternalFlameBabe (Reddit)

June 2020: (SURVIVOR) “I was sent here as a teen after being diagnosed with autism. I was not put in the group specifically for autistic teens, even though one existed. I experienced gaslighting from my assigned therapist. The therapist was cold & did not listen. When I or other students wrote to our parents about how bad things were at Aspiro, therapists would tell us we were being manipulative & exaggerating things. Students got 1 hour of one-on-one therapy per week. Once, I didn’t even get an hour of therapy because the group was too big & the therapist didn’t have enough time for everyone. There is absolutely no privacy for students. While students go to the bathroom, staff glances over at them periodically to make sure they aren’t running away. Students’ shoes are taken away at night. We slept in a tightly packed row with staff at both ends (and sometimes one in the middle). All of our things were searched through by staff each week. We weren’t allowed to keep coins we found on the ground, maps from rest stops, or even pebbles. During the search, staff would skim our journals. Art or writing deemed inappropriate was torn out, and/or the therapist would scold the writer in group therapy. Students in all-female or all-male groups were not allowed to speak to members of the opposite gender. Entry-level staff have the most interaction with students, even though most of them are just out of college and have no mental health training. They are not paid well and work long hours (week-long, 24/7 shifts.) There was severe bullying among students, and staff barely lifted a finger to stop it. One student was bullied so much that he almost completely stopped talking, & staff watched it all happen & barely scolded the bullies, in the interest of “not taking sides”. I have many more complaints, but this review would fill a book if I included them all.” – Neal (Google Reviews)

5/4/2020: (SURVIVOR) “i went to Aspiro in Utah on April 29th 2019 until July 17th 2019 ( i live in london so i flew with my london therapist and we both didn’t know what was happening) when i was 15 years old and it was fucking hell but i met some legit people who are still my homies . but it was fucking hell and my wilderness therapist Leigh was a stupid fucker who stuffed her face with food during therapy sessions (it was wilderness and we couldn’t have outside food so that was a selfish bitch move) and was always on her phone while our parents paid over 60 k for shitty therapy. and i have hella trust issues. and i didn’t get better and wilderness didn’t help me because now im down to do drugs and im more reckless . and i got involved with drug dealers again which is one of the reasons i got sent. oh and also during my stay they decided i was crazy and i got sent to a place for a week where they drugged me up on pills i didn’t even know i was taking but then i got sent back to wilderness a week later where even more fucked up shit went down that i cant even talk about fuck my life up xxx. And when i arrived at the airport, i said goodbye to my therapist who just flew out with me and she headed back to london. And when i first stepped out of the airport once i got to Utah i was taken in a car with two transporters and then i was told it was wilderness (i was told that i would be given a test to see which place was right for me , i was never told i was going to wilderness) and i was like hell to the fuck no and i was taken to an huge ass intake room with a tiny shack ass changing room and they told me to get changed into their ugly clothes so i pulled a fat 5 hour refusal and slept on the floor while they couldn’t touch me haha stupid fuckers. And then i got cold so i changed out of my clothes ( my tits were literally hanging out and the waistband of my g string was on show, as well as my stomach because i liked to express myself by dressing like a hoe even though im far from it) and i refused to put on their “std covered granny panties” so i wore my own bra and panties (big mistake, there was metal on my thong and it hurt like hell and my bra was a huge ass pushup bra that felt like hell to sleep in so i freed the nips for the next day) but little did i know they would strip search and metal detector me because i was “dangerous” and i was standing there in a bra with my tits out and my ass out because of my g string while there were multiple men watching this search get done and im like i don’t care you can look but when i get out if here im telling everyone you guys are creeps and its not like it was the first dude to see me in my underwear so ha ha , and then they took away my vape which i was hella pissed about because my parents knew i vaped and were the ones that brought me it and supported my nicotine addiction financially) and i got into the dreaded fucking white van and they kept on asking me what music i liked so i was like rap and rock like lil uzi or something like slayer and shit and they put fucking slayer on and i was trying to sleep and i slept the whole drive and refused to eat my last meal because i was so traumatized i thought they poisoned me (huge motherfucking mistake because that was the last good meal i would get for 3 months) and then we arrived at the base camp first camp shack really late because of the fat refusal i pulled and i met everybody and some of them were pretty cool. It was like 12 at night so we went to sleep and i was out like a light. i woke up the next morning and i actually looked at people because i couldn’t really see anyone at night because it was dark and it was all good. and then we did hygiene and washed our hands in a fucking circle because you do everything in a fucking circle apparently and then there was a dude who kept on taking about how his sperm was the most amazing sperm in the ballsack and this was my first impression of him and i won’t ever forget it because it was so fucking funny even though i tried so hard not to laugh because i was new and felt odd. he said way more shit haha like shit about stripper poles and yeah. i think he got sent to juvie after wilderness thats what people told me anyway. dude if ur out there, you were hella funny. But in all seriousness because this is pretty serious, being sent away has taught me nothing apart from the fact that no child, or adolescent deserves this kind of abuse. Or any fucking abuse. Being gooned at three in the moring sounds like hell. Total hell. Being lied to in my case, brought me more issues than I could possibly decipher. Being completely dehumanized and trapped to the point of thinking about the end for more than 15 hours a day is complete insanity. If you are reading this and you are a parent thinking of sending your child away, dont do it. Find another way to make things okay, or if its way past that stage, ask them what they want. Talk to them. Being sent away to a place like aspiro will either brainwash you, or make you worse.” – u/rebecca2nonoo (Reddit)

Related Media

Aspiro Website Homepage

HEAL Program Information – Aspiro

Aspiro Group, Inc. filed a lawsuit against former president & co-owner Charles Randall Oakley, citing scandalous allegations of misconduct, conspiracy, misappropriation of funds, and mismanagement of company funds. (8/10/2013)

Aetna Class Action Challenges Wilderness Therapy Coverage Denials (6/22/2018)

HEAL Email Exchange with Brian Church of Aspiro

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