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Letter

My name is Michael Minton and I was a student at Montana Academy (MA) from May of 2010 to August of 2012. Now I know that MA is probably a different place now, but since the State of Montana has not inspected these types of facilities since 2010, my story falls on the timeline of no regulation.

I don't think that this will honestly get anywhere, but feel free to ask John or Rosemary McKinnon, or John or Carol Santa about Michael Minton — the problems I caused or the impact I had on them — and I'm sure they'll remember.

I was sent to Montana Academy exclusively for my behavior problems. I had never done drugs, never smoked pot, never drank alcohol. I was a very violent 15-year-old, getting into fights everyday, both physical and verbal, failing all my classes, destroying my mother's home, having only one friend, becoming involved with gangs and, after have just been kicked out of my second school, my father took me to Second Nature Blue Ridge, where I spent three months.

I was planning on dropping out of school at 18 and joining the military, but after three months in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I was flown from Atlanta, to Denver, to Kalispell, which was followed by 28 months at MA.

As of leaving in August of 2012, I was either the longest stay or the second-longest stay at the ranch off Lost Prairie Road.

Earth clan, the first phase of the program, takes two months typically for new students just for them to get their bearings and get adjusted to the life on the ranch. It took me eight months.

I have been on social isolation (meals alone, sleep alone, no contact with anybody) more than 15, maybe 20-plus times. I have well over 200-plus hours of drudgery work. Any and every restriction that they've had, I've been on it. Grades were read aloud at the end of the week and teachers give out behavior ratings as well, and all mine were at the bottom of the scale. I always tested the limit, and I knew which buttons to push, and I knew how to get under people's skin. There was nothing positive I was contributing to the community, my team and myself. I remember after reaching my seven-month mark, they were debating kicking me out.

Yet I look back on Montana Academy as the most important experience of my life. Probably the hardest experience of my life, but it was what cultivated the foundation for who I am today. And I wouldn't be here at all if any one of those adults, whether my therapist or team leader, my teachers, had lost faith in me. Even though I would not learn and continue to do bad things that I knew were bad, they never lost faith in me.

Montana Academy helped me develop social skills, and how to empathize and relate with the people around me and have compassion for them. Hands down, the best thing about Montana Academy is the community it builds. Not only within the whole school, but also in the on-campus teams. The boys that were on my team at the time were some of my best friends, and my closest confidants. Some of the people I met there are people are now some of my closest adult friends, some of whom I talk to every day.

Montana Academy was a place where I couldn't run from myself or my excuses. Everyday was another hard look at myself to who I was, and what I wanted to be.

Montana showed me my passion for the outdoors, music, and a kind of solidarity within myself that I have never experience in the 15 years of my life leading up to my time in Marion, Montana. A type of solidarity that I hold close to my heart.

Now to be honest, there were probably a lot of people there who had lost any scrap of faith in me, but the people who mattered the most important to me and my life on the ranch kept believing in me and the belief they had for me is the backbone of all my success that I am attaining now, not only in my relationships, but also in academia and in my industry. It has allowed me to find out my passions and allowed me to chase my dreams, and I haven't ever felt so grateful in my entire life.

I lost my best friend growing up last year to a drug overdose. He was the greatest friend I ever had and was the only person who was my friend before Montana Academy. We spent all of our time together, and if it wasn't for Montana Academy, I'd would've probably be lying in a grave next to him.

Montana Academy doesn't work for everybody, and it can't save everybody, but somehow it worked for me, someone who was doomed to be an catastrophic failure, not only in the program, but in life as well.

I am in no way a journalist, but in a world right now where journalistic integrity is of the utmost importance, I thought that it was important to tell another side of this story.

Peace and love,

Michael Minton,

Nashville, Tennessee

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