Luke Pryjma: A place where trauma is released


GREAT BARRINGTON >> I am Maureen Pryjma's son. She is the clinical director at Eagleton. She started working at Eagleton after the 1995 tornado tragedy. She came at a time of trauma — a staff and student died, the grounds were damaged, trees all around were leveled.

Now Eagleton is in a new tragedy. Staff have been accused of abuse.

I worked at Eagleton up until this summer for the Unify program which my mother and father, who was a consulting psychiatrist, started. In the beginning the Unify program also involved my sister, two brothers and even my cousin at one point.

Unifying families

Unify started because my parents felt Eagleton could be better. Students were doing their internal work. They were being asked at a very young age what is important to them and why. They were heading back to communities and families, if they had families, who weren't a part of this growth. Unify was created to bring the families and the students together to allow for the integration of the students' growth and connect families.

Unify is a weekend a month where one dorm had their family or those they could depend on come to Eagleton. The relatives or support persons stay in a hotel. On Saturday morning all the dorm's students, staff and family gathered in the gym. We sat in a circle. We shared who we are and where we are from. We posed questions: "If you could not fail at something what would you do?" "If you had one wish what would it be?" "If you could meet and talk with someone past, present or future who would it be? Why?"

From there the rest of the weekend involved singing together with Vicky True, riding horses together with Brian, learning about nature with me, playing basketball together, eating together, going bowling and playing adventure-based counseling games to promote connection. It was a place for vulnerability, honesty and playfulness.

On Saturday evening, my mom would guide us through a group discussion of each student's strengths. Beforehand the students had met with their clinicians. They answered questions like, "What does the world need more of and why?" "Has Eagleton helped you?, and if so, why?"

Students also shared artwork they had been making, raps and poems, and most importantly the trust and support they were developing with their peers. It was hard for me to hold back the tears when families would admit how scared they were that their son was never going to get better, and here they were doing it.

I worked at Unify for five years. I saw students come in and be resistant to the process. Months later, I saw those same students take a brave chance on finding support in their fellow students and staff. I was inspired at how young these students were to begin developing the "why" to life. The "why" was often about connection and an honesty for their current situation. It was powerful to hear a 13-year-old talking about his reality and still wanting to go forward with sharing his life with others.

The system is not perfect. I left Eagleton because I felt it asked too much of me. I felt it was too hard for me to be delicate around the trauma of others.

From what we see in the paper we get the idea that the system is not perfect in a much worse way. I am not here to deny that overuse of force may occur. Eagleton is a place where our society puts its trauma. We hope it is a place where that trauma can find peace and release gently. That is not always the case.

However, during Unify, I never saw one incident of abuse. What I saw was staff and my mother working extra long hours to foster connection where connection has been in too short supply. My mom would come back from work on Sunday around midnight sometimes because she was driving the family of students back to New York City, Hartford or Baltimore. My mom would share stories of how much more she learned about these families on their car rides, how intricate, sad and strong their stories were.

My mom is 70 this year. She works longer hours than anyone I know. I have seen her clean a bathroom in preparation for Unify, I have seen her serve food, I have seen her gather the spirit of a shy student to help him share what he loves in front of his family. I don't know any other person who is dedicated like she is dedicated.

Many share dedication

Sadly, I think Eagleton will close. Admissions to the school may never be the same. Regardless of what happens, I know my mom isn't alone in her dedication to the school. She may have set the tone but others followed. Brian, Leo, Haley, Vicky, Mike and many others, though they might not have worked as many hours as my mom, they did bring a delicate peace to the school which complimented my mom's enthusiasm nicely.

All I ask of you, my community, is that you allow this one other view of Eagleton to sit with other views you have of it. I have had many experiences there where I have seen kids with trauma in their life. They have allowed it to be their reality and they have found or developed tools to live with it better through Eagleton. I have been inspired by this.


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