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At first Moreland managed to keep her mom and stepdad in the dark. But then came the mood swings. She dropped out of school, fought constantly with her mother and ran away from home for weeks on end. When Beth Roussel found a bag of pot in her daughter's purse, she sent Aimee to rehab.
"I thought it was strange," explains Roussel, adding that she came to Crossroads as a last resort after taking Aimee to other drug counselors. "These were a bunch of counselors who looked barely older than my daughter. They dressed just like her, they were all chain smoking, cussing. But you're desperate, so you think: Whatever works."
At age eighteen, Aimee Moreland is a diminutive young woman with pale skin, hazel eyes and shoulder-length blond hair. On an unseasonably warm day in March, she and her mother have opted for an indoor bar table at a Houlihan's in Carbondale, Illinois. Over salads, grilled chicken sandwiches and cigarettes, Moreland recalls her first Crossroads support-group meeting.
"There were tons of people there that were my age. I had, like, 30 people coming up to me saying, 'Oh hi! What's your name?' They're, like, hugging me, saying, my name is blah-blah-blah, asking me what kind of drugs I did. Everybody gathered around me, and they're, like -- everything I did was, like, so awesome, and, like, my clothes were awesome, and my hair was awesome.
"I was kind of freaked out," says Moreland. "They all wanted to talk to me, and I thought: At least I'm not in the hospital."
Before she awoke the following morning, Moreland says, she'd received several messages from group members. "They were, like: We're going to play capture the flag," she says. When Moreland declined the invitation explaining that she lived in Illinois and didn't have a car, the group members persisted: They'd pick her up. Within a few days, she was hooked. She quickly adopted the Crossroads lifestyle, going to meetings, staying out late and attending social functions. Still, problems at home persisted. Soon after entering the group, Moreland ran away.
Distressed, her mother called a Crossroads counselor for advice. "They said it would be really awesome if I let her go and not question her, not give her a time to come home. They said as long as she's with Crossroads kids, she'll be fine. And they said, 'Give her some money,'" Roussel recalls.
That wasn't all.
"The counselor set it up so Aimee had another place to live," says Roussel. "They basically found a host family for her to stay with. They explained to us that if she's over in Illinois, she'd have her old friends around; if she's living in St. Louis, she'll be able to get to the meetings. We were so drained from all the drama with her that it seemed like a very good option."
Citing the confidential nature of the program, Frank Szachta declined to open Crossroads meetings to the Riverfront Times. But interviews with dozens of current and former clients and counselors confirm that Moreland's initial experience is typical of the program.
"When you're new to the group, they treat you like you're the best thing in the world," says Bailey La Cour, a former client who left Crossroads six months ago after a two-and-a-half-year run. "They leave gifts and posters that say 'I Love You' on your doorstep. Everybody's giving you hugs, wanting to give you rides, wanting to hang out with you."
La Cour, who at eighteen is tall and willowy with long red hair, was a member of Crossroads' steering committee, a troupe of charismatic clients that facilitates discussion during support-group meetings. "The thing I was really good at was recruiting. Whenever new people came in, the counselors would always put them in my car. I would always stay with the new girl. I'd always hang out with the new guy," La Cour says. "I think that's the reason that kids get so drawn in: Because you go there and you see all these pretty girls and cute guys, and they're all in the newest clothes, and they all are smoking and swearing -- and it's okay."
"The group would call it reaching out," says Szachta, who describes Crossroads as a treatment center that offers a free support group. "Is it part of the program? Yes. But is it a forced, like, 'Now what you need to do is make them feel welcome'? No. It's a natural thing that happens if you're in a group that's trying to get sober."
Szachta's characterization differs from that of many former counselors, who say the group's free support-group meetings double as an intake mechanism for Crossroads' $7,000 intensive outpatient treatment program.
"We'll throw a bunch of hot chicks at [a new kid] to kind of suck him in. This happens all the time," says Mike Trapani, a former Crossroads counselor who left the group early last year. "Then we'll go to the parents and say: 'Hey, did you know your kid's doing this, this and this?' And the parents go: 'Oh my God! I had no idea!' And we're, like, 'Pretty much your kid needs [outpatient] treatment, or it's just going to get worse, your kid will probably end up dying."
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