Steve Smiths standard release form from Cal Farleys. Photograph: Steve Smith
When he committed a minor infraction not long after, Martins female dorm parent ordered him to jump in a trash can and scrub it in freezing weather.
When you put a little kid whos been tortured inside a trash can, upside down, and make it like a little prison cell and have him scrub You know, you got these tiny little holes at the top just to let a little light in, youre scared, youre freezing, you know?
Cargill says that his dorm parent would also encourage other boys to administer physical punishment. I saw him hit two boys with his fist and then tell the rest of the dorm, You better finish what I started or its all gonna happen to you.
So I watched as they literally beat these two guys half to death, and me and another guy tried to intervene. We didnt get beat up as bad, but we got beat up.
Cargill says their only crime is they were gay. Which, thats not my place to judge, or my place to punish.
Steve Smith remembers his helplessness while his brother was beaten mercilessly. A staff member did it. I heard Rick screaming at the top of his lungs so I ran down there. I looked into his room and the guy was beating the hell out of him with a belt. My brother didnt even have clothes on, just his underwear. He was screaming and begging and I couldnt do anything.
Afterwards, Ricks nervousness at being at the ranch led to a pattern of behavior that only led to more beatings.
I pissed the bed till I was probably 10, and for that they beat the hell out of me till I bled, he says.
Bill Varnado, who was there at the same time as Steve Smith, says you really didnt have to get in trouble for them to beat the hell out of you. Normally, he says, they used a belt, but as you got older they used their fists on boys.
Joe Stroud, who was there in the 1980s, says the ethos of punishment at Cal Farleys went all the way from how people treated themselves, down to how people treated animals, to how people treat anything. It was a culture of violence.
Its not that I dont believe it, its just that its past
Janet Heimlich, a former journalist, now runs a nonprofit in Austin called the Child-Friendly Faith Project. Through her work and in a book, she has worked to expose religious groups that abuse children. I am always in search of faith-based organizations that are really great, she says.
When she first wrote about Cal Farleys, she used it as an example of best practices in youth care. She still maintains that currently Cal Farleys appears to be in keeping with modern and humane standards of childcare, and says they run a flagship program for cutting-edge child therapy.
In 2015, after she published a laudatory post about Carl Farleys on her blog, Steve Smith left comments. He wrote about the constant abuse, and the beating meted out to Rick. Alarmed by what she was reading, Heimlich got in touch with Adams, the ranch CEO.
I asked Dan, Is what this guy is saying true? He said, Yes. But were evolved.
Heimlich decided to help Steve talk it out with Adams.
Their first conversation was a two-and-a-half-hour meeting on 23 March this year, which Heimlich attended as an observer via Skype. She observed that Adamss attitude to Smith was sympathetic. We were both blown away with what Steve was telling us. Every so often Dan would reach out and touch Steves shoulder.
On 7 and 8 April, the three of them met in Amarillo, first at a coffee shop, and then the next morning for breakfast. At this point, she started to become concerned about how the ranch was going to deal with Smiths allegations.
I thought that meeting was his opportunity to say, Heres what were going to do, but I was getting nothing from him.
At breakfast, she presented a draft letter suggesting the approach Cal Farleys could take. These included investigating allegations of abuse, setting up a fund for survivors medical needs, and ensuring that information on their website and in their marketing material was truthful and not misleading.
Adams, she says, was uncomfortable. Most of all, he was resistant to the idea of going public with any it. He thought that involving the media would not bring the men the healing they were looking for, she says.
At the same meeting, Adams told Heimlich that the ranch was planning to name a new dorm after Lamont Waldrip.
For survivors, she says, it was a slap in the face.
In conversation with the Guardian, Adams acknowledged that abuses had occurred in the past, but also reaffirmed his stance.
I cant deny Steve or anybody else their experience, he said. When asked if the behavior of staff at the time sounded like abuse, he responded, absolutely, no doubt about it. But he stressed that practices had changed, including the phasing out of corporal punishment since he took over in 1996.
I knew Lamont. And there are guys today that had very different experiences with Lamont and admired and liked him. In his early days, I think he probably was way over his head in terms of knowing how to deal with all those kids any time you have a system thats scantily staffed, and not trained, abuse happens.
Adams has no plans to change the dedication of the new building.
I do think when it comes to honoring founders or former employees, thats a collective thing, thats bigger than me, its not arbitrary. I think [a public apology] can be disruptive, because Ive got 260 kids out there that were working very well with, and we have a lot of younger people whose experience has been good at Boys Ranch, and a lot of families that count on us.
I dont say its hearsay and I dont deny it. Its not that I dont believe it, its just that its past.
I want somebody to stand up and say, Hey, Im frickin sorry
The men the Guardian spoke to say they have carried the scars of this experience for decades, as well as a sense that their lives have been misshapen by their time there. Many talked about extensive substance abuse, suicide attempts,
and incarceration among alumni.
Bill Varnado wants to be very clear that theyre not looking for any monetary deal out of this. What we would like is an apology from those people for treating us the way they treated us.
Martin asks: What did Boys Ranch take from me? I dont know. My sense of security, my sense of self, my sense of being comfortable in my own skin.
Arnold Wells says hes still not sure hes an adapted person in adulthood. It got ingrained into me for a period of five years that violence fixes everything, he says.
Ed Cargill says: I want somebody to grow a pair of balls, stand up and say, Hey, Im frickin sorry.
For all the abuse Rick Smith endured, he is more concerned to talk about his brother, and the years it took him to live down what happened to him, and to get past his drinking and anger.
Let me tell you, hes just so proud he didnt let it get him down. Because it was for a while, and he overcame a lot. He was headed for the wrong, wrong place.
Hes skeptical that they will ever receive an apology. Its not gonna happen. Because they are committed to the hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank. Theyre committed to that.
And because of this lack of closure, he also doubts he and his brother will ever get over it.
Steve and I will die. Well go to our grave and Ill guarantee you itll be one of the things we think about when we take that last breath: how they got away with it.