The harrowing true story behind ‘Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare’
(Credit: Netflix)

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The harrowing true story behind ‘Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare’

The Netflix documentary Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare, directed by Liza Williams, sheds light on the Challenger Foundation. The teen therapy camp promised to reform youth through rigorous physical and mental training but instead ended up abusing and causing the death of many.

In the harsh Utah desert, “out-of-control” teens from across America were sent to a therapy camp that would become a scarring nightmare for them all. The conditions were brutal, but as the documentary reveals, the staff’s actions were even worse.

In 2020, Paris Hilton unveiled her documentary This is Paris, where she opened up about her own harrowing stay at one of Utah’s harsh therapy camps. Hilton was sent to Provo Canyon School, where she was routinely abused.

Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare explores the ordeals that took place at the Challenger Foundation and what happened to founder Steve Cartisano.

What is the true story behind Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare?

Founded in 1988 by Steve Cartisano, the Challenger Foundation aimed to guide “troubled” teens through challenges using a boot camp-style program set in the Utah wilderness. At a cost of $15,900 for a 63-day program, the Challenger Foundation attracted attention, even from celebrities, with its promise of turning disorderly kids into well-disciplined individuals.

However, beneath the surface of this seemingly benevolent program lay a darker reality. Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare exposes a pattern of systemic abuse and manipulation, with former participants recounting tales of physical and emotional torment. Shockingly, the story takes a tragic turn with the death of 16-year-old Kristen Chase, who was sent to the camp in the hopes of a better future.

Former attendees allege that children were dragged through the wilderness, tied to trees, denied basic hygiene, and starved. One person who spoke about her experience in the documentary confided that the worst thing about her experience at the camp was the harsh reality that her own parents did this to her.

What happened to Challenger founder Steve Cartisano?

Steve Cartisano, born on August 15th, 1955, was a retired Air Force instructor and military special forces officer from Modesto, California. In 1988, he founded the Challenger Foundation and specialised in wilderness survival programs for disobedient teens. 

Over the years, Cartisano faced legal challenges, including counts of negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, and breach of contract. In the aftermath of these revelations, the Challenger Foundation faced scrutiny, and Cartisano’s legacy remains tainted with allegations of abuse.

The legal battles intensified between August 1989 and November 1993, leading to several civil lawsuits. On May 28th, 1992, Cartisano and the Challenger Foundation were acquitted of five negligent homicide charges and nine misdemeanour counts of child abuse. Despite the acquittal, Cartisano expressed the economic devastation he faced and questioned who would provide for his family.

On May 4th, 2019, Cartisano was 63 when he passed away from a heart attack at his Durant, Oklahoma, home after battling stage four colon cancer for six or seven years.

Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare serves as a stark reminder of the hidden horrors that unfolded within the confines of the Utah wilderness, where at-risk teens sought help but found themselves trapped.

You can watch Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare on Netflix and catch the trailer here: