I am angry and sad, disgusted, grateful and happy. So what led me to be this twitching mass of emotions? My past. Old wounds long ago scabbed over and faded are suddenly brought to light. Burning sun on Mercury light. Yesterday I unearthed a message that was buried in the not yet friends message folder in Facebook. It was waiting there for three weeks.
It was from a lovely women living in another continent who stumbled upon my humble blog. She was enthusiastic in her message to me, a total stranger, because we shared a common teenage horror. We were each sent to “The Family” in Long Eddy NY in 1984 when we were 15 years old. We were not there at the same time but our experiences had some unfortunate overlap.
I have written about “The Family” before in some of my posts which describe my first year of sobriety. Here’s where they come in to play in my story if you are so inclined, https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/05/02/1-out-of-37-part-4/ it was a horrible place to say the least and not something I think about often. Of course now that it has been revisited, I find myself in investigative mode and the stuff under the rocks is pretty gross. Think contender for Dante’s 10th circle of hell and you’d be getting warmer, much warmer.
Tony Argiros and his wife Betty ran “The Family” when I was there in January of 1984.I’m not sure how long they were in the group home/work farm business at that point but I found some testimonials that go back to 1979. I suppose they tweaked their sadistic craft over the course of several years and decided that they were so fabulous at wrecking lives that they ought to expand their services.
My new online friend informed me that Tony and Betty Argiros founded The Family Foundation School in Hancock, NY. According to Wikipedia The Family Foundation School was established in 1984. In googling the school’s name I came across a website http://www.thefamilyschooltruth.com/Home.html whose sole purpose was to get the place shut down. They sought testimonials from alumni, parents and staff. After a 5 year battle, they were successful and ultimately the place shut down. The Family Foundation School, later known as the Allynwood Academy closed in 2014.
Sadly, in the time that they were open, hundreds, if not thousands of lives were forever altered. I’ll toss a bone Tony’s way and suggest that perhaps a handful of kids were helped along the way. And I say that knowing the ends do not always justify the means. Based on the testimonials that I read, the school shared some common traits with it’s precursor group home “The Family”.
Both places had a strict blackout period during which residents could not even communicate with their parents. Pro tip, if a place says your kid can’t talk to you for 3 months, that’s a red flag. They shared a focus on breaking down the individual. They did this by removing all personal belongings, providing unfamiliar clothes, cutting hair in a severe manner and horrid meal times where staff and residents would select targets for humiliation and degradation. With the added bonus of sleep deprivation and physical labor to the point of exhaustion.I honestly don’t know how some of these kids made it, some where there 3 or 4 years. To top it off many of the alumni complained they never finished school due to excessive punishment or manual labor. It was supposed to be a school….shouldn’t the academics come first?
Imagine if Jim Jones opened a school except there’s no Kool-Aid. Just a steady barrage of soul shattering punishments, isolation and humiliation. The founders loosely based the school on a 12 step program and inserted their own brand of insane diabolical fundamentalist values. The result was disastrous.
Read the words of the alumni testimonials. Visualize for yourself what these teenagers endured, some for several years. I only spent a month or so during my incarceration at the family farm and in that time I ran away twice. I was successful the second time. Others tried to runaway from the school or the farm. One kid was killed by an 18 wheeler in his desperate attempt to flee the farm. Many attempts were made at the school and at one point they used search and rescue dogs to retrieve the escapees. Another student killed himself by jumping off a second story balcony. During my time I fantasized about breaking a leg just to go to the hospital. I even had a failed attempt at burning the place down. I understand their pain and I want to tell their stories.
Today I spoke with another survivor, she lived at The Family Foundation School for 993 days. I can only imagine what she endured there. It would likely include a daily barrage of yelling, demeaning confrontations, sexual misconduct and/or abuse, violent physical altercations, forced to eat foods that may cause an allergic reaction or be against religious beliefs, squalor, back breaking physical labor and punishments for imagined misdemeanors. Oh and by the way a large chunk of students that attended this pay as you go private “therapeutic school”, never even earned their High School Diploma. Many students spent so much time in some form of punishment – for example, being wrapped in a blanket with duct tape around it, sometimes for days while they soiled themselves, sitting in a corner staring at a wall for endless hours because you wouldn’t say you were an alcoholic or admit to some horrendous deed that your house leader insists you did (even when you didn’t). I’ve read the testimonies of the alumni and it is heartbreaking.
My new friend keeps a memorial page for the alumni of the FFS that have passed away. She just posted condolences for #93. That is the 93rd known alumni to die. This school was opened for approximately 30 years and the oldest alumni would be under 50 years old. I’m not sure how many teens went through the school in the time it was open but that seems like a lot of deaths. Sadly, a high percentage of these people have passed away from suicide. I’m sure others have died from complications of drug and alcohol abuse. Some of the students had no prior alcohol or drug use before they got to FFS and when they got out they found it nearly impossible to blend into the real world, many started to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Please keep this mind if you know someone looking for a school setting for a “troubled teen”. There are so many organizations that currently exist that are every bit as horrible as FFS. They are scattered across the country as therapeutic schools or teen wilderness programs. I realize that there are many troubled teens that need help….I implore you to do a thorough search when considering these residential situations. It is not enough to read reviews on the facility or agency website. You need to do your own search with county and state agencies, see if there are complaints, seek out alumni that have nothing to lose from being candid. Insist on being able to communicate with your loved one on a consistent basis with some level of privacy. Trust your instincts, if the place seems off, don’t risk it, keep searching.