Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)




Clay H

My name is Clay and I was sent to the Family Foundation School when I was 16 years old. I was there in 2003-4. What helped me remember that was that I spent my 17th birthday in the corner. In the corner means that every room you enter you must take a chair a face it into a corner, removing your shoes. “The Corner” is one of the most common disciplinary tactics at the Family Foundation School. These disciplinary tactics are referred to as “Sanctions” used to address certain behaviors (perceived, real, fabricated or real) that staff, and eventually one’s peers would point out.
Note: How important it is to go into detail is only measured by my attempt to be completely accurate.

One sits in the corner during meals (while the rest of the “family” sits at long dining tables arranged in a U formation, with the family leaders sitting at the bottom (or in terms of social hierarchy, the head) of the U. The school, when I attended was divided into 7 and eventually 8 Families. I was in Family Two, lead primarily by Mike and Roxi Lossico, and also by Rita and her husband Dave, and Kevin. There were other staff but these four were primary leaders. Kevin sometimes brought his son to school on Sundays (or Saturdays?). Kevin had a husky, intimidating voice and was also a smart guy. I actually sort of admired him, even after he ripped a chair from beneath me, and dragged me, by the back of my shirt across the dining floor and threw me outside against the outdoor lockers into “Exile,” a more extreme sanction. He had told me to leave the chair and when I refused, I was dragged and left crumpled on the floor. Maybe I admired him, too, because I could tell he liked a lot of the same music I did, although most music was forbidden, and had to be provided by staff and generally had a Christian touch.

I should start at the beginning, I am realizing. I was told I was going to “look at a Catholic school” by my family. I remember being happy at the thought of going to boarding school- I had already been to one in 9th grade. My family removed me from that place (called the Hyde School) because I guess I wasn’t getting “better” from depression and also because there were scandals that came to the surface near the end of the school year that involved over half the student body, some staff and even alluded to involvement by the Principal. So anyways, things at home were so dark and gloomy.

Although my parents might have described me to the Family School as “out of control” I had had five serious suicide attempts up until that point, my mother had threatened suicide in front of me, and there had been numerous accounts of physical abuse of the side of my parents. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) had been involved and the closed a case after my first psychiatric hospitalization when I unwittingly told, upon being asked, that my father had punched and kicked me and my mother, too, had physically and verbally assaulted me. At the time, I had no idea that this was abusive or unusual- I thought I was just bad and deserved to be punished.

So, like I said, the idea of getting out of there promised a relief from an increasingly traumatic, angry, hostile home environment. I do no mean to paint my family as evil persons- I, too, kicked and screamed and used profanities. I was on probation as a “Youth at Risk.” I was smoking pot, and taking any sort of medication I could find to snort. Anything to resist feeling the pain. Although my tactics were wilder than other family members, we all had our ways of numbing ourselves. My mother, father, sister and I were all on various psychiatric medications! I include these details because I feel like it’s important that the reader not be confused about any situation when one family member is sent away and identified as, “the problem.” In most cases, this child has become a scapegoat, or even intentionally taken on that role, in the relationship of energy that is called a Family Unit. Often in abusive relationships the roles of Victim/Abuser flip flop and become blurry.

So, when I arrived there, I immediately felt negative vibes. It’s vague, but I distinctly remember how, when greeted by Roxi I was sort of cold and rude to her. I was never like this with strangers, but I almost surprised myself then with how unwilling I was to share any energy with her. I still thought we were visiting a school until I asked to use the bathroom and was shown into the locker room by Roxi and saw various bags of luggage from my home and about 4 or five women (including two students) waiting for me and blocking the door behind me. I was then informed that I was at the Family Foundation School and I would be here for a minimum of 18 months and that I would be able to make a phone call to my family after one month. I later learned that it is at this point that some students try to bolt- run away, but I remember going into uncontrollable hysterics at several points.

They unzipped my luggage and went through it all- leaving me with a small amount of clothing they deemed appropriate. Everything else- Journals, photos, jewelry etc was discarded. I asked where my parents were, and they said they had left. I was told to get naked and they would perform a strip search and de- lice-ing powder was to stay on my body for 15 minutes and a delice-ing shampoo. Rachel Knutson was my shadow. For the first 6 months of residency at the FFS (henceforth I will use this abbreviation to mean the Family Foundation School of Hancock, NY) a new student must be shadowed at ALL TIMES by a peer. This means you are never more than a foot from your shadow and visa versa. This means 24 hours a day. It sounds impossible. It is, actually. If your class schedule varied, your shadow would have to run like hell to be at the door of your classroom sometime between the first and second bell (which was a three minute interval, making this a great challenge for those students who were shadows). I remember some of those more senior students getting reprimanded (though reamed is a better term) for being late for their shadow- but Holy cow! it was an almost impossible task!

So, crying and hysterics passed and it was time for me to meet the family! I was escorted to the dining room and living room of notorious family two. Mike Lassicco asked me if I knew why I was there. I don’t remember my response, but he told me I would have time to think about it while I memorized 14 prayers and the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous that I was to recite in front of the family two weeks from that day. He said I would have to get up everyday until I had memorized. During that time, too, I was to write a “Dishonesty List.” I remember my shadow going over it with me, encouraging me to “dig deeper” and uncover greater depths of my dishonesty. I can’t remember why, but I made a list that was much worse than reality. It is amazing to read that other students did the same and how they understand their motives to do so, but I can’t remember myself. I feel I sort of blocked out a lot of my emotions and even situations as they were occurring in reality because it is and was traumatic, although some natural physical ones sometimes swept over me (like weeping or crying or feeling extremely tired).

Rachel was sort of goofy. I liked her. She was a favorite of Mike and Roxi. She was definitely brainwashed- I remember immediately knowing there was something wrong about the way she was talking to me- like she knew me exactly, like all my life could fit into the stories she’s read about in the Big Book or the seven deadly sins. But she was convincing as hell, and her personality was vivacious- she had spirit and a sense of humor she showed me secretly. I was there probably around 6 months before I ever heard her really abused verbally by Mike and Roxi. This was probably harder for her, because she had built up such a sort of awe of them and had been used to being their right hand man, so to speak. Does that make sense- Why the abuse was worse for her because she sort of loved them like parents so all their feedback went very deep in her? Well, that’s what I think now anyways.

I remember her crying as they berated her for something. I think I cried just seeing her like that- it was terrible. I remember thinking that they were doing this to test her somehow, like they really were searching for something to pick on- some stupid, minute mistake- anything at all- tardiness or something. If you got up at the table (standing at the open end of the U) and cried in admission of anything you were likely to be praised. If you admitted you were a sinner and begged to be shown the way to light, you were reprimanded for principals sake, but they were happier with you. But you really had to convince them, and whether or not you could do this seemed to be luck.

Yesterday I was hitchhiking home. I had spent three days backpacking in the Rockies (I live in the mountains outside of Boulder, Colorado) and whaddya know? a Catholic priest stopped for me. I got in the car, and I saw the collar. He asked me, "Are you Catholic?" I told him no, I am a Buddhist. He asked me about when I converted (in Buddhism that roughly translates to "Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha") and I told him it was after a month long meditation retreat.

He asked how my parents felt about that. I told him I grew up in the Episcopal church, and that they both attended seven days of the retreat to better understand what I was up to. He asked me if I had been burned, or why I had left the church. At first I told him that even though we went to church regularly, I had the most painful, dysfunctional family and the church was never there to support us. I told him that I was never taught about prayer in church. And then, I thought of the Family School. I don’t usually go into much detail when I tell people about it. I just say it was a “bad place, very abusive, for example they deprived kids of food, and wrapped them in blankets with duct tape for long periods of time.” I told him, too, that we (I believe this was an exclusive Family Two routine) were forced on our knees twice a day for a timed period (5-10 minutes) to pray. We had a chapel service everyday and a longer Mass on Sundays.

I remember Mike telling a young man, whose name is Sam Pettinatto (I think this is close to his last name) that it was really too bad he was born a Jew. I told the priest that Buddhism had provided tools to work with suffering and find inner peace. I told him I was considering taking monastic vows and the first question he asked is, “You want to be celibate?” I didn’t mention to him that the only two sex offenders I have personally known (besides those who sexually abused and raped me- more to come on that) were both respected figures in the church- one was my choir director and the other was a minister who was leading a Presbyterian Relief camp in Mississippi after Katrina. The choir directed was imprisoned after child pornography was found on his computer. I was using the minister’s computer myself (with his permission) when I found huge folders of downloaded child pornography.

One young man came to the school and boy, he was ANGRY about it. They sort of painted him and treated him like a stupid thug. He did dress sort of thuggish, but wow, they really abused him physically- like over the top ramming his whole body (two large men) against a wall of metal lockers. They locked him in this tiny room with a bunch of padlocks on the outside. It sort of looked like an old closet that had been carpeted on all sides. I guess I guarded it, because I remember him kicking it so hard he almost broke the locks off! WOOOOO! He was so angry. Its sort of liberating to remember his anger, now. I wish we all got that angry, instead of submitting. Needless to say, he didn’t actually stay very long. I guess they could see they wouldn’t be able to break him and he could be a ‘bad influence.’ It was a good influence, if you see what I mean.

I remember never liking my staff sponsor. She was cold and she always wanted to make what I told her fit into her narrow box of understanding. Hopeless.  She was emotionally frigid and her life experience was so distant from mine. I guess her brother had died of drug addiction so she felt some responsibility to help us. She offered some small moments of kindness but it was more like, “Oh Clay, Yes, you’re right, you’ve been so bad, but you can be good again, but you’ll have to work very hard!” After my second run away, and consequent return to the FFS (after a month in a psychiatric ward) I was telling her about being raped during the first night, having been a virgin up until then, and having sex with many men because they offered me a place to live that wasn’t the FFS and I felt worthless from having been raped) and I was trying to express how I felt. “ I feel….”, “like a slut? a prostitute?” she interjected.

Paul, the choir director, was, I think mentally ill. He had this incredible rage that he truly believed was righteous. It was not however, to explode upon greedy merchants inside the church. It came upon me first when I was at the school for about two weeks and I turned to a student behind me on the risers during rehearsal to ask her where we were in the music and we’d been told to be silent. Paul’s rageful voice exploded like thunder and I was called into the center (where the director would stand to direct a semi circle of risers filled with my peers). He demanded that I take inventory. I had little idea what he wanted from me. I was so nervous I almost wet myself. I said something like, I spoke when you told me not to. But he wanted me to take a deeper inventory.

WHY had I spoken- what moral flaw in my soul needed to come to light? I really was too new to even attempt to make something up. I was in the corner for over a month. Every once and a while he would call me up to try again, or Mike and Roxi would. I guess I got it right at some point, although I have no idea what I formulated that sounded so good to them. I am sure it involved some tears and acting very honest. I think Paul needs serious psychiatric help. He is also very obese. I mean, my initial thought was
“Fuck Paul, I hate him, he should be in prison” But I know that what anyone needs who is causing or in so much pain is compassion and love. That’s really an important thing for me to write here.

True healing and transformation comes from Love. Although suffering may be the catalyst, love is the truth. and Love comes from true understanding. Even criminals of the worst sort- they need love and compassion. Punishment does not heal any wounds, but sows further seeds of confusion, hatred, fear, and ignorance. Therefore, with this view, it is easy to see that the staff at the Family Foundation School were very confused, because had they possessed true understanding for each being who entered their lives, they would have been compassionate and loving rather than cruel and sadistic.

If you ever need any testimony about any abusive things; food deprivation, physical neglect of illness, physical abuse, verbal and psychological abuse, misrepresentation and dishonesty with families, intense humiliation tactics, or unlawful working of youth, just contact me and I would be happy to offer my memories. I feel like I must stop writing now, as I find this sort of thing draining… but my wish is that anything I have shared comes to be of benefit to anyone still suffering, and helps aid in ending the confused and abusive ways that continue to manifest at that place.

Submitted By: Clay H