Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)




Corey Ciresi

Student from 2002-December 2004

So, I have been holding off on writing my testimony for quite some time now. I often speak of my discontent with the Family School as an institution as well as most of its practices, but attempting to write my testimony wears me out tremendously. It brings about three years of pain, desolation, abuse, and paranoia. I would safely say that I wanted to end my life for about a year and a half of the time I was a student there. That was a very serious low for me.

The one reason I did not attempt suicide was the scared thought of my failure and the amount of punishment I would receive following my attempt. I also somewhat knew that there were people on the outside who still cared about me. My other time at the school was spent trying to figure out ways to outsmart the system and leave there as emotionally and physically unscathed as possible. This seemed to be the utmost arduous but well-practiced task amongst the teens there. Unfortunately, I was there two months shy of three years, and it is set up to be an eighteen-month program… The Family School has done a serious bit of emotional, psychological, and even physical damage on me, and still continues to do so. I have been out in the “real world”, as they often referred to it, for about 5 years now and not a night goes by that I do not have a nightmare about that place. There was a point that my dreams were so terrifying that I feared going to sleep and would stay up as late as I could to avoid going back to the Family School in my mind.

I will begin by saying that my stay there was FAR from easy. From day one I was abused, ridiculed, broken down, and thrown accusations at more than most of my friends that went there. But, I WILL say that everyone definitely endured their horrible fair share of abuse there, and for that I feel great sympathy for all my comrades that were forced through the “program.” We all even ended up performing the abuse on others at some point just to move up the hierarchical totem pole and become more comfortable. The more you broke down and hurt another student, the better you made yourself look, and the better you were “working the program.” By the time I was confronting other students on their behavior, I was brainwashed into believing that being gay was evil and that if you prayed hard enough, god would help you become straight! We had a openly homosexual boy in our family who was ridiculed everyday for being gay and told that he needed to recover and become straight and “normal.”

I spent weeks carrying 40 pound buckets of rocks through a cow field for eight hours a day with a couple of water breaks, only to return to my respected family to be awarded with a plate of raw tuna fish on a raw english muffin. They eventually did away with the tuna punishment when they realized you could get mercury poisoning, especially from the brown spotted grade D tuna we had to eat... It should also be known that the degree of work sanction endurance would vary between the different staff in charge of us. Some would not let us have our buckets touch the ground even once. Others made us run with our buckets. Some even made us carry two buckets.

We learned very fast to conform to their idea of a perfect teenage life just to receive the most basic and essential things, which were often considered privileges. We had to behave perfectly to receive a hot meal, comfortable clothing, the ability to talk with other students, free time outside, ten minutes of phone time with our parents once a week (monitored by a staff member), or even the right to attend classes and not be forced into hours of physical labor. A young boy can easily alter himself to receive the simplest of rewards. I was like a sponge. Never once did I remotely internalize that I was an alcoholic. I didn't even know what one was!

Music is my life, and has been since I was a small child. It has been a very important driving force in my family for generations. So, as per usual, the Family School staff immediately took away my passion to ensure that I would only focus on the Family School program. I was not allowed to listen to music, tap a rhythm on a table, play any instrument, or even sing hymns in church! This made me horribly depressed. If things could not be worse, I spent the same time standing facing a corner for weeks on end. They justified this as non abusive by allowing me to sit for ten minutes at the end of every hour.

We were not allowed to wear shoes while standing in the corner, but standing on a cold cement floor for weeks without arch or heel support is very painful for your whole body. At the same time I was on a sanction called “Rate A Meal.” I was forced to stand before my entire family at each meal. My peers (often my age, and just as angry and spiteful as I) spoke out if I did the slightest thing wrong from meal to meal. Whether it was walking too slowly through the hallways, not having all my books packed up in time for the end of class, or missing a homework assignment, something always warranted my punishment of having to eat alternative food. So when I was finally allowed to sit for ten minutes, I was still forced to eat the tuna fish sandwich and mull over the bitterness of my Family School existence.

The Family School staff successfully kept me from seeing or speaking to my brother for two years of my stay there. My brother continues to be one of the most clear-headed and positively influential people in my life, but all of his letters and opinions were withheld from me. He was unaware of the letters not reaching me, and I was unaware of them having even been sent to me. If the school’s staff decided that it would be a distraction for me to speak with my parents, they would tell my parents that I needed “time to focus on myself” and I went on “family blackout.” There was a point where the only person I was told I could talk to was one other student who was not even in any of my classes. I was also only allowed to speak about the bible, Alcoholics Anonymous, or school work, and NOTHING else. I spent most of those days in silence…

We were forced to attend a religious ceremony every single day, and we had to choose to embrace either Judaism, or one of four different sects of Christianity. Each day’s attendance was a different type of service to give us a somewhat eclectic sense of organized religion and all of their practices. We also spent most of the day either in an AA meeting or in some sort of confrontational group setting. All of our secrets were unearthed and our ideals and morals were constantly challenged to help mold us into a robot to live, breath, and speak “Family School.” Individuality fades away with every student within a couple of months of arriving at the school. Embarrassment was key in pushing students to change quickly. For example, masturbation was highly frowned upon according to the school’s ethics, and the best way to get a student to stop was by embarrassing them in front of peers their age, often of both sexes. Masturbation was not easy to hide because we were all forced to use the bathroom in front of a peer of more seniority, sleep in a bunk bed, shower in front of people, etc.

We were NEVER alone. The staff also heavily practiced verbal abuse techniques by saying that our parents didn’t want us, we would die if we left the school before completing the program, that no one wanted to be friends with us until we conformed, or that we would just kill ourselves with drugs and alcohol until we changed. I watched my friend stand outside in the cold for months because staff and senior students didn’t like him. I watched girls be called sluts and whores over and over for being attractive. I watch girls be forced to cut their hair into stereotypical “boy” haircuts and wear sweat clothing so they were less likely to be flirted with. I watched people urinate on themselves because they were denied bathroom privileges and were locked in a tiny room for days on end. I watched kids have to sit in a room and listen to motivational tapes on repeat to get them to “work the program” by influencing them subliminally. By the time anyone leaves the Family School they are a walking and talking confrontation machine, loving and fearing god, calling themselves a recovering alcoholic (even if they never drank before), and avoiding every possible situation that would be negative to one’s brainwashed-induced mental state.

Something that caused a lot of pain and mental hurt on me at the school was when a young teen committed suicide next to me. He threatened suicide the night before actually going through with it, but his threat was avoided and he was told that he was looking for attention. He purposely fell from a third story building onto the sidewalk in front of me and passed away. I don’t want to make the situation strictly about me because it was tremendously horrible for the whole school and especially the young boy’s family. I bring it up because I was the only person who witnessed the whole situation happen, and I was the only person outside where it took place. I was completely unprepared and taken back by what I saw. I had a very hard time speaking and sleeping for up to two months after the incident, and nothing was done to help me seek medical or mental help. I still have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from the incident, and loud noises continue to cause me to jump. The only solace the staff tried to instill in me was sayings like, “god put you there for a reason” and that I “should use the situation as a life lesson.” If I tried to talk too much about the occurrence I was considered to be diverting the attention to something selfish.

I could probably count on one hand the amount of kids who left and stayed sober and positive. Most of everyone who has left, left terribly confused, lonely, anxious, unprepared, brainwashed, and crippled emotionally and psychologically. Some of my closest friends who barely used drugs and alcohol before the family school are now dead from overdoses. I feel that the Family School and its practices drove my friends into making poor decisions from tearing us apart from the inside out. Many other students ended up having children at VERY young ages. I can only imagine it was because of their lack of sexual encounters for years at the school and a lack of knowledge about contraceptives and birth control. The Family School frowned upon premarital sex, so safe sex, STDs, and sexual safety was not spoke of and was considered taboo. We were NEVER taught how to enter the outside world, except for making sure we go to many Alcoholics/Narcotics/Sex Addict Anonymous group meetings as well as daily visits to churches and synagogues. We hadn’t read the news, watched TV, talked on a cell phone, drove a car, spoke with friends, gave the opposite sex a high-five, held money, made independent decisions, walked around, or had any personal agendas for years. When I got out, life became one huge anxiety attack, but I am still slowly recovering from the abuse. I could fill pages upon pages with horrible things that my peers and I endured at the Family School. I hope this testimony helps to influence at least one teenager’s parent or guardian from sending their child to the Family Foundation School.

Submitted By: Corey Ciresi