Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)




E. V.

This alumni submitted a video testimonial on YouTube to explain her experience, below the video is her written testimonial.

I was in The Family School from late August of 2001 to May 1st 2002, approximately nine months. To say it bluntly, going to the Family School (among other things) has dictated where my life has gone.

My parents were absolutely desperate. I fully admit that I was a wreck at the age of 15. I was angry; depressed; and had no idea how to fit in, who I was, or where I was going. It was the summertime. I had a boyfriend who I knew my parents hated, but they put up with. I had been in and out of therapy for three years, on medication for ADD the majority of my life, and on anti-depressants. I had two trips to a mental hospital, with inpatient and outpatient care. I excelled in areas of arts and music, I always enjoyed writing, but during the 9th grade, I just didn’t care about class.

In the early part of the summer, my parents told me that they were ‘going for a ride in the country to see the farm grandpa grew up on’. It was the first of many lies. Several weeks later, they wanted to meet with my psychiatrist alone. Not too much later, they told me that in two weeks time, they would be taking me to a ‘boarding school’. They gave me a pamphlet about the school that made it seem like a summer camp with some strict rules that I could probably break (and get away with). This was the only time I remember seeing my father cry.

 I wasn’t a ‘bad’ kid, I knew I had no choice in the matter. I didn’t run away. We even celebrated, with one last trip to six flags before I left with the whole family (Mom, Dad, Sister and her longtime boyfriend, myself and my current boyfriend).

The day came. I didn’t want to go. I expressed it, but my parents threatened ‘to call an escort service that would force me to go’. So I went. I’d never heard my family threaten me before. I was scared.

We went to a diner when we got close to school. We all pretended to be happy, enjoy our breakfast. We continued on. I nearly gagged when we got to school. I saw boys in suits going to what looked like a barn (which I later found out was the laundry room). We went into the main school building. I was told to say goodbye to my family, and escorted into the girl’s locker room, where all my stuff had been taken. I wanted to say goodbye to my mom. I wanted to hug her, tell her I was sorry for being so much trouble while it was only herself and myself in the house.  When I tried to go to hug her, an older man stood in front of me, pushing me back into the locker room. I was crying. I begged them not to leave me there, but they walked away.

Intake was not a quick process. Two girls and an adult female staff looked through all of the belongings my mom and I packed. I was told that I had to undress. I had to squat down, and then they had to give me a lice treatment. They picked out clothes that were deemed appropriate. I remember so much of my stuff was taken away. I still remember what most of it was: tarot cards; magic: the gathering cards (a game); a black t-shirt with a fairy on it; a necklace with a pentacle on it; a necklace with a flaming chalice (symbol of the Unitarian Universalist religion, which the school claimed to APPROVE of); a pair of overalls; a pair of doc martins (boots); my journals.

I was told that I was in Family 6. They lead me to my junior sponsor, I was introduced to my actual Sponsor, and that was that.

My things were brought to the dorm, and even after I met the girls in my family, I could tell something wasn’t right here. But, it wasn’t until the second night that I actually began thinking about running away. I believe it was the night of my 6th day there that I actually had the guts to run away.

I was stupid about it. I ran away in the middle of the night. The dorms have alarms on them, and I set them up. Later on I was told by one of the other girls in my family that ‘I was a fast sucker’ when I was running. I managed to stay away from them all for about 6 hours. I was picked up in McDonalds, brought back. My shoelaces were taken away, I was put on double shadow (meaning I had to have two girls watching me all the time), I was put in the corner, and had my very first table topic. It was also then that they decided I needed a ‘hobby’. I was placed on a sanction to run three laps around the house before every meal. I admit I was overweight, but I had also had always had issues with running for long periods of time as a child (13-20 minute mile), though never diagnosed with asthma or anything of the like.

Things continued on. I was stuck permanently on sweeping since I ‘refused’ to sweep properly. Half the time, I didn’t see the things that had been dropped on the ground, were on the floor while I was sweeping. It got to the point where if I didn’t sweep the entire room perfectly in 5 minutes, I would have alternative food the next meal (plain canned tunafish on an English muffin for lunch and dinner, plain instant cream of wheat for breakfast). Guess what? I lost 60-70-ish pounds in about 3 months.

I didn’t get to talk to my family on Thanksgiving. About a week after thanksgiving, I was put on work sanction. I was forced to do home work, read the AA book or the bible in the mornings, and then work in the afternoons. The ‘work’ was awful. We were outside in the cold and the snow, carrying buckets of rocks to a path that was already laid out in stone, dumping the rocks on the path, and then walking back to repeat. All afternoon. During the weekends, we were doing work rather than studying or doing whatever the activity with our family was.

I got taken off right before Christmas, though I was not taken off of family blackout. Shortly after Christmas (January 7) is my birthday. My parents came up for a meeting the day before. It was the first time I got to see them. I was so happy to see them! We had a family meeting where I was supposed to give them the ‘personal inventory’ of all that I had done before I got there. What I had actually done was about a page, just the front. I had longer, because the girls said that there was not enough.

My parents brought up two birthday cakes from Costco for me to share with my family. They also brought up a number of presents (most of which I didn’t even get until after I left). I was not allowed to go out with them for a visit afterwards. I was given about 10 minutes with them alone, and most of it was spent seeing if a pair of pants fit (that I didn’t even get to wear until after I was out).

I did not get to eat any of my cake that year. My sweet sixteen was spent in the corner, getting ‘thank yous’ and told how delicious my birthday cake was.

After this, I decided that I was going to fake it until I made it. I remember in the Life Skills class I had, that the teacher admitted that “We brainwash students here, but it isn’t a bad thing!’ I remember his name was Brian, but I don’t remember much else about him.

I did well for a while. I got off of shadow. I was seen as somewhat responsible. Taken off some of my sanctions. I did reasonably well for a while. However, I knew in my heart that this was not me. Pretending to have changed was not who I was, because I was not a liar.

Everything went to hell again. I was put on sanctions, put in the quiet room, isolation, put back on shadow. I don’t even remember what started it all. I remember going up in front of the table to see if I could get out of the corner for the trip to Washington DC, and my request was denied.

At this time, I had also been hearing updates about my Aunt Penny who had been diagnosed with a cancer that shouldn’t have been fatal. As time went on, I heard it getting worse and worse. I remember dreaming, on the trip in April, that my aunt had died. The day after we returned from the trip, I was taken out of a class, where I was with a ‘counselor’, my sponsor, and were on the phone with my parents. They told me that Penny had died. Then I was informed that I was not allowed to go to the funeral.

The two weeks following were my final two weeks at the school. I wound up in the isolation room (or the quiet room, then the isolation room) every day. I spent the night in the isolation room on several occasions. I would get violent, but I barely have memories of this. I remember being told that I wasn’t going to be able to stay here if I kept acting like this. That I was going to wind up in a mental hospital, locked up, for the rest of my life. I didn’t care. I regret what I did to other people during this time, but I just could not handle this anymore.

It was May 1st that things changed. I remember Christine, one of the family leaders, coming in to talk to me about what I would do if I left here. I remember being taken out of the isolation room, sitting in the corner for lunch, eating soup, and then placed in the quiet room. I remember seeing my trunk in the hall. I was confused. I was certain I was going to be sent to a psychiatric ward. I started talking to the girls from my family who were in the room with me.

I saw my Dad in the hallway. I had no idea what was going on, but we left. I was crying when I said goodbye to the girls in my family. I was crying when I said goodbye to my sponsor. I knew I was in trouble.

Dad was upset. Mom was upset. They got over it. After I was able to share some of the things that I saw there, my mother apologized to me. We have grown closer as I have gotten older. My Dad and I are on pretty good terms- but he has never said that it was a bad place. He has only admitted that it was ‘a bad place for me, but it would work for other kids’.

Since the family school, I had one stay at a mental hospital. I was put into a wilderness program that did some amount of good for me, and after talking with an educational consultant, getting an actual diagnosis from a psychologist, and being placed in a treatment center with someone they thought would be a good therapist for me and the right type of program for me, I became reasonably functional. I fought tooth and nail not to be sent to an alternative school for my senior year, instead being placed in Special Ed in the regular high school. I graduated on time.

Trauma has happened to me since then. I was raped. I dropped out of college. I ran off to California and wound up living with an abusive boyfriend for two years. My life is on track now- I am in proper therapy, on one medication for anxiety that is regulated but a psychiatrist, and am close to finishing an associates in science so I can move on to University to get a Bachelor’s in Social Work.

I have been diagnosed with Dysthymia (a lesser form of depression that lasts for at least 2 years. Nicknamed the ‘Eeyore’ disorder), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder (otherwise known as ‘Social Phobia’), and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

So why do I want to be a social worker, after what I witnessed at the Family School? I want to prevent what has happened to so many others and myself. I want to help teenagers. That is how the Family School affected me.

-        E.V.

In addition to this story, I might also like to add that I have had nightmares about the school. One of which involved me and the group from Family Six at a carnival. We went on a ferris wheel that had no way of keeping people safe. A young man dropped and fell to his death, and no one even noticed except me. I’ve had other nightmares that involved being brought back and being unable to leave, or ones of Paul Geer yelling at me in front of the entire school.

Submitted By: E. V.