Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)




Emil Fischer

I arrived to the Family Foundation School Inc. on January 7th 2003 and was expelled on May 1st 2004; I would like to enter this testimony to this case:

As many other people have stated in their testimonies, when I arrived to the school I was coming out of a home situation where I was out of control and out of line. My entire life had been spent behaving in an almost animalistic way where I did what I felt was good for me without regard to reality or the well-being of others. With that said, I am now as my parents put it a "taxpaying, productive, introspective member of society" and a large part of that result comes from tools I acquired in the Family School.. Note I use the word "acquired" not "learned" because the fact is that learning was very difficult in that environment.

The Family Foundation School is a for-profit bastard child of a rehabilitative therapeutic community and a low budget school, the problem is that one of the main driving forces of TC's is that most of the inhabitants are there willingly and have no feasible alternative to being there. Moreover, therapeutic communities are geared towards fully developed adults with deeply ingrained problems that have existed for longer than the life spans of the majority of the students. The idea of a TC is to be caustic enough to etch away the bad, the problem of the FFS is that they are just as caustic as a TC but at the same time dealing with kids who are still developing.

A big problem with the school is the sexual issue. The school approaches human sexuality on a strictly Catholic perspective of sexuality is immoral and sexual urges of unwed teens are inappropriate and shameful. The school's entire basis of expelling me was for not admitting to my rampant masturbation, something which did not exist due to my lack of homosexual urges and knowing that less than 4 feet away from me in any direction was another guy wasn’t exactly arousing. A memorable experience was when two staff members confronted me on this very issue and when I denied that I was acting out sexually, one of them suggested that anyone in my situation would need some sort of release, at the time I was very heavy into prayer and meditation because I did not want to act out violently, and my retort was that my release was in prayer and meditation to which the staff member suggested that I by saying this I was somehow massaging his prostate (in cruder words of course). Verbal abuse was one of many ways the family school operates, which is sad but is not an isolated evil.

The family school advertises itself as a secular environment that promotes each individual religion. However, one should note the blatant disregard for dietary laws upheld by Islam and Judaism, and beyond sacrilege the family school was derisive towards these rules. A specific example of Passover comes to mind. Jewish people are not supposed to eat leavened food during Passover. Year round Jewish people are not supposed to eat pork, meat and dairy or seafood.

The family school insisted that all of their students eat all the food placed in front of them, so during Passover when the rest of the students were having bacon lettuce and tomato, the Jewish kids had that too, on matzo. When the other kids were having Philly cheese steaks, the Jewish kids had that too, on matzo. I understand that the majority of the kids at the school were not Jewish and so it is justifiable ignorance to force the Jewish kids to participate in Catholic service with the justification that the Catholic kids had to go through the Jewish production (I call it a production because no real prayer books were used nor a real rabbi) but the mockery exemplified by the blatant disregard for the dietary laws was unacceptable and quite frankly a school that boasts to be so respectful of other religions should probably actually do so.

Next I would like to address the issue of labeling. The Family Foundation School was a big fan of labeling their students and using labels. The School purports to be a proponent of the 12 Steps but one part of the 12 Steps is that a person in recovery cannot tell another person that they are or are not an addict, it is a determination that is made by the addict for the addict as a personal revelation moreover the 12 Traditions (an accompaniment to the 12 steps) clearly states that recovery should be based strictly on attraction, rather than promotion because to force another person into recovery can be more harmful than to allow them to continue harming themselves because while in the short run you can get them to go to meetings in the long run you scare them off. The Family School loved to label their students with addictions and maledictions, they took great delight in informing me, 6'2 175 LBS at the time that I am a food addict and that I am obsessed with food and I use food as an escape. Moreover, I (according to them) was a sexual pervert who compulsively masturbated and I would inevitably wind up jailed, institutionalized or dead if I did not manage to graduate their program.

The school didn't offer much for the imagination, there was very little encouragement for students to pursue their own wants or goals but rather goals were set by the school and if one did not choose to pursue those goals they risked punishment or a lengthier stay. These goals and expectations could be as simple as participating in an activities or extra curricular activities or as intense as committing to not date for at least 6 months after leaving etc. These things weren't really the bulk of the issue but they most certainly indicated deep rooted problem with the structure of the school that makes the school rather ineffective.

Another problem that the school posed was lack of accountability for their staff members. Staff members were openly verbally abusive and derisive to students, there were incidents where staff members were physically abusive but that wasn’t really prevalent the main form of abuse that I felt was the most sinister was food deprivation. It is understandable to not feed someone who is actively being violent or physically acting out but if someone is physically cooperating to any extent they should not be deprived of food for long term period and kids who go there are customarily. The school is set up in a way where kids are forced to be paranoid their entire stay; because at any given moment what little dignity you are granted in life can be stripped away from you. At the school reality and truth is not dictated by reality and truth but rather by the whimsical perceptions of the staff members who take on a holier than thou role.

After leaving the school I had no contact with them for quite some time. Several times I reached out to the administration and several times I had my hand slapped away. At one point per a conversation I had with an alumnus in which I made a joking reference to bringing a Swiss army knife to the alumni reunion in the event of any shenanigans as a device of self defense, the administration sent police officers to my home to inform me that if I showed up at the reunion I would be arrested. As far as success rates, indeed in order to leave the school one needs some sort of college plan but that doesn't mean that anyone who leaves is prepared for college. The school doesn't allow organic growth and therefore causes the students to be completely incapable of studying without a strict framework, hence the vast majority wind up failing miserably in college life.

Also no reasonable framework is setup for the students to have a support network at the school, students are sent off into a cold cruel world with dead ideals involving principles that weren't upheld by those who enforced them upon them and as a result the rate of failure is staggering, rather than making recovery appealing to the students in the school recovery is made abhorrent a "do this or else" scenario is set up and so any success attained while in the school is just that, success attained in the school, and any success outside of the school is a fluke not a given.

I am a perfect example of a fluke. I was expelled for not working the program prescribed to me by the school (supposedly). I was informed quite assuredly by the principal that I would be dropped off in Binghamton and that I wouldn't last a very long time. When I finally failed I would be accepted back as I had hit bottom. I arrived in Binghamton and immediately continued where I had left off in the school, doing everything I could to replicate the life I had envisioned in the school using religion and recovery as my backbone. And, needless to say, stuff seems to have worked out for now.
I wrote this testimony a while ago and when I wrote it, I chose to not include many specific examples of why I feel so strongly against the school, at this time I would like to explain some of my feelings against the school further with some examples.

1. There was a staff member named Tom Cummings who consistently antagonized me. He would simply follow me around staring at me and if I made a mistake he would get very loud and angry at me. This was all fine and dandy given the fact that I am a relatively strong individual and thereby am not prone to get upset by this, but there was a student in Family One with me who has a clinical condition called Asperger’s Syndrome, for anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it is a form of autism. Tom would harass this kid, to the point where he would act out, and people wondered why this kid was having a hard time adjusting. This was one example of several that I can think of where staff members would taunt kids who were particularly emotionally fragile. Staff that I saw do this were Jason Garner, Tom Cummings, Mike and Robin Ducey (of course) and sometimes Bill Musgrove.

2. I once had a family group meeting with my parents, after this family group I asked if it would be possible to spend some time with my parents off campus, that day I was supposed to go on a retreat of some sort, later on in the day, and my parents were told that the timing would be difficult but that they were welcome to stay. This upset me because I wanted to spend time alone with my parents who I rarely got to see, and to this my parents were told that I was trying to manipulate them to get them to give me food, and was therefore put on Family Blackout (which means that I was not allowed to talk to them)

3. I was frequently told to just “walk” (which is what they call when a student who is legally able to leaves the school before graduating) and I was told that I was going to be made as uncomfortable as possible as to make me leave. This was very difficult for me because by that point I had been sold on the FFS’ prescribed program and felt that without graduating I had no future, thereby leaving me between a rock and a hard place.

4. The first time I took the SAT’s I came into the dining area and asked a staff member if I could have an extra piece of food because of the fact that I was hungry and the test was going to be quite long and I wanted to do well on it. I made sure to let the staff member (Tom Cummings) know that I was NOT allowed to have extra food but was asking in regards to this singular extenuating circumstance. Tom allowed me the extra piece of food (I think a banana or a muffin or something rather small). At this time I was on a sanction where I had to get up in front of the family group every meal to be told whether or not I was allowed to eat “normal” food or “alternative” food, and when I was brought up at lunch time for this, the individual who was “shadowing” me (basically watching me to make sure I didn’t misbehave) brought up the fact that I had had an extra piece of food for breakfast. This was made into a big scandal, I was put on exile which was a sanction where I had to stand outside in an un-insulated hallway during any down time, and work sanction as well as a alternative food for all 3 meals a day, and this sanction lasted for a couple of months.

5. On the topics of work sanction, exile, etc. During my stay at the FFS the majority was spent on these sorts of punishments. Probably over 50% of my stay. There was nothing I could do to get them to treat me as a member of the group, I was essentially turned into the group’s pariah, and even AFTER I left students were told to stay away from me, students were told “Do you want to end up like Emil!?” etc. I since sent Mike Ducey an email asking him why certain things were the way they were, and Mike completely disregarded the questions as to why my stay was so difficult.

6. A few months after I arrived at the school, I was being shadowed by a homosexual student who was going through a hard time because of the fact that he was gay and Mike and Robin Ducey were treating THAT as his addiction in some way or form. He was going through a lot of hardship, I asked him if it was possible that maybe he wasn’t in need of 12 step recovery but rather simply a disciplined life, as his problems were not substance related. For this I was put on standing in the corner, alternative food, and for over a month was put on “silence” whereas I was not allowed to speak, and had to have cards that relayed anything I needed to ask for.

7. On one occasion, the family went to a park, and all “sanctions” were lifted for the day. I took the opportunity to eat well, and ate a bit more than I would usually eat, namely, a couple of hamburgers and a couple of hot dogs. More than usual, but certainly no more than a hungry person might eat. For this I was fed alternative food for quite a lengthy period of time, and was castigated and put on further sanctions.

The point of all of these examples is that the FFS employs people who do not create a cause and effect environment for troubled teens. The Family Foundation School, at least during my brief stay, created an atmosphere of fear; I walked around every single day for 15 of my 16 months afraid of forgetting to snap my fingers of tap my feet in the right manner, or some other ridiculous sanction. The entire experience was like some bizarre game of Simon Says except if you mess up, you don’t eat right for a week, are forced to do manual labor instead of going to school for two weeks, and usually cursed loudly at. Not a day went by where Mike Ducey didn’t make creative use of the F bomb, often at 14 or 15 year old kids who were too emotionally fragile and messed up to function in a normal schooling environment.

I agree with some of the tenets that the FFS stands for, but those Tenets do not exist in a vacuum in the realm of the FFS. The Tenets of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness, as well as an importance placed upon humility were all on the face of the FFS that they presented to the parents. There is a reality that a lot of the students there needed help. However, this help came with a drastic price. And by that price I am not referring to the 50 or 60 grand a year, I am referring to the fact that to this day I get into panics sometimes when I return to the mentality of fear fostered by the FFS. To this day, when I am in a large group of people I become very guarded and afraid because when at the FFS those groups were used to make me feel lower than low.

Not everyone had the same experience at the FFS, some people came out of there feeling like they had deeply benefitted and may have indeed done so. But all it takes is my individual experience to make me believe that in this world the FFS either needs to make some drastic changes, or needs to shut its doors forever. These drastic changes would need to involve better screening of students, better screening of staff, and for the love of God get rid of staff members who have been key abusers. To staff of the FFS reading this, I don’t hate you, I don’t have anything against you, but can you tell me that your colleagues mentioned in this testimony do not have moments where they do things to students as I have described? And if that is the case why have they not been let go?

Submitted By: Emil Fischer