Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)




Greg B

Just the other day, my girlfriend of two years told me I mention The Family School every day. To be honest, I immediately wrote her observation off as an exaggeration. Then I realized that she couldn't be more right in saying so. My experience at this school still affects me daily, and apparently in ways that I may not even be aware of at any given moment. Up to this point, I have read likely every internet article and each respective commentary involving the legislation to regulate the mistreatment of minors in therapeutic establishments. Yet, even as I am writing this now, I feel sad and even defeated because I doubt my voice will stand against the dismissive and not-responsible-for-any-harm attitude of the Family School to this issue. (Which was slyly displayed in the School's official response letter by External Communications Head Jeff Brain.)

And what makes me most sad is that even if my voice in this matter is heard through testimony, and change finally comes to the new generation of youth subjected to this ABUSE at the hands of unqualified strangers - no one will ever hand me 21 months of my life back and say, "Go, be a kid again. You don't have a lot of time to enjoy yourself before you have to pay rent."

In comment sections some call an outspoken ex-student like me a whiner. They say, "It's time to grow-up and deal with the choices you have made." Fine. But the people who will relate to what I say, regardless of agenda, are the ones my heart goes out to. Because only we know, for ourselves, how bad the family school really was. We will never be able to right the wrongs that were done to us so carelessly. And I doubt we will ever forget our experiences there.

But it is primarily for my own recovery, from a time in my life I have no way of understanding on my own, that I write the following testimony. In an equally important way, I do truly hope inside that speaking out against the Family School experience is a way to help another person avert the crisis of identity and self-esteem that I am deeply pained to live with each and every day since. However, this is personal to me and I'm doing this so I can have a hand in possibly destroying the institution that has destroyed me.

So I want to make sure that I make my purpose clear. I am going to attempt to tell you the story of my stay at the Family Foundation School and the ways it has changed my life in a negative way. But please remember that my appeal is based mostly on the truly overwhelming amount negative emotion this experience has generated for me. Emotions are hard to convey even in person, much less on paper. But I hope that whoever you are, you will read this with a good imagination and an open mind. Because it is unthinkable that children who need special attention in the first place should ever be treated the way I and my fellow Family School Alumni have been treated by this institution.

My experience reflects only another of the many faces of this beast. I have read the other testimonies and I relate with a vast majority of the messages other brave victims of this unique abuse. But I want my testimony to display the unique and personal struggles that I endure alone.

Sorry for the long introduction. Try to put yourself in my shoes while reading this and feel what I feel.

My name is Greg B. I am currently twenty-two years old. This is my testimony.

My parents told me on August 1st that I would be getting a blood test due to having found out that I smoked marijuana regularly. Once I agreed and got in the car, they drove me instead to Four Winds in Westchester, NY, a psychiatric/drug-rehabilitation center. This initial deception is echoed in many FFS stories. After spending twenty-seven days in this facility I was moved, by the decision of my parents, to the Family Foundation School.

My "inprocessing" experience probably does not differ much from that of my peers. They took my clothes, my music, my books, and my personal writings. This was all tough, but the moment that stands out emotionally was when a staff member cut off a piece of hemp jewelry that I had tied on to my ankle three years prior. I know this may not sound atrocious by any means but to have someone directly strip you of your self-image like that at 16 years old is devastating. I do remember that it was the first time I felt stripped of my personal identity, a very important thing as I understand it now, to a 16 year old boy. Remembering this moment evokes a very negative feeling within me even today. I know now that it was the beginning of my defeat.

Immediately after arriving I began to gather tidbits of absolutely devastating information, most of which was discovered on my own as though it were a secret or something to be denied. The first of these crushing blows was to find out from a fellow student that the Family Foundation School was an eighteen-month minimum-stay program. This meant that for at least the next year and a half I would live in Hancock, New York under the legal custody of the school's owners Mike and Rita Argiros. In other words Rita and Mike Argiros were literally my new parents. Never having even been away from home for more than a matter of days this was crushing. In one day I had lost rights to my personality, my freedom, and my biological parents. This changed me in a way from which I have never been able to recover. The rejection I felt from my family and the bafflement and helplessness I felt from the odd circumstances of this new place utterly destroyed a part of my inner joy. I only wish that today I could tell you I rebuilt that piece and I am in fine running condition. Sadly, I am not. Most days I feel broken inside.

I learned immediately, from a student named Valerio, that The Family School prided itself on having "no underground." In layman's terms this would mean that no one was sneaking off to have a drink and a smoke out in the woods. In their terms it meant "students holding each other accountable." This practice of peer-accountability, mediation and intervention was no better for ethical development than it was for public scrutiny, constant direct confrontation, and a special sort of paranoia. All of us were subject at all times to peers being encouraged by staff to judge each other publicly and vocally - based on not our own values but the values of the Rulebook. In keeping with the hoax of it all, I discovered some while later that the same student that informed me of the no underground policy that first day had later used special priveleges given to him by the administration to be unsupervised long enough to have sex with another student in secret. By far, one of the worst offenses that could be committed in terms of Family School Law.

I was told I would receive my first phone call with my family in one month. I had never been away from them for any more than a few days. We were not allowed letters home, phones, or internet access.

On my first, ten-minute phone call with my parents, after a month of no contact with anyone but strangers with too many rules, I cried hysterically and moaned "I'm sorry" over and over. And I was, after one month the Family School was so intense I was truly sorry to my parents for anything I had done and wished to make my amends to them. But instead of relief my most tangible and painful memory was that of a staff member and senior student mocking how I cried and calling me a baby and a manipulator. They thought I was only trying to buy my way home with tears. At the time I felt so destroyed that another kid who had been in my same position, no, who WAS in my same position could pick me apart so coldly. It hurt tremendously at the time. Now, though, I don't blame my peer. He was only doing what he thought would get him back to a normal life. Unfortunately for us there is no undoing the constant guilt of tearing down our peers who were enduring the same pain as we were, only to look better for this band of blind leaders. We were all in the same situation. Abandoned by our families into the care of a group comprised mostly of unqualified and uninterested healers. Most of us were just heartless to one another. Some remain this way, even after leaving the school.

What I believe is this particular school's most harmful method is the misrepresentation of normal daily life to the parents of the students. Simply put, it is told to students that honest communication with your parents about returning home "before graduation" is only and always a manipulation. Basically, the idea was that if a student was to say, "I want to come home," they were manipulating their parents by circumventing the process that the parents and the school had chosen for the student as a recourse for their actions. Essentially, even if there is true remorse you must not tell your parents how sorry you are and that you want to return home. Their idea was, Yoy must SHOW them... and over the course of at least eighteen months. In my case, I feel true remorse was missed out on. During that first phone call, I was ready. After it, I just learned how to walk the walk. I had to make the Family School family my new family. When all the while I hated them miserably. I lost my family in the end, so staying at FFS for twenty-one months was a waste. I only speak with one member of my realy family now. My grandmother. She is the only person besides my mother who has opened their mind to understand my terrible experience at the place of great pain. And there was only more pain to follow every day for the next twenty months.

In most cases for the first three months new students were followed closely and constantly by other students who were trusted by staff. This invasion of space and privacy had no boundaries - not even privacy in the restroom. I had to sit in a small room with strange people my own age and smell their shit. Why, you ask, would I have to do this? They told us it was because the person in the toilet might think to masturbate if he was alone. At the school, masturbating was openly condemned and discussed. If you did it you were pressured to tell one of your peers or a staff member. And if I wanted to be seen as "making an effort to change my selfish ways" I should at least deign to help my fellow student remain pure. This way of thinking stinks even worse than my first memory of how someone else's fecal matter stunk up close and personal.

Despite these wild new twists and turns my life seemed to be taking, I began to adapt to my new surroundings at what I would say was a totally average rate. I learned the rules and tried to follow them the best I could at the time. There were literally hundreds upon hundreds of rules. It would be an exercise in futility to attempt to list them all. But I will cite one example that I think will illustrate my meaning. I once had to spend a day sitting in corners of rooms because I had left my jacket hanging on the coatrack of the group area overnight. If you can imagine being punished in such a way for such a minor offense, you're imagination will likely guide you to a reasonable conclusion about the degree to which we were held responsible for our "actions," or honest mistakes as they might have been.

These struggles were new and very difficult, but it wasn't until they began to ask me about my personal life that I was made vulnerable to the greatest pain I have endured at the hands of this institution. They asked me "Why are you here, Greg [Last Name Redacted by FFS TRUTH]? Why do you think you are here?" It was a loaded question. I told them, "I smoked weed and fought with my parents alot." Apparently, my parents had bothered to tell the staff - and not me during my many arguments and discussions with them - why they chose the Family School for me. They told me "You tried to run your household and your parents are sick of it. They are in charge, not you. And they sent you here to learn that."

I didn't believe the staff members then. I disagreed with them. At the time I didn't understand my parents problems with me, but I like to think that, to an extent, I do now. You see, my mother was diagnosed with a chronic-pain disorder which put great stress on my parent's relationship, and due to their personalities, and my own family's general relationship, I was growing up in the middle of it all. Between my adolescence and their marital problems, it was really more a case of bad timing. They were so stressed out with each other they didn't know what to do with me. I blame my parents for not finding a better way to help me - for not being better parents and all that. But, at least, through no help of the Family School mind you, I understand it now. Which is important to me.

So... when the Family School staff told me that my parents sent me away because I was this prodigious weight on my family that was too heavy to handle, that it was all my fault - it made no sense to me. I knew my parents had problems too. And I feel that if the staff of this institution was open-minded enough to explore this possibility in individual cases, situations like mine may have found true healing by children and parents working together. Unfortunately it is the policy of the Family School to keep parents in the dark, pen in hand, writing check month after month. They abused the trust that our mothers and fathers gave them. But it was rarer than rare that special attention was provided to a student in this way by the staff. We were all charged as inherently guilty and pressed daily into the same acceptable cookie-cutter shape so our parents wouldn't have to feel ashamed of their children any longer. That's how they got us to fall in line. They made us feel like scum of the earth while we were still in our teens.

At first I just didn't believe it. I didn't see what I had done to deserve what the Family School was now doing to me. It was in my gut not to. I still had fight in me. I still had the knowledge in me of who I was and where I stood in this world. And little did I know that was about to change.

At four months in I received a phone call from my parents which was abnormal because it would be my second in a matter of days and each child was allowed only one call per week. I will never forget this moment as long as I live. This was when I discovered that my mother had breast cancer. And my world finally caved in. I had been stuck at this twisted circus of morality and rules and punishment with nary a sane person to save me from the experience. And now, in the real world, in my real life, I received the worst news I possibly could. On top of it all I had to this devastating phone call in ten minutes surrounded by people who I knew enjoyed mocking me if I were to cry. And I don't think I did cry, which I regret.

The worst part was my parents believed in the Family School so much, it was decided that I was going to stay in Hancock while my mom battled cancer without her baby boy there to support her. And I began to believe that she was better off without me there. Because I "had gotten myself sent" to the Family School. It seems to me now, I had only gotten myself trapped there. I should have run away that day, no matter what the cost. To this day I regret that I didn't because my mother died only a year after my graduation from the school. And now I can never escape the fact that I was too afraid of the punishments of the Family School - the sheer control it seemed that they had over every aspect of my life. If i wasn't so afraid I might have said, "Mom, take me home. I want to be with you." And I would have had at least another normal year as a child with my mother. But I didnt. Instead I stayed at the school who now apologizes to it's students for "being mean back then." They might as well hang a sign that says Mission Accomplished.

So, on it went like that I got one phone call for ten minutes every week. A few days to visit over the course of many months, and after graduating I went off to college. I got to spend quality time with my mother perhaps six months from the ages of sixteen to twenty-one. It could have been so much more. And I will never get to take my decision back to not be afraid and tell my mother I was coming home to be with he no matter what. I believed I was right in staying at the School. How could I have been so wrong? If you were to ask me, what is the greatest thing that the Family School has taken away from you? I would say my mother, Laura. They kept me away from her all for what? So they didn't miss out on a tuition payment? I thought they were supposed to reunite families? How could they? I will never forgive the collective staff of this place for their neglect of my family's unique situation and for not encouraging me to do the right thing and go take care of my mom!

Other alumni have articulated, far better than I, how the whole game of the family school is to play ball. To show everyone how truly damaging you believe your self to be, and how passionate your desire is for change. The sick, sad flaw that I chose to look past, was that I never believed I was a damaging person. And right or wrong, spoiled or not. I knew I wasn't a bad person. I just couldn't grasp and couldn't process the fact that my parents didn't have any energy left to spend worrying about my problems, because they had so many of their own. That was my only flaw, but that's not even what FFS staff would tell me. They made me a villain in my own eyes. A twisted creature of self-glorifying habits who delighted in seeing his family suffer. I wish I could stand before you and provide tangible evidence of my deep insecurities due to the ritual demonizing of my own coping methods, quirks, and thought patterns concerning my family problems. The best I can do is tell you that these feelings are at my surface always and prevent me from living a full life to this very day. I doubt myself by instinct. So, to answer my own question... I would say that I truly wish that four months into twenty-one, losing a close relationship with my dying mother was the last thing that the Family School would ever do to me, because it certainly was the worst. But that is not the case.

Perhaps a list of my struggles since leaving the school, rather than a story will suffice at this point to be honest I can't bear to relive most of it anyway:

-6 months after leaving FFS My father stopped paying for college when he he found out that I drank at college even though I had earned a 3.3 GPA for the semester. They call this biting of your nose to spite your face.

-I lost my ability to flirt with girls and relate to them in a normal way for two years until luckily meeting a girl who was willing to understand me for me -I battle feelings of loneliness and abandonment every day. I have literally no close friends to speak of besides my girlfriend and we fight often due to my hyper-sensitivity to all things emotional. I receive maybe 5 calls a month on my telephone that aren't from her

-I am for the most part afraid of people and am usually judgmental of people before I meet them because of my training to do so at the school.

-I feel unable to make connections to anyone, even FFS alumni because of my unique experience with my family and the family school.

-I occassionaly use drugs and have other unhealthy habits such as smoking cigarettes and not eating to attempt to wash out the pain that I feel every day for not having family or friends because of my emotional complications which were only irritated by FFS

-I have been unemployed for periods of 4 months and 5 months within the last two years alone -I still have bouts of depression, futility, and inadequacy that will keep me apartment-ridden for days, without eating or taking care of responsibilities such as bills and work.

-Since I did not graduate college, can't keep a steady job, and do not even speak with my family - affording professional help to sort out my life has been impossible. I long for it every day but I am scared because my mind and my heart have been so carelessly handled before that if I do not receive the proper help my spirit will break forever.

-I live by myself and do not speak with any immediate or extended family except rarely to my grandmother, my mother's mother. This is mostly due to fights and differences over having been sent to FFS.

-The thought of suicide was never as strong a force in my life as it is today. I used to be normal like all of you and think that it was crazy. Now I have days where I am lucky to still be able to fight this urge off. Some FFS alumni haven't been so lucky. (Such as Tom Malkowski who commited suicide at the school during my stay there). I know it's rediculous but I can't seem to find a way to be consistently happy anymore. It's just not the way I used to be. You can do a background check. Ask the people who knew me before. And if you don't believe I have tried you do not understand anything I have told you about myself.

As I said before, call me lazy, call me selfish and call me crazy. It really makes no difference to me. I already know I'm not supposed to be this way. The point is I can't, through my own devices, help it. Some days are better than other. I laugh, I play. I enjoy things and smile. But the process to do even these simple things has taken entirely to long. For the most part I just feel empty. Before the Family School came into my life I never felt that way. I had hope and joy. The Family School made me so confused and lost as a person I have no idea how to cope with even the smallest of problems. Ask all two people that are close to me. They can tell you.

Some people do just fine when they leave the Family School. I've seen the things these fortunate ones say to others who aren't doing so well. Sometimes it's hopeful and encouraging. Sometimes its deriding and negative. But the fact is this. What I have shared with you is only my experience. Perhaps there are some who the Family School has helped. But the lies that kept me enrolled in this school longer than necessary have destroyed me on the inside and on the outside and because of this I have lost my family. The Family Foundation School had me convinced me I was worthless. I wish that I could let each of you who reads this feel for a few minutes what it feels like to fight such a horrible thought at every waking moment. And worse yet, I believe this derision is not a mistake by the administration of the school. It is their mission statement. I believe the Family School has done this to a majority of their pupils for more than a decade and still continues to do so. Strictly based on facts and recovery percentage - the result is clear. The Family School ruins more lives than it saves.

Like I said at the start, it was only a few days ago that the closest person in my life right now told me I mention the family school EVERY DAY. Three years later. I hope you can understand how sad that is for me and those that know me. I relive my days at the family school every day. I used to be a different person, a happy normal person. I don't know who I am anymore. Life has lost its flavor for me.

It was not easy for me to put my flaws out on the line again after I have been judged so harshly by the Family School and now my own Family. I ask that you look at me and say, we can not do this to our children ever again. Have mercy on them they don't deserve the life the Family School will give them. Please don't let this happen to anyone else.

Please believe that I, and others are as damaged as we tell you. If you just harumph my story away, that is fine. But you must understand that what I and all of the people who have testified before you are trying to tell you is that we are not satisfied with the service this business, this Family School has provided to us. This is a customer review and we give it two thumbs down. Except this is no movie ladies and gentlemen, this is real life. Do not gamble with young people's lives like this. No one can defend you from the Family School once you are there, only yourself. But many, like me, lose themselves and forget to fight. We signed our own spirit over to the Argiros' way. So please, we're begging you, take the pen out of young people's hands'. No more lost to the Family School.

And that is really all I can say...

So since I have already articulated my feelings I am going to take a moment to just express them.

Rita Argiros. Mike Argiros. Mike Lossicco. John "J.B." Broce. Paul Geer. Robin Ducey. Ted Townsley. Audra Townsley.

FUCK YOU!!! the most serious of ways, you ruined my life and my family's life and took us for $100,000. Were four lives not enough? And you will never admit any of your mistakes! "Eh, we were mean. Sorryyy. All better!" No. Not good enough. Never. Close the school and show us how sorry you are. I will consider a decent apology to be if you scumbags stop getting checks for ripping children and their families lives to shreds and celebrating the few that make it using your "way of life." "GET HONEST" with how low your success rate is and close up shop. You're doing more harm than good. It's called statistics friends if you're doing more harm than good AS A GROUP then you are HARMFUL! Nothing personal.. just the facts. You harmed me and my family without abandon and without any remorse. You have crippled me far greater than you care to understand and I hate all of your stinking guts for it. I want my life back. Too bad it's crushed under your perversely righteous heels.

Submitted By: Greg B