Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)




Katelyn W.

I am Katelyn W. and I am a survivor of the FFS and a survivor of legalized kidnapping at the hands of my father and the FFS Administration. I place blame on both parties.

So many memories and so much to say...however, I will be brief in mentioning something I will never forget was said to me that haunts me to this day.

I was taken aside on my final day at the FFS after my dad had suspected child abuse. Once he was able to remove me, the staff took me on a long walk where I was told repeatedly, "If you so much as get in that car with your Dad, you will be murdered. Your family will kill you and has plans to murder you. At least here, you can live."

The next year, I could not function in society, let alone with my family. To this day, our bonds are broken and ruined b/c I choose to let them go for my own safety...or so I thought.

I will not ever forget those words as they changed my life.

My introduction to the Family Foundation School (FFS) in June 1998 was a very harsh and cold awakening I would wish upon no one to ever experience. Not many people have mentioned the use of escort services in their testimonies so I would like to highlight that fact here in mine. An escort service is essentially a legalized form of kidnapping in my opinion. I state this as an opinion because this is MY truth as I experienced it first hand and do know what it feels like to be a part of the victim of an escort service. Agreed, an escort service is not the FFS Administration, but what I would like to acknowledge is that the FFS Administration supports the use of escort services and allows children to be brought to the school this way. As a matter of fact, in 1998, they were referred if a parent expressed concern to how a child was going to be brought to the school against their will. I am unsure of their practice or their current belief regarding their use of escort services or if they have a certain standard for this practice in the current year; however, I’d like to state what the FFS allowed in 1998. Again, this is my truth.

On June 10, 1998, I was woken up at 5:40 am in my bed by a man and a woman standing in my bedroom dressed in all black. My father or stepmother was not present. Neither was my stepsister whom I shared a bedroom with at the time. I was told to get up and get dressed and that I was with “them” now. Panicked, I don’t remember asking questions or if I screamed, I don’t remember crying or if I was silent, I do remember being forced to get dressed and follow them down the stairs to be placed in the back seat of a car with one of the strangers next to me while the other drove. There was no one else in the house. The doors and the windows in the car were locked and I began kicking and screaming to try to escape. I was held down and was in a physical fight with my abductor in the backseat. I finally settled down and asked about my father and where I was going. The only response I received for 9 hours (from Virginia to NY) was that “I was going to be them and not going to be at home again.”

I’d like to put this into perspective from my point of view. I did not know these people. I did not know my father had paid thousands of dollars to have this done to me. I did not know where I was going. The FFS was never identified as my final destination. I was brought over state lines and for over 9 hours was in a car, with complete strangers, exhausted, terrified, and completely traumatized. I had no fight left. I believed in my mind, I was kidnapped. I believed I would never see my family again. I did not know if I would be murdered, raped, tortured, abused, etc…no one can imagine the thoughts that go through your mind in this experience. No one can possibly understand how terrifying this experience is. And the FFS allows it. And yes, your family does pay for it. But under what circumstance? Are they told to believe it is the only way to get your child there? Is this another manipulative marketing tactic? Why does the FFS not regulate these kidnapping services? Why does the FFS as a “therapeutic boarding school” not pick and choose which escort services they use? Or do away with them all together? Do they not see how detrimental this experience can be on the well being of a child? 10 years later, I still have nightmares if I sleep alone.

I arrived at the FFS after a very long trip; I will not reiterate the many stories you hear on here but in 1998, you were immediately dropped off by your “kidnappers,” whom you never see again, and are told you are at the FFS for 18 months. You are then taken into a room where your belongings already are in place only to have most of them thrown out or sent home for much of having friends or negative material on them. You are searched, piercings taken out – if you argue, you are threatened to have them ripped out, showered, and changed into clothes you barely recognize and taken to your new “family” and identity for the next 18 months of your life. I was brought to Family 4. Much of this first night is blur to me so I will not comment; I only remember thinking that the entire day could not possibly have happened and when I woke up I would be back at home in my bed.

The next few days were surreal but you quickly learn you must work the “program,” at least I did. I sat quietly planning my escape pretending to blend in and immediately following the book of rules. On day 3, I stole a knife from the kitchen and would quietly cut a small piece of the screen in the trailer each night as I was on “shower duty,” timing another girl on her four minute shower. By day 8, my hole was big enough to jump through. I jumped head first at 2:00 in the morning and ran in the pitch black through the mountains despite stories the staff told us about mountain men that would rape or kill us if we tried to escape. It didn’t matter; 8 days of sheer hell I had seen and heard enough and I was willing to take my chance. In hind sight, I remember thinking that it would not be so bad if someone or something from those mountains got a hold of me. At that point, I would rather be dead than go back. Unfortunately, a staff member saw me while driving to work and I got caught. Typically punishment for a runaway is lost shoes and the corner for a few days. I personally do not consider that harsh – just speaking both sides here.

After the runaway, I gave in and decided the only way to get out was to “fake it until you make it” so I begin working the program. I later found out, the school had records of my father signing a form stating he was enrolling in the FFS only to be in a “drug and alcohol free environment” but that he did not see me “in need of drug or alcohol treatment.” I also later was given a statement by the licensed school psychologist stating he also did not find me in need of “drug or alcohol treatment.” However, I was forced to participate in AA for over 8 months. My aversion to AA grew very strong as I sat in 10 step every night and refused to admit I was an alcoholic or a drug addict. My statement at group became “I’m Katelyn and I’m an anger addict.” I would say anything to admit I was an addict of any sorts and to appease group. Not just the staff but my peers. The other kids in the program also playing the game had to confront you to play their game. Despite documentation of me not needing treatment, other kids would scream at me as well as staff telling me to admit to my problems. I finally crumbled at table topic one day when I made eye contact with a boy sitting across from me; I had felt bad for the particular girl that was standing in front of the table. The owners of the school, Tony and Betty Argiros were at lunch with our Family that day. Everyone at the school knew that when Tony and Betty sat at a topic with you, it was always going to be a very bad day. On this particular day, one of the girls in my family had to get up and give inventory. She happened to admit to lusting out earlier that morning. Mind you, this is a 15 year old girl talking in a mixed sex crowd of 13-18 year olds that she “lusted,” over a boy that morning. Lusting at this age is a completely normal event; however, at the FFS, you are taught this is something to be ashamed of and especially if you a female, you are taught this feeling makes you a slut or a whore. Tony immediately called the girl at the table a whore and asked her why she was lusting. When she broke down and admitted to being raped, Tony called her “nothing but a rag for guys to cum on,” and proceeded to tell her that was all she would ever be. Her tears were unbearable. Although other peers usually added things in, no one else wanted to speak. I looked up and met eyes with the boy sitting across from me and saw he had tears in his eyes. Tony caught this look as I tried to secretly let him know it was ok. Tony then turned to me. He asked me if I too was a whore and a slut who wanted to fuck everyone. I did not respond as I was caught off guard. I looked to my family leaders almost for protection from Tony – this was a mistake as Tony began questioning me in front of the family and asking my preference of men versus boys. He then spent a solid 5 minutes calling me a whore and asking about me lusting out about the male staff members and who I wanted to sleep with. I tried to defend myself but me speaking only made it worse. I walked away feeling so embarrassed, humiliated, but at the same time, glad I was able to take the abuse away from the poor girl standing at the head of the table. She later thanked me for taking Tony’s wrath away from her. I was woken up later that night with another girl in my family so upset she had taken a razor blade and slit her throat open. We were both covered in her blood and I tried to stop the bleeding. I do not remember what happened to her.

I’d like to summarize a few key things I remember for testimony in bullet format as I now realize putting everything is too lengthy:

- I gained trust early on; therefore, I feel as I was forced to be more of an abuser to my peers than I was an abused. For this I am truly sorry. I now know my fellow alumnus understands I was faking the program and doing what I was told and forgiven me, but I still feel as if a formal apology is due. Things you are expected to do and that I took part in as a senior member; all that I mention below, you do as a result of fear of punishment or loss of privileges if you do not comply – not assisting in the methods below is considered “not working the program” and keeps you further from being free from the school:

- I had to wrap people in blankets and duct tape them closed. Once we moved them to isolation, I would sit outside the isolation room at a desk and watch them sometimes all night long. They were not allowed to get unwrapped for any reason. I once told a girl who had to use the restroom she deserved what she got as she begged with me to loosen the blanket so she could get more air and was having trouble breathing. I refused knowing I would get in trouble if I helped her out.

- I was often in charge of suicide watch. Should a professional not be doing this? I would pull a thin mattress on the cold floor outside of the infirmary with the lights on all night where I was not allowed to sleep while I had to stand guard and watch another student who had made a suicide attempt earlier to assure they would not try to harm or kill themselves. I once had to talk down a suicide student who tried to use the infirmary blankets as a noose. It’s a very scary feeling to be left alone in a building by yourself with another student feeling responsible for their life. I obviously was not trained for this.

- I helped shove food down a Vegan’s throat whose family did not believe in meat. As a matter of fact, she had never eaten meat in her life. Because you are forced to eat everything on your plate and are given the same food every meal in the corner until you eat it, this student sat in the corner for quite some time. After several days, the staff and myself restrained her and forced the meat down her throat; because she had never had meat before, her body reacted negatively and she began vomiting on us. This did not stop the orders to continue to feeding her. We fed her through the vomit as she choked the food down.

- I once shadowed a student who had previously attempted running away numerous times. Because of this, she had no rights to shoes at all, even in the dead of winter. The snow gets quite heavy in the Catskills. I had to be by her side at all times, even if it meant taking me out of class. She would walk through the snow with plastic bags tied around her feet crying how cold she was. I missed over a week of school to watch her carry rocks bare foot from point A to point B only to move them back when she was done. I remember tackling her in the snow once and holding her down on another runaway attempt she made even with plastic bags on her feet. The staff does not do this; the kids do. How desperate must you be to runaway without shoes. She finally made it once. Her story when she returned was she was raped. The staff told her she deserved it. Following her runaway, another kid in our family with severe diabetes ran away without his insulin. I do not know if he was ever found but remember the concern that he could only survive for a short period of time without his medication.

- I was once reprimanded for not being more active in table topics. I was put on a sanction where I was required to lecture my fellow peers at table topics on a daily basis. This is therapy? Parents, this is where your $50k a year is going. Sanctions that require other students to yell at your child.

- To my fellow alumnus: I’m sorry and I know we have all forgiven each other for what we were forced to do to each other in the name of the FFS Administration aka The East Ridge Cult’s view of “therapy.”

Today I’d like to note what I struggle with:

- I’ve been diagnosed with C-PTSD. This is a combination of several factors as I do have a history of abuse with my father/stepmother so I cannot place blame all on the FFS; however, I know my experience there is a strong contributor. I do not know how to have normal relationships; I have severe trust issues, dependency issues, my family bonds are forever broken. I have C-PSTD and the best therapy is group therapy. I also have an aversion to group therapy for fear of being singled out, ridiculed, verbally abused, etc…How do you fight one fear with another?

- I have a strong aversion to organized religion to the forced religion at FFS. As Jim Murray most wonderfully put, “Organized religion is for people who want to stay out of hell; spirituality is for people who have already been there.” The FFS was my hell. Many survivors during this time period avoid church at all costs because of the extreme anxiety associated with it.

- I no longer speak to father or his family. He recently told me he discovered the FFS was abusive and this is why he removed me from there short of the 18 month stay. He then proceeded to tell me I needed to be abused to become a better person; he also holds the FFS mentality. He had a stroke while I was a student there which he believed to be stress related. My stepmother upon her first visit took me aside and told me that my father died twice while he was in the hospital and they were able to restart his heart. She then told me it was my fault he died and that I literally killed my father. When I brought this in my first group, my stepmother denied having said those words to me and the FFS Administration called me a liar and a manipulator and cut off contact with my family. What I later found out was that the FFS had my custody agreement on file during my stay. I was legally kidnapped on June 10, 1998 by my father and stepmother without knowledge of my mother. The custody agreement the FFS had in their hands stated that my mother had visitation no less than 2.5 months every summer break and every holiday. I was accepted into the school and kidnapped on June 10, 1998 – the first day of summer and the first day of my mother’s summer visitation. She agreed to no such thing as having me in the FFS. As a matter of fact, my mother contacted the FFS in July of 1998 to come see me due to her legal visitation during the summer. I now have documentation that the FFS faxed this custody agreement to their lawyer in September of 1998 to assure they were not breaking the law; the visitation period had already passed. One must wonder how they got around that law and why they waited so long to contact their attorney when they had that document in their hands? Obviously, the fact that my father was the one paying the tuition is an obvious answer here but a lot of damage could have been prevented.

- When Susan Runge finally realized what kind of monsters my father and his wife were and he wanted to remove me, she then took me on a walk to tell me how I would be killed if I left the FFS with my father. I took a chance and left but ties are forever broken. I wonder to this day if Susan was trying to protect me, warn me, if she was wrong, or maybe if she was right. Regardless, one can’t help but ever forget those words, “Your family will kill you if you leave.” I had already been told for 8 months I was insane and I could not make it on the outside without the Family. I had started to believe them and left the FFS a very broken and shattered kid, more ill-prepared for life than when I walked in, prepared to die or be murdered based on all I’d been told and so believed all they had made me believe. I didn’t know what would come of it; I just knew I didn’t have a fighting chance in hell.

Submitted By: Katelyn W