Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)


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Sarah Forman

Hello. My name is Sarah Forman. I am a FFS survivor. I was there from February 98-August 99. My time there seemed so unreal, like it was just an awful nightmare I tried to block out the memory of. I. however have read every testimony from all the other FFS survivors, ones I knew personally and ones I didn’t and I again realized the hell I personally endured and watched others endure for the 17 months I was there. I now feel compelled to speak out about my experience. I only hope it helps to stop future abuse from occurring at the FFS or for the school to be shut down completely. I have a lot to say and I am not afraid to mention names of staff NOT students. I am not going to narrate my whole stay there, just the abuses that occurred to me and others. Sorry if my story isn’t smooth and all together. I have tried my best to remember what I blocked out of my memory for so long.

First I am going to tell you why I was sent to FFS. I had been in and out of the psychiatric hospitals from age 11-15 for depression/suicidal threats and behavior problems. I was then placed in a group home, with my consent. There I started smoking cigarettes and on home visits, I was defiant and very disrespectful towards my mother and got worse, although I was doing well in other areas like school and socialization. Still my parents had enough of my defiant and disrespectful behavior and someone recommended the Family Foundation School. I was informed I was going and went with a police escort and my parents.

During my stay at the FFS, I experienced and witnessed many horrors that should never be experienced by any child. First, I had an attorney who had fought on my behalf to keep me out of the school and lost prior to my arrival. I asked to call her several times during my stay there and was refused the right. We were told we didn’t have rights until we were 18 by the staff and senior members. I believed them. I was told I did not have a mental illness, which I in fact did and do and is documented to this day. I was told I was just a “brat”. I was shortly taken off all my psychiatric medication which included an antidepressant and antipsychotic to clear my thinking. They didn’t believe in mental illness there and there was no substantial treatment for mental illness unless you consider being verbally abused “therapy”. There was no positive criticism. Girls were called whores. I myself was not called one because I wasn’t considered pretty. Instead I was told I looked like a slob and criticized for bad outfit choices I made in front of the whole table. At the same time, I was denied new clothes. Most of my clothes had been taken from me when I arrived so I had little wardrobe choices. Character attacks and degradation at the table were common. We were told we “needed humility because we were arrogant” when in fact most of the students there suffered from low self esteem. One boy in family 2, who wasn’t there long, was videotaped by staff while he was restrained and had dog biscuits shoved in his mouth. I didn’t witness it but it was brought up at the table and the staff admitted doing it. I unfortunately don’t remember the staff’s name. I know they worked in family 2 and it wasn’t Bob and Susan. They also tried to impose the first step on us, which is to admit we’re powerless over our addictions, by placing us on work sanctions and giving us dry tuna to eat and other harsh punishments. Oh we realized how powerless we were but not over our “addictions”(some addictions were real, some were imagined by the staff). We realized we were completely powerless as far as rights.

The whole time I was there, I was shunned and treated like a leper. I was placed on house blackout as a punishment because they felt I didn’t really want the program and remained on it most of my stay. I couldn’t even talk to staff during part of my blackout. Being simply compliant wasn’t enough. Then you were “just skating by” or “biding your time”. I was resistant at first and negative but then when I realized that the school had complete control over me, I began to comply but that wasn’t good enough.

I enjoyed and excelled at school but for not “really working my program” I was taken out of school and placed on work sanctions frequently. During some of these sanctions, I endured harsh elements like the cold winter weather for most of my day as did the people who were in charge of watching me. I was always placed in the corner or isolation for long periods of time. Given that and the fact I was on house blackout and off my antidepressant, I was depressed and felt isolated most of my stay there. I will never forget the holidays, which is supposed to be a joyful time of year. I was compliant and trying to “work the program” but still on house blackout. Most of the staff took blackouts off for the holidays but Paul Geer, our family “father”, was particularly cruel and refused to let me and another girl speak to anyone on Christmas Day while everyone else had a good time. This girl and I were also forced to sit in the corner at a dance and not socialize with anyone. Like I said, we were doing what we were supposed to be doing.

I was also isolated from my family. I was placed on family blackout for refusing to do my work sanctions at times and refusing to eat dry tuna. I was taken off shortly when Paul thought I didn’t want to talk to my parents when the truth was I was just majorly depressed and my spirit was broken so I didn’t care anymore. Prior to the holidays, my mom and Grandpa drove several hours to see me in a play and visit me. I was told I could see them when I got done with the play and my mom was told the same. After the play, they were gone. My sponsor and family “mom”, Christine Spicer told me that my Grandpa was tired so my mom had to leave. Soon after that I was placed on family blackout. I later found out after leaving that my mom was told I had misbehaved when that was far from the truth. I remained on family blackout about 6 months.

As for nutritional deprivation, I would definitely say I was at times deprived nutrition. Dry tuna straight out of the can on an English muffin for lunch and dinner and a small bowl of maypo for breakfast hardly meet the daily nutritional requirements for a teen. This was the menu of choice for those who were deemed “defiant” or “not working their program”. I had to endure eating it sometimes. I got out of it sometimes though by refusing to do my work sanction unless I was given regular food and it worked a few times. I also at one time threatened Paul I would tell my lawyer who was due to visit me, that I was being malnourished. He then started adding mayonnaise and celery to my tuna. That wouldn’t last though. I saw one girl get served dry tuna for at least two months and started having problems with her bowels and was still given tuna and milk of magnesia. This same girl was also made to stand all day long in the corner and given only one pair of clothes to wear for months.

Whenever I was sick there, which was about 3 times during my stay there, I was accused of lying. I recall within my first few months there, I was in the dorm in Family 2, dusting(my chore). I started feeling extremely dizzy. I asked to lie down for a minute because I felt dizzy. The girls insisted I continue on with my chore so I did. I then knew I was going to faint so I kind of threw myself on the floor to avoid falling into something and hurting myself further. I blacked out for a minute and then came to. I awoke to being screamed at by my junior sponsor and told I was making the whole thing up. I was allowed to go to the nurse and my temperature was taken and it was high. Even though I was proven to be sick, I was told I had exaggerated the whole thing and after that is when the punishments started getting severe.

Shortly after that, I was brought up for not doing a good enough job on dish crew. I was punished on Easter Day by being expected to clean up after my whole family of 30 people and do the dish crew of the whole school’s dishes by myself. While I did these chores, I was also required to trot. In the same family( family 2, which at the time was run by Bob and Susan Runge), I also remember a boy on crutches being forced to carry heavy tubs of dishes up the stairs without help. The last time I was sick there, I was put in the corner for claiming to be sick and when I asked to have my temperature taken, I was refused. Finally I begged to have it taken all day and the school nurse reluctantly took it and it was high. I was still punished in the corner.

Scare tactics were commonly used to make us stay there and/or comply. We were all told we would end up dead or in jail if we left. One girl was brought up at the table and taunted about a previous molestation that had occurred to her by Paul Geer. He made it feel like her fault she was molested and then told her if she dared try to run away or leave the school it would happen again. Kids were scared into eating foods they couldn’t tolerate by being threatened with food tubes. I myself had scare tactics used on me by my peers at the direction of Robin Ducey and Audra Runge. I was court ordered there. I was threatened if I didn’t comply by eating dry tuna and doing a work sanction, I would be sent to a juvenile detention facility. I started to think I would be happier there although I had never been to one. Girls were instructed to tell me horror stories of their times in juvenile facilities to scare me. Robin then threatened to have me shipped out in 24 hours and told me my parents were in full support of me going to a juvenile detention facility. I later found out this was not true at all.

I experienced minor physical abuse at the school. During my last month there, I was on yet another work sanction and I was to do dish crew. I refused to do it and was physically dragged up the stairs by staff and students by my arms. I had bruises all over my upper arms when I left the school.

All phone calls and letters to parents were monitored and read. We weren’t allowed to tell our parents what went in the school because it would be considered a manipulation and we would be heavily punished. My parents were in the dark most of the time about what happened to me at the school. I was on family blackout most of my stay and when I DID talk to my parents, I was only allowed to say positive things about the school.

I finally got out of the school by giving up on everything and being noncompliant. I then begged to call my mom and they finally let me. I begged her to take me out and told her that they were threatening me with juvenile hall. My mom came that day and got me. Other students weren’t so lucky though. I don’t care if the staff there or previous students think I was a “brat” who “didn’t work her program”. I did what I had to do to get out of an abusive situation. I tried to comply several times and that wasn’t enough so I gave up on everything and worked on fighting to get out. I suffered from a broken heart, a broken spirit and a low self esteem which was supported by staff mainly. I felt hopeless and suicidal at times. The only little gleam of hope I held on to was my 18th birthday. I haven’t led the most successful life since leaving the school and my mental condition has worsened. I won’t blame all my problems on the school but I will say they did absolutely nothing to help me. I experienced the same nightmares others have of being forced to go back there and trying to tell people that I’m over 18 and they can’t make me but somehow they can. The nightmares have only recently ended. This is my first time speaking out about the abuses that occurred because I didn’t realize it was actual abuse until hearing John Martin Crawford’s testimony and reading testimonies of my fellow classmates. Now I won’t shut up about it. Something must be done about the FFS and other institutions like it. I have now realized that I didn’t fail at the FFS. The FFS failed me and my parents. The school preys on desperate parents.

1. I was trying to go with the schools policy of honesty and I admitted to masturbating. I was made to stand up in front of my "family" of 30 boys and girls and admitted sex addict Paul Geer and admit what I had done. I was then fed tuna fish and made to sit away from my family. I was then put on a sanction(punishment) that if I masturbated I would eat tuna fish. However I see that Rita Argiros said the school never had a policy against masturbation.

2. Paul Geer told the whole family of MINOR boys and girls that he almost got in a car accident from holding a Big Mac with one hand and masturbating with another. He screamed this at another supposed sex addict who was standing up at the table

3. A boy was 18 and put in the corner. He wanted to leave. Paul told him if he leaved he couldn't take his things with him cause they weren't his things, they were his parents things. This included his winter coat and boots. It was the middle of winter. Boys in my family were instructed to prevent him from getting his boots and coat if he tried. The boy didn't leave.

4. A girl was put in the corner. She wasn't allowed out until she admitted in front of the whole family of boys and girls and Paul Geer and other staff disgusting things she had done in the past.

5. I spent my 17th birthday sitting in a corner facing the wall. It was the worst birthday I ever had.

6. When the middle states association came, I had been moved to family 1 with Robin and Mike Ducey. The Middle States ate lunch with us. Robin told us to keep the table topics "light" that day. She brought up a senior member about to graduate and just talked nicely about her leaving and there were no abusive topics that day which was not typical of a table topic. Table topics are when a student is called up in front of their family of 30 students and staff and issues are discussed. Most of these topics consisted of yelling a verbal abuse. Sometimes the yelling was so loud I could hear it from the other room.

7. I saw a student wrapped up with duct tape my first few months there.

8. I asked Linda Anderson about an 18 year old who had left recently on bad terms. I was told she was "sucking dick"(excuse my language, only quoting what staff said)

 


Sarah Forman