Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)


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THE FAMILY FOUNDATION SCHOOL
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Scott Conroy

 
I arrived at the Family Foundation School in October of 1997, scared, confused, and naïve. At that time, I was smoking pot and drinking socially, but that wasn’t what gave my parents pause. They felt that the people I was hanging around with and the path I appeared to be heading down were no good. Now, to be fair, my parents had no idea what the Family School was like, just what they were told. For that matter, neither did I.

Upon my arrival at the school, a staff member and two students preceded to strip search me, with no regard for any kind of privacy. I was told I had been sent here because I was a drug addict and because I was a spoiled brat, and that all my friends were drug dealers. This was a common theme to them in those days; I even had a friend of mine who had never even done drugs told he was a hopeless addict. Now, teenagers, if you haven’t noticed, are very impressionable. Many of the peers who were already there when I got there were already convinced that they were addicts of the hopeless variety, and that they were nothing without the Family School. For the first couple of days I was there, I was surrounded with older boys constantly telling me how horrible and sick I was, and none of them knew even the slightest thing about me.

It didn’t take me long to run away. Granted, my plan wasn’t the most sophisticated one every devised, but at the time I was so scared of this cult that held hands all the time and sang and recited things together that I just wanted out! After dashing through the woods for a few hours, I eventually made my way to the highway. It wasn’t long before the FFS van packed with students came along and stopped me. First, they tried talking me into going back. Now it was cold out that day and one of the students asked if he could wear my jacket, so I let him. But when I wanted to move on he wouldn’t give it back; instead, I was told I was either getting in the van voluntarily, or getting thrown in against my will. Afterward, I was put in the corner, my shoes were taken away, and I was then put on shadow, which is where another student must be with you at all times, and you cannot go anywhere, do anything, or even in some cases say anything unless that other person allowed it; and that other person just happened to be an unqualified student just like me. I was on shadow for 8 months.

I was abused emotionally and verbally every single day at the FFS for over a year-and-a-half. When asked by staff if I felt I had a drug problem, I said no, and was told that I was a selfish liar and that I needed to not speak to anyone without telling them so. I was placed on what’s called a sanction, where, before I could speak to anyone, I had to say “Hi, my name is Scott and I’m a liar.” Now that may sound kind of funny, but not when it forced this 16 year old boy to not say a word for over a month, out of shame of saying that to people I barely knew. I was also placed on blackout. I couldn’t talk to anyone at all unless they had been there for a year or more. The reasoning behind that was that people who were newer were still “negative” (not yet brainwashed by the school), and the people who were there for longer were usually full of the doctrine of the school, and so were “positive”. In reality, the older people had just finally caught on that in order to exist in any way comfortably up there you had to at least seem like you believed the nonsense that was taught there.

I was forced to work the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, a program which is and always has been voluntary. As a matter of fact, courts no longer even require people to attend their meetings because it’s unconstitutional. I was forced to attend church services of religions I was not a part of on a weekly basis. We were chastised if we did not believe in God, or that our faith was not strong enough. We were openly accused and abused for masturbating, often in front of the girls at the school. People who had STD’s or other ailments were exposed and often ridiculed for it, being called whores or worse. Our pasts, our friends, and even sometimes our families were vilified to our faces. Staff often would openly make fun of students, sometimes laughing right at them, before placing them in the corner or worse. I watched friends of mine get wrapped in a blanket, tied up with duct tape, and put in a room with no window and only one door, for days at a time, not even being released to use a restroom or to eat.

Shortly after my arrival, I was brought up to the table and asked if I would work the steps. I said no because I didn’t feel I needed them. I was placed in the corner until I would agree to work the steps. I sat in the corner for 20 days straight. In those days, you sat in the corner and faced the wall and the only time you would get up was to go to the bathroom, and that’s if you were lucky and allowed to go.

I ran away eight times from the Family School; each time getting farther, and each time receiving worse consequences from the staff. I had made plans to run away my seventh time, this time with another student. This student got cold feet the night we were supposed to leave, and told staff on me. I was yanked out of church and brought to a staff member named Phill. He confronted me calmly, but then I, seeing the other student who I was supposed to have gone with standing there, called him a rat, and Phill lost it on me. He picked me up by the scruff of my neck, threw me across the Family 3 dining room, right through a door leading outside. He followed me out, smacked me again, then kicked me down the back stairs. I got up and ran, but this man, this staff member charged with taking care of minor children, followed me into my dorm, into my room, picked me up again and threw me on the bed, then ripped my coat in half. Now as far as I’m aware, this incident was isolated in the physical abuse respect, but nonetheless was pretty serious.

Tony Argiros, the original founder of the school, and at the time still the active owner, called me into his office the next morning. His only concern was that I not make “waves” about this “little” “incident”. Now Phill, the staff member who had assaulted me, was one of my favorite people up there, so I decided to let it go, but just the fact that Tony was less concerned about my safety and more concerned that I might “make waves”, was enough for me. After this incident I was determined to get out. And I finally did.

That June, I was finally given a visit off property with my parents; we went to a movie in Binghampton. I wasted no time finding a payphone and calling one of my “negative” old friends. It was all set up, and on that following Tuesday, at 2pm, my old friends drove into FFS with the goal of breaking me free. I saw them through the window, ran outside, and literally jumped through the door, with staff member’s right behind us. Staff chased us into town, and, at a light, tried to grab me through the window of the car, but we got away from him and far away from the school. It didn’t last long; my father found me and brought me right back to the scool.

After this things changed for me; I realized that in order to have at least some measure of comfort I had to become “positive” (ie. Pretend to profess the doctrine of the FFS). I started participating in table topics, berating my fellow students the same way I was berated. This is a sick system, giving children the power to abuse others after having been abused themselves is a viscous and dangerous cycle. I started kissing up to the staff, and in return was given responsibility and took a lot of focus off myself. Many of these staff members could’ve been patients in a psych hospital, and Tony Argiros, the founder, was no exception. He used to eat lunch in a different family everyday. I’ll never forget the day he came to my family and sat next to me. He preceded to tell the whole family how, anytime somebody obsessed in their minds, even about the cracks in the ceiling tile, that they were just mentally masturbating, and that we had a whole nation of sex-addicted youth. The man SOUNDED crazy, much less how aggressive and wild his mannerisms were. And this was the founder, the man from whom all the original ideas came.

Some staff were downright WRONG. Paul Geer, a man who was an admitted sex-addict, chronic masturbator, and just about every other nasty thing that should NOT be discussed with minors (or course they were, everyday), was and still is a staff member there. Not only that, but the man owns a house directly in the center of the property. He has been the focus of several allegations of child abuse, sexual molestation, and pedophilia, yet he still remains, has direct contact and sole custody of minor children, AND teaches and counsels them. He gave me the creeps every single day of my stay, and I was forced into close quarters with him against my will on a regular basis.

Finally, after a grueling year and a half, I graduated and was released from the school. That was the happiest day of my life. I’ve had my ups and down’s since, and, for a long time, I blamed my hardships on the school. They in no way prepare you for life in the real world; just the opposite. I had poor social skills, had no real clue how to talk to girls, and, what’s worse, I was saddled with this ridiculous derisive label of “addict” as an 18 year old boy! I was still a kid! I’ve grown a lot since then. I realize I can’t necessarily blame the school for my hardships in life, but they certainly didn’t help. You’ve probably heard it said before, but I literally have nightmares still to this day about that place.

A doctrine of deliberate abuse; the philosophy of breaking one down and building them back up. It’s not a new concept, but the Family School abused it jut like they abused us. They were and for the most part still are free to do as they please without hardly any oversight. How is it possible that a school which treats their students daily with behavior modification of the most severe type cannot keep treatment records? How is it possible that over 200 minors have absolutely no contact with child services or any other agency to protect them against potential abuses? How is it possible that this place claims to have helped those they derided, abused, made fun of, picked apart, harassed, maligned, shamed, and embarrassed continuously for years?

My name is Scott Conroy, I’m nobody special. But I am human and I was an innocent kid, while, maybe not the best behaved, was still full of wonder at the wide world in front of him. The Family Foundation School killed that innocence. Granted, I would not be who I am today if not for them. I am certainly tougher because of it. But just because there happened to be good outcomes DOES NOT justify their methods. The Family School CONTINUES to abuse children, they continue to lie to parents, the government, and the community, and they continue to think they are doing what these kids really need. Are they?

Submitted By: Scott Conroy