Sunday, January 25, 2015

Grace Cole at the Family Foundation School

This testimony was given by Grace Cole to THE FAMILY FOUNDATION SCHOOL TRUTH CAMPAIGN website. All rights goes to the original author

I am writing this to make people aware of the abuses I witnessed and experienced during my enrollment at the Family Foundation School.

My name is Grace Cole; I attended the Family Foundation School from January 1999-September 2000. When I was taken to the FFS I was told I would be going to an outdoor weekend getaway. It wasn't until I arrived that I found out what was really going on. A staff (Mary Musgrove) came into the room I had been dropped off in. She informed that this was a school and I?d be staying for a minimum of eighteen months. At first I thought that I had been taken to a normal boarding school. I soon realized how wrong I was.

I was immediately taken by another female student who explained that this was a school for teenagers who had been in trouble at home for drugs, alcohol, sex, running away etc. Later I learned that the school would take almost any teenager that had been in some sort of "trouble", including everything from bad grades, eating disorders and depression. The student took me to the bathroom with another female staff and told me to remove my clothes and get in the shower. They then proceeded to check me for lice and go through all of my belongings. All forms of identification and money were removed.

I was then taken to be with my "family". Families are the way the students get divided. Each family has about 30 students and 10 staff. These were the people I would be around most of the time. Each family had two leaders (ours were Tom and Mary Musgrove) that were referred to as the family parents. Each student had a sponsor (a staff) and junior sponsor (a student). These were the people that gave you the most guidance through your stay. Junior sponsors must have been at the school for awhile and be complying with the schools principles. It was a big responsibility that had to be earned. I was also given a buddy. A buddy is a student that you follow around for your first month. You are considered a runaway threat when you arrive, so you must be constantly supervised. I could no nothing without my buddy's permission.

There were many rules and each was to be obeyed without question. Everything about our existence was monitored with extreme scrutiny. I could not make eyes contact with or speak to boys; I could not listen to rap music and various musicians that reflected the "negative" outside world. I could have no pictures of old friends. All of my incoming and outgoing mail was read. The only people I could exchange mail with were my dad and stepmom. I was allowed zero contact old friends. I was also not able to call back home until I was there for one month. All of my phone calls after that were monitored, and would only be to my dad and stepmom. I was only allowed to talk to them twice a week for five minutes. Other than your parents, we were basically cut off from society.

There was a strict dress code and our appearance was checked each day. Sometimes at meals, we would take turns standing in front of staff and have our outfits checked. They said my hair was too wild and that I looked rebellious. They wanted to cut it off. My hair has naturally always had a lot of body so I didn't see what was wrong with it, but staff didn't like it. There were many things we were not allowed to wear including tie dye, all black, anything that looked "punk", tank tops, shorts, hood jackets, bell bottoms, baggy pants, overalls, large earrings, eyeliner, sandals, high heels, hemp jewelry etc.

As I just said, everything about us was monitored. You had to ask permission to do just about everything. After my first month I no longer had to follow a buddy around. I didn?t see the difference, I still couldn?t do anything on my own. There was a very strict rule that you could NEVER be alone. If I had to go to the kitchen for water, I had to take another student. If I wanted to go to the bathroom, I had to take another student. Before I could even get do these things I had to ask a staff. If they said no then you didn't go. A few students peed on themselves during class when they were told ?no? about the bathroom. Everything in our lives was completely controlled. The staff would tell us almost every day that our parents had sent us to the FFS because we did not know how to follow rules. They said now we were going to follow more rules than we ever had in our lives.

Each month we signed up for food portions. This determined the amount of food we ate at each meal. You had to keep it the same for the entire month. I signed up for the largest portion for the first 2 months because I was so hungry. I gained fifty pounds. I decided after that to order half portions (smallest portion possible) so I could shed the weight. My sponsor said "no" because she didn't want me to lose too much weight. I was like "hell do you want me to stay fifty pounds overweight??. What really made me mad was that I wasn't considered to be mature enough to decide how much food I would consume in a day. I would like to mention that my sponsor was a 500 pound self proclaimed food addict.

There was a rule that you must eat EVERYTHING on your plate, even if you can't stand it. If you hid an olive or something under your napkin, you would receive a consequence. I watched kids stuff food into their mouths when they were full. One evening a boy said he felt sick and refused to finish his dinner. They put his dinner in the freezer and told him to finish it in the morning, along with breakfast. One girl could hardly finish several of her meals in a row. Each plate was saved and brought out with each new meal. I was a vegetarian and forced to eat meat. I saw several kids throwing up in their meals and being forced to finish their food throw up and all. I also witnessed Jewish and Hindu kids being forced to eat foods that went against their religion. Many expressed discontent. Staff said that if that cared so much about their religion, then they wouldn?t have misbehaved at home.

The kids that had eating disorders suffered the most. I witnessed a girl with a so called eating disorder have food shoved in her face when she refused to eat. Staff said that eating disorders were a result from wanting to be in control. To solve this problem they took away all control the student had over their food. Staff would have another student cut the food for them. Then the student would have to give them permission before they could take each bite. The student with the eating disorder would have to wait patiently for every single bite. This is not typical therapy for eating disorders.

The FFS bases its system on the 12 steps of AA. Each student was expected to work this program. They told us that we were all sick and needed to get well. They told us we were all addicts and that we would be addicts forever. If you couldn't admit that you were an addict then you would get lectured by staff. We were told that our lives had been out of control and unmanageable back home. I had never drank, done a drug, or had sex before, so my sponsor told me I could call myself an anger addict. I saw kids get labeled as drug addicts that had tried marijuana once or twice. I saw girls get labeled sex addicts for having sex once or twice. None of the staff who worked directly with us had any sort of mental health or psychology degrees. Many had been in AA for years and had been heavy drug users and alcoholic when there were young. Some had been in prison or jail. They acted like experience over education and certification was enough to counsel teens in drugs, alcohol, sex, eating disorders, and emotional problems.

After a while, staff would label you as being addicted to things besides what you had arrived with. My sponsor told me I had a food problem. I had never been an overeater. I ate so much at first because I was so upset about being there. I was also criticized for wanting to lose the weight. Wanting to lose weight was a sign of a food addiction. It was no win situation. I had been very balanced in my health at home, both eating healthy and exercising regularly. I couldn't understand why I was being criticized for wanting to get back in shape. I noticed a lot of girls gaining a significant amount of weight during their stay. I look back now and think that they encouraged us to gain weight so that we would not feel attractive.

The FFS strips your identity from you. I found the place to be very narrow minded and judgmental. Everything about your past was considered to be part of your addiction. Our old "image" had to be erased so that we could recover. Your old image was how you dressed what music you listened to. Staff told me to let go of my hippy image. I was called a hippy because I liked to spend time in the woods and didn't mind having dirt on me. I had very strong environmental views, which I was forced to let go of. It was considered to be part of my addiction. I was considered to be a radical. Another girl wanted to have her own sustainable garden when she left. She was accused of having a hippy image too. Staff disapproved of almost anything that could be linked with the hippy movement of the sixties; it was all a sign of the drug culture. Other kids were criticized for being too "gangster, gothic, punk etc". Anyone who liked hip hop was accused of wanting to be a gangster. They thought hip hop was the worst music ever. They never took into consideration that there are many hip hop songs that protest violence. They could not stand the punk image. Piercings and green hair was a sign that you weren?t comfortable with yourself and on drugs. If they did their research that would find out that the core ideals of the punk movement were adopted by straight-edger?s.

There was a strong emphasis on becoming a totally new person and letting go of the old self. Our parents were instructed to throw away everything our room. They were told that it would help their child recover. The staff would say "you guys are going to have a surprise when you go home; all of your stuff is going to be gone". This made me really sad, I thought about all my beautiful art work, song compositions, and photographs of friends that would be gone. It especially upset me when I thought of all the things that my mom had left me when she had passed away. I kept thinking "how could all of my possessions be so evil?"

I had been learning how to play several instruments at home. I could no longer pursue that interest full time. I could no longer keep a personal journal, as I had done so at home, and I was not allowed to draw. We weren't allowed to ever be alone for private contemplation or meditation, which had been a big part of my life. We were told that if you wanted to be alone it meant you were isolating. You could not talk about your dreams for your future either; you had to focus only on what was going on in the FFS. Your personal goals were to be forgotten for the time. Staff said we would not have been able to accomplish these goals anyway, as our addictions had controlled us at home.

The FFS kept us very busy by keeping us in constant activity. Every second of our day was planned. A daily schedule would consist of; church in the morning, classes until 6pm, and an AA meeting or church at night. We were rushed from one thing to the next, constantly being told to move faster. The environment was highly confrontational. If you saw a student breaking a rule, you were expected to confront them. You would receive consequences for not holding your peers accountable.

I really wanted to leave, but we were not allowed to tell our parents. Our parents were warned ahead of time that we would manipulate them. The school would tell our parents to trust staff and not worry about us, that we were nothing but liars and manipulators. I think just the opposite; the staff are the biggest manipulators I have ever met in my life.

After about two months I learned that my grandmother was filing a lawsuit to get me out of there. I also later learned (after I completed my stay) that a lawyer had been sending letters to me. I was never given any letters from my lawyer.

The school told me that I must write a letter to my grandmother saying I wanted to stay because I needed to recover. I didn't want to do this but my step mom and the school really pressured me. My step mom and dad believed that at this time I loved the FFS. That is what I had been telling them in my letters. I wrote them a lot of positive things, because that is what staff expected. They had no idea how hellish that place really was. The FFS told me that I could not sing in the school?s choir anymore until I wrote the letter. I was made me sit in the corner and face the wall for several days until I complied. When someone sits in the corner, their food portions are restricted and their shoes are taken away. One staff member in particular kept telling me that I had no courage and that writing the letter would prove I was brave. I finally wrote it to get everyone to leave me alone. I wanted to tell my dad and step mom how horrible the staff were to me, but I lived in complete fear of the consequences.

During my stay at the FFS I witnessed and experienced emotional, physical, and mental abuse. I will start off with the physical abuse I endured.

I experienced a lot of physical pain during my stay. The limited bathroom rights caused me much discomfort. Sometimes I was made to wait for long periods before I was permitted to use the bathroom. This would cause my pelvic area to really hurt.

Much of the food was of poor quality, and I would feel sick after many meals. For days at a time I felt like I had rocks in my stomach and could not have a bowel movement. I think this was due to the lack of fiber. I remember sitting on the toilet at night in pain, begging God to allow my bowel to pass. Being constipated all the time caused terrible headaches and backaches as well.

I had never had menstrual cramps before the FFS. My period stopped for several months when arrived, along with many other girls. When it came back, the cramps were severe and painful, and the bleeding was out of control. One day, in the kitchen, a series of cramps starting coming. They began to hurt very badly and I felt like I was going to throw up. I begged a kitchen staff to let me sit down for a few minutes but she said to get over it and that life was about pain and I would need to work through pain my whole life.

During my first month I had hundreds of welts break out on my inner thigh, breasts, chest, left arm, and genitals. They started to bleed after a couple of days. They were so painful that it burned to wear clothes over them. A doctor came to the campus to look at me, and said I had Herpes Zoster. He gave me some cream and never did any follow ups. I still have the scars on my body. I believe that I caught Herpes Zoster because of our living situation. We were living in very tight quarters in our dorm. Twelve other girls and I were crammed into a small trailer with two bathrooms. I did end up writing to my step mom about the pain all over my body. A staff checked my letter. She told me to throw it away, my family didn't need to be disturbed by me. I later did research on these outbreaks and found out they can be stress related. I found out your period can stop under extreme stress as well.

The next story is embarrassing. One night I got really sick. I woke up feeling like I was about to die. Everything hurt. I started throwing up and losing control of my bowels. This happened all over my bed and ended up waking the other girls. I ran to the bathroom, still not being able to control what was coming out of my body. The girls stayed up for part of the night cleaning up my bodily elements. I felt so bad watching them do this, knowing they?d be punished if they didn?t. The next morning I found out that I had a high fever so I was allowed to rest. I stayed in tiny room with several other sick kids, continuing to throw up for two days. I never saw a doctor. I was made to go back to school and attend to my chores after two days. I still felt sick, but that meant nothing to staff. The worst part was that some of my daily chores centered on preparing food for the meals. I could have passed something on. The real horror came after that. My bed and comforter still had my feces and throw up on it. I asked several staff about having these items washed and each one said no. Their laundry machines were only made to wash our sheets and could not wash a whole comforter. I asked if one of them would bring it to a laundry mat in town, they refused. This was seven months before I left the FFS, and I spent each night on that comforter and mattress with no one even caring that I was sleeping in my own bodily wastes.

The staff used very humiliating techniques to "get us better". The main thing the FFS practiced were table topics. During each meal one or more students would be called up and be confronted on something wrong they had been caught doing. They had to admit their wrong" and which part of their nature had caused them to do that. We had to choose between the 7 Deadly Sins -sloth, pride, gluttony, lust, greed, covetness, and anger when defining what had caused us to commit this wrong.

Students could be brought up for almost any little thing. Maybe a boy had been caught staring at a girl or hadn't put in enough effort while washing dishes. The students and staff that were sitting took turns giving feedback. Oftentimes, the feedback would include derogatory words and screaming. Students were highly expected to participate with staff in the screaming. The more you criticized whoever was standing up, the more praise you got from staff. If you were yelled out for an especially long time it was called being slammed.

Sex and lust were a big part of the table topics. Very often, you were made to stand up and share every little detail of you past- including sexual experiences or masturbation habits. Girls had to share these secrets while male staff and male students watched, and vice versa. You would be told how dirty you were. Staff always trying to get us to admit to masturbation, which they thought was very evil and selfish. If you were suspected of having masturbated then your showers could be monitored. During one of my table topics, a staff (Mary Musgrove) tried to get me to admit I wasn't a virgin in front of the boys. I kept swearing up and down that I had never even kissed a boy, but my answer was never good enough. During another table topic I was told by staff that no man would ever want to be with me. They said this was because I was a dirty hippy that didn't shave her legs. At the time I didn't want to shave my legs because I thought natural was better. Mary Musgrove made each boy go around and tell me I was gross and they would never be my boyfriend.

I saw girls get humiliated and called whores at the table. One girl got yelled at and mocked by Mary Musgrove for the way she walked. The girl naturally had big hips that would sway just a little bit when she walked. Mary walked back and forth in front of the table imitating her and accusing her of wanting attention. Girls were always criticized for being too sexy or voluptuous. I saw several girls have almost all their hair cut off like a boy for humility. Staff told us this would prevent us from flirting with the boys. I almost cried during one girl?s table topic. Tony Argiros (man who owned the school) came in and kept screaming and asking her how many boys had ever touched her vagina. He screamed so loud that I wanted to cover my ears. He went on and on for almost an hour. And all of this right while we were eating.

Often staff didn't approve of the way the student responded to their table topic. This would result in being made to sit in the corner and face the wall. They couldn't get out of the corner until they admitted their "wrong" If you still were not "seeing the light" something worse would happen. Sometimes you would be made to stand in the corner or have alternative meals. These alternative meals would either be maypo or dry tuna. If you were being especially belligerent you could be put on exile. This meant that you were left in the corner for weeks or months. You were basically not to be a part of the family .You could have no social life and you were to speak to no one.

You could receive something called a sanction if would help you see your wrongs. A sanction could consist of doing meaningless yard work or cleaning. Some sanctions were meant to give the student humility. An example would be making you wear a sign that said was wrong with you. The sign would say things like "My name is __ and I'm a drug addict, or I'm a liar etc". Sometimes girls with these so called eating disorders would be put on a food sanction. This meant they would have to eat twice as much food as normal for each meal. The staff thought this would get you over the fear of overeating and getting fat. Students would vote with staff on what on sanction their peer should be given. Students were not trained to work with disorders or addictions, yet we were made to make life altering decisions for one another.

I saw some disturbing sanctions during my stay. I saw was a girl being forced to dig her own grave outside. They said this would help her realize that she really would be in a grave if she didn't follow the schools recovery plans. Another girl was made to carry cinder blocks up and down the road in January. Another sick sanction was the poverty sanction. This was given to kids that acted to spoiled. Every comfort would be taken away, including bedding. While I was there several students were made to sleep on the floor or with no blanket. Winter months would not exclude you from this sanction.

Some students refused to take the advice from their table topic. Some would be sent to the isolation room and some had food taken away. A boy had his food taken away for several days. He had after threatened to run away at the table. I watched him sit in the corner and lose weight. One day I looked at his face and he looked so sickly.

Like I just said, some students were sent to isolation. The isolation room was a tiny locked room where you would go if you were especially unruly in the eyes of staff. There was no sunlight, bathroom, or water fountain. Sometimes you would sit there for several days with nothing to do. Dry tuna fish and bread would be slipped under the door a couple of times a day.

In most facilities, isolation rooms or restraints are used if the person is violent. I hardly ever saw a student be violent or behave in a threatening manner towards staff. You could be put in isolation or restrained solely because of your negative attitude towards AA or staff. One day a boy told Tom Musgrove that he wasn't going to buy in to the program. Tom grabbed him and threw him in the door, busting a hole through the wood. Students were encouraged to participate in restraining their peers. Sometimes students would gang up on a kid that was refusing to listen to staff. Students would sit on, grab, and yank each other. Not one student was professionally trained to restrain. Students that had been there for a while were also permitted to do strip searches on new students. This was totally uncalled for, as no student had proper training for that.

The FFS charges parents a lot of money. I don't know where all that money goes, but it does not go to making sure the students have a healthy living situation. The dorms were very unsanitary. I was crammed into a small trailer with twelve girls and two bathrooms. The showers didn't work a lot of time and the water smelled like rotten sulfur. The heat was broken for several weeks one winter. I remember constantly being cold during the winter months.

The education was very poor. We did have some normal classes like math, science, and English. We were also required to take classes that you would not take at a regular school. For example, one of our grades was how well we cleaned. The students did most of the work. We cooked all the meals, served staff their food, mowed the lawn, fed the pigs etc. Our Saturdays would be spent doing hours of chores. Nothing ever seemed clean enough for staff. This was all time that could have been spent getting ready for SATS or studying.

We also took a class called Life Skills. Life skills was a class in which we were instructed in proper moral living, sexual ethics, and Alcoholics Anonymous jargon. We had to memorize large sections of the AA book and be able to recite it. There was also no comprehensive sex education. We were never taught about birth control, safe sex, STDs, or even married life sex. We were basically told that any attraction to the opposite sex is lustful and selfish.

Working the program took priority over getting an education. Many students were held back because they were not complying with the schools principles. Sometimes student that were nearing the graduation time were told they would not be receiving their diplomas. It didn't matter what kind of student you were, you could not graduate unless you worked AA.

Many non compliant kids were taken out of school to do work sanctions. You could only come back to school if you had a change of heart. Some of these kids were taken out of school for months and ended up failing a whole grade.

We were sleep deprived, which made it even more difficult to study. We got up around 6 am, (earlier for those who cooked breakfast) and didn't get to bed until around 11pm. Our sleep was often disrupted by runaways. Whenever someone ran away, an alarm would go off and stay like that for an hour or so. No one could go back to bed until they alarm stopped because it would allow for more runaways. Sometimes we had to go out and help staff find the run away. There was one staff in particular was obsessed with AA. On evenings which she supervised we would watch endless AA movies instead of focusing on homework. She would be digging into our sleep time too, saying that these AA videos were more important. I was like "how much more AA talks do we need today, we've been consumed with AA all day". I would say that we got about an hour to work on homework during the evenings. Kids were constantly getting in trouble for not turning homework in, but what did they expect!? Sometimes, if too many kids had not done their homework, we would get up at 3 or 4 am and run for a couple of hours. We had only gotten about four hours of sleep on those days. They said we needed to learn a lesson. Sometimes we did these runs in the winter. If you refused to run, you got dragged. We had a staff named Tim Ellis that told us that being tired was a sign of sloth, and that the desire for sleep was selfish. He was forever thinking up reasons to get us up out of bed early. I was exhausted for much of my stay.

Prayer was forced up on. I saw many students ridiculed by staff for not wanting to pray. There was no religious freedom. One boy expressed an interest in Islam. He was told by staff that he had to be Catholic because his parents were. He wasn't even allowed to read the Qur'an to study it for knowledge. I remember telling a staff member that I liked a Marilyn Manson song- we were supposed to always tell someone if we remembered something ?negative? from back home. She began praying and telling me that I should keep telling people about my sick thoughts and pray for the desire not to listen to those songs. She even had me run laps one day saying I need to run the turmoil of me. She ran with me and yelled ?you can get better, you can get better!?

Homosexuality was considered to be unacceptable. I witnessed one kid during his table topic say that he was gay. A staff member (same man who threw the boy through the wall) screamed "you cannot be gay while you are at this school!" If someone was gay it was considered to be an extension of their "sickness?.

There were some racist undertones as well. I really liked Bob Marley before I went to the school, and I still do. My sponsor said that we could not listen to him while we were at the FFS. She said that anyone with dreadlocks represented the drug culture. I had always thought of Marley as a peace maker and a social activist, but he was no good according to FFS. The black males students were made to cut off their dreadlocks when they arrived. It is racist to say that the way you do your hair naturally grows is a sign of drugs use.

Brainwashing techniques were used. The schools motto was "to have total surrender" to the program. I heard someone say that we should not even have our own thoughts, because our though pattern is why we ended up at the FFS. We were told to let the family think for us. The family became the law of the land. We were constantly reminded that we must give up all old ideas, friends, and music. We were told that we would die if we went back to those things and that we would have been dead if we hadn't ended up at the FFS. We were constantly reminded to be thankful to our parents for sending us there. I remember sending countless letters t my dad, thanking him for sending me there. I never meant a single one.

Mary Musgrove would threaten kids that were bent on not working the program. She would tell us about a facility on the American island of Samoa. She said we could be sent there and there would be no way to leave the island. You would be stuck there until you were twenty one. The placed was described like it was a slave camp. Other students told me it was a place that beat kids, made them wear hula skirts, and forced them to work all day. When I left I found out the place really did exist. I don't think the school really had the power to send us there.

I observed that most of the staff had led miserable lives. The younger years when people are supposed to be dating, having fun, going to college were spent breaking the law, getting involved in abusive relationships, and abusing substances. Many of the staff believed that if they quit their FFS job they would end up living in addiction again. They were very honest about letting us know that they needed to stay at the school too. They would remind us that none of us were fit for a healthy relationship with the opposite sex and that our lives would be like theirs unless we followed AA. One staff, Cathy kept telling me that I was going to end of with an abusive man like she had. She would scream about it right in my face. I could tell that she had lot of anger towards some man and was taking it out on me.

Staff was especially thrilled when a student began to participate in their own recovery instead of being forced. Students would come back from visits with their parents and proudly announce they had gone through their room and destroyed things their parents hadn't. One boy told the table that he had gone home and cracked all his "negative" cds. Some students would go on a home visit and come back and tell the table that they had seen their old friends and had told them that they couldn't hang out anymore because she was recovering.

Students learned to bring themselves up at the table if they felt guilty. They would say "I am bringing myself up to the table because I lusted today?. We had been trained to hold ourselves accountable.

My other grandmother died while I was there (not the one I wrote the letter too). I wanted to go to her funeral and my dad said he would come get me. Staff said it would be selfish to have my dad drive all that way and that I should tell him not to. I got on the phone with my dad and told him that I did not want to attend the service. This was a lie. I saw that happen to many students. Staff said if we hadn't been so selfish at home than we would be allowed to go to these events. They said that we must learn what it feels like to live without our family.

They would get us to admit to things we had never done. For example, at one of my table topics a staff member kept saying I had beaten my grandmother up (I never had). I had to agree with her. At different points they tried to convince me that I was alcoholic even though I had never drunk. They said if I left and used marijuana I would die (I had never tried marijuana). They even said that I had a hidden sex addiction that was waiting to come out. I would admit I had these problems just so I could sit down. We were also required to write lists of things we fantasized about and share them with the family. I wrote down my so called fantasies sex, drugs, and alcohol so I wouldn't get in trouble.

Students would stand at the table and confess things that I couldn't believe they had done. One boy said he had raped his sister, several girls admitted to prostitution, and one girl said that she had been on America's most wanted. I kept thinking what in the world could this nice girl have done to be wanted by the FBI?! I believe that most of the student?s table topic stories were untrue or exaggerated.

We had many house topics. A house topic is when the entire school gathers in the gym to address one student who had done something especially heinous. It was like a table topic, but with 300 kids and 30 staff yelling at you instead of just your family. A boy and girl got caught making out behind the stage curtain. They had a house topic and we screamed at them for hours. The girl was called a whore and they guy was told he would be using girls for sex his whole life. The girl broke down and cried. Sometimes house topics would start at night and would on until the early morning. Sometimes the student would refuse to acknowledge what they had done. If this was the case, then we all suffered. Sometimes our food portions would be cut in half or we could not go to bed on time. This would help the accused student come clean with whatever they had done. Sometimes they made us get on our knees and pray for that student for long periods of time. Being made to stay up late until the kid did the right thing is just another example of sleep deprivation.

The FFS kept me under total stress. I lived it paranoia and anxiety for my entire stay. I was constantly making sure that I wasn't doing something wrong. I was constantly coming up with things to confess so I would look like I was engaged in the program. At one point I could not think of a single thing about myself I hadn't told them. I complained that I had nothing else to confess. I was told that I should dig into my soul because I had more sickness and darkness that needed to be revealed.

I participated in the school choir because I loved music. The choir director (Paul Geer) could make life miserable for us if he wanted too. He was actively involved in AA and admitted to us that he was a recovering sex addict and food addict. He often talked about his past sex addiction in detail. He despised the idea of masturbation. One time the choir didn?t sound good. He stopped us and said that one of us must have masturbated recently and contaminated the sound with their impurity. He would criticize the girls in the choir often. One time he stopped the whole choir and told a girl in the front row that she was sticking her breasts towards him and that she would be a wet rag for men one day. I would also like to mention that he lived on campus and that his basement was a dorm for some of the school's female students.

The only hope I held on to was that I would not be spending more than 21 months there. From the day I arrived I was counting down the months until by 18th birthday. I knew I could legally walk out that door and that no one could stop me. I had seen some kids leave when they became legal. I had seen some stay too. The school would tell parents to threaten to never speak to their kid again if chose to leave. They would also tell the parents to cut their kid off financially. I think many stayed out of fear of losing their parents support. I also believe that some thought they really needed the FFS and the program.

I had a friend that was about to turn 18, and her parents wanted her to stay. She kept asking the FFS staff if she was court mandated. They refused to tell her, they said that we should never worry about things like that and that it was none of our business. She took the risk and left, later finding out that she was not mandated. Another girl was turning 18 and the staff and her parents said she was mandated until age 19. She kept saying that she didn't believe them, but ended up staying another year. She later found out that that was a lie to get her to stay there. The FFS claims that it is trying to heal family relationships, but it is doing the opposite. They tell parents to lie to their kids.

I'd seen other kids supposedly get mandated there until they were 21. I lived in fear the school would tell my family I had some extreme mental illness and I?d be court ordered to stay. Kids that stayed past high school were put to work in the office. They did random tasks all day with no pay and had to work the program and follow school rules. At different points I was really scared that I would be trapped there for years. I had caught on that the FFS will do ANYTHING to keep you there.

About seven months before my birthday I told my ?family? my plans for leaving. I told them that I would happily work my program, pray and behave until my birthday, but I would definitely be leaving. I would be turning 18 at the beginning of my senior year and wanted to finish high school back home. They wanted me to finish high school there and agreeing to cooperate for the next 7 months wasn't enough for them.

The next few months were the worst of my life. I was mentally tortured nonstop. Every part of my being was picked apart. Sometimes I had a table topic every day for days. Scare tactics were used to try to change my mind. I was told I would die, and that God would kill me himself if I walked at the door. The FFS believed that they were doing the will of God, and that to leave before they saw fit was going against the will of God.

They kept saying that all my old friends had forgotten about me and that my family had notified them that they would have nothing to do with me when I left. I was told I would be a whore and throw my body at every man and that I would become a drug addict. They told me that I had all the signs of a drug addict, that I just hadn?t taken the drug yet. Every day I was reminded of how sick I was and that no one was going to take me in if I left. I was even told I would be raped if I left. I was told that if I went back to my hometown I would die. I don?t know if they meant someone was going to kill me or what.

I was taken out of school and put on a very strenuous work sanction in which I did physical labor for about fifteen hours a day. I performed this work for weeks in hot summer weather with little access to water. For part of my work sanction I was given 2 buckets filled with rocks and was made to carry them up and down the driveway for several hours. When I got to the end of the driveway I would dump the rocks into a pile and then go back and get more. There were several other students out there in the same situation. One girl looked very sick and said she was going to kill herself. No professional help was offered to her at all.

The worst thing I was forced to do was scrub mold off the kitchen wall. A lot of mold had built up beneath one of the sinks. I was made to scrub this for about five hours one day. I began to feel sick. When I stood up to take a break a kitchen staff(Ed Becker) called me a bitch. He said that since I was going to leave the school and not be on terms with God that I was a bitch. He known to wear shirts with Bible verses stated them.

As the days of my work sanction progressed I began to feel very sick and exhausted. I had to stand in the corner now, not just sit. I stood on days that I didn?t have to work. I stood for about 16 hours on those days. I was only allowed to sit down when I went to the bathroom. This was meant to make me as uncomfortable as possible. My back and knees ached more than they ever had in my life. I was also having horrible stomach pain and trouble having a bowel movement. I also had some type of vaginal infection. I have done research and found out these type infections can develop from an unbalanced diet. I don't wish to gross people out, but I need to get my point across. My privates burned like they were on fire. It did not seem normal to me so I approached a staff in the nurse?s station. Her words to me were "you don't deserve a doctor". I was appalled. I did not see a doctor once during my last few months at the FFS and I really need one. This was the case for any kid that was in trouble. A doctor?s visit was a privilege, not a right.

As my 18th birthday approached I told staff I still had plans to leave. By now I had failed 11th grade and would not be permitted to start 12th grade even if I stayed. I was on house blackout which meant I could not speak to a single student in the whole school. They weren?t allowed to speak to me unless they were correcting me. It was still about two months until my birthday, so that is a long time to not be able to talk. I felt totally alienated from the world. I was either working or facing the corner and was given zero socialization. I felt like I was rotting inside. I was not allowed phone calls for weeks, and my family had no idea I was being abused. I have no idea what staff was telling them, but staff told me they were begging the school to make me stay. I wasn?t even allowed to have a discussion with my family about it on the phone.

Money was used as a threat. When my mother died she set up a college fund for me. The school said they could have the account destroyed. They said I was too selfish to deserve the money and the opportunity that it offered. They even had me sign a paper about money the week before I turned 18. They said it would be turning over my money to my step mom. I was so worn out that I just signed it and then I wept.

They also would continuously remind me that I could not survive in the outside world. I remember a staff member sitting me down days before my birthday and saying "Gracie honey, you have no life skills whatsoever, you can't make it in the world". The outside world was described to the students like it was another planet that we weren?t fit to survive on. Part of me believed her. My mind felt so warped.

The most embarrassing thing that ever happened during all of this was being denied feminine hygiene products and having an accident. Mary Musgrove made me have a table topic about this. She stood me up and said "tell all the boys what happened to you". I was so embarrassed that I began to cry. The girls in my family told me I was nasty and that I didn't care about myself.

Mary Musgrove was especially aggressive towards me during my last few months. Like I said most kids that were physically assaulted had not acted out in a violent manner. Mary just wanted to make me feel as bad as possible about planning to leave. She would come up to me and start dragging me down the hall while her nails were digging into my arm. She would be yelling insults at me while she did this. She would also tease me about the weight I had gained. Whenever she felt like it she would stick her hand down my pants and touch my waist or stomach and make a rude comment. It made me angry not being able to have any say over who was able to touch me.

I did get the courage to walk out the door on the birthday. I was worn out. The staff hid all my possessions before I left. I had never been allowed to tell my dad and step mom I was leaving. It was weird though, my dad said he had this feeling I wanted to leave and showed up and we left together. It was a lie when the school said no one wanted me home. My dad went back in with me and retrieved my belongings.

I went back to my old high school to graduate. It took a while to get enrolled because the FFS refused to send my transcripts. My guidance counselor at the old high school said that she really had to pressure the FFS. If they hadn't sent my information down I would be forced at age 18 to go back to 10th grade.

When I left the FFS my pain was not over. I suffered extreme chronic pain, trauma and nightmares after the school. I had days where I had pain all over my body and it was hard to move. I would wake up in the morning feeling like I had been beaten all night. I suffered insomnia; I could never fall asleep until 3 am for a long time. I had to go to a chiropractor because I had so many knots in my back. Mentally, I felt the constant need to correct myself over petty things. I constantly felt guilty and dirty. I had to continuously tell myself that I was an alright person

I made it through my senior year, but I was behind on my reading and writing skills. College was very difficult at first too. The FFS had not prepared me for academic demands. I often became depressed because I thought I was never going to be successful.

Things are going well now. I know that I never belonged at the FFS. To this day I do not understand why I was sent there. I was having some depression at home and my grades weren?t that great, but the FFS made it worse. My home life was not that great either. My mom had died and my family members I lived with fought constantly. I was ready for a change of scene, but the FFS felt more like a punishment than a therapy.

What bothers me is that the FFS offers no one any professional treatment. I still have yet to see record of whatever therapy they think they gave me. It is basically a place that parents can imprison their kids in with no court order. Parents are also not required to get advice from a mental health professional either. They will take ANYONE and find a problem with them.

There is one psychologist who works on the campus. Every student had a visit with him during their first week. The psychologist told me to my face that I did not need to be at the school and that I was highly intelligent. I watched him sign a paper stating that. What really makes me mad is that he never reported to any other staff that I was not in any need of treatment. He can just let kids go through that school year after year not evening caring that they are wasting their time.

It is very difficult to explain what I went through up there. I think you have to go through the FFS to understand it. The FFS has a lot of cult like qualities. The students are kept in total isolation from society. It is like a world within a world.

The FFS is a rip off. My family was still charged full tuition even when I was not allowed to go to school. They were basically paying the school to let me. Their website claims to heal parent/child relationships, but the opposite is done. The FFS destroys families. They teach kids to lie to their parents about their misery. They encourage parents to lie and threaten their kids. Parents are told to not inform their kids they are being brought to a residential program. They are told to never accept them if they leave FFS. I was told my family wanted nothing to do with me, which was a lie. All of the family problems are blamed on the kid. No consideration is given to the fact that the parents might have issues. The website claims that regular counseled visits with your parents are part of the schools agenda. I only had two during my entire stay. Most were centered on me telling my dad I was a piece of shit. If the student is especially defiant, parents are told not to speak to their kid for six months or more.

The website is a lie. The school uses students to promote their propaganda. The website has many recent graduates? yearbook quotes. They are used as a testimony to the school?s success. The quotes were written while they were students, so they really had no choice in the matter. These are not quotes that students wrote years after graduation, so they cannot prove the success rate.

I think many parents meant well. I think the parents were deceived and didn?t have any idea their child would be abused. The scary thing is that the FFS has parents sign a paper that gives the school custody of their kid. I think many parents do this because the school promises a perfect kid in the end. If you don't know someone really well, you should not give them custody of your kid. Kids should not be sent there. If a kid needs help with drugs and alcohol addiction that they should be seen by someone who has been educated in that field. Also, not everyone who tries a drink or a drug is an addict.

I do not know what the FFS does now; this is just a complete and thorough accounting of what I went through.

2013 the school changed its name to Allynwood Academy due to the bad press.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Antdissent at Excel Academy

This testimony was given by the author known as Antdissent. All rights belongs to the original author

Hello. I don't know whether the above post is still active (or even credible; this site doesn't seem to be geared towards political discussion), but there are a few things I would like to add about Excel Academy. I left there less than a year ago.

  1. Staff members never drank the water. Never in the 22 months I spent there do I remember a staff member drinking the tap water. It did not come from the local tap water source. It supposedly drew from a well (I have no idea how this worked; there were just some big machines that were explained to be wells), but this doesn't really make much sense to me because the surrounding houses (the place was located across the street from country residential area). It was not connected to any of the local water management. It's waste water was removed by a septic company (the septic also often overflowed, forcing all students to smell it). The water was always a grey, murky color; this was explained to be from air bubbles, which still does not explain why the staff would never drink it. All students broke out with worse acne when they go there; it was generally explained to them as withdrawal to drugs. One of my friends, who was a former heroine addict, showed up there with horrible acne; and I actually remember it getting slightly worse when he got there. I would not be surprised if there was something in the water.
  2. Almost all (it could be all; I can only comment from the lifestyle that was observable to the students) of the staff members had a huge paycheck. JJ (Jamie Risner) bought a new car every year and had a huge mansion. It's worth noting that this was after paying off local authorities; I do not know how widely this was done but I am aware that this was not uncommon on some issues. Although a large part of that was on our parent's pay (tuition was 5,000 a month plus a large sum for their extortionist policies of charging parents highly inflated prices for necessary supplies), I would not be too surprised on the possibility of contracts. I would like to see research and sources for this data. As far as contracts with the US government, I would not see this as any real indicator of that; but it is strange to note a very high number of ex-military staff* working at the place. There was also one who was a cop. He, along with another staff member, was in the Free Masons, although I'm not completely sure how relevant that is.
  3. Yes, as I begun to learn more about leftist politics, I had started to draw similarities between Excel's conditioning techniques and CIA tactics. There was no waterboarding; but potential for physical abuse was high, especially in the earlier years*. The school was widely accepted to be a 'behavioral modification program'. Although that phrase is creepy enough, I will point out that 'behavioral modification' is recondition; what happened is there is very creepy, and I still notice some conditioning left in me from it.

Sleep deprivation was used, but was not widespread at the point which I was there. It was more of something used to break students which were open about their feelings toward the place****. In some cases, what was done was irregularly waking the student up at night; this was done under the excuse that the student was at risk for hurting themselves, although it was universally understood that that was the 'on the record' excuse used to make the action legally justifiable.

There was also something called the 'quiet room'; I am not quite sure what went on in there, and the details on it were widely suppressed among the student population. What I do know is that students were kept in there for as long as days at a time. During this time, a staff member would do things such as force them to do push-ups; adopt a 'you sleep when I decide you can sleep' policy; feed them a sandwich with a single piece of meat for meals; and require specified amounts of God prayers***** for food, water, and sleep.

A student’s food choices were strictly managed. One selection of food would be prepared by the students, although the quantities and types would be chosen by staff. Students were given a designated quantity for their serving; this was strictly enforced. Students would be required to eat all of their food; failure to do so would be punishable, often by reducing the student’s meals to a permanent restriction of in proportion half of other students’. Many students could not handle the size of servings; they were forced to eat all of it. Vegetarians were forced to eat their meat
When I first arrived, my appetite was severely limited by depression. I was put on half-portions, and the amount of food served also began to decline to a point at which most students were generally hungry. The food was, in many cases, disgusting; and made me gag. I do not know what I would have preferred to happen there. They starved me, but I was also dangerously overweight (255 pounds) from two psyche meds, both of which are widely known to cause severe weight gain. At this point, I am starting to learn that hunger is not something that is simply uncomfortable; I have started to realize that my current eating habits are unhealthy because I ignore my hunger until it is convenient to eat. I have also begun to realize that because of all my loose skin, I could look healthy when most people would have their ribs showing.

  • The place began to get much less abusive once Aspen Education Group bought it in 2001**. From what I have heard, very little changed at first; but then Aspen began to more aggressively investigate the practices of the school and found it to be a huge liability risk. They did not want to get sued, and therefore began to place some limits on Excel, which the school tried its best to cir***vent and ignore. It was still really bad when I got there, and I was lucky that I didn’t begin to crack (and therefore break rules) until Aspen had started to more aggressively protect students’ lawsuit-worthy rights in early 2006. I believe that this testimony provides a look at what the school may have been like before Aspen began to intervene against the most egregious human rights violations the school committed.
  • Keeping in mind that I’m generally paranoid about things, I feel that the buyout is the only thing there that I have not directly observed which I know to be true. The flow of information was highly managed***, and I still cannot figure out what the hell was happening there. The intentions, goals, attitudes, and internal conflicts of staff members are not something that I can figure out. With the way they managed to brainwash parents, I would not be surprised if quite a few of them could put on a convincing act. I often try to figure out who (sometimes questioning even if the entire operation, by removing the students’ identity and therefore allowing them to build a new one free of the brainwashed culture****) was really there to help me and who was playing along to the tune of an inflated paycheck. I generally arrive at the conclusion that the entire place was run by greed.
  • Anything not related to the school was not permitted to be discussed. This was enforced, and it was punishable to even say “Family Guy”. Nothing from the outside was permitted to touch upon our consciousness. The privilege to talk about sports, movies, and video games (of the last two, those few that were considered ‘appropriate’) was, however, permitted to be discussed by those who were not in trouble. The ability of students to talk with each other was also highly regulated. Those students who were on ‘blackout’ from each other were not allowed to acknowledge each other’s existence in any way, verbal and nonverbal as well as direct and indirect. This was much more strictly enforced between students of the opposite sex; some males wound up developing a strong fear of girls. All students who were on ‘six months and under’******* as well as all students of the opposite sex were on blackout from each other.
  • One teacher there seemed to be a bit of a leftist, although I still cannot trust most staff to provide truth. He once pointed out that one of the practices there was conditioning, then commented that conditioning means brainwashing before joking “You’re minds are so dirty they need to be washed anyway. Wouldn’t you agree?”
  • Most students put on an act, but some students - me included - would not yield. In general, students either did things they'd be embarrassed of (constant snitching, enforcement of rules; we moved around campus like chaingangs with invisible shackles) to their peers because they were 'playing the game' or be embarrassed of the way they acted because the place cracked them while they were there. Several of my friends who 'played the game' have since then expressed that they find the non-cooperative stance to be the more commendable of the two; I don't blame any students or parents and find neither stance to have any more merit than the other.
  • God prayers were sheets covered with the words "God have mercy on [name of person]". They were a standard punishment. Students who were in 'consequence' were required to write 2,000 of these a week.
  • ’Six months and under’ was a deceptive wording. It generally meant that anybody who had been good for six months was eligible to come off ‘six months and under’. People who were not off six months could not read books other than things for class work. I never came off and was frequently in trouble, in many cases thrown to the ground and later put in consequence, for reading books. I also wound up introverting into my classes.

    As well as the six months and under, status there were the statuses of ‘on shadow’ and ‘appropriate’********. People on shadow (I was on this pretty much the entire time) were required to stay with their assigned shadow, another student, at all times other than when sleeping, showering, and using the bathroom.
  • These were people who were generally trusted to snitch on students in ‘life skills’ for breaking the rules. To give an example of something that might come up, I got put on a ban from swaying back and forth and pacing; this was once brought up. Breaking blackout and talking about ‘inappropriate’ (in general, things outside of the school and program) subjects were common things brought up.

    People played the game by a strong system of rewards and punishments; some students even began to internalize the indoctrination of the school as morally good. The largest rewards were visits with parents. Parents could visit the students for ten hours once a month (phone calls were fifteen minutes for once a week and always monitored). In the beginning, these visits were on-shadow and on-campus (during the twenty-two months I was there I saw the outside of campus less than ten times); but if students were good, they could get visits without a shadow********* and go off campus. Sometimes they could have longer visits than five hours each of the two days the parents were there. In some cases, they could even stay with their parents at a hotel. The privileged few (those who were seen to be completely indoctrinated) could even visit home for a weekend. In all cases, visits were only once a month.

    The more everyday rewards were things like additional food, the ‘privilege’ to sit on padded surfaces, the ‘privilege’ to watch movies when they played on the weekends, the ‘privilege’ to play card games and board games on weekends, and the ‘privilege’ to eat sweets (when they were passed out) and drink juice on the weekends.
  • Still, parents would often report things the students’ said to them. It is truly unbelievable how brainwashed to parents were. I have no idea how the place managed to keep me there for twenty-two months; that they’d even keep me there more than a month turned out to be a little bit of a shocker for me.

The facility closed 2008. An incident involving an employee who also happened to be a local police officer who took a student to the local jail where the student was forced to be undressed in front of the inmates made local news coverage.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...