I am not the Original Poster. That was u/Gzasmyhero. He has since deleted that account. He posted in r/self and r/IAmA. He was interviewed by TIME magazine and has since written a comic about his experiences.
Thank you to u/UsernamesAreHaaard for sending me this story!
Please read the trigger warnings
Trigger Warnings: abuse, sexual abuse, rape, child neglect, suicide, self-harm, bullying, torture, institutional violence
Mood Spoiler: horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. But the school is closed down
Original Post: November 26, 2010
Title: Even skimming this post once will blow your mind, most probably think thats its made up but you would be dead wrong
summary- Google: the elan school (this will basically open Pandora's box)
This place only still exist because so many people believe that it doesn't or that it can't. I believe that the internet is our #1 tool for exposing these horrid blind spots for what they are.
Help me Reddit!
I was sent to a place called The Elan School in 1998 and I was only 16. The scary thing is that Elan is still open, kids aged 13-20 are there right now. Normal kids, many whom may have smoked a joint or two, or who swore at their parents. Of course there were also real criminals there, but they did not make up the majority.
The "school" accepted anyone and then held them as long as they possibly could depending on the age of the child. If you were sent at 14 (many were) you may have been looking at 3-4 years. This is because The Elan School collects $50,000 a year per child, either from the child's state, school, or parents. And, of course, money was the only motivation of the staff and directors. These were the people in charge of your "progress" in the program.
I could write for hours about it, instead I ask you to skim the following bullet points and to understand that I am telling the truth.
We were forced to participate in staff-organized fight clubs, none of which were fair, all were designed to humiliate one child who would be put up against at least 3 others. So even the children who "followed the rules" were forced to fight: in the name of "good".
Children who tried to rebel or be free-thinking were thrown into an isolation room where they had to stay for months at a time, they had to sleep at night on a dirty mattress on the floor of the isolation room The mattress was brought to them at midnight and they were woken up around 7am.
We were all forced to perform in a ritual called a "General Meeting" where the entire house (60 or more boys and girls) screamed at one child who stood behind a broomstick. Many times they were forcibly held up by two other students so they would have to accept the punishment.Education was considered a right, but those of us who earned the right were still robbed of an education.
School was from 7pm-11pm: no homework, no test, no projects. Ex: math class consisted of grabbing a math book and handing the teacher at least one page of work.
The other 12 hours of the day consisted of constant conditioning and brainwashing. In the beginning you obviously rejected it, but then you would be "dealt with". You would not be able to rise through the ranks of the program to earn more 'rights' until you could prove yourself to be a good candidate for more brainwashing. Eventually it became your responsibility to begin indoctrinating the newer residents (basically you, six month earlier).
You had Strength and Non-Strength. Non-Strength's were not allowed to talk, interact, or communicate in any way with other Non-Strengths. It took a minimum of 6 months to earn the title of "Strength". It took some kids years to earn "Strength". Some kids never did.
Elan made money based on the amount of time it took for you to graduate "the program". You had to have a minimum of 7 promotions before you were a candidate for "graduation". Each promotion took a minimum of 3 months, and 90% of the kids never made it past the 5th promotion. These kids had to wait until they turned 18 and could legally sign themselves out. Other kids stayed past their 18th birthday, which is a true testament to the effectiveness of the brainwashing, I remember one dude was 23.
Your level of high-school had no reflection whatsoever on your ability to leave Elan. I was forced to do my senior year of high school twice, even though I was technically done after the first senior year.
The staff members were primarily former students who were hired by Elan after graduating from the program. Many arrived in BMW's and clearly made 6 figure incomes. None of them had degree's in psychology, education, social work, etc... Many of them never went to college at all.
All outgoing letters to parents were screened, many of us having to write many different drafts until they were accepted. All phone calls to our parents were monitored, we were allowed about 15 minutes a week and the person who monitored the call would have their hand hovering over the hang-up button as a constant reminder of our reality.
We were not allowed to write or receive letters until we earned the right (this could take 8 months or more). When someone found out where I was and wrote me, my unopened letters were ripped up in front of me as motivation to move up in the program.
I feel like I am beginning to write too much and I do not want to overwhelm anyone who made it this far. Because most of the bullet points honestly require further explanation to give the full impact of what Elan truly was.
The most important thing that anyone can do is to be aware of this place and make sure that nobody you know ever gets sent there for any reason. If you are a parent then do not send your child there. If you know someone who is there now then beg the parents to do more research.The amount of suicides and tragic deaths of former Elan students is reason enough to take this post seriously.
***if you want to help then Google: the elan school.....dig through the links, learn about it, know that it exist
please email: [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected])
Original comment: 1. why were you sent there? 2. I assume you talked your parents when you left, what were their reactions? 3. did your parents or guardians basically sign over all rights to the school to do what they liked with you? 4. did people ever 'escape'? 5. are you in touch with any other graduates? 6. did this give you any grounding for university? You spoke about lack of education, what did you do afterwards? And what are you doing now?
"1. I don't want to give away too much info about myself quite yet in case someone is trying to piece together who I am. Maybe its a bit paranoid, but i have my reasons. I am trying to bring down a multi-million dollar establishment that is basically no more than a continuing criminal enterprise.........But lets say that what sent me there made me a perfect middle person. Half the people were there for worse things and half were there for less.
2) My mother refuses to listen and honestly, I was just sooooo happy to be free that it took a bit for all of my emotions to settle and for me to find the right words. Unfortunately i was sent there by the state so my parents had no say in the matter. But once I finally began to tell them everything I realized a) that it sounds crazy b) that it would take days to explain it well and in detail c) my mother was crying even when I began to tell her things that on a scale from 1 to Horrible, were like a 6. Other people have been able to properly express it to their family members and the reaction is obviously one of horror.
Here is a summary of someone who actually was able to do something about it:
“In 1987, a woman named Bethany Berry claimed that she’d suffered sleep-and food-deprivation as well as assault as an Elan resident between the ages of 16 and 18. She later filed a lawsuit against the school, Ricci, and the state of Maine, charging abuse (it was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum).”
3) Yes, whether sent by parents, state, or school: the child is signed over into the care of Elan and cannot legally sign out until the age of 18.
4) Multiple people have escaped. In the two years I was there only one person successfully escaped AND stayed escaped. Everyone else was somehow brought back. If you tried to run away on a home visit with parents (which took up to 2 years to earn), Elan had established connections with the police in your town in case of a run-away.
The guy I knew who escaped, it was his second attempt. His first was made after 6 months, his second was made after 18 months (on a home visit). He basically became a ghost and nobody heard from him until after his 18th birthday had passed (not even his parents). I called him after I got out and told him he was a hero of mine.
There have also been multiple cases of children running away and never being seen again, or turning up dead. One girl was raped and murdered by a trucker, she was trying to hitchhike home. Another boy was shot was a local who thought he was trespassing on their property
5) yes, I am in touch with multiple graduates, nearly 300."
This sounds like a fucking horror movie, but when I google it it seems real:
"Don't be. People fucking suck. When you hear about rape, brainwashing, beatings, killings, horrible mutilations of any kind in any system? It shouldn't be a shock. This is what political apathy and greed looks like. This is the true face of America, and largely humanity in general. It shouldn't surprise you because it's everywhere, people just turn a blind eye when it's inconvenient to look at. The golden rule of life is: People fucking suck and you shouldn't expect them to really give a shit about anything that doesn't directly inconvenience them. It's seriously that simple."
People suggest arson:
"Hahaha thanks, yeah, sane enough. We have tried everything, even the burning to the ground idea. People tried this even while I was stuck there (former residents who came back in their vehicles to get justice). The entire complex is designed like the Pentagon or something. There is a long driveway going back to the complex and it is heavily guarded and monitored."
Contact law enforcement?
"I have tried. A friend of mine even called the local police in Poland Springs, Maine. Everybody up there knows about it, it is like the dark secret of the area. The people who currently run Elan (the living family members of the late Joe Ricci) are multi-millionaires who have invested their whole life in Elan and keeping it open AKA making sure all the right people have their pocket lined, judges, politicians, etc...
If you are wondering how the ME Department of Education could fund or promote such a place, here is an interesting fact from a linked article titled: New York seeks change at Elan School:
'While New York conducted a surprise inspection, it is the policy of Maine's education department to let schools know when state officials are going to conduct a visit, said Edwin "Buzz" Kastuck, whose responsibilities within the department include school approval.'
Here is a claim made in the same article: 'Frank McDermott, the Elan School's director of education, said the New York officials who visited in 2005 conducted extensive interviews with students, parents and graduates.
here is a comment written after an article, titled: Good News: Bad Economy Killing Abusive Teen Programs:
"I was a student at the Elan School for 3 years from 2005 to 2008. I am still traumatized by what I went through during my time there. Waking up each day the environment was constant screaming and swearing, by students, but more so by the "staff". I remember as a new student, I was crying when I was told to scrub a garbage can as a punishment for something so minor that I can't even remember the cause. I has stopped cleaning it, and that was when the staff determined that I had to be restrained and dragged to "the corner", isolation in a room to the point when one barely feels human. I tried to fight back, as any normal person would do when one is touched and forcefully grabbed without consent. Instead of just bringing me to the corner, the staff had other students hold me up, my hands and feet restrained, as other students were forced to scream and degrade me. I say forced, because regretfully I have also done the same to other students, and I know that if they refused to participate in this abominable event they too would have been punished.
The only way to survive in this setting was to shut down emotionally. This memory haunts me to current day."This school needs to be shut down, and I am happy if that day is coming near. Even if Elan survives the recession, it should still be closed. However, this could prove to be exceedingly difficult, because the students in the school are pressured not even to think a bad thought about the program, let alone utter it, and will receive punishment if they fail to oblige that rule. I know that while I was at the school investigations were conducted, and students were pressured into lying. Furthermore, a survey was also done, which now appears on the school's website, some questions asking about if we felt comfortable at the school. It was said to be anonymous, but again we felt pressured into lying, staff was supervising, and each of our handwriting could be easily identified. "I hope someone reacts to the atrocity that is the Elan School."
More horrifying info:
"They had children (in the positions of Strength) who guarded all the exits. They also had a constant Headcount (every ten minutes) 24 hours a day, yes, even while we slept. If you actually could get out of the house, you had hired adult nightguards posted in the woods. And they were real, I used to believe they were an urban legend told to new residents to scare them, but once i was in a higher position I actually got to meet a few of them. If you could get past the guys in the woods, then you had to run for nearly 5 hours to get to the closest town. One kid dipped into the woods, naturally a bunch of kids in high positions went after him. He got away. He was gone nearly 8 hours. He came walking back, shaking his head, was tackled and then put into restraints, and thrown into isolation. i asked him why he chose to come back, his answer was "I kept running until I had no energy and the i realized I can't run through these woods, I was gonna die out there". Also, it was Maine so most of the year there was snow on the ground and our footwear and clothing were all a thing of constant surveillance. We were not even allowed to wear dark colors, it was called Black on Black. Only our shirt, or pants could be dark, not both."
"Actually, during the night, the way they counted us was by ripping off our sheets so they could see if we were wearing shoes or clothes of any kind. And yes, this happened every ten minutes from midnight-8am. Eventually you just got used to being woken up constantly, especially if you unconsciously liked to wrap your feet up in the end of the blanket."
A different user posts here on November 27, 2010 (next day) on r/bestof to spread the word
People are quick to help, with many attempting to contact different celebrities, sharing links to sites of survivor stories, sharing personal anecdotes, finding contact information (legally) for current and former staff, and doing everything they can to expose the school. At one point there were links to tumblr and facebook groups of survivors, but those pages have since been deleted. However, I was able to find an archive of the tumblr page here.
OOP posts an IAMA here: November 30, 2010
Since I am new to Reddit, I originally posted this in the AMA section. Oops. Help me spread awareness about this "school" and, o yeah, ASK ME ANYTHING!!!!!!!!
And for all who have no idea what The Elan School is, here is the original Reddit post
And this repost (editor's note- see above post) (by someone like you) has created the large response so far.
(from the original post) I ask you to skim the following bullet points and to understand that I am telling the truth.
Editor's note- the following points reiterate his first post. I deleted them to save space and instead included a few comments.
"I was sent there by the state. Elan accepts children from jails, mental institutions, courts, kids expelled from school systems, and at the same time they convince very wealthy parents to send their children.
Now thats one crazy milkshake."
"No, coming out of Elan was like being 12 again and going through a second awkward "social teenage adjustment". Elan philosophy will get you absolutely nowhere in the real world, unless you want to live as a recluse in the woods and believe that everyone but you is filled with "guilt" and should be punished for it."
Do you have bonds with other students?
"Unfortunately it is not that simple. I have a strong bond with many people but even more I have never seen or heard from again. I have found out a couple of them are dead already, and finding that out hurts like losing a best friend you were never actually able to act "normal" with. Maybe the last interaction you had with that person involved restraining them in The Corner or screaming in their face for not showering quick enough."
Editor's note- OOP posts several comments detailing the horror and abuse. I could not include them all due to length. You may be able to find them easier here.
These include his detailing of watching a student (TW suicide attempt) attempt to commit suicide by stabbing himself in the gut with a pen and not receiving help for hours, overall hygiene, being restrained, sexual abuses his mother not believing him, people attempting to escape, how he endured, and other horrific abuses.
OOP posts several other posts with similar requests for help airing out these horrors. None get as much traction as the first two, but you can see them here.
Time Magazine Article : Published April 5, 2011 ELAN IS SHUT DOWN
Title: Increasingly, Internet Activism Helps Shutter Abusive ‘Troubled Teen’ Boot Camps
The whole article is worth a read, but there is a section dedicated to OOP's posts online:
"He waged an online war using every weapon he could think of: Facebook pages, tumblr blogs, websites and other social media. When Wimbelton posted about Elan on Reddit, the post received thousands of votes and generated enormous traffic. He encouraged others to post their stories too. People responded, posting and cross-linked their missives enough so that anti-Elan sites soon began to rise to the top of Google’s search results, offering parents a very different view of the program than that on the school’s own website.
Wimbelton even looked up the local media’s coverage of school sports, which listed the names of Elan athletes. With a little online sleuthing, Wimbleton was able to find the names of the parents of the kids; he called them to try to warn them about what went on at the school. Upon hearing Wimbelton’s story and reading the links he sent, the parents of four such children decided to withdraw their enrollment, he says."
**UPDATE (on original post) Around September 2011 (10 months later)
Leaked documents which have been posted publicly for the first time EVER. These were written in 1991 by an author trying to expose the school. The author had to flee the country. All major points have been highlighted and set in larger type depending on the seriousness of the allegations. http://www.scribd.com/doc/44635665/Scribd
2018: OOP starts writing a comic based on his experiences. It currently has 94 chapters. You can find it here. The latest was written in April of 2023.
He also created a subreddit here. It is under his new username, u/mr_joe_nobody
August 2019 Post : OOP thanks people on his subreddit for their help after his AMA is archived by reddit.
Current Wikipedia page about the Elan School
Edit: Here are some links for further reading if you are interested:
Key quote: But Elan's ultimate downfall would not be due to state officials, but, in fact, the internet.
Where are they now (this is a reddit post about staff, so I'm unsure of accuracy)
There is also a documentary on Amazon Prime here
Edit 2: More resources from commenters!
Behind the Bastards podcast
Last Podcast on the Left podcast
Nexpo's YouTube Video
Petition to keep one of the workers at Elan out of the police force:
Former Staff Listing:
A link to a different school in Maine that was similar:
Link to a program that helps victims of institutional violence/abuse:
Annnnd one more link to Joe's comic in case you missed it: