When friends hear the bizarre stories of what happened to me in the program, they are shocked and often tear up. No one can believe that any parent could leave their child in a full-on drug rehab for three or more years, with hard-core drug addicts and criminals.
I survived three years in Aurora Concept Inc., one of the first troubled teen programs in the country. Officially a drug rehabilitation center or therapeutic community (“TC”), it was actually more like an abusive cult. For years I felt that I was part of an underground survivors society.
Originally created for adult heroin addicts in 1972, Aurora Concept Inc. started bringing in kids as young as 12. In 1982, I had just turned 14, was smoking a little pot, missed a lot of school and had emotional problems. I needed help. A psychologist suggested Aurora to my parents. He heard it was a great place for teens. It wasn’t. Even the neighbors didn’t have a clue what was going on “In that Basement”.
Aurora used a mixture of shame, humiliation, military-type structure and thought reform (brainwashing). This “treatment” was adapted from the methods of a cultish group called Synanon (1958-1991), which pioneered the model that went on to influence the modern “Troubled Teen Industry”. Its leaders were high school dropouts whose sole qualification was having themselves been addicts. Like Synanon, Aurora was also led by high school dropouts and former addicts; Jerry Lucci, Sandi Lucci and Louie Cino. They shaved heads, forced clients to wear bizarre costumes and degrading signs, and used extreme techniques like sleep deprivation, primal screaming, and constant guilt confessionals to tear people down to nothing.
I was forbidden from telling my parents, family or friends about the bizarre treatment I was subjected to in Aurora.
The average stay was three years. Either you “graduated” from Aurora, or you were garbage. I wanted out so I “split” many, many times and was eventually kicked out, never graduating.
Through interviews over the last decade, I have come to understand that this treatment can and has worked for the hard-core, adult drug addict. Many feel that they would be dead today if not for Aurora. I am glad for them and truly mean it, but this story focuses mainly on the adolescent experience.
The difference is that these extreme measures often wreak permanent damage on the adolescent brain and ego. Damage I am still trying to repair. 30+ years later, many adolescents like me have recurring nightmares, traumatic memories and PTSD.
Jerry Lucci, Sandi Lucci and Louie Cino were taken down by NY Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer in 1999.
Ex-clients and parents continue to ask questions:
- Where is all of our personal information, our psychological files?
- What happened to all the money they made off of us and our parents and medicaid?
- Can we still sue them?
- Why didn’t they go to jail?
I am committed to making this film. I have been working on it for more than eight years and much of the work is already done and paid for.
The total budget for this film is $25,000. I have already invested $18,000 in pre-production. My target of $7,500 here on INDIEGOGO is specifically for two purposes:
- Interviewing, filming, and editing clients/survivors, families, and faculty of The Aurora Concept, the related travel expenses and editing costs
- Additional research and interviews on adolescent brain development
I am sharing digital and DVD copies of In a Basement in Queens, as well as opportunities to see a screening of the film before the final cut, dedicate a message in the credits, or even become a producer of the film.
Thank you for making this documentary possible.
Not until Facebook did I realize that there were others out there like me. Lots of others. I finally figured out how to deal with my trauma – I’d tell my story, and maybe even help others.
The Aurora Concept Inc. is closed, but this model of “treatment” for adolescents still exists. I hope that by telling my story, and the stories of other Aurora Concept survivors, we will warn parents on the verge of making the same mistake ours did. Don’t send your troubled teen to an institution like this. Stop and seek other options.
Making a balanced and cohesive documentary film is difficult. This is true in this case for several reasons, including the fact that The Aurora Concept is closed, speaking about their experiences is often traumatic for survivors, and much of the documentation of the activities at the Aurora Concept has been destroyed.
I know not everyone is in the position to make a financial contribution today, but there are lots of other ways to help make this film:
- If you or someone you know was involved with the Aurora Concept and has photos, film, or stories to share, please contact me today. Click the pink link next to the video at the top that says “Ask a question”, or email me at [email protected]
- Like us on Facebook and share our posts.
- Please use the INDIEGOGO share tools in the menu on the left to spread the word
Thank you for your help today!