Treatment Abuse, Behavior Modification, Thought Reform > New Info

Renaissance or Renaissance Project - Ellenville, NY

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I keep hearing about Synanon off-shoots, and here in NY, there seem to be 2 main ones associated with it – Phoenix House and Daytop (both of which still operate, albeit with much tamer regiments).

But I’ve never heard of anyone talk about Renaissance (or the Renaissance Project) in Ellenville, NY (not far from Daytop’s Swan Lake facility, tho I don’t know if that's still there).

I was there as a teenager for 2 yrs from 1981-1983.  It was primarily an adult facility – approx 65 adults and about 15 teenagers.  This place, while small, was a direct descendant of Synanon’s.

When I got there, they still shaved heads (men only; they stopped shaving women’s and made them wear stocking caps instead; I was told they changed this after a woman killed herself).  They still gave people costumes: bum outfits, baby outfits (complete with diapers, pacifiers, bibs, etc).  I wore signs, stocking caps, and scrubbed toilets with toothbrushes.  Dishpan, spare parts….we shoveled snow out of the pool in the winter, and “moved” the lake with a tablespoon in the summer.  GI’ed rooms for hours. Attitude runs on the lawn, bent over picking up invisible “attitudes” for hours. Chopping ice on the pathways until 3am.  General meetings called at 4am, dragging us out of bed to scream at us and shave heads, etc.

I was 16 when I was sent there; 18 when I left.  I’m 45 yrs old now and my life has never been the same.

I recently started researching Renaissance and found out they’re still open.  I doubt they have teenagers there anymore, but I read that an addict from there killed a security guard and stabbed a nurse in Oct 2010.  When I googled it, I saw it was still the same buildings on the same property.

Because Renaissance is small, and I don’t think there are any chapters outside of NY, I’ve never heard anything about it.  A recent facebook search turned up 2 people I know from there (both of whom were adults), but I’m afraid to contact either of them.

I still think of the other teenagers I was there with, and often wonder what happened to them.

When I left there at 18, I began using heroin.  And spent the next 20 yrs in and out of rehabs, periods of sobriety and college, but eventually relapsing again.  I’m now clean for 7 yrs.  I live and work in NYC and have a seemingly normal life, though the nightmares have never stopped and I live the damage from that place each and every day in ways that just seem normal to me now, after so many years.

If anyone’s ever heard of Renaissance – especially from the early 1980s – I’d appreciate any info you have.  I remember the staff members names, and even have pictures still of most of them.  Rudimentary online searches yield very little info (I already know Felix Varela died some yrs ago)  Gerry Gerace, the ex-director, is still around.  That’s all I’ve been able to find, but I’d like to find out who actually owns the place  - now and back in the 80s.

Any help or info is appreciated.


I had not heard of this program and I definitely second Auntie Em’s sentiments in her reply to this post on the other thread too.

--- Quote from: "AuntieEm2" ---Afraid I can't offer any information, but I extend my sympathies for what sounds like a horrible experience. No one deserves to be treated this way, no one.

Auntie Em
--- End quote ---
I’m very sorry that I don’t have much information to offer you at this time. A twenty minute peek around yielded mixed results under the name Renaissance House Project.
A search specific to Ellenville, NY pops up as ... roject_Inc as well as multiple news stories regarding the October 2010 homicide of the guard by an "inmate"/"patient" that you mentioned.

Here is a site that’s called “Kids Escaping Drugs” and it describes and shows images of their West Seneca campus called Renaissance as well as two others in Buffalo. The site indicates that "Renaissance Campus" [Including] Renaissance House, Stepping Stones and Promise House are all part of ADDS.”
ADDS is ... lcohol.asp

--- Quote ---Description: The Renaissance House campus is the only public inpatient and residential treatment facilities in Western New York for chemically dependent boys and girls ages 12 to 18. Renaissance House is a 30-bed inpatient rehabilitation program. Stepping Stones is a 16-bed aftercare facility for those adolescent who need assistance in re-entering the community upon completion of an inpatient rehabilitation program.
--- End quote ---
So from this-- this one appears to be a contract agency “owned” by the taxpayers.

Possibly related or extraneous:
At a glance it seems there are multiple locations in NY State and a quick of skim linking sites seems to imply there are out of state locations including NJ.

This one in KY is listed as substance abuse treatment, but does not indicate age or gender or anything determinate to indicate if it is the same program.

The listing for Renaissance House for women in FL leads to a dead link site called “covermehouseforwomen” described by owner as an “18 month life skills program for battered women”. Also in FL is  
A business in VA linked here describes nursing facilities.
Interestingly, this two page PDF shows a place that is also called Renaissance House Project and is in North Carolina. The pages describe a recently launched expansion into a basic care program that includes emergency shelter, support services as well as:

--- Quote ---“Youth Transition Support – to help young people transition into a safe and appropriate alternative living arrangement, including Job Corps, the military, independent living programs, and post-secondary residential environments, when reunification is not the most appropriate option.”
--- End quote ---

Another brief PDF is a 2007 News Letter of what is the Women's Transition Project, dba Renaissance House in Arizona.

My rudimentary search hasn’t yielded anything conclusive about ‘Renaissance House Project’ operations in New York, either.
Others may bring more to the discussion as you keep posting.

Boy does that sound like a hellhole. I went thru similar post program issues after str8 . I know the hplessness that comes along with trodding that path. I got out of my arm in87. no thaanks to the alleged experts.  The only thing I can say ever helped me out was the day I realized that just because some guy tells you the moon is made of cheese ,dont make it so.
 A really cool therapist once told me, that my narcotic use was"all about what YOU give yourself permission to do" in short that I am indee NOT powerless. hey keep after it, it DOES get easier after a point. and hey if people like Steve Earle and Keith Richards can go with out it so can I. Truly best of luck. :nods:

Inculcated – thanks for your response & info.  I checked your links but don’t think any of those places are related to Renaissance / the Renaissance Project.  I’m almost positive it’s NY-based only.  Part of my frustration is not being able to find any info online – if you check Renaissance’s actual website, you’ll see there’s very little info on it:

In NY in the ‘80s, the most well-known TCs/rehabs were Phoenix House, Daytop, and Renaissance, all of which were run by old school ex-dope fiends.  It was all very hardcore back then.  There was no 12-step anything – in fact, they actively dissuaded meeting attendance.  They thought AA/NA was for people too weak to stay clean on their own.  TCs – at least those 3 – were straight out of Synanon: strict behavior modification kind of shit, but I think that was the beginning of the end of that kind of modality in “addiction treatment.”

I left in ’83.  For the rest of that decade, these places were overrun and overwhelmed by the crack epidemic and by HIV/AIDS.  And perhaps changes in thinking about the 12-steps as well, because I think the late ‘80s and ‘90s saw a significant shift in “treatment”– including a wholesale embrace of the 12-Step movement and the rise & proliferation of the entire for-profit TTI.

I wonder if anyone’s ever done a historical or sociological study of this shift in TCs during this time?

Sorry, I geek out sometimes...

My point being, I don’t know much about the whole Troubled Teen Industry.  It’s only been the last few days that I’ve found out just how pernicious the industry is. I mean, I knew there’d been huge growth in these boot camps and places for teens; I didn’t know how unregulated these facilities were, how little oversight there was.  And I didn’t know anything about Wwasps, or these people who just open up places under new names when they get closed down.  

I mention this for context (and for contrast): Renaissance was run by old school true believers, but unlike Phoenix House and Daytop, Renaissance never became a money-making business; they don’t do any marketing or major fundraising. I mean, just look at their website. Then compare it to PH or Daytop’s.  I guess that’s part of the reason I assumed they closed down – I heard little about them after I left.

In addition to their residential facility in Ellenville, they always had a number of smaller out-patient sites throughout Westchester County.  It looks like their main office is still in New Rochelle, NY; they used to have outpatient programs in Portchester, Yonkers, and a couple of other towns outside of NYC but that was the extent of their presence.
The only other thing I learned recently about Renaissance is that the most recent Director of the Ellenville facility was a guy named Jim Colarell, who died last summer.  I knew Jim…he was older than me and ahead of me in the program, but I remember him.  Which lends more credence to my theory that Renaissance has remained small and off-the-grid, with the same kind of true believer ex-addicts still running it.  That and its lack of marketing/fundraising make it different than what Daytop and PH have become.

Sorry for such a long rambling missive.  I should probably explain: the reason I’m suddenly interested in this is because I recently found out about the Family School Foundation for Truth – a group trying to expose the abuses at that facility.  I know The Argiros family well - I was there in the early days, in 1984, before they became a school. I know the founders and their kids (who now run it). It was a rough gig for sure, but nothing like the stories I’ve read about it lately.  

At some point in the past 15-20 yrs,The Family School Foundation seems to have become much more of a money-making venture (like so many other places, save Renaissance) and apparently much more abusive. I couldn’t believe some of the stories I read – they took me right back to my own adolescent nightmare.  And apparently awakened my own demons - I’ve spent the last few days obsessively looking for any info I can find on Renaissance.  I suspect I’ll have to dig for company records or filings from them and probably go to their New Rochelle facility in person for answers.

Sorry to geek out again, but I’ve got a theory – maybe others here who are well-versed in this world can offer some insight?  It seems to me there are basically 2 types of these “treatment” places today:  those that are run by money-grubbers like WWasp and others for whom this is strictly about $$ and who have little to no regard for the kids; and then there are (seemingly fewer) places run by the “true believers,” who still really believe that behavior modification & the TC model actually work – places like Renaissance, who apparently still labor in relative obscurity and with little fanfare.  And what The Family used to be before it morphed into the $60K/yr “school” modality (Tony & Betty were true believers; their kids, a little less so).

Then again, maybe not.  Maybe I’ve just spent too many hours this week reading up on all this stuff and am a little punchy now!

Thanks again for your reply.

Hi seamus – thanks for your post.  “Out of the arm” – wow, I haven’t heard that expression in years!  I don’t go to meetings, I don’t hang out with recovering addicts, so I’m a little out of the loop.  I finally gave up the needle for good 7 yrs ago, after od’ing in my office (seriously).  I woke up strapped to a gurney outside my office on 3rd Ave as the EMT’s  rolled me in the ambulance.  At the hospital, I was promptly arrested (and fired from my job).  I was 38 yrs old and all I could think was, “holy fuck, not AGAIN.”  My next thought was, “jesus christ, I am too old for this shit....”  

I’ve been clean since then and can honestly say, I don’t get a lot of urges or think about getting high very much.  I’ve been way more obsessed with trying to salvage whatever I can out of my life at this point, my career, my family, etc.  I don’t usually use 12-step terminology, but I'm much more haunted by the “wreckage of my past” than I am with urges to get high.

It does get easier, in some ways.  But such a long and illustrious drug career takes its toll in many other ways…

I'm glad you found your peace - so many people never get there or just die trying.   But I like that you use Keith Richards as a benchmark!

Cheers :-)


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