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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 circumvent 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.