The Children of Aurora
The Children of Aurora
A documentary about a drug rehab center whose methods were so bizarre that 30 years later former clients are still affected.
A documentary about a drug rehab center whose methods were so bizarre that 30 years later former clients are still affected. Read more
About this project
The War on Drugs
Before President Ronald Reagan announced America’s ‘War on Drugs’, therapeutic communities like Aurora Concepts Inc. were popular, discreet places for parents to send kids who had gotten involved with drugs, the law or had mental health or behavioral issues. No one could imagine what was going on in the basement of that building next door. At Aurora, children as young as thirteen lived in dormitories with adults, many of whom were recovering drug addicts, alcoholics and criminals mandated to treatment by the court. As for the adolescents, their crimes were often as simple as smoking pot, running away from home or misbehaving at school. Their punishment was forfeiting their teenage years, being forsaken by their families and forgotten by their friends. And then came the "treatment"... An average stay inside Aurora was three years. Many of the former clients still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other long-term effects include permanently scarred family relationships and trust issues.
A Pig Mask in the Family Room
Producer Adam Forgash recalls the day he began treatment at Aurora. The year was 1982. He had been suspended from school, was getting into trouble, smoking pot and his parents were desperate to get him some help. Adam stood with his parents outside a low, brick office building in a residential section of Queens, New York. He had been inside once before on a tour. An older boy had showed him around and promised him he would see friends and family often. “It’ll only be for a few months.” On the tour, the place didn’t seem so bad. After his parents left, Adam was strip-searched. He was then led downstairs into the ‘family room’ where an over-sized photograph of Aurora’s director Jerry Lucci hung on the wall. A teenage girl crawled past him wearing a pig mask and hooves... They’d left this part out of the tour.
Two Tyrants (absolute power corrupts absolutely)
Joe Russo started Aurora Concepts in 1971. The clients who were in Aurora at the time, said that Joe started as a caring, kind, charismatic man. Within five years, he was doing drugs and having sex with the clients. Joe was taken down in 1976 for drug use, sexual improprieties and inappropriate behavior. His muse and a graduate of Aurora, Jerry Lucci, took over for Joe. Jerry's empire lasted 24 years.
In the end, it was corrupt financial dealings that brought the leaders of Aurora down, but for the children of Aurora, the effects of being removed from home and immersed in a culture of ritual humiliation for years will last for the rest of their lives.
To this day, former clients of Aurora argue over the facility’s legacy. Most clients from the adult program swear it saved their lives and have positive memories. On the other hand, those from the adolescent program are still living with traumatic memories, living under such a bizarre regime and having lost their teenage years. Most everyone agrees that Aurora was a strange place and its leaders were power crazy.
Was Aurora a Cult? Some say yes and others say no. All cults have the following four elements in common:
- Behavior Control
- Information Control
- Thought Control
- Emotional Control
Aurora displayed aspects of each and the movie will explore these concepts in more depth.
The End is in Sight
In 2013, after nearly three decades of recounting stories of abuse and abandonment to astonished friends and disbelieving family, Adam began collecting interviews, photographs and documents in order to make a film about his experience. He plans on conducting additional interviews with former clients, their parents, staff, New York State officials, and professionals in the psychology community as well as experts in cult behavior. Then, it's on to post-production. This is Adam's first attempt at a full-length documentary and he hopes to finish production by spring of 2016.
A Note from the Filmmaker
Over the past three decades I have wanted to write a book about my experiences in Aurora, but could never find the words. It wasn’t until Facebook put many of the survivors back in touch that I found the vehicle to tell this story - a film about Aurora.
I've been an accomplished photographer for over 20 years and for the last six, I’ve been involved in making short humanitarian films. I have an eye for the medium and love nothing more than to tell stories with a camera. My experience and my personal involvement in the program has put me in a unique position to make this film.
This is my first full-length film; I’m about halfway through and can only complete it with your generous support. All donations will go directly to pay for filming interviews, assistant cameramen, travel, a professional editor, sound, legal fees, archival footage, music licensing, equipment rental and post production.
There are many reasons that I want to make this movie. I want to create a retrospective of institutionalized child abuse at a drug rehabilitation center using bizarre methods and a questionable treatment modality. I also think this film can be a cathartic experience for all Aurora survivors, many of whom have never been able to translate these unorthodox experiences in a tangible way to others. But most importantly, I hope that this film will serve as a warning to future generations: be proactive with your children and remain involved in their lives, and use caution when deciding who cares for them when they need help. Leaving adolescents for years in the care of untrained, ex-drug addicts is not the answer. Kids need guidance and structure – not humiliation and abandonment.
Thank you for your support. - Adam O. Forgash
Risks and challenges
Every project has obstacles and risks. There are people who may not want this movie to be made and there are times that I have been afraid to press on.
But what I've found so far is that people have been coming around to the idea that it's good to share their stories - cathartic for them and (hopefully) helpful for those in the future.
This started as a project about the abuse the adolescents endured in the program (because I was that adolescent), but in speaking with more and more people, it has brought balance to the project. People really do feel they would have died had it not been for Aurora. But there are paradoxes that come along with this journey. I want to tell the whole story.
Hearing other's experiences have validated my own and given me perspective I didn't have before. I am committed to finishing this project - it's an act of passion (and pain), and it has been cathartic for me as well.
(AND I am very resourceful!)
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