DeSisto, Old Friends, & The Angry Mob Mentality Of Chat Rooms & Forums

I was recently contacted by an old friend from High School. I should mention here that I’m not in touch with anyone from those youthful days and haven’t been for a very long time. You see, I didn’t go to High School in my home town so there’s never been anyone to fill me in on where those folks are now and what they’ve been doing since. Some of them have crept into my thoughts now and then, others I haven’t thought about in 26 years. But now that contact’s been made, I find myself flooded with memories. It’s incredible how experiences and emotions that seemed long-faded, wounds that were thought healed, can resurface in an instant and feel as new and fresh as when they first happened. It’s also a great reminder of who I am and where I come from, in what ways I’ve changed and in what ways I haven’t. I suppose many people have this experience as they get older and find themselves invited to High School reunions and such. But my school has no reunions that I know of (at least none I’ve been invited to!). You see, my school was not like most others. And it no longer exists.

As a teen, I was pretty much what you would call a “troubled kid”. Now that phrase has many different faces and many different meanings, but mine was such that I needed some real-world help that I just wasn’t getting where I was. My parents were–and still are–amazing and, thanks to them, I was able to get that help. It came in the form of a school called DeSisto. Michael DeSisto ran two schools: one in Stockbridge Massachusetts, the other in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida (yep, that’s right, Howey-in-the-Hills). I went to the latter and had the honor and privilege to arrive the day the school opened. I was among the core group that inadvertently helped sculpt what the school would become. This was in 1980 (since the school closed in ’88, maybe we didn’t do such a bang-up job). DeSisto was a “therapeutic community”; a school for kids whose troubles went, perhaps, a bit beyond the norm. Some were court ordered, some sent by their parents against their will, others, like me, chose to go. However, there were no gates or bars at DeSisto. It wasn’t a prison. The rule was always, “If you want to stay, stay. If not, there’s the road.” They knew from the get-go that you couldn’t help anyone who didn’t want to be helped.

For me, DeSisto was a life-changing experience. Some of the most difficult, exciting, dramatic, unusual and positive moments from my life took place there. And though I left the school without completing the program and was supposedly made persona non grata, I nonetheless have terrific memories and no ill will toward the school, my experiences, or the negativity I received upon deciding to move on. I was ready and I knew it. And for me, my life has shown that my choice was the proper one. I still like who I am (no small thing if you knew me when). And I consider the anger Michael DeSisto and some others felt at my leaving to be quite the compliment as I took it to be more a sign of sadness improperly dealt with, and less actual anger.

In my newfound desire to reconnect with some of these long lost friends and lovers, I stumbled on a number of sites devoted to people who had “survived” DeSisto. As I read on, I found a frightening wealth of misinformation about the schools. People raging about brainwashing, child-abuse, sexual humiliation… The list goes on. People who had gone to these schools and “escaped” talk about their experiences as if they’d been sent to POW camps and had bamboo chutes slid under their fingernails. Now maybe the schools changed dramatically since I was there, but that description bears no resemblance to my experience of the school I went to. The DeSisto of my youth was a place of understanding and acceptance, of respect; a place that allowed me to grow, not by trying to change me, but by appreciating me and, better yet, helping me to appreciate myself. Now this may sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo to some folks–and I won’t pretend that the school didn’t have its flaws (show me a school that doesn’t)–but it sure as hell was exactly what this 16 year old needed and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.

Living at and with DeSisto is an experience that is not easily explained. The rules are different, the world is different. And to try and explain it properly would take both time and–more importantly–the desire on the part of the listener to understand. What I found on almost all of the sites I started reading was the same intolerant anger I’ve found on so many sites before, regardless of topic. These are not people who want to know the truth. This is a forum for people who want to vent their anger and frustration, their feelings of being victimized and not listened to, on the world at large. It’s rare, in my experience, to find an internet forum that does not suffer from this. This is why many forums have moderators, to attempt to elicit respectful, open-minded conversation, not fear-mongering and hateful accusations.

I thought at first that I would add my two-cents to some of these forums, that I would offer an insider’s perspective, my personal experience. But as I read further, the few people that attempted this before me were met with such vile hostility that it seemed clear to me that truth or reality was not what these folks were seeking; they appeared to actually WANT to be angry, they seemed to NEED it.

Nonetheless, I wanted to lend my voice to those whose experience of DeSisto was a great one. Yes, it was an imperfect place in an imperfect time. And maybe the people in charge didn’t learn from their mistakes and went down the wrong path. Or maybe the school was just trying to do something most people simply could not understand and would find easier to condemn. I truly don’t know.

All I know is I spent 2 1/2 years of my life there and who I am today is partly a reflection of the opportunities I was given there. It is as much a part of me as my liver or my heart. Even if I don’t think about it every day.


469 thoughts on “DeSisto, Old Friends, & The Angry Mob Mentality Of Chat Rooms & Forums

  1. Very interesting, Hal. Glad you feel that way about the school. We can only imagine how difficult that time of life must have been. You sure follow your own drummer and have turned out to be someone we love and admire.

    1. Shitty rules or not, we are all still going on because of the framework that this brilliant man laid down for us. Go ahead, talk your shit about it but it saved my life and i am forever in Michaels debt for attending his school. When i attended if you didnt break rules you didnt get in trouble (common sense 101) and if we did we knew it was coming.

      1. Hal have some sympathy for those who suffered. Its offensive and insulting…..i do want help your preface could include the other side of TDS. GOD BLESS Im glad Michael helped you so much.

      2. Brandon, I think if you read the comments here (and there are a lot of them) you will find I am quite sympathetic. When I initially wrote this piece (over 2 years ago), I literally had no idea that DeSisto had gone through SUCH dramatic changes after I’d left (’82). The school you went to and the school I went to might well have existed on different planets. And there are a lot of people who are angry for the sake of being angry. Every chat room has those people. And they have chimed in here as well. Then there are those for whom DeSisto truly was a horrible, abusive place. But it was not that in my day. And it’s not just a perspective. It was actually quite a different place.

      3. Also, Brandon, if you go back and read my piece, I do acknowledge that the place may well have changed from when I was there, that maybe the people who ran the place did not learn from their mistakes and took the school down the wrong path. I was very careful to spell out MY experience and MY observations, while allowing that things may have changed since my departure. Nothing that should be offensive. And many of the people I read comments by on other sites (this was before any DeSisto Facebook sites existed) were not even people who had attended DeSisto, but were raging against it nonetheless. I do believe much of what I’ve read and been told. And it saddens me. And other comments I take with a healthy grain of salt and realize that some people’s anger began long before they ever stepped foot on a DeSisto campus.

  2. Thanks, you guys, And of course I love and admire you both as well. It seems to make some sense that most of the kids who were sent to DeSisto were angry and resentful. Most didn’t choose to go there. So their experience is colored by that fact. More so for the kids who didn’t stick around and successfully ran away. They’re going to undoubtedly remember it as a horrible place that was trying to change them. It’s unfortunate that many have grown up to still feel such deep resentment. It’s hard for most folks to understand the type of kids that went to DeSisto. It ranged from the moderately dysfunctional to the VERY dysfunctional. But just about every kid that was there was there for a pretty good reason. They weren’t just going through the usual growing pains or the standard rebellious phase. But I know that’s difficult for the average person to understand or imagine. It was not, in most cases, a dumping ground for unwanted children. Nor was it trying to change these kids. In fact, that’s what made it stand out from many other schools of its kind. It wasn’t taking the militaristic approach of “rebuilding” these kids. It was, to the best of its ability, trying to help these kids see themselves for how great they were and for all the things they had to offer. While at the same time trying to teach them to take responsibility for their actions and the repercussions of those actions. A daunting task, to say the least.

    1. Wow, what a surprise to 1. be searching the net on DeSisto 2. to see my old room mate! Alot of memories. Hope you are well. Jay

  3. i completely accept responsibility for my actions and the consequences that follow. what i do not accept is being forced to sleep in a shoe foyer, being denied showers for 3 months, being zip tied, and being forced to wear a sheet. what i do not accept is that my friends were sexually abused not by one but three different faculty members. this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    the fact that we went to very different schools has been well established. i walked onto the stockbridge campus on february 2, 1990 and ran away for the final time on november 30, 1995. my problem was that i was suicidal, i had never seen a rated r movie or kissed a boy. between the ages of 13 and 19 i was in a place that was hell on earth 90% of the time. sure there were wonderful moments that i treasure, but most of the time we were all just trying to survive.

    you had a different experience, and that is wonderful. the fact that you did not experience the hell that desisto became is a blessing. though there is a reason that social services closed the school, and that should be respected. you were there at the end of the “golden age”.

    i loved michael, i loved the school, because i was told a million times that i would never accomplish anything without them. i spent almost six years attempting to be perfect so that i could leave the “right” way. when i ran the first time at 18 i was physically thrown i a van and dragged back to school. no one was ever free to leave, even those who were of age.

    michael began with the best intentions but it did not end that way. i remember being told many times by him that he was breaking us down so that he could build us back up. that what we were going through served the purpose of being our bottom, no matter how far we fell later in life this would be the lowest point.

    today i am successful and happy, in spite of what happened. for those of us who went after you, we do not want your pity or to change your mind. what we want is to have the fact that are experiences were real. just as we respect that your experiences were real.

  4. Jaymee,

    I am just now processing what you wrote. It is almost beyond my comprehension that the school I went to, the principals and ideals that were very actively in place while I was there, could become so distorted, twisted and destructive. And yet, here you are, describing your personal experience in an intelligent and articulate manner. Not from a place of rage, but of simply wanting to share your experience, to have it validated as having been real, however different from my own.

    It fills me with great sadness, a sadness beyond words. For so many reasons, on so many levels. I guess I was very lucky to go to DeSisto when I did and where I did. I wish all the kids who came after me had been so lucky.

    Thanks for writing and telling me about your experience. It has not fallen on deaf ears.

  5. I went to DeSisto Stockbridge Campus in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I agree there are a lot of people out there that are really angry. The thing is; I was there when they were. And it wasn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. I grew up and can reflect as an adult on my time there. It seems to me that a lot of the people I knew can’t step back and reflect on things from a distance, as an adult, instead of the child that experienced everything intensely, as all children do.
    There were some really wonderful people that I met and love to this day. And laughter. There was good and bad. There were consequences.
    And for a lot of people, who were not brainwashed, it was ultimately a good experience.
    I’m actually kind of angry that after all this time, I end up defending The Desisto School. I raged just as hard as everyone else there and am just fine that to this day I’m not a graduate. But the truth is the truth.

  6. Thanks for your comments, X. I suppose I liked the school more than most cause I was one of the few who went there by choice. Many felt tricked and/or abandoned by their parents there, or were court-ordered. I was none of those. The school was imperfect, I knew it then, and I recognize it now. But man oh man what good they DID do. As I’ve said, it was life-changing and life-affirming for me. And I know a lot of young kids today who would likely benefit if the schools were still around. As for the extreme stories I read online, I simply have no place for them. They are not my experience. I can’t call them false and I can’t call them true. But I can say that I haven’t heard any of those stories from people that I knew who went to the school I went to (Howey) when I went there. I personally feel lucky to have gone, to have been a part of that experience. It has enriched my life. To this day. Warts and all.

  7. Hi Hal,

    I expirenced the same school you did and also feel grateful to have had the oppurtunity to know you and the many others that enriched my life.

  8. Hal.
    I don’t know you, but I enjoyed your blog. I am glad school was a good memory for you. I struggle sometimes reading blogs and posts about the school. I know the school changed over the years, some of it I saw with my own two eyes. I personally choose to remember some of the best friends I have ever met. I had some good times. Played on some great sports teams, did a couple of bike trips. Experiences I will never forget. I also saw some god awful things, and I truly believe some people were abused and taken advantage of at the school. I can understand why they are angry. I can also see why the people who loved the place are so upset by the negative feedback and harsh words. I enjoyed Howey, even the farm, Stockbridge I enjoyed less, but still have some good memories. I also still have nightmares and dreams about things I saw and remember from those days.

  9. My point is, and I am sorry I double posted is I choose to move forward, and like all things you can look at the glass half full, or half empty. I know while at the school I struggled with issues of confidence, leadership, peer relations, honesty about myself and the world, etc.. issue most young people face. The crazy thing as awful as I though the place was, and how scary it was for me at the time, all the issues that confronted me at the time have been solved or dealt with. I have a confidence and ability to communicate with others that is on a different level then most people. For the most part it has been a blessing. So in some ways I am thankful. I surely no longer have a problem giving someone a hug, or telling someone how I feel about something. So I personally choose to be thankful of somethings, forgetful of other things, and sometimes haunted by stuff I can’t let go of. At the end of the day I am just happy to see so many of our old friends still seeking each other out, and continuing to have relationships with each other. We were close then, and many of us are close now. That I cherish. Thanks for listening,

  10. Thanks for your insights, Tim. I’m glad that you were able to walk away with some really good memories and sorry that there were obviously some pretty intense events that were difficult and disturbing. As much as I loved the school. it was not an “easy” place to be, though far easier than where I came from. I was lucky, I suppose, that I never witnessed anything truly awful. I don’t know if it was happening but most of us didn’t know about it, or whether the school really declined over the years. It’s sad to think such a helpful place could become an unsafe place. I’m glad to hear you’ve worked through much of this and hopefully aren’t haunted by it any longer.

  11. I knew Michael DeSisto when he was a University Student and Scout Leader
    and our friendship lasted all his life. We worked together in Lake Grove School and later on he asked me to help with the two groups that came to Canada. I visited Stockbridge and heard about de Florida. Mike worked hard for his students and I know he did his best to respond to the grandiose challenge that he took. I do regret that he had to leave this world so soon.

  12. Hi Hal,
    I was Howie for 5 years and finally graduated. Once realized, I went with the program. There is no question that each of us had our own circumstances and our attitudes at the time and now, reflect this.

    Looking back the experience was good for me, I wasn’t in such bad shape, just flunking school, surfing and starting to party.

    I’m not sure why some of us found our way, and some of us didn’t. In the MSN, and now Multiply sites, I’ve been lurking and there is a lot of noise and people who seem lost still. There was one post that struck me though, This is not verbatim but the gist was that we as Desistoites did learn to be very open, much more so than other kids grew up to be. I found this to be true for me and, reflecting back, I consider it to be a strength of character and one of honesty.

    Some did have negative experiences though, and I’m sorry that they did, I just hope that they can move on (after all it’s 20+ yrs).

    So here I am babbling about moving on, and there is a burning curiosity to connect and talk with others such as you Hal, Dave, Jaymee, and many others that had the same environment to “grow up” in.

    Very eloquently put Hal, Thanks for posting. I have one picture to share,

    1. Mark and Hal,

      I’m with you. I was on my way to disaster and the school caught me before I even got close to the edge. I think it all depends on how receptive we are and how much we were willing to realize we needed to change.

      As for the horror stories, I don’t remember anything untoward happening there, at least not intentionally. There were the occasional scandals (as in any school), but there was nothing bad institutionalized. I consider my time at the school valuable and many times wish my parents would have permitted me to stay longer.

      All in all, it was a good and safe place. Many lessons were not internalized until years later, but the seeds had been planted. Whatever kind of person Michael DeSisto may or may not have been, most of our dorm parents, teachers, and therapists were good people.


  13. Hey Hal, I have thought of you and the days of our past, you were a friend for real, nice to see your face and comments. Thinking good t6houghts of you and … Remember Cat Stevens, Rikki, Bob oh yeah those tunes always take me back. take care.

    1. Jodi, I found Hal’s blog while I was looking for you. I doubt that you remember me now, but you’ve always stuck in my mind, for various reasons.

      Hope you’re doing well. Give a holler back (if Hal doesn’t mind) if you want to catch up.

  14. I was at Howey from 81-82. I feel 25 years later that the only thing I truly received from my year at DeSisto was good friends. I found the school a tad ridiculous with its limit structures and sitting and being leashed. I had all those things and more happen while I was there but I never felt abused. Overall, I’d say I had a pretty good time there. My fellow students were great (for the most part), the therapists were a joke, as was the “super” staff. I loved my dorm parents. It was a fun ride, but not life changing, or even life altering.

    1. hey kellie its been along time i was there with you girl beau hickley i was glad to see this site it brings back alot of good memories and i do believe those were some of the best times of my life i thought the school was a plus in my life kellie if you happen to see this look me up

      1. Hey Becca Williams at least that is what I think your last name was??? I think about you and upper girls often. Look me up on FB.

    2. Hello again Kelly. I love to keep up with you on FB. I have to agree everything you said. I think of Santa a lot and Wendy. One thing I can say is I will never forget the 2 years I was there. The one thing I can say for sure was my dad was ripped off.

  15. I don’t know what detesto was like in the early days,probably not as bad as when I and a few others went there in the early 90’s. I can tell ya there was plenty of brainwashing sheeting handhelled group farmed indiviual farmed, oh and how can we forget troubled teens being in conrtol of limit structures.
    I dont know you guys but i bet your good people, but i think the years in passing since you left have clouted your memory into how big d was a complete manipulator and had to have everything his way or no way.
    Did you guys forget all the free labor we did? Was that therapy. Good luck guys and gals hope all is well.

  16. hmmm,you and I ran from Desisto copped some beer and hit the orange groves or is this just a scoobie dreM??? CUT THE SHIT

  17. We did indeed. Good times, in my memory. I’m one of the folks thankful for DeSisto. Saved my life in many ways. Quite probably literally. Not sure I get the CUT THE SHIT part, though.

  18. I think school helped me too! In the short term the benefits were hard to realize, but in the long-term, it set in motion what I needed to be the real me and a good person. For that, I am grateful!


  19. Well I guess someone said there was some guy ( probably dorm parent) before the 90’s that used to stand up to the big D. Somehow when that indivudual( and i dont know his name), when he left apparently noone had the balls to stand up to the big D. So maybe that’s when it became worse. I don’t know. The only thing I guess I gained from it was survivability.Shit I have had better times in jail since then.
    But everything finally worked out and belive it or not I am acctually a fucken home owner now. Opps I owe a buck guess no toothpaste this week. tee hee.

  20. One more thing sorry. The only thing that maybe all of us has in common was overcontrolling parents who would’nt let us make mistakes and deal with them. Which is what growing up is all about, and which is what fed into the detesto school.
    Most of our family’s were let’s face it wealthy and if we did’nt fit into the country club scene or their lifestyle they shunned us. Is is so bad to be an individual. I’m still alive and not incarcerated. So was detesto worth it?? I think not. My real father still is brainwashed by desisto ( 15 yrs later) still won’t talk to me because I ran away. Now my mother on the other hand married another guy who says ” joanie that’s just ridiculous,” I feel sorry for the people who’s parent’s are still brainwashed by micheals ideology and that won’t talk to them today. I know there’s a few people out there that are like that. Sorry guys.

    1. I was at Howey in the hills in 1980-1981. I’m not sure what I got out of that school. I remember being put on sedatives, running away, being robed and leashed. I do have a few decent memories though, like horseback riding, water skiing and some of the awesome people I met there. I remember you Hal, along with Rikki and Jodi, Camille and Roshi. I was definitely not winning any popularity contests there but did have a few good friends. I recently moved from Long Island to Florida and passed by the school today for the first time in 30 years, with mixed emotions. I hope you are all doing well.

      ~Elise Diagonale

      1. I remember you, as well, Elise. It’s good to hear from you. Sounds like you’re doing well. I haven’t seen the school since I left. So some of it’s still there? I heard Hulk Hogan blew part of it up for a film. Didn’t know which part. It’s an odd life. At regular High School, I was about as unpopular as one could imagine. Yet at DeSisto, I ended up being very popular. Perhaps that accounts for so many of the good feelings I have about the place. It really felt like a whole new start; a whole new opportunity to come into my own and be appreciated and appreciate myself. The odds of that happening at that point in my life anywhere else were pretty miniscule.

  21. Yeah, Theo, again, I think you’ve managed to mix up your experience with everyone else’s. I’m sure there are many who share your feelings and experiences, but it’s rather dangerous to place everyone who did not share your experience into the “brainwashed’ category. My family was not rich and they suffered greatly to pay for this school. We did not go to country clubs or even know where one was. My parents were not overcontrolling but, in fact, great communicators. I went to Desisto by choice. I was not “sent” or “tricked” into going. I wanted to go and my parents found a way to make it possible because they knew just how bad things had gotten for me and were at a loss as to what to do to help me on their own. Though god knows they did everything they knew how. As did I. I still to this day have a great relationship with my parents and we all understand the pros and cons of a school like DeSisto. But we all agree, in my case, the pros FAR outway the cons. I loved being there, though it was extremely challenging and required that I keep myself in check and not become a “drone’ and just take everything they told me as the be all and end all. I personally liked Michael DeSisto, though, like all of us, he was highly flawed. He could throw temper tantrums and be stubborn and even let his emotions get the better of him, but he was also the first to recognize this. What I liked about the school is that we were all in this together. Students and faculty alike.

    So while you ran away and use “desistohater” today as your email name, I am thankful for the experience and used it to grow and learn. I owe my parents, Michael, and everyone involved at that school for allowing me an opportunity to find myself in a way that the world I was living in before that time simply couldn’t do. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was having one hell of a time being myself where I was and really came into my own at DeSisto. And, no, not by being brainwashed or believing that Michael DeSisto was a savior or that the school was perfect, but by being allowed to learn about myself, BE myself, learn new things about myself, discover my strengths and weaknesses and work hard to be so many of the things I wanted to be. And to have faith and confidence in myself.

    So, Theo, I would suggest refraining from suggesting that we all shared the same experience. It simply is not so. I’m sorry you didn’t like the school, Michael, or your experiences there. Seems like a missed opportunity to me. But what do I know? All I know is what I experienced and how I feel. I can’t speak for anyone but myself.

    1. Dear Theo,

      Each family and child is different. Each circumstance is different. My parents were solidly middle class, not rich. What may have been my college money went to the school. It was a hardship. Ultimately, it was very good for me. I’m sorry it failed you.


  22. I went to DeSisto at Stockbridge in 1979 and lived in the girls mansion. I would like to find any folks from those days…..

    1. Hey Kelly Smith! I missed you by two years. This is Missy Ginsberg. I hope you are keeping an eye on this.

    2. Hi, Kelly…
      This is my first post on a DeSisto site. I’m glad some of you had a decent time there, or my time there would be for naught. I truly loved many of you and think about the school off and on with sadness and with love. We staff members also had good times and bad. We, too, struggled in therapy. We, too, had a time out of time experience. When I went to DeSisto at Stockbridge in March of ’79, I was a mess that Michael and others were willing to take a chance on because they could see I genuinely cared about kids and wanted to do some good. I am not saying what I really feel (I’m not called upon to divulge my real feelings much since leaving DeSisto), but I am happy that some of you remember some of us fondly. As I remember, we only resorted to “sheeting” or robing or whatever if someone were a run away risk. Remember, we were charged by your parents with keeping all of you safe and away from harm as much as possible. Since I was there from ’79 until August of ’83, I missed of the insanity of the later years. Last evening, I had a long phone chat with Julie, a teacher who was there until ’82, and we sat in front of our computers and read with horror about the last headmaster. At the time we were there, Greg M., his brother Sean and Peter were in charge of school and dorm life. They often had screaming battles with Michael but loved him deeply enough to stick with him until they just couldn’t anymore. I’d love to hear from others who were in my dorms. I used to hear from Amy K. every few years but it’s been a while. I, too, have “suffered” a bit from PTS as a result of being there. I was lucky enough to have a good friend with whom I could stay for the two years it took me to re-enter the real world.
      Thanks to those of you who are posting your good memories in response to the hostile ones elsewhere. Also, I love Alex’s music on YouTube….I have memories of him and others at my table in the dining room. We even got thrown out one time when we laughed too loudly and too long.

      Glad I found all of you….

      1. Judy,
        I am very glad you found us, too! You did my interview and, from what I have heard and seen of others, you were 100% honest with me. Others were told of pie in the sky greatness and trips they could take. You told me and my Dad of the program and a few other things and made it clear that privileges would have to be earned. Also, I was not tricked into my ride up there and being dumped off after my interview. I realize that you had nothing to do with whether a kid gets dumped on his interview or not, but….
        I missed you when you left and have often wondered how you have been and what you’ve been up to.
        Dave Goldberg

      2. Dear Dave,
        You’ve made my day, month, year!!!
        I am really bad at names, but I never forget a face, so, while I don’t remember you by name, if I were to see you, I’d know you instantly. I thank you for what you said. I have always tried to be honest with others as I want them to be with me.
        My time at Stockbridge was the most difficult of my life (if we leave out my 13 years teaching in the South Bronx) but I wouldn’t be who I am without it I’ve never had children of my own, but the love I received from all of you has stayed with me. Every once in a while, I pull out the big envelope with all the gift pieces (is that the right term?) and reminisce for a while. One of the reasons I went there was because I felt the love present whenever I was at Lake Grove and, later, at Stockbridge picking up or dropping off girls I’d placed at the school as a Children’s Services caseworker. Both girls seemed to feel what I did at the time.
        Also, I absolutely can’t imagine the place without music or theater. And I find it hard to believe it wa AMD who dispensed with either.
        Thanks for your note, I’ll keep you in my heart.
        Big hugs,

      3. Judy,
        If you go to the facebook page for desisto (I think there are four groups) you can see pix of us. Oddly, while I was there there were two David Goldberg’s at the same time (not to mention Jeff, Stephanie and Sid Goldbergs). I had long hair and a beard in most pix. Just long hair, no beard in some. Anyway, I am glad to make your day, month, year! I would love to talk to you and catch up. You can find me on FB and send a message to me, if you want)
        Dave G

  23. I was at the Desisto School at Howey-in-the-Hills from 1984-1987, and share what some have said that the school seemed to change and stray from its early orientation. It had a much more organic, genuine community feel when I arrived. The character of the average student and faculty member seemed to decline as well.

    While I don’t regret my time there, to a great extent I feel like I could have achieved the same outcome by joining the military. It was the structure that helped me. And while I think Michael was an extraordinarily talented and freakishly insightful man, I resented the extent to which he played favorites. He didn’t like me for whatever reason, which is fine, except that I needed his approval to get out of the place.

  24. I’m glad he died a painfull death, the child molestor ( I call mike D that) got what he deserved. THe pain he recieved in dying should have come a lot earlier. I still hate him with every bone in my body. That’s just me.

    1. Exactly Theo, that’s just you. Almost every single other person who has had contact with that school has felt the opposite way. I didn’t even attend the school, my older brother did, but I learned a lot from the involvement that I had with it. Michael did not “brainwash” his students because he only told them how to think and figure things out themselves. I think I literally owe that school my life, and I know my brother does. I still cry because Michael is dead. It isn’t random that everyone else feels this way, we must be basing it off of SOMETHING, right? halmasonberg is right, people aren’t hear to learn, they’re here to be angry.

      1. Every complaint is valid!Dont be afraid to express the truth,Just by being alive we bear witness against A. Michael Desisto.Any staff has been complicit any one in favor of what occured there is a fascist.You have supported private imprisonment and human rights violations.You are responsible for the pain you inflicted on on others and responsible for the suffering the memories of being there being there bring;to those who survived.I invite again any one to E-me at Dana7738@gmail.comThe fact that such a place existed for so long,is a Shame to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States.

  25. I considered not approving your last comment, Theo, but I think, like most of what you’ve written here, that it is very revealing. Less of Michael Desisto and the school itself, and more about you and, perhaps, others who still, lo these many years later, carry with them tons of hatred, anger and resentment that should, in best Desisto fashion, really be dealt with. More for your own piece of mind than anything else.

    1. Hal ,the best event ever was when you and Frank Brilliant were Thrown out of Middlesex Probate Court on November 29,1980.Your words mean nothing.The are the words of A Man who speaks out of both sides of his mouth. You know what went on there.I dare you to contact me!No guts., NO GLory!You always were a pedantic and Puerile Coward.Picking on teenagers,How do you sleep at night? Fat,Drunk and perverse is no way to go through the rest of your life.

  26. After reading this I almost feel like lighting up a cigarette, sitting back and falling to reverie… but I no longer smoke…. or should I say ‘I no longer fume’ (for where there’s smoke, there’s fire). For a while, in the 80’s, it was ‘all-the-rage’ to get in touch with anger, find our voice, express ourselves, etc. That anger, if followed, would lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, we believed. It was meant to be constructive, experienced as a force of change…. and that it was, for me, at least. I learned to accept responsibility for my feelings, actions and subsequent repercussions of them. When honest with myself my anger becomes a road-map to truth… and how long it takes to arrive is up to me.
    Michael was… in his own words: wonderful. A person of calibre rare to find these days, as were many of his cohorts and co-founders. I was lucky to have met him. Tonight I reflect on the intensity of spirit of a man who responded… a man who never seemed to care for me much, but whom I later found out had actually paid much of my tuition to attend his school… and saved my life. A man of depth. What a fascinating experience. I was sent 8.21.81, and was glad to leave my former life behind me. In fact, I never looked back.

    Thanks for writing, Hal. Well said and well met. Too little space here to speak worlds. All the best.


    1. Dear Lucas,

      Your great wit and words are still intact!

      Although we were quite different, I always admired and looked up to you. I doubt it showed then. You were cool and quiet, and I was uncool and loud. I frustrated you, and for that I am sorry. Please know it was the best I knew to be then. As your former roommate, I am glad to see you doing well!

      We could only see Michael from our limited vantage point. What he created was wonderful and saved my life too. Thanks to Michael and the school, I have real relationships based on mutual trust, I am honest almost to a fault, and I always operate with integrity. I am also introspective, something I certainly wasn’t able to be when I arrived there.

      Thanks for your insightful words.

      Warmest Regards,


    2. Well said LucasBass. Great article, Hal. I really enjoyed sampling my memory flavors from our youth. I too attended Howey during what appears to be “the” time to be there. I also wish for a re-union. I regret not attending Michael’s funeral. Wish I had something brilliant to say, but I’ve just woken up. How about a joke,instead? Q; What is brown & rhymes with Snoop? A: Dr.Dre (not a “real” Dr.) I’d love to hear from anyone! Lucas especially! It would be a terrible shame if the next time we come together is in a FEMA camp! DeSisto is where I learned to finish everything that I st

  27. I attented Lake Grove School where Michael was the principal in the ’70’s. He was an unbalanced individual then and I regret that he was able to open his own school without anyone overseeing his actions. Michael was a fraud – embelishing his resume and experiences to suit a specific situation. Trust in knowing that whatever issues that might have brought students to DeSisto School or Lake Grove School, they were miniscule in comparison to the illness suffered by Michael DeSisto. He reigned terror and his form of craziness on me and my classmates throughout our high school years, however I have formed life time friendship and have been a better parent because of that experience. Because of the DeSisto experience I believe we all should be deligent in making sure others like DeSisto never have control or positions of influence in young peoples lives.

  28. Always amazed at the level of hateful ferocity aimed at Michael DeSisto. The comments on this post alone are a testament to how much he effected people’s lives. There is also a lot of love and deep appreciation on display here. I remain in that camp.

    1. You have to understand that everyone’s experience was different and Michael obviously picked favorites, from what I’ve read and was told about the school, this is apparent. Whether you enjoyed the school or not, it’s no surprise that someone like Michael chose favorites, and was a very “my way or the high way” type person. He also seemed to have many anger and psychological issues himself for him to even think of creating a “school” like this. I live in Berkshire County and know people who have attended the school in the later years. I can’t even imagine the sheer horror they were faced with every day.
      It is quite obvious that once someone gets used to something, as Michael did when it came to running the school, they start slacking off more and more, and start thinking they can get away with anything because they’ve already done the hard work in the beginning, which was simply building up the name.
      The anger some of these Desisto students have is 100% valid and just because they still show or experience that anger, does NOT mean they are still an angry, unhappy person. Just as if your mother, father, sister, or brother had been killed, you would still feel some type of way torwards their killer. I believe this is how many Desisto students feel, as I honestly believe Michael Desisto and his “staff” are responsible for killing so many children’s souls.
      It’s nice to hear some people say the school changed their lives, but we also cannot bash those who say the opposite. Everyone’s experiences were different, and we are all entitled to freedom of speech without having to stick up for ourselves when it comes to true and sincere emotions.
      We have to look at the FACTS when dealing with this type of thing. The facts are that Michael Desisto lied about many things, including his education and prior jobs. Kids died from attending this school, and many sexual abuse cases DID occur. Families WERE robbed out of thousands of dollars, and kids WERE administered drugs they weren’t actually prescribed, or were given a much higher dosage than prescribed. These are all FACTS. These facts have been brought to the Berkshire County Court time and time again.
      My heart goes out to both those whom enjoyed the school, and those who did not. I may not know from personal experience what happened at that school, but I do know that we get what we give, and I believe the horrible things Michael allowed to happen, eventually came back to him in the form of death.

      1. Lia, though some of what you say here is founded and inarguable, there is also much here that is offensive to me. You did not attend this school. You did not know Michael DeSisto. I think the stories you read here may be tapping into whatever issues you carry with you personally. Your comments on Michael’s deeds coming back to him in the form of death and claiming that he is responsible for killing children’s souls is downright abusive and wounding in its own right. Not to mention just plain nasty, inconsiderate and thoughtless. You write this piece about everything Michael and the school did wrong, and then you act with a similar level of opportunistic spitefulness. While it seems apparent that the school slid downhill and, eventually, ceased to be a helpful place for many, its basis and intentions were quite groundbreaking and you will find just as many whose experiences here were monumental. You also have to consider the kinds of kids that were at the school and the manner in which they came to be there. While many of the horror stories you read about may well be true, there are others that are clearly coming from a skewed view and some deep resentments that existed long before they ever stepped foot on a DeSisto campus. Nothing irks me more than people who never attended the school commenting as if they have the slightest clue of the complexities of a place like DeSisto. As well-intentioned as your commentary seemed at first, it –like the school itself– devolved into inappropriate hornswoggle.

      2. Correct, I did not attend the school. However, I did know many people who did, and was extremely good friends with people whom attended the school. What benefit would they receive by telling me about the sheer horror that went on inside the walls of DeSisto? as it may have not happened to you, I know for a fact that it did to others. So stop trying to defend this demonic figure we all know as DeSisto, and understand that many other students went through hell because of him and his “staff”, and for that you should be sorry for the pain others had to endure, but also thankful that it wasn’t you.

      3. Demonic. Defensive… I have said repeatedly that I believe many of the horror stories which have come out of DeSisto. You choose to ignore those statements and acknowledgements again and again and, instead, paint a picture of someone who is in denial, of someone who does not want the school to be something different from what he want it to be, what his experience of it was. If that’s what you want to hear, then have at it. But you’re not responding to reality if you choose to do so. When someone comes on here and throws the word “demonic” around and celebrates someone’s death as some karmic retribution, I feel the need to speak up. Particularly when their only experience of the school was that they knew some people that went there once. I’m truly sorry your friends had such horrible experiences. But I’m afraid the brutality and downright nastiness of your comments are not only overwhelmingly insensitive, but, as I stated before, terribly offensive. And they do, like it or not, feel like they are coming from someone whose anger existed long before the name “DeSisto” passed their ears. It feels like this school plugs smugly into whatever venting you need to do. So again, have at it. But don’t expect to not illicit a reaction. I have little tolerance for people who spout such vitriol and claim to have a true understanding of events because they came in contact with someone who had a terrible experience. Again, the complexities of a place like DeSisto may be beyond your ability to fully comprehend, but it taps into something for you nonetheless and you chose to spout off some rather spiteful comments here. Far too spiteful for someone who didn’t go to the school, has a one-sided experience of what the place was like (good or bad) and still decides that words like “demonic” are somehow appropriate. You clearly don’t realize it (yet), but your comments are insensitive. They are belittling to many people who DID attend the school and have a far more nuanced understanding of events than you ever could. If you want to commit to feeling righteous in your words and actions, as I said before, have at it. But I will respond. Your words here are tinged with maliciousness, but disguised as sympathy. You do not know of what you speak. Yet you choose provocative and thoughtless language in which to do so.

      4. Lia, please read through all the comments. Just as much if not more of the ‘bashing’ around here is perpetrated on those who are saying their experiences weren’t as hellish as some make them out to be. But saying it didn’t happen to you isn’t the same as saying it didn’t happen at all. While there’s bound to be some McMartin Syndrome going on here (it’s inevitable) no one is saying it didn’t happen or DeSisto was a saint or anything like that.

        You’re going on secondhand information from friends who convinced you the place was evil incarnate long before you ever found this blog. No one can convince you (nor would even try) that it didn’t happen to everyone. That, too, is a FACT.

        I appreciate you sticking up for the friends that were abused. I would appreciate you respecting those that weren’t.

  29. “When we’re dealing with these kinds of kids, who make you mad, we have to realize why they behave as they do. For example, when someone steals, there’s a sensation, a soothing. They are getting something. You can’t ask a kid to give up that and not substitute something.
    In some ways, they’ve lived more than all of us. I mean they’ve acted out; they’ve been strong; they’ve been gutsy, they’ve been determined; and they’ve had courage. They might not have been those things for the right reason, but you can’t just take that stuff away and make them be good. You’ve got to substitute or else you’re killing a part of them that’s alive. It’s also very important that you connect them into the whole system. Their families and the faculty have to be involved.”


    I wish I could have spoken to Michael before he passed…

    For the record, for what its worth, I’ll add: You cannot be rid of hate by hating hate. you must love love.
    Michael tried something. To give what he gave took nerve… I hope I can meet that when pressed. How often I hear ‘the world sucks’.
    Who makes that true?
    As for ‘tough love’… yeah, you gotta want it. How vain of me to have suffered….


    1. Reading all these posts is like a bizarre rewind to the late (and lamented) MSN site “we” all shared for a few years from 2000 to 2008. I’m sitting here with a friend who also went to DeSisto, and we are of the same mind on this… This conversation happened over and over, in various iterations: “The school destroyed my life.” “Oh yeah, well the place saved mine. I probably wouldn’t even be alive if I hadn’t gone there when I went.” And so it went. And went. And WENT!! After months of this, literally, we reached a consensus (tee-hee) That basically there were two, possibly three distinct periods of DeSisto-dom. Sort of along the lines of Paleolithic, Neolithic and Modern. Or something like that.

      It broke down sort of like this: Mind you, there are some overlaps here, noting is exact, and we ARE talking about stuff that happened 30-odd years ago. A veritable lifetime, or more than that if you were Chris Bergen, riley Mix Blake Champion or a host of other kids that didn’t get to see the adulthood their parents had so kindly provided them with a preview of. No wonder.

      Anyhow… In the beginning there were the ‘Grovers (1978-81) This included people like John Surgil, Beth Rich and Gary Dickstein. The school was in its formative period, with things like leashing, group leashing, being dormed and various other ideas not yet emerging as fully formed philosophies. You could smoke outside, in front of the Dorms and even inside, if you got a consensus (magic word again!) as Lower North did in ’81 to smoke in their lobby. Turn-ins were treated as a way of life a normal course of “acting out” and, as long as one did them more or less freely, the consequences were negligible, usually. It was pretty much EXPECTED that kids were going to have turn-ins when they went home on vacations, which were not yet the brass ring of desire they were soon to become. It wasn’t a place anyone really WANTED to go to, and kids ran away with some regularity, but more often than not returned, as a life on the road was more romantic when told about in war stories in the dorm (with heat) than actually being experienced whilst freezing one’s ass off trying to talk a trucker into giving you a ride (and not getting cornholed in the deal). Ah, youth.

      Then came the “middle period”. (81-86) Some called it the Golden Age, although, like many things, it’s a lot more Golden in retrospect than when it was happening. AMD got the brilliant, and profitable idea of another campus, shipped some pioneers down to dead-orange grove shithole Central Florida, led by the putative Queen of Cunts, Sharon Docktor and her sons, Gary and Shitsack (Yitzhak, really, but the other is so much more charming). Greg Moffat became Director, Michael assumed the title of “Executive” and the ball really got rolling. Enrollment maxed at around 320 troubled souls at both campuses. Some good stuff happened during this period, both in terms of innovative treatment for fucked up kids, the TYPES of kids enrolled and the quality of staff. Sports teams blossomed in Stockbridge, and did extremely well, especially considering they were competing against schools in the district with 3-4 times the population to draw on as well as not having players who were on copious amounts of meds. The baseball team did especially well, winning some kind of Berkshire-League championship one year. The hoops team would have had equal glory but for the existence of Berkshire Farm, a “School” in thew mode of DeSisto that drew its students from a largely black, inner-city population, funded by the state. (I’m sure I’m in for yells of “Bigot!” on that one, but anyone who knows me knows better) In any event…. The farm, at that point a real working FARM, with chickens, bunnies, and even a couple of piggies, one of whom would meet a grisly end at the hands of some very zealous and way-too-psyched staff and students (Steve Miller, Mark Miller, etc) also came into full flower, with kids getting shipped there from both campuses, and at a profit, too! When I found out that my folks paid EXTRA for having me slop pigs and nearly get frostbite from those long treks up the mountain in sub-par boots, I had to laugh. Punishments also started to become punishments, NOT just consequences for your actions, and were, bizarrely, more serious fore lesser transgressions, and the school collectively “lost” our smoking “privilege” (Thanks Russ Fredericks, for being the douche that HAD to smoke on a path). Smokenders commenced, and smoking ceased, except clandestinely, in which form it continued, I’m sure until the school’s demise. Vacations became not a “given” but something that had to be wheedled out of your dorm and DPs with the “commitment” to a faculty member not to have turn-ins while at home became the norm. This produced a pretty obvious outcome: Some of the most accomplished pathological liars in my personal experience. I mean it wasn’t like you weren’t going to go home and burn one (or ten) and/or get sucked off by your grade-school sweetheart who suddenly had tits and learned the skill of fellatio. In some cases it was less a skill and rose more to the level of an art. God Bless those girls of my youth! But we digress. Again. More. Still. So the school was thriving, Mike was going from fat to thin to fat to thin and back again and driving the Alfa at breakneck speed (and letting some of the Level 4’s drive it, too) on Under Mountain Road. At the same time his girth was expanding and retreating his megalomania was ever-expanding, a crucial element to the story, in our humble opinion, since this was partially responsible for his dumb, DUMB moves like refusing to see the writing on the wall when Howey was starting to tank and become a money-loser, not the cash cow he envisioned. Even Will Roberts tried to get him to rein in some of the nuttier stuff (The “wedding” to the Greatest Beard On Earth -Margie, God Love her- complete with fucking rented elephant and everything… but to no avail. Michael’s pathology was florid and there was no stopping him. And so the decline begins and accelerates rapidly over the next several years….

      The Late Period saw the school turn into the nightmare place that some of the students from that period remember all too well this would be roughly from 1986 until the whole shitstorm – The yo-yo dieting, the repressed homosexuality, the endless (and pointless) battles with the Massachusetts State Office of Child Care Services (OCS) – finally caught up to Michael, resulting in long and costly litigation while successfully depriving old Mikey of his normal revenue source – Fucked up kids and their fucked up parents! Quote: “This is not a garage for fixing broken kids! You can’t just dump your kid here and expect to pick them up in a few months all better. It’s a process.” Yikes. I get creeped out just thinking of that. So things got weirder, dumber and more severe. not being able to pick and choose which kids he admitted resulted in some SEVERELY damaged children being let in, kids that should have, by any objective standard been institutionalized or jailed, or housed in a more suitable environment. Razor swallowing little girls make for very bad press indeed, as do kids doing nosedives off the bridge in the atrium to go –splat!!– on that hard flagstone floor. Supposedly the sound that poor child’s head made when it hit the floor was enough to make some people retch, and still gives some of us survivors -yes, I use the word, because, remember, the school had become a very different place by the early 90’s, one that did, in fact have to be “survived” or endured as much as anything. I had my doubts, but long and thoughtful conversations with kids from that period (thank you Amanda Donovan nee’ Donabed and Gillian Wright, et al) confirm what people from earlier periods at the school (Mr Masonberg) really don’t seem to grasp. When we were there, no-one got “cornered”. I mean, What the FUCK kind of behavior mod is THAT? Making a teenager stand in a corner facing the wall in silence until a faculty member, usually arbitrarily, decided that they had had enough? Boy, that sounds like a way to win hearts and minds over to the cause of Gestalt therapeutic progress. I’m sure Fritz Perls would have kicked Michael in the teeth for that alone. So, what else….. Haircuts became standard issue for guys, so for those with all those wonderful Tony iommi dreams of flowing locks from the ’80s, forget that. MUSIC WAS BANNED. Now just try to think of your experience at deSisto without the pleasure of being able to retreat at least occasionally into Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Ramones, sex Pistols, Circle Jerks, Psychedelic Furs, Van Halen (far, far too often), or even, God help me, Ronnie James Dio, or whatever your bag was. As long as it wasn’t too loud and your ghetto blaster (as they were charmingly known to the almost exclusively white staff and student body-irony of other ironies) or that cool Harmon/Kardin receiver you “borrowed” from your folks’ with the Technichs turntable and all the rest got “popped”. You didn’t have to worry about THAT, because there was no music. How dreary and sad life must have been for those kids. I don’t have the time nor the inclination to go into the separate and equally sad decline of the farm from a place where one learned to (hopefully, but not always, as many chickens can probably attest up there in chicken-heaven) respect and nurture living things to a fucking DUMP where kids were deposited and “limited” nearly to death with fucking ALARMS on the doors and windows (remember the old line about “There are no locks on the doors here, no bars on the windows, anyone is free to go anytime they want to. If you don’t want to be here, then I don’t want you here.”) so the place became, truly very oppressive and prison-like. AND the kids were way too integrated (not racially). The whole concept of your dorm being YOUR dorm vanished with the idiotic-and it was among the MOST idiotic of mike’s “innovations”- advent of “specialty” dorms. Not feeling special enough… well, try to get into another dorm next dime and hone your burgeoning sociopathy to a rapier-sharp edge. Fuck having to actually DEAL with the kids and DPs you might have hurt or mistreated. Just up and GO. Or hell, you could also get placed back in “New Kids” dorm. even if you had been at school for two years you could always be a “new kid”. It was explained to me on a visit there in 2001 by none other than the Fat Man himself, at that point, only a shadow of his former self thus: “New Kids is a state of mind, not an actual period of time you’ve been at school” Another winner of an idea: Put the most fucked up kids all together and see what happens. Is it any wonder that north Dorm was eventually condemned even before the school closed? Not at all. the kids, reacting in the only way they could, fucking WRECKED the place… smashing doors, windows, ceilings, even. Urinals? They must have made a hell of a sound when THEY got smashed. So you’d have a kid who wasn’t all that damaged enter into THAT kind of mayhem, and in a bid to be accepted, or toavoid being eaten alive by his fellow students, would try to out-do the other kids in terms of outright sickness and destruction. The concept of Levels became more of a joke than something to aspire to. Level 4? Meaningless, since you could now be a Level 5 (how utterly Gay is that?) or even a level 6 or a steward, whatever the fuck that means. how about a sub-steward? It sounds morelike something you do on a cruise ship than a growth step taken at a supposedly therapeutic boarding school.

      The ultimate capper was that Michael refused, utterly, to ever admit that anything was a mistake, or to backpedal on anything. This “My way or the hiway” attitude increased faculty turnover exponentially, and decreased the quality of the new hires in equal proportion. Shorter stays make for better days was something I heard a faculty member of the time say. You can almost hear the swirl of the water as all the turds of bad ideas and the recalcitrance finally culminated first in the closing of Howey in 1989 (Michael, showing himself to be a true hypocrite and coward wouldn’t even go down to Florida to oversee the whole circus tent being folded up and the remaining dregs piled onto the ancient greyhound for the drive north. The fucker balked at the last second and wouldn’t even get on the plane. First Howey, and then eventually Stockbridge. Ker-flush.

      I know we left out a TON of stuff, but this wasn’t supposed to be a cmprehensive history. that’s been done in other places in other forums pretty well and even-handedly. In summary, tough, i want to stress that I’m one of those people who feels like my two 1/2 years there (BOTH Schools-not a lot of people can say that!) were a formative part of my adolescence, and given what I was into and would get into in a bigger way much, much later, I can honestly say it was a good thing I went. i got many things out of the experience, not least among them friends whom i have and treasure to this very day. But to deny that the place became hellish and pretty much a “survival” thing for young and vulnerable kids would not only be intellectually dishonest, it would be the most unfair form of revisionist history, one that robs the people who were very much traumatized by their experience in the “Later Years” of their voice and their right to their hard-earned, life-altering memory of what happened to them there.

      That is All
      Dario Depiante

      1. All I can say, D, is that I’m truly glad I missed the demise of DeSisto. I left in 1982 and will be forever grateful that I left when I did. And though you clearly think I can’t grasp what the school became, you must understand that, when I left, it wasn’t that place. But there were many kids who still hated it and thought it was torturous. So it’s only through slowly reading all the comments made that I am learning what the school eventually became. I have also not been in touch with anyone from that part of my life until this past year. So I haven’t been hearing these stories until relatively recently. And the few friends I have that returned to the school in one capacity or another, seemed to experience it differently. However, it sounds to me like something pretty serious had changed no matter how you slice it. And as for Sharon, she was the only person at DeSisto at Howey I thought completely on a power trip and if she were any indication of the type of personality that would come to define DeSisto, then I can see everything you’re talking about coming to pass. But remember, there are kids who went to the school when I was there that still go on the forums and talk about the school as if it were hell of earth. Kids that left before I did. And I can tell you from personal knowledge that those kids fought the school tooth and nail. They were gonna hate it no matter what. And many of the things that happened at DeSisto would seem VERY strange indeed to anyone who wasn’t there and didn’t live it. Many of the things I experienced could VERY easily be turned into horror stories and completely distorted if told to someone outside the school. But I don’t think there’s any denying that something pretty severe changed after I left. And that thought terrifies me because all the things that made the school special and progressive and worthwhile to me personally, sound like got flushed down the toilet and mutated and distorted like some twisted mid-eighties horror flick that never ends. No music, no smoking, haircuts, rapes, being forced to stand in a corner… It’s an entirely different world from the one I knew. And while we did have the occasional person admitted to the school that clearly needed something more, most of the kids were pretty normal. Or at least normal for where we were and what we were doing. My heart goes out to anyone who experienced a DeSisto other than the one I experienced. I feel very lucky indeed.

      2. hello dario,
        my name is jeffrey fixler i attended desisto stockbridge from about 1979 to early ’81.
        it caught my attention when you mentioned some names from the past. i was placed in what then was called boy’s mansion. john surgil, chris bergen, blake champion, and riley mix were all my dorm-mates.
        as you mentioned in your blog, things were not as bad during that phase of the school, but the seeds for disaster were already being sewn.
        i ran away from the school my first week there and ended up in new york city where, being a stupid inexperienced kid
        without means , i ended up contacting family and being unceremoniously shipped back. pretty much from then on
        i knew i would have to endure the program.
        there are so many things one could say , but i suppose it might interest you to know about the “big” scandal and cover-up that occurred there in 1981. my best friend in at the school was eduardo kriete , he was also good friends with john surgil. to make a long story short, m. desisto and marc boland tried to put the moves on surgil. incidentally, boland was the academicdirector at this time . he would retire shortly after this incident. imagine that , desisto and boland attempted to seduce a student together! at desisto’s campus home. this was no rumour, my therapist was aware of the incident, as were many staff members. but of course, it was covered up and surgil was promptly shipped down to howey school.
        this kind of incident is hardly surprising , given desisto’s egomania and megalomania. he wanted to build his own little world to play deity over which has been done before in human history. sadly, so called responsible people allowed him to play out his hitler- complex.
        for me the worst part of the school at that time were the incessant therapy meetings. sometimes 10-12 hours a day!
        if that’s not torture, i dontknow what is . especially if the fat man was at the meeting pontificating his special brand of non-sequiter non-sense.
        when i hear about kids with 4 or 5 year stays at this place my jaw drops; almost 2 years seemed like 100!
        of course, some of the friends i met there still have meaning for me. in fact , my friend eduardo and i are still friends and i have gone down to el-salvadore where we will smoke pot and whore-monger and talk about oldtimes.
        anyways, i have some questions for you and would like you to respond but got to run now. by the way love your sign off
        “that is all” great reference to the movie MASH.
        THAT IS ALL

      3. Jeffrey, I too was friends with Eduardo. Tell him I say hi. I can’t speak to Michael seducing anyone. May have happened. Dunno. I spent lots of time with Michael in the early days. Much of that time one on one. Even hanging out late at night. No inappropriate activity took place. Nor was any hinted at or suggested. As for therapy, um… that’s kinda what we were there for. What you thought of as torture, I thought of as being great. And necessary. And extremely helpful. To those open to it. While there is much hatred of Michael and his school, I do not share it. I had none of those experiences in my 2 years there. None. However, I assume many of the negative stories are based in some measure of truth and it certainly appears that the school began sliding wildly downhill. That makes me sad because I support what the school was while I was there. It was not without flaw, but it was attempting to do something quite extraordinary. And because of that, I cannot fully trust those who simply have hatred and venom to toss at the school and Michael. That just feels and sounds like it’s coming from a place lost in deep emotions and, quite possibly, somewhat distorted. However, like I said, I do believe things got bad. Possibly very bad. Certainly it changed from what it had been. But there are those who have responded here who sound so full of rage that I can’t help but think that rage may have partially blinded them.

      4. That was an AMAZING post. I was at Lake Grove from 1976 to 1978, then up to Stockbridge until that first Christmas there of 1978. I’m glad Dario knows about the early years, too – they were good years. Weird years, but good years. They definitely bear no resemblance to the later years you describe – I am just unable to imagine it. Hal, this is a wild website to come across. A bunch of us from this era have recently reconnected on facebook, and I got a link to this through Steve Britton, in turn through Jill McCorkindale Benson, both of whom were there in the early years. It bears noting, though, that there was a period of time during which there was some sexual abuse going on. I’m not surprised to hear that aspect of the later years.
        I went to DeSisto’s funeral.
        Anyway – I’m still making my way through this stuff. It comes at a particular time for me – yesterday, Eric Wachtel committed suicide. He was at Lake Grove with me, and maybe with some of you reading this.

      5. Thanks, Daniela. Sorry to hear about Eric Wachtel. Didn’t know him, but that deeply saddens me to hear. Yeah, my experience of DeSisto was so different from many that have commented here. If it truly became as awful and misguided as those here claim, I’m glad I experienced it before it went bad. I loved my experience and cherish it to this day.

        Glad my post is making the rounds.


      6. WOW,survivor, well articulated. No music? It’s no wonder we self matriculated. OOps gota go I am appearing on “are you sexier than a 5th grader?” this week. Check us out on FOX.

      7. Sharon a cunt? Jeepers-creepers, weren’t you paying attention (you went to a school who’s focus was to help you understand this sort of thing)? Because if you were you would have learned that this sort of reaction toward someone belies a certain standard you held for them; an ideal you crafted out of your love for them, and that they somehow failed to live up to in your eyes. The harsh words you use say nothing of her but tell much about you: that this is how you react toward yourself when you ‘fail’ at something in your own eyes, etc., and these are the kind of words you use upon yourself. The school was geared towards developing a sense of self, and Sharon Dockter was instrumental in assisting people do this. She may have, from a distance, appeared to be a ‘cold fish’, but for those of us lucky enough to have got to know her she was quite the opposite. Imagine yourself a matriarch figurehead amidst a host of the most disturbed and extra-needy, self-centered kids. You may look for some compassion and understanding…. or not. The choice is yours. My point is this: when you find yourself speaking in such harsh terms, take it as a sign that there remains something still to learn there, something still hooked in you preventing you from moving on. Its your life, and your happiness.

        Hal, wow! So much compassion in some of these [later] comments.

      8. Lucas and others, I also did not have a great experience of Sharon, though the term “cunt” is far from my personal feelings about her. My experience and observations of her at the time I was there was that she made some very poor decisions and got a little full of herself. An easy thing to do in those extreme circumstances. She made some decisions that greatly and negatively effected me and I still carry some of those with me to this day as painful and unfortunate memories, though they certainly don’t haunt me or keep me awake at night. But I felt there was a measure of hypocrisy in some of her actions and, as a result, I never got to a place where I trusted her decisions or motives. I wish it had been otherwise. That said, I have dear friends who loved Sharon, particularly so in later years after I was no longer at the school. Some say she changed for the better. I would have loved to have met that Sharon. My feeling is that she did the best she could, but my relationship with her was not a positive one, and my memories of her not pleasant ones. Though I know she was different things to different people. I never thought she was a bad person. Whatever it was that we represented for one another did not manifest in ways that I felt then or now were the healthiest. I wish it had been otherwise.

    1. I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave… er, I mean Lucas…

      Checked out your web site and am SO freakin’ impressed with what you have been doing with your life. AMAZING stuff. Makes me truly happy to see. From deep down inside.

  30. thanks for taking a peek. it nice of you to say. honestly it took me a good while to muster up nerve and put all that into public view. not just because i’m such a terrible archivist…
    so, i’d meant to respond sooner, but it seemed to be a bit far off the subject to mention. anyway, i’m curious how is it as a director you can handle the acted ‘discomfort’ of your actors? i’m trying to push some photo shoots a little more toward the dark side, but find myself feeling for my models too much, and even feeling too much of the voyeur behind the lens. ridiculous of me, maybe…
    the whole thing about acting reminds me of some of those Gestalt notions like projecting, putting so-and-so in ‘the chair’, pillow, etc.
    i’ve been examining some Pygmalion-esque concepts in video and film, mostly for fun (and its nothing new), i just like the idea and the challenge… anyway i thought it might be a nice quirky idea for you to perhaps script one of these blogs into a hypothetical interview with yourself… the other you would be the, ummm, the computer version.
    the HAL 9000. i already feel some slight embarrassment for mentioning this, but i believe it could be done well, not campy, but tensely Kubrick and creepy. For example:
    HM: “I think this is more of a reflection on you…”
    H9000: “Hal, I’m afraid… ”
    [Pause. Cut to close shot of the H9000 lens]
    HM: “Tell me… ”
    [Further back]
    H9000: “I’m afraid…I beg to differ with you on that point, Hal. You see, my record indicates I am incapable of error.”

    bad example. i envisioned bringing up real matters of contention.
    anyway, you don’t appear to be in need of any therapy at the moment. please feel free NOT to post this reply…. pretty please.

  31. Hal- I was surprised and pleased to see this site. My husband Phil and I are both DeSisto grads of Stockbridge in the 90’s. These people that make these wild and angry accusations should follow what Michael would have told them to do and get some help. There isnt a “different” school. The school at Stockbridge was wonderful, Michael’s ideas were cutting edge and sometimes controversial, but people whom say they were abused are just plain liars. Yes, the school had its issues and so did it’s owner, but inevitably that is what makes us human. Anybody who has children knows that b/c you love them so much and want to do what is right for them, sometimes you over step your boundaries. We were all Micheal’s children.
    I am not in contact with anyone, nor is my husband from DeSisto days, in fact it is hardly apart of our lives anymore, unless we are telling our children funny anecdotes. But I would choose to look upon this time in my life as being unique and positive. I think I learned alot from DeSisto and am grateful that I got to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity with individuals that were stunningly beautiful in their innocence and love for each other.
    Thanks for creating this site!
    Sarah Major

  32. Thanks, Sarah! I am so glad to hear from someone at Stockbridge in the days long after I left the school who had a positive experience! All these violently negative comments are quite distressing to hear, though not surprising ultimately given the strong emotions people have with that time in their lives and why we were all there in the first place. Glad to hear you and Phil had a positive experience. It was truly an extraordinary place.

  33. Thanks for your comments, Kathy. As someone who found himself in several limit structures, I can say that they were almost always extremely helpful to me and were always done with extreme kindness and compassion. They were also always to keep me from hurting myself and I never questioned the validity of what was happening. Nor the necessity. In a hospital I would have been drugged and left alone. Here, I was with people, people who cared, people who were willing to ride it out with me.

    As for Michael, I too spent time with him and, yes, he was very casual. It was never weird for me, nor was it ever even remotely sexual or provocative or suggestive. Then again, I’m not a woman and that is a different thing indeed. I cannot comment on your reaction or experience.

    However, it sounds like many of the things you experienced were difficult and, out of context, even strange, but most of them sound like things that had a purpose. As for sitting meetings, when something was stolen, it was the custom to sit until the person who did this turned themselves in or were turned in. The idea was that we all take responsibility for one another. Our actions have reactions. Sitting meetings were rarely fun, especially the longer they went on for. But they were not meant to be fun. They did however allow us to engage in conversation and reflect and discuss why we were there and what we hoped to gain. Even to argue its validity if need be.

    I’m sorry that you felt none of these experiences were helpful or beneficial to you. And I appreciate you sharing. However, one has to be open to the experience in order to benefit from it. DeSisto was an emotional place. And it was trying to do something quite special and unique. My experience was that this was the first time anyone had actually tried to understand what I was going through instead of making snap judgments about it. I embraced the program and its philosophy, but not blindly. I always kept one foot out the door. But for me, it was life-altering.

    It sounds like for you, what went on there was more frightening than anything else. And I suppose it could be. But that is a perspective thing, not an actual thing. Many of the things you talk about as being frightening and not beneficial, are some of the very things I was glad for.

  34. That’s certainly some very intense stuff. And so different from anything I personally experienced or witnessed. I was at DeSisto at Howey for over 2 years. And at a much earlier time than you (1980-82). As I’ve said in these pages before, maybe the school had changed so dramatically as to be unrecognizable. I have no way of knowing. I hear stories like yours and then stories like Sarah and Phil’s. And I’m in no position to be judgmental or to know what really happened and to whom. But what you describe does sound like hell. And I’m sorry that it was your experience. It saddens me.

    1. Hal, I didn’t mean to imply that you were insensitive to others experiences… Your posts show that is clearly not the case, I’m sorry i phrased it that way, it was poorly stated. After reading all the angry and vitriolic stuff that you allowed up there, I can only imagine the crazy shit you got that you said “No way am I posting this” to.

      You are obviously a sensitive and thoughtful guy, who would have made an excellent Dorm Parent. And here’s where the limitations of this medium become obvious: You don’t know me. Anyone that does knows I have an ironic sense of humor and what’s been called an “acerbic” wit. Neither of these was present in the DP comment. I MEAN that. People with the intelligence and sensitivity to understand and tolerate differing opinions without getting all angry and defensive were an asset to every kid that was ever there, early OR late. So, please take it for the compliment I mean it to be.

      I’m curious to know about what you think of my “3 Schools” theory… I tend to get a little prolix when i write, and don’t want to bore you, so I’ll truncate this. Thank you for letting me post on your blog, and for posting the other interesting stuff that people have to say all these years later.

      Take care,


      1. Thanks, Dario. I think you may be on to something here. There were clearly different periods that had different reputations. After leaving the school I never looked back. Michael was pissed cause I left without graduating. I was okay with that. I held no resentment. He couldn’t see that his school had actually worked for me and it was time for me to move on. I was ready for that. He was not. Perhaps that flaw in Michael is what grew into the blind spot that allowed the school to become the animal it seemed to morph into in the later years. Like so many societies, the school lost sight of what its intentions were and what were effective strategies and approaches. Or so it seems. And once ego and money step into high gear, it’s hard to put the brakes on. Sounds like he and the school were racing downhill without any brakes and finally crashed and burned. And took a few kids out in the process. Damn shame as I believe Michael was on to something. Greater men than Michael have gotten caught in that same trap. I wish it had been otherwise.

  35. Hal,

    I found this today (8/22, looking for a butterfly picture for class) and appreciated it. I was a staff member from 90-04. I was new out of college when I started and I left having earned my MEd. As you have deteremined, some people had a good experience and some had a bad experience. This is classic in any type of treatment program for any disorder. I have attended numerous national conferences on addictions, troubled youth, and education. The things we were involved in at DeSisto were on the edge of it all. The worst thing about it was that some staff did not act with the best interests of the students in mind. They were wrong and some really did not listen to their heart. I feel I can honestly say this having been there as long as I was. I was demoted numerous times for not getting along with other staff. I felt humiliation, fear, anger, etc at times. BUT, I stayed and worked through my difficulties. I may not have made the best decisions or do what in hindsight was the perfect thing; BUT, I cared. I teach in public education mathematics and I have met plenty of people in public education that do not care. They “have a job and do it.”

    If you research educational theory of today, you find all kinds of concepts that Michael was way ahead of his time. I just attended a workshop on how to get the poor school performer to “buy-into” education. Make him work with a group, make him responsible for the outcome within the group, do not accept anything but his best, and make sure he is connected to you and his peers. These ideas were conducted in a much more intense manner at DeSisto but the ideas are sound.

    Some of the specific stories people shared here are true, some are innocently distorted (but, given emotional disorders and even just emotional distress one can not fault them) and some have been distorted by rage and psychiatric illness.

    There were some wrong decisions at times, I will not deny that. I read Kathy’s posts here and I know overall she was upset about her experience at DeSisto. I read in her posts also some very good things she shared here. I wish it could have always been good.

    I know that in public education some bad things happen, too. Often we have to look the other way unless it is an immediate threat to a student’s well-being. For example, the fact that one of my students (a 15 year boy) was late to school because he had to walk 3 miles) is not really a problem. Let me add, his father could not drive because he was coming down from crystal meth. This is not really child abuse because the child was not in any danger.

    In public education, you can not really tell parents they should get their child checked for learning disabilities, or that you think they might have a drug problem or eating disorder or mental disorder. You have to be really careful how you bring any of those topics up for discussion.

    I might be rabbling at this point. I only know this. There were amazing things that happened there as well. I learned to care about the inside student not the surface student. As a public school teacher, I manage to connect with the students everyone else says to stay clear of. The difficult attitude, world against them, need a teacher to talk to, and struggling in school kids.

    I wanted to give you my thoughts and wanted to thank you. I have not posted really anywhere else to avoid the venom some people have. You have managed this well to keep it safe for differing views to be shared without insult and cruelty. THANKS! Some of us became amazing people because of our time there. I miss many of the students and staff that I connected with during my time there. I feel overwhelming care, compassion and love for many. There are some I truly would like to know how they are and to hear how their lives are.

    Well, Thanks Hal. A very nice place to share.

    Gerg (spelled on purpose, know why?)

  36. Again, I really appreciate all the comments made here. Greg, I found what you wrote to be extremely enlightening. No matter how I slice it, it seems the school strayed into becoming somewhat of a different animal from what it was when I was there. How extreme that change was is impossible for me to calculate. As I’ve said before, there are things that happen at DeSisto that can be made to sound quite twisted if explained to someone who was not there to experience it. And Kathy, I do appreciate all your input as well. I will state that I personally found Limit Structures to be enormously helpful and never felt like it was torturous or wrong. I’ve been on both ends of them. The fact that you’re not sure how anyone could view Limit Structures as anything other than just wrong (your words) says to me that you may have closed yourself off to certain things that may have actually been helpful (or at least had the potential to be). It makes it hard for me to completely trust your interpretation of events, though I believe these were horrible experiences for you and, most likely, were somewhat different from the version of those experiences I shared. I’m not suggesting Limit Structures were good things when you were there, I’m just saying that it’s the fact that you can’t imagine a scenario in which they could be helpful that concerns me. All I know for certain is that I’m glad I left when I did. I am still thankful for my time and experiences there, and am saddened by the notion that it may have gotten distorted and abused along the way and that more kids may have actually suffered than were helped. But there are different experiences out there. And not knowing most of the writers here, I can only listen and draw my own conclusions and know that I will most likely never have an accurate enough picture to know the truth. So all I can know is my own experience. Which was a great one. I wish it had been so for more.

  37. hello hal & kathy.

    I appreciate your responses to my comments. Perhaps I even met 1 or both of you back then. I don’t know. sorry if this is a repeat of some previous comments I’ve made, but a may have messaged improperly . I think I’ve got it down now. These new-fangled technologies!
    As regards eduardo hal, I haven’t spoken to him in a while and will attempt to contact him and mention you, though, as he is technology averse (what’s the internet), and hard to reach by phone in the jungles of El salvadore, i will attempt good old-fashioned pony express mail. He does own (or used to) a hunting lodge in S. carolina ( of all places) you might try looking him up there.
    I wanted to clarify my earlier comments by saying that my feelings about my time at Desisto hardly rise to the level of hate or rage hal. In fact, I had a friendly relationship with Michael, and though I wasn’t part of the “most favored” inner circle of students who spent alot of time at his on-campus house, some of my close friends certainly were part of this “inner circle”, much like yourself Hal. I have no ax to grind with the late Michael Desisto. As I said, he was always cordial to me and even went out of his way to grant me some special perks . Perks I hardly earned. He saw to it that the dorm designate me a level 3 (there were only 4 levels then) despite my non- participatory and critical attitude towards meetings. perhaps he did this because I was close to several individuals who were part of this “inner circle” . Whatever the case , of course one wants to be part of an elite circle. When your talking about teenage boys who desire a father figure, this is especially true. And wow unto the kid who feels far outside the privileged class. for that kid , favoritism and unfairness may shape how they view the world. But maybe this is all for the best, the world does seem to operate this way.
    As for the molestation allegations, true, I never saw any incident first-hand. However, I was like a fly on the wall. I knew all the individuals involved and wouldn’t bring up these incidents (note plural) if I wasn’t sure of their veracity. Anyways , I really didn’t respond to this site to dredge up old charges. That’s part of a place and time lost in the fog of the past.
    Back to the actual therapuetic value of the school. Yes I know it did help some people. But it must be said that if you take any kid out of a bad environment it stands to reason that their academic and emotional stability will improve. I would submit you could put that kid anywhere (Desisto school, isolated island) and you would have great improvement. I don’t know if the school can be credited with profound, earth-shattering results that could have been achieved without the Michael Desisto hype and megalomania. Also, like all set programs it attempts to fit a square peg in a round hole. When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails. People are different.
    And Kathy how right you are about the meetings. For me, sitting endlessly in meetings seemed a terrible waste of time. Active teenagers should not spend more than a couple hours a day in meetings, not 10!!. And you can be sure, the longer the meeting, the less that was accomplished. I must admit the one thing that caused me rage was listening hours on end to some whiny , needy fag who wasn’t getting enough attention. GROW UP AND BE A MAN! and if you have nothing intelligent or relevant to add to the sum of human knowledge or understanding try keeping your lips sealed together or buy yourself a pet turtle! There were so many incidents of sitting for hours on end waiting for a thief to turn themselves in, only to have discovered that the missing item was only misplaced or lost! No apology to the students for the collective punishment.
    At the risk of being verbose, want to tell everyone a quick funny little story. one x-mas break from the school I spent almost a month at Eduardo’s townhouse in wash. D.C. Everyday were smoking weed with him taking the lead and plying me with the stuff. We get back to school and he says to me he feels guilty and him being a level 4 and all maybe we should turn ourselves in. HE FEELS GUILTY!!! I say to him,” are you fucking crazy. You’ve been plying me with weed everyday for a month and you feel guilty. What in the hell are we going to tell em. ” Ah Ah, well we slipped up a little and accidentally partied for 30 days straight.” ” “They’ll hang us from the highest tree”, I tell Eduardo.
    Can you imagine. Well that was the end of of any talk of turn-ins.
    To this day whenever I talk to Ed I make sport of him for that one.
    Thanks Dar, Kathy, Hal and anyone else out there for taking time to read my diatribe. all responses are welcome. Sorry for the plagiarism Hal but I can’t help myself.

    1. Hi Jeff,

      This is your brother. Sorry about posting here, but I’d love to catch up with you. btw, I’m not talking to our mother any more. She hasn’t called with our (written off) sister on the phone since that one incident.

      Please contact me via email at (where you replace LASTNAME with my last name (not Fixler for those who think they know everything)).

      Looking forward to hearing from you. If anyone knows where he is, please respond and I’ll get you a way to contact me.

  38. Hello Hal;
    I remember you, do you remember me – I was at Howey for 1980-84.
    the greatest I ever made was level Two, and towards the end for me,
    they were trying to take that away from me. Most famously from Chuck Lee’s dorm.
    You might remember me as the ‘poet’ that I was a ‘christian technical mystic’. I have a book manuscript I did a couple years ago ‘Detailing
    Michael DeSisto’, 27,000 words, of my experience there. It ‘reveals all’. I am looking for a pubilsher. I specifically remember three sons of publishers at DeSisto – John Wiley, son of “John Wiley & Sons” – Scott Schuster, “Schuster and Schuster” – and Jamie Lowell, son of the famous Lowells poetry. Do you or any of the peers on this site know of them, to get int contact with them.

    I am still into philosophy of computing – I have book manuscripts in aspects that kind of philosophy too. If you happen to google me, you will find I am intimately involved with time travel/machines – I have a book manuscript for that, too “Time Matters”.
    – John Bajak

  39. Interesting reading for someone who worked there briefly. I believe I grew and moved on from that place as well as you all did. I was at Howey-in-the-Hills.

  40. Happy New Year!!
    Wow, I just discovered your site! I must have been living under a rock all of this time!!!
    The picture of you & Ben Berry reminded me of our table in the dinning room! God that was a funny little group! Remember the time Susan Washburn was so doped up on meds she couldn’t function! I remember her trying to eat an orange and we put napkins all around her neck because she was drooling and spilling it all over herself! God makes me laugh just thinking about it!!!! Hope 2010 is a great year for you!!! Thanks for making this old girl feel young again!!!!! Oh, if you still speak to Ben please send him my love! Love, Laura!!!!!

    1. Laura,
      I just found this site also. Interesting posts. My experience was very different, I have few good memories. Most of my stay I was assigned to the “Hobart” washing dishes, they had me do my schoolwork at night which I was so ADD it was impossible for me. I got a shitty education and I am haunted when I see a “Hobart”.
      I am glad to see that some memories are great.

      1. Hi Dana, I washed a lot of those dishes with you. Maybe my memories have mellowed with age,i don’t harbor any bad thoughts about those 3 years i spent there.

  41. I went to Lake Grove in the early 70s. Mike DeSisto was narcissistic, voracious and cruel, even back then. I was relieved when he finally died.

  42. I was at school with a few of the people who have posted on here (Sarah, Kathy, Jaymee (whom I still talk to), Theo (which I list whit a sigh) and Greg was there the whole time I was. I have had very mixed feelings about the school. I graduated in 1995 (by myself) and spoke to no one from the school until 2005. I got into a huge fight with Michael when I graduated and didn’t want to think about the school but, I still did. Around 2005 I discovered the MSN site then the MY Space sites. I talked to a couple of people once or twice then really didn’t have any constant contact with. Through the myspace page I actually made contact with a person 9 years younger than me who knew Hayden, who was someone I was looking for. I found out that I only lived a couple of hours form her ( and from Rian Speaks)and over the years I became very good friends with her. I goes to show that no matter when you went there there is that connection. There is also an understanding of a part of your life that is impossible to explain to anyone who wasn’t there. I formed connections that will be there for the rest of my life. I didn’t agree with everything that Michael did and had no problem with telling him that. I learned skills there that I will use for the rest of my life( not super clean up though, I remember sitting in New Girls Foyer waiting for Greg and Hillary to come down and check us out for super clean up for the 6th or 7th time, Greg’s arch nemesis was dust bunnies as Hayden laughingly reminds me. By the way Hayden and I were together on campus, as much as you could be. He ran away and was gone for 5 years before he went back to graduate. We ended up talking starting about 4 years ago and got married a couple of months ago. It’s pretty interesting being married to another graduate unless he tries to farm me! I was there for a week when the RB were kicked out of the dorm like Kathy told, I’ve been bit, watched people punch out windows, Watched New Girls throw couches through the lobby and lots of other things i would not

    1. CJ:
      You made an excellent point… I made friends with Amanda Donabed (Donovan, now!) Gilly Wright, William Gilbert, and many many others after that dynamite reunion we had in 2001. All of them had gone to school before or (mostly) after I did. In fact we met arguing on the MSN site about whether the school was Hell on earth or a lifesaver, or something in between. That was when I started forming my theory about there being “different schools”.
      By this I mean that the experience everyone had there was different, and predicated on what had happened to you prior to going, and also the differences were compounded by the changing rules and increasing megalomania of Michael, which i’ve yet to hear any kind of cogent argument against. When I told the kids that had been there a few years after me that there was music, and smoking allowed, and that vacations weren’t only a dream to be nurtured by level 4’s (or “stewards” That is just so silly i can’t imagine saying it seriously, even there) and that the word “fuck” was not discouraged, they literally gaped at me and asked things like “what school did YOU go to?!?!” The answer, of course, os the same one we all went to, I just went before it got really bad, and Mike went really bonkers. AND, what was wrong with me was not so profound or un-fixable that I was able to get through my time there (at BOTH campuses, something I’m proud of, strangely) relatively unscthed, AND meet somewonderful people with whom I’m friends to this very day.

      Thanks for your post, and once again, Hal, thanks for creating the site. You’re a good guy, in my humble estimation.

  43. (sorry I hit the submit button on accident ) have witnessed otherwise. But, those are not my predominant memories, those are the positive ones. Things like being in Mexico ( being farmed there wasn’t as bad both trips I went on had run aways!) Being on trips, hanging out on campus with people I will care about for the rest of my life.

  44. I went to Lake Grove in 1978 and Desisto at Stockbridge in 79. I was on the summer trip that roamed the country from Canada to Mexico. Eric Wachtel was my good friend on that trip. I am very sorry to hear of his passing. Thanks for posting that Daneila. I will try to catch up with you on facebook.
    I have a lot of fond memories of Lake Grove and Stockbridge. I met many awesome people there. Like Daneila and Bill Sykes that I saw posted here earlier. Way too many good people to mention. It would be nice reconnect with friends from those days. I remember it like it were yesterday.
    God bless Eric. I will miss you.

  45. I went to Lake Grove from 77 to 78 and then went to Stockbridge from 78 to late 80 while I went to collage in Pittsfield. Alot of you worked for me doing hours. I know some guys that went there who had their lives changed by Michael; and not for the better. I got so dependent on that structure that the only way for me to leave, was to just take off and join the Army. It was the smartest thing I ever did back then. Sorry to hear of Eric, I was his roomate at Lake Grove, room 8. Percentage wise there seem to be alot of dead people from That place.

  46. Steve,
    did you have a black beard? I know I was there and knew you well (I was on hours A LOT!) but, in the intervening 28ish years the memory is fading…
    BTW I have been in touch with Louise and Sergio, among others. I hope you are well
    PS The oddest thing…2-3 days ago I was thinking of you (If you are the dark-bearded guy).

  47. Hello, Hal:
    For some reason, whenever I run into someone from DeSisto I think of your site. It’s so much more evenhanded and thoughtful than most of the others I’ve come across. I thought I might check in, and as per my memory, things are as they were.

    I have to commend you on the way you respond to (rather than react to) the more vituperative and nasty stuff that people still feel compelled to write. I recall that when the MSN site was up and running a few years back, it became not to much more than a shout-fest, with people trying to scream each other down in terms of how the school affected them and /or what it did FOR them. I ended up just keeping quiet, even though my sentiments were pretty evenly split. I did alright there, but it seems in my 40-plus years on this planet I’ve always managed to come out “alright”. But I didn’t have some of the personal demons and nightmare experiences of a lot of other kids.

    On the particulars, who knows? I mean, i pretty much believe people, especially those willing to put their names to the accusation, who say they were molested. So i’ll leave that one alone. I think my earlier post on the progression of what happened at the school, and when it happened, more or less speaks for itself. I’ve gotten some positive feedback, so i’ll take that and be happy.

    Again, it’s such a pleasure to read an even-tempered series of posts, representing more of the “full spectrum” of what the “DeSisto Experience” meant to them. I thank you again, for creating the site, and allowing all of us now middle-aged kids to air their feelings and maybe, someday arrive at some kind of “concensus” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)


    PS: Everyone, and anyone should check out the art that Lucas Bass creates these days!!! Holy Mother of God, the stuff is mind-bending and inspiring. i don’t even have the beginnings of the art-world vernacular to describe it, but anyone who remembers what an outstanding and creative soul he was as a kid can only imagine what that talent blossomed into. Lucas, of course, his modesty in tact neglected to mention his outrageous success, or to sink to the depths of self-promotion on a site that isn’t ABOUT him (Alex, are you listening?). I however have no such limitations, and no such qualms. Please, if you dig art OR Lucas, check out:

    You’ll be glad you did!


  48. Thanks for the kind words, Dario. I’m a bit surprised and also thrilled to see that my post has become a place for people to comment on their experiences at DeSisto. It’s certainly been an eye-opener for me. Who knew so many people would find it?

    And I agree with you wholeheartedly about Lucas! Amazing!

    Look forward to hearing from you again. Stop by anytime!


  49. Well, well, well… an interesting group aren’t we???

    It still amazes me the raging discussions about the school and the absolute range of experiences that could make an outsider think we all went to completely different places.

    I myself am a product of early-80s Stockbridge and belong to the ‘woulda been dead without it’ camp… I truly saw some crazy stuff, but nothing at all that I would ever describe as true Abuse, yet at some level I have to think that I was somehow scarred by my experiences there.

    I make that statement due to one simple fact: Just reading through the past two years of posts here has left me feeling a bit disoriented… and in some way transported me back through time, so that I sit here as a relatively successful adult/parent/businessperson in my 40s yet so very in touch with how I felt then!

    I certainly will not, and have no right, to judge those who considered it to be nothing short of Hell On Earth, but I simply do not share that sentiment. I do, however, find many of the claims about what people were ‘forced’ to do (or subjected to) to be downright unbelievable. Especially as some were there during my ‘stint’ and I clearly remember those incidents in a VERY different light.

    Just my two cents, for whatever it may be worth….

  50. If it wasn’t for DeSisto, I wouldn’t have the beautiful wife and son I now have nor would I have the close friends.

    1. Makes sense to me seeing as I am also married to a DeSisto person. Different people came away from there with very different views (which can change over time) and experiences. Thanks for the post.

  51. It’s amazing that after 28 years we still find ourselves talking about DeSisto in such a charged way. To the fellow with the 3 schools theory, I tip my hat. I was in Stockbridge from 78-81 and it was an amazing place. But I heard all sorts of crazy stuff within a year or 2 of leaving. I think you may have the date ranges a wee bit off but I think you’ve captured a good history of the school.

    I remember when me, my girl, and my 2 best friends went off to college. We quickly realized that trying to explain where we’d just been was not possible to “regular folk”. For you old timers that was Marie, Graf, Remolt, I’m Stein.

    I saw Marie at the Dead show in NorCal last year. We hadn’t spoken in 15-20 years but she and I and frankly all of us share a bond based on experience that regardless of how you feel about it, changed you forever. It was like I had seen her the night before in the smoking circle. We talked for hours.

    Anyhow, I don’t really know why 28 yrs later I find myself googling mike desisto, or “Peter Reed” or whatever. I think that’s the more important question – how come it’s still on our minds? What is left to be resolved?

    1. My father is Peter, he passed in 2012. I just looking into his high school which I did not know about, could you let me know about him?

      1. Hi Megan,

        I knew your dad when we were both teenagers and lived in the same dorm, Lower North, at Desisto Stockbridge around 1979-81, and then again for a year in a post-graduate house across the street from the main campus. Your father was a great guy, easy to laugh and quick with a joke. He had the ultimate mullet, and was the prototypical car guy. I used to poke fun at him for his contagious excitement over “dual holley cam carburetors” or whatever — he would have had the last laugh, though, because now I am a “car guy.” He got me listening to Deep Purple, Rainbow and etc., and Ozzy. I don’t know why exactly he landed at this school, but like many of us, he moved on from that experience and did good things with his life. He passed away much too soon, but I am glad to have counted him as a friend. Best wishes, Megan. I am sorry for your loss.

  52. Andy, I am David Goldberg from Boys Mansion. I was a wreck until 82ish when I started to get my shit together. I was there 80-86 (F’in lifer, I know) and I saw the whole change and it sucked! It used to be a caring place and it turned into hell on earth. That is my recollection of it.
    I knew you, Marie Mulholland (I presume that is who you’re talking about), Steffi Graf(?), both Romolts. I hope you’re well.
    Yes, I have been to reunions that have had people from my era all the way up to people from the 90’s and (perhaps) beyond. We ALL share that bond that makes it possible to trust them and also to KNOW that they know what you are talking about, what you mean, and what you’ve been through. It is a great bond.
    As Psychosta said previously, I understand that this school changed and people have had different experiences there. Some liked it, some hated it. We were all there. We have that in common.
    BTW Louise is still kickin’ and I sent her some pics of us grown up. She has no computer (Doesn’t want one either) so she couldn’t go online. She wanted to see how we turned out. She’d probably love to hear from you. I won’t post her number here but I can email it to those who want to call her.

  53. I was in Stockbridge in the mid 90s. Desisto was a lying sac that had no idea what he was doing. He lied about everything, his degrees being the most recent revelation. He put hundreds of children in danger with is insane methods and is quite frankly, better off dead..

    1. Jack, while I appreciate your experience at Desisto and your sharing it here, I find it difficult to take seriously anyone who makes comments like “better off dead.” It suggests some seriously unresolved anger more than a reflection of Michael Desisto.

  54. Dear Hal,
    This blog is so amazing. I remember when you arrived at Howey. I was one of the originals. Also one of the very few that went to all 3 Lake Grove, Stockbridge, and Howey. DO you have any other photos? I too thank Desisto for the person I am today. My very best to you and all Desisto people. Would love to hear from you if you remember me.

    1. Of course I remember you! You’re even in one of the pics in this post! It’s great to hear from you. I was so out of the whole DeSisto world for so long that it was quite intense to encounter so much hostility toward DeSisto the man and Desisto the school. So completely the opposite of my experience. Even a few people I was close to and knew back then have spoken out as if DeSisto was hell on Earth and the devil himself. I find it disturbing when coming from folks with whom I shared my time with and know that not to be the case. As for the folks who came after me, I can’t speak to that. For all I know, the school may have changed dramatically. I’m glad there are still others like you and Charles and Debbie and so many others that have maintained a positive experience of what was, for many of us, a life-changing experience.

  55. It is amazing the different experiences we had and how much the feelings differ. I had someone post a picture from my grad (I don’t have any) on my facebook page and received a stream of comments like how much someone had to kiss Michael’s ass to graduate to him being a pedophile and that anyone who didn’t hate him was a bad as he was. I was just happy to have the picture! Wanted to let people know that after tons of searching and phone calls I tracked down the DeSisto transcripts. The # to the department that has them is (781) 338 – 3400 in case anyone needs it.

  56. I accidently found this. WOW. What little memories pop up. I always remember feeling so weird about that night. I remember feeling like barfing as his bareley dress body was laying on the bed with his legs sprawled open and him screaming at me. There were at least 5 level 4 boys in there at the time and still remember leaving feeling like I wanted to throw up.

    I do feel I learned so much from Desisto School. I just feel that it doesn’t excuse the inappropriate behavior of adults.
    I did learn through this that I am sometime more on gaurd with my actions around teens. I lead Youth Group activities and think constantly about my actions having an influence on kids of all ages.

    Soooooooooo Maybe I wouldn’t be as good as a mother of a teen if I had not experienced what I thought was inappropriate behavior.

    I was sexual abused for years by a neighbor and I always tell people that if I could go back and change my abuse I WOULD NOT CHANGE A THING!

    My Experiences in my life are what make me who I am today!
    And I wouldn’t change that!

    So I am grateful that even Desisto made me the strong mother and teacher and community leader I am today! (with all its good and bad)

  57. I did not attend Desisto. My parents divorced and I became a real pain in the ass. I attended a similar school to disisto for 6 months before my father realized it was insane and pulled me. But the reaction is the same. People either see it as abuse or claim they were somehow saved from themselves. The so called “therapy” was similar. Confrontation, yelling, crying, hard physical labor. Humiliating penalties for the kids who fought it. I did not fight it. I was too scared. I also learnt that “communication” was about yelling and screaming and confronting people with what they did not want to hear. The thing is that no normal school produces graduates claiming that it ruined or saved their life. Because real life is not that extreme. It has shades of grey. When you really think about it assuming that a school can “save” anyone is pretty fucked up as a notion. I went to a girl’s boarding school for normal kids after my “therapeutic” experience. It was truly loving. Discipline was fair, teachers were dedicated, not “working the program” was OK. I still have some friends from there.

    1. I don’t know what school you went to. Nor do I know whether or not it was similar to Desisto. I do know that there were many other schools out there that had some very different notions from Desisito. I suppose neither of us, having attended the other’s school, could truthfully say. What I do know is that changing someone’s environment and giving them an opportunity to grow in a way which may not have been available to them previously can be a form of “saving.” I went from a very abusive situation to one I found nurturing and allowed me an opportunity to discover strengths I didn’t even know I had. DeSisto was an environment that was, for me, a life-changing one. I find nothing whatsoever “fucked up” about saying so. My life was more “extreme” outside of DeSisto than within. My life was not exactly what every other kid was experiencing. So it’s all relative. DeSisto, at the time and place that I attended, offered me exactly what I needed and I am grateful. Even though I recognize its imperfections. The DeSisto I attended was not based on yelling, screaming or humiliation tactics. We heard, at the time, about others schools that took that approach. That was not the school I attended. Now maybe it turned into that in later years, but I was not there then and cannot personally speak to that. It was none of those things during my time there. At least not in the DeSisto world I inhabited.

  58. I too was not perfect as a teen. I eventually got therapy. it helped but did not save my life. Why? Because only i could do that. No school or therapist is that godlike.
    I was wondering what specific qualifications Michael DeSisto had to run a school for kids with a variety of different mental health issues? even before people claimed it got abusive?
    I was also wondering if you knew after the fact what specific clinical technique he used or which qualified expert he based his treatment model on?
    What specific tools did you get for living an improved life?

  59. I apologize for the double post here, unfortunately there is no edit function. but one of the basic tenets of legitimate therapy is that the patient has to be a willing party. The mere fact that you admit you wanted to be at the place may have helped you but as you got no other legitimate therapy during your time there then what is there to compare it to?

    1. You’re absolutely right that it has to come from the person. No school or therapist or religion or anything can “save” you. However, they CAN offer opportunities that may not have been available to you before. They CAN create healthy environments. The DeSisto schools worked in tandem with the Gestalt center in New York. We had weekly individual therapy sessions with therapists from the Gestalt center. But I’ll tell you this, there are good therapists and there are bad therapists. No matter where you are. And then there are people who simply have a desire and an insight into helping. I’ve engaged with some very destructive people who were licensed therapists. I spent three weeks in a psychiatric ward at the age of 15. I can tell you right now that it was a holding tank, not a place for growth, self-realization, therapy, or any kind of help beyond being medicated. These were psychiatric “professionals.” The therapists, friends, dorm parents, etc. at DeSisto were more involved in offering me an opportunity to move beyond where I was than anyone in the Morris County Memorial Psychiatric Center. You seem to have preconceived notions about DeSisto based on your experiences elsewhere (“as you got no other legitimate therapy during your time there”), but you are not speaking from a place of knowledge, nor have you done your homework. I think it might be helpful for you to take a moment and decide why it’s so important for you to devalue DeSisto and any positive experiences that may have come from there. I would guess it has more to do with your personal experiences than with anything having to do with DeSisto.

  60. Kathy, once again, my experience of both Michael and the school was the complete opposite of what you write about. Michael NEVER blamed my parents for what I was going through. They were never painted as the enemy. Nor did he minimize the importance of them being a part of my life. My relationship with my parents grew in leaps and bounds and our ability to communicate with one another did as well. We were invited to parent/child sessions in Stockbridge and attended. My parents were very involved in my life and I have been extremely close with them ever since. So again, I cannot speak to your experience, just my own. As for Gestalt, you should do some research. It’s not just some random “term” Michael threw around. As for being responsible not only for yourself but for others as well, you and I certainly see things VERY differently. You state this as wrong and damaging. I’m not sure why you now see it that way, but for me that was one of the great lessons offered by the DeSisto schools. Kathy, you also make it sound like we were just a bunch of average kids taken bluntly out of our normal lives and thrust into this abnormal, destructive environment. I don’t know what your world was like before DeSisto, but I’m assuming there was a reason you were there. But maybe not. I know there was a reason I was there and I’m glad I went. I never felt abandoned by my parents. Nor did Michael ever state that I had been. In my case, my parents asked me if this was something I would be interested in. I visited Stockbridge and decided it was. Best decision I ever made. And I’m thankful my parents had the insight to look into the school and to present it to me as they did. Guess I got lucky there. And though I had my rebellious moments there (anyone who knew me can vouch for that! :)), I still grew in leaps and bounds. Because I wanted to and the opportunity to do so was there. Many other “similar” schools were based in the militaristic approach of breaking you down and rebuilding you. The DeSisto schools were the polar opposite for me. It was about aiding me in my awareness of who I already was and what I was capable of. I feel bad that some others did not have that experience. Because I can attest that it was there to be had. At least in the early 80’s when I was a student.

  61. I am really just beginning think some of us went to a completely different school… Again, I am a product of Stockbridge 82-85ish and at no point was it ever presented to us that our parents were ‘bad’ or had abandoned us! I can’t say I am a huge fan of the Gestalt school of psychotherapy but in the end (to me) it’s like the difference between a Buick and a Ford: They may not get you there in the same exact fashion, but they are both equally able to get you there.

    I put myself into Desisto… Not sure I ever admitted THAT before, but I knew my life was simply fucked and while my parents were clueless I had a great ‘mentor’ who suggested I either drop outta school or find somewhere else to finish up my education. He equally suggested it be FAR away from the places, people and substances I was drowning in… I found Desisto, talked me parents into bringing us to see the place and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Don’t misunderstand my point: I respect the experiences that other folks had and can’t/wont judge it as I was not there for a lot of what is being described by some on this blog… I do, at times, have a hard time reconciling it as the same place!

    Bottom line? Understanding that I was responsible for myself, my actions and at least somewhat accountable for the actions of those closest to me was a HUGE part of the benefits of Desisto… Out here in the ‘real world’, aren’t we held responsible or accountable for the actions of our spouses? Our kids? Our co-workers? Our employees? Forcing those around us to take responsibility is no more pleasant today than it was sitting in the gym for hours or days on end when someone broke into Michael’s liquor closet or whatever…

    Damn, I just read what I wrote and I am not even sure it’s gonna make sense to anyone else, but in the end? I get it… and I am a far better person today than I think I had a chance to be without my time in Stockbridge.

  62. Hal I am not devaluing anything. I am simply asking questions and drawing parallels. I don’t get why this seems to get a defensive response but i have seen it before when I criticized CEDU. It is a mentality that does not allow shades of grey or questions. Those who ask questions are told to have a look at their flaws. Perhaps frustration toward this cult like mentality is why some people go to extremes as start “shouting” or writing extreme things.

    It is also a little arrogant to say that I have not done my homework when you know nothing about me. I think you need to ask yourself why you are so defensive about a school you attended over 30 years ago.

    Kathy in answer to your question I was at CEDU. to be honest in some ways it sound marginally less awful than what Desisto apparenty became. But we too were told that “outsiders” could never understand. I accept that they couldnt. The reason why was because it was incomprehensible. It too was based on “gestalt” It too had some staff whose only qualification was that they were ex students. It too put “emotional growth” before academics. The only difference that i am aware of is that people who went to CEDU in the 70s and early 80s actaully experienced something far more extreme, it actually mellowed a little over the years. It seems from what people are saying here DiSisto started out less extreme and became more abusive in the 80s and 90s.
    Psycosta in answer to you yes people are held accountable in real life but what a system of forced “gestalt” does is not parallel to the real world. I work in a job that requires a high level of responsibility and accountability. But none of these skills were learn at an “emotional growth” school

  63. You are right, Heather, I was feeling a bit defensive. And I don’t often. But I did this time. I admit to feeling frustration when I believe someone is adding to the misinformation and/or misunderstanding of what may be out there, especially when it appears to be outside their realm of personal experience. However, if you were to read all of my previous comments on this post, you would not accuse me of engaging in a “mentality that does not allow shades of grey or questions.” Yes, you asked good questions. You also made statements like, “but as you got no other legitimate therapy during your time there then what is there to compare it to?” This suggests to me that you are commenting on something you don’t have any real information about. It is not from a place of arrogance that I claim you have not done your homework. It is based solely on this comment as you made a statement that is patently untrue instead of finding out what actually took place at DeSisto. Then continuing on to accuse me or anyone else of having a “cult-like mentality” is also extremely insulting and, like you accused me of doing, puts you in a place of passing judgement on someone you do not know. As for the “30 years ago” comment, I’m not sure what that has to do with anything. Time is irrelevant in such matters. This post and many others across the internet just like it, have attracted people who shared these experiences 30 years ago and are still reading and writing about it. I, personally, was out of touch with many other DeSisto folks for most of the past 30 years. Thanks to Facebook and the internet in general, that part of my life, a very defining part of my life, has come back to being a topic as I reconnect with people from my past.

    I respect your desire to know more. But please be aware and considerate of making blanket statements about things outside your realm of knowledge. I appreciate that you also went to a school for troubled kids, but it was not DeSisto and the differences between the two schools may be, and are most likely, quite vast. On this site alone, both the school and Michael DeSisto have been brutalized. To a somewhat staggering degree. That’s sad to me as it is the antithesis of my experience there. It is also sad to me that there is most likely some truth to what he and the school became after I left. By the same token, it is also likely that there are those with deep resentments of why they were there and how they processed what was being asked of them so as to completely misrepresent the school. The real truth probably lies somewhere in between.

    For the record, I left the school without graduating and was considered persona non grata by Michael DeSisto. I had been close with Michael. So that hurt. But I was able to separate his disappointment and hurt at my leaving from his reaction of anger. Michael was far from a saint or a savior. And if it all eventually went to his head, that’s a damn shame. But I will fight to defend the opportunity he created for those of us who were in need of what his schools had to offer. And when it was time to leave, I did so. Without his blessing. But I didn’t need it. He created an environment that offered me the tools to make my own decisions about my life and my needs. And I knew I would take those tools into my life and apply them. Beyond the school. So while it would have been nice to part amicably, it was not meant to be. And that’s something Michael needed to work on. I still left thankful. Of both the school and Michael.

    As for folks sitting on the edge of Michael’s bed, I experienced that many times. However, for me, it was not odd, nor did it feel inappropriate. There was nothing sexual happening. Nor inferred. I was with Michael, chatting on his bed, when the news of John Lennon’s assassination came over the radio. We were both devastated and stayed up quite late talking about Lennon’s influence in the world and his personal impact on each of us. At that time, Michael felt like family. Yes, he was a father figure in those moments. Yet he was never a replacement for my father. And he was, in may ways, a good friend in those times. It saddens me to think there may have been inappropriate behavior on his, or anyone else’s part in the years to follow. But the truth will likely never be known. There is one person I went to DeSisto with, a close, dear friend at the time, who now lays claim to having endured abuse and harrowing experiences of near death that I know did not take place. I was there. The scenes and moments he now tells as his “war stories” are not based in any fact or reality. So, while I do believe something changed from my time there and I wish it were otherwise, I also know that there are those who have, for whatever reason, a personal stake in painting a very destructive picture of what took place at the school. Just as there are those who have a stake in painting a perfect picture. I have no illusions to the perfection of the DeSisto schools or of Michael. It was a daring attempt that failed in many areas. I had a strong dislike for Sharon, who headed the Howey school. I found many of her actions and tactics to be quite despicable and misguided. But I have not taken those experiences and any anger they may have stirred and applied them blindly to the entire school or what it was trying to do and often achieved. For me, the good far outweighed the bad. I guess I’m lucky to have walked away with that particular experience.

    A school like DeSisto is easy to misunderstand and warp into a nest of abuse. The public loves that kind of story. And most of the people who have never been there do not have the tools to fully comprehend what it was like to live within that community. At its best OR at its worst. Your experience probably differs from many who attended your school. As it may mirror many others. But my hackles do rise up a bit when I hear people who never went to DeSisto making false statements or drawing inaccurate conclusions. I do apologize for any defensiveness. It is not my usual way. Your questions are welcome here.


  64. Look the only reason why I posted here is because the discussion is less extreme than on other boards which is why the response to my legitimate questions and parallels.
    Im sorry but I was not speaking in ignorance about the fact that DiSisto did not have legitimate therapy. Both those in favor and those against the place admit that just like CEDU it was opposed to previous well researched professional models of treatment, instead it used in this case Disisto’s version of Gestault. This is what I based that statement on. So either every person here including yourself is a liar, or the remark was not made in ignorance at all. I dont think you or anyone else is lying.

    I also find it interesting that you admit that by daring to make the choice to leave michael made you persona no grata. This happened at CEDU frequently to those that did not finish the program. (Another similarity) My question is if this is really healthy or non cult like? Why on earth would a legitimate school become so angry at a pupil that it was supposed to have showered with love that it would cut them off for the alleged crime of exercising their own free will?
    As to whether the school is being brutalized. I am not trying to do that but my argument, based on what ex pupils are saying about most “therapeutic schools” particularly those running since the 70s is that they all claim to be unique yet when you get down to brass tacks they are not. Confrontation, foced physical labor, a group think mentality are what keep them going. This was certainly the case for both DISIsto and CEDU.
    I should add that it does not give me joy to hear about anyone dying a painful death. By the same token questioning somebodies corrupt methods is not brutalizing them. As I understand the Boston authorities cited Disisto for child abuse on several occasions before it closed. On some occasions staff were charged with whild abuse. Several families sued. Why would they do that if it was an institution whose methods were above board?

  65. Heather, again, I cannot speak to the DeSisto world after I left. I simply was not there. As for confrontation, I’m not sure I get where that’s a bad thing. As for forced physical labor, the only time people had to do that kind of work (and let me tell you, in my day, the worst we had to do was paint a room or sweep up. It wasn’t like we were out back with pickaxes breaking rocks), was when we had done something that warranted expulsion. The idea was that if you took something away from the community, then you had to earn your way back in. Those were called doing your “hours.” That said, your hours could be days or weeks or minutes. I had a friend who was taken off his hours after throwing a piece of paper into the waste-basket. Why? Because it was clear that he didn’t need to do hours. That was not what he needed. In a community where we are watching out for one another and trying to be aware when someone is going through a hard time, running away is done with full knowledge that your friends and dorm-mates will have to sit and discuss why no one picked up on the fact that this person was going through a hard time that lead to them acting out in some extreme way. Now this may all sound awful to you, but it doesn’t to me.

    As for Gestalt, while I, too, like Psychosta above, am not the biggest fan of Gestalt therapy, it was not applied half-assed at DeSisito. Like I said, our therapists, which we saw weekly if not more, were licensed therapists from the Gestalt center in NY. They were not dorm parents or ex students. This was actual therapy. Not Michael’s version of it. As for the school itself, Michael was attempting to offer something that no one else was. Like I said, it had imperfections. There were those who lost sight of why they were working there and got more caught up in the “rules” than in the reasons those rules existed. Sad but true. However, most of the people there were, for me, loving, honest, and there for me when I needed them. The dorm parents were also bound by the same rules as we were. They lived on campus, in the dorms, attended therapy, sat in stealing meetings, dorm meetings, what have you. They weren’t punching a 9 to 5 clock.

    I suppose a big difference in experiences there can also come down to whether or not you were open to what was being offered, It seems folks like Psychosta and I who chose to go and were ready for a place like this, walked away with a great experience that was, indeed, life-changing. The opportunities I was given at DeSisto simply did not exist in the world I had come from. Plain and simple. And I loved my time there. Though it had its hardships, to be sure. And I’ve known kids since who I believe would have benefitted greatly from going to the version of the DeSisto school I attended.

    As for Michael’s version of therapy, well, like I said, the actual therapy was real, licensed, etc. Michael’s world outside of the therapy sessions, though based on Gestalt, was certainly of his own making. But for me, what he made worked. It’s as simple as that. It was exactly what I needed. Like I said in an earlier post, even licensed therapists can be awful. The license doesn’t give them insight. And a good therapist has both tools AND insight. We now live in an age of Life Coaches, etc. These are not licensed therapists, but many may have a true sense of how to help. Some of the best “therapy” I’ve had in my life were not from licensed therapists. (not to knock therapists, I’ve had some amazing ones!)

    As for brutalizing DeSisto, I was not referring to you but to the many others who do celebrate his death and hope he’s in hell, etc. Extreme stuff.

    Look, at the end of the day, you have a vision of DeSisto that is based on your experience at another school and some of the worst negative comments made here and elsewhere. While I cannot refute the experiences of those who came after me, I can speak for the school while I was there and what it meant for me. But I have to tell you, even in your continued comments, you don’t seem to much want to acknowledge that the school may have been, at one time and for many of us, a truly helpful place. Warts and all. This group-think mentality that you talk about seems to me to come from a place of not really understanding this school at all. That’s how it appears to me. And for me, your continued description of the school and your continued insistence that there was no legitimate therapy going on suggests to me someone who is committed, for whatever reason, to painting a picture of the school that fits either your experience at your school or what you’d like to believe DeSisto was. I simply do not think you’re coming from a place of knowledge about the school. And your basing your comments on the most negative statements, while almost entirely disregarding the positive ones. And that’s fine. You can paint any picture you want. I am telling you, the picture of the school you paint and the school I attended are not one and the same. And, again, it saddens me that the picture you paint may be somewhat accurate to what the school became. Cause what it was when I was there WAS, in every way, unique and I, 30 years later, remain thankful for the experience and opportunity to have been a part of it.

  66. Kathy, thanks again. I agree that Michael parading around in his underwear and inviting women to his bedroom alone is creepy. Obviously inappropriate. What he was thinking, I could not tell you. Nor can I nor would I want to condone it. I think it does make a difference if you’re a guy AND, as in my case, someone who was already close to Michael. But in your shoes, it would have bothered me, too.

    In my day, we had the occasional dorm parent who really was not ready to be at this school or simply did not get the approach. In some rare occasions, I would say there were a couple who may have been more fucked up than we were! However, when I was there, those people were asked to leave pretty quickly. It sounds like in later years, those kinds of people may have been running the place! A scary notion, indeed.

    My experience of the DeSisto School was a loving one. It was for me, a loving community. I was an angry guy, prone to take my shit out violently. And I came from a fairly violent environment before DeSisto (though my parents were not part of that violence, for the record). This school gave me another option and an entirely other experience of the world. It was an environments I could grow and thrive in. And I did. Had it been the angry, aggressive environment you experienced, I probably would have run away and not returned. I’m guessing I got to the school at at time before the rules overshadowed their purpose and before tolerance and understanding were no longer paramount.

  67. So basically the only trained therapists all trained at the same place in the same technique. They worked at a school with a wide variety of kids with all kinds of different problems but had 1 technique to treat anything. This is what adequately trained professionals call quackery.
    I am also familiar with this idea that everyone is responsible for each other’s actions from CEDU. Again this is a really screwed up mentality. It is group think. It is essentially the idea that no individual can be allowed to think or act for themselves, everyone else does it for them. It creates a culture where the outside world is to be feared because “they dont understand”

    It does seem that Disisto required even more loyalty from his staff than CEDU in that at least their staff lived off campus. Having said this the staff were expected to live and breathe the program without question.
    But again legitimate therapists are encouraged to have healthy boundaries. it is considered important to doing the job. Living and breathing the job 24/7 becomes extremely isolating. It is a way of cutting yourself off from the outside world. Moreover thrapists are not supposed to share the details of their lives and neuroses with their patients. it is called transference. You can be struck off for indulging in it!
    Hal I dont doubt that you experienced love at DiSisto but that does not mean it, or any of the cult schools like it are healthy or indulge in legitimate therapy. The reason why I feel so strongly is that I am now a therapist so I have an insiders understanding of why the so called treatment at schools like DiSisto and CEDU was so dangerous.
    Did you ever question why a guy could own a place dedicated to healing troubled and at times mentally ill youth for over 20 years and never once produce a study of the therapeutic or educational outcomes? Surely if the program were worth it’s salt it would want to do this and then publish any favorable findings.
    I dont know why you left without finishing but did you ever wonder why Michael cut you off for doing so? If he were such a wonderful man, such a father figure then why would he be so threatened by students choosing to leave him that he would make them persona non grata?

  68. Ill make this quick as it’s starting to seem rather pointless and going in circles. As for Michael cutting me off, it’s a shame that he chose that reaction. He could act like a spoiled child at times. As I said before, he was incredibly imperfect and had his own issues. As for your latest comments on the school and the therapy applied there, it seems to me that you’re pretty committed to the DeSisto experience being a destructive one. A place where no one, students or staff, question what is taking place because everyone is wrapped up in a cult-like mentality that blinds them. We all questioned the rules and everything that took place. On a regular basis. I would go to faculty meetings regularly and challenge decisions and actions. And my confrontations lead to long discussions and often changed the outcomes of the decision-making process. As for one type of therapy, I’m sorry you dislike the idea of a place that subscribes to a particular method. I truly believe from your continued comments that you really don’t know much about the world of this school, but your preconceived notions are pretty firm and you seem rather committed to them so I’ll stop here in trying to explain how and why it could be a positive, healing experience. Feel free to continue writing your thoughts and comments here, but I’ll be taking a step back as it’s starting to feel like I’m just banging my head against a wall. You’re a therapist, you’ve drawn your conclusions based on your experience and knowledge. They are a welcome addition to the discussions here.

  69. Thanks for that, Kathy. Appreciated. I clearly got lucky in my DeSisto experience and there were many factors that lead to that. I found, in talking cults, that one of the ways I approached DeSisto, was to always have one foot out the door. That may sound strange, but there was a short period early on, after some of my initial rebellion, where I tipped the other way and really embraced the rules and ways of the school in total. That didn’t last long as I quickly learned that I had too many questions and opinions and was never one to go along with anything quietly. So I found a way to embrace what worked for me while challenging what didn’t. And in that, I was able to grow and benefit from what the school was offering. It also allowed me to leave when I felt the time was right. At the time I was there, I felt a freedom of character and personal expression I hadn’t before. I found strengths I didn’t know I had. One of which was to trust my gut and speak my mind. So while the notion of a cult mentality seems to be one that continues to resurface–and that aspect of the school may have grown quite severe in later years– it was not my experience. Unless, of course, I am simply a product of sever brainwashing and am involved in the robotic regurgitation of DeSisto propaganda. But to do so, I would have to find both the man and school flawless. And they were not. Not even close.

  70. Hal i should also thank you for no censoring opposing points of view. I would like to add that I am not posting here just to be beligerent. It is because this is a billion dollar industry that in this case DiSisto was a part of and it takes the money of parents who often love their kids and will do anything to help them heal. This would be fine except everything about it is designed to milk more money from parents by keeping kids locked up in a disfunctional environment for a long time. The harm it can do is enormous and the benefit minimal.

    Hal it sound like the eason you came out of DiSisto mentally healthy was thanks to your own mental agility. You knew some of it was unhealthy and had the prescence of mind to hold onto your own thoughts and got out when you felt you had enough. SO many vulnerable kids and even adults do not have that skill in the same situation. Kudos to you. I hope that it is you and you alone that take credit for that decision.
    I recommend that you read the Jalitch book that kathy recommends. It is very insighful.

  71. Hey all, man so much to digest. I have only scanned some of the posts. I had quite a history with the school and AMD. Was there when Howey opened, then went back and workd there as a therapist at stockbridge, was on the board as alumni and attended the funeral ceremony/weekend, to name a few things. Anyway, I know a bunch of you on this post. I will share mucho thoughts soon, but wanted to say hi for now….

  72. Im sorry for the double post but i wanted to add an example of why “i size fits all” therapy, in DiSisto’s case gestault is dangerous. While the version of Gestaul that most therapists who are beleivers in it use today is much more watered down than in the 70s, it is about the idea of personal responsiblity and also catharsis being a way of gaining insight. This concept can be useful. People struggling with addiction for example can get comfort from the idea that they have the power to do something about it. But it can also be a very unhealthy idea.
    Abuse and trauma victims for example bear no responsiblility for what they have suffered and to take a gestault approach is dangerous. All it does is reinfocrce their exisitning gult and shame. The cathartic idea is also dangerous for such people as many spend their lives terrified of confronting their issues. Their therapy needs to be very calm, very private and in many cases very gentle. It is common for such people to even get worse initially when confronting issues like abuse. They need preparation and careful monitoring. Pushing a gestault style catharsis is the worst thing you can do fro such people. The same is true for those living with mental illness.

  73. Interesting, Kathy. Yeah, that world seems quite different from mine. We didn’t have level 4 dorms. 4’s had some extra privileges like staying up an hour later, but that was about it. We all lived in the same dorm. It’s very possible Michael was bi-polar. I only say that in response to your observation of his moods and not from any knowledge. It could account for his reaction to my leaving, etc. I’ve read here of guys having to cut their hair and people not being allowed to smoke. Again, another universe from mine. I don’t know that I would have stayed had my limits of self-expression and choice been as hindered as it seems the school did in later years. One of the things I loved about my experience was feeling like I could be myself for the first time ever. And who I was and how I chose to express that was embraced. The dorm parents in my day were amazing people. Some where clearly stronger than others. And there were those like Sharon whom I felt were a little drunk on the power of their position, but those were very few and their “power” was limited as, like I said earlier, I and others were very vocal and anything that was done or said that did not smell right was brought up in faculty meetings (which students were allowed to attend) and discussed. It never felt to me like an “us against them” scenario. I was able to articulate myself and my opinion seemed to be respected and taken seriously. Had I been asked to endure half of the things you and some others here on this site describe, I may not have gotten what I needed and made some quick tracks. Once again, I must have hit a great moment in DeSisto history when the school and the people that attended/worked there were functioning at their best. Again, I wish it had been the same for you. And no, you’re not writing too much. Write as much as you like.

  74. Hi Mike, I remember you as well. It’s odd reading about the therapy on here. I had an incredible therapist for the first year at the school (Jim Anderson R.I.P.) but then I was switched to someone who was not nearly as good. I don’t think that all of the therapists came from the Gestalt center later on.

  75. After reading all this, I can seriously only conclude that Michael lost his mind at some point. I saw a dramatic shift in his personality between Lake Grove and Stockbridge – and it turned me off to the point that I left around Christmas of that first year at Stockbridge, although if I hadn’t been ready to leave, I wouldn’t have. But I was ready. I was persona non grata too- and yes, that’s a little cultish, but it WAS a cultish place. Not in a bad way: in a unifying, insulating, protective way.
    I did not and do not have strong feelings about DeSisto- he is not the core of what I brought away with me. What I carry with me is the whole community I had there, and that shared common experience. I do credit him with creating the environment that grew in, but I also recognize that he was capable of, and indeed did inflict, great damage. There’s too many stories for them to be all untrue – I think it’s just a question of sheer disbelief because the stories represent a man and place that is planets away from the man and place we knew. I’m horrified to hear Kathy’s and Heather’s and others’ experiences, and struggle to reconcile them with what I experienced.

  76. Well said, Daniela. In almost every respect. Michael is not what I take away from the school either. It is the environment he created and the friends, community and experiences I had there. And it is hard to reconcile what the school became with what it had been while I was there. And there is no denying that something changed as there are too many people with horrible tales to tell for all of them to be purely made up.

    Mike, curious to hear what you have to say. You and I pretty much got to DeSisto around the same time so you know what it was like then. At Howey. Since you stayed on and eventually became a dorm parent at Stockbridge, I’m very curious about your insights, interpretations and thoughts on all of the above.

  77. Daniella and Hal a cult is not a community. You cant be a cult but in a good way any more than you can be a terrorist in a good way. The relationship is inherently exploitative. There are possibly some ositive aspects that people dont want to loose but no healthy community has such an all or nothing approach.

    The reason why cult leader and abusers make those who question them persona non grata is so that those who have come to rely on the “community” will feel scared of being shut out. Meanwhile the leader in this case DiSisto who it seems became increasingly unbalanced and psychotic had unchecked power. He can charge parents any amount of money and force captive troubled children into submission. If anyone questions him he tells them that their kids will be nothing without him and goes from being “loving” to cutting them off. Sounds like a real prince of a guy to me…

  78. Again, Heather’s insistence that DeSisto was a “cult” seems rather inaccurate to me. It feels more like you’re trying to squeeze the DeSisto experience into something that makes sense to you. But perhaps it became more like a cult in later years. It certainly doesn’t resemble the cults that certain friends and family members of friends got caught up in. I know some folks who were in genuine cults and that experience sounds nothing like what I experienced at DeSisto. For the record, when I was made persona non grata, no single student took it seriously. It was a meaningless reaction on Michael’s part. No one was afraid to see me. I got together with DeSisto friends on their vacations regularly. And we all stayed in touch in those first few years after I left. As for people confronting Michael, in my day it happened regularly. By staff and by students. And he would listen. Sounds like that might have changed in the later years. While I was at Howey, I had a certain amount of freedom. I would go to concerts, for example. We would ask for permission and almost always got it. Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Arlo Guthrie, The Rolling Stones, Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat… I must have seen close to 15 or 20 concerts in the 2 years I attended DeSisto. Most of these were NOT with the accompaniment of a staff member. Again, sounds like a different world from the later DeSisto years. Despite Heather’s insistence that DeSisto was a “cult, ” I can say it certainly didn’t feel so while I was there. And still does not upon reflection.

  79. Did I miss something along the way….? How can any one with an ounce of intelligence make comments about something if they didn’t live it first hand?

  80. OK, well at some point I will have to give some of my story: I, like many, was forced by my parents to go. I was at the school when Howey first opened, managed to graduate and returned as a therapist like 10 years later. I had been in touch with Irene Eisenberg and did a couple of parent-childs with her -which were fun- and then did a couple on my own with Art Weinstein. I was living in West Philly and it was really getting rough there when AMD offered me a therapist job in Stockbridge. Prior to working there I got a masters and did a 3 year training program in Gestalt. Anyway, I thought that I could offer a special perspective to the students there. I lived off campus and just came in for the workday. Also therapist didn’t have to follow all those rules like paying if you dropped F bombs. This is a tangent, but one time while working there I went out with a dorm parent. Well the next day, he had done “turn-ins” (the shots of tequilla I guess). It was weird in that I had about 16 or so students on my caseload and maybe 3-5 faculty.
    Of course, Desisto is one of the funkiest most perverse places that there ever were when it comes to residentials, yet I’ve also heard plenty of other crazy and horrific stories when it comes to these types of places. I have to say though, the Desisto experience is not to truely be compared. I don’t know if I can address all that has been discussed/asked on this site from my perspective. Let me say that I ultimately left because it was waaaaaaay tooooo craaaazy!!! I was, at one point, hired by AMD to be a “consultant” on the weekends (extra $). Staff could call me or maybe I’d have to go over to the school if some situation needed that. Well, I was fired from this the first weekend cause Michael didn’t like some decision I made. Both as a student and as a therapist I remember that almost everyone liked it better when Michael wasn’t around. I found it was better to try to challenge him in therapists luncheon (which was attended by administrators, head dorm parents and therapists) and did regularly. I found that to be a better venue than faculty. But, if I had to, I would say that Michael could probably best be diagnosed as having symptoms of personality disorder, cluster B (narcissitic and histrionic traits). Mind you, any charismatic leader system usually has a leader with similar characteristics. He did have a great way of helping people connect with each other and I saw him do some nice stuff in family sessions from time to time, but always hoped he would stay out of family sessions that I did as a therapist there. He wrote a book: Decoding Your Teenager. I remember he gave me a copy of a chapter he had come up with that he said kind of articulated his approach. He said the publisher didn’t really like it and so it didn’t make the book. Maybe if I can find it I’ll scan it.
    Let’s see…I was told of sexual abuse on the farm by one of my students there and went to administration. When I came to find out the “screening” that took place for prospective staff/faculty, that was truely the begining of the end for me. And Kathy, I many times said to AMD “Why are you doing such and such with so and so?!” Truely I spent as little time around him as I could. I had a real faith in a lot of other faculty that were there, John Krahm (don’t know if I’m spelling it right) for one. I saw him as very competent. When he was running the show, I breathed easier. I guess for me, I probably had some unfinished business at the school and was there to try to help some kids navigate these funky waters they were in.
    Anyway, I’ll probalby have more to add, but wanted to post something and give some of my thoughts…

  81. Thanks, Mike. Good to hear from you. Would love to know if you saw a big change from when we were there to when you returned as a therapist. I can’t imagine anyone having to pay for saying the word “fuck’ back in our day. Long hair, language, etc. just wasn’t an issue. It seems to me from the stories here that it became quite a different school. Your thoughts on that?

    @ Kathleen. I would never kick anyone off of this site. Your experiences and interpretations of those experiences are welcome here. I do not have any issues with them not reflecting my experience. It was, quite literally, a different time and place. I would not have done well at the school you describe. I think any frustration here is best articulated by Laura above. It’s difficult to reconcile Heather’s agenda (and she does seem to have one) as she did not attend the school but make some pretty grand statements about it nonetheless. It seems to me that her image of DeSisto is based on holding on to information that sustains her already-established belief and opinion and disregards what doesn’t fit into that. As for cults, well, that description is being thrown around pretty lightly. As expressed here, I would have to apply it to almost all religions, Tony Robbins, the Landmark Forum, Agape, what have you. It is a derogatory statement and suggests a lack of awareness on the part of the participant. That can be quite insulting. Especially coming from someone who actually knows very little about the school beyond what she has read on sites like this one. She did not experience it. And from her comments, I believe she does not have a very well-rounded understanding of it. And yet she makes some very intense accusations that seem to be based on a picture she is committed to painting. For what reasons, I could not tell you, but I will assume they are more reflective of her personal issues surrounding this subject than of any accurate description or analysis of the DeSisto Schools. All that said, it seems pretty clear that both Michael and the school lost control. And it seems there are more than a few people who felt more damaged than helped by the school. And that’s truly sad because there was something there, at least initially, that could have blossomed into a wonderful place. That clearly did not happen.

  82. One persons experience or perspective will always b different from someone one elses. I personally would not look back on it as being brainwashed or cult like. More so as to prepare me for the real world and corporate america! I am director of sales for a large corp and extremely successful! I attribute a lot of my success to what I learned at Desisto! Michael was a master manipulator and one hell of a sales coach! So I would like to take a moment and thank him for everything he taught me!

    1. I couldn’t agree more laura, i learned alot at school. I chose not to apply it for a long time after i left but that’s another story. I’ve heard things got out of control after i left in ’86 but some of the stuff I’ve read here just doesn’t add up.

  83. Hey Hal,

    Again like many others before me I want to thank you for placing this blog here. I myself came to DeSisto in ’86 pretty much direct from Harding Psychiatric Hospital in Columbus, OH. I was 15 at the time. I, to my admission was a very troubled teen. I have to agree with many others that are willing to put forth that there were three very different times in the school.

    I came to Howey in 86 and was admitted to the new boys dorm. I had a decent attitude coming from the Hospital and was already acclimated to therapy. I understood a lot of the methods used and had taken an interest in psychology myself. After a few months and a couple meetings with Michael I ended up being chastized by him many times in the beginning for things that just were not my issues. More about this later. I quickly became friends with a number of people and wish that I had done more to maintain those friendships in my adult years. I am grateful for all these different websites I’m discovering to reconnect. Either way, I noticed a very interesting dynamic at Howey than Stockbridge during my time there. Since Howey was not Michael’s home, it was run differently. Very differently.

    I did well at the beginning til Michael when he was around would pinpoint focus on me. I was allowed into upper boys for a couple weeks and even though I had gained access to the Dorm, when Michael arrived on campus he had me put back in New Boys even though he was not there to see or assess my behavoir. My therapist David Brown, who I am forever grateful for, even argued with Michael about this and told him that he was making a mistake.

    After this, I went on a rampage. It was completely unfair to be singled out for no reason whatsoever other then the thought in Michael’s head that “I was not ready” Soon after being put in New Boys there was a very long sit in meeting, I can’t quite recall, somewhere between 45-60 days. I know I became a favorite during those meetings because I was a noticeable dickhead that time. I soon straightened out cause I figured that wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Over the 86-87 school year I progressed. Michael luckily visited the campus infrequently enough.

    During that year Michael Marconi showed up as the Headmaster and it was mostly run by him. During this time I flourished, Marconi was a great man and anyone who was fortunate enough to be close with him understands what I mean. My parents still have contact with him every few years.

    I was doing very well until I decided that I would go to Stockbridge to try theater “No one needs to let me know that I sucked, I’ve seen the video” Either way, once back in Michael’s world things started to go poorly for me, he put an unreasonable amount of focus on me and starting privately picking at issues that I really felt had his own agenda.

    I did poorly and missed Howey, due to some “inappropriate behavoir” with a female during my time in west dorm some turn ins came right in the middle of a vacation consensus meeting and I was denied going home. Which for how things were handled at the school, was appropriate. What wasn’t appropriate is Michael not letting me return to the Howey campus the next dime. I tried to make the best of it by playing for the Lacrrosse team that was disbanded before our first game, I can’t recall the reason. I stayed at Stockbridge for the summer and was allowed to return to Howey after then.

    Upon my return to the “Marconi School” my attitude instantly changed, I flourished again and was able to gain entry into the level 4 dorm. I did very well during this time and Michael stayed away due to all the bad press he was getting from the Orlando Centinel. The last time he was at the campus was when he was telling everyone that the school wasn’t closing and there was nothing to be concerned about. He never returned to the campus after that.

    Under Marconi, I became the Level 5 for the campus and oversaw the other level 4’s. I was completely on track to graduate completing my 1st dime of senior seminar without any complication. Then I had to help organize the closing of the “Marconi School”

    Marconi never played favorites but there of course are people who become closer than others. Myself, Julio A, Sean F. and Michael G were all very close with him and very close with each other and would spend time at his house talking about various subjects. All of us favored Marconi over AMD and I think all of us suffered for it once we shipped up to Stockbridge campus and become targets of Michael’s insanity once we arrived.

    Sadly we packed up Howey and came to Stockbridge. I am quite sure that none of us wanted to happen.

    I really felt that the closing of Howey was around the beginning of the “Dark Time” at DeSisto. Again, I had two dimes til Graduation and was just hoping to stick it out. This is where it gets weird. Upon coming to Stockbridge I was returned to a level 4, which didn’t make any sense to me, since you had two other level 5’s prior to all the Howey Students arriving and the extra students definitely justified me remaining.

    Then during this time Michael really started harping myself and Sean F regarding our sexuality. If I was gay, I think I would’ve known it. Either way there were several times I was constantly pinpointed on this. One time it came to a vote whether or not the others participating in the class felt me and Sean F. were in love with each other. I don’t care what anyone thinks, this is just straight up fucked up. He constantly berated me on this. When I went to complete my second dime, I did my book and for some reason my dumb ass spelled DeSisto throughout the book as desisto. I made the correction reprinted it and resubmitted it. Michael denied me trying to get it approved again cause he couldn’t believe how I made such a terrible mistake and if I am not noticing something so obvious how could I be ready to graduate. He still also felt I needed to work on my latent homosexuality so I wasn’t going to be graduate this year and with another dime left I shouldn’t even bother to apply next dime I wasn’t going to get his vote.

    During these times he would ask me to come see him at his house, have me fetched.

    Several times I had conversations with him in his bedroom while in his underwear. Many time he would tear me down emotionally, screaming at me and then try to comfort me in his underwear whenever i broke down. There were several times he tried to get me to lay on the bed with him when he was partially closed or just in underwear. A few times he would cuddle me, I remember a very specific incident where I told him that he had B.O. when he was basically lying on top of me and he replied by saying “men’s B.O. is a sweet smell” There were a few times when I did allow him to consul me and it did not feel fatherly. He was constantly invited me to sauna with him naked and even though nothing went on there it would’ve if I didn’t keep my distance. There were several times more than 10 less than 20 that I would just pull away from him. Then he would tell me that I had an issue connecting with him.

    Many times I left, or I told him that I was uncomfortable. Only to be berated the next day in Senior Seminar about how I was gay or some other fucked up issue. I never told anyone about this behavoir cause I just wanted to get away and I knew that my parents were complete DeSistoites at the time so the only way out was with this asshole’s approval. Plus Michael had done such a good job tearing me down there was no way anyone would’ve believed me if I had said it at the time.

    Either way, I was more than distraught by this situation. I went home on vacation, ended up with turn ins, having sex with my ex girlfriend. When I came back to campus, I did my turn-ins which gave michael a whole new batch of ammunition. Only because of Marconi defending me as much as he could was I able to keep my L4. I started discussing my possible homosexuality in Sr Seminar to try and bs my way out of there.

    Either way I was very resentful when I left for Mexico for the summer. The worst idea ever. Alyssa J and I had a thing for each other. We were the two level 4’s on the trip and we were both over 18 so we could stay out later together and what not, leave two unattended 18 year olds that have been building sexual tension for a year. So we got busted doing what we do and decided that we were going to take off from Mexico.

    Whole other story not relevant to the form. Either way I stayed on the road for about a year, only briefly returning to the school to leave again after being back for a week with Sean F. I finally returned in the summer of 1990.

    When I returned Michael’s favoritism had become so obvious it was ridiculous. When I first returned I became the level 4 of the farm. Which I have to admit was very difficult. Michael wanted me to be a L4 but this is what I had to do as part of the agreement. I can’t even began to express the bullshit that I personally did to attempt to control kids that should just not have been in that school. I personally witnessed Tom Perrone dry shave a kids face with rubbing alcohol when he refused to shave it himself. Enrollment had started to fall even at that rate, so the issues with taking anybody in had begun.

    I have no desire to talk about some of the things that were done on the farm to try to control kids that just shouldn’t have been at the school period. I also can’t begin to tell you the crap I caught because the farm was especially out of control at this time.

    At some point I was moved from the farm as the L4 back to New boys. Which all hell broke loose that year with the New Boys and the New Girls literally constantly on the verge or riot. The abuse that went on between the students and the situations that were allowed is shameful. Unfortunately I had no choice but to endure because my parents were sold on the program. Michael was going crazy…. Agreed 12 step is important for some people but it isn’t a fixall and he started to see it as such and mandated it to anyone he felt needed.

    Not to mention this year more of my “homosexual issues” were being discussed and I was dealing with Michael’s very uncomfortable consoling. The entire year of 90-91 I was doing everything in my power to keep it together. Dealing with the farm and new boys, my only escape was to handle the 12 step dorm at my suggestion to Michael, made up some bullshit why it is good for me and thankfully he allowed it. Which I gladly did as a relief to not deal with what was currently a mental ward over at New Girls and New Boys. People had to exhibit so much worse behavoir to make it to Lakeshore, in fact I hardly remember anyone during that time being sent. I kept thinking to myself these kids need that level of structure that the school just wasn’t equipped to provide.

    A lot of things I’m starting to remember as I write this, I remember in a meeting when a kid got up, I can’t remember his real name but they called him frenchie and shoved his hand through a window, blood everywhere, I personally found the tip of his finger to be taken with him to the hospital. Pure insanity. Prior years in DeSisto he would’ve been to lakeshore in a second. Nope we sheeted him and shoved him in a room, insane.

    During my time in New Boys, I worked a lot with Greg Steinbeck, I am sure he will remember me. There was a big hoo doo when he allowed me and another Level 4 to take his truck four wheeling behind campus one morning. We got it stuck and we got all the new boys to come help get it out. They had a blast doing it amd overall I think it was probably one of the funnest times we probably had in New Boys during that dark time.

    Of course michael lost it. It didn’t matter that he was having his “favs” tool around on and off campus in his alfa at their own discretion, he couldn’t understand how we could’ve possibly drive a 4wd truck on the logging roads behind campus. I got expelled off campus and once again, if it wasn’t for Marconi coming to my defense and allowing me to stay in his apartment on campus. I would’ve been gone and greg you know damn well Michael totally over reacted on that situation.

    I honestly can’t remember but I am pretty sure that me doing 12 step and managing that dorm was a result of that situation. I can’t remember the details this is 20 years ago. I managed the 12 step dorm the rest of the year and luckily things started to go a little better for me. Towards the end of the year, I of course made another version of my book to include my time on the road and lo and behold. My fucking sexuality came up again. I feel very strongly if I just let AMD caress me in whatever way he wanted to, this might’ve not been an issue. Michael then privately accused me of me being attracted to Blake R, Damn if he wasn’t projecting, anybody from that time knows it, and demanded that I talk about in seminar.

    There is nothing more humiliating then having to make up bullshit in front of all peers about how you are confused about whether or not the reason you want to be close with someone is because u really are confused about your sexuality. THIS WAS IT FOR ME. Not only did I have to do that to satisfy this sick fucking egomaniac and if Hal you say I have resentment I DO. This fucking prick sat over me as I sat in the mansion office forcing me to come out to my parents over the phone. That’s right. It wasn’t good enough that I was at least talking about it, I actually had to tell my parents I’m gay. After being subjected to his inappropriate caressing time after time.

    I worked the shit out of the program and should’ve been out there a long time ago. The fact that I was still getting denied graduation over this is complete shit. That summer after I watched the second class leave that I should’ve walked with. I left, I only left because after being denied graduation I was told I would probably get to leave after the summer. After I worked a little more on my sexuality issues. Halfway through the summer that prick told me I was going to have to stay another fucking year. I left for the final time in ’91 with a girl from the Cherries dorm. Never to return. I didn’t care if my parents weren’t ever going to talk to me. I was done.

    The nice thing is that within a few weeks of leaving, I called my mother. She wasn’t even mad and said I could’ve called her sooner. Her opinion of Michael changed after the “I’m gay” phonecall, and started to here what I had to say.

    The bottom line is that DeSisto without DeSisto could be a good place. But honestly when my Mother told me he died after talking to Marconi. My exact words were “I hope it was in the worst most miserable pain imaginable” and then laughed.

    I did not fight that place tooth and nail, I worked with my therapist and Marconi amazingly. I had a very positive outlook on the school before Howey closed and we were shipped to Stockbridge. Any DP who had me work with them as a level 4 knows I did whatever I could for the students, But AMD had it out for me for whatever reason. Maybe its cause I wouldn’t make out with him in our underwear or maybe he was bothered that Me and Marconi were so close and he’s ego’s to easily bruised. I just know it wasn’t easy for me, sean, julio or mike. We definitely had the magnifying glass put on us. I don’t know if he ever pulled inappropriate shit with them. I’ve never talked about it much. He never molested me, cause I wouldn’t allow it. He never did anything other than caress my hair, shoulders and neck, not in a fatherly way, I would pull away and then suffer the consequences over another public berating in Sr. Seminar.

    The bottom line is there was a few different DeSistos. The one that helped kids, and some did get help, as long as Michael didn’t have a special interest in you.

    When I started writing this I had no intention on being this venomous when I started. I am just so tired of listening to people praise this molesting piece of shit. Again, he was very inappropriate with me, I can only imagine what happened to the few that didn’t resist. Again I think that it is very possibility that this didn’t go on in the earlier years. I think as the school grew his ego did to, as well as his God Complex. Either way, what started off as a positive experience for me in the beginning, turned in to something I will never forget.

    I am not taking away those of you had a positive experience at DeSisto, that can definitely happen, at the same time don’t take away from those of us, it was hell for either.

    I wish I could’ve been at the funeral to spit on that fucker’s casket for what he put me through.

  84. I just want to add that I use my real name, and most who have contacted me from the school have respect for me and still care for me. The bottom line is Michael might not have been a piece of shit at the beginning but he definitely was from ’87 and beyond. Kathy Mueller, my heart goes out to you, I always felt that you were mistreated. You are not alone girl. There are many of us who feel the scars many years later. If you research me, I have not been part of the DeSisto groups long and now after personal therapy with “real” professionals do I realize what happened to us in the later years. I myself in the last few years realize what kind of torment we were put through by that egomaniac fuck. May his soul be burned forever in HELL. I am not a disturbed individual, most people like me and cherish me. That son of a bitch was disturbed and hopefully in Death his soul realizes the error of his ways. Maybe he returns as an ant and works his way up through the regeneration of life. God knows, whatever that may be, he is on the same scale as many other ruthless egocentric tyrants that came before him.

    Thank goodness to the universe he was only able to manipulate a small population on this planet. Yet we stilll seek closure after all these years. I am horrified at the thought if he was ever really to replicate his filth to more than those of us affected.

    I realize that I am damaged. More damaged then when I arrived. Me and my parents still talk about this frequently, at the time my own personal illness left them nowhere to turn. But through real therapy I know what that ass did is more damaging that was good. I only thank the universe for giving me a man such as Michael Marconi to watch over me at that time.

    I am upset that I did not continue contact with fellow DeSisto victims throughout my life. I had no desire to remember anything what was there and anything that reminded me of it, I ran from it. Only through a true psychotherapist in recent years, at the same level of David Brown have I recently made contact with those of my past.

    I am not saying Michael was evil, but the victim of his own demons, in the end. To the Phil and Sarah Majors, I know that you left there on good terms in the end. But can you honestly say you weren’t brainwashed. Maybe you weren’t subjected to the bullshit that I was, but to deny what was happening there when I was there is bullshit. Phil, you and I were especially cool, to deny what happened when I ran new boys that year as fucked up, you have to deny several things in your mind.

    I understand. It’s called coping and strong people do whatever necessary to deal with it. You were especially helpful to me in that dorm, but don’t deny to yourself what went on. It was wrong.

    Greg. Your a good man. But don’t defend that prick, you are so above that.

    To all of you who felt Michael was a wonderful man until ’86 I cannot attest to that and from the statements you make. He might have been, but from someone who worked their ass off to run the entire Howey Campus before its closing. I can tell you it changed.

    I am not someone who has been bitching in groups about DeSisto since they left. I am not someone who never tried to go with the flow, and I will never be a victim. I am way to strong for that, at the same time I am resentful of myself for not stating something in the 90’s when something could’ve been done while this bastard out of control was living. I wanted to bury my head in the sand and deny it ever existed. I am so sorry for those that had to endure after me. I don’t think Michael was evil by choice. He was just a bastard cause he could never admit that he was wrong, something he wanted everyone else around him to do because of his own ego.

    I do not want people to hate Michael DeSisto, I just want them to realize what he had become and not what they thought he was.

    Notice, I use my real name. I do not hide behind an alias. I post my real email address with my real last name. I make accusations knowing that if I am googled this will come up eventually in the list of hits.

    I challege anybody who has a false concept of this man to contact me!!!

    It is only til recently that I have been ok with making contact with DeSisto students. Many have attempted and I have shunned. I have made it to the top of his BullShit program only to be torn by his emotinal insecurities and what he did. Only when his soul can admit to the universe that he was wrong then I am ok with him being returned to this earth to try again, but I don’t think he could ever let go of his ego to do so.

    I admit that I am bitter, but anyone who denies me the truth is just not willing to accept that they turned their own eye to it in self preservation for that time. Humans will accept horrific circumstances to preserve their own needs and what their choices that they have available to them at the time.

    Greg, I believe your a good man, but if you really search your soul. You will know that Michael was greatly disturbed and it is only through self preservation that you deny what happened there from the late ’80’s on. Me and you were close and often confided with each other privately that there were certain things we felt were wrong.

    I am so tired of this bastard being described as a saint. The mental/emotional torture he put me through was more than most could bare.

    Again, I don’t use an alias, I use a real name. I do not hide behind false pretenses to make my claim. I do not have a vendetta, I have remained silent for many years and only through the work of true professionals do I feel like I need to become part of this community and speak the truth.

    It is what it is, I am working with myself and others to move on. Only through the truth will you evolve.

    I understand that I bring the spiritual and the supernatural into conversation and some of you may take me for a loon for doing so. I do believe through your denial of that existence it makes you “ok” for denying what went on there, it is how you cope. Yet, there is no way, with any logical thinking mind you can truly believe that his intentions were not self serving. Email me, I will give you my phone number, we can talk. See if when you speak to me that I do not sound rational.

    The truth will set you free if you are honestly willing to see it.

  85. Yes I am on facebook. We know each other but weren’t very close. I am not sure if I was your L4 in the 12 step dorm, or if I remember you from New Girls during the time of chaos when both NG and NB were farmed at the same time when I was in that dorm. It could’ve been the farm to, but I am sure that we have been in a number of Dorm meetings together when I was an L4.

  86. Hey I tried to find you on facebook but couldn’t locate you. I am in Denver so if you do a search on my name on facebook and then filter the results by location. You can also find me in “the desisto school” group on facebook as well.

  87. Josh,
    I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I also thought Marconi was a great man as well and had the fortunate experience of seeing him at the 2007 reunion in NYC, It was awesome. I was not at school with you but I got there a couple of months after you left. I would like to talk to you. My e – mail address is and my facebook is christy jesmore. I think what people experienced there is completely unique depending on when you were there, your frame of mind and your relationship with Michael. I have more to say on this so e – mail me if you want to hear it!

  88. Hi All,
    I was staff at Howey from 1981-1983. Thanks Hal for all of the dialog…boy, the stories I could tell. I’m actually at work looking for a residential treatment program for a client…16 yr old Native Am kid who is totally fucked up from a horrible childhood. Yep. I’m in the same business, got a Masters degree, have 2 kids, 21 and 19, and doing great. My experience was great in so many ways, but it was MY experience…almost 30 yrs later. If you keep it real simple…just loving and caring about one lost and confused kid is worth a lifetime of work. Love all you guys xxxx I’m on FB, so look me up please, Santa

      1. Debbie, when I read that you had taken a career very similar to mine I thought wow. When I saw that you were working with native american was a double wow. I left psych to travel and writing….long story short when I decided to try and return to psych and addiction it was with focus on native americans in Alaska. I wish you the very
        best. I believe that Rob used to be among those of us who were “fishing buddies”.I have known several over the years who were terrible DeSisto students who went their own way who became wonderful people I am proud to say I know. I never give up on people no matter what. Call it faith in humanity and call it gift that has nothing to do with ESP. I was crazy about Santa. She was in my therapy group and I had a bit of a crush on her. I again thank Hal for this blog.I am still looking for information on Kathy Taylor(Upper Girls) and Keith Murphy.

  89. Look, whatever else may or may not be true, there are a few things no one can dispute.

    1) Michael DeSisto was a fraud. He faked credentials. He claimed education he did not have. He claimed work experience he did not have. This is well established and beyond any doubt. He really wasn’t qualified to be where is was doing what he was doing.

    2) Issues of sexual impropriety aside, no professional would invite a troubled teen, of any gender or combination of genders, into his bedroom to sit on his bed while he laid in it. It is unprofessional. I speaks of a lack of boundaries that is a cause of alarm. Like many things at DeSisto, it speaks of a lack of ethics and a sense of propriety that to anyone on the outside would be both alarming and obvious. It is only because these things were seen only (mostly) from the *inside* that they were accepted (mostly) as normal.

    3) Regardless of the “era of DeSisto” in which you attended, you were, to some degree or another, robbed of the educational opportunity that young people of that age are intended to be provided as a matter of law. Academics at DeSisto were always tertiary at best — and, yet, it claimed to be a school.

    Anyone who argues that DeSisto was a good place or that Michael was a good man must deal with the simple fact that the school was built on and perpetuated by dishonesty. You may have found help there. You may feel you were saved there. I would suggest that such results occurred *despite*, not because of, the DeSisto program.

    “You shall know them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:16

    1. August 17,1982,
      I am being thrown out of Desisto@ stockbridge school.Me:”What happens if I die out there?I am then 19 years old.declared non compos mentis by reason of mental illness( schizo-phrenia)by a court and under law.I had nowhere to go but the streets.Michael Desisto:You will burn in hell.
      Desisto school was a parrallel to Terezinstadt.
      Michael Desisto has been in the grave sometime now.I am alive.
      Need I say more.Anyone friend or foe is welcome to email meat the above adress.

  90. Much of what you say is true and can’t be denied. But you discredit your own observations when you insist that the DeSisto school in truth had nothing to offer and any positive results occurred “despite” the DeSisto program. You’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water. Michael DeSisto was a problemed guy who got worse instead of better. That seems pretty clear. But what you’ve not allowed yourself to see is the part of him that actually created something that, for a good many people, had real value. His being fucked up didn’t prevent him from attempting to create something very unique. It’s just unfortunate that he was also the one who tore it down with his own illness. And though I was most certainly “robbed” of a high school education, I was, instead, given tools, experiences and opportunities that have allowed me to become who I am today. Things that, at that time, I needed even more than the high school education. By the time I went to DeSisto, I had already dropped out of high school. As it turns out, after DeSisto, I got my GED and went on to college. So while most of your statements about Michael and the school are sadly true, you’ve missed a whole piece of the puzzle. The stuff that worked and wasn’t destructive.

  91. Dario, Kathy and Josh. Your accounts of the school are very accurate. FYI Josh I also remember Michael tried to pull the same bullshit with Ed Shea as far as trying to pin the gay tag. He even bought it up in a faculty meeting when Ed was not even around, very strange yet nobody questioned it. He did this with other boys as well. I remember in my first six months there he put his hand up the back of my shirt and started rubbing my back. It was in the gym during one of the rehearsals. It was very uncomfortable, but at that point I was in no place to confront such a huge (during his fat period) charasmatic figure. I was essentially a shell of myself during my 4 1/2 year stay at that place (dec87-june92) He encouraged the boys to be all touchy feelly with each other. Everyone there made it out to be normal, very wrong. I think to some extent we were all brainwashed. Some more than otheres. I think the faculty and students who bought into that whole fuckedup system (when I was there) without question were the ones who caused the most trouble. To the people who say the school “saved their lives” or “was effective” great, I don’t want to take that away from the positive experience you had. At the same time, many of the people who speak out in support of the school were the same people that were overzealous in supporting Michael’s perverted draconian rules. They were the ones that supported the marathon dorm meetings, verbal beatdowns, and general insanity that went on there. I did graduate in 92′ and spent a few years or so rehabilitating myself after I left.. I admit I still have a fair amount of rage when I consider my experience there. I regret not handling various situations the way I should have and told some people to fuck right off! Right now I am doing well for myself. I graduated college, have my own house and make very decent money. That school seemed to operate on the charisma that trickled down from Michael though the staff and students. Certain people faired better than others. When I first arrived there, I heard one Level 4 who recently graduated give us advice on how to graduate. He told us just to bullshit and look good. Some people had an easier time accomplishing this.

  92. Thank you OCCS for cutting admissions to desisto school. I was there in 2003 and it was nice to see justice finally coming to all the students who went there. the school now in 2010 is in ruin. i have walked the buildings and property. Man is it creepy…the place has a terrible energy still stuck to it.

  93. Hello friends,
    Yes we are all connected by our shared experience and contact with Michael Desisto. I went to the Lake Grove School on Long Island, NY in 1975, 76. It is with great sadeness that I read so many negative experiences with Michael at his Stockbridge and FL. schools. Personally, I have nothing but great love for the man. It is also with great interest that I read fow the many things we did at Lake Grove evolved at Stockbridge.
    The man I knew was very different than the man people knew at Stockbridge. Mike was a huge, fat, powerful, loving and strict parent, teacher and friend. There were few stories about some inappropriate behavior by Michael. I can believe, though it is difficult to see where he may have gone too far and succumbed to his own narcissism and ominpotence. Funny as those were always the great enemy. I alsway welcome when everyone in a while I dream and Michael is there.
    I welcome the opportunity to be involved in conversation with anyone,
    (M/F) of my fellow alumni.

  94. I will try to be more succinct,
    August 17,1982.
    I am being kicked out of The Desisto@Stockbridge School.Permanently.On that day,I was under legal guardianship having been previously judged non-compos mentis by a court of law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,by reason of mental illness( schizophrenia).I ask A.Michael Desisto”What happens if I die out there?A.Michael Desisto:”You will burn in Hell”.I considered him a worthy adversary,the ultimate negative teacher.It was by his teaching,I learned to always speak the truth or remain silent.I discovered the compassion in my own heart.I am alive he is dead.I comment so in the memory of those who directly or indirectly have suffered ,because of him,and the memory of those who have died.Desisto at Stockbridge was a lesser parallel to Teresinstadt.If there is anyone who chooses to respond to this commentary I welcome them to email the given address.

  95. It’s just sad to read about what DeSisto became towards the end… Every now and then this string collapses into opposing camps, yet it becomes clear with every post that there were two, completely different, schools as the man become more fragmented himself. Many men of genius nosedive into madness later in life… luckily almost all of them are relieved of any power before they get this bad.

    As screwed up as some of the processes were towards the end of my time there, it was and will forever be a overall positive part of my life and who I am today. As the bad things I read here lessen the good feeling, I imagine it’s more emotionally charged to read people arguing the good points of what to them was a house of horrors.

  96. Hal, you won’t remember me but I remember you and many of the core
    students at DeSisto in Howey in the Hills. I was rather nervous at first
    with many of you. I was Frances Sayers escort and support during her
    admissions interview. I was impressed by the fact, many of you, indeed
    most of you were individuals who didn’t fit into any mold. You and my little friend Mark Godfrey seemed to be questioning why it work for you and not others. I will share a little Tao with you…Dali Lama…you learned because you already knew. Most of you were regarded as “resistant”…
    Didn’t DeSisto himself say that you weren’t failures or resistant…the method of treatment, the psychiatric/medical/biological therapies and the educational system had failed you. I followed the death of DeSisto Schools
    while I lived in Orlando. I subsequently worked briefly at Straight Incorp.
    I visited many other “alternative treatment programs ” across America.
    Some scared the hell out of me!
    Unlike many of you core people I was probably the most disliked and
    untrustworthy of the staff. J.P. and Keith Murphy were close to me and
    they heard disturbing things about me. But oddly I never heard a single thing. I never completely bought into the philosophy. I think I was fired
    more than anyone even JOM. They told me I was bad and was not worth
    much…when I followed Sarah and Wendy ODey(?) into hospital treatment.
    I did give up alcohol completely … I am grateful for that through the School.
    After 9-11 I started searching and reading the Obit in the New York Times.
    I worried most about the girls that I knew were living in the city. After I finished the complete book I was a bit relieved…but I can’t say that I felt
    better. I have often thought about how to find some of you and kept coming up blank. Before my brother died he got me involved with this
    Facebook “thang” and through exploration.
    The young lady Kathy I believe, Dario, and Jaymee(?) Speak about some every disturbing things. Berating others others, actions which almost seem
    deliberate. I never believed in limit structures. I can’t tell you how many times I guy would blow and we would put him down I would look and catch another kid getting licks in and creating a whole set of new problems
    I had to address. Just a couple of weeks before going into the hospital a kid was blamed for some action and he lost prev. yada yada… So he tried running and that lead to a leash. When I, another staff person, and a “trusted” level 4 worked to get him to open up and admit the “crime”.
    The other level 4 was the actual culprit. I was quite shaken.That was it.
    I was going to leave though I had no idea about what I would do. Admin.
    even the boys father were not really concerned. I saw similar things all across the country. They all flirt with very serious problems. They are not prepared. DeSisto was not prepared (in later years) to handle .
    Sal who I really like and Sharon Leyton gave a young woman I got to know quite well a really hard time and told her that if she did not complete the program she would be a failure. She would go back to drugs and sex. Her parents were worthless too. They just didn’t get the
    GeStalt thing. Slyvia was her name. Wonderful little woman. Who had
    a big puppy dog husband. They were making a great life for themselves
    as many of you have.
    I have gotten to see Luara Olson and Mark G. Laura is a momma. Kind of makes he feel a little like Forrest Gump.
    I really am impressed with your blog Hal. Awesome.

  97. I am still just so amazed at the stories I hear on this site. I can understand what happened at the Desisto schools from my experience at Lake Grove School in 1975/1976.

    Many of the terms, concepts and procedures that I read about had their initial evolution at Michael’s Lake Grove School. I think it would be very difficult to find anyone from that school to describe an environment as oppressive as what I hear about the Desisto schools. While at L.G. I did hear some rumors about some inappropriate behavior by Michael. But it was isolated. The limits, structure, hugging, Gestalt TX, group meetings, etc., group/peer pressure all went on. Personally, in general I think they were just what the students needed and had lacked in their pre- Desisto days. Michael was a strict parent figure and held people accountable for their actions. He also taught students that they were responsible for the decisions and choices they made.

    I am sorry that so many people seem to have been hurt by the post Lake Grove years. If you do a reunion I would like to be invited. I would be interested in exchanging experiences. I have just recently found some old Grovers on Facebook. :)


  98. I will repeat myself.I was at the Desisto @stockbridge school from July 18,1980-August 17,1982.On August 17, 1982 as I was being thrown out of the school permanently,I asked Michael Desisto what would happen to me if I died out there?(I had nowhere to go!)He said; “Then you will burn in
    hell!” As I had stated in my previous commentary ,The Desisto School was a lesser parallel to Terezinstadt.I make this comment for all those who suffered at the Desisto Schools,and in the memory of those students who have died, especially those who died young or by their own hand.I invite anybody to contact me,by E-mail at

  99. Dear Steve Neitlich,

    Greetings! We haven’t talked in 7-8 years. I remember you were a dorm mate and friend in Lower North in the early 80s. I was a guest in your family’s house in Wayland, MA on two occasions. I hope you are doing well. I have moved to Dallas, where I continue to do sales and marketing work. If you would like to talk about anything, feel free to contact me. Dave Samuels is doing well, and is often in Texas.

    On Desisto, I didn’t realize until recently how many people were hurt, how great the hurt is, and how out of step with reality the school was. I find that I cannot deny the ongoing burden of memories I acquired at TDS (am some people met with worse treatment then me). I find I need to turn to my house of worship to place the Desisto experience within a wider context of meaning.

    Best wishes to you and your family. I hope you will email, and let’s do a phone call in the near future.

    Jay Allen

    1. Hi Andy,

      Great to hear from you! I’ve heard you are doing well, mostly from David Samuels and Bill Gilbert, with whom I speak regularly. I’m a software salesman in Dallas, Texas. You can find me under ‘Jay Allen’ both on LinkedIn and FaceBook.

      I recently uncovered a bunch of DeSisto pictures that my father took, with some of North Dorm, and possibly including yourself (were you in Lower North back when Ron Birger and Marc Lupa were there?) My email is

      Best Regards,
      Jay Allen
      cell: 469.774.1859

  100. Thanks for those words of support, Kathy. @ Steven Neitlich, I wish I knew what you were talking about or who you were, but I think you have me confused with someone else. I don’t know who Frank Brilliant is and I was never in probate court in 1980 or any other time. Picking on teenage boys? I WAS a teenage boy. I was a student, not faculty. Plus, I was at Howey, not Stockbridge. Please refrain from making accusations. I, too, hope you get the help you need in overcoming your experiences at DeSisto or whatever it may be that is causing you to write here with such misguided venom. But I do ask that you leave me out of it, particularly when you clearly have me confused with someone else. I am proud of the conversations that have taken place here and have found them to be revealing. They have certainly opened my eyes to a part of the DeSisto experience that was not my own. For that, I am grateful. And, of course, a little saddened.

  101. Hal- I still believe you to be a persona rather than the individual you claim to be.But I will speak the truth to you any way slavery is prohibited by the constitutional amendmendts XIV-XVI.Deaths caused by Neglect ,that is tossing people on to the street is almost murder.None of what occured at Desisto was Justified.Is War ever peace,Is freedom ever slavery?Is Ignorance Strength?Do you love Big Brother?Did you appreciate that a lot of brilliant and talented people were subjected,enslaved and many suffered,some are now dead.Some died very young.Some live with their suffering day after day.The Best revenge is a good life.Red Cloud was the one who said your words mean nothing..
    and for any proponent of the things that went on it Desisto Their words do mean nothing.In Memoriam is why I leave my words here.

    1. Wow…

      I won’t even begin to attempt to respond to this ongoing rambling, nor will I read any further posts by persona “Steve Neitlich”… (At the risk of using therapeutic terms, the ‘..persona rather than individual..’ comment reeks of projection)

      Frankly I am just trying to decide if these are simply somewhat-disturbed, clearly misdirected ramblings or if ‘Steven’ is simply another attention-starved soul burying their face into the NeedBag Feeding Trough…

      My apologies to all those who follow this thread as I can only assume this response will both feed the Need and force another round of poorly spelled, improperly punctuated spouting…

      Hal, let me echo Kathy in thanking you for establishing and maintaining this blog as an open forum for fellow Desisto-ites to comment, reconnect, vent and hopefully, for those who are able, to achieve closure in what to some was a devastating experience.

  102. And then the angry mob returned…The title of the blog rings true again.
    I saw some silly romantic comedy on a plane yesterday about adults and their inability to move past what happened in high school. Shit, I’m 45 and I can’t help but read each post.

    Hal – I have enjoyed watching your blog for a year or so, thank you again.

  103. Hal, later today I am going to post stuff to you and the old gang. However,
    these recent posting are very disturbing. I am with the other two ladies who comment. I know you, remember you, and you are no persona. I am
    worried because after correctly inform him, calm him, he continues to jump onto another truth. To me this is severe pathology. It means the person has created this reality. Any further efforts exclaim, or even calm
    him down will just make him angier and angier. He is dangerous. If he is
    just a person yanking yours and our chains it needs to stop. Notify Word
    Press and the authorities. Protect yourself. Don’t engage him, any of you
    fine meaning people. Don’t give him anything more (any info about yourself). Please. This used to be my business. I am not being bossy, or
    a know-it-all. I am not trying to be a male hysteric. Just concerned. None
    of you have done a thing to endure this harrassment. Please.

  104. Hal, let me echo psychosta, Kathy, Andrew, Mike, Etc in thanking you for this great forum!! It is fun to read and informative.
    As has been said too many times already…. Everyone’s experience at ‘that school’ is unique. I had some of the best and worst times there and I made some of the strongest bonds/closest friends anyone can have.

  105. I will never forget names places faces or the events that were perpetrated at Desisto @ Stockbridge School and on the street.They were real. This is not my last post. There were flagrant human rights abuses going on there.
    things events took place that even defied Geneva Convention Protocols,
    Events that defied Federal and Commonwealth laws.I think what scares any one about me (and I am harmless)Is that I can remember,names places,dates,and times,correctly.I remember and I am here.Those who know their words mean nothing,are aware of what they have done.

  106. Just one more thing as I stir up this metaphorical hornets nest again…
    When I last saw Adam Fertig.We were on vacation playing Frisbee…
    vacation from Desisto.I remember him,When I last saw Chris Bergen,He smiled at me.When I last saw Anton Kynphausen He was a guest in my house.When I last saw Roger Khan he was on lower North porch.When I last
    saw Colleen Skully she was imploring me not to run away.When I last saw Dave Samuels he was going to Annapolis,willing to lay down his life for his country ,He is a person who was willing to make this world a better place.I really am glad you out here are all alive and well.That means every one.
    Peace,Live long and prosper.

  107. I remain surprised that no one on this site has decided to engage in conversation with me. I see great pain and hatred for Michael Desisto by most people on this site. From the stroies of his time at the Stockbridge school and FL. school I can certainly understand the pain. I knew a different Michael while I was at Lake Grove School 75 -77. He was a strict, loving, knowlegable parent figure. He held people accountable for their actions. And he attempted to get really difficult kids to understand that they could be in control of their choices and that there really is cause and effect. It was this kind of wake up call that most the the kids there lacked in there pre Lake Grove days and behavior. Yes it looks like many of the modalities at Stockbridge had their genisis at Lake Grove. The severity of what happened at Stockbridge did not happen at Lake Grove. Yes Micheal had his problems.

  108. Hey Steven K. I for one am glad that you, like I, had some truly great and helpful experiences with Michael and the school. It seems pretty clear to me that the school as it was when I attended was a short-lived episode in the life of the DeSisto schools. I have talked to many people on this site and elsewhere whose stories I believe. Yes, there will always be those who exaggerate or have choose to have selective memory, but there are too many stories that I have been able to confirm as true. Enough so that I know the school I loved changed dramatically. As I’ve said before, I was lucky in time and place. And it seemed I left the school just in time (1982). It saddens me that a place that was so instrumental and helpful to me, became so damaging and traumatic to others.

    @ Kathy. Yeah, limit structures worked for me. Sometimes therapists were present, other times student and faculty. But, again, I was lucky. The staff involved in those moments were caring. They were friends. Same with the students. There was no abuse of power taking place in those moments with me.

    All that said, there were a few short-lived faculty members who simply did not belong there and were not mentally stable. They were let go (or quit) very quickly. At that time, the student body had a voice and there weren’t any faculty members that would put up with that kind of behavior. There was also a therapist from the Gestalt center, a guy who lived in Connecticut, who took advantage of two of the female students who were his clients. It was quite the scandal. Sadly, one of those students was a woman I was dating at the time. So far as I know, that twisted individual continued to “party” with students in the Connecticut area when they were home on vacation. Obviously, he was let go from the Gestalt center and, so far as i know, not allowed to practice anymore. But yeah, these people exist. They’re out there. It sounds like somewhere along the line, the good people were forced out of DeSisto and these types took over. Horrifying to think about. Especially as the school, as it was in my day, was a truly helpful place, even if the seeds of disaster were already clearly sprouting.

    @ Steven N. While I’m glad your memory is so vivid and intact, it does not answer why you have chosen to make accusations against me here on this site. Again, you did not know me. We weren’t at the same school. I was not faculty. So in this case, your memory seems to be faulty. Either that, or you’ve mixed me up with someone else you DID know who was also named Hal. But I’m Hal Masonberg. If you would like to continue posting here on this site, I ask that you refrain from making these kinds of accusations as they are dangerous and inappropriate.

    And thanks to everyone who rose to my defense. It is truly appreciated. A very surreal moment for me, to say the least.


  109. Thanks for the response HAl. Now I know I am at least posting correctly. I would be hapy to converse with anyone that went to the Stockbridge & FL schools. THe whole thing truly saddens me. I can easily see how Michael progressed with the things he started at Lake Grove. I wish I knew then, I would have challenged him. Marcus Pritchard was a younger kid at the LG school. I know he taught at Stockbridge. It would be interesting to converse with him. Michael at Lake Grove was from from perfect. We too had kids that didn’t “make it” for one reason or another. And yes there we accusations of some inappropriate behavior by Michael. But the love and good parenting by Michael far, far outwayed his weaknesses. Non of this excuses the experience at Stockbridge.

  110. I am on the floor in the farm,It is July 26,1982,
    It is 11:30 A.M.,I have a man pinning me to the floor,straddling me, i name.He slaps me on the cheek,I say to him if one shall smite you on one cheek thou shalt offer one the other.I am slapped this way about 35 times.This a man who I had knocked out in November of 1980,I changed my actions because hitting others was wrong.Another student witnessed this,saying this was sick.I was treated horribly by other persons on the street,and events took place in Stockbridge that are known only to me and my former Physician.Who was a mandatory reporter.I was the person who kept saying this is what went on here,My status medically was real.Mr.Desisto never should have accepted me.As I write my memoir I will include names and events.Adam Fertig in real life was a bit like John Belushi,and a good kid.I remember everything and I mourn for every one as I had said before,Peace.
    I light a candle every friday evening.Peace Dana

  111. Hal, I do not know you I apologize for my personal attack.all the statements Ive made are true and best to my knowledge and copywrite by myself as of this date January 23 20011.Steven D.Neitlich Shalom

  112. Hal, I do not know you I apologize for my personal attack.all the statements Ive made are true and best to my knowledge and copywrite by myself as of this date January 23 20011.Shalom

  113. Well, then, Steven, I’m afraid I’m going to have to remove you from being able to post here. I would very much have liked you to be able to share your experiences here with the others, but your behavior is inappropriate and unwelcome. I do wish you well and hope you find an appropriate manner in which to express yourself. However, you have made claims here about me personally which are worrisome. Others have expressed concern about your posts. I wish you well. Elsewhere.

    1. Hal,
      Respectfully, I would like to suggest that you not censure anyone from this conversation. You have created an important and beneficial place for people impacted by Michael Desisto to come together and talk. Rather than look at this site as your site I think the greater gift you can give would be to just see yourself as another person contributing to the discussion. S.N. is just another brother or sister who walked through the same ground we all did.
      Steven K.

  114. @Kathy – thanks for making it clear to me that Steven N did, in fact, apologize. I’m afraid I read it as Steven stating that he did NOT owe me an apology but, in fact, stood behind his comments. I see now that I misread what was written. Steven N, thank you for your apology. You are welcome to comment here.

    As for censorship, I am happy to provide a forum for expression, opinions, even venting. However, accusations and name-calling are not appropriate and I have no interest in providing a forum for that kind of abuse. Whether it is directed at me or anyone else that feels safe to comment here.

    Steven N’s original comments to me, which it seems he later removed, were VERY graphic and VERY disturbing. And though they were removed, I still received them via email and was VERY shaken by them. Just to aid in understanding what I was responding to.

    Thanks again, everyone.


  115. I attended desisto at howie 79-80 I have mostly good memories of my time there, to me it felt like a real community. i guess at least according to all the intensly angry things that i read before coming here that desisto had a rough decline that is too bad. the pics brought back a rush of memories. it is good to hear some positive things said about the howie school. derek

  116. Great to hear from you, Rob! Honestly, I think those of us who were at Howey in the early 80’s had a very special experience. Quite different from Stockbridge or the school in later years, apparently.

  117. Rob Lilienthal! There is a guy I was just thinking about recently. I have been job hunting and thinking about different jobs…Teaching I couldn’t
    stand. While I worked there I had to teach classes and they didn’t seem
    too awful concerned that that was not my gift. I talk creative writing
    and worked at the stables. Why did I get the job of helping teach the
    equisterian program? My father trained horses. I had never even been
    close to one before DeSisto. Anyway, Rob was in one of the classes and he was right…he didn’t take much seriously…but he was one fun and very
    amiable fellow… He would get me talking about the Kennedy assassination and he would not stop talking trying to keep off the class
    or give out homework!
    How many people are aware of Jon Paul over these years? He has been
    extremely active in animal righting in Oregon. I googled him last year
    after I discovered his sister Caroline’s book…which she wrote while a firefighter in San Fran. One sexy but very tough lady. Anyway, I googled and up poped a hearing where the FBI rated him as a serious domestic
    terrorist! I have followed his interviews and newspaper articles… He got
    4 years for some arson thing according to the Feds. I found his picture and he had a crew cut and a round middle age face! To me, you all are
    still kids! I don’t know if he is out yet. But he is still a very drive and active in his causes.
    I am searching for Kathy Taylor, Becky Gurnin, Laura Olson, Mark Godfrey, and Keith Murphy. Anyone know where tey are these days.
    Well I have seen Laura and she is a mother…very beautiful, intelligent,
    and bosomy!!!

  118. For those of you who knew Kristen Miller (I believe that she arrived at DeSisto in 94′) she was murdered a couple of weeks ago. So sad…

    There is some talk of starting an education fund for her children set up by some fellow TDS people. As I find out more details I will post on here as well as the facebook sites. If there are any myspace DeSisto sites left can someone please post the link, I don’t have an account there anymore. Thanks, Christy

  119. Hi Hal,
    I was there from the summer of 81 to Jan of 84.Like you I didn’t “finish” the program. And like you I’ve felt that strange disconnect about my teenage years. When I left I new that there would be nobody trying to get in touch with me. That was the system and I would get people in trouble if I tried. Although a couple of people did contact me and to my regret I never kept in touch with them. For all these years its like I’ve had a secret.
    Don’t get me wrong I’m not hiding my past it’s just I find it impossible to describe it.

    A few years ago I googled DeSisto And found the war zone that the school had become. I didn’t want to be a part of that mostly because I didn’t feel the same way.
    So I just dropped it. All I wanted to do was find out how some old friends were doing.
    What I found was pretty vicious. I wouldn’t call my time there great but my experience was on the whole pretty good but 29 years of hind site can do that to you.

    It’ startling to find out what happened to the place after I left and to some extent what was happening while I was there. Although I had learned that if you didn’t want to get expelled for something someone else did… DON’T ASK! Also if you didn’t want to get caught. Do it by yourself. Every time I got in a jackpot for doing something. Someone else was clearing their conscience.

    Its good to know that so many people are doing well.
    And sad to hear about the ones that aren’t. This all started for me when I heard dynamo hum and it made me think of Matt Ross only to find he passed away.

    Anyway Hal thanks putting into words thoughts I didn’t realized I had.

    1. I believe I remember Doug well. He was in Chuck Lee’s dorm I think.
      Anyway we used to go fishing a lot. I have thought about him and others. I think it is quite natural to reach out and find friends. I have known several people who left without completing the program. I was
      seriously worried about the negative feedback some got when they left.
      It is wrong to tell people that they are going to fail, that the only way is their way or the highway. That is simply unture. I am glad to see so many I recall doing well. I have never thought students, or one of my
      client’s lives would spiral without my words of wisdom. I recall particularly
      a young woman by the name of Sylvia who was treated so harshly when she said she wanted to leave. She was 18. She was ready to make decisions for herself. We frequently crossed paths in Orlando and Altamonte Springs. It was always a pleasure to see her. She married and at least two child. Became a good momma! It is very sad to hear
      what happened to Matt Ross. That is the world of addiction, crime and violence. No one can write or say another’s life choices will fail. Every kid that made it, whether they graduated or not always had it in themselves
      to make it. Bless you all.

  120. Hi guys, It’s great to hear from you. I’m doin great here.
    Wow Rob went straight to the freon story. Yea i remember. I’m still sportin a bent nose from the cement sink that i fell into…. good times.
    Can’t wait till christmas or thanksgiving dinner when one of my sons say. Hey dad i was on the internet yesterday and well could you tell us the freon story. At least it won’t suprise my mom. Everybody told her that story when she started working there. Usually once a week. Funny thing is how good of an idea we thought it was at the time.
    Mike I sat at your table for over a year and still smile at the thought.
    I think i spent more time on that lake then I did in the dorm.
    i know I was there more than class.
    It’s great to hear that Rob and Deb got married.
    Hi Debbie.

  121. It’s all good.
    Man that NY school system must have sucked. When did Philadelphia go dixie? Yea that watch really made me look like an ass.Oh well.
    Thats another thing that seemed like a good idea at the time.

    I don’t want to hi jack Hal’s site I’m finally on facebook.
    don’t know what i’m doing yet but i’m there.

  122. When I read that Rob thought Doug H was from the South I had to stop
    and think about when we went fishing. No that guy was not fro the South.
    Me and old Buddy Owens were. And we worked there. I guy to those folks from NYC area the rest of us do sound like we are from Dixie.

  123. I guess to those folks from NYC area the rest of us do sound like we are from Dixie! The real ones, like me, can’t compose an english sentence.

  124. Wow Buddy. I rembember watching him play bass with Chuck Berry at Disney. Great show!
    When I moved back everybody wanted to know how i got that hoky
    slow southern drawl. In fla every body said i talked to fast. I couldn’t win.

  125. You know one of the reasons I stopped talking about high school when i got back was I sounded like i was bragging. Truth was I did more in Three years than most of my friends have to date.
    a trip around the country. a trip to europe. god knows how many trips to some of the nicest beaches in the world. Disney and a hundred tourist traps that aren’t there anymore. And a huge lake in the back yard. Water skiing, sailing swimming.
    It beat sittin around watchin the paint fade on the lips on the water fountain or trying to figure out what was painted on the bathroom door in lower boys. I think I signed up for most of it because i didn’t want to take a leash or get leashed myself.
    i don’t have bad memories of limit structures. they were a kind way of
    setting me straight. Pull any of the shit i did in the real world and i would get my ass kicked. same result less stitches. Beside when Chuck Lee sat on you you remembered it.

  126. Wow!
    Thanks for the back story. ihad know idea.
    I took a while to grow up to. I sobered up right before my 24th B-day
    got married a year later had Two boys and we are still goin strong.

    wouldn’t be sittin here if it wasn’t for quittin drinking and everything else. And i don’t think i’d have quit with out DeSisto happining first.
    I’ve always wondered if I was the only one beatin my head in.

    By the way no one in the dorm bought the you threw Chuck story.
    Chuck told us a thousand times that he was standin next to the window
    and i believe he said you slipped on your own tears and fell into him.

  127. Hey Rob where did that come from.
    Yea debbie was 15 and I was 17. She was my girlfriend at the time and NO i”m not ashamed of what happened then. Iwas humiliated when YOU turned us in to Chuck Lee and got me expelled on campus.
    So deja vu all over again.

  128. Kathy, I wouldn’t be too concerned about Rob and Doug. I think Rob is married to a woman named Debbie. And…it was a long time ago. They
    all sound like they are doing quite well.
    I am sorry about the terrible things that happenned to you and the others
    towards the end. Admin and “superstaff” were actuallyvery rigid in their views. If you did not share their opinions things could be very tough. I worked equal amount of time with boys and the girls. Upper girls was a lot of fun. I worked at the stable and had a lot of fun down there with the kids and the horses. Most staff stayed away. Maybe that is why I liked it down there. That maybe becuase of the smell.
    I am glad to see that people can change without as well as with programs
    like DeSisto. I believe that about other forms of counseling. I will not give up on others (or myself). But I will never tell others with certainity that they face doom without a “program.”
    I was hired during the month of August 1981 I think. I left Carolina and followed Francis Sayer, a patient, down to the campus. I arrived there
    the day after the freon event Doug and Rob so vividly described. I was
    “fired” that day and went to a cabin with they guys from Upper Boys. I
    wondered what the hell have I walked into?!

  129. I am blogging on this for the first time even though I am in touch with several DeSistoites. I am not angry about the school or anything that happened there. Hal, Rashi and I just had a small reunion in LA and we talked aobut how much the school had done for us. It kept me safe and taught me how to take responsibility for myself. They had a different experience as we all did. Mike Manis!!!!!!! I am so glad to hear from you. What are you doing man? I am in Santa Fe NM. I was telling how you followed me down there and how you gave me the Book Be Here Now and how that was my intro in spirtuality 101. I hope you are doing well and are happy.

  130. Dear Rob (And Debbie),
    No need to apologize. I am very sorry for your loss and I hope you can get some small measure of closure/comfort from the end of bin laden.
    I lost a childhood friend on 9-11 right when we were started to get back in touch…
    Dave G

  131. Does anyone know what happened to therapist Jim Anderson. I saw an RIP post way up on the page, but I’m wondering if anyone has any details about what happened and when? I loved him.


  132. Hi Kathy – thank you for that information. I hate to think that he relapsed after so many years of sobriety. Was he still living in the Pittsfield, MA area?

    If anyone else has any information, I would appreciate hearing it! Thank you.

  133. GGP – Another TDS person talked to Jim before he died. She told me he had Alzheimer’s and was I believe homeless before he died. He remain the only therapist I have had who I would talk to. It makes me really sad, he was an amazing guy.

  134. Wow. Just wow – all the memories you guys bring back. Hal, Rob, Doug, Frances, Mike, Santa, Laura, Lucas…I remember all of you from Howey! I’m so glad to see you all are doing so well! Hal, thank you for posting this (even though it was more than two years ago), and great that it’s still getting feedback. I had been rather intimidated by other sites talking about DeSisto from names I didn’t recognize and incidents I wasn’t there for. I guess I was one of the lucky ones who left with only good memories.

    1. Glad you had good memories, too. There’s a lot of negative talk and negative experiences being shared out there. It’s good to hear from more of us who actually really liked the place and got something out of it.

      1. I agree with those who suggest what kinds of experiences one had have more to do with the attitude and the circumstances via which they came. I wasn’t a “typical” DeSisto student. Three months in even Wendy Miller was asking WHY was I THERE. It eventually came out on its own, but not without a fight and a lot of prodding from the dorm. For the first time ever I had real friends, even through the yelling and the sneering because they would do so at my actions and not at ME. Compared to where I had come from, it was paradise on earth. I had never been thrown into a van, never been shipped off to the farm or 4 West, never was a threat to run away, and knew even then the actions that were taken on me were a direct consequence of my actions.

        I also had been thinking on the comments of those who were told that they would never amount to anything if they didn’t finish the program. I think that’s typical of any rehab but what it really comes down to is you’ll never amount to anything if you don’t finish what you started – whatever that is.

        I hated leaving. To this day I still have dreams I have been re-enrolled there to finish what I started. I wake up and feel disappointed. I wonder sometimes if anyone else from there does.

  135. TM Et Al,
    I was treated like shit when I got there and that was my own doing due to the way I presented myself and my lack of self-esteem/confidence. In the end I was well liked, confident, and had friends. I have the truest friends to this day in almost all of you (Even some from school when I wasn’t there). There is a bond. It’s been said a million times but it is true.
    As for the dreams…. Most of us have nightmares that we are back. In my case I have to finish something to be allowed to go but I know that I am due at work and have no time to figure out what AMD (Or whoever it is in the dream…they vary) wants/needs from me. It is always an anxiety producing nightmare. The other nightmare I used to have was that I started smoking again. Weird, but true. I am a bit more into health these days although I am in no way in great shape I would never smoke again. Both of these dreams usually happened when I was under a lot of stress. I haven’t had either in a few years. They used to be almost monthly and they tapered off. :) Anyway, the school helped me a lot. Specifically the few good dorm parents/faculty and my friends from there.
    Dave G

  136. I don’t know what to say how many of you are out there? I felt so ALONE!!!!! ; until yesterday I got an email from one of our members. Not many people liked me when I was there. I was only there 5 months, but for 2 1/2 of those months I was staring at a wall…….If you guys are out there Ive always thought that it would lighten my burden to share it with a fellow victim.

    Honest Open And Willingly, Brandon

  137. Sorry to hear of the shit treatment you got at the clinic. We are all here and please feel free to ‘talk’ to any of us. We know what you’ve been through. Some more than others since the school changed. I left in earlyish 86 so my experience was quite different from those who went later. I’m still willing to listen and understand.
    You are thinking of the ‘other’ David Goldberg. This happens all the time. He lives in Ma. an is an EMT. He is on FB. I wish you well and hope you can find at least some measure of peace with this group.
    Dave G

  138. I could talk to anyone but I just dont think I know any of the people in this chatroom. I realize that there are some staff members that are online here I would appreciate it if they emailed me, maybe I knew them.


    That is exactly what I went through on the more normal days………….the days that really fucked me up were when I had to stare at a wall 16hrs a day for 6 weeks in a row and more.

  140. To Kathy,
    First, I want to tell you that I am very sorry about your treatment. In my working career I have never been a part of such treatment. I did participate treatment
    of military personnel and family members who were severely depressed, brainwashed, or sufferred OCD. It was intense… I would supervise patients
    and give them a task … very day, very hour I would critize their task… then ask if they wished to continue…the goal with clients was almost always to make the
    clients angry…assert themselves. What I have read from you and others has never been a part of any legitimate(sic) therapy. All my clients were adults…
    volunteers in the treatment…and they all eventually told me to stick, whatever
    I had them doing, up my you-know-what!
    The experiences that Hal and others described as limit structure were done
    appropriately, and successfully. They just were just things I was never comfortable doing. I would do anything before considering limit structures.
    I fall back on recounting nightmares like your on patients and family when they
    are considering “programs”, I call…Alternative Treatment Services for high risk
    patients. They are almost always directed by personnel that I think have limited
    background in counseling, psychopathology, or interactive experience with
    the “therapy.” They rely on the what they have learned from a mentor when they
    became employed. I could never do it, or any therapy, based soully on what I
    had learned during orientation. That may have been why I was “fired” so often!
    I am really glad you found therapy that got you thru… if I recall correctly.
    I recall telling Frances and others that they were taught because they already
    knew (a Tao and Zen revelation). The gang of kids I knew were brillant, social,
    truly caring and empathetic, and strong willed…I was an intellectual, social,
    and creative inferior to all of them! I knew it. I am a believer of the human spirit. Thank you, thanks Hal…and thanks to every kid I knew from 1981 to 1985, for reinforcing that belief.
    Short story about me that expresses this:
    After leaving Florida I eventually made my way north. It was to be near my mom’s children…I tell this like a joke…I moved there to be closer to them…
    they left Ohio about 6 months later. I was a clinician in another unique and
    successful programs for teens…Nothing personnel gang…I realized I was just tired of working with teens…I opted out and my employer gave me a pay for
    a couple of months.
    I went to an outpatient program for unsuccessful, high risk, adults in
    addictive services. I took on the case of a nasty old drunk while in the hospital.
    He lived in squalor…he had cancer and lost his ability to speak. He refused
    to let me enroll him in sign language….he had an equally nasty wife( I ran and controlled his finances and refused to bail her out of jail…her and her other
    boyfriend…but eventually I did after he asked and I spoke with his shrink
    and social security). I was the only person who could communicate and understand him…He required intense case management. Mental Health
    argued he was a waste…Dept. of Social Services voiced the same…..I
    presented that clients and patients such as he could not simply reject deny
    services…because he was a failure and folks hated him. Much to my surprise
    I won them all over and they agreed…. One day I found him shoking and
    cynotic…I suctioned his stoma and he slugged me good a few times. I realized the throat was swollen and the discharge was ugly… His cancer
    had returned…the pain and suffering was terrible to watch…he would not be long for this world. His wife called me wanting money. I told her that I would to
    have him nod his head before I okayed release. When I told her I was coming over…she changed her tune and told me to forget it. I went over anyway.
    I discovered him beaten, his bed and floor covered with blood and vomit.
    I had to wade thru this to get to him…thinking he was already dead… I got ready to call 911 and the cops…then I saw him blink…so I grabbed his
    suction and he started to become combative and got me with some good
    punches…I told him to calm down I would not suction him and I would not
    let anyone hurt him or make him do anything…The dear wife refused to let me
    use their phone and the boyfriend odered me off…I got the cops and EMT
    and went back… our attorney, the courts and social security… told us we
    could do nothing until he lapsed into coma. We had to wait outstide and off
    property until family waved us back on…it was Christmas eve…I called my sec.
    and medical records for his original file…find me is mother and any immediate
    family…I found his mom and brothers and they all came and we sat there
    until he died. The family the nurses and doctors all said, you do this for
    him? I said yes. He died in a clean bed. In a quiet and clean place. With
    those who knew not how to help but still loved him…addiction and mental
    illness, failure are no reasons to deny dignity. I am proud of that to this

  141. The main problem I had was that the school was touted as the be all end all of a persons success. You would expect such a place to help each and every student reach their potential as people, and up and beyond what they thought they could do. It could be incredibly damning for some students. It was not a level playing field for everyone. There were many students their who were bi-polar, had aspergers, autism, etc. They were not dealt with properly. Sure it was easier for students who had the typical teenage woes and had excellent social skills. I had some very fullfilling experiences there. I can not honestly say DeSisto saved my life. I think my experience there caused a lot more self doubt than instill self-confidence. I went there at seventeen, doubting myself. I left there at twenty one, not sure of myself. It wasn’t till many years later after I graduated that I started to get a grasp on my abilities and rid myself (to a greater extent) of the negativity. The school thrived on confrontation at all times, whether it was relevant or not.

  142. Curious as to why you guys want your posts removed. I have no problem doing that, but you added so much to this discussion. I’ve been honored to have your comments here.

  143. Absolutely. Not a problem. Been meaning to go in here and do that, but haven’t had the time to go through it yet. Will try ASAP. It’s been a busy week here and I have to go through, find everyone’s posts one at a time, and delete them all separately. Please be patient. Thanks.

  144. I’m starting to remove them today. But with all due respect, please don’t post here, decide you want your posts removed months (or years) later, and then hurry me up by telling me that time is of the essence. My life extends beyond this post and there were priorities this week that took precedence over this. You need to realize and understand that. Take some responsibility on your end for having posted in the first place, thank you. I said I would take the stuff down, and I meant it. But I was not in a position to do it immediately on your sudden whim or at your convenience. Time certainly wasn’t of the essence a week ago before anyone decided that this is what they wanted. Patience and understanding. Thank you.

  145. For the record, all posts by Tanya M, Kathy M and Rob L have been respectfully removed per their requests. For anyone reading through this, you may realize that there are gaps in the conversations that have taken place here. This is why.

  146. TY ,and your right,it’s yer can leave this up ..don’t matter..,all that matters now is privacy…and as far as I go,NO,I didn’t think,who would think people look at this,but they do…again Ty for taking the posts down.The world is different now,and I’m sorry if the rest of us aren’t on the same page…..just the way it is.

    1. Again, had no problem taking the posts down, just couldn’t do it right away. Had to wait till the weekend when I actually had time to do it.

  147. Hal – nice to see you’re doing so well. I was there in Howey with you, for 2 of the yrs you were there, though I wasn’t really in your circle.

    I was rather shocked to find this, and even more shocked to read that there has been other forums in the past. While I’ve thought of people I knew there, often with fondness, it just never occurred to me that people would want to talk about it.

    While I didn’t see anything I’d call blatant abuse, there were things that were just … “wrong”. It wasn’t a positive experience for me, and I spare little time in trying to remember.

    I’m not surprised you got a positive experience from your time there; however, I would suggest it had more to do with you than anything he did for you. I suggest this partly from your manner of expression now and also in part from remembered observations of you.

    Not to be too mushy, but whatever you were when you came, you were a good-hearted person when I knew you. I would give you more credit for that than any outside influence.

    On the school itself, after it closed I understand it was a golf resort for a while. I don’t know anything about Hulk blowing part of it up.

    By chance, do you remember the dorm parent Buddy’s last name?

    I’ll check back, here n there. Be well.

    1. Hi, Kay! OMG, good to see you here! How are Mick and Keith?

      Buddy’s last name was Owens. Last I heard he was still in the area but that was years ago. I remember him coming in the room and hanging out before Lights Out. I consider that one of the positive experiences. I know things weren’t easy for you there and I wasn’t much help but I think about you every so often and am glad to see you are okay. If you track Buddy down, tell him I said hi!

      1. Mick and Keith? I gather you refer to the Stones concert outing I arranged (but then wasn’t allowed to go on). Well, they continue their lives blissfully unaware of my enamored disposition – I never did get to see them in concert ;)

        I’m not sure from your login name who you are, I always sucked at last names and you just have initials, so I’m doubly handicapped. Amusingly, however, I still go by KT to friends, so we have another thing in common hehe.

    2. (sorry to mess up the order, but no reply link in your reply…)

      I was your roomie second dime of 1981 with the rocking chair, the Doctor Demento tape, and the HUGE trunk. I don’t want to give my name here because there is someone else who tracks this blog and I DO NOT want to get this person started with trying to contact me again.

      Still, it is good to see you and I hope you are doing well. Long distance hug!!

      1. Hmm I guess it doesn’t allow replies to replies? Dunno, but glad you did reply :)

        I remember a rocking chair, I definitely remember Dr Demento (my hero), I don’t remember a huge trunk atm. The problem is, I can’t place the time frame. I remember several roomies, just not sequence.

        This will annoy me forever if I don’t get it right. I don’t see a private msg function here, so would you care to email me?

  148. Oh shit …Rashie,,Rashie Delugoff or how the fuck ya spell it,Yeah walking in central park to meet her mom..I dunno was like a dentist or some shit,We spent the night drinking and …poof I woke up on a rock and she was gone…..her mom actually called me the next day and asked if I knew where she was…..I was like fuck you,I have no idea,where’s my wallet…and why do I smell like patchouli

  149. I remember her well,she wore Isreali combat boots,had an upper lip mustach….balls of steel,,,the toughest jew chic that could ,sexy ass sexy..with that mystery……..sweet…She told me how her mom taught her how to shoot an UZi,I was loving it,every second….

  150. I remember Roshi as this very funny and fun-loving kid. She had her “issues” but she worked on herself. I never saw her complain
    about doing “dirty” jobs around the dorms or on grounds. She always talked to me and we could talk and talk and talk. About art,
    modern dance, and the soul of John Lennon…who we both were
    both big fans of. You wanted to piss her off just say something off the cuff about John Lennon…I remember nearly having to restrain her (not therapuetic) after some geek kid said something really
    vulgar about his death. I remember I nearly let her too. She was a
    real original. I would think about her whenever I got close to NYC. Her and John Lennon.

  151. Wow, I just happened onto this blog and while reading each line becomes way too much at 1am, at least I recognize some names, Andy Stein, Steve Neitlich, Chris Bergen, Anton, Dave Samuals. Lots of memories. The Desisto School was nuts, but quite frankly, so was I and most of the people I remember at the time. As in most cases, , there was good and there was shit. We tend to dwell on the shit, easier to remember. Hey, I was in people magazine that first year. Have you seen all the comments about that photo spread? I forgot about all the long hair, was that really the 80’s?

  152. I remember Rashi. Her dad owned The Village Gate. It was a recurrent theme that Michael would cozy up to the NYC showbiz types : Gower Champion, Joey Nederlander, Joseph Papp, Art D’lugoff etc..
    I saw Rashi at the 2003 memorial and she didn’t remember me. Oh well.

  153. I’ve been traveling down memory lane saying hello to my past alot lately. Don’t really know why. I had dinner with Dave Graf a few months ago. Just like my get together with Marie, it’s as if we had seen each other recently and it had been about 10 years. Any reunion talk going on at the Desisto Nation?

    1. Probably a get together in NYC early August. I am going to be in NYC and will get together with the usual suspects. Everyone from any year, any campus is welcome. As it gets closer to then I will post and we’ll find someplace for the anticipated crowd size.
      Maybe it will become a full-fledged reunion!
      Dave G (80-86…F#*&’in lifer, I know…)

      1. are you David Goldberg from the 70’s blond hair, decided to “love everyone” one day, and did just that, from the Lake grove campus?

  154. My name is Robert Anglen. I am an investigative reporter with The Arizona Republic. I am trying to reach students and teachers who were at the DeSisto School anytime between 1997 and 2004. I am working on a story about issues surrounding DeSisto School. Feel free to contact me at 602-444-8694 or by e-mail at

    1. Nope….. I find it hard to believe that anyone was sexually abused there.Think about it,the students there were the best of the best at acting out,breaking rules,whatever.The people I knew there would have made it known that someone was abusing them.Then again I was there at it’s “magic moment” early on.I understand that the school changed over it’s course.I can only hope it didn’t happen later on.

      1. That’s a tricky area. It’s not uncommon that the source of the “acting out” is abuse, whether physical, mental, or sexual. Many times those who had suffered it would just think it par for the course if the next place they go abuses them, too. They would simply continue to act out, never giving indication what the cause was.

        Many of us weren’t strong types. I personally was raised in an old fashioned atmosphere where females did not protest their lot, but were to fulfill their destiny of supporting the man in their lives, whatever his determination of that may be.

        Though I take that back – sometimes just surviving is an indication of great strength. If you’re raised into a certain environment, you don’t know that it’s the reason you feel so bad; the place your anger and unhappiness comes from, so you just lash out randomly. And you don’t always know to tell anyone.

  155. I was there at the same time you were Adam marks. I had some good and some not so good experiences. I’m not sure how I’m feeling now just started looking back into my time there and something isn’t sitting well with me I hope to figure what that is and wil update if that happens

  156. Hal, I arrived down in Howey in 1982. I don’t think you and I knew each other but I remember your name being spoken by people like Rashi, Christy, Sarah Raynor and others. Howey wasn’t the best experience I’ve ever had, but neither was it the worst. I see 45-year old people still bringing up shit for their teen years and I think to myself “How much time has to pass before you get over it?” Granted, the school must have changed for the younger crowd, the latecomers speak of sexual abuse – I never saw any or experienced anything remotely like that while I was there. To them, I say I hope you have gotten help to deal with these issues…peace.

  157. Howey and Stockbridge were totally different,While Stockbridge was Michaels baby,it was Howey where he felt he did something,made a difference…yet that devotion to Howey cost him alot.He lost touch with his first school and things began to spiral out of his control.He did try to reign in the people he hired ,but it was too late,so he let it go.Maybe he thought Howey was going to be the jewel he wanted so bad.Maybe he was so involved in the moment of being the guy who can save kids.He had the right idea,and sadly not the best way of going about it.If anything he did the best he knew how.I’m in no way saying it’s ok whatever happened to anyone,I’m just saying DeSisto was more than just him.

    1. I always saw it as a small business that made the often made error of expanding too fast. I left in June ’83 and was there when Howey opened. I visited the year Howey closed and Mike was sitting at his table in the dining hall. He told me he had to close Howey and he was never comfortable at that school. Reading on the internet Michael spent a ginormous amount of money on a lawsuit to open DeSisto College at Howey. This in retrospect was a pretty silly idea to keep kids in the DeSisto system until they were 22-years-old. Howey was a very small town but dug in their heels, but it was a Pyrrhic victory DeSisto lost and the town of Howey recovered a mere fraction of their huge legal expenses awarded years later. Even though I left 5-years before Howey closed cracks were already starting to form. The last of the Lake Grove faculty were jumping ship. Mike felt abandoned and betrayed, and paradoxically this made him turn on them hastening the rush to the exits. Some of these staff had been with him well over 5-years going back to Lake Grove. Did Mike really expect they spend the rest of their lives with him? Guess so. These experienced staff were replaced with naive job seekers who answered the New York Times ad. I must say , however, the Stockbridge campus as a whole functioned much better when Mike was not around insinuating himself into every situation. Oh and btw on technical factors the catchment area of Stockbridge was largely the Northeast and Midwest. Michael thought he could do the same with the South. I don’t think that worked out as well as he thought it would.

  158. “If a million people do a stupid thing, it is still a stupid thing.”
    –ancient Chinese proverb.
    Are there any new Chinese proverbs?

    I once met a kitty a long while ago who I had difficulty feeding. She’d meow and cry for food and continue to do so even after I put food in her bowl. She was very excited in her little kitty food frenzy: she’d watch my hand visit the cupboard for the cat food, then follow my hand down to her bowl… and then back up to the cupboard again… I’d say “no, kitty, its there” and point to the food in her bowl, but she just followed my finger. She seemed to be unable to make the proper connection. At one point I attempted to nudge her toward her bowl, but she resisted (as cats will do), and the harder I tried to show her where the food was, the more she fought me off. Eventually, after she finally stopped crying, she would ‘discover’ the food on her own and happily have her fill.

    It is in the nature of some creatures to resist simply for the sake of resisting. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t lead (or nudge) a cat to food.

    I remember asking someone why they were behaving so irascibly each day. “Cuz so to, like, be resisting author’dy…”, they said. I asked him if it had ever crossed his mind that he needn’t display this resistance so publicly and especially over such trifling matters as making a bed or not, or doing some dishes. I elaborated that to be truly rebellious one could blend in and go unnoticed… hide in plain sight, as it were; be in control of their own circumstances and not submit themselves wholeheartedly to whatever they found for the moment incompatible with their ‘rebellious’ self image; that to throw a fit at every turn in the road was in fact actually to surrender? Of course he didn’t. He never saw the point I was making–one point in a sea of many, mind you, points which all were drowned by his asinine clamour–and he eventually got himself hauled off to some other ‘disciplinary’ institution.
    I often wondered what became of these ‘desaparecidos’, but that’s irrelevant.

  159. Desisto School was only one of more than 1 million plus options a parent had at the time. Sharing the fact that you got some good stuff from there is just as meaningless and an inmate sharing that he got some good stuff from Jail. It’s the horror stories that are important. That school was set up my a monomaniacal homosexual pedophile. So anything good you got from there is a coincidence and more importantly a testament to your inner strength, not this terrible school.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Be careful of suggesting that your experience is the only experience. That is the way of fundamentalism and closes all doors on conversation. My experience of the DeSisto school was a great one. As has been detailed in these pages and many others, there was a period in the school’s history when it wasn’t always what it later became. I was lucky enough to have been there during that time. I strongly suggest you open yourself to other experiences and interpretations other than your own. Do what you need to do for yourself, but be wary of disrespecting and diminishing the experiences of others.

    2. First off, I respect your point of view and your experiences, even though you have chosen to remain anonymous while literally ALL other posters here have not chosen to hide…

      What I do take exception to is the overwhelming arrogance in the way you belittle and minimize OTHERS voices as if your opinion is the only one worthy of consideration!

      Your blatant lack of respect towards others could easily make one wonder if your personal experiences were not representative of , if I may take from your own words:

      Perhaps everything bad that happened to you is a coincidence and more importantly a testament to your lack of inner strength, and not this school.

    3. At the same time, don’t discount those who DID get something out of it without becoming a target. It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows to be sure but while I was there the ones who suffered the most were the ones who didn’t care who they fucked over and were outraged that they had to actually suffer a consequence for their actions. Isn’t it funny how no one brings up the way too numerous incidents of students harassing, seducing, and bringing violence upon others (staff and students alike) and yet calling what happened to THEM abuse? Oh no, it was all staff and level 4s who were the abusers, not the kids who knew damn well what they were doing. If you see yourself as an inmate and act like an inmate you will be treated like an inmate. If you take that into adulthood your life isn’t going to change or get any better.

      So yes, getting something out of it is a testament to inner strength but far from meaningless. Not to those who did.

  160. I graduated barely in ’83. I had very little to do with DeSisto people except a couple of close friendships. Then through the Internet I was in contact with hundreds of DeSisto peeps on MSN. It is my own personal observation that the same people (Michael’s favorites) who were bought clothes by Michael DeSisto or received gifts or went off campus with him, are the very same people who view their experience at the school most positively. However, those who were heavily medicated, or left to rot on the farm are least likely to be DeSisto boosters today. In any case it’s been decades for me and most others. I don’t like that I was sent to residential school, but what’s done is long done. I have established real life friendships with people who weren’t even at the school at the same time (though we may have mutual friends depending on their times there) as me. We don’t sit around talking about DeSisto, but if it comes up then we talk.. Alumni networking has been quite a surprise for me. Almost all of my high school friendships in my hometown were decimated by the Isolation of Stockbridge. I attended a commuter school college where relationships rarely progressed past acquaintances. So now with Facebook I’m stuck with DeSisto people ummm well forever it seems.

    1. Definitely have to agree with the above post. I attended the Stockbridge School from 1985-87 and knew some people who posted here such as Tim Mayer and David Goldberg. I was on the baseball team that won the championship, played hockey, was student DP and left at level 3. To be honest, I really haven’t thought about DeSisto since I left although I do remember some of the characters – Dave Warner, Matt Ode, Kevin Mathog, Nathan Darvish are a few that come to mind. There’s no denying, regardless of the experience that one may of had, that DeSisito was far from the norm. I remember we once “sat” in the cafeteria for weeks on end because an encyclopedia was missing from the library – not that education was a priority in the DeSisto landscape – but it’s comical and ironic that a “school” would halt classes for weeks to sit in silence for a missing book. I’ve been a college professor for over a decade and I grimace at the thought of my education in my time there. Even the language and vernacular is suspect. Terms such as “leashing” don’t really help a child’s self-esteem and when are emotionally disturbed teenagers qualified to act as student-therapists? Nonetheless, my aim is not to detract from others’ experience nor do I wish to gripe about my own. However, to disregard one experience for another lacks some degree of objectivity. Anyone who attended can attest to bizarre circumstances during bizarre times, but when we look upon the bizarre as the norm then objective reality is truly lost. I could go on to relay some horror stories of windows being broken in dorm meetings or students running away 7 or 8 times or wonderful times on the bus trip across the country, whitewater rafting the Colorado…but in the end it simply doesn’t matter since each experience for good or bad is merely a moment in time…and if there is one thing I know for sure – there is no going back.

      Glad to see some familiar names and that many are still rolling through life…Good luck to all!

  161. I think either having a good experience or bad,we were part of something that trancend’s us.We were sent there for what ever reason and found others there like us.In that time we created community,and in some ways it never left us.Sure you move on,try to forget ,but there is that piece of you that will always be there.That we should hold on to,because it make’s us who we are today.

    1. That’s the amazing part, isn’t it?

      I don’t believe that folks who graduate from a traditional public high school feel THIS way about their time and experience there…

      This weird connection… The tie so small and thin as to be invisible, yet so strong almost no amount of effort can break you free!

      Almost 30 years since I drove away from that campus, yet it remains a tangible part of my psyche… There is no other real estate, no similar time period in my life that affects me this way.

      Your closing statement could not be MORE true… Whether positive, negative or somewhere in between, just discussing the place brings strong emotions to the surface.

  162. And it’s sad that you continue to think that just because someone does not agree with you, that they must have underlying issues. I’m sorry that you are always on the defense and cannot bare to believe that this school may have been something other than what you wanted it to be.

    1. Demonic. Defensive… I have said repeatedly that I believe many of the horror stories which have come out of DeSisto. You choose to ignore those statements and acknowledgements again and again and, instead, paint a picture of someone who is in denial, of someone who does not want the school to be something different from what he want it to be, what his experience of it was. If that’s what you want to hear, then have at it. But you’re not responding to reality if you choose to do so. When someone comes on here and throws the word “demonic” around and celebrates someone’s death as some karmic retribution, I feel the need to speak up. Particularly when their only experience of the school was that they knew some people that went there once. I’m truly sorry your friends had such horrible experiences. But I’m afraid the brutality and downright nastiness of your comments are not only overwhelmingly insensitive, but, as I stated before, terribly offensive. And they do, like it or not, feel like they are coming from someone whose anger existed long before the name “DeSisto” passed their ears. It feels like this school plugs smugly into whatever venting you need to do. So again, have at it. But don’t expect to not illicit a reaction. I have little tolerance for people who spout such vitriol and claim to have a true understanding of events because they came in contact with someone who had a terrible experience. Again, the complexities of a place like DeSisto may be beyond your ability to fully comprehend, but it taps into something for you nonetheless and you chose to spout off some rather spiteful comments here. Far too spiteful for someone who didn’t go to the school, has a one-sided experience of what the place was like (good or bad) and still decides that words like “demonic” are somehow appropriate. You clearly don’t realize it (yet), but your comments are insensitive. They are belittling to many people who DID attend the school and have a far more nuanced understanding of events than you ever could. If you want to commit to feeling righteous in your words and actions, as I said before, have at it. But I will respond. Your words here are tinged with maliciousness, but disguised as sympathy. You do not know of what you speak. Yet you choose provocative and thoughtless language in which to do so.

  163. WOW!!! …I was amazed to see my in box this morning and the comments left here by Lia. As I read them it became apparent to me that there seems to be some kind of debate some people just will not give up on.To the students that DID attend,there is no debate.It’s either you had a positive or negative experience,and that was(is) what defines their time there.And what really does matter is OUR support and empathy for our fellow students,regardless of what kind of experience they had.So in the end I agree with Hal,I think his response summed it up.I feel bad that hear say opinions continue to affect some who clearly do not know.

  164. I was at Howey 1980 – 1884, iending up in Chuck Lee’s dorm. My perspective is that I had endurance – that life at DeSisto was much easier than dealing with my father. Yes, Michaels school was easier than living with my parents. I never really knew that life could be easier than I thought. I saw a lot, and the thing is, some years ago I actually wrote and finished a 86,000 word account of my time there, called “Detailing Michael DeSisto”. In its introduction, Yes Michael was a genius in his own way, otherwise his school couldn’t have worked to begin with. It was because of the Parents, it must be surmised, that financed the move from Lake Grove to Stockbridge. It must have started that way. I write in my account, to begin with, that “Michael pondered, how much time should each teenager spend?” That was his basic, continuity, attitude. Someone who would read his book “Decoding Your Teenager” could easily figure out such his own gestalt inner being. I know that what I had was endurance. Today I often wonder what it would be like if Michael was brought forward in time in a time machine and meet the now parents that were teenagers then. From 1983 to say 2013. That way his life would make sense. That is what I was at Howey; I was a nerd, often ostracized, yet somehow I had some spiritual power as a “christian technical mystic” some others had respect for. Often I would make some friends but they would suddenly leave the school and I had no one for ‘backup’. I am looking for a publisher for this “Detailing Michael DeSisto” book.
    Yes, Michael said “wonderful”, and it was; but he also said “I didn’t say that! I never said that! And even if I said it, that’s not what I meant!” To me, there were good people, and there were bad people. The circumstances of my leaving were, though, from the bad people.

  165. This is a repost of my answer to a question someone asked about the school’s origin on FB a few months ago. It sort of evolved into a mini-essay. It’s doing no good in my archives so I might as well post it here.

    Oh Michael just cut and pasted about 85% of it from Lake Grove. L.G. was using East Coast Gestalt therapy started by Isadore From after his split with Fritz Perls at Esalen in California. I know some of the top supervisors still had contact with From. So that I hypothesize was the genesis of the harsh confrontational therapy we experienced. There was also a strong but subtle influence of Buddhism, (Alum William Brawley knows much more about this), Transcendental Meditation and Zen. Some time in the 90s an expensive teepee-form mediation hut with stained glass windows was constructed behind the mansion. Originally sitting meetings were conducted in compete silence. Old timers will recognize many TDS therapsits here and their extensive involvement with non-occidental thinking and practices

    : The idea of turnins and forgiveness is much like Roman Catholic confessional, as well as, anti-sex .. I do not believe collective punishment was used near to the degree at Lake Grove as it was used at TDS. I have the dubious distinction of being in the first group leash for a runaway student. I noted even while still at school that that particular practice was very similar to the system used by the North Koreans who grouped American POWs into groups of ten. Though I doubt Michael knew that, perhaps evil minds just think alike. I’ve read in various groups over the years that Michael ran out of ideas (he wasn’t a great original thinker in the first place) and the lengthy and arcane processes of Gestalt were not sufficiently fast for an increasingly impatient world so he introduced a corrupted form of Alcoholics’ Anonymous that was more results oriented. He also brought psychics on campus that did readings on students. So back to Isadore From. How could such an obscure figure have so much tangential influence on our lives? It’s hard to say; sources are scant. From didn’t believe in publication so he didn’t..

    The From/ Perls schism and break up: .


  166. ok ok enough…. Truth is Mike used a lot of therapies,Gestalt was the basis,yes.But Ism’s and religion had nothing to do with it.As far as the other crap,your on your own trip.I should know,my sister went to Lake Grove ,and I went to Howey.I spent a year on the farm in Stock bridge ,and was 1 of his supposed favorites.I went to his wedding was involved in almost every aspect of his life.What he said to me was I’m doing this because I love kid’s.He did the best he knew how to.Not because he was into kids like some people accuse him of,because he had a dream of a better way.A way to provide troubled kids a safe place to be troubled kids.The problem isn’t with him,it lay’s upon the faculty and kids also.He provided the canvas…we painted it

  167. One last thing….to those that say he was a pedophile,nothing can be further from the truth.He hated the incidents he heard of ,anything sexually going on.I spent years with Margie and Mike and know for a FACT it’s all non sense.What faculty and students did was not tolerated at all.Dennis my therapist became the Director of Stock bridge near the end,I was up there many times. I never once heard anything about abuse.I was free to walk around the campus and talk to the students,not one said anything about being abused.I’m tired of the allegations and false claims of whoever. It’s easy to kick someone when their down.

  168. Decades ago I was in the Mass. “school” and I can tell you as a FACT, This man was the definition of evil. The only human being on Earth that I would like to have seen die. The molestation, the torture in below zero temp. The drugging. The withholding of food, the forced medications, the brainwashing, the pure hell he put me and those I was there with through is demonic. I hope he is burning in hell. I wish the very worst for this man.

    1. If it has been decades, then perhaps it is time for you seek closure for yourself and start the healing process… There is so much hate, resentment and bitterness in your commentary that it is crystal clear that you are harboring the same inside yourself.

      That kind of hate may keep you warm, but it also corrupts from the inside out…

      Process it and let it go before the damage is irreversible.


  169. Mr.Masonberg, nice to hear from you, also great to know Steve Stadler is still with us, he was my role model, mad as a hatter, kept his cards close, grinning and winning I was room mates with Blake Champion, Riley Mix, Roger Kahn, Mike Romolt and “Burgie” Chris Burgen they all were friends of mine, they died at their own hands, I went to school there almost 5 years, during the “Golden Age” I would probably be dead if I hadn’t, I fact I came back to rehab (Read cheap labor, I was thrown out after two years for having a relationship with a co-worker) I was the youngest level four at the time, one of the shock troops sent to Howey, I graduated Valadictorian with a Machivellian turn in loophole as I saw that as my only reasonable escape plan. I may not be a sociopath but I am still a monster. I done armed robbery, forgery, collections,sold crack, picked up girls outside the Sybil Brand Institute for women, got them high and put them on the stroll and much worse, so I don’t have nightmares about Mike DeSisto, he rarely crosses my mind, my friends, yes, I am haunted by them as well as my own ghosts.

    1. Chris! I cant tell you how happy I am to hear that YOU are still out there! So many amazing memories of you and Charles and I. Sorry to hear of what sounds like some seriously rough experiences. I have no idea whether that’s the past or still the present for you, but I’m just happy to hear from you!

      1. Glad to hear you’re still amongst the living Chris. The rumors of your death have obviously been greatly exaggerated. I will relate this new information to the moderator of the relevant angry chat room that keeps an alumni obituary list. I’d remedy it myself, but they banned me long ago.

    2. nice to steve is ok we work ed the frm i went out with hillary we lived together for 10 yrs i asked to marry her she staped to shot heior i cant deal with it ill awlaways love her nice to see all of you poeplpe

    3. Hi Chris, long time man. Its Pedro Santiago, the Venezuelan. I hope you remember me from Desisto 1983. I was good buddies with Mike Romolt, your bro, I could never find him after years of looking for him on the web. I recall that sadly Chris Bergen fell asleep at the wheel and killed himself. What happened with Mike man? I still see he his sweetheart Kathryn Erbe on TV and movies. Sad I never heard back from him. Also a mystery was Riley, we were never told the true story about what happened to him in the forest in the back of the school. Maybe you can contact me for a catchup.

      1. i dont think your the girl at lake grove i think you where a techer at sctockbrigeh ok and i was a dp at the fram we never where close

    1. sorry for all the bad spelling crashed my bike last month and broke my shoulder got me on the pain killers was a litte messed up last nite for the tiger game any who hello to all you out there.go tigers tonite

    1. too much to talk about now iam a bad on the keys i was in the innear cicle ….i belive the micheal pj party but was never approached …. maybe he thought id beat him ……as for the surg he was awlsay an friend but differnet awlways thiught because he was east coast and we ….me where mid west …….i hope hes ok …. freeky to even know some of us are ok …but evevn we i guess commuak ,,,, sp …..ever see the video on utube .what the is it ….i think soething about ruunig a way ….stuff left at the farm the apple press really .got me that still there????????? people that are not alive ……i have old rfnds that where not grovers or desistos and they made that choice …….hurst just as much and more for you as old roomies…….. sometime i get stcuk in the past………..jps

      1. what to put down your site … bad for loking anythibg disito.. yes ha ha…but freiends a re ther breath shak my head hcann.t belive i thought i out live ya e special stany thing i post about hileve where the mark miller……….none of my business ……….n

  170. Isn’t it awesome how far we have come.
    We lost a few along the way,but most are still here.
    We defied the odds and became adults.
    Productive in society and somehow we learned.
    To all that remain,we deserve it,was a long road,and keep it up.
    For those that didn’t make it,we keep them in our hearts and memory,and will not forget them.
    Someday our Grandchildren will look back and never know what we went through,but will thank us for building the families we have.

    1. Rob’s words are gems. I think that you all had it in you already. I think I just was a witness of a lot of good people just “jump starting” down in Howey in the Hills.

  171. old masion news you a hotta hope you ok we not 17 no more me and hil lived together for 13 years in chicago asked to marry her and she left me for a junkie she was cheathing with i guees the power of the drug i dont undaerestand putting needle in you arm fucks me to this day iwent over and punched that guy i have a few grilfriends sinice but ya know hill was hill iam ok nice to hear people are still ok from the old school you go girl

  172. I went to Lake Grove in the early 70s. I believe Mike DeSisto was part genius, part sociopath. I absolutely believe the stories of sexual abuse.

  173. Hi,

    I am so glad to find out that there are people out there that did have truly great experiences, but unfortunately mine wasn’t one of them. This is my personal experience.

    Arrived at The Desisto School in Stockbridge April of 97 and the moment I arrived there I knew something was off. The first thing I was asked was “are you going to run away.” I answered yes, because I admit I wasn’t the best of kids at that time and would do anything to rebel. The moment I said that they sent me to the Farm.

    In the Farm we had group sessions for 8-10 hours a day. We weren’t allowed outside unless it was to get food; and when we were on our way to get food, we couldn’t look at anyone. During the farming we were grouped. At all times we had to be arms length from each other: sleeping, eating, showering AND when you had to go to the bathroom at night you had to wake up your entire room and go to the bathroom because again, we were grouped. When we weren’t farmed, we still had to be grouped and that includes meal time. If you wanted to go to the salad bar, you had to ask your entire group to get up in order to go there.

    People who were flight risks were hand-held at all times, sometimes double-hand held (even going to the bathroom). Cornering and sheeting were big then. Whenever someone ran away, all of their clothes would be sent to the Goodwill within 24 hours. Certain things were “popped” (meaning you couldn’t do or say those things); e.g like gum or a word or an action. All the doors and windows were blocked at night either by beds or wooden planks that came from the bunk beds in a criss-cross fashion (fire hazard).

    I specifically remember two instances with an anorexic girl. First was, the entire group, including me had to force feed her. It was horrible. Second, this same anorexic girl told the group that she was going to cut the throat of the girl who was sleeping on the bed in front of the door, and that girl was ME.

    From day one I figured out that this place was cult like. I decided to play the system and try to become trusted. Eventually I became vice president or something like that of the entire group. Using this trust I was able to run away. I was 13 and ran to the Massachusetts highway and hitchhiked home, made it there before anyone woke up the next day. The truck driver that picked me up said I reminded him of his own daughter and couldn’t bear to see a young girl hitchhiking.

    When I was brought back to Desisto two days later (because of a custody issue) all my clothes were gone (had to wear sweatpants, oversized shirts and sneakers all from the goodwill) Obviously I was double hand-held because I couldn’t be trusted and decided that I had to get out no matter what. One month later our group was in the gym, the only time they let go of my hands were to play this game “Red light, green light, Go!” They said the words and instead of running to the other side of the gym I ran straight out the door (that happened to be open).

    Hitchhiked again, but this time I wasn’t so lucky because the man tried to sexually assault me. Thank G-d I was able to get out of the situation and my friends came to my rescue. Slept in various people’s homes as well as camped out before my mother came to my rescue.

    I know what the people who had positive experiences are going to say, “oh you deserved it because you ran away,” or “you were a troubled teen, of course you are going to say these things.” I WISH I COULD MAKE THIS UP, BUT EVERYTHING IS TRUE.

    My father has repeatedly apologized for placing me there over the years. He knows that this caused a huge strain on our relationship for a good four years where I refused to see him because it would remind me of Desisto and how I thought he didn’t love me. We are fine now, but it is still a sore spot, which is why I had to write here.

    Thank you for creating this forum for us Desisto students (or survivors) to share our experiences. It has brought me great closure.


    1. Alissa,

      Thank you SO much for sharing your story. It breaks my heart that you went through this and it breaks my heart that this school that had so much potential, that was so instrumental in helping me through the roughest years of my life, was mismanaged and allowed to turn into the school it became. I’ve said it before… the school described in your and many other’s stories is completely alien to the school I attended. But I can see how the school I went to could have grown under the wrong guidance into something destructive and manipulative. I wish the school had grown in the opposite direction into a place that you could have embraced and would have embraced you back, as it did me. The school I attended was far from perfect. I guess those imperfections took over. Thanks again for sharing here. It means a lot.

  174. hey alissa bad story can relate to being a run away or get my ass out of here story………… but that was along time ago

  175. web site froze just want to complete my message long time ago proplay wasnt the right thing to say hurt is a hurt just came across your message caught me off gaurd was just logging
    i n to say happy holidays to all you survivers

  176. Today I learned of the death of a dear friend,his name was Dan
    We watched him grow,run away,do all the things we did.
    He was a good man,he learned and showed it in his life.
    Someday this road will end for all of us
    I’m proud to have known him,and will miss him
    I will never forget you all,Thank you for the time we had together

  177. For those of you that knew her, Lauren Halper lost her battle with cancer yesterday. She was at TDS in the early to mid – 90’s. She is survived by a young daughter, Ava. R.I.P. Lauren, your smile and forever positive attitude will be missed. Her funeral is Sunday in PA.

  178. I’m a little late to this, but … the fat man banned music? Now that is cruel and unusual! I don’t know what I would have done without that as an outlet. I attended 79-83, lower north and roberts house, super check with Beth R, worked parent childs with KIt and Brian B and the lamest, all time most pathetic run away attempt with Jamie B. I was truly blessed to be there during the “golden years,” part of the crowd that arrived in the wake of the infamous Life magazine article. My experience was mostly a good one, partly because Michael was enamored of my family — called us Wasps. And partly because I was blessed with solid, caring staff in my dorm (Nate, Jean among others) and a few faculty who did have academic skills (Donna, Nate, Carl Brier, among others).

    But the fat man was frequently cruel and petty. He killed Chris Bergen, when he stalled his departure from campus for hours on end, for no good reason, until the kid was exhausted but all too eager to hit the road back home to New Jersey.

    There’s a lot of hurt in these posts, and it’s all valid. I returned a couple of times during those later years, and the place had definitely gone bizarre. There is no doubt that much harm was done. Even during the early years, like Steve N recounts. I hope that time brings you some measure of peace. Life is too precious to waste on nursing old grudges.

    1. I presume you would have said it if you wanted it to be known but who are you?
      Dave G. Mansion 80-86 (Lifer)

  179. No grudges…just sharing and healing…what’s done is done.
    The thing that most don’t get is when in a situation where all you have is yourself and others like you to rely on,bonds kinda like war,war with yourself and what you think is right.
    Too young and too stubborn and way too stupid,but yet open enough to make connections…is the gift we had.
    We still have it,is what keeps us going and posting here and elsewhere.
    I know as with others before,my time will come,just waiting…and I’d like to grow further and take in what everyone has to say,is the least I can do,respect everyone that is our DeSisto family.

  180. WOW! This is crazy! I can’t believe all of the different experiences people have had in this same place! I must admit, I was only looking for an old friend who attended with me in 1983/1984 (Brad Gerene) and found this blog by mistake! Therefore I feel obligated to add my 2 cents as the school at Howey led up to what was a pivotal time in my life that would change me forever. Unfortunately my attendance was pre-mature (to say the least) and not where I needed to be at that time, but it’s amazing how God works, as it was the path he had laid out for me (just wish I was mature enough to know it/him at the time- I was only 12). You see I had no family (in the sense of belonging) and no faith. I was dumped-off a Desisto as an alternative to living in L.A. with an out of control, abusive, drug addict, gun-wielding, narcissist (my dad). I was lured-in to believing that it would be a fun place with horses, skate-boarding, water-skiing etc… I thought I was going to a country-club for “kids of the rich and famous”! HAH! The straw for me going to Desisto was one night when I heard yelling and screaming in my front yard and looked outside to see my father and step mom (#3) in the nude and fighting! They must have been drunk and high again (looked like she was running away from him). I was terrified of my father, so the next day I called my uncle Mark (who owned/founded a similar school called Maple Valley near Stockbridge Mass) and told him. That’s when he told me about a Desisto and asked me if I wanted to go. Sounded like heaven to me, so I said OK! I think he was able to cut a deal with Michael as he was in the midst of selling Maple Valley to Michael Desisto at the time. As I am currently working on my autobiography I won’t get into every detail about my experiences there but I will make a few points that will hopefully help make some sense to those who have mixed opinions and also for those who were impacted by my short time at the Howey School in 1983/1984.

    First and foremost, I must say that life is what you make it. Now say that to a teenager and they have no clue what you mean, but as an adult, it makes all the sense in the world! I believe that Desisto school was just that- what you made it. If you say it was “Hell” and reacted as such, it WAS PURE HELL! If you embraced it without letting all of its rules (like a “virtual prison”) and looked to bright side of things, it was a good place for a young man or woman to live and grow at a slow pace that offered quite a bit of nurturing (however, the best place for that is at home with a family that loves and cares about you- there is no substitute). I also had a few bizarre experiences there, but that’s life and for me it was nothing that scarred me (like what you ask> like getting “thrown off campus” and living in a dorm parents apartment where I invaded their privacy, discovered a treasure chest of porn; getting fondled (and allowed me to fondled back) by a female staff member who tucked me into bed at night; getting thrown off a horse and slave labor (these are a few examples).

    For me, I now know (and have known for some 20+ years now) that I was a total animal! It’s so embarrassing to think back to that time in my life where I was so lost, hurt, confused and ANGRY! I don’t even know who that kid was!! Unfortunately I inflicted that anger and pain on all of those around me! So I hereby formally apologize to everyone whom I may have hurt during my 8 month tenure / rampage at Desisto @ Howey! My only regret is that I would have been more prepared to accept all of the help, friendship and resources made available to me at that time, but what the heck did I know at age 12!? I truly believe that if I had been ready to “open-up” and get close to people emotionally it would have been a much easier journey for me and all those around me. I simply wasn’t ready to grow, so authority, rules, and boundaries were my enemy (as invisible as they were, since we had no bars, locks or walls)!!

    Some of my memories include: Getting thrown-off a horse on first day; kicking the chickens around the farm/stables, spitting and cursing at people (really sorry about that!), running away (and coming back the same day), getting “leashed” all the time (really not fair to those holding the leash!), learning to water-ski out of sheer fear of getting eaten by alligators or Gar, some hot girl named “Christy” with curly blond hair who went back and forth to Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, Jim Oaksmith making me sit in the bathroom (while leashed to him) so he could wipe his ass for twenty minutes (HA! Sorry Jim!), Jamie Shalom (who I would connect with many years later in NYC), Jamie Lowell, Jeff Renaird, Timothy Hays throwing-up in a bucket (had an appendicitis), some chick named Grace?, James the Brit dorm patent, circle-time at night, hoping I could go on one of those weekly off-campus events (go-kart riding, movies, mall, Disney, etc..), being terrified of Dr. Wyncoop, getting “expelled”, working “hours” off in the garden, the amazing food (whole Cornish game hens and eggs Benedict!) and lastly, getting accused of trying to burn the school down!! For the record- I never tried to burn the school down! I just stuck a pair of underwear in the back of the massive dryer where the gas heater was (oops!). Seriously! I was only goofing-off but that was all they needed to finally get rid of me! I can’t blame them at all! I was a terror to anyone and everyone in my path (really sorry!)! So off I went to the infamous Chicago Lakeshore Hospital…was never so scared in my life! I won’t go into detail about the hospital experience here, but it was a major turning point for me in my life and helped me to really dig-deep and find the root of all my anger, hate, fear et all that was driving me at that time in my life. I grew leaps and bounds and am very grateful to this very day I got the help I needed at that time- thank you God!

    So that’s my 2-cents about Desisto at Howey. Sorry to those of you who had similar negative experiences there and glad to hear about those that had a positive experience too! Wishing all of you a great adult life, knowing that the past is far from you now and if you are reading this, the future is yours to shape and make your own- God Bless you!!

    1. You were Howey? The chickens weren’t near the stables. They were kept in a pen behind/beside the maintenance shed, within sight of the smoking circle. And most often I was ‘suspended off-campus’ and my job was tending the chickens. Was with them most of the time (consequently, I do a mean chicken imitation). Took care of the goat sometimes, too, poor thing.

      I don’t recall anyone but Steve (Wadsworth?) riding the horses, though I was down at the stable a few times – I just can’t recall being on one (though I loved them).

      Only saw water skiing once the 2 years I was there – we weren’t in the water much during the school year because of the bacteria/temperature thing.

      Dr. Wyncoop was a doctor at the hospital at Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. He was partnered with Dr. Yapelli(sp). Did he transfer down to DeSisto at some point? Wyncoop was my doc when I was there. Dr Wyncoop told me straight out I was only there because the school wouldn’t have me because my parents refused to pay extra for the summer but also refused to take me back, so instead of therapy sessions, he took me (and a boy) to a pub down the road that had a sit down Pacman game and he taught me how to play.

      I believe I’m thinking of the same person you are when you mention James. He cycled a lot (and shaved his legs because of it). He took up with the assistant dorm parent Karen – my heart was devastated (snork).

      The first hospital I was in, Kingswood in MI, got a court order removing me from my parent’s custody. The social worker handed me 6 brochures from boarding schools and told me to pick. I picked the one furthest from my parents (though they later moved to FL for my dad’s job, sadly). I had no idea it was “therapeutic” but it was across the country so I picked it. If my parents refused or were unable to pay for it, I was headed for foster care.

      Oh btw, I don’t recall the difference between being suspended on or off campus. The kind I always got was working during the day instead of going to classes, and I was supposed to go to PINS at nite, but out of the 2 school years I was there, I only went to 3 PINS classes. I knew all the maintenance guys and they were a pretty fun bunch. Did you ever get to ride the Goat?

      My mom just died in January. Thankfully we had reestablished contact and due to her having Alzheimer’s, she forgot she didn’t like me and we had quite a lovely relationship for several years. The week my dad put her in a nursing home, he got on a few dating sites and started looking for his next woman. When my mom died less than a year later, he asked his new woman to marry him the day after mom’s funeral.

      Heh and now I’m moving back across the country again to get away from him.

      Just some random thought snippets triggered by reading your post.

  181. Hey Lance,
    I remember all of the things you mentioned. Life is what you make of it! I was in charge of the “hours program” a lot and really loved it, go figure! So happy your life is good and you are happy! Peace and Love

  182. I was hired at Desisto at Howey as a counselor back in 1985. I was very impressed with the school initially and was there for 2 lengthy interviews before being offered the job. The first day, I was interviewed and then asked to attend “therapy luncheon” which involved a lot of staff, tacos and a group therapy session. I was a little shocked-I hadn’t been warned ahead of time that it was an opportunity for staff to vent and problem solve. There were tears but a lot of compassion amongst the staff. It was a bit exhausting and I was nervous as hell, not even knowing if I had the job yet or anything. But, overall I had a good impression. Later, I observed some kids in a dorm having a group therapy session. I thought the facility seemed nice enough and learned that the kids had strict requirements as far as chores. At another point, I was just waiting around in a reception area and overheard some staff talking and they seemed sort of stressed but positive. I’ll always remember hearing one staff say “it was a good day.” I’m not sure why that seemed odd to me. Were other days really bad?

    Anyway, so I accepted the job and I think I spoke with Sharon Docktor. It’s been a long time so names are a little sketchy. But I was offered the job and learned I’d have to live on campus. No problem-I was single and eager to have a good job. Then the nightmare began. A week or so later, I loaded up all my stuff, drove 3 hours and arrived at the school sometime at night. A lady let me in my “apartment” and then disappeared and there was not another soul around to talk to or ask questions. I unloaded my car, looked around the 2 room place (with bathroom) and to my horror, realized it was filthy. Not just dirty, but nightmarishly foul. The bathroom was covered in scum and what I thought were pubes. Every drawer contained what I thought were pubes. Everything was dirty and so I spent hours cleaning just so I could put my stuff away. I got the bed made at around 11 at night and settled down, exhausted, and decided to go to sleep. I turned out the light and a few minutes later felt something crawling on my arm. I turned the light on and it was a cockroach. Looking around, I realized there were hundreds of them, especially in the kitchen area and bathroom, but also on my bed and floor. I was horrified and tried to call someone to come but nobody answered at the contact number I had. So, I packed up my stuff and drove all the way home. I didn’t know where there were any hotels and this was pre-internet and pre-cell phone so I was at a loss what to do. Going home seemed sensible. Had there been someone to talk to around there, I would have stayed but it seemed like some kind of cruel joke. Why would they have a new hire stay in such a filthy place? Was it a rite of passage or what?

    So, I drove back home and called admin the next day and explained the situation. They seemed completely uncaring and unconcerned. They guy, I think was “Greg” something and he was as flippant as they come. They didn’t say they would clean up the apartment or fumigate or anything. They just blew me off completely. I couldn’t understand how, if they invested so much time in the interview process and in getting to know me and offering me the job-that they would expect me to live in the worst, 3rd world country type of squalor. I’m not trying to sound like a baby, but it was just plain horrible. Those pubes everywhere! The brown slime in the shower and toilet.. What I’ve learned since is that they were not pubes, they were roach parts. But the big lesson I learned is that they didn’t seem to care at all about my well-being and that was a huge red flag to me. If they didn’t care about me, then how could they care about the kids? Clearly, there was something amiss. Also, they never did a background check on me. None, no fingerprinting, nothing. So… that’s not cool. I was going to be working with kids! They should have done that even before I arrived there. I just knew at that point it was a place I did not want to be a part of. I learned that 3 years or so later the school was closed and I felt so sorry for the kids there. Maybe when I was hired, they knew they were having financial problems and struggling with enrollment and really didn’t care but that place has always haunted me. It wasn’t the bugs so much as the attitude and I had a feeling there were a lot of kids probably there who felt they weren’t cared about. I’m still thinking about you guys, even though I never got a chance to work with you!

    1. Thank you SO much for sharing that story, Sarah! It all goes to painting a picture of a place that was both wonderful and horrible for so many all at the same time.

  183. I went to the first school, Lake Grove, in new york. it was about 1973. I was looking up Desisto, when I uncovered a plethura of raging statements, and actually, wiki page had a great deal of referenced material. Good and bad.
    I enjoyed your page, and found that you benefited, as I did, in the life school, that Desisto was trying to tell us about. He had the most extrordinary impact on my life, one that stands out as one of the most important signposts on a journey to personal truth. Regardless of the fact that he claimed degrees that he did not actually acquire, which I now consider dishonest, however, this is not the same as judgement.
    I found that personally, honesty, from every angle, even the “uptight” erronous, society that we must re-enter and change for the better, is tantamount to my own sanity. However, perhaps, the degrees that Desisto might have obtained, would have detained him from accomplishing what he knew to be real, in time. Now, actually, since I had the pleasure of meeting and being influenced by him, there is very limited chance of having an objective viewpoint. and what he proved, was that the enigma of his life, was part of the cure.

    1. Thanks for this, Michelle. So many experiences and journeys have come out of Michael DeSisto’s own journey and experiences. I am always happy to read about others who benefitted from the experience as well.

    2. In regards to your other question. I was in the mansion at Stockbridge from 80-86, I had/have brown hair. Nice to see another member here!

  184. THIS MESSAGE IS NOT FOR THOSE OF YOU THERE BEFORE 94. what happened to me there in a mere 5 months 2 and 1/2 of which I spent on the farm staring at the wall. Im looking for help. Staring at a wall for 16 hours a day 2 months in a row caused a psychotic break. I went crazy and it took 3 years for me to even realize that I was sick and realize that what happened to me at the age of 15 stunted my emotional growth there. I dont know what else to say other than I havent had a single day where I felt like I could make it through just doing the minimum to get by in life. Im not living, Im just trying to survive!!!!!! HAS ANYONE ELSE EXPERIENCED THIS AND IF SO EMAIL ME PLEASE. Brandon.Solomon.L @ gmail

  185. I just finished the 2012-13 school year, and I started to take stock of my varied teaching experiences over the past 34 years.

    One of the most important of these experiences was working for Michael DeSisto in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida from the spring of 1982 until the summer of 1984. (I actually removed it from my resume after all the bad press.) I went back to see the place this April while driving through Florida on my way to Sarasota. It was surreal. The main building, where I first lived while there, went to the required therapy, ate joyous meals, and endured endless mind bending “sitting meetings”, is now gone. I asked a custodian from the local education department (which now uses the remaining buildings) what had happened. He said that it was arson. I’m sure it was a former student (or staff member) trying to exorcise the world of the demons that lurk there. The gym/theater, where I once labored for endless hours building sets and directing plays, is now a repair center for school buses. The beautiful stable, my favorite place to work in the afternoons, is gone. A new elementary school stands in its place. The marina where I docked the ski boat and borrowed rowboats for my morning fishing is now a restaurant. I had a very good lunch there.

    Behind the library building, where we had the torturous staff meetings three times a day sitting in those ridiculous circles, there are now prefabricated storage huts and a few poorly maintained electrical towers. On one of these towers was a pair of magnificent nesting ospreys. They were clearly upset by my presence and dove and chirped. I managed to see a chick in the nest and slowly walked off. It was a perfect cool spring day and I remember many such days when I lived there. I would often go fishing for an hour in the early morning before waking the girls in the dorm. I needed some tranquility before the madness.

    I have read many of the posts here in this blog. It does not surprise me that most people share my ambivalence. Dealing with the absurdities of Micheal Desisto and Sharon Doktar’s psychobabble, their open disinterest in academic issues, and their blatant cult building emotional manipulations, was the difficult part of the job. On the other hand, I knew that I benefited greatly by the experience. I quit smoking, refrained from drinking, gained weight and muscle, took advantage of the group therapy. I also met my ex-wife there. Frankly, I only left because shortly after my wedding because my wife and in-laws insisted.

    Of all my colleagues, I remember Chuck Lee the most. The summer of 1984 found me driving a MCA tour bus for the domestic trip and Chuck was a natural leader and mentor. I learned to accept, and even celebrate, people’s weaknesses and foibles…particularly my own. What I learned from Michael DeSisto has been far more valuable over time than I could ever have imagined or articulated when I worked there. I have spent most of my teaching career serving “at risk” students and still do for three of my five classes. I try not to “give up.” I have an understanding and insight that many of my current colleagues and do not share.

    I knew from the start that DeSisto was a fraud and a charlatan. I knew that he had twisted Gestalt therapy into an absurd simplification. I knew Sharon Doktar was a self-serving manipulative witch…particularly after she coldly demanded that a colleague get an abortion. Students were forced to have abortions too. I was expected to dispense medications without knowing what they were or what side effects to watch for (without any licensing or training). On one occasion I missed an oddly scheduled dose of lithium for a kid and was punished by the cult’s “firing process” and went for several months on $50 a week. This “process” was repeated after a student forgot his final lines during the last act of a school play and I was the convenient scapegoat. (Frankly, I admit I had been too ambitious and the student suffered from the embarrassment.) After I left I had to sue DeSisto for back wages and prevailed.

    So, I have to say that I found beauty and tranquility in Howey-in-the-Hills. Anyone can still find it there. I also learned a great deal about myself thanks to a wisely imposed therapy. The experience has positively informed my career and when, for example, a decade later I was working in the South Bronx with kids who had been kicked out of the school system for carrying guns, I knew I would succeed because I knew how to care without condescension or false sympathy. Michael DeSisto had taught me to be emotionally strong. I also learned that people in desperate need are easily manipulated by self-serving charlatans who prey upon those needs. Michael DeSisto was a difficult and complicated man. His methods were too narrowly focused to serve all of his students, yet in the end I believe that he did far more good than harm.

    Mostly, when I look back to my time with the DeSisito at Howey School, I remember the genuine love I had for my students and the warm and nurturing atmosphere of our community there. I know that many of you here posting on this blog are angry about those years of your life when you battled outrageous demons. Obviously, many of you are still fighting those demons (as am I). I hope you all find reconciliation with the past and a way to endure. PEACE.

    1. Bradford, thank you SO much for sharing that. I can’t tell you how meaningful it is to me. I left shortly after you arrived, so I wasn’t there for most of your stay at Desisto. I share much of your experience. Only on my side as a student. I had similar reactions to both Michael and Sharon as you did. There were times when I was close to Michael and got to know him and admire much about him. And I saw the charlatan as well. You are right, he was a complicated man. And I also found Sharon to be more on the side of cult-building and serving her own interests, whatever they were. I did not have a good relationship with her, nor did I trust her. However, I have friends from there that loved her and swear she was a great person. Again, complicated. I’m thrilled that you were able to take so much good out of your experiences at DeSisto and still keep your eyes wide open. No easy task. As you know, for me, the good FAR outweighed the bad and I grew in leaps and bounds (and like to think I still do) as a result of my time there. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Brandon, there’s nothing on my end. Whatever you wrote, I’m afraid it didn’t go through. I’m so sorry. I know how frustrating that is. I would have liked to have read what you wrote.


  187. Hey guys, Just wanted to say hello. I went to Howey 1980-1983. I have many good and bad memmories, but that was long ago.I feel that DeSisto prepared me well for the business world, you had to be a master manipulator to get out of there. It has been nice to hear from many old friends on this blog.

      1. I too remember Andy Cohen I believe he was from either NewPort Beach, CA or NYC he was at Howey when I was there. If any of you remember me Paul Monson Howey 1980 – 1981. Please reach out to me i would really like to catch up and reunite. I recently communicated with Dave Fair do folks remember him 1980 – 1984

  188. Hey Paul,I remember Dave,Me and him took a risk and cut out to see the Rolling Stones in Tampa,never got in,but was fun anyway

  189. Hey everyone,

    I grew up in Manhattan, NYC. I was a very troubled teen with severe ADHD and terrible impulsivity control. I was a product of a very hi-functioning family (both parents with PhD’s in Psychology – one went to Harvard and one went to Tufts and New York University. My older and younger sisters and I went to Dalton School in Manhattan, NYC). I got into a lot of trouble and by the time I was 13, I’d been expelled from Dalton School, Birch Wathen Lenox School, and Baldwin School (now closed). I then accidently OD’d on a large quantity of Valium and alcohol, and had a two month stay in New York Psychiatric Institute on the in-patient adolescent ward.

    I arrived on The DeSisto at Stockbridge campus in August, 1981. I’m fairly sure that I was in “Upper North dorm” (but I could be wrong, after all it was 30 years ago), and my DP (Dorm Parent) was Tom Browder. While I was there, we could still listen to music and smoke, which were the only two things that kept me sane. My roommate was John McDonald (from Thailand)… a good guy. I was friends with Mark Frankenthal (also in my dorm). I hung out with Nick Goldstein and Alex Hirsch a fair amount and listened to Alex play his guitar. Also in my dorm was Aaron Greenburg (he drove me crazy listening to the Rolling Stones non-stop), and I think Jason Williams. I don’t remember anyone else’s name in my dorm… but there were several other cool kids – one of them got me listening to Ozzy Osbourne (Blizzard of Ozz)… another loved Judas Priest so we hung out and listened to Priest (Point Of Entry). I also spent time with Emily Lemakis who I liked a lot – she got me into listening to Iron Maiden – awesome band).

    I remember some people that were there at the same time as me. Jeff Lavine, Gary Dickstein, Andrew Stein, Julie Smith, Cory Freeman, Chris Resnick, Chris Bergen, Peter Grymes, Barry Strauss, Michael Jaffe, and Beth Rich. I determined early on that while perhaps Michael DeSisto probably had the best and most honorable intentions when he first opened The DeSisto School at Stockbridge, and even though it was based on lies (the degrees that he claimed to have but didn’t), Michael was a HUGE megalomaniac and was definitely his own worst enemy. I also noticed that any time I would go to his “on campus house”, he would usually answer the door in just his underwear and invite me inside, but I’d always thanked him for the offer and refused, opting instead to remain outside and converse with him. I also determined that Michael would say and do whatever he deemed correct at the time, but would then go and do something completely contradictory at a later date, completely denying what he’d said or done at first. He lied often, and because of the mystique that he’d managed to create around himself, he wasn’t called out on his lies for a long time. However the more time passed, the worse and more objectionable Michael’s actions became. He truly was his own worst enemy.

    After I was at DeSisto for about a year, all the leashing, curbing, sheeting, cornering, restraining, confronting, shifting, turn-ins, and all the other crap got to me, and I’d had enough. I then spent the next year either running away (three times), or doing hours for running away. I spent a lot of time with Louise (who I disliked at first but grew to really like) in the kitchen doing dishes all day after the meals. When I got sick of doing hours, I’d run away again… then inevitably I’d be forced back again (by my DeSisto b, rainwashed parents), and start my hours all over again. It was a vicious cycle and by January, 1983 I had reached my limit. My limit happened to also coincide with Mark Frankenthal’s limit. One night Mark and I were hanging out and talking, and we agreed that the only way either of us would legitimately be going home any time soon, is if The DeSisto School were somehow closed down. So I came up with the idea to call the Stockbridge Health/Code Inspector and make an anonymous report about there being roaches in the school kitchen and the dorms. So Mark and I made the call from our dorm pay phone, which apparently was a monitored phone from which all phone calls were recorded. For the next week, Mark and I waited for a Health Inspector to show up. After a week of us waiting and in the middle of a snowstorm, in the front of the whole school at dinner in the dining room, Michael DeSisto stood up to make an announcement. Michael said “it greatly saddens me to have to do this, but two DeSisto residents have attempted to destroy everything that I have worked to accomplish and create here at The DeSisto School. Obviously I cannot allow this to happen, therefore even though I promised myself that I would never do this, I am expelling Greg H. and Mark Frankenthal from The DeSisto School persona non grata. You both have six hours to pack your belongings and vacate the premises, at which point if you are still on campus I will call the police and have you both arrested for trespassing”. So although we failed at our intended objective, we still accomplished leaving the school for good. Mark’s and my parents both drove in the snowstorm to get us, and that was the end of The DeSisto School for both of us. That was the last time I ever talked to anyone at The DeSisto School.

    After Michael DeSisto’s permanent expulsion, at 16 years old, I then moved to my family‘s country home in Connecticut, where I went to the local high school. Unfortunately, DeSisto wasn’t “my bottom”, and within two years, I had a really bad DUI accident. I crashed my best friend’s unregistered and uninsured 1970 Chevy Nova (that he had just bought that day) upside down in the middle of a pond, with my friend and me in the front seat, and another kid in the back seat. Six minutes after the accident, my friend (who went through the windshield on impact), managed to drag me from the car where I was still trapped underwater, to the side of the pond and onto dry land, just as the police were arriving on scene. As I had no vital signs and was dead, one of the police gave me CPR and “brought me back to life”. I never drank and drove again, however I continued to get in trouble, escalating to doing and dealing cocaine. One day, I and someone I knew robbed someone else’s bank account and then the guy I was with nearly killed the guy we robbed. After that, I went on the run from the Feds (for the bank charges), and the CT State and local police for the other charges. After two years on the run, I was pulled over for speeding, taken out of the car by SWAT at gunpoint, and brought to Bridgeport, CT jail, where I spent the next 13 months (the first three months of which I spent in a cell with Richard Crafts, who cut his wife into pieces with a chainsaw, ran her body parts through a wood chipper, and was on trial for her murder). Divorce, Connecticut style!!

    Going to jail was “my bottom”. After I finally got sentenced, a top lawyer (and close family friend) who defended me for free and was friends with the judge that I was appearing in front of, got me into an in-patient rehab (Help, Inc in Waterbury, CT). I was there for 14 months, during which time I went back to school and got my High School Diploma. The rehab was much more productive for me than DeSisto, I learned how to actually talk about my feelings and deal with life like a “normal person”. After 14 months, in 1991 I graduated a completely different person. I was finally a grown up. I have been 100% clean and sober since 1989.

    I will fast forward over the rest of my various adult trials and tribulations (close family deaths, etc) that I’ve had since then, because all “normal adults” have them. In June 2009, my fiancée (of 7 years) and I bought a house together in NY, and on September 12th, 2010, we were married. I do IT work for a living and my wife is a Cosmetologist. Life is good now. I don’t devote my energy to hating Michael DeSisto or The DeSisto School… life is way too short for that. The bottom line is that all the bad choices that I made before and after being shipped off to The DeSisto School, were just that – bad choices that I made, which in turn means that I could only be mad at myself anyway. When I was in rehab, I learned how to forgive myself for all the stupid and immature choices that I made as a teenager. I learned how to move past all of those bad choices that I’d made, and how to make better choices and think about what I was doing before I did it. I learned to think proactively, instead of reactively, and I benefit daily from living this way.

      1. Sure thing Hal.

        I find all too often that most people want to place blame for their crappy life, instead of accepting responsibility for how their crappy life turned out.

    1. Greg: You are officially “my hero”! What a profound story. It’s right up there with Alex Hirsch’s (even though he is a Douche of Extraordinary Magnitude -Kentucky Fried Movie, Anyone?) story for extreme highs and lows and sheer readability. I am SO grateful you’re alive.

      More later. But again, Hal!!! Thanks so much for keeping your blog active and continuing your even-handed and thoughtful approach to those who post here. I know it’s a cathartic experience for me, and don’t doubt it is for others as well.

      1. Hi Dario,

        Thanks… and I’m honored… but I’m sure there’s lots of DeSisto alumni that went through much or all of what I went through. I just feel really lucky that I finally *got it*, and managed to change my life for the better. Not to sound like a corny cliché, but every day I wake up clean and sober, next to my loving wife in our own home, get in my nice reliable car, go to my job that I actually like, and come home to do it all again, I thank god that I’ve made it. Made it through DeSisto, made it through my accident, made it through being on the run from law enforcement and being homeless for part of the time, made it through jail, made it through rehab, and become a decent, honest, normally functioning human being.

        I will say, though, that while I turned 49 in August, sometimes I feel like I’m 110 and have lived many different lives. :-)

        I’ll also say, that despite Michael DeSisto writing off Mark Frankenthal and myself by expelling us both persona non grata in the dining room after dinner and in front of the entire school and telling me “that I was hopeless, a lost cause, and not worth the effort to help”… i’m pretty sure he couldn’t have been more wrong. Besides, Michael’s biggest claim, was always that “he never gives up on a kid, every kid is worth helping, and every kid has potential”. Yet he did give up on two kids – Mark, and me. I guess that claim of his was about as true as all of his made-up degrees and resume.

        Michael was always incredibly narcissistic and officious; I think he truly believed that he was the only adult in the world that knew how to help kids turn their lives around. I think that in the beginning, Michael had the absolute best intentions, and in his mind, his degree and resume lies were a means to an end… magically fixing troubled kids lives with all of his hocus-pokes. However, as the years passed, he became weirder and weirder, and eventually lost his way.

  190. Personal responsibility has become a serious ‘buzz’ word in some circles… Hijacked by one of the two petty, bitter, partisan Parties and used in a demeaning fashion.

    You prove the true meaning of those words when you release from blame everyone but yourself!

    To me it’s never been about fault, but simply about accountability and taking responsibility for what happens in our lives.

    I was in Stockbridge from early `83 – `86 and, while there were many things that occurred there that today I find concerning, AMD had not yet succumbed to his demons and I personally benefited greatly from my time there.

    Congrats on your 25 years clean and while I don’t remember you specifically, I am thrilled to hear you finally found yourself and a love to share your life with.

    1. Hey Steve,

      Your name sounds familiar… but I don’t remember what you looked like. Dark wavy hair perhaps?

      Thanks for the congratulations… “being clean” is just a way of life now… it’s no longer a “big deal” to me. I’m clean/sober because my life is better in every way than it was when I was drinking and getting high. I actually don’t even keep track of how many years it’s been… when you congratulated me on my 25 years clean I immediately said omg it’s been 25 years??? and then I checked to see if you were right lol… yeah I guess my life has come a LONG way “since back in the day”.

      I hope your doing well too.

      1. Long, dark hair and skinny as a rail, but I tended to lurk in the shadows a bit and wasn’t exactly a terribly social fella, so not surprise and no hard feelings to go unremembered!

        I, myself, have no complaints… I missed the worst of the years after Michael moved to the ‘dark side’ and consider myself one of the (few?) lucky ones as I truly benefited from my time there and left there in ’86 a much more stable, solid human than when I arrived…

        Since very few of the crowd I ran with before my time in Stockbridge are breathing and/or fully functional members of society, I have no choice but to recognize the value I eeked out of my time in Massachusetts.

  191. I attended DeSisto at Stock bridge in 1978 and 1979.I also left on my own. I would strongly recommend against it. some of the drugs used on the children then are illegal today.I personally received 550 mg of Thorizine each day for 2 years. it took my body 10 years to get over it. schools like this should be outlawed!!! its child abuse!!!.

    1. David, I was your roommate for a semester in Lower North. Glad to hear from you. What are you doing these days.

  192. OMFG!!! news I didn’t need to see,I’m crying….me, Herve Byron and Mark did parent childs,we were the one’s that made the tables and washed the dishes ….FCK!!!!!!

  193. I’m so sad,and so out of touch,sometimes I think it’s a good thing,I don’t know.I don’t like remembering anymore,but have too if that makes any sense

  194. The loss of Mark is huge for so many of us. He was my roommate and one of my closest friends at DeSisto. Though as adults, our friendship was relegated to Facebook, the impact he had on my life has been tremendous. He will continue to play that role for me, as I know he will for so very many others.

  195. Hi Hal and anyone else who reads this. So very sad about Mark, he was a wonderful person, and I know how close you guys were Hal. God Bless

    1. Ben – it is Paul Monson part of the Howey In The Hills Pack. So glad to hear you reach out we were all so close then, till I split. Update us on how you are if you are so inclined? Hal I tried reaching out to you but never got a response. I have been in contact with Dave Fair after 30 plus years. I’m please Hal you created this forum and regret not staying in touch with you all….

      1. Hi Paul, How are you? I am fantastic, living in Manhattan, I have spoken with Dave a few times as well.

        Hal, email me your phone number as well so we can chat , and not talk politics :) I saw Dweezil last weekend , we can talk about that instead. I thought of you last week because Dweezil was doing the 40th anniversary tour for Roxy and Esewhere and i remember like yesterday being with you in someone’s room and listening to that album for the first time.

      2. Hi Ben – thanks for the response. If you want to re-kindle on some level it would be cool with me, same goes for you Hal or anyone reading this that remembers me :-) 617 216 5110

  196. One day we will all be gone,people will remember us be it good or bad.Did we do what we wanted in our short time here? Did we make a difference? I think we did,in ways that can’t be put into simple words.
    Each one of us has our place.where ever that road brought us to,I feel humble and grateful to have shared some time with you.

  197. I enjoy reading this blog that Hal started. I will always remember DeSisto at Howey and all the gang that I knew while working there. I always hate hearing when someone young passes. Mark L. was a fine young man. I will always…always remember his laughter. His laugh was one of a kind…absolutely unique…infectious. I was able to keep up on Wendy O’Day for a few years. Can never forget Buddy Owens, nor Peter Anik. Would love to hear from anyone who knows them. I discovered this blog after following the exploits of JP, Jon Paul…would love to hear any word on Kathy Taylor, Keith Murphy, Becky Gurin and Gary Doktor. Thank you Hal for this…you won’t remember me …I would love to read about how you got into your career…Loved hearing about Francis Sayer(the young woman who got me down to Howey in the first place!!) and the incomparable Laura OIlsen.

    1. Hey Mike, It is really great hearing from you and people that were at Howey. It has been 33 years for me when I started!! Many mixed emotions, but when I got there I was heavy into drugs and finally I was told to stop. Although, I did get fired a couple of times for using on my vacations. The best memories were the summer trips! I still camp out, mostly in the Keys and I never get tired of it. I have a son and daughter 24 and 26 now, but when they were 8 and 10 we drove cross country and stopped at all the familiar places from the summer trip. They still tell me how much fun they had on that trip. I’ll never forget when we broke down in the Big Horn Mountains, east side of Wy. and woke up to sheep all around our tents. A lot of the kids drank the spring water and everyone was sick throwing up, etc. in Cody, Wy KOA. Were you on the trip when the windshield came out of the bus? How about when someone drove 5 hours in the wrong direction, somewhere around Idaho? I learned a lot and it made me the person I am today. I didn’t have much direction, but when I left, I worked for DCF in Miami to protect abused and neglected kids. Got my MS in Psychology and I have a very happy life.
      Some of those people you mention are on FB. Sad to say, living in Ft Lauderdale I made plans to see Mark L. many times. Never got to see him before he died.
      Years ago I saw that JP ( Johnathan Paul) was incarcerated. I wrote to him but the letter was returned. Anyone know his whereabouts? I often think about John Pleasant from Westchester, NY. Mike Check and I have seen each other a couple of times, he’s doing great. BTW, I’m still going to concerts and music festivals, it’s in my blood.!! Take care, Santa

      1. I think it was posted here,JP was listed as an “environmental terrorist” ,last I know he was in federal custody,where he is being held I have no idea.

      2. My heart skipped a beat when I read Santa’s reply. I had something of a crush on you and Wendy Miller. Who could blame me. You two were the loveliest women on campus. I was a gnome. We (gnomes) can’t hook up with human women! I think it was in 2009 I came across a Reader’s Digest that had a face I
        recognized. It was Caroline Paul who had written an autobio about being a fireman. Got me curious about JP.So, I googled
        him and came across senate testimony on domestic terrorism. What the FBI said was JP was the second most serious threat facing the gov. and law enforcement. It blew me away.

      3. Hey Mike, Thanks for that very nice compliment. Wendy Miller is on FB every once and a while. She was coming to FL for a visit a year or 2 ago but we never hooked up. Let me put this out there: if anyone is visiting in sunny south floria please don’t hesitate to look me up. 954-854-7972. I was at Howey from 81-83, I had just turned 30 but most of the time I felt like an 18 yr old. As I said, I lacked direction so DeSisto provided me with that, probably “arrested development” at the time.
        Actually, what I know about JP was he was convicted of setting a farm on fire. The story I read was something about badly raised cattle or animal cruelty, something like that. JP and I had a special relationship, he was into photography and being a vegetarian. He was very passionate about the earth and preservation. I would love to know the real story. I hope he is living a peaceful and happy life.
        Peace, Santa

      4. Hi Santa;

        I was the one who drove through the Western Oregon mountains in the wrong direction. I got up from five hours of a deep sleep had some coffee and something to eat a a little roadside diner and took to driving. Everyone else, except one student, was asleep and I drove us back through the mountains to Burns, Oregon where we arrive shortly after sunrise. The round trip was more than six hours. I remember the incident very well, a crazy faux pas. I went back to that area of the world, Black Butte, near Bend, Oregon for my honeymoon with Anne Clark,that very summer and again, after we separated in 1987 for a camping/fishing trip.

        I know everyone at Howey was totally pissed off that Anne and I decided to bolt. I just got to thinking of the place as a cult and I was eager to move on.

        I am sorry to hear about JP. I just listened to an interview he did for Democracy Today back in 2007. JP sat at my table for a year, continually scolding me for my bad diet. I should have listened, I am paying the price now…;(

        I’m glad to know that you’re doing well. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling and camping all over the U.S. and Canada after the summer of ’84 and our “domestic trip.”. You were a terrific cook and a damn good driver…

        Peace be with you,

  198. I attended lake grove. Desisto and I had our words. I was a horrible mess with a chip on my shoulder. I left after a year. Amazingly, the knowledge I absorbed managed to help me in my journey. Through Facebook, I have reconnected with the community. our alumni was comprised of an over abundance of very intelligent creative people. Many are leading great lives 40 years later. I am glad to have had the experience. Even the unpleasant ones.

  199. Hal,

    I wanted to thank you for the original post and I respect your replies over the years. I get email updates as I guess I checked that box 6 years or so ago when I first read your blog. When I first posted I feel the need to speak up because at the time it seemed like we went to two different schools. The years I went there early 80’s to 87 give or take otr time seem to be the middle ages. When things started to change and probably not for the better. A lot of people seem to be stuck in the black or white world. It was a good place or it was a very bad place. You seem to get that life is not that way. The reason I am commenting is year after year post after post your responses are consistent and kind. You seem to always respect people’s opinions whether you agree or not. You don’t judge people. Just fair even handedness. I hated the place but received some good skills from there regardless. Without a doubt you are a good guy. And if before you went to the school you were troubled and the end result is someone who obviously is bright, fair and kind. Well god bless. It boggles my mind that response after response you reply in a way thats fair and open minded. You have more patience than I do and it takes a lot of confidence and control to not get caught up in the fight and drama. Obviously the place evokes strong feelings. For some of us we are talking about ghosts that are over 30 years old. Maybe this blog and the Facebook site and other places are an extension of the healing. Who knows. It’s cool that everyone gets to speak openly. I like seeing my old friends post even if it picks old scabs. And that it does as it brings up old stuff time and time again. But over the years it bothers me less. I move on. I pray the ones who can’t start to. To me its not worth focusing on the bad. No one cares. Thats life. I guess I am just thankful that you have kept this blog up all these years as it is well written, and help keeps some of us keep tabs on each other. So thank you.

    1. Thanks, Tim. Your words mean a lot to me. This blog post has been a learning lesson for me. It opened me up to the other experiences of Desisto that were out there that I didn’t know about. I learned what the school became. There’s a lot of happiness and sadness surrounding the Desisto schools. I’m glad my post attracted so many people and continues to be a place for folks to share their thoughts and reconnect. Certainly it has become far more popular a place than I ever imagined.

  200. I have a question.Knowing what we know now about the school(s),and just say we could go back…what would you change?

    1. In Response To Rob’s Question:

      Yes. I would do it ALL again, Rob. Wouldn’t change a thing. It made me the man I am today. And I’m not half bad. Maybe 1/4 bad, though.


      1. Just a short note from a Lake Grover. I went to L.G. 1975.76. I knew a different Michael’s and a different experience. I saved my life and and enriched it in miraculous ways. Further it prepared my mind to be in a state of openness and from it I have have a remarkable life. I think I did see the tinges of what later manifested in Michael. I truly am sorry I could not influence him in a different direction. He became ill, and no one stopped him. Sad. Steven Kressel

  201. My name is Mark Geller. I was at Stockbridge from probably 83 to 86 or 87. Funny to hear that was the golden age, but from reading all the posts, both positive and negative, that somehow makes sense.
    My own experience there was decidedly positive. I was in Upper North for the beginning. Mike LaLiberty, Ken Parks and Beverly were our dorm parenta. I got there in time to see the remnants of the Smoke Enders program. I was friends with Dave Fultz, Neil Kuslanski, Alex Hirsch, John Wish, Adam Cogan, Dario Diaponte, Dave Goldberg, Nathan Darvish, Larry Gjeldum and so many others. Please excuse me if I have not named you. There were so many good people there. It was the students that made the school a home for me for those years.
    I went there voluntarily and I can’t imagine what my life might have been if I didn’t go. It was chaotic and dark, the year leading up to my arrival. That is not to say that my time there was any different. I ran away many times and even endured a 3 month visit to Lake Shore Hospital in Chicago. I became good friends with Blake Higgins, during my time there. Dr Wynkoop was also my doctor.

    Michael Desisto and I were close later on after I got back. I became a Parent-child waiter with Mark Pearlman, Neil Kuslanski and Adam Cogan. There was another kid but I can’t remember his name. Michael took us to Lake George and Cape Cod after the P/C session. I also remember Michael taking me out in his Alfa, we went for ice cream and to Tanglewood where he bought me Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Handel’s Messiah cassettes. My memories of Michael are fond. There was never any inappropriate behavior. In fact I had always considered my life richer for having known him.
    I spent some time on the farm. I was sent there immediately upon my return from one of the times I ran away. Baz and Jill Panchy (spelling ?) were the dorm parents there. For my first week there I was bed ridden due to walking pneumonia. I remember Baz nursing me back to health with coos coos. I do recall a new policy being implemented while I was there. If you ran away from the farm, your parents had to pay for an alarm on the door or window you used to make your escape. There was already one alarm on the front door.

    I did not graduate. My highest level was Level 3. When I reached 18, I withdrew myself.
    There are so many things to say about the school. I haven’t even scratched the surface. This is the first time l have written anything about my time there. I recognize that I have powerful feelings about the school and would like to write more.
    My heart goes out to those whom feel the school did more harm than good. Hearing about sheeting, cornering, blocking exits or force feeding meds, didn’t happen when I was there. What I recall was if a kid was too volatile for the community he or she was sent to Lake Shore or Elan. Hearing what the school became in the 90’s…it’s as if the antichrist infiltrated the school and perverted it. It’s heart breaking knowing that the place I considered home for that part of my life was corrupted in such a way.
    Dave G, Dario D, Steve C, nice to hear your still out there.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Mark. I’m always a little relieved when I read about other positive experiences of the school and even of Michael. The balance is good for me :)

    2. As anyone who has read my comments knows, my experience matches Mark and Hal and Goldburnt and the few others who clearly managed to attend in the Goldilocks Zone…

      Mark, it is good to hear that you are alive and kicking and counting yourself among those of us who benefited from our time there. Like you I am confident I would not be here typing without the experiences, friends and positive therapeutic aspects of my 3 years at DeSisto.

      I usually keep somewhat quiet in here as there are so many folks who were enrolled and suffered through some truly disturbing traumas…

      I am shocked that we attended the same place as these good people and don’t want my (mostly) positive input to be seen as an attempt to lessen to misdirect.

      Lastly, I appreciate Hal for hosting and moderating as well as tolerating these small incursions from members of the ‘other’ Desisto School ;-)

    3. Mark!! Nice to read that you remember me. I always thought highly of you as a kid, and your writing indicates that you grew into a thoughtful and even-tempered man. That said: Man, did we have some fun on the farm! Baz and Gill were true gems, and Peter DelMasto (whom nobody seems to remember) was also a great fellow. Larry Gjeldum… what a piece of work! I loved that kid like a brother. The VERY FIRST day I was there, some faculty member told me to rake up some leaves (it was still called “Work Program” not the ultra-fruity “Life Enrichment” neologism it became after 1985) outside the school building.. Larry says to me “Tell her to eat shit, Dario!. You don’t have to do dick here unless they force you, and you’re a pretty big guy (I was) so I would like to see them try!” Fuck, yes. The only guys that ever truly physically intimidated me/beat my ass were Mark St Jean, Alex Hirsch, and… Larry himself! Mark, I’m so, SO glad yo made it. Keep up the good work, Hal.

  202. I really like Rob’s question, I too have thought at times that if I knew what I know now my experience would probably have been different. The school definitely was a place that people in the same dorms and that were there at the same time could have easily been looked at in different ways. Everyone experiences things differently and everyone handles things differently. I know a lot of the crap that i didn’t like about the school was mostly from my early years. My parents spent way too much money on that place haha. I know when I got there I was a little kid, I had no clue about anything. In retrospect almost all my crap I probably brought on myself. I had no social skills. i was not even 14 and I was thrown into a group of 16 and 17 year olds. Most of them had lived real lives. I was a sheltered kid from Westchester who’s mom dressed him ( and horribly in hush puppys and brown pants) and liked journey and night ranger cause my older sister did. The school dorms weren’t a great setting for anyone who had trouble socially, especially anyone who hadn’t matured yet or was younger. And I was in upper north, I always thought it was the best dorm haha, but I know that’s another argument :) it was cool to see Mark Geller’s post. ( hi Mark :) ! ) Made me think of a lot of people I haven’t thought about in years, all from my dorm. I know if I could go back I definitely would have copied all their bootlegs and tapes. Man I remember some of the guys had some sick collections that now I’d die for but didn’t appreciate then.

    I’d like to think I’d rule that place now haha. But all joking aside its all fun to think about what we all would do differently , but the school like everything else in my past I don’t regret or wish was different even the bad cause without a doubt it has shaped me into who I am. And it has helped me in life when it comes to perspective, and empathy for others, and just my overall attitude. I certainly think it has made me tough as hell mentally and I find myself remembering things and stuff that has helped me greatly in my job and in the community. I know in the FD the young kids can’t slide shit by me cause over the years I have seen and heard the crap so many times.
    I really am hoping people chat about Rob’s question cause it is a very cool topic and I am curious as hell what others think.

    anyway nice seeing all the names posting, I always feel better and happy seeing people doing well, and frankly seeing some of us alive.

    Mark Geller nice to see you posting and commenting. also was cool to see Dave Fried ! Always love Dario’s posts. so f__king interesting.

    It has been cool to see some of us at reunions and stuff. And when Michael passed it was quite the experience. His memorial was similar to the thoughts and attitudes here. Half the people mourning and sad and the other half ripping it up like at anbachelor party. I wont admit which side I was on :) but I always wished someone would rent the old stockbridge campus for a reunion. Thought it would be quite fun to have a weekend jam band like party with camping and bands and cookouts and sports stuff and the world largest open bar haha. who’s rich and in ?

    1. Shrek!!!

      I wish I wasn’t so high at Mike’s funeral memorial thing in Stockbridge. But I will tell you one thing. You look good in a suit, pal. I was so broke, Dean Arnold had to buy me a new pair of pants at some hoity-toity shop in Stockbridge… $98!! For corduroys!!!

      I spent the whole day fixing in the bathroom under the mansion stairs (which had always been a fantasy of mine) and nodding in the the former weight room outside the gym. Several people tried to wake me up… Matt “The Gardener” Rutledge, Tim Mayer, Amy Arrut, even Pete Panchy (who looked like he hadn’t aged a day in 20 years!) etc, but I was dead to the world. I further embarrassed myself at the 12 Chairs later that evening. Christ… was it really 13 years ago?!?!? You’re a solid citizen, Tim. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet you.

      Your Pal,


  203. OH my God!
    I just spent a decent part of my afternoon reading this. Some entries with smiles and gasps of “It’s Dana, Its Kelly, It’s Becca, Bill, Doug and of course Hal and Rez etc…” Another gasp of holy shit John Baijack made it out.
    Other entries with gasps of horror and yep that’s plausible. Quite a few with a serious WTF?
    One or two with – please go back on meds.

    My how things have changed but stayed the same.
    I was in Howey for 1 year 82 – 83. Of course I left with fanfare and rockets behind me, never to return again.
    I JUST brought up DeSisto in a conversation this week and said, let me have a look see. Wow. Thank you Hal!
    Happy to see many of my dorm mates are well and peaceful.
    Sorry to see the angst still rages for others.
    Personally, I have come to a place with Howey. The anger is gone and like any good program I took what I liked and left the rest.
    What I learned served me well.
    I can’t tell you how many times I used the words “don’t project” on my husband and in a heated board room discussion.
    When I think of Micheal I think of the episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses – Echo and Narcissus. Ultimately, denying what is necessary for survival, Narcissus dies because he is too enamored with himself. Poor Narcissus? Depends on who’s reading and when. Perhaps that is what happened to the school(s)?

    Not sure. Cant tell. He’s in the ground so we will never know.
    I can only hope those who had these unbelievable traumatizing experiences will heal. I am truly sorry for your pain.
    Some woman Cecelia wrote a book called The Crazy School after her time at Stockbridge. Not worth the read really but some may be interested.

    For me – the only thing I can say I miss without any question is Margie’s chocolate chip cookies and Voltaire the cat.

    Donde esta Ken Wilk?

    Much peace,

    Kim – upper girls

    1. Thanks for adding your voice here, Kim! I am constantly amazed at how many people have found this blog post and helped build it into a place where people have reconnected (either in actuality or in knowledge) and have broadened the scope of experience and insight far beyond my initial comments and thoughts. Thank you!

    2. Hello Kim!

      We don’t know each other, as I am a product of Stockbridge circa 1983, but I have to say how refreshing it is to encounter one of the few…

      One of the few who not only left with what was good for them, but also managed to leave the rest of it behind!

      While neither of us were exposed to the conditions that many of the 1990’s attendees state they were, also unlike them we were able to MOVE ON and mature into fully functional (I use the term loosely!) adults.

      I will leave you to reunite with the many Howey followers of the blog, but just wanted to appreciate the discovery of yet another DeSisto-ite for whom the experience was something greater than horrific.

  204. Arrgh! I coudn’t edit my entry.
    I will have to say I met some fantastic people. We were all in a crazy state of Flux but hell between 12 and 30 who isn’t?
    Mike Manis – Awwww..I cut your hair. I did very well once or twice and then I went on meds and … oh I’m sorry I scalped you!
    Santa – you, Peter, Mike and Sandy (and handsome Hal?) were my safe havens! I’m so happy i met you. I try to pass that good stuff on.

    Much peace,


  205. Thank you Steve.
    Same to you as well. We all have a story and for each of us, its huge and important but there comes a point (an age maybe?) where you need to take the reins and make the best of the horse you are on.
    Or go find a new horse.
    But if and when you do “trade up”, don’t waste your time on that good horse bitching about the old horse.
    You get what i mean.
    Life is short.
    Give yourself a gold star for the crap you’ve come through then shut up , breathe and enjoy the good stuff.

    Much peace my fellow DeSisto-ite.

  206. Yeah Im back.
    Ill admit I’m a little obsessed with the site right now.
    I just read the info on Mark Leventhal.
    I am so sorry. Mark was such a great person and actually appreciated my Roxy Music and Grace Jones albums. (From NY my music collection was pretty interesting)
    We smoked cigarettes and listened to my walkman (jeeezus im old) on the benches in the smoking circle. Good guy, so welcoming and I am sad to hear of his untimely passing.
    Crazy thing is that with all the parties i attended in SoBe and Miami area, I probably graced his dance floor and never made the connection.
    Pick up the beat Mark and play it loud.

  207. And I’m wondering if anyone knows what the campus is now? I drove by 5 years ago and it was under construction. It was weird to be there, they were still cleaning out files from the main office, peoples medical records in moldy garbage bags and other weird stuff. Touring the classrooms was a trip., etc

  208. It is 4:30 in the morning. I started reading your blog post at 1:00. I did not think I would write my 2500 word story of my time at DeSisto.

    I didn’t know I needed to tell it to anyone.

    I’m astonished at the depth, length and longevity of this conversation thread—I’ve never seen anything like it. Thank you Hal for making it possible, and for moderating it for so many years.

    My email is easy to find on google. I’m the only Barak Rosenbloom in town.


    I taught at DeSisto straight out of college, from 1988 through the spring of 1990, shortly before the end of the dime and about four or five months before my two year commitment was up. I’ve recognized a few names—David Goldberg was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. And Josh Levenson…reading his experience breaks my heart. I didn’t know him that well (he was in my English class) but when I think of him I have the sense that both the broader community and knew he was somehow getting screwed. I wish I could have done something, but the bottom line was that I was a 22 year old kid, not much older than some of my students.

    Mike Marconi was one of the kindest and wisest men I’ve ever met. Jim Anderson was my therapist for two years and I’ll forever be grateful for his wisdom, gentleness, authenticity and friendship. I’m very sorry to hear that he’s no longer with us, and that his last days were not the kind he deserved.

    It was the strangest experience of my life and, like many people have said, one that was central to the adult I’ve become. I went to a very different kind of private high school…one that sends every one of its relatively stable and well-adjusted students to selective colleges so we can lead the American dream sort of lives. I loved my high school experience, and wanted to teach at a small private school.

    DeSisto was not exactly what I had in mind, but it was the only place that gave me an interview the summer after I graduated.

    Sean Alazraki gave me a tour, I interviewed with some teachers, and at one point this charismatic, perceptive, brilliant man joined me and two other people applying for jobs in the sunroom in the mansion. He said something about my relationship with my father and how it had affected me that pierced me to the center of my soul. How could someone I’d been talking with for a few minutes see what I hadn’t realized was the root of my unhappiness and confusion about life? I didn’t realize at the time that he had seen it before, that what I was going through was fairly normal for a young man just heading out into the world.

    I signed on for a two year stint. I was eager, excited, a little scared, proud of myself for finding such an incredibly cool place to work…I was entering the grown-up world on a high note.

    Part of me wants to go back and slap myself in the face and say “Dude, don’t do it!” But that would have been wrong. I had people in my life saying that for the entire time I was there—“Get out of there!” “It’s a cult!” “That place is no good for you!”

    But I also had people leaving me to my own devices. A couple of college professors who had become friends (I went to school in Berkshire County and visited them frequently). One of my older sisers, the talented therapist. My father, whose philosophy was to let me make my mistakes and make my way in the world.

    The teaching staff in 1988 was almost entirely new, and almost entirely young and inexperienced. I think that was a good thing. Rudy Garcia was the principal and Ann Bonney the extraordinary master teacher, splitting her time between Howey and Stockbridge (until Howey closed). As a teaching staff we decided before the year began that we would not subscribe to the old “screw their heads on then teach them something” philosophy that had preceded us. We were there to teach and to create an environment in which kids would learn. I like to think that for at least the couple of years I was there, the teaching staff did its job. The school was in an accreditation process at the time, and we spent countless hours developing the first curriculum and in teacher training with Ann and Rudy. I’ve heard from my students over the years, and am grateful that they felt challenged and inspired. I’m sorry that this didn’t continue.

    I grew up pretty quickly at DeSisto. I struggled a lot. I got into trouble. I got stoned and drunk on a couple of weekends hanging with my college friends and then had to deal with angry students after I did turn ins. I held kids who were crying, scared, lost. There was one boy who showed up in my class on his first day there, straight out of his first therapy session. The rest of my class was working on papers, and I just sat with him as he quietly cried. By the time he left for the hospital in Chicago, he had become like a son to me and his mother said I had become part of the family. That was the strongest connection I built there, but there were many more. Like some other former staff members wrote, my experience was driven by desire to make a difference in the life of good kids in a bad spot. I can’t think of an employee there at the time who wouldn’t have had had that as a basic motivation.

    But then there’s Michael. Brilliant and mad as a hatter. You could tell how the school was doing by watching his weight. When he was slimmed down, it was a great place to be. When he fattened up, things were nuts. It’s amazing that in the 18 months I was there I could see that cycle. One of the longtime therapists observed that Michael created this complex community and world full of structures and systems to contain himself and to keep him out of an insane asylum.

    That’s what the place was, an insane asylum. But Michael was the only true patient.

    I had my ups and downs, and struggled with being closer in age and perspective to the students than to many of my fellow staff members (especially in the summer school program, when it was me, students, and some teachers in their 40s and 50s.) I’ve been working with teens over the last eight years, and now have a number of friends in their early 20s. I look at them and think about how young we were. I was a really good teacher, but what did I know about working with troubled teens, let alone kids with mental illness or autism? People have mentioned limit structures–I remember essentially being trained real time by a level 4. Maybe they were appropriate in limited cases when a student was getting physically out of control and potentially dangerous. I don’t know. I was 22. I think about the meds I was administering with zero training. I would get handed the envelopes at meals. Or maybe a level 4 got them. Kids giving psychotropic medication to kids. That’s just wrong.

    But then I come back to this being the place where I learned how to open my heart. That scared 13 year old…he was a nasty monster to everyone else. I actually thought there were two new kids named Jason, and I just hadn’t met the bad one. I had to rush him to the hospital after he snorted a lot of Afrin supposedly laced with cocaine. Turns out a lot of Afrin will get your heart racing and make you all weird. This was during one of the breaks, the day before the school was supposed to go on vacation. In the morning meeting it was clear that Jason couldn’t go, and that he and Ann Bonney and a couple of kids today I would say probably were autistic would stay behind. I was terrified, and was trying to find a way to make it possible for Jason to go on the trip. I’ll never forget Michael saying “look at that—look at how much love there.” I wasn’t very nice to the other two kids those few days, basically said go to your room and be quiet. Jason and I, and Ann Bonney much of the time, just hung out. Like normal people. But when I wasn’t around, Jason would run away, escape from the farm, get into all kinds of trouble.

    Michael’s great insight (which really should be obvious) was that kids needed to be loved and needed to feel part of a connected community, a family of people who were human and fallible. That’s what was so appealing and it’s so sad that this core principle was mucked up with so much shit.

    There was an inner circle for faculty and staff as well as for students. I was not in it. This wasn’t an issue with John Krahm, Rudy Garcia, Ann Bonney or Mike Marconi. But it sure was with Michael. As frustrating as it was for me as an “adult” there of my own free will, I can’t imagine what it was like for students. As an human being there’s a natural tendency to like some people more than others. As an educator it’s our job to see kids for who they are and to give all of them our best, even when we don’t want to. I failed at that sometimes, and I still do, but I make up for it as much as I can.

    Michael didn’t. Josh’s story didn’t surprise me in the least.

    Sometime in my second year teaching I finally got invited to come spend time with Michael in his living quarters. I was excited. I finally made it to something… it was like a job promotion? I don’t know…

    It was wrong.

    Pretty much what’s been written about is what I experienced. Michael in bed in his underwear, a couple of students, me. It was just wrong. Yeah, he was a kind of father figure to me, but that was just wrong. I’m big on kids taking risks and challenging their limits, but I’m incredibly protective of them when it comes to behaviors that are beyond their capacity to handle and that can cause them harm. I look back at that with great anger. I can easily believe anyone who says they were molested by Michael. More importantly I can easily see how anyone could feel uncomfortable, unsafe or violated by the man.

    I never went back to his house after that one night.

    The beginning of the end came during a basketball game. The level 4 working in the new boys’ dorm with me had started to think I was just like his father. The guy he wanted to kill. This kid was big and angry and even though we had been friendly for months had started to threaten me. We met one on one with Michael, we had a big meeting with the therapy staff, but nothing changed.

    Sean Alazraki (a level 5) arranged for the three of us to meet in the mansion during the basketball game. It wasn’t long before this kid was sitting on my, grabbing my hair, and pounding my head into the floor. Sean was a wrestler and pretty big, and it was all he could do to keep this kid from killing me. The weekend supervisor came by shortly after and the two of them were able to pull my attacker off of me.

    I didn’t feel all that safe. I called Michael (who was sick in bed) and he finally came down. He didn’t check on me at all—he just talked with the kid who attacked me. He went back to bed and left it to a junior supervisor to handle it for the weekend. I was traumatized, terrified, and heard through the grapevine that the kid was going to come find me and kill me. The school was giving me no support so I called the police. That caused a huge ruckus. I confronted Michael and he ripped into me repeatedly.

    My mother and two sisters and several good friends were screaming for me to get out of there, but I had made a commitment for two years and, frankly, was afraid to leave the structure and predictability and head into the scary real world. DeSisto wasn’t a cult. Prisoners feel the same thing.

    I took a couple of days off and spent them with my father. We spent a couple of nights in a hotel in Boston, ate out, went to a play. I paid and it felt really good. I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do, and he didn’t tell me. He knew I needed to choose.

    Two years earlier I didn’t hate my father, but I had an ocean of anger towards him. That went away at DeSisto. All that was left was love.

    I went back to school and things were still weird, still a challenge. My call to the police and my frustration at how everything had been handled caused no end of misery.

    I made the decision to leave when my oldest sister, the therapist, woke me up:

    “I’ve always kept my mouth shut but now I can’t. Michael is fucking with your head and you need to get out now.”

    I gave my two weeks notice and was told I needed to leave right away. I think I was able to say goodbye to some kids, but since I had broken my commitment was no longer welcome.

    I moved back home, discovering that I had amazing parents who I loved and enjoyed being with as a young adult. I stayed until I went to grad school and had a wonderful experience. I doubt it would have happened without DeSisto.

    In June I went to the DeSisto graduation. I went quietly into the back of the room and still have a photo of Sean Alazraki getting his diploma somewhere. The kid who gave me my first tour, became my friend and saved my life got to leave on a high note. After the ceremony kids told me that the conversations and meetings after I left were about what a horrible person I was and how I didn’t care about them and betrayed them… One girl was angry that I had come back. Michael saw me and very kindly and gently pointed out to people that I thought I was special and I didn’t respect the place because I knew I wasn’t welcome.

    But most of the kids gave me hugs and were thrilled to see me. They knew why I was there.

  209. I see this blog entry as a huge disrespect to the hundreds of kids who were damaged, abused, bullied, threatened, raped and starved at this school. Each re-comment you make invalidates the victims of this school. Justifying your feelings is not the same thing as validating others’ trauma. I am a sibling of a former student. I am not alone in witnessing the effects of that school through a family member. I know many people who watched their siblings become bullied into adopting the DeSisto philosophy. Who were so afraid of the abuse that they’d pretend to be okay when family visited. Who ran away, multiple times, before being able to escape for good. Who are still trying to unlearn the cultish teachings and unapproved forms of discipline that was driven into their brains through fear and punishment. I saw my sibling lose extreme weight, become sickly and adopt a glazed over, Stockholm syndrome-like muteness in their eyes. Not every kid came from a rich background. Many were sent there under the guise of therapy after the public school systems failed them. These kids had no advocates to help them at this school. None of them deserved the “treatment” they received. The founder profited, obscenely, and lied about all of his academic background. The Florida school was NOTHING like the Massachusetts school. My sibling is terrified of seeking legitimate therapy because this school forever ruined any safe possibility of being treated in that respect. They are still unlearning the regimented abuses. They had to hitchhike 3 states home only to be met with the brainwashing/threatening repercussive consequences that DeSisto encouraged parents to enforce if they left the school. Your experience might have been positive but you ought to change the title to this post to, My DeSisto, My Old Friends and Many Others Who Had Shitty Experiences. That would be respectful.

    1. Amazingly, as a WITNESS to someone elses experience, you feel justified in judging the rest of us and our own personal experiences??

      You come in here speaking of respect??


      YOU are the disrespectful one here, in assuming you have the 1st clue about any of us as you only have secondhand (at best) and anecdotal information that you are relying on and the experience of one person at that.

      You appear to be a glass house dweller who feels justified in walking the street pulling a wagon load of stones behind you.

    2. Real Witness, I’m sorry that you see this blog entry as disrespectful. The conversations that have taken place here have been eye-opening for many of us. What the school seems to have become after I left is really sad. Because I can tell you, as someone who was actually helped by this school, there were, at least early on, very real and positive things happening there. But there is not one experience that qualifies as “The DeSisto Experience.” I can only write about mine and be open to the experiences of others, which I believe I have done in almost every reply to every comment and story shared here. AND there are also those for whom anger and rage and a need to vilify and condemn in totality is a mission, too. And much of that oftentimes comes from people who weren’t even present at the school but simply heard or experienced it second-hand. If you feel that what I’ve written here diminishes the experiences of others and is disrespectful, there’s not much I can do about that. Luckily, there are many people who have found this blog and journeyed through the long and complex and highly detailed comments here and have gotten quite a lot out of it. Far more than I ever imagined when I first wrote the piece. So if nothing else, I feel that I created an avenue for people of all different experiences to share those experiences, reconnect and, maybe to some small degree, not feel alone in those experiences, whether they were positive, negative or a combination of the two. Again, far more than I ever imagined when I first wrote this post. I feel for your sibling and the experience they went through. It truly sounds horrific. And I will also point out that anyone who did not attend the school themselves has to, despite what they witnessed, understand that there is always more to the picture than meets the eye. You have a singular perspective as someone who had a sibling who went to the school. Your view is not reflective of the “proper” experience” or the more “truthful” experience. There isn’t one. You titled yourself a “Real Witness” which, unless I’m misreading the intent behind that (and I apologize if I am) suggests that my experience is NOT reflective of the school or that I have an agenda (or have been brain-washed). My experience may not match up with yours or fit into the narrative that you need it to be, and I’m not suggesting that you and your sibling did not have a horrible and damaging experience with the school– many did — but I would suggest being careful of doing the very thing you’re accusing me of by positioning yourself as someone who knows the “truth” about DeSisto. Your story is one of many and the conversations that have taken place here, yours included, prove that.

      1. I have to agree with Hal here. I had a horrific time at Desisto. I was physically and mentally abused repeatedly, had my possessions (some very expensive, my bass guitar) taken by staff, never to be seen again. However, Hal didn’t have that experience. I am sure those things happened to your sibling, it was a nightmare for many of us that we will never recover from. Hal and others didn’t have that experience. There were definitely kids Michael (no comment) liked. Those kids had a very different experience than the rest of us. Peace, Ben

  210. So 33 years after AMD expelled me persona non grata, I went to THD@Stockbridge on Thursday 1/22/15 with my wife. I took a bunch of pictures to show my mother and sisters.

    It was really strange seeing the two dorms (boys and girls), the Farm, and the gazebo by the dining room completely gone. It sort of felt like someone’s poor attempt at attempting to hide the various bad events which took place there, almost as if to say that the memories I have there never happened. However as most of us that were there know from our memories, plenty bad happened there.

    Nonetheless, I’m glad that I went there on Thursday. Seeing it completely deserted and seeing that AMD’s narcissistic and grandiose plan ultimately failed miserably, was for me a positive ending to that miserable two year chapter of my life.

    1. Glad you were able to find some closure while there…

      I made a similar trek one winter at least 5 years back, and experienced a rush of conflicting feelings but in the end walked away glad I had gone.

    2. Must be very weird going back. I’ve never done it. And much of the Howey campus (where I went) is gone now, so there’s not much there to see anymore for me. As for AMD’s narcissistic and grandiose plan, I think his initial plan was most-probably a pretty great one that got corrupted and twisted, in large part by Michael himself. But I think its roots were most probably in a desire to do some good (which in my case, it did). What’s sad to me is that there were no safeguards put in place to stop the downward spiral that lead to abuse and what seems like a near-complete abondonment of those elements that were truly useful and potentially healing. They were there, however. They just didn’t win out, it seems. Sadly, not the first or last time this has or will happen. Governments, institutions, schools of thought… History is littered with great notions and intent that have collapsed and burned due to human imperfections, greed, damage, fear and an inability to be self-reflective instead of reactionary. For me — and no one else here need take the same path — there was something positive beneath the wild vines that twisted and grew until it choked the life out of what might have been the initial DeSisto vision.

      1. I don’t know if it’s been posted here before, but just as a tidbit, Howey turned into a golf club after the school closed. That failed, and then part of it was blown up in some production by Hulk Hogan.

      1. Hal I was wondering…did you participate in the 10-4 program one summer with the Theater program? Seems I remember a group fixing up the theater building that was across the street from Administration. I may have gotten the name of the programs wrong. I remember being in the summer school program and attended a play at the end of the term.Is that when the arts and entertainment “bug bit”? I would love to hear how you got your career going. I wanted to thank you for this blog. I have read messages from all sorts of people I have thought about so many times, so fondly…students and old staff. If anyone knows news on Kathy Taylor, Becky Gurin, and Keith Murphy I’d love to hear and read.I really enjoyed your last political ed-op.

      2. Mike, hey, I never did do the theater stuff in 10-4. Usually spent my summers working off my hours :) But I do remember when they put on a production of PIPPIN that was actually pretty great (in my memory, anyway). Charlie Isaacs was the lead. And I had tried to put on a “production” of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, but it got nixed by staff. :( Don’t know about Becky or Keith, but I am in touch with Kathy Taylor. I let her know you asked about her.

      3. If you could let Kathy know that she has a fondly remembered often over the years. Ask her if she remembers this: It was during the spring…Upper Girls had gotten Dorm-ed for some reason. Kathy and I found ourselves running one of those gawd awful “dormed.” Then Kevin (a newer Superstaff)
        came up to monitor our meeting. He took a chair just a couple of feet from Kathy and I. As the meeting progressed I began to smell something …terrible! I leaned forward and whispered into Kathy’s ear: “Kathy, what is that horrible smell…she leaned forward and whispered back into my ear
        that that smell was Superstaff ! It took us both of us by surprise. We both began to giggle and we had tears in our eyes! We began to act like we were overwhelmed and depressed. Superstaff were never the wiser thank god!!!!

      4. Hmmm Jay Allen, your name sounds really familiar to me. I also was in Lower North… so was Nick Goldstein, Aaron Greenburg, John McDonald (my roommate), Mark Frankenthal (expelled persona non grata along with me), Jason Williams, and you (I’m fairly sure)… I don’t remember anyone else’s names. Our live-in dorm parent’s name was Tom Browder (I’m 99.9% sure, a big guy that spoke with what sounded to me like a Texas drawl).

    1. You were my 1st roommate in the mansion (Three man room) and I think we went to the same summer camp. I was just thinking about you 2 days ago! I hope you are well!
      Dave Goldberg

    2. You were my first roommate in boys mansion and we went to the same summer camp.
      How are you??
      David Goldberg

  211. My wife and I have been looking the desisto school up. I had told her about all the crazy things that were done to us and she did not believe it till now. I remember being leashed. I actually ren away 5 or 6 times,. Just rehashing those crazy times. Best regards.

  212. Does anyone know how to get a hold of a diploma from Desisto ? Trying to get it for continuing ed in Massachusetts. Thanks. Mark Miller

    1. You took the Senior Seminar and graduated? I didn’t, just got my GED when I left.

      I would contact the education dept in the state of the school you were in. Since you mention MA, I assume Stockbridge ;) Someone else may have a better idea where to start, but that was all I could think of.

    2. They told me to “Graduate” I had to sit in Senior Seminar and listen to Michael recount his gay S&M experiences. At that point my parents actually saw the light and got me the heck out of there.

  213. Reading through many of these comments, both the positive and negative, really reminds me of the time I spent at Howey in the early 1980’s. I saw a lot of good work and I also saw some stuff I didn’t agree with at times. It was definitely a “hairy” time. I fondly remember most of all the backpacking trips. Best wishes to all.

  214. I was a DeSistoite from Howey for 3 1/2 years fall 1980 to spring 1984. Michael was afraid of me, I was a poet, I only got to level II and at the end some were trying to take that away from me. I have been lurking here a long time, but now have enough courage to post. I have a book manuscript, though, “Detailing Michael DeSisto” 23,700 words about that time, does anybody want a copy. I have enjoyed so much reading other people’s stories and the fact that I am just another story comforts me. It was easier living under Michael’s roof than my own. I would, though, like to expel Michael off-campus himself, to hear him say the words “I’d like to bring myself up…”

    1. I remember you, John, and I don’t really remember many names at all. I remember a few smiles and nods between us, but I was told they kept you doped up on thorazine (or haldol, can’t remember which).

      I was just a pudgy generic girl, so I doubt you’ll remember me.

      -Kay T

      1. Hi John, It brings me so much joy to hear you are doing well. they had you on so many awful drugs. I hope everything is OK with you and That place didn’t do the number on you it did on me.
        Ben Berry

  215. Hello Ben; As I remember we were roommates early on, weren’t you head of the dining room? I remember your stereo in our dorm room, it was really really nice, I remember when they took it away
    from you, that was the reason you left? If you google me youi’ll find out why I dream of Michael’s personal off-campus expulsion. I don’t remember much being knocked up on Haldol, except that I talked weird about computers back then, like there will be a computer on every desk, computers will all be connected to one another, things like blogs and websites and things like facebook, twitter; I prophecied all that and people were upset, so then it happened, and I was long, long gone from DeSisto from then. I was more real than them.

    1. Yes, They took my bass guitar and stereo then insisted I sit in Michael’s twisted “Senior Seminar” to get my diploma. I said screw that and went and took my GED.

  216. To repeat myself, I have a book manuscript about the time at DeSisto-Howey I understood. I am looking for friends there like Jon Wiley (John Wiley & Sons) or Scott Schuster (Schuster and Schuster) who were children of heads of publishing houses. Who I could connect with. Also I think Michael might have gotten some of his superior godhood delusions from the Bible, Daniel 12. You can look it up. No one really like him, just what MD did for them I remember all those souls that I owned but could never collect on. The tuition at the beginning of Stockbridge was $72,900! How Lake Grove parents could commit that much is a Mystery; how much love could there have been back then? I kept on surfing. Jeff Berryman on a different blog than this one reported that the residents of Howey believed every student had committed at least one murder, was declared insane on their 21st birthday, and sent on to state mental hospitals. Jeff wondered if these rumors were planted intentionally. They were. Me and another student/inmate used to go to the local Howey Church on Sundays, excercising our ‘freedom of religious right”. and we agreed that we had to instill fear to keep the peace when we both knew that DeSisto and the Town of Howey was going to resist each other. What was needed was keep the fear running, that care and attention to runaways would be christian loved when they would know on a townperson’s door. We lied but it was necessary to misdirect town opinion.

  217. Hal, I still really enjoy your DeSisto blog and your other blogs too! I am glad to see someone really cares about the country. I read an entry from a young person wanting to know about her father whose father had been at Stockbridge and had passed. She wanted to know more about him. She got a reply. I hope you know that makes your blog a priceless gift. I discovered it during a terrible period of unemployment. On 9/11/2001 I was in Portland Maine interviewing for a psych job. When I made my way to the airport I learned about the planes that flew into the Towers. I found myself fretting about “my kids”. I read every Tower obit. I never saw a familiar name. However, I found them here. What a pleasure.

    1. Thank you, Mike. I never in a million years thought my post would turn into a meeting place for DeSisto students. It makes me incredibly happy that people have found one another here and whatever level of comfort and/or place to vent and share that it has allowed for folks. And thanks for your comments on my other posts. I try and only post about those things that I care about and that most deeply effect me. It’s icing on the cake when it effects someone else as well. Thank you.

  218. Did you attend school while John Krahm was working there? Did you know him and can you comment on anything about his presence and attitude towards students? This question opens up to you but also everyone who knew him and had different and possibly abusive experiences.

  219. No I did not attend at that time,yet I did know him..harsh yes,was total program,I do know as with all staff,he battled with personal demons.I knew of him,and when I visited I met him,personally was not happy.We did what we could and shut it down Howey campus blowup up,Stockbridge sold off.What’s done is done

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