Boarding School of Horrors in Poland, Maine, Only Shut Down a Decade Ago
The Elan School was a very real place. The main campus was located in a quiet, secluded area in Poland, Maine. Other locations included Sebago where Elan One began. At first, Elan was for adults that struggled with substance abuse. After, they decided they could reach troubled teens. There was also a location in Waterford and a maximum security facility in Parsonsfield, according to the documentary The Last Stop, which can be viewed on Amazon Prime.
The school has an incredibly dark history and with the school operating from 1970 until 2011, we aren't so far removed from the horrors of the campus.
YouTube channel Nexpro did a deep dive into the school in a video titled "The Cult in a Boarding School." In 1970 The Elan School was created by Dr. Gerald Davidson and Joseph Ricci as,
a private coeducational boarding and general academic school for adolescents with emotional, behavioral, or adjustment problems for grades 8-12.
The school had a $50k admission fee and unless the students flew in willingly, many were picked up by transport staff, the YouTube video stated. Parents would arrange pick-up but to the teen student, it would be a surprise, just shy of kidnapping. Transporters would reportedly enter the teen's room in the middle of the night, handcuff them, throw them into the van, and begin the drive to Poland, Maine.
Arriving at the school, which was, for many adolescents "the last stop" after failed attempts at other facilities. The new admits were met with other students wearing signs of shame, handcuffs, and students being yelled at, all of which shattered any facade that this was akin to a summer camp-type environment, according to the video.
One of the first orders of business after admission is being stripped of personal items, and clothes, and being forced to shower without privacy which was ultimately the beginning of the dehumanization these young people endured as well as the removal of individuality experienced at this school, the video stated.
The rules at Elan School were extensive. There were 3 core rules, according to the documentary The Last Stop, which were no drugs, no sex, and no violence. Beyond that, there were many other rules referred to as "guilt".
Among the items forbidden at the school, according to "The Cult in a Boarding School" YouTube video; reading as a non-strength (a non-strength being a new student who hasn't earned privileges yet), writing or drawing without permission, talking too loudly, talking too softly, looking at the opposite gender, being attracted to someone, looking out windows, pretending to sleep at night, thinking of running away, being in the bathroom for too long, talking too much or too little, showering for more than three minutes, making facial reactions to orders, negative body language, oversleeping, under sleeping, smiling and more.
Elan was set up in a way that the students had different jobs.
The Last Stop went into detail about the five categories:
- Service - who did mostly cleaning and janitorial work
- Kitchen - who dealt with meal responsibilities
- Business - where the residents would deal with the various paperwork
- Communications - where the residents would relay outside news and take on somewhat of a managerial role for the day's plan and finally
- Expeditors - essentially policed the other residents.
"The Cult in a Boarding School" explains that the expeditors would have to watch other students just for infractions. And if they didn't fill a sheet with student infractions, they faced their own punishments for not paying enough attention. Punishments at Elan varied greatly from wearing dunce caps and doing extra chores like cleaning toilets with a toothbrush, to having to live in a dumpster for two weeks to humiliation.
The Last Stop even notes instances of students wearing humiliating costumes and being forced to do humiliating acts. Such as one woman caught breaking a rule related to sex and she was then dressed as a stereotype of a sex worker and made to strut around and dance. When residents acted "like babies" they were made to wear a diaper and bonnet and carry around a rattle. One resident suggested they get a house dog. After that Elan decided the student would be the house dog, the Amazon Prime documentary stated. He was dressed as a dog and could only bark. One bark would mean yes and two barks would mean no. He had to walk on all fours and eat dinner out of a dog dish.
In one clip seen in both the Nexpo video and The Last Stop, a young woman wore a sign around her neck that stated;
My name is Phyllis Cohen. I behave like an emotional cripple. I constantly seek people's attention and try to get them to prove they care about me. I play games and continually usurp people's emotions in order to make myself feels special. Please confront me because if I don't change my attitude I will always be the scared and lonely person I am now.
One former student told Bangor Daily News that he remembers the humiliation and something called "cowboy kick-ass," where students would be repeatedly pushed into walls until the point of bruising.
General Meeting and The Ring
The worst of the punishments were all too common and called General Meeting. They could seemingly happen at random even if you simply rubbed staff the wrong way. They would audibly call out "General Meeting" and then everyone in the building would gather around the student in question and yell at the student and humiliate them. A staff member would then yell "Get your feelings off!" and then the students would yell far more ferociously at and berate and swear at the singled-out student for nearly an hour.
In some instances, expeditors would carry out corporal punishment by way of spanking with a ping-pong paddle.
Interestingly, NBC did a segment on Elan where director Joe Ricci admitted to corporal punishment and even explained it was carried out by other residents.
The Ring could also be called at any time. This involved the student being punished by once again standing amongst peers and being yelled at. But additionally, they would have to don a faceguard and boxing gloves. They were designated the "bully".
One by one other students would be told by staff to compete against the bully until they were "sufficiently injured," according to "The Cult in a Boarding School." Lasting injuries stemmed from The Ring alone, PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and even death.
It was explained in The Last Stop that The Ring was viewed by the staff at Elan as "an exercise in futility". That violence is never the answer and that it will get you nowhere because there will always be someone else to knock you down or something else. Like jail or death.
Education happened between 7 pm and 11 pm. Joe Ricci even stated that these late hours of classroom time were planned on purpose. He allegedly believed that the students would be easier to control while sleep-deprived.
How They Got Away With It For So Long
As discussed in "The Cult in a Boarding School", students had to earn the right to call home, and when they did their calls were heavily monitored. Any negative talk about the program would result in an immediate disconnect and revocation of any future phone privileges. Additionally, students were required to write letters saying how much they loved the program that would be sent to the parents, the YouTube video notes. This would not only protect the school but encourage parents to pay for their child to stay longer since, in their eyes, they were having a good time.
The Last Stop states that there was no privacy. All incoming and outgoing letters were reviewed and at times censored by expeditors.
As early attendees became adults, reports about the school began to emerge. There were a dozen visits by Maine law enforcement but they came back with no criminal activity to pursue. In The Last Stop, it's explained that every time the State of Maine went to investigate, they gave Elan a heads-up. However, the state of New York had been sending kids to Elan and decided to do their own unannounced investigation. On day one they found students restraining other students, sleep deprivation, yelling, and swearing. After these troubling discoveries, New York refused to send any more teens to Elan, according to the Amazon Prime documentary.
In 1975 a teenager in Greenwich, Connecticut by the name of Martha Moxley went out for mischief night and was found dead the next day in her backyard, according to Bangor Daily News. A neighbor boy by the name of Michael C. Skakel was a suspect, but there wasn't enough evidence to convict him.
The newspaper stated that Skakel was sent to Elan School where he allegedly bragged to other students,
I'm going to get away with murder. I'm a Kennedy.
This statement was referring to the fact that his aunt is Ethel Skakel Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy's Widow, according to Bangor Daily News.
Because of former classmates testifying against him, he was convicted in 2002. He served over a decade and was given a retrial and released. According to Youtuber iilluminaughtii, it was at one point stated that during a round in "The Ring" Skakel was beaten by several other residents and asked if he murdered her. Over and over again he said no but eventually confessed.
So either Elan didn't report a murder confession or encouraged a punishment so harsh that it prompted a false murder confession. This of course ended up shining a huge spotlight on the school which truly marked the beginning of the end for Elan.
After Executive Director Joe Ricci passed away, his wife Sharon Terry took over in the 2000s.
Changes were made, such as The Ring being banned but it wasn't enough of a change to appease the outcry from the Internet. Stories of Elan gained traction on forums and message boards. In 2010, a former student from the late 90s posted his experience at the school on Reddit. It went viral with more and more students commenting and sharing resources with all of those reading and in the dark about the realities of the school that was still in operation here in Maine.
4 months after the post, in early 2011, it was announced that the school would be closing.
In a story published by the Bangor Daily News, Terry stated that it was closing due to "declining enrollment and resulting financial difficulties," stemming from the Reddit post. At the time of closing annual fees for attendance were $54,950 which covered tuition, room, board, and special services, the newspaper noted.
One Redditor alleged that the school was primarily staffed by former students. None of them had degrees in psychology, education, social work, etc. This sentiment was also stated in The Last Stop. Despite this, they would allegedly arrive at work in BMWs and "clearly made 6-figure incomes."
Being such recent history many had a hand in Elan who previously and even currently hold important titles in Maine. According to The Last Stop, the late Joe Ricci, who was the Executive Director of the school, used to own Scarborough Downs and even ran as a Democrat to be Maine's governor in the 80s.
While there are stories of success graduating from Elan, it's clear that the facility inflicted immense harm on hundreds of young adults over decades right in our backyard.
What was covered here was truly just the tip of the iceberg.