Thursday, June 2, 2016

New film-project: A basement in Queens

From the fundraiser website:

When friends hear the bizarre stories of what happened to me in the program, they are shocked and often tear up. No one can believe that any parent could leave their child in a full-on drug rehab for three or more years, with hard-core drug addicts and criminals.

I survived three years in Aurora Concept Inc., one of the first troubled teen programs in the country. Officially a drug rehabilitation center or therapeutic community ("TC"), it was actually more like an abusive cult. For years I felt that I was part of an underground survivors society.
Originally created for adult heroin addicts in 1972, Aurora Concept Inc. started bringing in kids as young as 12. In 1982, I had just turned 14, was smoking a little pot, missed a lot of school and had emotional problems. I needed help. A psychologist suggested Aurora to my parents. He heard it was a great place for teens. It wasn't. Even the neighbors didn't have a clue what was going on “In that Basement”.

Aurora used a mixture of shame, humiliation, military-type structure and thought reform (brainwashing). This "treatment" was adapted from the methods of a cultish group called Synanon (1958-1991), which pioneered the model that went on to influence the modern “Troubled Teen Industry”. Its leaders were high school dropouts whose sole qualification was having themselves been addicts. Like Synanon, Aurora was also led by high school dropouts and former addicts; Jerry Lucci, Sandi Lucci and Louie Cino. They shaved heads, forced clients to wear bizarre costumes and degrading signs, and used extreme techniques like sleep deprivation, primal screaming, and constant guilt confessionals to tear people down to nothing.

I was forbidden from telling my parents, family or friends about the bizarre treatment I was subjected to in Aurora.

The average stay was three years. Either you "graduated" from Aurora, or you were garbage. I wanted out so I "split" many, many times and was eventually kicked out, never graduating.

Through interviews over the last decade, I have come to understand that this treatment can and has worked for the hard-core, adult drug addict. Many feel that they would be dead today if not for Aurora. I am glad for them and truly mean it, but this story focuses mainly on the adolescent experience.

The difference is that these extreme measures often wreak permanent damage on the adolescent brain and ego. Damage I am still trying to repair. 30+ years later, many adolescents like me have recurring nightmares, traumatic memories and PTSD.

Jerry Lucci, Sandi Lucci and Louie Cino were taken down by NY Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer in 1999.

Ex-clients and parents continue to ask questions:
  • Where is all of our personal information, our psychological files?
  • What happened to all the money they made off of us and our parents and medicaid?
  • Can we still sue them?
  • Why didn't they go to jail?

I am committed to making this film. I have been working on it for more than eight years and much of the work is already done and paid for.
The total budget for this film is $25,000. I have already invested $18,000 in pre-production. My target of $7,500 here on INDIEGOGO is specifically for two purposes:
  • Interviewing, filming, and editing clients/survivors, families, and faculty of The Aurora Concept, the related travel expenses and editing costs
  • Additional research and interviews on adolescent brain development
I am sharing digital and DVD copies of In a Basement in Queens, as well as opportunities to see a screening of the film before the final cut, dedicate a message in the credits, or even become a producer of the film.

Thank you for making this documentary possible.

Not until Facebook did I realize that there were others out there like me. Lots of others. I finally figured out how to deal with my trauma - I'd tell my story, and maybe even help others.

The Aurora Concept Inc. is closed, but this model of "treatment" for adolescents still exists. I hope that by telling my story, and the stories of other Aurora Concept survivors, we will warn parents on the verge of making the same mistake ours did. Don't send your troubled teen to an institution like this. Stop and seek other options.

Making a balanced and cohesive documentary film is difficult. This is true in this case for several reasons, including the fact that The Aurora Concept is closed, speaking about their experiences is often traumatic for survivors, and much of the documentation of the activities at the Aurora Concept has been destroyed.

I know not everyone is in the position to make a financial contribution today, but there are lots of other ways to help make this film:
  • If you or someone you know was involved with the Aurora Concept and has photos, film, or stories to share, please contact me today. Click the pink link next to the video at the top that says "Ask a question", or email me at
  • Like us on Facebook and share our posts.
  • Please use the INDIEGOGO share tools in the menu on the left to spread the word

Thank you for your help today!




  1. I knew Jerry Lucci from Samaritan House. He wasn't the originator of Concept, Joe Russo was. Joey started Aurora after he left Samaritan House, where he was Director of the night program where Jerry Lucci began his treatment. He went over to Aurora with Joe Russo, as did most of the Samaritan House "Clients"....Did you know any of what I'm telling you? Samaritan was NOT anywhere near a 3 year program. It was somewhere between a year and perhaps 15 month or so....

  2. It's surprising to me to hear that Jerry turned the program into the type of chamber of horrors that you describe. I knew he was indicted for insurance fraud of some kind or other, having to do with Aurora....but getting back to what you were saying, you see all TC's of the early 70's were based on the same very emotionally tough approaches to the road to sobriety that you describe. Jerry was doing what everyone else was doing. He was doing what he was taught. I was also 14 when I went to rehab, but I went to Samaritan House, not Aurora. I got there a few months before Lucci got there.

  3. It sounds to me like you're describing Recons and marathons, which were a bit tougher than your "normal" groups....weren't So, how'd the documentary go? Was it ever finished?

  4. Hello and I am very familiar with Aurora Concepts my step-son was there for three years and it was an experience it was both good and bad my wife and I did what we were told to do at parent meetings and all the fundraisers and everything else in between now that it's all over all I can say is in a lot of ways I'm glad but for some strange reason I don't know why I sometimes miss going there maybe it was because of being with the other parents and the fellowship but anyway those days are gone and for those who survived I wish you all the best in your lives thank you for letting me post my name is Bob Williams and my stepson was Alan Berscak he died a year after he graduated from heroin overdose and the year after that my wife and I divorced so it doesn't always work out for the best not for everyone happy holidays somehow and thank you for letting me post.

  5. I tried to watch The video but it needs a password or something.

  6. I was there 2002-2003. It was a friggin house of horrors. Not one person on staff cared about anything but keeping clients from leaving. No one cared about helping the people that were there. There was hardly any communication between clients and their family. Too much to go into here. This place was horrible. Worse than a prison.

  7. I was there around 2000. Place was rough. Spent a month on a chair facing the corner from 6am till 10 at night. Got stood up on the “wall” constantly, screamed at, and told to get down On the ground and clean..... then stood up over and over and screamed at..... then I’d have to scream myself. Sometimes like “ I need help”..... over and over was weird. Then we’d all hug and act like something great just happened. Absolutely ridiculous.