Alldredge Academy (1999-2008) Davis, WV
Wilderness/Therapeutic Boarding School
History and Background Information
Alldredge Academy (later called Alldredge Wilderness Journey and the Ayne Institute) was a behavior-modification program that opened in 1999. It was marketed as a Therapeutic Wilderness and Boarding School program for teenagers (13-18) who are “angry, defiant, rebellious, deceitful, manipulative, entitled, sad, impulsive, unreasonable, ill-tempered, adrift, isolated, depressed, anxious, loving and loveable.” The average length of stay varied throughout the program’s existence, but was typically between 60 and 90 days, although it could be longer. Alldredge Academy had a maximum enrollment of 60 teens, and was a member of NATSAP until its closure.
The program’s exact location is difficult to determine. The official address associated with the program was 1080 William Ave, Davis, WV 26260, although it is unknown if this was the actual location of school. The facility was located on U.S. Forest Service land, but because it had not filed all required usage reports nor paid required permit fees. Therefore, it was in violation of the terms of its Forest Service permit, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Founders and Notable Staff
Lionel J. Mitchell is the Founder of Alldredge Academy. He began his career in the TTI by Co-Founding and Directing the SUWS of Idaho program from 1981 until 1994. He then left to create Alldredge Academy in 1999. He worked as the Director of Alldredge until 2006. He then went on to open Greenbrier Academy for Girls in 2007 and has worked as the Director/Owner ever since.
Jim Browning worked as the Executive Director of Alldredge Academy after Lionel left in 2007.
John Grago worked as the Admissions Director of Alldredge Academy.
Like other behavior-modification programs, Alldredge Academy used a level-system. Alldredge originally had three phases, but in 2007 the program dropped the third phase, which was called the Academic Phase. With this, the program also decided to change their name from Alldredge Academy to Alldredge Wilderness Journey. The phases were reported to be:
- Search & Rescue: This phase consisted of a 30-day wilderness program, which provided “individual and group therapy, first aid and CPR certification, Search and Rescue training, and outdoor experiential learning opportunities.” According to the program, students on this phase “face challenges, both physically and emotionally while establishing trusting relationships and engaging in the therapeutic process.”
- The Village: This phase consisted of a 30-day wilderness experience in a residential living setting. Students participated in individual counseling, therapeutic exercises, and group counseling. Students also engaged in journal writing assignments and a “curriculum that employed the use of metaphor, ceremony, and the identification of life’s purpose.” They also were given the materials to make their own Congo drum. Constructing and learning to play the drum seemed to be an important theme for their stay there. A version of their archived website states, “The village was created after studying indigenous cultures for 3 years and discovering universal patterns in mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The village is located along a ½ mile shore line at the confluence of 2 small rivers. The students live an indigenous life style, a community based system of interdependency. The culture of the village contrasts with their home adolescent culture. Community interests supersede individual interests. Each student is “needed” by the community and directly effects the well being of others. They experience constant feedback from other villagers about “everything” that is going on. Secrets, dreams, fears, and hopes are shared in groups and with individuals.”
- The Academic Phase: This phase, which was dropped in 2007, focused on continuing the “emotional growth” work that the students had began, while emphasizing academics to make up for time away from academic activity in the earlier phases. This phase takes place in school and dorm buildings that were situated on the side of a hill. The education in this phase also revolved around what the program called the “Levels of Education”. This perhaps could be described as levels of understanding. Starting with the “Literal”, the depth of a student’s understanding increases as he or she moves into “Symbolic”, then “Mythological”, then, what they call “Energetic”.
Abuse Allegations, Lawsuits, and Death
On February 12th 2001, 14-year-old Ryan Christopher Lewis committed suicide at Alldredge by hanging himself with a tent rope. He had only been at Alldredge for less than a week. The day before he died, Ryan had showed an Alldredge Academy staff member where he had slashed his forearms with a knife. It is reported that the teen actually turned over the knife to staff and told them; “take my knife before I hurt myself more.” Instead, the instructor “exacted a promise” from Ryan that he wouldn’t hurt himself again and returned the knife back to the teen. Almost immediately after his death, the director of the Academy, Lionel J. Mitchell took the approach that Ryan had not intentionally tried to kill himself. In fact, he told WV News that in his opinion Ryan wasn’t suicidal, and that the boy was just “seeking attention because he wanted out of the program.”
Paul Nusbaum, then director of the Department Of Health & Human Resources (DHHR) disagreed with Mitchell’s contentions and filed an order to cease and desist the operation of Alldredge and close it down because their investigation found numerous violations in the day-to-day operation of the Academy. The DHHR wanted to close it down because of the likelihood other teens were in immanent danger if Alldredge remained open. After Ryan Lewis’ death, Mitchell and counselor John Weston White were indicted on charges of child-neglect resulting in death. The center was fined $5,000 in June 2002 after pleading no contest to the charges.
In August 2002, the center entered into a court-approved agreement with the DHHR to rename itself, evaluate residents within 24 hours of arrival and hire experienced behavioral health staff. The agreement allowed it to reopen and barred Mitchell from being a manager, officer, board member or staff member.
Shortly after, the teen’s parent, Paul and Diana Lewis, sued the Alldredge Academy in 2002 alleging negligence and fraud. In 2006, Alldredge Academy agreed to pay $1.2 million and admit responsibility to settle the lawsuit.
On December 16th 2008, Alldredge announced that the program will be closed on December 31, 2008. Some of the staff members at Alldredge went on to work at Greenbrier Academy, a program recently opened by Lionel J. Mitchell.
No survivor testimonies have yet been found. If you attended Alldredge Academy and would like to contribute a testimony of your experience, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alldredge Academy Website Homepage (archived, 2003)
Secret Prisons for Teens – Alldredge Wilderness Journey
Son Dies at Wilderness Camp, Parents Sue (Charleston Gazette, 12/20/2002)
Treatment Center Settles Lawsuit Related to Teen Suicide (Dallas CRPS RSD Lawsuit News, 5/22/2006)
Chairmen Miller & Rahall Request Inspector General Investigation into Teen Boot Camps on Federal Land (Speaker.gov, 10/11/2007)
Testimony of Paul Lewis, Father of Ryan C. Lewis (HEAL-Online, 2007)
Founder Of Greenbrier School For Girls Admits He Is Responsible For Teens Death (Huntington News, 1/21/2011) courtesy of HEAL-Online.org
Teen, Interrupted (Brown Political Review, 5/2/2016)