Ivy Ridge survivors interview former Ogdensburg staffer about his time and actions at the academy

Posted 5/1/24

Two survivors of Ivy Ridge Academy recently interviewed John Free, a former employee at Ivy Ridge in their new podcast titled ‘PorchFitcks.’

The podcast was started in the wake of …

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Ivy Ridge survivors interview former Ogdensburg staffer about his time and actions at the academy


OGDENSBURG -- Two survivors of the Academy at Ivy Ridge recently interviewed John Free, an Ogdensburg resident and former employee of the school in their new podcast titled ‘PorchFitcks.’

The podcast launched in the wake of the Netflix documentary ‘The Program’ which highlighted physical, emotional and sexual abuse allegations that took place at the former Academy at Ivy Ridge, which operated just outside of Ogdensburg in the Town of Oswegatchie from 2001 to 2009.  The documentary included video, documents and emails that had been left behind by staff. It also provides strong evidence that parents were misled about the nature of the school and the diplomas earned there were not legitimate.

On the show, host Nick C. says he was a student at AIR in 2005 for nine months where he says he witnessed and was a victim of a variety of abuses.  He was also among the survivors featured on the Banfield Podcast in a March 28 interview.

Host Jack H. says he was at Ivy Ridge from March of 2005 to 2006. The two hosts met each other at the academy and launched the podcast in hopes of raising awareness about not only what occurred at Ivy Ridge, but also at other institutions that may operate similarly  to AIR.

“This Podcast is dedicated to exposing the Troubled Teen Industry (TTI) as a whole. Along with the 'Programs' part of that industry. The hosts of the Podcast, Nick and Jack, are both survivors of the now infamous Academy at Ivy Ridge from the acclaimed Netflix Documentary; The Program: Cons, Cults and Kidnapping. They will be giving insight from personal experiences of what it was like inside one of these 'Programs' and bringing on special guests. This Podcast will be a voice for all survivors here and not here to see this fight. This Podcast is for anyone and everyone,” the podcast description says.

The podcast includes three episodes, the most recent of which includes an interview with Ogdensburg resident John Free, who was a dorm parent at the academy when Jack and Nick were attending the school.

During the interview Free discusses some of the events and abuse that took place and fields a variety of questions from the survivors.

The candid conversation includes explicit language and discussions of abuse which may offend  some viewers. The interview can be found here. 

Making a change

In brief interviews with North Country This Week, Nick and Jack said they had stayed in touch over the years following their time at Ivy Ridge. Both had been involved in the streaming industry and decided to use that expertise to have conversations about Ivy Ridge following the release of "the Program."

Jack said what started as a Q and A ended up growing into the podcast.

Their end goal is to raise awareness about the problems in the troubled teen industry, draw attention to the fact that places like Ivy Ridge still exist and if possible raise money to help victims of the industry.

Nick says they'd love to see the defunct academy turned into a therapeutic retreat where families would go together to deal with their struggles, but noted that dream was a long shot.

It's not easy

Nick said the first episode focuses on introductions, while the second tackles the Netflix documentary. The third episode, featuring John Free, came after Free had released a video and had been outspoken on social media.

He had challenged the survivors to have a conversation with him.

Jack said he and Nick decided to offer him that opportunity. Although they say the interview helped validate their experiences and shed light on Ivy Ridge from another perspective, the podcast and fallout from it, have not been easy.

Jack said that while he didn't have negative experiences personally with John Free, he knows others did. Nick said that he'd been restrained by Free on a number of occasions and he confronted Free in the interview about some of his experiences.

Despite the challenges, all three managed to carry on a civil conversation in which all parties treated each other with respect.

That's something Jack said didn't sit well with some of his fellow survivors.

"We've gotten some negative feedback from a survivor standpoint. I think some people were upset that we were laughing and joking at times during the interview. But I don't think people realize that in order to have a real conversation people have to feel comfortable," he said.

Jack said that in the interview Free verbally admits to wrongdoing and talks about things that happened there. He said that hearing it from someone who was on the other side of things brings further validation to survivors like himself.

Nick pointed out that Free talks about how admins were forging signatures and destroying documents. He said these are things they believed happened but having a staff confirm it and say it outloud was validating.

Both agreed that the interview provided a unique look inside the abuse at Ivy Ridge.

Jack and Nick aren’t done either. They said the next episode of the podcast will feature a conversation with survivors.

Both said they hope the podcast will continue to grow into a platform that helps expose the problems in the industry and ultimately leads to changes that help struggling teens and families.

In the wake of ‘The Program’

Nick and Jack are not the only survivors working to raise awareness about the troubled teen industry in the wake of the Netflix documentary.

On April 25 Dozens of Ivy Ridge survivors gathered before city hall in Ogdensburg to peacefully protest in an effort to raise awareness about the institution and similar schools still operating throughout the U.S. today.

Prior to that the St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office, St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and State Police opened an investigation into abuse allegations at AIR.

Few details have been released since the investigation began, but fencing has been placed around the property in recent weeks after people were reportedly trespassing.

Although rumors have also surfaced of a federal investigation, North Country This Week has not been able to confirm the claims. 

Assemblyman Scott Gray, R-Watertown, has offered support for the victims and has called on the state attorney general’s office to investigate the allegations. It’s unclear how involved the state is with the local investigation at this time.

Since the documentary aired, former employees of the academy have faced public scrutiny. In recent weeks it was announced that a number of former Ivy Ridge employees working at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center have been placed on administrative leave.

There have been various unconfirmed reports of other former AIR employees losing their employment in the wake of the documentary’s release, but North Country This Week has not been able to independently confirm those claims.

St. Lawrence County Republican Elections Commissioner Tom Nichols has also come under fire for his former employment as a marketing and public relations official at the now defunct academy. In the documentary Nichols was confronted by a group of survivors.

To date, no one has been publicly charged since the release of the documentary.