College is a crash course into adulthood. One becomes fully independent the minute they step onto campus in the fall, but no one expects college to be where one loses themself completely.
No one expected what happened to the Sarah Lawrence students in 2010 to happen. It all was hard to believe when news of the cult that originated at its picturesque campus broke.
When Larry Ray, an ex-convict and father of Talia Ray, moved into Slonim Woods Building 9, no one knew that he would alter the lives of the students living there. With his charismatic personality and easygoing demeanor, the students never saw him as a threat.
Hulu brought the story to life in its three-part episode documentary “Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence,” which included real video footage from Ray himself as he kept the students under constant supervision and scrutiny.
Slonim Woods 9 housed students Talia, Claudia, Max, Gabe, Dan, Raven Juli Ana, Isabella and Santos, with Ray, slowly but surely, becoming their roommate. He quickly became a part of their daily lives, lavishing them with gifts and meals a college student wouldn’t be able to typically afford and lending a kind ear to whoever needed someone. That all quickly changed when Ray changed, and his true intentions made themselves known.
Ray’s manipulation extended past words and reached the point where conversations that began calmly ended in tense moments and physical altercations. He demanded money, attention and submission from the students, and it eventually escalated to forced labor and sexual exploitation. He systematically made his way through the group, gaining their trust one by one and he eventually became the de facto leader of Slonim Woods 9.
All members of the cult soon found themselves alienated from their friends and families as a result of Ray’s influence.
Later on, Santos would unintentionally bring his sisters, Yalitza and Felicia, into Ray’s circle of terror.
The show focuses on the aftermath of Ray’s reign of terror as the former students and members of his cult spoke of their time with Ray and why they chose to leave. Not all who were a part of the cult decided to leave. Most left sporadically throughout the years, speaking of the violence and emotional manipulation they experienced from Ray. Those who remained saw the fall of Ray in 2020, but they weren’t left unscathed.
When it all ended and Ray was in prison, all those who were under Ray’s influence suffered from the psychological consequences of their time with him, even those who had left years before.
The conditioning and emotional manipulation were extreme to the point that some of the survivors, particularly Isabella and Felicia, still believed that Ray was innocent. The video footage showed the way that all the survivors lived in a cramped apartment in New York City’s Upper East Side neighborhood and the way Ray treated the survivors, using violence and gaslighting them into believing that they owed Ray everything, he was right and they were betraying him if they felt otherwise.
The Hulu docuseries focuses on the before and direct aftermath following the downfall of Ray’s cult. The survivors who stood with Ray until the end had to begin to go through the deprogramming process, which included therapy and brainwashing reversal techniques, such as the new belief system and attitudes, helping them rediscover their identities. The docuseries made it clear that this was not an easy process, as many of the participants were unwilling to begin due to the brainwashing. It is possible though, as it showed Felicia, one of Ray’s victims that still believed that he was innocent, beginning to reclaim her identity and her beliefs and views as she strived to make her way back to her family.
“Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence” ended on a hopeful note, as it showed all the survivors slowly but surely integrating back into society and making their way back to their families and new lives away from Ray’s influence.