Daniel Levin was a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College in 2010 when he first met Larry Ray. Father to one of his friends and roommates, Talia, Larry needed a place to stay while getting back on his feet after a stint in prison. Painted as a hero at the hands of a wrongful conviction, the arrangement between Talia and her roommates seemed harmless enough. But things quickly spiraled out of control as Levin and others found themselves trapped in a cult of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. This is the story of Surviving and Thriving Beyond The Sarah Lawrence Cult as told by Levin on my podcast.
I talked with Daniel about his harrowing experiences at the hands of Larry Ray, and his recovery, in episode 20 of The Gaslight Effect podcast. Here's a video snippet from my conversation with Daniel Levin discussing gaslighting hangovers.
Below, summarized, is the path that led him into the cult at Sarah Lawrence, the bizarre and often terrifying experiences he had, and ultimately his escape from the grip of Larry Ray.
Inside The Cult Of Larry Ray
At the start, college student Daniel Levin didn’t have any reason to question Larry. He was Talia’s beloved father. Who was Levin to oppose giving father and daughter space to reunite and connect? Larry grew closer with each member of "Slonim Woods 9," the name of their communal dorm and, later, the name of Daniel Levin’s memoir. So, when Larry traded in the couch at Slonim Woods for his own apartment on the upper East side of Manhattan, he invited others, including Levin and Sarah Lawrence students to join him.
It was here where the “special connection” that Levin describes between himself and Larry was fostered, through private conversations around his relationship with his parents, his body, and his sexuality. But “connection” quickly evolved into weaponization of the household’s interpersonal dynamics through coercive control and gaslighting at the hands of Ray, who began manipulating the group’s eating and sleeping habits, initiated nonconsensual sexual encounters, and regularly exploited their labor.
“I was experiencing these things, which in retrospect were extreme,” confessed Levin, even though he once thought, “I'm not someone who would be abused or would be in a cult, or would be manipulated.”
As many gaslighters so skillfully do, Levin was shamed into believing nothing he could say or do would be good enough for Larry Ray. Even as Larry recorded his victims undergoing different forms of abuse as punishment for disappointing him, Levin thought, “He hasn't slapped anyone, he hasn't punched anyone, he hasn't pushed anyone to the ground, you know?”. Without an understanding of what qualifies as abuse, Levin continued to live in fear of what would happen if he stayed and what would happen if he left.
That is, until Levin finally tapped into his gut feelings. To survive, he knew he needed out. Still in the fog of gaslighting, Levin struggled with conflicting thoughts and “spent so much time trying to figure out the best way to leave, the safest way to leave… in the meantime, I was staying in this situation where I was being abused every day.”
In 2013, Levin finally managed to slip out and begin his life beyond the cult that later gained national attention. The FBI arrested Larry Ray, 7 years later in 2020.
Surviving And Now Thriving Beyond the Cult of Larry Ray
Looking back, Levin would want himself, and anyone else feeling stuck in similar reality-spinning circumstances, to trust the instinct to leave. Gaslighters thrive on making you feel stuck or trapped; that is right where they want you. Thus, ‘the right time’ to leave that many victims of abuse wait for may never come. But once you escape, you can begin to heal. For Levin, this includes telling his story, ultimately one of vulnerability, hope, and aliveness.
“I wish none of this had ever happened,” Levin wrote in his memoir Slonim Woods 9: A Memoir. Still, “one thing you can control is it being over for you… after it’s ended, it’s up to you to decide how to live with it. More than anything, that’s what I hope you do: live.”
Daniel’s commitment to telling his story is a gift, written to help others think about boundaries and the kinds of behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable in relationships—and to help those in similar experiences hear more stories on what "breaking free" can look like.
Thank you, Daniel, for wanting to speak out.
Daniel not only survived the ordeal, but is now thriving as an author, teacher and an executive producer of Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence, a three-part series streaming on Hulu, that documents "A group of bright Sarah Lawrence College students" that fall under the dark influence of a friend’s father, Larry Ray.
Stuck Inside A Cult Or Recovering From A Gaslighting Relationship?
You can learn more about all the many forms of gaslighting on The Gaslight Effect Podcast.
You can also identify if you are a part of a pattern of emotional or relationship abuse involving gaslighting, and pull yourself out of that dynamic with the help of The Gaslight Effect Recovery Guide, an interactive workbook that will help you reclaim your reality.