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This electronic version of
A Clockwork Straight is a living document and is frequently updated as new data is uncovered. If you have an interesting story to tell about the Straights--a success story, a tragedy, whatever--we would love to hear from you. If you can refute or substantiate any story
told in this book, we would like to know that too. To report on a story about the Straights click on
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The editorial staff at the
Oakton Institute for Cultic Studies
Reform and the Destruction of Young Minds
Wesley M. Fager
|"I been around, you know. There was a time when I
could see, and I have seen boys like these, younger than these, their arms
torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothing like the sight
of an amputated spirit, there is no prosthetic for that."
Colonel Frank Slade (Al Pacino) in the 1992 movie
Scent of a Woman
But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning around.
|The fool is Jesus Christ, from Fool
on the Hill (the background song) by the Beatles
"Life is a very
wonderful thing," said Dr. Branom . . . �"the processes
of life, the make-up of the human organism, who can fully
understand these miracles?. . . What is happening to you now
is what should happen to any normal healthy human organism
. . . You are being made sane, you are being made healthy."
"That I will not have," I said, "nor can I
understand at all. What you�ve been doing is to make me feel
"If I would have realized back then that I would have been out of jail
a lot sooner than I got out of Straight, I definitely would have picked jail. It was kinda' like from the movie
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's
Nest with Jack Nicholson. Jack thought it would be easier serving his time out in a psyc ward instead of prison and the next thing ya know the poor guy gets a lobotomy. Well that kinda' happened to me. Except my lobotomy was a brainwashing. Start out thinking "I'll just go along to get out of here," then the next thing ya know BAM! I am gone and some jackass flapping his arms around like an idiot and singing songs like
"Zippity Do Da" is sitting in my chair. I still get can't believe it. Seems like it happened to another person or something."
| LESTAT49203, Straight-Cincinnati and
[the Straights] run very close
to really performing psychic murder."
|Marge Robertson, executive director of the Cincinnati Chapter
of the ACLU, from Cincinnati Post.
"I have seen people sit in Group and physically
carve into their arms to, in my opinion, try to escape the
hell they were in. I know that they put to much on us for young people. I
wonder if they didn�t set some of us crazy themselves. I know of one
young child that didn�t speak to anyone for probably 2 months.
This kid didn�t crack a smile; it was like he was in his own
world. I never understood why some kids with obvious mental disorders were
allowed to continue treatment when it was obvious that they needed mental
help from someone more than a teenager
or young adult who had no formal training. Will any of us ever know how
much damage straight really did to our minds, and our bodies?"
|Mark Fuller, Straight-Springfield
"Staff members directed me to physically batter and
verbally assault other clients. They gave me this directions when I was a client and when I was a
Staff Trainee. I carried them out. So did hundreds if not tens of
thousands of other kids. . . As hard as it has been to live with the reality of
being clinically abused for nearly two years, it cannot compare with
the complete nightmare of living with the fact that I abused other people
repeatedly in the name of a thought control cult. It cannot compare with
the nightmare of knowing that some of the people I abused have ended up in
jail, or dead, and that I contributed to the destruction of their lives."
"Several children attempted
suicide while staying with host families, but the attempts were not reported
and the children were not treated. . . Some teen-age clients were forced
to reveal their sexual fantasies during group sessions. Others were subjected
to "spit therapy," where children would spit on each other to reduce their
|Jacqueline M. Ennis, formerly head of licensing
for Virginia's Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance
Abuse Services, speaking about Straight. [Saint Petersburg
"Children are a very marketable commodity for hospital admissions."
Pete Kreis (1985), former Chief of Children, Youth and Families Division, Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS).
[Saint Petersburg Times, Jul 6, 1987]
"Getting money is easy . . . Myself. [I would
invest in] drug and alcohol rehab
centers. I�m serious. It�s the number one op of the 90s. Priscilla, people
are chic. You tell them they can�t quit on their own and suddenly everybody
needs help. I mean the human mind. What can you say.�
Con artist Eddy Otis (Kevin Spacey) from the 1993 suspense thriller Consenting Adults
". . . research has shown that over the last 3 years there has been a decline in
Straight�s market, to-wit: middle and upper income children involved in drugs.
Instead, more lower income families are affected."
Jay Snyder, Straight Foundation board member, January 17, 1991
is too easy for tyranny to
eclipse therapy when teenagers
have authority over other
"It just shows that we must have been doing things
|a "grinning" Mel Sembler
"proudly" commenting on the ACLU's lawsuit against
Straight - Atlanta. Florida Trend Magazine, May 1997
"Business!!!! Mankind was my
|The ghost of Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
"I often wonder what it is that
brings one man success in life and . . . failure to his brother. . . some
men succeed because they cheerfully pay the price . . .and others are unwilling
. . . That�s why so many . . . remain on the beaten paths that are for
|A quote carried around by Straight
Mel Sembler, AO
tell you they love you,
but it is a lie;
Satisfaction is theirs once you have cried
From the moment your foot steps into the door,
If you give in a little they push you for more
It's so vicious, so desperate,
It seems never-ending
Your soul is at stake
with the outcome still pending
You awake in the midst of a strangers bed,
And more often than not,
You will wish you were dead.
It is hushed to the world
Yet so full of hate-
A place all too many
Now know as Straight.
|Thea, written after
her release from Straight - Atlanta, 1990
I have been researching and writing a book about
Straight for five years now. When I started I just had no idea how
big they were or just where the story would take me. I haven't
finished my book, but I have been inspired by three former
Straight students to publish some sort of interim, web-based book on Straight.
These students are Scott Wagner from Philadelphia who made the first-ever,
substantial page on Straight; Kathy Martin of Manassas, Virginia
who formed a discussion forum for Straight Survivors; and Ginger
Warbis of Lighthouse, Florida who has put together the pointers to the
various resource pages on Straight.
condensed version of my book is dedicated to all the men and women who
have been students in Straight-based re-education centers, to those
those boys and girls currently in abusive, Straight-like therapeutic
communities, and to those former students, too numerous to
mention here, who took their own life following their Straight experience.
That said, I will mention three names in dedication:
to Professor Arnold Trebach of American University
and of the Drug Policy Foundation who worked so hard to tell the story
to my friend Richard Bradbury of Tampa, Florida who
spent seven long years of his youthful life closing them down under the
name Straight, Inc.
and to Bill Fager who has given his all.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. I would
like to thank all who have shared their stories with me
through eMail, snail mail, telephone and personal visits.
Internet discussion forums like Kathy
Martin's and Don
Smith's on Straights, and Kimberely
Fee's forum KIDS continue
to be a wealth of information about the Straights and I appreciate
everyone for sharing. I would like to thank everyone who
has helped me out on special research projects.
I would like to thank Kathy Martin, Scott Wagner and Ginger
Warbis for inspiring me to do an internet presence and to all
those others like Marti Heath who have subsequently developed
fine web pages about the Straights and its descendents.
I am also indebted to Ginger Warbis for her technical
and editorial assistance, and for her political insights.
This story could never have been told without Richard
Bradbury of Tampa, Florida who turned over his enormous archives
to me. Special thanks go to Dr. Arnold Trebach of
the Drug Policy Foundation in Washington, DC for access to that
foundations voluminous files on the Straights and for use of
his court documents from the Fred Collins trial.
I would like to thank an anonymous friend who has generously
helped the cause financially. I am indebted to true
detectives--the librarians all over the country, and especially
to the library staffs at the Saint Petersburg Public Library,
the Fairfax County Public Library, and the Library of
Congress. I will always be indebted to the reporters
and editors of America's newspaper--The Saint Petersburg Times--for
their excellent coverage of the Straight story and
for their coverage of their local citizen Melvin Sembler.
Channel 13 Eye Witness News of Tampa and WAMI TV in Miami have
also done excellent jobs in reporting the story. Finally,
I would like to thank my wife Kay for an ever listening ear
and for putting up with five years of research and writing so
this story could be told.
FOREWORD by attorney and world renowned
author and addiction expert Dr. Stanton Peele. In many cases, kids
in trouble (read "distress") are seen to require no care or affirmation;
quite the contrary, they are often seen to benefit from highly aggressive
and degrading communications and environments -- one thinks of prison programs
such as "Scared Straight," boot camps, drug treatment interventions, and
":tough love" treatments. The thought seems to be that kids are misbehaving
since they are disobedient and willful -- they may be bad seeds -- and
need to be brought to heel. Straight, Inc. was and is a treatment
regimen for children built on such assumptions. As in other such
cases, it produces often strongly negative outcomes (such negative outcomes
are not restricted to children in abusive programs, but occur with adults
as well, as in the high suicide rates reported by the Atlanta Constitution
for doctors and other health care workers treated by G. Douglas Talbott,
founder and board member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine).
Thanks to Wesley Fager for commemorating the victims of this abuse, who
died for reasons unknown, but whose deaths should not go unacknowledged.
Stanton Peele, J.D., Ph.D.
As a person who was incarcerated at Straight, Inc., for twenty months, I can personally attest to the veracity of many of the accounts of abuse and wrongful imprisonment contained in this book. As a physician, I am horrified by the absolute disregard for the psychological, emotional, and physical health, safety, and constitutional rights of Straight clients during the period I was there in the early to middle 1980's. I graduated from the program after having been forced, by repeated verbal and physical assaults, to accept the notion that I had a drug problem even though I did not. I was an honors high school graduate already accepted
into a competitive college, but because of my parents' poor parenting skills and their vulnerability to the slick marketing tactics of Straight, Inc., I found myself, at the age of eighteen years, a prisoner with absolutely "no rights" according to Miller Newton, the executive director of Straight at the time. Submission to every rule and Straight custom was demanded and enforced by brutality. I existed in a constant state of terror for my safety and even my life if I did not conform. Although I lost my innocence, precious years of my adolescence, and was forced to delay my educational goals, I realize how fortunate I am that I was able to succeed professionally and personally despite the repeated assaults on my psyche and body. Sadly, many former clients whom I knew have suffered terribly, some turning to drugs and others having committed suicide. To this day, some twenty years later, I suffer from nightmares and periods of intense anxiety brought on by such seemingly simple triggers as certain songs I heard while in the program. Mel Sembler boasts about the over 12,000 successful graduates from Straight1,
although it begs the question "what does he mean by 'successful'?" Although I appear to be such, I succeeded despite the program and would give anything to remove from my closet that ghastly skeleton that is Straight, Inc., and the inescapable images of horror and violence I was forced to endure and witness there.
Victoria H., M.D., Sept. 2002
is a story about organized child abuse in the western world on a massive
scale, maybe in excess of 50,000 kids involved. It's
about convincing affluent white parents that their child will die without
the services of a juvenile drug rehab program called Straight (and in some
cases one of its abusive follow-on programs). This is a story about
human excrement, urine, vomit and spit. It's about little white
girls on their periods sitting in pools of blood and about
kids carving on their bodies. A tongue partially bitten off or the
inside of a cheek chewed up, starvation and sleep deprivation.
It's a story about coerced or coaxed sexual confessions. It's about
teaching a child to become ultraviolent and about ripping families
apart. And it's about money--90 million dollars.
As I write this introduction I am reminded of an old Twilight Zone segment
I saw years ago�probably before many of you readers were born. According
to that episode:
|A flying saucer had landed on the
mall in Washington, D.C. The aliens told the Washingtonians that they had
come in peace and gave the authorities a little red book to prove it. Problem
is the document was written in alien language. So the generals turned the
little book over to the code breakers at the National Security Agency.
After a month-long effort, the best the code breakers could do, even with
the aid of modern computers, was to decipher just the title of the strange
little red book. It read: HOW TO SERVE MANKIND. Now that was a nice
gesture. The aliens could not stay on earth for long, but they invited
a delegation from earth to journey back with them to their native planet
in a distant galaxy. A Russian botanist, a Catholic priest, a senator,
an educator. People of various disciplines from the far reaches of earth
were selected for this momentous trip�even Roger Johnson, one of the cryptologists
at the National Security Agency who had helped break part of the alien
hieroglyphics, had signed on for the space flight. Finally the big day
arrived and the earthlings filed onto the saucer�s gang-plank one-by-one.
But just as the last foot vanished as the underside metallic-crab door
slammed shut, the chief code breaker from the NSA ran up screaming with
all his might, "Roger, don�t go! DON�T
GO!! HOW TO SERVE MANKIND!!!"
you don�t have to look far to find the documented evidences of Straight
abuses. A boy restrained in his own urine in Detroit, a teenage girl with
a sock crammed down her throat in California, a boy with a broken leg in
Virginia, a girl forced to wipe up the blood from her roommate�s recent
suicide attempt in Maryland. You can find abuses documented by Trebach,
by Miller, by Baum. But what you can�t find is Straight�s big secret. What
is the big secret? Through the years Straight, Inc. has
operated 12 treatment facilities. There has never been one Straight,
Inc. treatment facility that has not been accused of abuse. Several
programs have imitated many parts of the Straight, Inc. program. The
title of this book makes claim that Straight, Inc. destroys young
egos. It make no claims that any of the follow-on Straight programs
are destructive or that they destroy young egos--unless specifically
I have been researching and writing
a book about Straight for some time now. I never knew when I started this
project just how big it would turn out to be, and, for a variety of reasons,
I have not yet finished. Encouraged by recent web pages and discussion
groups on Straight and Straight follow-on programs, I have decided to develop
my own page to share some of the insights I have learned about Straight
during my extensive research. Rather than spending several more months
composing a finished web-page document, I have decided to let this page
just grow as I develop upon one topic or another while I build this
site over the next few months.
After all these years I suspect that tens
of thousands of former Straight clients still suffer from the confessional
sessions which they were forced to endure. A purpose of this web
page is help them understand what happened to them and why it happened.
A few parents caught on sooner or later to what Straight is, but even they
don't know the whole story. Most parents have never caught on at
all. To this day they firmly believe their child had a life-threatening
disease that only Straight could cure, and many will continue to
be eternally grateful to Straight, Inc. for saving (or for gallantly
"attempting" to save) the life of their teenage son or daughter.
And so another purpose of this web page is to educate these parents, as
well as law enforcement officials, health officials, judges and probationary
officers, high school officials, the media and politicians including
the President of the United states as to what actually happens when
the doors are shut so that we can all work to provide safeguards
so that such excesses and abuses can never occur again behind Straight's
closed doors. Check out "What you can do" from time-to-time
in the left margin of my web page on the Straights to see how you
can help. A big message we want to spread is that no child
can be denied access to the outside world when held captive in rehabilitation
programs of any sort.
Everyone I talk to seems to run into the same
two problems when they try to tell the story of Straight. One,
if you try to tell the story, you just can't seem to do it.
You just can't get people to understand the sheer human misery that Straight
kids are forced to endure. Or if you're a victim trying to tell the
story to your own parents, they refuse to believe what you.
Two, like the Nazi Holocaust, the scale of suffering is so
enormous that it's almost impossible to document and describe it
all. Years ago I read Simon Wiesenthal's book on the Holocaust.
I was a bit disappointed then because of 7 million stories of human
misery, Mr. Wiesenthal just told the tragic tales of about
20 people. I remember one tragic tale he tells of a little
boy who lit a candle each time the Nazi's came by and took one of his family
members. Finally, one day, they came and took the
little boy too. As his armed captors were hauling him away in an
ox cart he asked his guard to wait a minute. With that he jumped off the
cart and ran into his house and lit a final candle--one for himself!
In this web-based, abridged version of my up-coming book, I,
at first, thought that I faced a similar problem to Mr. Wiesenthal's.
How do you tell the story of thousands of cases of abuse in just
one volume. Ultimately, I think, I have a different task
than Mr. Wiesenthal's. For the Nazi Holocaust is well established;
Straight's is not. Therefore, to some extent, I did have
to, I feel, document many more of the cases of abuse
so that you can see that Straight, is in fact, an American
Holocaust. Speaking of Holocausts, I want to say one
final thing. My professional background is in mathematics and information
sciences. Years ago when I studied about the Nazi Holocaust
I was so enraged with what I heard that I was seriously considering contacting
Simon Wiesenthal to offer my services as a volunteer to help track down
Colonel Doctor Josef Mengleles--The Angel of Death.
But Doctor Mengeles drowned before I could take any action. (BTW.
Anybody know what kind of medical doctor he was? Colonel Doctor
Joseph Mengeles, who performed all sorts of medical experiments on
children and adults, and especially on twins, without
their consent, was not a medical doctor at all. He was a medical
anthropologist.) One man who will tell you that he escaped
the Nazi Holocaust as a teenager is Walter Loebenberg, the visionary
behind the Tampa Bay Holocaust Museum on whose board sits Straight's founder--Melvin
Sembler. And why not. Walter Loebenberg is formerly the President
of Straight. Melvin Sembler is also the finance chairman of the National
Republican Party, and one of the reasons for Straight's longevity
and success is its endorsements by prominent Republicans including Nancy
and Ronald Reagan and George Bush. (Don't ask me which one either.
The whole Bush family is tied to Melvin Sembler's pocketbook.)
is the condensed, electronic version of a hardback book which is still under
development. Though condensed, it is nevertheless quite long for a
web page. The tragic heart of the story can be learned by reading
the first three chapters. Chapter 1 on deprivations and child abuse
enumerates many of the instances of child abuse at Straight. Chapter 2 on
body carvings and suicide attempts suggests that Straight caused many of its
young students to attempt to kill themselves due to the deprivations the kids
sustained; but watchful eyes by Straight personnel, including fellow
students, prevented any suicides from occurring on the premises. But what
was Straight's after care plan to prevent suicides once a student left
Straight. Chapter 3 looks at the deaths by suicide of many former Straight
students and questions whether Straight and its officers should be liable for
any of these deaths. So if you can't read the whole work, you should
try to read the first three chapters in order.
Most people think that Straight closed in the early
1990s, but the chapter on "where are they" tells the story
of how some former Straight officials opened their own treatment programs
as the Straights closed. Many of these programs are still in
operation. Next I introduce you to some of the men behind the
Straights. In 2000 Reverend Doctor Virgil Miller Newton and his medical
team settled with a client in his KIDS program in New Jersey for $4.5 million
for abuses she claims she sustained at KIDS. Miller Newton was Straight's
former national clinical director and I devote an entire chapter to him.
Chuck Dederick is the man who actually popularized the Straight concept of
addicts aiding in their own recovery. Dederick's story is in the chapter
on his church--Synanon Church. This chapter shows that there was never any real medical basis for
the Straights in the first place and that there were warnings from competent
people that the process could be dangerous to human subjects--especially
to children. And then I discuss why Straight was so successful. One
of the major reasons for its great success was its founder Melvin Sembler and
his connections to the national Republican Party. Another chapter shows
that Straight took in almost $100 million dollars in treating predominantly
white children. Next the Straight therapeutic process is discussed followed
by an essay which shows that Straight officials do not have the requisite
credentials to run a drug rehabilitation program.
Of course the best introduction as
to what a Straight is can be found at my web page on Straight at
For those few of you who have actually seen the book,
can attest that this web page is not the book. After four
and 1/2 years the research is virtually completed and 60% of the writing has been
done. So let's get on with the story. What?
Oh. You were wondering why the chief code breaker was trying to call
Roger back? OK. Let�s go back.
|Finally the big day arrived and
the earthlings filed onto the saucer�s gang-plank one-by-one. But just
as the last foot vanished as the underside metallic-crab door slammed shut,
the chief code breaker from the NSA ran up screaming with all his might,
"Roger, don�t go!
GO! HOW TO SERVE MANKIND!
You are the
since Dec 8, 2000
|1. U.S. Department of State web site, biography of Melvin Sembler, Ambassador to Italy. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/7043.htm
|This electronic book
is offered as a public service and as an educational resource to those
interested in learning about the potential dangers of abusive, Straight-based
synanons*. [*A synanon is a therapeutic community
approach to drug abstinence where one's peers attempt to control
one's addiction by shouting indictments at the addict. A Straight-based
synanon is a synanon designed for teenagers which was perfected at Straight,
Inc. in Saint Petersburg, Florida between 1976 and 1993. ].
The web paged was designed and developed by Wesley Fager with technical
assistance from Ginger Warbis
of Fornits.com. Ms. Warbis converted the page from frame-based to
table-based format. Music is Fool
on the Hill by The Beatles and comes from web page by kyoto2