A Report on
The Third International Conference on Adolescent Treatment Abuse
Saint Petersburg, Florida July 25, 26 and 27, 2003
by Wes Fager © 2003
Rick Ross talks about cult mind control.
Once again Mike and Rhonda Sherman and SAFETY put on another great conference to discuss concerns about the burgeoning, worldwide juvenile rehabilitation industry. Experts gave riveting speeches from the podium along with survivors of some of these places. Their talks were buttressed from the floor with emotional commentary by other survivors like Sammie Monroe and by other interested parties during question and answer sessions. Rick Ross is an internationally known expert on cults. Mr. Ross was there to speak on the defining characteristics of destructive, mind control cults. [I have known of Mr. Ross' work since I was a member of the old Cult Awareness Network (CAN) which is now owned by the Church of Scientology™, one of the groups CAN used to report on. I remember being at a meeting one day when the Scientologists brought in a glossy brochure telling of the crimes of Margaret Thayer Singer, professor emeritus of psychology at Berkeley (who had been used as an expert witness in closing down Straight-Cincinnati), of the crimes of UCLA psychiatrist Louis Jolywn West and of the crimes of cult buster Rick Ross. I knew then and there that the clams must fear Rick Ross something fierce to say the things they said about him in that brochure.] So it was that I finally met Rick Ross in person and I can tell you he is larger than his legend. A well informed, mild mannered speaker, Rick told some interesting stories about cults and then explained the eight criteria of Chinese-style thought reform that many destructive cults are thought to use, telling a story or two about each criteria from his own personal experience. I believe Rick said that if your group met five of the eight criteria, then you might be in a destructive cult situation. I'm sure every cult survivor present counted all eight criteria as being applicable to their own cult experience.

Professor Gerard Glynn

Gerard F. Glynn, Adjunct Professor of Law at Barry University School of Law in Miami and Executive Director of Florida's Children First, a nonprofit, dedicated to protecting the legal rights of Florida's children gave an outstanding performance too. Professor Glynn spoke to the history of legal decisions upon which judges base their rulings on whether to confine a child at a state run institution. Bottom line is that courts pretty much will not interfere with a parent's decision to order his child into a private institution; but if the state is paying the bill, the courts will play a role. And it all starts with a landmark case in Georgia, Parham vs. J.R. (442 US 584). Florida, a playground for the rich and famous, is one of the worst offenders of the rights of children (Disney World is just a giant smoke screen) and one of the most politically corrupt states in the union. It is good to know that there are champions of the rights of children in Florida like Professor Glynn. I would encourage anyone with some extra cash to give his tax exempt organization a donation. Florida kids need him.

Mike Sherman opened the conference and his charming wife Rhonda followed with a well received Power Point talk on "What is Treatment Abuse." Jeff Henschel spoke of his experience at SAFE, the juvenile synanon endorsed by Governor Jeb Bush which is a direct outgrowth of Straight-Orlando. [Jeff had previously sued SAFE in federal court but the judge dismissed the case.] Jeff alleged that he was placed on a large dosage of Alderal at SAFE. Jeff Henschel is a big, young man, but when he started telling what it was like spending all his time in a time-out room, he broke. It was very emotional. He said that he had resorted to carving on his arms and that he had so many cuts on his arms that SAFE made him wear socks to cover the wounds. Listening to this brave young man talk I felt a mixture of compassion and out and out rage!

Wes Fager brings the podium out to the audience.

I had been asked to speak on what it was like being a parent in a thought reform cult. This is easy for me to do, but something I rarely do. It is simply impossible for an outsider to feel the utter hopelessness, fear and terror that a Straight student feels when being confronted by a Group of kids who can not get out of Straight unless they do exactly what Straight wants them to do, and that is to break down a newcomer. I can say this with a qualified, though somewhat slight authority about which I will explain momentarily. If you have seen the A&E video of Louise Woodward's (The English Nanny) trial for murder of the infant Matthew Eappen, you might recall that the judge allowed the prosecutor's expert witness, a medical doctor, demonstrate how, in his opinion, Louise Woodward must have shaken and thrown little Matthew Eappen. The demonstration was chilling, yet compelling, sure to bias the jurors against Ms. Woodward. Yet, if that is what she did, there is really no other way to truly describe the event other than by simulation or demonstration. In other words you just have to see it. Bill Fager testified in his trial that they took him into a closet at a host home. Three of them. Two held his arms and bent his fingers back towards the top of his wrists until he screamed out in pain that they were going to break his fingers. The third spat in his face while asking him questions about his sex life. This process went on nightly for perhaps two or three weeks, all the while Bill Fager was being deprived of sleep and often given insufficient food. Bill's attorney asked the judge to let him demonstrate spit therapy by having a former client yell in his face and spit globs of spit in his own face. I applaud Sean Coleman for volunteering to do that. But the judge would not allow it. There is just no way to get the point across without demonstrating it.

One night I was verbally assaulted myself by a strapping, 230 pound 15 yearold fourth phasor named Andy because I had drunk alcohol at our office Christmas party. The harangue was death defying with Andy swearing to bash my motherfucking head agsint the fucking wall, etc. etc. etc. There is only one other time that I felt as near to death as that episode. That was when I was 10 years old and almost drowned. Thus it was easy for me to reconstruct, in my own mind, what it would be like to have three big young men on you, spitting on you, asking you if you've ever had oral sex with your father. Mike had asked me what it was like to be a father in a cult. And I demonstrated it. There was a professional movie maker there who shot footage (a producer from 20/20 bowed out at the last minute having been called to Iraq). One woman moved back and later told me that I had frightened her. For that I am sorry, but there was really no other way.

Harryete Erlich
Rebecca Erlich's mother, Harryete, told of her daughter's experience at Newton's Kids program in New Jersey from her just released book Resurrection and Redemption. Rebecca had been misdiagnosed before, during and after Kids. Newton pegged her for an eating disorder. Once she had been set back for eating a cookie! Eventually Newton and his team settled with Rebecca for $4.5 million, after which Harryete started running and running and running. Like Forrest Gump, she just could not stop.
As always Sammie Monroe spoke frankly from her hip and heart from the floor.

Nancy Ann Brighton, LCSW specializes in treating trauma. She gave a spirited talk on stress management and Dr. Peter Levine's groundbreaking work in animal studies with its application to human stress. She discussed how a stalked animal had energy called up to be used for flight or fight. But if the stalker suddenly turns away, the prey still has that energy to be dealt with. She talks about "centering" and "grounding" to mentally transfer that energy to more useful places in the body such as the abdomen. Her discussion made this writer wonder about the helplessness of a Straight client who can neither flee or fight, and what the psychological ramifications of that are. She discussed traumatic reenactment, EDMR (eye movement desensitization,) and shifting our energy between psychological and physical. Her talk was interesting, but as many of her audience have been through destructive mind cults, some were a bit cautious to take in data about what some surely associated with New Age concepts.

There were investigators there who had backgrounds in teh mental health field. They are very interested in this burgeoning market of rehabilitating kids in nontraditional ways (if that term is even applicable anymore).

Author and professional facilitator Dr. Michael Conrad, EdD was there on Sunday afternoon to help SAFETY brainstorm and map out its next step in what it should be doing. I had to leave a little early to protest the Church of Scientology™ on my way to the airport, so I do not have a report on that session. I did get a great boxed lunch brought in for the session and an extra one to carry with me on my flight. Thanks Rhonda.

All in all this conference was a good and useful experience. We should all applaud Mike and Rhonda Sherman for putting this show on. It only lacked in participation. I counted 37 or 38 people in and out from Saturday and Sunday, including speakers, with perhaps as many former parents from Teen Help as there were from Straight programs. There should have been 100 or 200. For those of you who could not make it, you missed one hell of a time; you should have sent in 20 bucks anyway. For those of you who live in Pinellas County, Florida who were not there, shame on you.


Wes Fager
Oakton Institute