|It was recently learned that two former clients (and their parents) of the Straight legacy program SAFE in Orlando, Florida have filed suit against SAFE in federal court in Orlando. The suit
charges SAFE of, among other things, fraud, brainwashing, forcing kids to confess fictitious sexual conduct, "over -prescribed amphetimine drugs" by SAFE's psychiatrist, and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (R.I.C.O). Now these are alarming allegations and if you have seen the 2000 WAMI TV segment on SAFE, similar charges are made there too. What is SAFE and where did it come from anyway? And could there be any related programs out there. The Oakton Institute decided to poke around a bit and here's what we found.
One of the most common, non medically-based, treatment models for addiction problems is the confrontational-type therapeutic community. In this model addicts aid in their own recovery by shouting brutal, verbal indictments at one another in one or two hour sessions several times a week. The sessions are known as synanons and are based on a method developed at Synanon Church in California several years ago. Synanon itself turned out to be a rather bizarre, destructive cult with wife auctions, naked (mixed sex) communal weighins, forced sterilizations, beatings, and at least one murder attempt. The Seed was an early synanon-based program in Fort Lauderdale for kids only. It was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse which was then directed by White House Drug Czar Robert DuPont. In 1974 the US Senate likened its methods to brainwashing as used by North Koreans on American servicemen during the Korean War. When publicity like that stifled The Seed's expansion programs Seed parents and prominent Republicans Mel and Betty Sembler opened their own Seed-like program they called Straight, Inc. A half dozen directors left Straight in its first 16 months of operations with one inferring that Straight was worse than The Seed. Robert DuPont became a paid consultant for Straight. Ronald Reagan and George Bush endorsed Straight. Nancy Reagan visited many Straight facilities while Melvin Sembler and other Straight board members lined Republican pockets with gold. The publicity from all these political endorsements helped Straight become the biggest juvenile drug rehabilitation program in the world.
But it was also one of the most abusive.
Beatings; food and sleep deprivations; kids restrained in their own vomit and feces. Synanons had been designed to treat treat hard-core adult heroin
addicts by making them sit in on synanons three times a week for an hour or two. Physical violence, during synanons, was prohibited. Straight kids were continuously berated in synanon sessions lasting 12 hours a day, six days a week--almost
continuously. And they were subjected to physical violence and to deprivations. Many had just smoked pot. Some more--some nothing at all. A 12
year old "drug addict" in Straight-Boston had sniffed a magic marker!
Demoralized, many kids carved on their bodies and many attempted
suicide. Extremely high pressure tactics were placed on kids to reveal sexual acts or fantasies about themselves leading many to invent things to satisfy their
interrogators' un-relentless demands for information. The kids were made to write out these confessions and to sign
them in documents such as their daily diary called a
Moral Inventory, CoC of Chain of Command,
Dishonesty Lists, or FOS Lists (Full of Shit
Lists). And then the Group of over 100 kids verbally attacked them for the data revealed in the confessions. Many feel that the shame and guilt brought out in from the sexual confrontations has been the cause of the vast number of suicides of former Straight male clients.
The new Straight, Inc. continued to build upon a reputation of criminal child abuse. State criminal investigations, threatening and losing civil suits, exposure from newspaper and magazine articles and negative television reports, plus organized resistance from groups such as Claire Martin's
Destructive Drug Rehabs in Maryland and Richard Bradbury's
Community Improvement Program in Tampa, Florida forced Straight, Inc. to finally close on July 1- 2, 1993. But did Straight really ever close? Through the years former Straight officials branched off and formed their own Straight-based programs. Some building successful chains. People like Reverend Doctor Miller Newton who settled out of court in 2000 with one former client for $4.5 million for abuses she sustained in his KIDS chain. And people like Dr. George Ross who was
acquitted in Louisville, Ky. in 1985 of criminal wrong
doing at one of his Straight legacy programs called
Possibilities Unlimited. Notably, one of his character witnesses had been a woman who herself has been publicly accused of child abuse at
Straight! Straight, Inc. indeed closed its last operating program in Marietta, Georgia on July 1 - 2,
1993, but 11 days before that Kathleen M. Cone, the registered agent for Straight-Atlanta, incorporated a Straight-like program called Phoenix Institute for Adolescents in Marietta just 4 � miles from Straight�s facility. Three days before that, on June 18, 1993, Helen Gowanny, the the registered agent for Straight-Detroit, incorporated Pathway Family Center only 15 miles from the old Straight facility. Pathways has already expanded into Indianapolis. Besides these there are three Straight legacy programs still in operation in Florida, one in Memphis and one in Salt
We know that allegations are not proven facts and we know that not all Straight legacy programs have been accused of abuse. But we do have concerns. We have concerns with any juvenile treatment program where kids can not freely contact friends and love ones; or where kids can not freely discuss the day-to-day happenings in a juvenile treatment program in which they are being treated; or where kids are humiliated or deprived of food, sleep, education, sunshine or sport's activities; or where high pressure tactics are used to get kids to reveal sexual data about themselves; or where kids can restrain other kids; or where kids play primary roles as counselors, or where a counselor's principal background is that he is a graduate of a treatment rehabilitation program; or where kids are not allowed to listen to the news, the read the newspaper, or to read religious materials; or where kids get shifted around daily between foster homes camouflaged by name as "host" homes to avoid state regulations for foster care; or where kids are allowed virtually no contact with their natural family and are made to call their host parents "mom" and "dad" thus breaking the bond with one's natural parents. These are many of our concerns with Straight legacy programs. Straight abused kids and did not allow those abused kids contact with their families thus they could not report the abuse. And now many former Straight officials operate their own Straight legacy programs and say they do not abuse kids. That's fine, but under the circumstances, indeed under any circumstances, kids must have the right to call home, and we will protest in order to insure they have their Constitutional rights.
Related links: Picket Report Page