what the public should know about Straight 
or the case for conducting protests of Straight legacy programs 


An editorial for theStraights dot com by Wesley Fager (c) 2002


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. 

Straight was interested in making money. Straight marketed to the children of middle class and above white parents. It was not interested in saving low-income, black families from the afflictions of drug addiction. Running programs out of warehouses, with kids sleeping and eating in foster homes--often on the floor (at various times with windows nailed shut and bedroom doors locked from the outside), with kids as unpaid counselors, with no medical doctors, providing no food or medical treatment   Straight, Inc. took in nearly $100 million dollars--but paid no taxes as it was a charity! Straight claimed it was a  Tough Love program but in 1995 Phyllis York, founder of THE  Tough Love program, denounced Straight's brutal methods in an article in Insight on the News.
[Insight on the News, Feb 6, 1995 v11 n6 p15(3)]. Synanon-based confrontational programs have become so prolific that they have formed an association The Therapeutic Communities of America, which, because of Straight's  reputation for abuse, refused membership to Straight.  See letter

In 1985 Straight, Inc. lost an appeal for a $220,000 jury judgment against it for falsely imprisoning an adult,  and it was facing a slew of other civil suits. Fearing additional jury judgments against Straight, Inc. and against Mel Sembler and other Straight directors (and rightfully so, one of those cases resulted in a 1990 judgment against Straight for $720,000) Straight, Inc. reorganized. On September 26, 1985 Straight's board of directors changed the by-laws to reflect a new mission from one of "juvenile addiction treatment" to one of "educating the public of the dangers of teenage drug addiction." To further protect Mel Sembler and other board members from civil actions, the by-laws were changed to state that foundation funds could be used to hire attorneys to defend directors should they be personally sued. The by-laws were also amended to state that should there be a judgment against a foundation director then foundation funds could be used to pay that judgment. To distant themselves from the name Straight, Inc., the name was changed to Straight Foundation, Inc. And then they created a brand new organization called Straight, Inc. which would provide for "juvenile addiction treatment." Straight Foundation kept all the money and property and gave grants to the new startup treatment program which leased property from the foundation.  On December 5, 1995 Straight Foundation, Inc. changed its name once again to its current name--the Drug Free America Foundation, Inc.

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 Families Against 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 Lake City.   

Straight-St Petersburg counselor Arthur Nicol got seven years in prison for sexually abusing one of his male charges. Straight-Springfield, Virginia was closed down due to a sexual attack by a 19 year old male old comer locked in a bathroom in a Straight foster home with a 13 year old boy as required by Straight's own foster home regulations. This had been the second sexual assault at Straight for this man. Virginia state authorities investigated a report that three old comer girls had raped a newcomer girl with a curling iron because she refused to write her Moral Inventory.  Authorities were unable to verify that report. A former student in Straight Cincinnati reports that he was made to give back massages to his old comer in his foster home and that one day during a back rub the old comer turned over and had a hard on. The police in Lakeworth Florida filed a report where three old comers in a Straight-descendent program called Growing Together attempted to gang rape a new comer. At one point two boys held the child's arms and legs while a third tried to stick his cock in the boy's mouth. The Catholic Church has a history of sexual abuses and so does Straight. And yet many Straight-descendent programs stick by a policy that forbids free and open contact between parents and their children during certain periods. A policy that often forbids kids from discussing what happens in the program. We find that highly unusual and completely unacceptable, and will not stand for it any longer.

SAFE, Inc. of Orlando, Florida is another Straight legacy program. On August 14, 1992 Straight - Orlando officially closed and on that very day Michael Scaletta, the executive director of Straight - Orlando, incorporated SAFE, Inc. taking Loretta Parrish (Straight - Orlando's marketing director) and Straight's clients with him. He leased his facility from Straight. Ms. Parrish went on to become the owner and executive director of SAFE.  (This reporter was informed by eMail on 6-27-02 that Loretta Parrish is on leave of absence from SAFE and that he is serving as Administrator for SAFE,  and that he and Dr. Jean Richardson share the job as the Executive Director.)   Soon SAFE was in trouble with state inspection officials who attempted to fine SAFE for its restraint policy with kids restraining kids. In one inspection report it was found that SAFE had 29 restraints of clients in one month while all other similar juvenile programs combined in the rest of the district had only one restraint in the past three months!  SAFE sued the state Department of Rehabilitative Services (HRS) and won! One of the stipulations of the court agreement was that any HRS employee who was familiar with Straight's abuses could not inspect SAFE. In November 2000 TV station WAMI in Miami, Florida did a segment on SAFE which was simply chilling. It set off a picket of SAFE with former Straight clients flying in from as far away as Detroit, Michigan. And now SAFE is being sued for negligence; false imprisonment; breach of written contract; fraud and violations of the racketeering influenced corrupt organizations act (R.I.C.O.). 
We have heard from at least two parents who complain that their child turned 18 in the program and now have little to do with them. Alba Murphy made a similar complaint on the WAMI TV segment.  She has since had a nervous breakdown.   There have been allegations of abuse at many Straight legacy programs like Kids of El Paso, Kids of North Jersey, SAFE, Kids of Southern California, Growing Together.  

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