Helen Petermann. The founding staff of Straight consisted of Jim Hartz, the director, who had a masters degree in psychology, six young graduates from The Seed, and 54 year-old Helen Petermann, the mother of one of those graduates who was placed in charge of the six young counselors. Ms. Petermann was not a high school graduate but a 1978 report card on her by the board of directors noted "[she] has 3 Ĺ years experience in a drug program." In a deposition in 1999 Dr. Miller Newton says that he thought she had worked in the kitchen at The Seed. Since Director Hartz had no special training in The Seedís therapeutic methods, it would appear to this writer that much of the training that Jim Hartz and Helen Petermann received on The Seedís therapeutic methods would have to have come from the six young Seed graduates. The 1978 report had noted that Ms. Petermann is well read in her work having read Iím OK, Youíre OK, Primal Scream, Games People Play, Passages, Your Erroneous Zones, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Psychology--An Introduction, and We Mainline Dreams.
Just prior to Straightís opening in September 1976 Director Hartz had told a reporter with the Saint Petersburg Times, "I happen to feel that you can communicate with an individual without degrading him, humiliating him and without depriving him of all his uniqueness." He had reportedly said that "cussing and swearing" in therapy sessions to force clients to bare their true feelings--one of the criticisms of The Seed--is the product of "untrained, unsupervised and unqualified staff--itís not going to happen here." Before the year was out five board members had resigned. Three resigned in mass in August 1977 and made a joint statement that, neither Hartz nor Petermann "have the necessary qualifications to rehabilitate preteens or teens who have a drug or alcohol problem". They concluded, "we feel we cannot recommend Straight Inc. to our friends or citizens of our community." Carolyn Henson was the wife of Straight board member L. Hap Henson and a program volunteer for Straight. When her husband resigned she told a reporter at the Saint Petersburg Times in December 1977 that, "they (juveniles) are Straight while theyíre there, but itís out of fear." She further stated that several former program counselors and clients had told her that juveniles have been mistreated while in the program. A former program volunteer told a Times reporter in December 1977 that she, Hartz and others once witnessed Mrs. Petermann maliciously kicking a youth who was passively resisting Straight officials.
When questioned by The Times regarding the disgruntled former board members, Mrs. Petermann had responded, "I sure wish they would get off my back. They would like to see this (program) go down the drain." Hartz had compared the disgruntled directors to small children. "If they didnít get their candy, they would go home." In response to Mrs. Hensonís allegations of abuses, Hartz responded to a reporter that rumors of mistreatment constantly surface about Straight, but no incident has ever been proven. He did acknowledge to a Times reporter that three methods are used to discipline "disruptive" clients.
According to the Saint Petersburg Times of February 12, 1978 two former Straight counselors (in sworn statements) said they had seen Straight program director Helen R. Petermann repeatedly slap a small youth and yanked him by his hair in an apparent outburst of temper. "I saw maybe five good smacks," one ex-counselor had said.. Another bizarre allegation was made by two former Straight staffers who said that Ms Petermann once demonstrated different positions of sexual intercourse to a group of female clients, some in their early teens. When a Times reporter asked Jim Hartz about the alleged incident he said he knew nothing of the sex rap. But he said the subject of sex occasionally comes up. "Helenís a very uninhibited person," Hartz reportedly said. If the session occurred, he said, "It might have been done better in private."
Two former counselors said that Ms. Petermann allegedly prepared two documents to scare clients into remaining at Straight. One was reportedly signed from the police department. After the kid had signed the document, the two had alleged, he was told by Ms. Petermann, "Ah ha! Now weíve got you. If you donít stay here now and you run away, weíre gonnaí send you away to Marianna (state juvenile home)." An ex-counselor claimed that Ms. Petermann had threatened at least one other juvenile in the same manner. [Miller Newton once reportedly threatened a child in a similar manner in front of two HRS officers.]
In 197? HRS (Floridaís licensing bureau for juvenile drug rehab programs) made five recommendations in order for Straight to renew its license. The fifth recommendation had been "to make sure personnel and program policies are in written form and that staff members are frequently evaluated." So in the week before HRS was to make its decision on Straightís license the Straight Board of Directors announced ratings for its program staff members. The report acknowledged that Helen Petermann once struck an "hysterical and out-of-control" program client. "We do not condone the action from Mrs. Petermann, but it is not such a severe infraction that would create (her) severance," board president Melvin Sembler had reportedly said. "Helen did not think it was an infraction at the time," he said. "These (clients) are people who are on drugs, and because of that they are not normal." The board said, "Mrs. Petermann states that . . . [she] only slapped one person; that particular person was hysterical and out of control." She states that she had "wrapped two persons in a blanket who (were) too aggressive to handle." But Jim Hartz had previously publically denied that Mrs. Petermann had slapped anyone. Sembler said that was because Hartz was unaware of the slapping incident. Sembler added that Mrs. Petermann had recently been given the Service to Mankind Award by the Northeast Sertoma Club for her work at Straight.
Besides agreeing to give staff officers periodic reviews the board acknowledged that Hartz was understaffed and agreed to hire an educational director to relieve Hartz of that responsibility. The man hired in 1979 for that important function was Dr. George Ross. Actually Dr. Rossís Phd. is in education. Dr. Ross left Straight in 1980 taking Straightís clinical director Helen Petermann with him to form LIFE, Inc. in Sarasota, Florida. I call George Ross the "Johnny AppleSeed" of the Straight saga. He left LIFE and formed another second-generation Straight called Kids Helping Kids of Hebron, Kentucky (which operates today as Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati out of the old Straight facility in Cincinnati.) After leaving LIFE, Helen Petermann went on to become the program director for LIFE, Inc. In 1984 Helen Petermann teamed up with one Barbara Griffith, M.A., LIFEís Director of Prevention and Education, and some other staffers at LIFE to write the paper, "Effective early intervention for adolescents harmfully involved in alcohol and drugs" for The Journal of the Florida Medical Association, Inc., Apr 1984, Vol 71, No. 4. Barbara Griffith would leave LIFE and head for Lakeworth, Florida to help setup another second generation Straight called Growing Together which operates to this day. Meanwhile Dr. Ross left KIDS in Hebron and moved to Lexington, Kentucky to set up Possibilities Unlimited, Inc.
Reporter Susan White of the Lexington Herald-Leader had written about Possibilities on May 27, 1985, page C3: "Not all of the kids come to Possibilities Unlimited eagerly, or even willingly. The walls of the intake rooms are decorated with jagged holes made by frustrated newcomers. Some sign their commitment papers only after long hours of persuasion by peer counselors, parents and Ross." In 1985 Dr. Ross and six others associated with Possibilities Unlimited were indicted and tried for keeping young people in the program against their will in a trial where assistant prosecutor Jack Giles told the jury he would seek a jail sentence for Dr. Ross. [LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, August 30, 1985, page B1 ] The complainants included a 23-year-old woman who alleged that Ross had threatened to have her "2-year-old baby taken from her if she didn't enroll in the program"; a 15-year-old boy who "alleged that Ross threatened to have him hospitalized and get a court order placing him in the program"; a 16-year-old boy; and a 19- year-old Frankfort teenager who alleged that "three Possibilities Unlimited workers came to his home and carried him back to the center after he had been allowed to leave".
During the trial Douglas Patrick Smalley of Frankfort, Kentucky testified that his intake lasted four hours in an interview room where he had been physically restrained by Ross to prevent his escape. Just as in an earlier trial against Straight in Virginia, Rossí attorney questioned Smalley about his admissions in Moral Inventories. [so much for the confidentiality clause] Smalley had said that much of what he had admitted to was lies saying that you had to invent things so they would leave you alone. [LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, May 17, 1987, page B4, SECTION: CITY/STATE ]
During cross-examination Fayette County Assistant Attorney Phillip Moloney was critical of Dr. Rossí method for determining whether a young person had a drug problem and faulted him for making a determination without using any sort of psychological test. But Dr. Ross had said those tests were not needed adding that it was not necessary to get a second opinion even though the parents of one of the accusers had told Dr. Ross they did not think their son had a drug problem.
One of the teenagers had filed a complaint that three boys had been sent to his house to forcefully take him back to the program. On that charge Dr. Ross had testified that he had ''chewed them out royally,'' and had told them ''That's the kind of situation that could close this program down.'' [LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, August 30, 1985, page B1 .] There were allegations that parents had been instructed to nail shut windows in their homes to keep kids in. But former program parent Dr. Robert Bain testified that "I never heard in all my experience of anyone who nailed their windows shut." Donna Wilson, a social worker with the Department of Social Services who had investigated a complaint that one of the complainants had been held against his will testified that she did not believe that to be the case. [LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, August 19, 1985, page A1.]
And Ross had other weapons in his favor. Larry Roberts his attorney, had been the commonwealth attorney for Fayette County. Then there were character witnesses Roy Durbin who was an Urban County Councilman and who became a board member at PU after his son completed "a similar drug program in Florida" and PU parent Carl Ross who was running for city council. Both spoke highly of Dr. Ross and his program. And then a drug expert who ran her own juvenile program down in Florida was called in as a character witness for Dr. Ross. That star witness had just published an article in the prestigious medical journal The Journal of the Florida Medical Association. Her name was Helen Petermann and the rest is history. [LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, August 28, 1985, page B1 ]
Dr. Ross was acquitted of three charges of unlawful imprisonment. Charges against the six staff members were either dismissed or dropped especially after a prime witness failed to show. So Dr. George Ross is the highest Straight official, former official, (or official tied to a Straight-related program) to be criminally prosecuted to date. Though found not guilty, the ensuing exposure of the trial probably had much to do with the ultimate demise of Possibilities Unlimited.