Synanon Church and the medical basis for the $traights,
or Hoopla in Lake Havasu
by Wes Fager (c) 2000
Robert L. DuPont, Jr., MD is the founding director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and is also the second White House Drug Czar. While director of NIDA he administered funds for an experimental, juvenile drug rehabilitation program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida called The Seed. Later the U. S. Senate would issue a report likening the methods employed by The Seed to Communist brainwashing. Soon after that report was released Melvin and Betty Sembler and some other former Seed parents opened their own Seed-like program in Saint Petersburg, Florida which they called Straight, Inc. After leaving NIDA Dr. DuPont became a paid consultant for Straight and frequently represented Straight in civil suits for which he was well paid. In one of those suits, in 1993, Dr. DuPont testified that the progenitor of the Straight method was a place called Synanon which he even admitted was a cult! He testified that those places which used Synanon's methods are called therapeutic communities and that there are two cardinal rules for these therapeutic communities: No Sex and No Violence. But was there no sex and no violence at Synanon? And what was Synanon anyway? Let's take a look at Synanon Church and then we'll come back and look at DuPont's testimony and statements of others to see that Straight and other so-called confrontational-type therapeutic communities, are based on technologies developed at Synanon Church.
Synanon Church. The Straight therapeutic concept of addicts helping addicts by shouting brutal indictments at one another was developed in 1958 in Ocean Park, California (the poor side of Santa Monica) by a college dropout and recovering alcoholic named Chuck Dederich. His organization, called Synanon Foundation, treated recovering heroin addicts. You can't con a con, telling your dirty story, confession, parent weekend, anal/vaginal searches, verbal shouting matches, synamasters, no newcomer contact with parents, parents taking someone else's kids to the doctor, warehouses, kids cussing, thought control, beatings--it all came from Synanon Church.
If you were to ask any former Synanite what Synanon stands for they'll probably tell you that it means nothing; that it was a failed attempt by a tongue-tied member to put together two words and that it just stuck. Not true, according to probably the earliest published account of the name. According to Santa Monica's Evening Outlook of January 23, 1959 in an article by R. D. Fox Synanon stands for Sins Anonymous. It would appear that when Sins Anonymous was first starting out, before it started a "tradition", it may have been cute to be called that. But once Synanon started to be taken seriously by the medical establishment, then some quick re-writing was in order to fix the origin of the name. Chuck Dederich had developed a therapy of brutal, vicious verbal confrontation where members screamed indictments and obscenities at one another in a forum of one's peer group called "The Game" or a "synanon" (with a small 's'). Dederich called the Game an "omni-confessional". The Game is actually an implementation of the Chinese brainwashing concept of the Peer Group--a 12 man jail cell where everyone understood that no one could graduate until everyone had done what their teachers required of them, and that was to actually come to believe their own trumped-up confessions. It wasn't the guards who wouldn't let you sleep, it was your fellow cell-mates--your peers. The only rule in a synanon is there can be no physical violence, though we will shortly see that Synanon Church was anything but non-violent.
There are many sub-types of synanons. The Stew is an extended length synanon while the "Perpetual Stew" lasted indefinitely. A haircut is a Game in which the indictee can not defend himself; and "The Fireplace Scene" is a special haircut where the entire Group, perhaps 900 people, shout accusations at an indictee who is not allowed to defend himself. Straight's destructive concept of the large peer Group where oldcomers and staff incessantly scream indictments and obscenities at newcomers who are not allowed to defend themselves is actually a perpetually lasting Fireplace Scene, but we'll just call it a synanon.
Synanon evolved into an Emersonian, utopian society with just as many life stylers, or non-drug addicts, as addicts. Many life stylers were attracted to Synanon by the beautiful Synanite women at alcohol-free dances doing a Synanon dance called the Hoopla. The Seawall--an old waterfront warehouse in San Francisco--was a popular alcohol-free, Synanon dance hall/Game Club. So was their property in Lake Havusu, Nevada. In the mid 70s Synanon had declared itself a church. This photo shows Chucks' wife Betty Dederich, a former prostitute and high priestess of Synanon Church, and his daughter Jady along with a woman named Barbara. According to the book The Light on Synanon Synanites met with Scientologists (who have their own church-related drug rehab program called Narconon) in the 1970s to discuss common issues. Adgap, Synanon's novelty business which made and distributed gifts items like pen and pencil sets for General Motors and monogram handbags for the airlines, actually helped Synanon accumulate over $30 million dollars in assets. Here's a photo of Synanon's ranch.
Straight used a variety of techniques to control parents. One was to game parents at bi-weekly synanons called Parent-to-Parent Concerns where parents were taught to blast one another and to end each indictment with the words, but I love you. Another was a more intensive weekend retreat called Parents Weekend, an extremely humiliating and destructive event. Grown men have openly cried at these specially extended, hypnotic synanons. Alba Murphy tells of one parent who when was repeatedly refused permission to go to the bathroom wet her pants. Parent Weekend, where sexual intercourse, and even holding hands, are forbidden between a man and his wife, is Straight's implementation of Synanon's The Trip--minus the white robes and a ouija board.
No Sex. Men and women frequently turned over all their worldly possessions for the common good. The dress code for men and women was bib overalls and often shaved heads. The use of sugar and white flour was prohibited. [As late as 1989 clients in Miller Newton's Kids of Bergen County were forbidden to use sugar and white flour.(7)] The peer Group became "one conscious" for all parishioners and all life was controlled by the Game. Even the sex life, in intimate detail, between married couples was publicly gamed. There came a time when all men over 18 (except Chuck Dederick) were "gamed" into being sterilized by Synanon doctors, and all pregnant women were gamed into aborting their children. The Game was used to persuade parishioners to exchange wives in evening auctions called Changing Partners.
No Violence. Synanites let off steam through brutal verbal confrontations. There was only one rule during a synanon--no violence. But Synanon proved to be anything but non-violent. For internal security Synanon Church formed an armed militia called the Imperial Marines. In the mid 1970s the church purchased a total of 152 pistols, rifles, and shotguns and more than 660,000 rounds of ammunition, reportedly including armor piercing projectiles. In July 1980, the month after Straight's education director George Ross left to form Life, Inc. (today survived by its off springs Growing Together and Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati) and six months after Miller Newton joined Straight's staff, Chuck Dederich and two of his Imperial Marines, Lance Kenton and Joe Musico, pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to a charge of attempted assassination. The victim was Los Angeles attorney, Paul Morantz. They'd place a huge diamondback rattle snake--with its rattlers removed--in Mr. Morantz's mail box. It took 11 vials of anti-snake venom to save his life. [Perhaps Mr. Morantz is luckier than you might think. It was alleged on July 11, 1983 in U.S. District Court by three former Synanon Foundation members including Rodney Mullen that Synanon officials had attempted to hire a professional hit man with �orders to have attorney Paul Morantz assassinated.� And author William Olin wrote about one former Synanite who claimed he had been approached when he left Synanon to be a hit man who �took care of enemies on the outside.� Though, personally, Olin and his wife tended to discount this claim.]
In June 1975 rancher Alvin Gambinini claims he was dragged from his truck and beaten by Synanites. In February 1977 a young man had gone to Santa Monica beach to surf and had parked unauthorized in the Synanon Church parking lot. There are allegations that synanites beat, slugged and kicked him. The next day on Synanon property in the Sierra foothills five men showed up to retrieve a car that had gone out of control the day before and landed on Synanon property. About 50 Synanites showed up and attacked them. It is alleged that some were beaten with clubs and blackjacks. According to a police report, in 1978 synanites handcuffed Thomas Cardineau, took him to a barn and then beat and kicked him. Cardineau sustained major injuries to the face, head, and body. Also in 1978 Ronald Eidson sued Synanon because he claimed a group of Synanites showed up in his front yard and beat him with their fists, feet and a gun, and, he claimed, threatened his wife and son with the gun.
Synanite Lynn Worrell reported to the Sheriff in 1978 that she witnessed a beating of Synanite Cliff Zeppieri during a Synanon "general meeting." 100 - 150 looked on, she alleged, as fellow synanites held Zeppieri from behind in a "hammerlock" while five or six members punched him in the face and stomach, breaking his nose and breaking or dislocated his arm, she reported. "At first he screamed," she said, "and then he just cried silently." Finally he fell to the floor and tried to shield himself while he was repeatedly kicked. On September 21, 1978 three weeks before the botched murder attempt of attorney Paul Morantz, former Synanite Phil Ritter, turned critic, was getting out of his car when two men clubbed him from behind, knocking him to the ground, and continued clubbing him as he lay on the ground. A neighbor took down the license plate number of the Toyota the assailants were driving and police later found a Toyota with a similar license number at Synanon Church. Ritter's skull had been broken and brain fluid leaked into his spinal column developing into spinal meningitis and putting Ritter in a coma. Somehow he recovered. Jim O'Donnell, the former director of Synanon's Santa Monica facility, testified in a hearing that Dederich had ordered to have some people kidnaped, brought back to Synanon, and to "break their legs." After Synanon's former president Jack Hurst left Synanon he says he received so many death threats that he bought an attack dog. One night he came home to find his door open, all his lights on, and his dog dead, hanging by a rope.
Was there child abuse at Synanon? Synanon seperated children from their parents as early as age 3 to live in special dormitories. As in the Straights, if a child had to go to a doctor a parent other than his own frequently took him. Children as young as age five played The Game, where they frequently used profanity against one another, to control one another's behavior. Besides their own children, Synanon accepted wayward children, often wards of the state, into what Dederich called the Punk Squad (film from NBC) which is perhaps the forerunner of modern-day boot camps for wayward teens. Punk Squad kids were frequently beaten and abused. (Interestingly enough, while Chuck Dederich was taking care of wayward children out in California, Miller Newton, later to become Straight's national clinical director, from 1975 - 1976 was Chairman of the Board of San Antonio Boys Village-a private prison for kids in Florida.) The following accounting comes from an unpublished book on Straight by Wes Fager: The material is copyrighted by Wesley M. Fager. Excerpts in a clockwork orange follow:
When Robert Moncharsh of Van Nuys, California was divorced from his wife Beverly, the divorce court gave custody of their 8 year-old daughter, Lisa, to his wife. The wife turned custody over to Synanon in Marin County. The father filed a writ of habeas corpus to get his daughter out of the cult. He included statements from Lisa's sisters' Julie and Cindy, who were former Synanon members, that Lisa was being abused. Sister Julie Moncharsch, age 15, had lived in Tomales Bayfrom 1971 to 1976, and had run away twice. She would wind up in the Punk Squad. Her declaration stated:
Another girl named Michelle Silvers included a declaration in Lisa's custody hearing. Michelle, age 16, is the daughter of a former Synanon director. She wrote,They were always hitting children. In 1974, September, three boys tried to run away from Tomales Bay. After they were caught, they were beaten. Two of them. . . were slammed against a metal building over and over . . . The third boy. . . was punched in the stomach. He screamed that he was hurt real bad but they punched him again. We were told that this would happen to us if we tried to run away.I was always being hit. If I didn't run in 'basic training,' I was hit. If I didn't stand up straight I was hit. If I did an exercise wrong or changed my sheets I was hit. Once I was taken in front of a classroom with another girl. . . and was hit." Julie declared that she had run away from Synanon in January 1976, only to be brought back to Synanon by the police "since my mother was in Synanon." Yet she declared she had not seen her mother since March 1975. "When I returned," she declared, "I was given a 'contract' for trying to escape. I was made to wear large gas station attendant's clothes and made to eat standing up when they allowed me to eat and given only three hours' sleep. [The Straight rule book called for a minimum of three hours of sleep.] I was not allowed showers and I was made to work cleaning up pig feces with carrot sticks putting the feces in cups. . . Initially when I came back, they had a demonstration in front of the other kids where they punched me in the stomach and slammed me against the wall.Such activities were common. I saw this happen numerous times to children other than myself when they tried to run away. They have slapped children in the face, thrown them across the floor and punched them in the stomach.Julie declared that she ran away again later that month, but decided to come back and steal some money so that, "this time I could make it." But her plan was discovered. "I was taken outside by (a man) and repeatedly punched in the face with his fist. I cried for him to stop, but he kept hitting me. . ."
"In a classroom on one occasion I saw them take a girl . . . and Julie Moncharsh . . . in front of class, take off their glasses and start beating them up by hitting them and kicking them. I have also seen a kid paddled and girls in the 'girls corps' hit if they had done anything wrong."
If Florida's Children and Family health officials think that politically connected Mel Sembler plays hardball with them, he's a wuss compared to Chuck Dederich. Synanon has a long history of allegations of manipulating and intimidating state licensing officials. In one newspaper account, responding to a reporter's question about child abuse at Synanon, a church attorney and Synanite told reporters, "...If some kid acts out in a way that's offensive to me, I'm going to knock him on his ass. I might hit him on the side of the head..." Asked just how far Synanon would go to keep inspectors off their property he reportedly responded that Synanon intended on going after specific persons in the Health Department. Founder Chuck Dederich added, "I'm going to find out how many of those cocksuckers are practicing sodomy, how many are fucking sheep, and everything else...We'll show them how to investigate...we will surround them...with ten guys twice their size...and say, 'All right, inspect punk.'"(8) After a Marin County grand jury issued a blistering report on Synanon in 1978, one juror claimed to have started receiving threatening phone calls and Synanite cars started trailing him. Another found a lizard nailed crucifixion-style to her driveway. In April 1978 Synanon announced it would not admit a county child-abuse inspection team without a warrant, so the Health Department sought one. Synanon sent them a letter stating, in part, "It does not seem to matter what we do to inform you that Synanon is not subject to licensing by your bureaucracy." On May 23, 1978 a Health Department team trying to inspect Synanon's Marin County facility was stopped at the gate and taken to a building where team members were video-taped. They were told they could inspect only on 3 conditions: if the team's doctors did not talk to Synanon doctors; that they stayed as a group; and that no Synanite was to be interviewed without a court reporter taking notes. The team withdrew and had to fight through the courts for the right to inspect Synanon!
Synanon Church: the root of today's confrontational-type therapeutic communities. Synanon was the first therapeutic community devoted to the treatment of the drug addicted according to the Encyclopedia of Drugs and Alcohol, which is edited by the first White House Drug Czar; Dr. Jerome Jaffe.(1) According to the article Dealing with Drugs printed in Current, August 1970, Synanon is the prototype of the drug-related therapeutic community-a community where the addict surrenders all aspects of his life, except one-"the right to leave."(2) Bratter and Forrest write that "In less than a quarter of a century, the American self-help residential therapeutic community has come to span the globe. [Chuck] Dederich [Synanon's founder], an exile from A.A., is credited with being the genius behind the TC [therapeutic community] movement."(3) Leon Brill acknowledges in The Clinical Treatment of Substance Abusers that the original therapeutic community directed by ex-addicts was Synanon though others, he writes, such as Daytop Village, Odyssey House and Phoenix House in New York City have used psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other professionals as part of their staff."(4) In an article for Substance Abuse: Clinical Problems and Perspectives written in 1981, Deitch and Zweben acknowledge that Synanon is the progenitor of the present-day therapeutic communities.(5) In his book Heroin and Politicians former professor David J. Bellis writes that the term "therapeutic community" was coined first by British psychiatrist Maxwell Jones to describe a "residential" hospital ward milieu where each patient is both a patient and a therapist and that Synanon was "the first 'residential' in the United States to gain wide publicity and academic attention." He gives Daytop, Phoenix House and Odyssey House as Synanon spin-off "residential" programs.(6)
In 1984 a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia awarded Fred Collins, Jr. $220,000 for being falsely imprisoned at Straight, Inc. Straight's attorney for that trial was a prominent Washington, DC civil liberties lawyer named Ronald Goldfarb. Seven years before that trial Goldfarb had written a book he entitled JAILS: The Ultimate Ghetto which calls for prison reform. In his book he talks at length about drug rehabilitation for prisoners and the method he calls for is the Synanon-style therapeutic community. The reviewer for his section on synanons for prisoners is none other than Dr. Robert DuPont, the second White House Drug Czar and founding director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Now Dr. DuPont, a psychiatrist, made his then claim to fame, not by running synanons, but by running the methadone treatment program for prisoners in the Washington, DC jail. Nevertheless he was familiar with Synanon because as director of NIDA he administered a whopping $1.8 million contract to an experimental, start-up synanon for kids-only called The Seed in Fort Lauderdale. And furthermore, the National Institutes of Health (NIDA's parent) had funded the first Synanon copy-cat program in NYC called Daytop Lodge. (Joe Ricci was a former Daytop student who went on to found his own program for troubled youth in Maine called Elan.) NIH had even started its own experimental synanon at the federal lockup hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. This program was called MATRIX. Eventually Dr. DuPont left government service and became a paid consultant for Straight, which had replaced The Seed after the US Senate likened its methods to North Korean brainwashing.
In fact, as Ronald Goldfarb defended Straight, his reviewer, Bob DuPont, was Straight's star medical witness. Fred Collins won a measly $220,000 for being falsely imprisoned, but lost the potentially larger amount on claims he had been abused. How could he convince a jury of that with the likes of Bob DuPont saying, "we don't abuse kids!" Ten years after the Fred Collins' trial Dr. DuPont was in court again testifying for Straight, this time against a former client named Bill Fager. Dr. DuPont freely admitted that Straight's brutal confrontational approach is based on Synanon's Game and he even admitted that the program upon which Straight is based was a cult. Here are excerpts from his 1993 testimony:
Second generation synanons. In 1964 a New Jersey Drug Study Commission opted not to give Synanon any funding after reviewing rehabilitation statistics supplied by Synanon Foundation. Out of 1,180 addicts who had entered Synanon in its first five years of operation, only 26 had graduated! World renowned Berkeley sociologist and "thought reform" expert Dr. Richard Ofshe used Synanon's own data to compute a cure rate for heroin addicts at Synanon of only 10%. This is the only available scientific study ever done on the effectiveness of Synanon.(9),(10)
Despite the fact that the only way Synanon Church could keep addicts off drugs was to keep them at Synanon forever--that is Synanon was a cult--and despite Synanon's sordid past--Synanon was a violent cult--the idea of the synanon or Game became the basis for a new breed of therapy where the addict himself helps in his own recovery just as Chinese thought reform students help in their own recovery. Almost all modern day therapeutic communities--and there are hundreds of them--are based on synanons. This is due, in part, to many Synanites having left to form their own lucrative drug rehabilitation companies--a degree in medicine is not a requirement.
A popular TV series was based on John Maher, a colorful former Synanite, who formed his own second generation Synanon in San Francisco called The Delancey Street Gang. Synanon's advertising of its few success stories was so convincing that many professionals like New York psychiatrist Dan Casriel had become convinced of the Game's efficacy. Casriel teamed up with Father William O'Brien to form Daytop Village which today is one of the largest therapeutic communities in the world. Early on they selected former Synanite David Deitch to run Daytop but later released him when they claimed he tried to set up a Communist-based political action committee of ex-drug addicts. In 1966 New York City Mayor John Lindsay hired Puerto Rican psychiatrist Efren Esteban Ramirez to run the city's Addiction Services Agency. Dr. Ramirez once told a reporter that the best way to get a "strung-out junkie interested" was to "'confront him' with a rehabilitated addict, so he can work his way out of his own doubts by watching the reformed addict."(12) [Synanon had run a program in Puerto Rico.] Ramirez set up the synanon-based Phoenix House which hired former Synanite Ted Dibble to manage one of its centers. Phoenix House is one of the biggest TCs today. Psychiatrist Dr. Judianne Densen-Gerber visited Dr. Ramirez in Puerto Rico and setup her own synanon-based TC in New York City called Odyssey House. Many entrepreneurs, previously excluded from the lucrative drug rehabilitation trade because of lack of a medical degree, have opened their own second, third, and fourth generation synanon-type therapeutic communities.
And just how successful were the Synanon imitators? Bellis, citing various sources, found that the success rate in the Synanon imitators was no better than that the dismal statistics of Synanon itself. Glasser, he wrote, found that eighty six of every hundred admissions to a large residential program terminated themselves against the advise of staff with most terminating within the first 30 days. Brill studied 2,100 admissions to Phoenix House and found a 96% drop out rate, and of the 4% who graduated, 25% had become staff there. He found that at Odyssey House only 25% of admissions stay more than 30 days, that the rate is down to 9.7% after six months, 5.6% at 1 year, and 2.8% after 18 months; the program's required length of stay to "graduate."(13)
The Seed, Inc., a second generation Synanon for kids-only.
Some had warned of the potential dangers of using synanons on adults. Professor David Bellis was one. He wrote that, "High discipline programs usually employ the confrontive 'Synanon game'-a leaderless group encounter session to create aggressive and provocative interchange, using ridicule, cross examination and hostile attack. During these group assaults on individual residents in the 'hot seat,' especially newcomers, any castigation and ridicule appear to come from the whole community of clients. One either plays the game and is rewarded with privilege and favorable discharge, or one 'splits' from the program. Experience indicates that when these counselors use an especially intrusive, aggressive approach, frequently debasing and harshly confronting clients, they may do more harm than good. . . This intrusive, assertive therapeutic style works well for a few clients but may injure many more." Professor Bellis noted that, "A number of clients. . .relinquish all independence and subjugate themselves to these staff and senior residents, accepting humiliation and total control of their lives even to the extent of accepting complete direction of their sex lives. . ." And he told of the case of one TC therapist who forced female clients to perform fellatio on him while he talked on the phone to their probation officers.(14)
Others like Dr. Roger Meyer and psychotherapists Thomas Bratter and Gary Forrest warned about using synanons on kids. Dr. Roger Meyer, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University, and formerly the Acting Chief of the Center for Studies of Narcotics and Drug Abuse at NIMH, was one of the first to question the wisdom of subjecting kids to the brutality of the Synanon Game. In 1972 he reported on the case of a 12 year old boy who had been admitted, along with older clients, to a second generation Synanon called The Odyssey House in New York City. He noted that the child seemed lost in the "rigid hierarchy and confrontation tactics of the program." He wrote:
As a clinician I am concerned about the effects of intense, violent verbal interaction upon young teenagers engaged in a sensitive process of identity formation. The effects of this type of interaction upon a fragile self-image and upon later impulse control in the world at large have not been determined. This issue obviously needs further elaboration and research, but there are suggestions that there are age limits below which this form of treatment is contraindicated. Arbitrarily, I would say that young persons under 16 years of age should be excluded from these programs and that careful evaluation be given admitting persons between 16 and 18 years of age . . .It is also clear that the psychological effects of this modality upon different age groups have not been adequately studied.(15)
In 1974 Arnold Rachman and M. Heller warned about using the Game with kids when they wrote: "There is a serious shortcoming within the theory and the practice of the T.C. in the understanding and treatment of adolescents. The experiences with the original population of adult addicts still pervade the thinking and functioning of most T.C.'s. Many programs report a high dropout rate with younger adolescents, which is directly related to this factor.... In addition, group practice becomes an anti-therapeutic factor with the T.C. when the uniqueness of adolescent psychological development is not understood and incorporated into clinical practice.(16) In 1985 psychotherapists Thomas Bratter and Gary Forrest echoed the conclusion of Rachman and Heller and added a caution of their own when they wrote that "such a treatment [for self-destructive drug abusers] may not be necessary or appropriate for other treatment populations, i.e. borderline schizophrenic patients, schizoid personalities, and acutely anxious, neurotic adolescents.(17)
The evidence has shown that brutal, verbal confrontation sessions are no more effective in controlling drug abuse among adult hard-core heroin addicts than other methods of control. Some have shown that synanon confrontations can potentially be psychologically damaging and may not be suitable for all audiences-especially for adolescents. In 1974 Rachman and Heller had noted that many youths had dropped out of TCs because the methods were geared to curing adult addicts. S. B. Sells noted in 1976 that, "The more strict the program the lower the percentage of clients retained in the [TC] program.."(18) Current magazine had noted that clients in TCs give up all rights--except the right to leave. Former Synanite Dr. David Deitch, then a Phoenix House director, has stated, "A client must have the choice of leaving treatment, even if the youngster is on probation and the alternative is jail."(19) Richard Ashley wrote in Heroin that, "The only power of decision the member retains once he enters a TC is the decision to leave."(20) Dr. Efren Ramirez, founder of Phoenix House, has said that "you don't rehabilitate a person against his will."(21)
Dr. Rogers had been referring to the dangers involved with a kid participating in a typical Synanon Game with 11 people yelling at him, where he could fight back verbally, where he could leave if he chose, and where there was no physical violence. But nobody, especially Dr. Rogers, ever imagined children sitting in one continuous synanon 12 hours a day, 5 ½ days a week for several years--with 200 kids screaming and spitting at him, where the child could not verbally defend himself against his indicters, where he would be beaten and physically restrained, and, most importantly, where he could not leave--namely Straight, Inc.
In other words Straight took a program that had been designed (and poorly so) to control hard-core adult heroin addicts and used it to control kids who had experimented with pot and alcohol--sometimes worse, but sometimes no drugs at all. Straight used Synanon's vaginal and anal searches to search for contraband for years even though they never found any. Kids were assaulted and restrained without cause and all the rest. In short Straight took a bad treatment modality, made it worse, and then force their young subjects to endure it. And when former clients sued Straight for holding them against their will, Straight pressured parents into letting Straight fight for them for the right to force their kids into treatment with the force of a court order.
Though this author [Wesley Fager] questions the soundness of synanon-based confrontations in the first place, it must be noted that, in an effort to establish some standards of treatment, modern-day therapeutic communities have created a Staff Code of Ethics and a Clients Bill of Rights, as well as two standards bodies; The Therapeutic Communities of America and the World Federation of Therapeutic Communities. And as the enclosed correspondence from Monsignor William O'Brien of the World Federation of Therapeutic Communities shows that Straight was rejected by the other treatment programs because of their human rights violations. The correspondence was addressed to Families Against Destructive Rehabs, a Straight watchdog group founded in the 1990s by Claire DeCunzo Martin to combat the Straight virus in Maryland. (Richard Bradbury also had an active chapter in that state.) The LA Times noted in 1990 that Phoenix House and Daytop use peer pressure and confrontation like Straight but for shorter periods, with smaller groups, and that they also provide formal education. The article notes that both Phoenix House and Daytop belong to the Therapeutic Communities of America, but Straight does not.(22)
Well, despite all the warnings and cautions, it was too late. Odyssey House and Phoenix House were implementing synanons for juveniles in the New York City area along with their adult program, but somebody had already moved from the New York City area to set up the world's first and most successful synanon for kids-only. A former standup comedian named Art Barker had moved from the AA scene in Brooklyn and Bellevue Hospital to Fort Lauderdale where nobody had ever even heard of Synanon Church. A recovering alcoholic named Art Barker founded the first second generation Synanon devoted exclusively to children.
The Seed, Inc. was founded in 1970 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and run almost entirely by kids for kids. According to newspaper accounts of the day Barker had been arrested at age 16 for burglary and for "being a wayward minor." Those charges were dismissed. When he was 18 he was charged with assault and robbery, but those charges were also dismissed when he joined the Army a few days later. Early in his Army career he went AWOL. According to newspaper articles of the day he has publicly disclosed, "I've smoked pot, popped pills, but none of the hard stuff." According to a newspaper account he received a degree in psychology from a mail-order company in Florida. One feature of Barker's Seed was the Spanking Machine where a child's father must publicly whip his kid before the large peer Group. Dr. Jerome Jaffe, the first White House Drug Czar, had written the foreward to Dr. Meyers' book which had called for caution in the use of synanon-style screaming matches against kids. Despite this, despite the warnings of so many other notables, despite Art Barker's total lack of credentials and less than admirable past, The Seed received a $1.8 million U.S. government grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) soon after it opened. And the grant had been administered by the founding director of NIDA who also happened to be the second White House Drug Czar-Robert DuPont. By 1975 Barker had opened four expansion Seeds, but in 1974 both houses of the US Congress had investigated The Seed and produced critical reports with the US Senate likening Barker's methods to the brainwashing methods employed on American POWs by North Korean Communists. The Senate forced NIDA to require Seed clients to sign a "risk to human subjects" form as required by NIDA's own policy for grants involving human experimentation. Barker balked at this and lost his bid for an additional federal grant for expansion.
Another feature of The Seed was berthing clients at foster homes run by other Seedling parents. In 1975 the state of Florida finally developed a regulation to govern these foster homes which stated, in part:
the foster homes provide the state with written assurance that the homes meet fire, safety, and health standards and provide privacy, freedom of worship, adequate food, adequate sleeping accommodations and 'contact with the natural family' to all those in treatment.
Barker said that he could not comply with the new state regulations (one can only guess what he objected to) and on October 13, 1975 he lost his license to operate the founding Seed program. [Soon afterwards Barker got his license re-instated to operate a drug rehab apparently for adults-only (18 and above). He is still in operation to treat adults, but if you check with the Office of Children and Families I think they may tell you he is also licensed to treat adolescents.] Seed-St Petersburg had closed the day before. Six months later former Seed parents Melvin and Betty Sembler along with other former Seed parents opened their own-Seed like program in Saint Petersburg, Florida. Within a year several directors left--one claiming Straight was worse than The Seed.
Back to Bobbie DuPont. All of this brings us right back to Straight's paid consultant and former White House Drug Czar Dr. Robert DuPont. Go back to his testimony. He testified that it all started with Synanon in 1978. But that's not true. Synanon was founded in 1958. He led us to believe that there were two cardinal rules here--NO SEX and NO VIOLENCE. If you were to go to George Farnsworth's page on Synanon you would see that they were really just people like you and me, just eager to lead their lives, but there was a managerial force there that led things astray. And so there was a crust at Synanon that was anything but asexual or non-violent; which leaves just one more point in Dr. DuPont's testimony. He freely admits that Straight is based on a cult, but it is only a cult, he acknowledges, because you never graduate. But now that you know the rest of the story, I'm sure you see with me other reasons for calling Synanon a cult. Despite allegations of abuse at the Seed, despite Barker's lack of qualifications, despite a Senate finding that The Seed was brainwashing kids, despite early allegations of abuse at Straight, despite the fact that many early Straight directors left Straight because it was worse than The Seed, despite all of this Dr. DuPont left federal service to become a paid consultant for Straight and for 13 years used his name to lend medical legitimacy to Straight. Why didn't Dr. DuPont tell the jury that Synanon was a cult because, well because it was a cult.
WHO SHALL GUARD THE MEDICAL GUARDIANS? It is important you understand that back in the 1970s Senator Irvin was not conducting a study of The Seed, he was studying any programs funded by the federal government which used drugs, psycho surgery or thought control on American citizens in possible violation of their constitutional rights. And it was with that purpose in mind that he found out about The Seed. For example the report discussed a psychiatrist at Georgetown University (where Robert DuPont and Richard Schwartz now teach) who had performed over 4,000 frontal lobotomies using only a serialized ice-pick in a special chair in his office. The pick was trust through the eye and this psychiatrist had shown that he could permanently disable two people at once. The Senate report discussed work done by psychologist James V. McConnell at the University of Michigan who published an article in the May 1970 issue of Psychology Today titled "Criminals Can Be Brainwashed-Now." Dr McConnell had spent years training flatworms to go in and out of mazes at his bidding by administering a series of painful electric shocks, now he proposed using similar techniques on prisoners combining sensory deprivation with drugs, hypnosis, and manipulation of rewards/punishment. The report also discussed an Iowa program which injected prisoners with the drug apomorphine for breaking rules like cussing or illegally smoking. Apomorphine cause one to vomit uncontrollably for up to an hour. Another program in a state mental hospital in Vacaville, California evaluated the effectiveness of using Succinylcholine (anectine) as a means of suppressing hazardous behavior [e.g. repeated assaults, attempted suicide]. Succinylcholine when injected intramuscularly results in complete muscular paralysis including temporary respiratory arrest. It avoids, the program boasted, many of the strenuous features which characterize other chemical aversion procedures like uncontrolled vomiting. Sixteen patients likened the experience to dying. Three patients compared it to actual experiences in the past in which they had almost drowned. The majority described it as a terrible, scary, experience. Irvin�s report discussed one experimental California Criminal Justice program in 1971 which was to develop a Maximum Psychiatric Diagnostic Unit (MPDU) designed to hold eighty-four convicts. Another program at Folsom prison was to build four, 21 man cell blocks for a total of eighty-four cells! The Seed just happened to be the only juvenile synanon receiving funds from the federal government that the Senate had felt compelled to investigate because of the rumors of what was going on down there in Florida with that government-backed program.
In 1992 psychiatrist Thomas Szasz wrote the book Our Right to Drugs: the Case for a Free Market. Now he has a topic heading in that book titled WHO SHALL GUARD THE MEDICAL GUARDIANS? Novelists George Orwell in 1984 and Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange had previously sounded the same warning. Who will be the great political psychiatrist who will wield the power of the government to suit the aims of the government. One of the things we are trying to accomplish here is to tell the story so that bad history does not repeat itself, or hopefully does not get a chance to start in the first place. It should not surprise you to know that in Jackson County, Florida in 1981 there was a movement to have 1984 banned there because Orwell's novel is "pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter." Neither should it surprise you to learn that A Clockwork Orange has been banned. It was removed from high school classrooms in Westport, Mass. in 1977 and from Aurora, Colo. in 1976 due to "objectionable" language. There are many good people out there trying to figure out who the anti-Christ will be and I'll leave them to that task. I'll just settle on figuring out who was or will be the great political psychiatrist that Szasz, Huxley, Rand, Burgess and Orwell have all warned us about.
You are the visitor since Dec 8, 2000
1. Encyclopedia of Drugs and Alcohol, Vol 3, MacMillan Library References, Simon and Schuster, p. 1182.
2. Current, August 1970, Dealing with Drugs by a Health-PAC Workshop Health Policy Advisory Center, NYC. p. 38, 40.
3. Alcoholism and Substance Abuse: Strategies for Clinical Intervention by Thomas E. Bratter and Gary G. Forrest, The Free Press, 1985, p. 469.
4. The Clinical Treatment of Substance Abusers , 1981, The Free Press, by Leon Brill, pp. 10 - 11.
5. Synanon: A pioneering response in drug abuse treatment and a signal for caution. In Lowinson, J. & Ruiz, P. (Eds), Substance Abuse: Clinical Problems and Perspectives. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.
6. Heroin and Politicians, Greenwood Press, 1981, by pp. 151 - 155, David J. Bellis.
7. Draft Report on Kids of Greater Salt Lake County May 22, 1989, p. 4.
8. Gerstel, David, Synanon: Paradise, Inc., p. 254.
9. Mitchell, Dave, Mitchell, Cathy, Ofshe, Richard, The Light on Synanon, pp.143 - 145. Gerstel, David, Synanon, Paradise, Inc., p. 37.
10. Dr. Richard Ofshe and noted Berkeley psychologist and "cult expert" Dr. Margaret Thayer Singer were called in as expert witnesses in Ohio state's successful court action to close down Straight-Cincinnati.
11. Phoenix New Times, 10/10/96.
12. The New York Times, 1-20-1967.
13. Heroin and Politicians, Greenwood Press, 1981, by pp. 157 - 158, David J. Bellis.
14. Heroin and Politicians, Greenwood Press, 1981, by pp. 151 - 155, David J. Bellis.
15. Meyer, Roger, E. MD, A Guide to Drug Rehabilitation, A Public Health Approach, 1972, pg. 74 -75.
16. Journal of Drug Issues, 1974, 4, 393-403, Rachman, A. W. and Heller, M.
17. Alcoholism and Substance Abuse: Strategies for Clinical Intervention by Thomas E. Bratter and Gary G. Forrest, The Free Press, 1985, p. 359.
18. S. B. Sells et al., "A National Follow-up Study to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Drug Abuse Treatment: A Report on Cohort 1 of the DARP Five Years Later, "American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 3 (October 1976): 545-50.
20. Heroin by Richard Ashly, Saint Matins Press, NY, 1972, p. 174.
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