Kentucky University Prof. Claire Clark’s false book on Synanon, Part 3


Previously I wrote in part 1 and part 2 of the criticism Claire Clark’s book on Synanon in which she hit the facts that she knew, misquoted people who spoke to her or what they wrote, an intent to alter history to the way she wanted to be. This person is not a journalist and no one should by any books you rights. Her attitude towards truth is so poor, it’s not recommended to be a student in her her class.

To read part to part 1 go to

To read part 2 go to

For Part 3 I am quoting a new final Chapter of my book on Synanon, “From Miracle To Madness,” for the 3rd ed. My book is being made into a four-part documentary. A theatrical film is also being written. Not surprisingly, my book is not a source for Ms. Clark.

A documentary on Synanon also appeared on the oxygen channel recently. To watch it, search on your TV or computer for “Deadly Cults” and go to episode 8 – Synanon and click. Don’t expect Ms. Clark to watch it. if you are a student of hers write, for a report.

This is from my book, the final Chapter– Legacy

In The Tunnel Back, a sunny portrayal of Synanon circa 1965, Dr. Lewis Yablonsky wrote that despite Charles Dederich’s “bizarre machinations,” the initial model for Synanon as a center for curing alcohol and drug addiction “remains one of the great humanitarian inventions of the past century for preventing and controlling the crime problem.” As its methodology became known more widely, he predicted, it would change societal behavior in a positive direction.  Recently a published disssertation by an associate professor at University of Kentucky said the same thing, intentionally hiding the facts.

In fact, Dederich’s creation had the opposite effect.

 Not only did the organization descend into a paranoid, militaristic cesspool of violence and crime, its flawed methodology has echoed throughout the treatment community for decades. No fewer than 50 programs trace their treatment philosophy, directly or indirectly, to Synanon, science writer Maia Szalawitz estimated in her 2007 Mother Jones article, The Cult that Spawned the Tough-Love Teen Industry, based on research for her compelling 2006 book, Help At Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids.

 So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that many of those copycat institutions have come under heavy criticism—and legal fire—for abusive tactics that bear a striking resemblance to those used by the mother ship, Synanon. These programs range from elaborate celebrity resorts where the rich and famous pay $30,000 or so a month to unwind poolside from liberal doses of Vicodin and Ativan, to a burgeoning array of boot camps, shelters, wilderness survival camps and tough-love treatment centers for troubled teens that often match or surpass the original for brutality. No wonder sociologist Richard J. Ofshe, who studied Synanon extensively, wrote in 1972 that Synanon was “the failure that gave birth to an industry.”

 Assessing the legacy of Synanon remains difficult for me. Over the years, I have run the emotional gamut about the organization. While entrenched in a 10-year plus dogfight with the group, enduring tale after horrifying tale of bloodshed and abuse, I saw it simply as the enemy—an evil scourge to be obliterated.  But once that task was successfully completed and I had time to reflect on the life-changing experience I had undergone, my views softened. In my single-minded determination to scuttle the operation, had I been too hasty to condemn an organization that maybe could have evolved into a valuable asset in its communities?

 In spite of its warped leader, there were many good people in Synanon, some of whom became allies and lifelong friends. With Dederich finally vanquished, could they have instituted meaningful reform and returned Synanon to its original, humanitarian mission in a more benign form? Such a feat has been accomplished before. Consider the Mormons, who evolved past their violent, paranoid roots to become one of the largest churches in the nation. Consider the Cathlic Church.

 Eventually, I concluded that Synanon was doomed, with or without Dederich, because it wasn’t willing to accept responsibility for its failings and all the pain it caused. Even if new leadership had returned it to its roots as a treatment center for addicts, I believe that Synanon would pose a danger as long as it clung to its belief in the Synanon Game, where non- trained professionals gang up on others and conformity is demanded.

 While there were some undeniable benefits of the Synanon approach– Who knows better than an ex-addict the troubles, lies and manipulations of fellow substance abusers and who better to connect with them and force them to finally face their demons? –ex-addicts/criminalists lack the training or the temperament to deal with the complex problems of addiction/delinquency.

But, people who exhibited antisocial behavior shouldn’t have power over the powerless. At its best, the game challenged addicts to examine their lives and face some ugly truths about themselves and their addiction. At its worst, the game turned into a viper’s nest of shame, humiliation, brutality and brainwashing. In the clones, for cheapness, at 18, members are offered work. Who could be a worse abuser than the abused suddenly given power to abuse?

 How could the founders of all these copycats not know how all this would end? Surely, while they were devising their operational plans, they must have come across the seminal 1974 study by psychologist Stanley Milgram, which clearly illustrates the dangers of a Synanon-like approach. The study, which sought to explain the horrors of the Holocaust, showed that an alarming number of people were willing to administer increasingly heavy doses of electric shocks to others–and an even larger segment were at least willing to go along with it—as long as they thought it was for therapeutic purposes.

 Or they could have read the works of Dr. .Robert Jay Lifton, a widely respected authority on brainwashing, who warned such systems represented one of mankind’s gravest dangers. The process, he wrote, breeds cults and holy wars.

 Or, failing all that, someone might have handed them the poignant declaration Julie Manchester wrote for the court after her escape from Synanon. In it, she proclaimed that the handlers at Synanon were “always hitting children.” She told of three runaway boys, who, upon their return, were punched and slammed repeatedly against a wall. She suffered a similar fate after an aborted escape, plus, she was allowed only three hours of sleep a night for days and ordered to clean up pig feces with a carrot stick and a cup.

 The answer for those who actually copied is they probably knew what they were doing. They wanted the control, more importantly a slice of a now billion dollar tough love industry.

 For those, if any exist, altruistic but misguided, the abusive tactics common to Synanon and its spinoffs aren’t the only reasons to avoid them. There is also considerable doubt about whether their treatment regimens even work.

 Some skeptics contend that most substance abuse treatment programs are largely irrelevant. With or without treatment, about 40% of addicts manage to remain clean and sober for extended periods, according to estimates, and reaching that pinnacle appears to depend less on the method of treatment than on the will of the substance abuser. Those who want it most generally have the best chance of getting it.

 That includes Alcoholics Anonymous, widely regarded as a beacon of hope for addicts. Skeptics question how successful AA has really been, pointing to a lack of research on the question and pointing out the lack of any real psychotherapy in its confessional approach. They also say there is scant evidence that attending lifelong meetings will really help addicts stay sober.

 Beyond that, there remains some question about the appropriateness of AA’s techniques, which push members to replace their old value system with AA’s “higher power” and 12 Steps dogma. While AA clearly isn’t an abusive organization, isn’t that the definition of brainwashing? Without some form of “coercive persuasion,” aka brainwashing, such radical behavioral changes are difficult to achieve.

 Personally, I remain a fan of AA. There may be a dearth of statistics, but there is ample anecdotal evidence that it helped many people over the years, while avoiding the pitfalls of narcissism and paranoia that doomed so many other programs. It may not be the ultimate answer, but it remains valuable for providing an easily accessible peer group that encourages and counsels in times of weakness. The benefits of that seem irrefutable. That was the best part of Synanon in its early days as well.

 Another danger in aping Synanon’s approach to treatment is the isolationism that frequently follows. In 1967, disappointed with the high rate of recidivism among his followers, Dederich eliminated the concept of graduation and insisted that those who sought to remain drug-free must live at Synanon forever. In his increasingly demented mind, corrupting outside influences became the enemy of sobriety and Synanites were ordered to cut all ties with past friends and even, family, in order to solidify the psychological break with their drug-infested pasts. Thus began the group’s descent into paranoid, us-vs.-them thinking, a common hallmark of destructive cults.

 Proponents would argue that without such extreme social engineering, more recovering addicts would falter. To which I say, so be it; it’s the price we pay for freedom of thought and choice. Embracing programs that rob us of these rights lead inevitably to totalitarian thinking and an Orwellian future and no good has ever come of that. No matter how desperately we need to rid society of alcohol and drug addiction, nothing justifies the false imprisonment and brutal treatment of our fellow citizens, or the denial of their right to make their own life choices.

 Besides, the brainwashing, the lifelong commitment and the isolation apparently didn’t even work for Synanon. Four years after his philosophical shift, Dederich estimated that only about 10% of the 10,000 to 12,000 people who had come to Synanon stayed drug-free for as long as two years.

 So why are we visiting these miseries on our children, through these Synanon-inspired tough-love programs that just won’t go away? How ironic that so many programs supposedly aimed at helping teens grew from an organization that didn’t have much use for them and treated those who did reside within its walls like prisoners of war.

 The only children Dederich wanted were troubled adolescents, because they represented a way to avoid taxes.  Parents fed up with the insolence and general bad behavior of their teens, were flocking to tough-love programs like Scared Straight that were promising they could cure everything from poor study habits to heroin addiction. Why shouldn’t Synanon, with its vast experience in these issues, cash in on the trend, too, Dederich reasoned? So he created the Punk Squad, which provided teens recruited from parents and juvenile courts the opportunity to experience the Synanon Game first hand. But like their parents, Dederich quickly grew tired of their youthful resistance, so he ordered regular beatings.

 By any measure, the Punk Squad was a dismal failure, which makes the continuing popularity of its basic tenets even more baffling.

 The continuing proliferation of these clones and the unrestricted environment in which they operate has been highlighted recently, as Congress mulls passage of the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2013.   California with my assistance passed Bill 524 aiming at same goals.  The bill prohibited unlicensed public or private residential facilities for teens from using abusive punitive measures—such as the withholding of food or medical treatment, the use of physical or mechanical restraints, or long periods of seclusion—and mandated that participants in these programs be made aware of their rights and given access to abuse hot lines and other agencies charged with protecting children.  The program had to be licensed.  Ironically, the law was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Junior, the son of Gov. Pat Brown, who long ago signed the save Synanon bill.

 This is an issue of dire urgency. The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan Congressional investigative agency, has reported that thousands of allegations of child abuse at residential programs for teens have been made since the early 1990’s.  A number of those cases, the GAO reported, resulted in deaths. Numerous state agencies and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have detailed these allegations from pending civil and criminal trials involving hundreds of plaintiffs.

 And this abuse has been ongoing for decades ever since Synanon was publicized by Synanon’s public relations machine.

 In 1970, Art Barker founded The Seed, a residential treatment program for teens in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Barker, whose own teen rap sheet included arrests for burglary, robbery and assault, joined the Army to avoid prosecution, but eventually deserted. An acknowledged recovering alcoholic and pill-popper, Barker got his psychology degree from a mail-order house. Despite his background and obvious lack of credentials, The Seed received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—headed by former White House drug czar Robert DuPont—and soon after it opened.  By 1975, The Seed was operating in five locations.

 But investigations by both houses of Congress led to charges of abuse.  The Seed’s tactics were compared to those of the Communists who brainwashed our soldiers during the Korean War, a comparison made also to Synanon by Dederich, Yablonsky and Steve Simon.  A unique aspect of The Seed’s program was the Spanking Machine, which fathers were urged to use to publicly whip their children before large groups of their peers. Synanon had public spankings by fathers and others with hand or paddles.

 Hounded by critics, The Seed soon vanished, to be replaced by Straight Inc. Straight shared much with Seed, including owners and a paid consultant, Dr. DuPont, who had by then left government service.  At Straight, writes researcher Wes Fager, children were forced to endure 12-hour, nonstop games where as many as 200 other kids would scream and spit on them; where they were physically restrained and beaten.  The treatment continued nearly every day for years.

 In 1984, a federal jury in Alexandria, VA, awarded $220,000 to a man who was falsely imprisoned by Straight Inc. Straight’s attorney, Ronald Goldfarb, a civil liberties specialist, had written a book calling for prison reform based on the Synanon model.  The reviewer of that book’s section on synanons for prisoners was none other than Robert DuPont.  Facing seven-figure legal judgments, Straight closed in 1993.

 Which doesn’t necessarily mean it went out of business. Controlling the bad actors here is difficult because the industry is like a giant game of Whack-A-Mole. Pound down one and a successor pops up elsewhere—often with the same management, staff and philosophy.

 Straight, reports researcher Wes Fager, was survived by a spinoff, Kids of New Jersey Inc.  In 2003, insurers for the center paid Lulu Corter $6.5 million to settle a lawsuit alleging long-term abuse. Corter, left at the center by her parents in 1981 at age 13, remained there for 13 years, enduring what other victims called “a living hell.”  Dogged by litigation, founder Mel Sembler, who had been involved in both The Seed and Straight, again closed the doors.  His punishment for his center’s transgressions?– An ambassadorship in Italy, granted by George W. Bush.

 Oregon shut down Mount Bachelor Academy in 2009 after finding evidence to back allegations of abuse. At the time, the academy had about 75 employees supervising about 90 students, who were charged $6,400 a month for treatment that was punitive, humiliating, degrading and traumatizing, according to a report by the Oregon Department of Human Services.

 Terry Clark, a Portland attorney for former Mount Bachelor students who had filed suit alleging abuse says his clients “want to get the word out that these ‘tough love’ schools are not good places — and there are hundreds of them all over the country.”

 Several patients died at a Tenn. facility operated by a Calif. based provider of behavioral health care services ranging from drug abuse to eating disorders. As a result, the state stopped placing children there, citing concerns about their well-being in the company’s care.

 The Elan School, a private boarding school for troubled teens, in Poland, Maine, was, like Synanon, enveloped in controversy since its founding in 1970.  Joseph Ricci, its co-founder and principal operator until his 2001 death, was an ex-heroin addict turned psychiatrist turned school operator turned harness racetrack owner.  Indeed, the funds to buy the racetrack came primarily from the success of Elan.

 Elan, wrote a former member “is best described as a ‘sadistic, brutal, violent, soul-eating hellhole.”  Included in its therapeutic bag of tricks was a boxing ring, where recalcitrant students were surrounded by peers and beaten until they confessed whatever transgression the group had been seeking.  The former student wrote that he witnessed one student beaten to death in the ring. Another time, “I was forced to watch twenty men and women beat a 14-year-old girl in what we called a cowboy ass-kicking for ten to twenty minutes,” the former student stated. This is arguably in excess of Synanon practices.  There were no reported beating deaths in Synanoon, just beatings.

 Several states that sent children to Elan investigated allegations of abuse. The state of Illinois withdrew 11 students from the school for alleged mistreatment in 1995.

 Elan survived its critics until 2011, when it was shut down, according to Sharon Terry, Founder Joseph Ricci’s widow, because of the negative effects of persistent attacks on the school by Internet critics.   Many survivors of the Elan experience are still looking for someone in a position of authority to admit that what happened there was abuse.

 The CeDu schools, journalist, film maker and former CeDu student Liam Scheff wrote on his website, utilized a philosophy that “had grown out of various self-help movements of the 1960s and ’70s, such as Lifespring, Werner Erhard’s est, and most directly, from Charles E. Dederich’s Synanon cult, ‘church,’ and street-level heroin-cure program.”

 Scheff produced a documentary about the program entitled Surviving CeDu.  New arrivals, he writes, “quickly found themselves in a new, strange, uncomfortable and often frightening world of intense group relationships and heightened, invasive and violent group therapies…a student’s life was always under threat of intense and unpredictable disciplining and punishment.”

 By the ’90s, Ms. Salavitz wrote, tough love had become a cottage industry, spawning military-style boot camps and wilderness programs that thrust teens into extreme survival scenarios.   At least three dozen teens had died in these programs, she reported, often because the staff at these programs viewed medical complaints as a sign of malingering.  Some of the victims were placed in the programs by ex-Synanon parents who still believed in the program. There worse things happening to some former Synanon kids than happened at Synanon.  Rod Mullen’s kid was put in prison for whacking his guard with a shovel in an attmept to escape. Eventually he was convicted of a double murder.

 During a five-week boot camp for troubled teens staged by the Buffalo Soldiers Re-enactors Association, Anthony Haynes, 14 years old, suffered severe dehydration from standing in the sun 114-degree weather for five hours.   He died from complications brought on by dehydration and a near-drowning.  The near delirious youth was left alone in a motel bathtub where he was taken to cool off and nearly drowned.  These events produced complications that led to his death.  It was then revealed that the head of the camp had a violent history that included punching his former girlfriend and breaking down her door with a sledgehammer.

The good news is in 2016 Gov. Brown signed into law legislation I helped write and lobbied for.  It prevents in California this treatment from being used on teen-agers and requires such programs to be licensed.

The bad news is that abuse is rapid in the drug rehab industry.  Once insurance companies became obligated to pay for drug rehabilitation, this became a beacon to con man everywhere. The worst scam was getting addicts to join the program where they would be given heroin regularly in order to induce them to stay so that programs could bill the insurance for treating their heroin addiction.

* * * * *

 Amazingly, despite this horrific history, Synanon continues to arouse hope for its system, which is why so many organizations have attempted to adapt its principles. But the formula is tragically flawed. Giving ex-addicts, who frequently exhibit violent, antisocial behavior, complete power over fragile and desperate addicts is a recipe for disaster.  What these clones continually fail to recognize is that much of the brutality at Synanon began in these little groups.

 There is little in this sordid history for Synanon apologists to cling to.  Some like author Rod Janzen and Claire Clark, an assoc. prof. at University of Kentucky, attempt to pull it off and make a saint out of man who ordered several murders attempts, countless beatings and admitted his desire to be  a Mafia Don,  by concealing facts.  But to give credit, where due, Synanon’s public relations machine did its part in shifting the national debate on drug abuse. Before its creation, the battle against addiction seemed hopeless; after Synanon, a cure at least now seemed possible.

 Dederich was also ahead of his time on several social issues, including race and health. But few view his contributions as significant. While it is true that Dederich, a white man, took a black bride and touted his color-blindness, it’s hard to imagine someone so steeped in violence and criminal acts influencing others to noble ends.  In the end, Synanon was a pebble in the 60’s raging sea of activism, unrecognized by those who actually sailed those waters. And at same time CED tried coercing gays to becoming straight and attacked those attempting freee speech.

 In the end, Synanon not only didn’t cure crime, it created new criminals—and in some cases, rekindled the criminal tendencies among members seeking a fresh start. The two men who delivered that snake to my mailbox are cases-in-point. Like many teens, Lance Kenton was a normal if not talented kid who was placed in Synanon only because his musician parents were traveling. But during his time at Synanon, he became the youngest member of the militia-like Imperial Marines and was indoctrinated into a world of paranoia and retribution, leading to his involvement in a series of violent incidents. Joe Musico, on the other hand, emerged from the Vietnam War with a necklace made of enemy ears and a drug addiction that led him to a career in crime.  He hoped to turn his life around at Synanon and appeared to be doing so until Dederich, noting his violent past, tapped him for the Imperial Marines and unleashed his inner beast.  After leaving Synanon, Musico returned to a life of drugs and crime until his death in 2000, when a rival dealer threw him off the roof of a building.

 In 1981, Dederich testified that they never really knew how to cure a dope fiend at Synanon; “nobody does,” he said. Something else Rod Janzen and Claire Clark don’t tell you in their books. The ultimate irony about Synanon, I suppose, was that even the Founder wasn’t cured. By 1977, according to multiple reports, Dederich frequently smoked pot and descended into alcoholic stupors by the summer of l978.  According to former members, some of Synanon’s most egregious acts, including the attempted murders of Phil Ritter and me, were plotted by Synanon’s leadership at drunken parties.  In retrospect, it seems to me, Dederich’s motivations were always more about fame and profit than about humanitarian service.  He used exposure from the press and Hollywood to generate $30 million in assets, including paying to-get-in squares, property, goods and services, and then schemed to skim a great deal of it. In 1976, he implemented a plan that would siphon much of Synanon’s profits to a private family foundation.

 In Synanon, S. Guy Endore’s 1968 history of the organization, he reported ex-members’ complaints even in the early days that Dederich had replaced the original Synanon board with hand-picked puppets. There would be a scandal someday, many predicted, and Dederich would run off with all the money. Endore, a devoted supporter of Synanon who was also a prolific novelist and screenwriter, dismissed them as “heretics.” Still he warned Synanon could turn facists, which it did.  Janzen and Claire did not share Endore’s honesty or even Yablonski’s admission it was brainwashing.  Jazen and Claire knew all this but chose to keep it secret from their readers.  Clark was far worse than Janzen.

* * * * *

 Yet undeniably, Synanon did have its individual success stories.

 Since I had as friends people like Bernie Kolb and Ben Parks, who went from long-term addicts to long-time great human beings, I concluded something there must have worked.  Dr. Markoff reported 14 graduates in first year when perhaps the most oldest, tried and committed came.  And While Dederich called it a failure and declared in 1967 no one should leave, Dr. Casriel of graduates he could find from early days claimed only 10 % reverted.  Cured addict Paul Lofty argued in 1967 it was more succcessful than Dederich believed or the statistics showed and Synanon should allow the addicts to leave.

 I was also impressed by stories I was told about the early days, and when the Synanon website first started around turn of century it had anger expressed towards Dederich. Per Dr. Robert J. Lifton, this is what one would expect from any totalitarian environment after removal. And so was, per Lifton, eventually, years later, the reverting by many to a longing for the days of comrades and causes, particularly as online social networks reunited old Synanon members who could game on line. Sadly, many former Synanon members are obsessed with promoting the concept they all had a good time, looking past their support of abortions, forced mate swapping, child abuse, vasectomies, mob beatings and attempted murders. It is if many have no conscious at all. But in their defense it is a final stage Lifton prescribed as necessary—a denial to cover a truth that would make living too hard. Given a chance many former Synanites would write a play probably called “Springtime for Dederich.”

        Patty Hearst today, similarly seems in denial of true extent of her SLA participation. She changed from claiming brainwashed to doing what she had to stay alive.  Yet everyday she could have walked away.


                                                                The Cure

 The actual number of success stories was not significant in relation to amount that entered.

 By example, as compiled by Dr. Ofshe, in 1961 all Dederich reported was that 70 out of 176 addicts had stayed for five days.  Ofshe further pointed out Dr. Casriel who wrote the first Synanon book also reported similar short-term stats: 102 stayed three months and most who stayed longer were gone within a year. Dr. Casriel in 1963 reported that of 62 people located of 160 entries, 19 were graduates, while 43 remained inside Synanon. No one knows the actual final fate of the 19. 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, without known follow-up results. Yet it was from this, Ofshe noted, that the “Miracle” was proclaimed.

Janzen and Clark both read Ofshe but do not report ths.  Clark goes further and intentionally misquotes Ofshe.

 Per Ofshe, former President of Synanon Dr. Elizabeth Missakian’s own study of Synanon records (she so testified in the Fagel case) found that during the first two years 90 percent had departed within one year. And while in 1978, Ofshe noted, Synanon publicity reported 20,000 people had gone through its doors, they were exiting at even a higher speed. And that number of entrance was highly inflated by injection of squares and children born to addicts and squares alike.

 What is known about the early days, were that the older joiners were more likely to stay than the younger and its initial opening success per Ofshe reflected that then the current age of entry was 34 or older; they were people who had a strong desire to remove themselves from the demanding regime of an addict/criminal life.  Today it is known most addicts as they age and tire—like Rolling Stones Keith Richards—stop using without any program participation.

But for those, as stated above, older and tired of the drug life, there is no doubt Synanon served, as Ofshe stated, a “realistic shelter” while they got their act together. But that dwindled as the joiners became younger and Dederich turned his attention to using the media and Hollywood to produce a flow of persons, goods and services to develop by 1976 over $30 million in assets and the start of large salaries and bonuses to the inner circle.

 Dederich in the 60’s said those who left fell through the open manhole and would post descriptions of their calamities for all to see as a warning if they ever left.  Once the population bought that, Dederich had complete power by threat of expulsion, which he continually exercised outright or by “squeezes.” Again not mentioned by Janzen or Clark

 Many who studied Synanon agreed.  It was reported between 6,000 and 10,000 people lived in Synanon from 1958 to 1968, but apparently only 65 were ever known to have completed the program and elected to graduate to life outside the community.  Others who completed the program were absorbed into the organization as low-paid or voluntary staff limited to Walk Around Money.

 By 1971 Dederich would submit that while 10,000 to 12,000 people had gone through Synanon only about 10 percent stayed free of drugs for as much as two years, which was similar to the statistics everyone else concluded (except Clark and Janzen—but they did not seek truth) and were the same as results at Lexington Hospital when Synanon was founded. In 1971, Dederich stated, as Ofshe noted: “…the idea of ‘graduate’…was a sop to social workers and professionals who wanted me to say that we were producing a ‘graduate.’ I always wanted to say to them, ‘A person with this fatal disease will have to live here all of his life.’ I know damn well if they got out of Synanon they are dead.   A few, but very few have gone out and made it.  When they ask me, ‘If an addict enters Synanon, how long will it take,’ my answer is, ‘If he is lucky, it will take forever.’”  Despite having read Ofshe, Clark and Janzen keep this out of their fairy-tale books.

 In 1973 professionals stated that Synanon absorbing members was retention, not rehabilitation, a result found unfortunately in many of the Synanon clones, which Synanon bragged 2,400 existed. Ultimately, as stated above, Dederich would testify in 1981 they never knew how to cure a dope fiend and nobody does. All he knew was that if someone stayed they didn’t do drugs.

 As stated above, if Dederich truly believed leaving meant dying, his squeezes and toss outs—like of old timer Bill Crawford—were then equivalent to willfully sentencing one to death for CED’s ego and financial gain.  The Old Man would testify that, except for 2 people, he never gave a splitee more than 15 minutes of thought from the moment each left. This is all typical of an antisocial personality.

 Worse, when others, like Dr. Casriel who formed Daytop, decided to use the Synanon approach modified, they did not understand the effect of age and desire in the Synanon flashes of success and furthere did not understand the danger of its approach as described by Simon and Friedenberg.  A belief system based upon coercive persuasion is expected by all who have studied it to be largely abandoned when the pressures are removed.  But Lifton noted the system does have some lasting effects, some positive.  Janzen said brainwashing did not exist at Synanonbut admitted he did not know what it is.  Clark knew of its use but hid it.

 In one of his many papers on Synanon, Ofshe noted that it is doubtful that all the therapeutic communities that cloned themselves after Synanon would have done so if they heard Mr. Dederich testify as he did in 1979 of Synanon’s rehab days:

 “…it’s always a mistake to let anyone into Synanon…Anybody. Every time we let somebody into Synanon we assume an enormous liability and this is done consciously. We let, we let crazy people into the door and we don’t discriminate.  Any dammed fool who wants to come in and say I’d like to live with you and we let them in. That’s the nature of our business. We either do that or we stop. Now, if it is not very God damn profitable, I would go into another business. But it is a calculated risk we take. It’s a calculated risk. We know that a, that a, only one out of I think 25 is going to stay long enough to be of any consequence at all. What was it one in 25 days for two years?

 “It’s still such an embracing business that I would like to stay in it. I don’t have to stay in it anymore. I’m rich. But I, it’s a marvelous business to watch these assholes come in and fall all over themselves and try bite me in the ass. You know its great fun, to watch that. It’s like, it’s like the story I’ve always told you, you know about the warden standing up on the, looking out the window of his office and down in the big yard and saying, ‘Come here, George, watch ‘em…’ they’ll all fuck each other pretty soon, you know, we, we, we most of the people who come into our house and say I would like to live here and turn out to be very, very real crazy people…real crazy people. I suppose if they weren’t why I’d have to find another business.

 “There just a, lots of them down in the Bank of America building in San Francisco, Pacific Union club, various law offices throughout the country, the streets, the ghettos, the penitentiaries. It’s a real field day.”

 Yet by 1968, to justify ending graduation, if Dederich was correct, there was little success in curing addicts. By then only 1,000 out of the 12,000 claimed to have entered were there, and leaving was defined as failure. And, as stated, many of those who left were purposely ejected or forced out by Dederich “squeezes.” Indeed, that same year Dederich, in his “The Wrath of God” speech, accused addicts of stabbing him in the back by failing to negotiate an apartment complex purchase, threatened to get rid of all of them and replace them with squares.

 After saying staying in Synanon is the addict’s only chance for sustained life, in 1976 Dederich said that in five years there would be “no room for the kind of people you are now. You won’t be here. No one will be mad at you. It’s wonderful. Good luck. God bless you. But there won’t be any room for the kind of people you are now. Now there’s a little room for you now. Five years from now we won’t need people like you.”

 Finally, even the Founder was not cured, returning to marijuana by 1977 and to alcoholic stupors by 1978 that led to drunken parties throughout Synanon as Phil Ritter’s and my murders were plotted, and the supposedly rehabilitated and reformed celebrated at the news of resulting injuries announced over The Wire.

 Rather than a commune wonderfully described by Yablonsky, Janzen and Clarkas reforming criminals, it made criminals out of non-criminals and took formerly reformed criminals to a higher level of criminal violence.

Yet at the same time for many older long time addicts truly seeeking reform, for many it was a succedss; probably, despite Dederich’s processess.  And many did re-learn a morality—one so strong they blew the whistle on Synanon—the family they loved and had cared for them—to stop the violence and brainwashing.

* * * * *


Clark writes from her school desk Synanon led to a lot of succesful clones.  The ones that succeded actualy grew from Daytop, who’s founder Dave Deitch, misquoted by Clark, wrote how Daytop discarded the abuses of Synanon.

 Researcher Wes Fager wrote similarly of the clones:

 “In 1966 New York City Mayor John Lindsay hired Puerto Rican psychiatrist Efren Esteban Ramirez to run the city’s Addiction Services Agency. 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 (therapeutic community) 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 86 of every 100 admissions to a large residential program terminated themselves against the advice of staff with most terminating within the first 30 days. Brill studied 2,100 admissions to Phoenix House and found a 96 percent dropout rate, and of the 4 percent who graduated, 25 percent had become staff there. He found that at Odyssey House only 25 percent of admissions stay more than 30 days, that the rate is down to 9.7 percent after six months, 5.6 percent at one year, and 2.8 percent after 18 months; the program’s required length of stay to ‘graduate.’”

 In “Is This a Camp or Jail?” by Adam Cohen, Time, January 26, 1998, it was chronicled three dozen deaths occurred in such “wilderness camps” in the past decade. Children’s deaths in “tough love” boot camps, he wrote, include:

 Michelle Sutton, 15, Summit Quest, Utah, 1990: Died of dehydration. “When Michelle ran out of water, a counselor told the other hikers not to share, and joked that Michelle’s parched mouth was so white ‘it looks like you’ve been eating marshmallows.’ After complaining she couldn’t see, Michelle collapsed and died of dehydration.”

 On June 27, 1990, six weeks after the death of Michelle Sutton, 16-year-old Kristin Chase died at the Challenger wilderness camp in Utah of hyperthermia and dehydration after a 5-mile forced march in 105 degree heat. Once again, her counselors said she was faking when she complained.

 Aaron Bacon, 16, at North Star Expeditions, Utah, March 1994, was beaten and tortured, thirsted and starved to death, as well as denied medical treatment for a fatal condition.  The autopsy report stated that he died from a perforated ulcer, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.  The sicker he became, the more he was tormented and tortured by the staff. He was constantly accused of being a malingerer and faking it when he complained of being sick and unable to go on.  When he begged to see a doctor, the staff sneered at him, called him “a faker” and asked him if he was “homosexual.”

 Dawnne Takeuchi, 18, was killed when she was thrown from a semi-truck near Pagosa Springs, Colorado, in June 1994.  Kimberly Stafford, the Vision Quest counselor who was driving the supply vehicle, was convicted of careless driving.

 Nicholaus Contreraz, 16, died at the Arizona Boys Ranch near Oracle, Arizona, March 2, 1998, of cardiac arrest, after instructors continued to harass him and force him to exercise even though he told them he was sick.  Saying his death was caused by “cardiac arrest,” said Cohen, “is really sugar-coating the pill as he was tortured to death and also denied medical treatment.”

 Gina Score, 14, at the state-run juvenile prison camp at Plankinton, South Dakota, in 1999 was run to death.  That is, she was forced to run in the summer sun until she collapsed, and then she was left lying in the hot sun until she died. Her alleged crime was petty theft.

 65-pound Michael Wiltsie, 12, at Camp E-Kel-Etu, a private Florida facility, in 2000 was suffocated to death by a 320-pound “counselor” who sat on him until he stopped breathing.

 On January 6, 2006 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson was murdered within three hours of his arrival at a Florida boot camp that was run by the local sheriff, Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen.  They covered his mouth with a hand and forced him to inhale ammonia, which caused a “spasm of his vocal cords” and prevented him from being able to inhale.

 In Maia’s book it is described one woman was not even allowed to leave a teen rehab after she turned 18, the organization threatening her mother to toss out her younger child if the mother took the older one back. When she finally was rescued by a grandmother, the organization was fortunately wiped out by the resulting civil judgment for damages.

* * * * *

The Game

 Fager wrote of youth and the game.

 “Dr. Roger Meyer and psychotherapists Thomas Bratter and Gary Forrest warned about using synanons (game) 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.’

 “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 TC in the understanding and treatment of adolescents…In addition, group practice becomes an anti-therapeutic factor with the TC when the uniqueness of adolescent psychological development is not understood and incorporated into clinical practice.  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 …may not be necessary or appropriate for other treatment populations, i.e. borderline schizophrenic patients, schizoid personalities, and acutely anxious, neurotic adolescents.’”

 Today, attack therapy is generally frowned upon—except by Clark.  As a tool of management for persusasion to build Utopia it should not be allowed.  Brainwashing is like nuclear energy; it works—but too dangerous to allow just anyuone or maybe anyone at all, to use it.

* * * * *


 Perhaps the worst of all notions was the Hatchery. Today, with all that is now known about the need for parental love for proper wiring of the brain, such a concept could only again arise in a cult-like environment with a child-hating leader bent on maximizing the service time of his followers by removal of children.  Maybe Clark woul do it.

 Abandonment, it is known today, can lead to all sorts of pathology including antisocial personality. A 2000 report by a former Synanon woman, Susan Richardson, who worked at the Hatchery discussed findings from interviewing former children. She found most were bright and some had creative occupations. On the downside, most had trouble with interpersonal relationships, some even afraid to have children. She reported a lot of anger over growing up without real contact with their parents—some never forgave—mistrust and aversion to authority; children who had parents in the highest positions felt the parents were more concerned with their political status.

 Keeping my own tabs on Synanon children, to the extent I could, I observed what I first suspected to be highly improbable—former Synanon children had an unusually large percentage who had periods of experimentation with illegal drugs, some that did not end.  At first one might suspect that this would be the least likely event to occur, but when you are forced into a position, it is not unusual for a child to break away when given the opportunity.  The first hit of marijuana joint may have made Synanon appear as liars and led the way for other things.  For some it may have been just the typical way of dealing with anxiety and depression, facing a New World.  Others may have acted out in typical youth rebellion.

 The report stated many kids who were sent to public schools in Marin, only later to be brought back, had problems adjusting to public education and were attracted to the kids who used drugs and/or cut classes. My suspicion as to the reason many turned to drugs is affirmed by this information, i.e. a lot of it was a reaction to being controlled all their lives and feeling they were propagandized, along with expected anxiety at adapting to the outside.  Also, in the ‘70s and early 80’s much of society still believed that many drugs were no big deal.

 I also believe that children of the early days of Synanon were exposed to some creative teaching styles, which might stimulate higher IQs than traditional schools.  But eventually in the mid ‘70s schools would literally disappear and/or be reduced to training for Synanon-related work. So it is important in examining the impact of being raised in Synanon to know when the child was in Synanon and how old was the child when removed.  Even at its worst times, but sans exposure to violent punishment, it was probably better than most orphanages, if you exclude the potential damage from the game.  On what it was like for a kid in Synanon read recently published Synanon Kid by C.A. Whitman.

 I suspect that the most bonds developed between the children (most appear to have been lifelong) with a general interest in their former community were by those who were there in the right place and time, when one could enjoy a healthy, fun and farm-like atmosphere at Synanon.  There were horses, tennis courts, dirt bikes, sports and a giant nature backyard.  The Richardson report compared it to being raised like rich kids and noted further Synanon children benefited from exposure to people from all walks of life, race and backgrounds from addicts to famous musicians.  But it was a story that changed for many in mid-70’s when for punishment some children were merged into the Punk Squad. Some of these kids were damaged for life.  Also, as they were kept from their parents, raised together and socialized in the game, it was probably inevitable lifelong bonds would occur, as predicted by Prof. Edwar Gould in 1973.

 Not surprisingly, the Richadson report listed the violence as the number one negative occurrence.  From reading reports of runaways, including even Charles Dederich’s grandson, Todd, and Dr. Doug Robson’s son, Russell, they, too, reported the same thing, as did kids who I helped get out. It seems that while the adults mostly went along with the craziness, most of the children did not. Lance Kenton was the clearest exception, but then at the early age of 18 he was placed in the Imperial Marines.  His role in security, training and participating in secret, covert, violent missions gave him a high position in the Synanon hierarchy and respect at an early age.

 Also reported, which I also found in other cults I litigated against, the children were helpless to seek the support of their parents who would support Synanon, not them. This led to running away. For years, while the Marin Sheriff was a special friend of Charles Dederich and Dan Garrett, runaways were immediately returned and then subjected to more punishment.  It was only after the sheriff lost the election in 1978 did Marin Juvenile, led by Deputy Jeannette Prandi, start protecting runaways.

 Interestingly, the Richardson report noted while Synanon motivated behavior conformity in the adults, good and bad, the children often lied and concealed from adults in order to protect each other by remaining silent as to the actions of their peers; while adults followed the Synanon practice of making public any wrongdoings of any adult members—what Dederich called “breaking contracts” to protect another.  Another subject Clark omits.

 When the switching of partners occurred, children had to adjust to strangers as stepparents, and the Richardson report correlated this with the fact that most females she interviewed had objections to the idea of marriage, while the males did not—the hypothesis being the boys may have had more nurturing from female staff while the girls had less father figures. However, it is standard psychology that females with nonexistent father relationships often become obsessed with finding a mate in order to fulfill what they lacked as a child.

 The report acknowledges this phenomenon, too, but points out it also created a person who sees himself/herself as superior and feels no need for intimacy. Apparently both results are commonly observed by researchers, and both results were observed in Synanon children-grown up behavior by Richardson. Also some women reported they had been so hurt they became control freaks in any relationship.

 Interviews suggested most Synanon kids probably would make very good parents, knowing not what to do, and the importance of affection and attention.  Those who stated fear of ever having children may have had, in my opinion, their fear result from exposure to Dederich anti-children speeches on The Wire in which he said children were not worth the cost of raising and adults should live free lives, not burdened with child caring, and being witnesses to the abortions and the male five-years or more members pushed to having vasectomies or leaving.


 At least two Synanon kids, subject to Synanon violent punishments, including Rod Mullen’s son, are serving life imprisonment for multiple murders; the Father Principle apparently ultimately resulting in deaths of innocent. 

 Of interest is an e-mail note I received from a girl named Denise in response to one made by Julie. She was in Synanon, entering in 1975, not a very good year, but at 17 she was capable of living without constant parental contact. She left in 1984 after things had calmed, a young woman of 26.  She had dreams of Synanon for years (I still do) sometimes just missing the Synanon cruiser, which would allow her to leave. She says she is thought of as an articulate person, but has trouble articulating what it was like to live in Synanon and it is something most of her friends do not know occurred.

 In her own experience, Synanon was safe, integrated and inclusive, where one was judged on how one worked and to do the hard work of self-examination (although I doubt she realized how outer directed that was and that work for many had included violence). At times Synanon was simply fun, she wrote, and I expect she escaped what Julie and others did because she was older and because the Dederich arrest and media scrutiny toned down the craziness since 1979.

 And while Synanon claimed it was a place where character was “the only rank” and “let me be honest and truthful,” she acknowledged the Synanon hierarchy was deceitful as to decisions and events discussed behind closed doors and also on The Wire. And it was also a place where she often felt worthless, humiliated, afraid and excluded, experiencing some of the most depressed times in her life.

 She acknowledged that it is difficult to explain how these experiences in Synanon coexisted simultaneously, yet that is what happens in all totalistic movements. She did not live in the Synanon of Julie, but she knew it existed. She was there when the orders were given for vasectomies and mate-swapping.

 No one’s experience was exactly the same, but she says they share a kinship with all who were in Synanon, whether they met them or not.  She sometimes feels resentment against the Kooky Cult but at the same time affection and love of the people and times of homesickness, although she would never go back. After seeing Deborah Swisher’s Synanon play, Denise and Deborah said they were shaped by the good and bad and would not trade that.  She concluded she had a husband, a son and a great life.

 I wish I could meet her and Deborah.

 I, like Denise, have my collections of memorabilia also, often a gift… A Synanon-made bowl, an ADGAP pen, cigarette lighter, photos, poster, etc., — even copies of the Synanon Prayer and Philosophy. And there is no way to explain it.

I have met Marshall Carder, Brook Carder’s adult son.  Very astute, with positives and negatives instilled.  He confirmed the 1973 prediction Synamon children bonded for life.  I have also met and enjoyed Guy Endore’s grandson.

* * * * *

Distribution Network

One eventual concept was the Distribution Network, a noble idea in which Synanon would collect distressed goods from suppliers and disperse them to charities. But privately, Dederich told followers that he would charge both givers and receivers and turn the network into Synanon’s biggest money maker, which would, in turn, make him more rich. Making money off a charitable idea is not necessarily a sin, but Dederich’s plan was to cut out any charities that did not do as they were told by Synanon. The network was eventually transferred to the Game Club of Michigan, a tax-exempt organization although that status was later revoked by the IRS as it was clearly Synanon.

* * * * *

Good, Bad and the Ugly

 Dederich never relented in his quest for riches.  In a 1978 tape recording called “The Freebees are over,” Dederich outlined a plan to stream Synanon residents to a new compound in Arizona, a private corporation which would apply Synanon training. Synanon would pay the fees for this education to Dederich and the Elite’s new private company, Home Place, Inc., which would, in turn, provide salaries to Dederich and his cronies. The scheme was, of course, illegal—it raided the Synanon charitable trust–and led to arrests in Arizona.

  On tape Dederich ordered name Synanon removed from trucks sent to Havasu warehouse and said Garrett will “make some real funny time paper switches, transition from—from Synanon over to Home Place, Inc.”

 All of which brings us to a troubling aspect of this legacy question. Why wasn’tthis lunacy stopped way before in its tracks? A good deal of the pain caused by Synanon and its copycats could have—and should have–been avoided if only prosecutors and regulatory agencies had simply done their jobs and enforced existing laws and regulations.  If they had Synanon might still exist having followed an entirely different evolution. Not having apologist writer—like Clarl—cou;d protect the future.

 In its early days, Santa Monica tried to force Synanon out by enforcing a valid zoning prohibition.  But, faced with protests and the prospect of bad publicity, the city backed off.  Any number of agencies could have shuttered Synanon for providing treatment without a license, as required by law, but none would, citing budgetary limitations or lack of public support.  To those lame excuses, let me add a third: sloth.  Fear played a role as well.  After the violence at Synanon facilities became widely known as intended, few regulators, attorneys or local prosecutors would take on Synanon for fear of reprisal.  Maybe Synanon’s biggest Legacy is in California drug rehabilitation facilities all must be licensed.

Certainly, not everything that happened at Synanon was bad, and undeniably there were some good and good people, but in the end the bad overwhelmed the good. Was it all the fault of Charles Dederich, a man working out his mommy issues on a grand scale? Probably not, since many others also pushed for a more belligerent stance. But it was his increasing megalomania that pushed Synanon past the money.  Why did it all happen?  Did greedy men use the sadistic treatment of prisoners to fuel profits in a world where those who could have stopped it were either seduced by the dream of a cure or just turned their heads?  Or was it all the inevitable by-product of a tragically flawed system that warped the good intents of its creators?

In reality, these are moot questions.  Here’s the bottom line: while Synanon provided shelter and support to people who desperately needed it—at least for a time—and the concept of treatment by peers produced some positive results, the Synanon system, as Dederich himself noted, was based on hate and punishment and because of that it was a failure that led to nearly 50 years of violence and tragedy for countless victims around the world. 

And it continues to do so. That some members long for the conradity or lifestyle is irrelevant. An enviroment that forces conformity through verbal attack, shunning, rewards and punishment and/or edict is not a good one.

     That’s the legacy–the Good, Bad and the Ugly.

      Uglier is that a University Professor—Claire Clark—by hiding truth wrote a book that it was all good.  Like one of the three monkees, she didn’t speak, see or hear evil.  Even when she knew evil was there, she hid it and promoted the evil.