Synanon 1960’s Books

The 60’s Books on Synanon (The Warnings were there)

By Paul Morantz
© August 2010

In the sixties, two leather elbows, a distinguished author and a Nun all wrote books on the miracle of Synanon, further adding to the foundation’s validation and legend. Each autor had in common that each had lived in Synanon and participated in the system. Never knowing it, in their praise, each documented back then the seeds of destruction and the predictability of Synanon’s eventual evolution. When examined, from a human psychology review, one could perceive Synanon never had a chance. Skinner’s fictional antagonist could be seen pointing and gloating. But the author’s themselves did not understand the why the very facts they highlighted in praise were actually warnings of a doom to come.

Dr. Daniel Casriel, a New York psychiatrist, was the first author. In 1962 he had told the New York Herald there was no cure for drug addiction. Once a hype, always a hype. He said a drug addict should be “put away either in hospitals or jails for the rest of his live — — or give him all the heroin he wants.” Then while part of a team studying various drug treatments in major cities he visited Synanon and met its then research director, Dr. Lewis Yablonsky. He was immediately impressed by the “fever of activity” of over 150 former drug addicts and canceled his vacation plans to move in and study the phenomena. He stayed 10 days and called it the most professionally rewarding and personally satisfying experience of his life and he became convinced Synanon held the solution to the “enigma of drug addiction.”

His book, So Fair A House, published in 1963, was dedicated to “Chuck” and members of Synanon who “rose from the social gutters” to respectability and served as an inspiration “to all of mankind who can take pride in the ability of human beings to change for the better.” The copy I would locate had been once sent to a Ms. Flora Dungan in Las Vegas and signed, “With Love, The Synanon Family.”

Dr. Casriel called Synanon a miracle accomplished in spite of severe opposition by the community to having dope fiend’s run a hospital without qualifications and allowing men and women, black and white, to live under to one roof.

Casriel was impressed by how Dederich, who he said looked “not unlike Buddha,” intuitively handled addict interviews despite his lack of psychiatric training. He wrote Dederich was unknowingly using teachings of Sigmund Freud to develop a new therapy that might “revolutionize” methods of treatment of certain personality disorders.

His book traced Synanon’s origins and that of narcotics in the United States, the influx increasing with the importation of Chinese labor in the early West. Morphine was introduced during the civil war and the hypodermic needle was invented in 1845, one hundred years before my birth. Cocaine was isolated and refined between 1855 and 1877. Addicts, he wrote, tend to be psychotic with an underlining diagnosis of schizophrenia. They are infantile and respond to physical or emotional pain, or threat of it, by withdrawal. Primary addicts live to shoot dope and secondary addicts shoot dope to live. The latter group make up professionals, like lawyers, doctors and musicians, who have a severe neurosis and perfectionist goals they can never fulfill. They may eventually become primary.

Casriel had psychological tests taken on two-year plus Synanon members, about ten per cent of its population, to determine if there was any underlining change. Ironically, he sent them to the Hacker Clinic for evaluation. Dr. Frederick Hacker, who had left Germany as a youth due to the Nazi takeover, was to become an expert in terrorism and flown the world over to aid hostage negotiations. He would write a book, Criminals, Crazies and terrorists wherein he compared brainwashing to “rape of the mind, “ an act” he said, “was more injurious than physical rape. During the 1969 Sharon Tate-La Bianca murder investigation Hacker rejected the idea of a drug-related vendetta and provided the Los Angeles coroner Thomas Noguche with a detailed portrait of the killer fitting Charles Manson to a tee. In 1974 he advised that media heiress Patty Hearst, following her abduction by the Symbionese Liberation Army, might convert before it actually happened. In 1978, he would become my expert on Synanon.

The Hacker Clinic test results were not what Casriel expected and in retrospect perhaps should have served as a warning but did not. While behavior had changed internally little had. All still had an underlying personality disorder with components of neurotic, paranoid or disturbed character type. Their intelligence ranged from average to very superior. Despite their many clean days they still had a close identification with their former drug culture. Casriel wrote, “One might assume from the test results that although the members of Synanon have apparently changed their attitudes and behavior, they have not forgotten their pasts.”

Those findings raised an interesting question no one really considered at the time. If formerly violent people were embracing doctrines of non-violence not by internal change but by group coercion what might happen if the group doctrine reverted back to violence?

Casreil also concluded that once rehabilitated the criminal addict may be a better than average leader since to be successful as a criminal he had to be resourceful and organized. He also found they scored high on acceptability for psychotherapy.

Casriel stated, “I am convinced that the Synanon approach offers the only breakthrough to date in the treatment of the drug addict. At present it is far above anything that medicine, psychiatry, the law, or society can offer.” He recommended Synanon be studied and reproduced using Synanon members to “seed new institutions.” He recognized his book would have critics and to them he said “Go to Synanon and see for yourself.” Casriel also thought Synanon’s could be created for alcoholics, criminals and homosexuals (not yet aware homosexuality was not necessarily an illness).

Where Casriel was wisest was in his recommendations as to how Synanon could be improved. If Synanon had accepted is ideas its destiny might have been altered. Casriel felt, perhaps as a result of the psychological testing, a psychiatrist should be involved in Synanon starting at the top with diagnosis and treatment of the board members. Further, he believed the hostile environment in games should be modified for older members to add more warmth, love and understanding. Members, he said, should be given more of a chance to bring something out spontaneously rather then be probed constantly and mocked before they have a chance to fully express themselves. He stated older members should obtain proper psychotherapy treatment to be arranged with institutes nearby. When Casriel lived in Synanon members had sought him out for such. As it was, he commented, only Chuck was fulfilling that role and he was not a professional. Casriel took these ideas with him and helped open Daytop in New York with another former Synanon square Dave Deitch. That marked the true beginning of the future of all drug rehabs as they exist today.

Dederich, of course, read the suggestions, but implemented none of them. If he had, a site different than this might have been written. And it would have been written by someone else.

In his syndicated column The Doctor Says, Walter C. Alvarez, M.D., wrote Casriel’s book was a “splendid story which everyone interested in helping addicts should read.”


Dr. Lewis Yablonsky’s book The Tunnel Back published in 1965 was the most complete in setting out of the Synanon system. He made a deal with Dederich for cooperation paying him one-half the royalties. It did the most to put Synanon on the map and ultimately became Synanon’s bible, Dederich proclaiming he co-authored it.

Of the authors, Yablonsky was clearly the most “washed.”

His route to Synanon began with Ricky Volkman, the first professional to examine Synanon. Teaching and studying criminology at UCLA, while going though her divorce, Volkman was led to Synanon in its beginning by one of her students and was “thunderstruck” by the “spirit, vitality and purpose” of the group. She thought she would help, but when she started playing the game, she found she was the one being “straightened out.” She saw that all her prior knowledge had never been of benefit and went through “pains of withdrawal” as she shed her “false self-image” of being a lovely sweet educated girl. She decided to write her thesis on Synanon and when Synanon moved to the Armory she moved in, paying for room and board, after finding difficulty in renting an apartment nearby due to her Synanon affiliation. Volkman eventually induced her teacher Dr. Donald Cressey to visit. He was impressed. Cressey then went to England to teach and in 1960 at the United Nations Congress on Crime and Delinquency in the London he met and told Yablonsky about the group. When Yablonsky took over Cressey’s teaching job at UCLA he dropped in at Synanon and soon became the resident sociological theoretician. In 1962 he published “The anti-criminal Society: Synanon” in Federal Probation and incorporated it into his book The Violent Gang published also that year.

His indoctrination begin when he got a personal verbal haircut from Dederich for trying to speak street dialogue with the members. Most of all,Yablonsky met and fell in love with Donna King. When he heard people object to Synanon he felt they were reviling Donna even though he himself had at first held back in their relationship because of her drug addict past. She told him that but for Synanon she would be dead. Eventually Yablonsky found there were no boundaries between his love for her and “his love for Synanon” which had made their romance possible. “I felt,” he confided in a friend, “ I had to marry myself to both of them. To protect them both.”

Yablonsky’s adoption of the Synanon view towards its critics appeared throughout his book, stark evidence of his total conversion. He called all critics “enemies” and “bigots,” including any professional who would criticize without a first-hand visit. He blamed them all for deterring Synanon’s “proven-life giving.” Those professionals who claimed Synanon made people too dependent on the organization were jealous over Synanon’s “new breed of professional people,” “a new form of group therapy,” it’s success and afraid of the threat to their professional status quo. Professionals, he wrote, received a vicarious pleasure in listening to their patients criminal pasts while at Synanon such patterns are denounced. He referred to the zoning issues as the “usual roadblocks” by “prejudiced enemies” disliking blacks living with whites and wanting to “drive Synanon people and their families from their new found homes and foothold on a constructive way of life” by evoking “irrelevant zoning laws in efforts to destroy Synanon’s interracial community” and by using “the most corrupt arm of city government–the Housing and Zoning Division–in their attacks.” Countless persons, Yablonsky wrote, died needlessly in jails and hospitals because the “enemies of rehabilitation” had slowed Synanon’s natural growth through “fake zoning issues.”

Fact was Synanon, Yablonsky ignored, had repeatedly picked an area not zoned for it—a choice it could have handled otherwise. Synanon, as any other organization, must house themselves in proper zoned areas. Hospitals cannot be in non-hospital zoned areas regardless of racial make-up. Yablonsky ate up Synanon’s rhetoric the way the Nazi’s accepted Jewish blame.

Yablonsky personally joined the fight, backing Synanon in the media, courtrooms, community meetings, professional conferences and government confrontations. Yablonsky called Synanon a “vital new social movement” and compared the jailing of Dederich (operating without a license and out of zone) to the “arrest of Galileo for saying the earth moved around the sun.” Dederich became a continual speaker in Yablonsky’s UCLA graduate class and Yablonsky hired Dederich as a professor at San Fernando Valley State College. Yablonsky held a press conference in 1965 to denounce government aid going to the President’s Job Corps when such funding could better serve at Synanon. Youths would do better in a Synanon-like facility, he said, then a youth camp.

Yablonsky was put on the Synanon Board of Directors in 1966 as Director of Education. While the outer society, Yablonsky wrote, breeds sociopaths, Synanon provided an alternate sane world where addicts traded expressing themselves with their fists for verbal “weaponry.” It was a place he described ruled by the “charismatic leadership,” “emotional appeal” and “magnetic power” of Charles Dederich. The addicts, he wrote, were attracted to the idea of a “super being,” as Dederich described it, “the all-knowing, the all-understanding.” The members, he wrote, waited for Dederich’s every word and tried to pattern themselves after him. Dederich made his decisions, Yablonsky wrote, based on his “inner urges and personal conclusions” and declared, “This is my house and if people cannot do what I want they should leave.”

What he could not see was the last man who attracted with concept of a “super being” marched his followers across Europe.

Yablonsky, instead quoted Dederich, who was perhaps then thinking of Skinner, as saying, “People that submit to this type of leadership not only give you rights to help them, they give you the responsibility for their destiny. You can’t really accept one without the other.” At first, Dederich told Yablonsky, it was ego gratifying to have people crawling all over him but after awhile it became tedious and he had to solve problems of sibling rivalry and over dependency.

The book described the Synanon system and its thought reform aspects, the severing of the past and the feelings of having “found God.” Members, he said, forced to give up “motherlovers” often “choose” to do so permanently later.

Yablonsky, never thinking how he himself might have been affected, quoted one of his students saying people in Synanon seemed ‘brainwashed’ into accepting all of Dederich’s ideas completely eerily described a conversation between he, Dederich and Yablonsky’s close friend, Dr. George Bach, a pioneer in attack therapy.2 After listening to a tape of a Dederich giving a haircut, Bach compared the technique to “brainwashing.” Yablonsky said unfortunately the word had been given a negative image. Dederich said it was “great stuff.” He had been criticized by experts for it. Brainwashing, Dederich was qoted, was exactly what he was trying to accomplish. He wanted to “wash out” all that was bad. “You’re goddamn right we wash people’s brains,” Dederich told them. “If you got a dirty brain you wash it clean…

“We use brainwashing and attack therapy here to peel away those part of the self that haven’t been too effective; in fact that have put the person in the mess he’s in. We make him aware of new ideas and ways of behaving.”

Yablonsky, not knowing he was prophesying Synanon’s future, also quoted Dederich on how the games “bonded people.”

“In times of great stress,” Dederich told Yablonsky, “people will go back to the primary group. For example, if we wish to put a commando team together in time of war, we get a small group together, put them in a primary–group situation, and they seem to function with great effectiveness.”


A different view on the same facts reported by Yablonsky was given by a University of California at Berkeley sociologist and author Edgar Friedenberg. Writing in the Nation, the same magazine where Walker Winslow’s article earlier denounced Santa Monica’s fight with Synanon, Freidenberg reviewed The Tunnel Back and described it not as objective reporting but “a masterpiece of advocacy.” Freidenberg, admitting he knew nothing of Synanon except from what he read in the book, concluded Yablonsky had “failed to grasp the enormity of what he related.” Much of what Yablonsky so proudly wrote, he said, was shocking, hardly humane and “the candidness of the book suggested such little value on personal dignity by the author.”

Friedenberg noted that Synanon measured its success in “clean days” but suppressing a symptom he said is not a therapeutic victory. He queried the other effects of such a hostile symptom on the personalities, particularly the price of “making them worship fully dependent on the people to whom they had submitted.”

He compared Synanon’s procedure of public hazing, isolation, institutionalized focusing of hostilities against any remnant of the old self and use of manipulations with that of the Maoist struggle session described in Robert Jay Lifton’s , Thought-Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. At the time what Mao was capable of doing with such power was before the public, as the Chinese leader in 1966 encouraged chaos and near civil war as Red Guard student groups went on violent rampages throughout China, destroying symbols of “old ideas.”

“What Synanon tries to do,” he wrote, “is rather more thorough than brainwashing.” The old self is completely thrown out with the “bath water.” Friedenberg worried of Synanon’s claims of outside harassment, the fear it instills in leaving and the “brainwashing” that removes the old self leaving a “specter bound to the house,” all tempting Synanon, he wrote, into a position of similar “frightening fanaticism.”

The ultimate self-image of Synanon members, he wrote, is “only what the group is willing to concede to the member.” And the very rhetoric of Yablonsky, Freidenberg warned, “reinforces my fears that there is indeed a Synanon state of mind that is more important by far, than the club itself.”


Guy Endore, born in 1900 and raised in an Ohio orphanage, wrote in 1929 Casanova: His Known and Unknown life. In the 1930’s he authored The Man from Limbo, Babouk,3 The Werewolf of Paris4 and the stories for the films Rumba, starring George Raft, and Carole Lombard, and Mark of the Vampire, starring Bela Lugosi and Lionel Barrymore. In 1945 he wrote Methinks the Lady and was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay The Story of G.I. Joe. He followed with the screenplay He Ran All the Way staring John Garfield and Shelley Winters in 1951. McCarthyism led to his becoming blacklisted and in “Life on the Black List,” in The Nation on December 20, 1952, he wrote it made him feel lost like a “leper in the Middle Ages.” His 1961 movie Captain Sinbad bore the forced pseudonym “Harry Relis.”

In 1965 he wrote Satan’s Saint: A Novel About the Marquis de Sade . Perhaps to even things up, he followed with a book about a person he thought was the right of kind Saint, Charles Dederich, publishing Synanon in 1967. 5 A friend had brought Endore down to Synanon in 1960 for what some were calling the “best coffeehouse in Los Angeles” where people sat playing cards, listening to music, talking and entertaining. He became so enamored he moved in for awhile, taught a Synanon writing class and proudly became the second square to be given the title of honorary dope fiend. Dederich dubbed him the official Synanon historian. His daughter Gita would remain in Synanon after Endore died three years after the book’s publication.

When Endore decided to do the book Doubleday coincidentally assigned him to a new editor, James Ross. Endore had known him years earlier as Jake the Snake Ross, then an ex-heroin addict from New York living in Synanon. After graduating Ross had gone to work at a Westwood book shop and then on to the publishing world. Endore was in the Tomales Bay facility when Ross informed him Doubleday would go forward.

Endore sought to tell “the saga of Synanon” believing it was a unique story of ex-addicts, criminals and prostitutes building a “model of sanity for the world to copy.” It was an organization, he wrote, born among drug addicts “just as a certain religion had to be born in a manger.” He called Synanon a test tube of how the world could exist. A place where religious differences and philosophical disputes all reconcile and all people unite. He predicted one day Synanon would be compared to the achievements of Copernicus establishing the earth was not the center the universe, Freud’s revelations on the sex life of infants and Ben’s Franklin’s suggestion that lightning was not God’s wrath. Dederich, he penned, was a “modern-day Socrates,” who had an aura of someone “divinely appointed, calling to mind the great Saints, prophets and religious leaders of former times.” Endore described Dederich as a father figure to his addicts, “his pets” who he both chastises and caresses, and as a shepherd of his flock who will not let a lamb go astray…The Moses come down from Mount Synanon with the tablets of holy Emerson in his fat arms.”

Dederich told Endore he personally developed when he took his LSD trip. It had altered his life and brought him into contact with a “cosmic consciousness.” A lot of people have moments of inspiration but are not willing to go after it, Dederich told Endore: “I was alone and without money. I had no ties. But I was willing to launch myself into something absurd… How many people knew the works of Emerson and were ready to follow his command to grab cause and effect and bend them to your will?… To rise above the limits of logic and reason. Synanon required social scientists and they only existed in Synanon. We introduced the x-factor, the unknown, into a social milieu to study what happens. If good, we keep it. If bad, we throw it out.”
The book was mainly a loose connection of anecdotes and tape recorded interviews dealing with history and incidents. Endore quoted members saying Synanon was “better than a fix of heroin” and also cited criticism, like Dr. Marshall Cherkas saying he was put off with the delusions of grandeur–each member assuming the role of expertise in psychiatry and the belief that only Synanon “can do it.”
Synanon, said Endore, was not a religion but had religious similarities. Passionate adherents and passionate “Judases.” Synanon members, he observed, were proclaiming Dederich a God, or the nearest thing to Christ. Reid Kimball told Endore that Chuck had prophetic powers and doesn’t stop until his vision comes true. He hated to think of Chuck having sex, doing things like an ordinary man. “If an institution is only the lengthening shadow of one man,” Kimball was quoted, “I’m glad to be part of Chuck’s shadow….I do love him. He saved my life.” Jack Hurst referred to Chuck as the Second Coming. Zev Putterman, a television producer and former addict, said, “Chuck is my God and Synanon is my religion.” Another said, “Christ gave up his worldly goods and said follow me…Chuck is the only guy I ever bumped into who ever did that.”

The “Judases,” as Endore called them, said underneath Dederich’s charisma concealed a private desire for the moment he would turn his followers into “dupes.” And Endore, himself, observed Dederich going ballistic on a woman who was concealing her prior history as an addict, prostitute and thief and Synanon’s rehabilitation leading her to a new successful life. Chuck berated her, comparing her to all the traitors in history until she dropped to her knees, wept and promised to proclaim to everyone how Synanon had saved her.
Endore noted the dangers of religious movements as they often “plunge into the horror of horrors: religious fanaticism. The Inquisition, the witch-burning, the Nazi concentration camps and gas ovens.” History, he noted has “left corpses of 10,000 religious martyrs and fanatics displaying their sad wounds” and “skeletons of a million military and political bullies waiving their differently colored flags before us.” Added, now were schools of scientific thought with their embattled theories. “Savagery and civilization,” he wrote, exacting “deadly oaths of blind allegiance.”But Synanon, Endore mistakenly wrote, was safe from such an end. It was different because it cures and works.”

Chuck explained to Endore, “Why should I put aside $1 million. I have followed the biblical injunction of not laying up treasures on earth …I have followed the kick of laying up treasures in heaven instead. So, you see, I don’t need a dime… All I have is the trappings. And who wants anything else? I’m like the President of the United States. He can, theoretically, go to the movies in a battle ship costing $800 million. That’s the kind of wealth I have…”

Jessie Pratt, Synanon’s first black member, was also the first of what Endore called the “heretics” he interviewed. Several had told Endore different stories why Pratt had left Synanon such as his women problems and epilepsy. When Endore located Pratt he was married and working at a bookstore, surrounded by books–“What my mother used to save her pennies for.” Jesse told Endore his departure from Synanon in the summer of 1960 had been an escape. He had been there for two years but didn’t think Chuck should lead. Dederich, he said, enjoyed shocking people and having power over their lives. He could save someone from the chains of addiction and then have the power to throw them out and back to what they were. Possibly to an overdose. Pratt said Dederich was now “The Great Father-figure.” Pratt explained Dederich didn’t want anyone to leave unless they went against his ideas. Then he could become “the angry God who expelled you from paradise… Plunged you back into hell.” Pratt said he departed, despite Chuck saying he wasn’t ready, because he “didn’t want to be a fanatic…I just haven’t got that dogmatic makeup.” Instead, Pratt claimed, he was still following the original Synanon philosophy of accepting himself as he is, for better or worse.

An actor told Endore he withdrew his early support and said it was because Chuck had become a God surrounded by admiring disciples. It was too painful to watch and he left. He wanted to remember Synanon as it was when wild animals crawled out of the gutter and were welcomed.

One “heretic” talked only on condition he not be identified. He pounded the table with his fist telling Endore Synanon had gone from serving mankind to serving one man. Endore, he said, had been “hopelessly hoodwinked by the master hoodwinker himself.” All of the original board of directors were gone, he pointed out. “Aren’t you reminded of Stalin?” In the early days, he said, everyone was burning up with discoveries “This great advance into the unknown, this loophole for humanity to escape from all its ancient chains…betrayed by the very person who was most responsible for our discovery. But that’s what happens when the spirit of aggrandizement seizes a person: his fist victim must be himself. That you understand, don’t you. That Chuck had to destroy himself first…

“Chuck started with two Emerson ideas, only the truth could set us free and what was good for us must be good for all. We stripped ourselves of our most intimate secrets using verbal weapons that loved ones had never before used against each other. We didn’t need drugs….we all we were high with ideas.” But, he said, then Dederich became a victim of his own power. To be pitied. “That man is a born intriguer. I don’t know how he does it, but he never stops figuring things out. He never stops plotting and scheming. And at that sort of thing he’s a genius. But he is a sick genius.”

The heretic left when he overheard Dederich standing before the Armory saying to himself, “I now have a bigger house — — beside a bigger body of water — — than my stepfather has.”

“That’s when I realized,” said the heretic, “how Chuck’s tie to his mother and his hatred for his stepfather were incidents of his life that were still boiling around in his inside, and that it was this jealousy, this envy, more than the problems of the poor addicts, that constituted the basic motivating factors in his creation of Synanon. It was this still unresolved Oedipal complex directed against the stranger who had come into his home and taken the little boy’ s mother away, a way to his own bed, that was still raging in Chuck’s gut. I was horrified. I understood all sorts of traits in Chuck’s that had hitherto puzzled me. And I saw that this desire of his to outperform his stepfather spelled danger for our club. I saw that Chuck was already moving to use our once honest and vital club of dedicated truth seekers as a mean of self -glorification. To raise himself above the man he hated. And that the situation had in fact gone too far for the club to be saved…Those poor addicts already looking up at him as the Great White Father….and he had turned the place into a political machine of which he was the sole boss.

The enemies, said the heretic, were never as painted by Dederich. There were far more helping the club even with knowledge it was breaking the law. Many police and parole officers supported Synanon. “Chuck’s nature required him to have enemies,” he said. “Pea-brained civil servants. The more the better. He wanted to take on the whole world. So that he — — and he alone — — might stand out as the one-man capable of handling the addicts situation. See how this great man is being crucified! See how this saintly man is being martyred! Chuck is a the hero! Chuck the persecuted one! Chuck the heaven-sent Messiah! And all the time he, Chuck, constantly afraid that everyone was trying to steal Synanon from him.”

Chuck, said the heretic, was the real enemy of Synanon. He wondered what the LSD had really done. The poor addicts were frightened children, he said, and Chuck did not level with them about all the people who provided them with goods and services nor with the public honest about all the sex and the need for time to change behavior. When Chuck became ‘Mr. Synanon’ I had to go. The great goal of Synanon had changed from dedication to an ideal to dedication of a man.”

Endore responded that the Synanon umbilical cord is tough to cut and disgruntled ex-members are on the lookout for any information justifying their splitting. “Heretics,” Endore said, “are not necessarily looking for the truth. They just want to cry out, ‘You see! What did I tell you?’“

Endore wrote he was relieved Chuck was not a God as it would be an embarrassment to see him “pick his nose.” But there was no doubt to him Chuck was a great man. Yet, at one point he digressed and wrote:

“And in the end at the back of my mind there was always a reverberating voice — I can’t remember whose, but I can remember distinctly what this person said to me, ‘You’ll see, ‘ the voice goes, ‘one of these fine days your Chuck will turn out to have stashed away loads of real estate, several millions of dollars in cash, and there will be one hell of an income tax scandal… You’ll see, because it happens to all the founders of new religions. And it will happen to Synanon, too. Bound to happen if his followers keep making a god out of him.’“


In the summer of 1968 Barbara Leslie Austin, a Nun since she was 19, came into Synanon at age 22 with a fellow Sister, Mary Marc, to teach. Synanon was picked in order to have an urban experience. Austin published her account of the episode in 1970, Sad Nun at Synanon.

When the Sisters entered the Foundation they found the Catholic Church was not considered Synanon’s equal. Dederich, remembering his Catholic upbringing, even quipped about keeping the Nuns away from children. In the games the Sisters were both attacked for having never been laid and asked, “Why be a virgin?” “Are you homosexual?” and “You mean to tell me those nuns don’t want a good fuck?” Square Skip Ferdeber, a Los Angeles Times reporter who had moved in and whose daughter-in-law I would one day seek to rescue (See Escape From Synanon II), jumped in saying it’s all a Nun-act, “pretending you don’t need a man to survive.”

Pope Paul, the Sisters were told, was afraid to drop his image, to take off his jacket. Joining the attack was former Minister Dede Harvey, now the local schoolmaster after Al Bauman’s promotion to Tomales. “I once belonged to that church,” the ex-Reverend said, “and it would say it had the power to save you whether you liked it or not. But if Jesus came into Synanon, he would say this is the place.” An attorney, Harold Benjamin, who would one day warn me my life was in danger and Synanon knew where I lived, told them not to let all this important information go to waste.

Both Nuns experienced the new Synanon Trip, a weekend encounter session that was a prototype of Werner Erhard’s est in the 70’s (See Today is the First Day of The Rest of Your Life). Austin called it the best experience in her life. Marc left the convent and stayed in Synanon. Austin left both the convent and Synanon.

Bauman would be one of the first to educate me about Synanon.


All three books were reviewed and lavishly praised by book critic Robert Kirsch in the Los Angeles Times.