The Open Manhole

The Open Manhole

By Paul Morantz
© Paul Morantz(may 2011)

In my last undergraduate semester at USC I took a course on “Groups.” We learned problem solving through groups and practiced them as well. The idea was to be able to use a group beneficially but not to become submerged by it. I thought it was a great class.

My father had produced a secure middle class living for our family by getting up at 4:30 in the morning and returning from work at the slaughter house in Vernon at 7 or 8 night. He worked Saturday mornings. Once in the early sixties he had been offered a million dollars for his business but now things had changed. Unions were raising the cost allowing other states to import meat at a cheaper price. The industry was losing money and laws against price fixing prevented any hope. Eventually, my father, who was once President of the Meat Packers Association, sold his business. He was like Jack Lemon in movie Save the Tiger, but to honest to ever save himself by burning his plant. I saw his disappointment whenever I came home, he had built his business for his sons. Even though he got a top job at another slaughter house, the same pressures were effecting that plant. And I could see it effecting my father’s health.

So In the summer of l968 I decided to lessen my father’s burden and get a job instead of hanging at the beach playing volleyball. I found the ideal job for a college kid selling women hairpieces to young women up in Hollywood working for Contessa Creations. We were sort of a con, luring women in with free wiglet promotions and then allegedly selling them hairpieces at cost when it was really at a nice profit. Beautiful women were always coming in and the rule was you could date them if you sold them first. I dated a young 18 year old I met there, Barbara Klein. But not before long she was the girl friend of Hugh Hefner, changing her name to Barbie Benton. My closet friend there, Charles Watson, would have a name change, calling himself “Tex” after finding a new best friend Charlie Maonson,


In 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The world experienced Woodstock. The Department of Defense sets up four computer network nodes on university campuses– ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Net)–which rapidly expanded and eventually became the Internet. And over 15,000 people had lived in Synanon and many now staffed over 2000 cloned rehabilitation programs. 1,300 currently resided in Synanon, 850 in Santa Monica. Non-resident game players totaled 6,400. Jack Hurst called Synanon a historical adventure and compared it to Americans settling the Old West.

“I’m not a healer,” proclaimed Dederich. “I’m a teacher. An eccentric loud mouth doing his thing.” When the media asked if people get hooked on Synanon like dope, Dederich responded that was better then winding up dead. “Why not get hooked on a rich crime-free, violence – free community?”

All institutions, he said, from the Middle Ages, cities, colleges, home life, were collapsing. The outside world was going to hell and soon he predicted armed bands would roam the streets. “If there were people like us outside of Synanon,” he said, “then we’d already be living in the 21st Century. We will all be in the communal style in the 21st Century in order to save energy and cost consumption. It makes good sense.”

Synanon was not easy to leave. The game could sniff out those entertaining such thoughts and they would be gamed and name called. Still many left in confusion or from an innate unwillingness to surrender independence. This gave Dederich some concern as he needed those with Synanon experience or special skills.

Residents and non-resident members were told not to help a splittee other than to try to convince the person to stay; money given would be just used for dope. It was better to forget the dead. Violation of this rule could result in expulsion. And when anything bad happened to a splitee notice of it was pinned on the bulletin board.

In February of l969 what had been unspoken policy became official. The Synanon Board had voted to abolish graduation They observed that when people leave this Shangri-la they “shrivel up and die.” You don’t civilize a native just to return him to the jungle. In Synanon, ex-dope fiends not only thrived but became superior to the outside society that once shunned them. And they lacked concerns of those outside. No one worried about food, being alone or doctor bills. The best was donated to Synanon.

It was Dan Garret, now the Research Director, who made the big speech, speaking as others did with the Old Man’s “so on’s” and “blah…blah.” Garrett said “so what?” as to how the people outside view this; the point was to sell those inside. Synanon had eleven years of history helping people, loaning them money when they left that was never repaid, writing job recommendations that were never appreciated. These people never give back, Garret stated, dooming them to a life of “guilt.” No company should employ and train an individual and then condone his taking his learned skills elsewhere.

Cities outside are dying, said Garrett. The atmosphere will lose its oxygen; streams are polluted; the ground “raped and destroyed.” Synanon people, he said, were the evolution that could save it all and in the next twenty years Synanon must build 60 new cities. The future of mankind, he said, was in Synanon”s hands. Further, 11 years had taught them that dope fiends who leave revert. They “gallop backwards into sure destruction. And we know that now. We know that.”

But if these same people, Garrett pointed out, stay in the Synanon lifestyle they live “magically.” Graduating such people is a “disservice by reinforcing their madness.” They would be “crazy” to support people who do not want to live in Synanon. It would be a disservice also to “the whole human race.” And Synanon was not being unreasonable. “Would California let someone vote after he moved to Nevada?”

It was a position Garrett said, “we must not fuck with. We must not. There is too much at stake….See, I like to think of this world as it will exist for my grandchildren who I’ve never seen.” Synanon, Garrett proudly stated, has no poverty, no racism, no addicts and “we don’t create any wars. And it doesn’t look like we will…

As to the offspring, they were taught they were safer in Synanon. People in the outside world, they were told, drank and did drugs, lied and hit children.

Leaving Synanon was to fall down the open manhole and die.


Synanon continued to improve its money making skills. This year before the annual Street fair, Synanon residents took off in mass to sell tickets guided by a sales headquarters set up in the Athens club. Those who sold low numbers were gamed on their results. But the event this year was canceled midway because Dederich objected to San Francisco’s police officers patrolling it. In the summer the fair was moved to Oakland on a two blocks long field. Synanon sold raffle tickets for donated prizes including a Stingray. 75,000 people attended for free food, games and dancing. It netted over a hundred thousand dollars.

A new department developed, Foundation Hustlers, which hustled goods for the entire Foundation. The goods were kept in a warehouse that also housed Synanon’s Paymaster office which handled the accounting. Companies liked donating, believing they were saving lives and at the same time getting tax deductions. Hustlers traveled and telephoned the nation soliciting carpets, clothing, lumber, toiletries, food, virtually anything thought of. Synanon held classes to teach them how to woo a secretary and to close the top man: “If not for Synanon I would be on the streets holding you up for my next fix. But I got lucky and a court sent me to Synanon. How would you like to join IBM, Bank of America, General Motors in helping support Synanon’s great work.” The pitch was so successful Synanon started anti-hustling, giving away excess to other charities and in doing so winning their support.

WAM for residents over five months was now fifty dollars.


A new square status was established. Fearing the influx of squares might jeopardize their charitable tax-free status, the Lifestyler was created. A square who lived in but kept his day job, contributed to Synanon which arguably helped raise funds to cure dope fiends. A new Clump was purchased just for Lifestylers. About 70 squares had moved in. Affluent squares were still encouraged to join all the way. For them Synanon would roll out the red carpet. They were successful people who were alienated and who were lured by the idea of being a big fish in a small pond. They liked instant prestige and power and saw in Synanon a way to get it. The Sixties and Seventies had spawned thousands of communes and intentional communities. But none offered the money, power and prestige of Synanon.

At 40, Ed Siegel, president of the Synanon Santa Monica Game Club, had made millions with his Reliable Mortgage investment company. He was fiercely dedicated and would become president of Synanon. Ron Cook, a 27-year oild former Las Vegas CPA, joined, as did Rod Mullen with his wife and children. Mullen, who came to consider Dederich “one of the great minds of the 20th century,” would eventually take over the schools.

Another opportunist to join and become a Big Shot was Dan Sorkin. A prominent ex Chicago and San Francisco Disc Jockey, he began his Synanon association as a game club member. When his radio station booted him over his continual pro Synanon plugs on the air and for being a “smartass” he joined Synanon. He had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident but adjusted well to an artificial limb. It didn’t squelch his Synanon spirit. He threw in all his money, $25,000, and worked on game members to come in or get lost. He enjoyed his power so much he sent dog robbers to do inspections. Even Dederich called him a competing megalomaniac. He used his skills to become the disk jockey for the wire; the voice that would talk continuously of Synanon’s greatness and denounce those who opposed it.


The ideals of Synanon appeared to attract those in education. A lot of teachers joined. Dederich jokingly offered to trade any 10 of them for a good plumber or TV repairman.

More Jazz musicians also entered. Art Pepper stopped just performing for Synanon and joined after a drug career that included time at San Quentin for rape and other crimes. He was loaded when he arrived, thinking Synanon looked like one big YMCA, run not by drug addicts, but New Yorkers. At times he thought they were all brainwashed into brotherly love and had incredible guilt as they were always confessing. He feared if Hurst or Dederich said jump out of window they would all believe it was the latest Synanon Thing. Pepper would leave in a few years, perform again but also do drugs.

Frank Rehak made his entrance in on November 9, l969 as his heroin addiction was threatening his career. He was a classical musician on the piano and baritone horn trombonists who performed with the big bands of Gene Krupa, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, and Dizzy Gillespie; television orchestras on Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, and Perry Como and various Broadway stage pit orchestras. He performed on some 4,000 albums including Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett. Rehak never was to leave Synanon, dying there in l987.

Together, Pepper and Rehak had a musical game blowing horns at each other. A tape of it was taken to Tomales Bay. But Dederich said it was full of glut and had head shaveds. Jazz, said Dederich, was decadent, as evil as rock. Tom Reeves destroyed the tape.


New educational tools were developed. In l969 the Unicept was born from Buckminister Fuller’s concept of am unpredictable outcome greater than sum of interacting parts, coincidentally called synergy. As a philosopher Fuller spoke more so in mathematical and scientific terms rather than prose. He sought to design unitve technological concepts to conserve economy and space. He created a word “emantiodromia” which holds that in the pursuit of an extreme position there is a point where it turns into its opposite.” Dederich coined the word Unicept to describe unitive and comprehensive thinking and Harvard’s Steve Simon, with Dederich’s blessing, created the Unicept drill to develop the Intuitive Thinker. The idea was to connect all brain data in proper alignment in accordance with needs of a particular problem faced. A triangle was drawn with different subjects at each point and the overlap was identified as stating a concept that joins the two points on any side. The Unicept Posse groups decides which is the best concept. The diagram is spinned in the participants minds and the group responds with expressions and concepts coming together in their heads as the system spins. Simon called it a diagrammatic form of what happens in a Synanon game. People express different views, they have open minds and come away with a unified way of thinking. Simon became nicknamed Mr. Unicept and conducted them at his USC and UCLA classrooms and with professional groups he consulted. Dederich said a few years later that humans had it over girafs as they could participate in their own evolution which is a lot better than being a “mule, or a squirrel, or a stock of celery.”

A Reach involved 12 to 15 participants sitting in a circle around a huge table exploring physics by experimentation, such as why does chalk stick to a blackboard. Reaches could last 40 hours and with only one sleep break and many participants felt they attained a Maslow “peak experience.” Success was measured not by solution but by how hard everyone worked. A discipline in cooperative thinking people were encouraged to agree rather to contest a hypothesis.

The Interchange was considered the best invention since the game. A Master would teach a group of six to 12 players specific material. But the real teacher was considered the Polarizer whose job was to ask questions of the Master and players in order to get clarifications and assurance the players understood what was being taught. He would bring players into the discussions and would analogize to practical situations. By use of humor the Polarizer was to make it fun and interesting. The classes had a debating atmosphere, uninhibited speech and sometimes angry exchanges.

Synanon issued a pamphlet entitled Toys for Thought, also called Drills for the Relative Thinker. In it the T-Bar, first created in the early 60’s, illustrated all dichotomies were illusions of the mind. On each side of the T one could place opposite views such as right and wrong. But on top was reality. Nothing is bad or good. Everything just is. The inverted T-Bar put human values and label on each side with imaginary lines from the bottom edges meeting at the top to form a pyramid which illustrated the Conciliatory Principle, where all kinds of people merge, whether criminal or saint, rich or poor, black or white, into the same human race: Mankind.

Above a straight line was a non-attainable perfect understanding while below was one’s ever changing view of reality filled with duality, polarity, contradiction and action. Reality is changing even though one resists it. Only by allowing the pendulum to freely swing could one tap their full potential. The Credence Scale Thermometer rated the percentage of truth in any given statement. At the top was the statement “Synanon is the name of an organization which cures dope addicts.”

Also in Toys for Thought was Flipping the Boxes based on the principle that if one stared at a 12 line drawing of a box its image would flip as our mind gives it the look of three dimensions. The Cone of Silence refers the moment the box flips. At that time fraction the ego momentarily dies allowing an insight to occur. By flipping the boxes on dichotomies, such as good and evil, one sees new views and obtains new understanding.

Each House had a Hut, a territory set aside for women only. There they could study or work on their own.

Dederich also advocated the use of humor. One should be able to last and himself up and “no study has a plural halo.” Humans were unique, said Dederich, as they could participate in their own evolution. If they didn’t that might as well be a “mule or a squirrel or a stalk of celery.”

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In Marin, 39-year old Municipal Court Judge, Hamden W. Rosh, himself a game-club member, begain referring defendants to Synanon to live or play the game.

John Kobler in l969 published “The Second Coming of Synanon” in the Saturday Evening Post trumpeting the Synanon Trip and the new social movement. While citing Synanon critics he stated that Synanon was winning the public’s heart. Look Magazine Senior Editor George B. Leonard wrote Synanon was “positive proof” a controlled environment can change human behavior. Art Seindbaum of the Los angeles Times wrote 3 different colums praising Synanon children programs, including their playing the game. Doctors and Judges, he wrote, were referring people there because it works.

Life Magazine revisited, this time with four pages dedicated to “Mr. Synanon goes Public.” Describing the new direction, author Sally O’Quin wrote:

“Thoreau speaks of that rare man who steps out confidently in the direction of his dream. Dederich is not Thoreau. Synanon is a longways from Walden Pond. But with all the energy and finesse of a bulldozer, the man of Synanon in the baggy overalls confidently lurches forward in the direction of his dreams.”

But still there were warnings. In 1969 J.Q. McClure conducted a study of Synanon infant program in which the community raised children rather than parents. He noted many Synanon had bad experiences in their own families and the Synanon philosophy was against the nuclear family. It was against Codling and excessive mothering. McLearn cited sources that loss of a mother figure in early years was an event that was likely to cause pathology. Results include anxiety, excessive need for love, feeling of revenge, guilt and depression.


Synanon began negotiations to buy more property in Marin. Caves were built for Stewdants and plans installed for water supply and sewerage system with an eye towards a population of 5,000, all to live in a dope and crime free world. Seeking to built a 95 X120 foot Town Hall and 50 other structures at Tomales Bay ex-dope fiends were sent on an extended trip to the Pacific Northwest to hustle lumber. Mills in Oregon and Washington donated 112,000 board feet of lumber all picked up by Synanon’s 25-ton tractor-trailer.

Life became more watched; sign out procedures more strict. It was dangerous out there, was the word, streets full of muggers. Synanite Mark Lodijensky was stabbed en route back to his residence. Permission was needed to leave the property and Synanon was to know all destinations. A Synanon security force was now in place with its own police cars and walkie-talkies. They looked not just for trespassers but for residents breaking rules. Several of these “cops” were ex-addicts from Puerto Rico. They enjoyed the power, writing up citations and threatening head shavings. There were a few guns. Kimball had a handgun; Hurst a handgun and a rifle.

Emerson’s “law of compensation” was in effect more than ever, though not in the manner originally intended. The Foundation was growing rich and powerful, but the compensation was individual freedom. In Syanon it used to be said, “never believe your own bullshit.” But now the days of discovery and exploration were replaced with a final ideology–Synanon.

Dederich developed a 60 hour Proprietors Stew filled with “little Chucks.” The world, he said, was getting worse. Heads of state needed to meet and play the Synanon game. Chuck reminded that Synanon began with a handful of dope fiends who put their lives in his hands. Proprietors must likewise trust and be good soldiers. Synanon was fueled by those who did without hesitation that which was asked, always putting Synanon’s interest above their own. They did not question, they acted.

Thus Dederich was surrounded by men who could only say yes in a contained environment in which any base idea could grow as a malignant cancer not only unchallenged but nurtured. The criminal/addicts in Synanon were never treated. And as to those who were sociopaths the prevailing theory was they couldn’t be. But truth was in Synanon they all behaved, not by cure, but by indoctrination, a molding of habit. They held Synanon responsible for their status and when much later the Big Shot squares called upon them to use their old nostalgic ways of the streets to defend Synanon many were eager for the task.