Aftermath–the Synanon legacy

Aftermath–the Synanon legacy
Paul Morantz
(c) Nov. 2012

In the introduction I asked the question was Charles Dederich just another sociopath who rose to power or was he a Jedi Knight seduced by the Dark Side. As I wrote, starting in 1998, off and on for 3 years; then quitting, starting again in 2009, stopping in 2011 to write the book “Escape”: My Life Long War Against Cults,” and picking up in 2012, that question continued as did the question did Synanon leave any positive legacy along with its revelation that its processes dictated its ultimate outcome and was predictable from the start?

As to CED I have no clear answer, but certainly his childhood trauma’s and abandonments were likely to produce pathology. As to the legacy, conclusion was not difficult.

The main reason in stopping in 2000 was a telephone call from Rod Janzen asking to confirm the date I was bit by the Snake. He told me he was completing a book on Synanon. He had beaten me time wise. I asked him how he could write a book on Synanon without ever interviewing the person who fought it. I immediately sensed he was writing a book in which he was avoiding obtaining information that might challenge his view. He told me that he had interviewed Synanon people and examined the UCLA records. I informed him that some of the people he interviewed were in fact the ones who participated most in the violence and that he had been lied to. I further told him that UCLA records were selective and I alone had Synanon’s internal documents which tells another story.

I offered them to him but he declined. He interviewed Richard Ofshe but then without explanation he wrote Ofshe’s discourses of brainwashing “ interesting,” but not applicable. When I asked if he had studied brainwashing he said he had not. So I asked him how he could then discount it and he responded because if it existed, he would have to consider it occurring in religions (he is a Christian and lover of utopian communities) and other groups. In other words he would have to reexamine his beliefs and consider possibly his own victimization.

While forced to admit the attack on me, there is no mention of Phil Ritter or Eidson, etc., in his book, “Rise and Fall of Synanon” (which was same working title I had) rather a statement that the media exaggerated the violence and that there was no violence inside Synanon. I responded to him that the media never knew the extent of the actual violence and as far as violence inside Synanon, “how many incidents would you like to know about?” Later I sent him a copy of the “History of Synanon violence” with over 80 incidents and he never responded nor did I hear from him again, nor did he ever apologize to the public for writing a book in which he intentionally avoided the actual evidence.

It was clear, that like Yablonsky, decades prior, he was enamored by Synanon. He wrote that the Synanon experience in playing the game, peers caring for peers without doctors, created a cure for drug addiction. He was so wrong and he refused to write many who studied Synanon came to an opposite conclusion.


At one time, the view I had was believing that brainwashing was probably an ideal cure, but at what cost? I also believed that Synanon’s many clones, adding doctors, and other proper variations, had established successful drug rehabilitation. Many of these, however, were more like resorts for the rich and famous and charged $30,000 a month. I just imagined Charles Dederich rolling over in his grave at that news.

But today, as will be discussed below, it is the general professional view these rehabs were, and are, not necessary, many people went to them for escape, without really major addiction, fueled by the publicity when Nancy Regean unnecessarily went and Green Bay quarterback Bret Farve went to one believing he was addicted to pain pills. If one thought about it, does one really need to go to a rehab to stop taking pain pills or a little drinking or smoking marijuana; these were and are issues that the medical profession could not fail in guiding if one wanted to quit–reducing, changing or eliminating prescriptions. Or a person could just stop. But Farve had the money so he could be self indulgent.

Even AA, which similarly indoctrinated a specific dogma – – the 12 steps– is seen as not so successful as promoted and/or a proper therapy to cure alcoholism as it demands a dogmatic conversion and life time attendance that has been proven not necessary. AA, as Synanon did, says one must participate in AA for life and have a religious belief in AA 12 steps. It also provides no real therapy and is the same program for everyone. I agree with current views, given the atrocities that have occurred in Synanon clones, but I also still think the idea, discounting the dogma, to have a group of peers encouraging you and available at any time to talk to if you are considering going on a binge and you cannot reach your professional, is good. And of course, this was what was best in early Synanon, i.e., peers to talk to and help if the craving starts; also support when kicking cold turkey, food and a roof.

Both AA and Synanon provided this insight, but unfortunately each bounded its members with an ideology and demand to never quit the organizations. Synanon added the game and other systems of punishment to compel compliance that would be copied by many sociopaths seeking riches, as discussed below, and lead to horrors to the participants in the clones that exceeded what occurred in Synanon.

In reality, who was cured depended on how much each wanted it; and that generally holds true in all programs.

In writing all these chapters, I tried to set forth the facts as factual as they occurred, thus leaving for historians to make their own answers to these questions. When I was first fighting Synanon, however, things were very black and White.

Whatever value Synanon might have had, I believed then, it had been long-lost. The monster that now existed had to be stopped. People had to know its dangers before making choices to support or join. Even if the system had worked, the price was too high– free will. Dederich said free choice in the hands of an addict was like a gun in the hands of a baby. Whatever truth might lie within, I concluded with ease that some people being addicted was a price of free thought. Communist Russia was safer with freedom taken away. But is there anything worth giving up freedom of thought? Totalitarianism societies in the end always end in abuse and a “we vs. they” war concept.

There is likely truth that allowing contact with past relationships might lure someone to leave or want to get high, but that is the person’s choice. Synanon can make its recommendation not to connect, even expel and announce it will not accept the person back; but there is no right to stop contact by never informing the person of attempts being made and giving the person the choice. Further, while brainwashing might be a form of keeping a person from drugs, leaving all decision making to the masters was a recipe for disaster. Eventually, the future could only be Orwellian.

When all the litigation finally ended, I had some regret that Synanon had been closed, wondering what it might have evolved into after Dederich’s complete removal. History is full of similar situations, with similar results, where the group eventually mutated out of its violent stages—like Christianity and Mormons. But I also concluded that Synanon would always be dangerous because of the nature of the Synanon game.

Since I had as friends, people like Bernie Kolb and Ben Parks, who went from long-term addictions to long time great human beings, I concluded something there must have worked. I was also impressed by stories I was told about the early days and when the Synanon website first started it had lot of anger expressed towards Dederich. Per Dr. Robert J. Lifton, this is what one would expect from any totalitarianism environment after removal. So is the eventual years later reverting to a longing for the days of comrades and cause.

I would say probably every decade my views changed, either up or down, but only in small degrees. But they have settled now, particularly, as stated below, as I slowly learned the results of so many of the Synanon clones, which resulted in so much death and brutality.

There are more successes, like the Rolling Stones Rick Jones, that stemmed from bona fide psychotherapy. After 30 years of pondering, I came full circle and realized that sociologist Richard Ofshe had analyzed it right from the start. Ofshe who had been allowed inside Synanon to study it contacted Dave Mitchell in 1978 to ask if he was serious about investigating Synanon because violence could not occur randomly under Synanon’s controls and can only occur at direction of management (later admitted by Dederich at deposition).

Eventually, on the subject of rehabilitation, Ofshe would write, Synanon was “the failure that’s gave birth to an industry.”

Today there is argument, but generally it only comes from true believers like Janzen or long time residents who once condemned Synanon, , but now in their old age, as is generally the final stage for victims of brainwashing, per Dr. Lifton, rewrite their memories so each night they are at peace with what they took part in, including, if not outright participating, knowing of the Imperial Marines and all the beatings. Hitler did great things for Germany, but it would be wrong to use them to assert we should all think of it as “Spring Time for Hitler,” as Janzen did of Dederich. And in end, its Synanon’s holocaust that is its legacy, particularly since there were so many who predicted it as early as the 60s from nothing more than reading the books written about Synanon.

So let’s say you wanted to give the Third Reich some credit, which could be done, what positives can you say about Synanon? I would say some things are not debatable. First, while our government says that all people are equal the fact is they are not born equal. Some people, whether from genes or experiences, or combinations thereof, just are not capable of living a good life on their own. This is not limited to addicts. Such people probably would be happier in a small environment with given friends, lovers, jobs and a sense of purpose, where most needs are fulfilled. Whether a small town, island or, commune, they have a better chance for a part of the American dream than if on their own in the big city. The problem is, however, is how to ensure they are taken advantage of.

Still, to glorify Synanon, as some do, like Yablonsky, Janzen, is to show a lack of humanity and spit in the face of the vast amount of victims of violence in Synanon’s own holocaust.


While Synanon’s bragging of curing drug addiction was far off from reality, its public relations system did promote the concept that drug addiction was not impossible to overcome as many had thought when Synanon was conceived. So in that sense, Synanon contributed to the idea that one could get off addiction. Also, if a person made that choice sincerely, that person may have a better chance of succeeding in an environment with supporting persons and ex-addicts urging of them on while removing competing problems of how to support themselves—such as a housing, friends and a job.

In terms of drug addiction, that’s where it ends. Synanon’s punitive system of verbal attacks and humiliation was counterproductive and drove out most that entered.

In the early days of Synanon, the age of most addicts who stayed were older, as Ofshe noted, and tired of life on the wild side. A small portion decided they had enough, and gave too much credit to Synanon and not enough to their own will power. No doubt their belief in Synanon was so strong that they had a good influence on others, but unfortunately they were also subjected to the Synanon system which from the early days warned of the enemy at the door (which Dederich eventually confessed at deposition he made up to bond followers), and later declared that you could never go home or contact outsiders. And that’s it for the idea that Synanon played a role in curing drug addiction.

Not only did the system drive people out, Dederich eventually admitted it was designed for that purpose.


And while because it was so small, its influence in non-publicized areas is doubtful. It can’t be denied that Charles Dederich in many instances, while playing Skinner, was ahead of the times with positive ideas. Society would have to catch up with Dederich on his ideas of dieting, exercise, and no smoking. And while it may be true that economics was a motivation, economics are part of the motivation for everyone on these issues.

While a credit to Dederich’s foresight, it also unfortunately was a feature of his harmful megalomania. Those who chose to reject his ideas were removed. Free choice is an American ideal, and we sacrifice for it, to preserve it, because as a nation we believe it is our greatest freedom. Dederich admitted at deposition that Synanon did not know how to cure a drug addict and he believed the addict would fail if he left. So, as stated, when Dederich also admitted his notions were intended on each occasion to drive people out, so only the fanatical remained, and he profited by the resulting lowering cost, he was in fact knowingly in his view sacrificing former addicts to untimely ends for profit.

His motive, which Janzen missed, was the eventual plan to steal all the money. By 1976 the plan to transfer the money to the Dederich family was cemented and implanted.

Another myth perpetrated by old time Synanon members, and apology writers, like Janzen, looking for fans among ex-Synanon members, is that Synanon played a role in civil rights. It was good that Synanon took in minorities, and when Dederich married Betty mixed marriages were not as commonplace as today. It did make news. This is not a criticism of that policy; but just the fact that it was insignificant in relation to the civil rights movement which was raging in the 60s and pushed by the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, and many black actors and athletes and my generation that marched and died in name of civil rights.

By the 60’s the Los Angeles school system had schools (not all) already well integrated and taught anti-bigotry. Synanon just wasn’t that big enough to be an influence. There were countless communes and entities much larger that took in people of all races. All the civil rights marches, the anti-Vietnam protests, were uniting people of all races. Sidney Poitier did more for race relations in one movie than most of the world combined. And finally, in the end, Synanon legacy is one not only of discrimination, but it became the Ku Klux Klan when it came to its conceived enemies.

Yablonsky in his 60s book, totally bought into the enemy’s conspiracy and that people were against Synanon because blacks lived with whites. As stated, Dederich, himself, admitted at deposition that he created the boogeyman to bond people and keep them from running away.

The truth is Santa Monica was enforcing a valid zoning prohibition. Zones are designed to separate business from residential, etc. Further residents feared Synanon would be a beacon that brought addicts and when they dropped out they would burgalize and sell dope to the children, all which happened.

Also Santa Monica acted because Synanon did not have a license to treat anyone. Even when Synanon was given an exemption for cold turkey treatment, Synanon created an illegal clinic and took in persons needing care other than addiction for which it required a license. That is why the health department took action in 1977. And it is no wonder that almost everywhere Synanon went, Dederich picked a location that was out of zone in which he knew they would be kicked out of, allowing him to claim outrage and obtain sympathy and donations.

Synanon’s most important legacy was to fulfill sociologist Edgar Freidenberg prediction after reading Yablonsky’s book that the organization was punitive, brainwashed and would ultimately create a dangerous state of mind. He wrote the failure of Yablonsky to see the horror of what he had written raised questions suggesting a lack of humanity in Yablonsky. As I said, I would say the same of Janzen. Further, Yablonsky married a Synanon woman and admitted he felt any attack on Synanon was an attack on her.

In the book “The Tunnel Back” Yablonsky, Dederich and another Dr. discuss that the Synanon system is similar to Dr. Lifton’s discussion of Chinese brainwashing. The same result was stated by Steve Simon in his Harvard dissertation only in much more elaborate detail. Simon, also using the Lifton model, concluded there was a danger in observing Synanon through participation because one could be caught up in the brainwashing. This was written before he joined. Janzen could have had this dissertation, but he was not looking for truth.

Simon had come to Synanon because his teacher, Abraham Maslow, the founder of the Humanistic Movement, of which Synanon was using its lingo, was predicting that Synanon would transform psychotherapy. Simon did not follow his own warnings, and after being destroyed in a Synanon game, and then befriended by Dederich, never left, became the keeper of the flame and ultimately went to prison for participation in a scheme to destroy evidence concerning Synanon’s violent conspiracy. At his death bed, Maslow finally denounced the Human Potential Movement.

How all of this occurred is set forth in the first book “So Fair a House” by Dr. Casriel. He had the addicts psychologically tested and found Synanon did not change people internally–that they were still antisocial. But he failed to see while controlled and anti-social pathology still existed—it awaited release– and that many were eager to respond to their old days ways if the message to do good turned to do bad.

Ex-members have no idea how close they all came to being arrested for conspiracy of RICO violations. I was not for that idea, because I saw most members as victims. But that idea was bantered by law enforcement as because of the wire, and the wire logs, knowledge could be proven against all who stayed in support. Synanon did not even keep it from the public. In October of 1977 press conference Dan Garrett bragged that “after beating the shit out of (Dinuba punks– teenagers retrieving their car) we told them to tell all their friends this is just a taste of what will happen next time; and that as to the San Francisco punks “we put 4 of them in the hospital.” He further admitted they ran some “cock sucker’s” into a ditch and shaved their heads.


Guy Endore’s book, “Synanon, noted ex-members very early complained that Dederich had forced out the original Board of Directors and replaced them with hand picked trained seals. He wrote that many ex-members said that one day there would be a scandal and Dederich would run off with all the money. But he ruled them out as “heretics,” not ever once, as did Janzen, do, as Deep Throat suggested to the Watergate investigators: “follow the money.”

Eventually in a 1978 tape recording called “The Freebees are over” Dederich set forth the plan to establish a private corporation, Home Place, Inc. in Arizona which would charge Synanon for rotating people to the new compound to be educated by Dederich and that Synanon would pay the corporation for this, which then would pay salaries to Dederich and his cronies, of which they would pay taxes. A scheme that was illegal, it led to arrests in Arizona.


The Distribution Network:

Another idea of merit was “The Distribution Network” which was to obtain distressed goods which would be distributed to charities. Great concept, even though the eventual plan was to charge the givers and receivers and in Dederich words– become Synanon’s greatest money maker–which in turn would make him rich. After all why should they not get paid for all that work? The evil was he boasted that they would cut off any charity that did not do as Synanon told them to do.


Curing addicts:

The belief that Synanon was a breakthrough, as stated, was mainly because of its public speaking bureau. And it was repeated in books by Yablonsky and Endore and unfortunately repeated a decade ago by Janzen. But their position was based on incomplete data, in Janzen ‘s case that was intentional. By example, as compiled by Dr. Ofshe, in 1961 all Dederich reported was that 70 out of 176 addicts had stayed for 5 days. Ofshe further pointed out Dr. Casreil who wrote the first Synanon book also reported similar short-term stats: 102 stayed 3 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. Yet it was from this that the “miracle” was proclaimed.

Per Ofshe, Dr. Elizabeth Missakian, former Pres. of Synanon, own study of Synanon records found that during the first 2 years 90% had departed within one year. And while in 1978, he noted, Synanon publicity reported 20,000 people had gone through its doors, they were exiting at even a higher speed. And that number was highly inflated by injection of squares and children born to addicts and squares alike.

What is known about the early days, was 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. For those, as stated above, 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.

Dederich in the early days would not release statistics claiming that a dope fiend would identify with whatever percentage failed and therefore would not come; finally declaring in 1967 it was such a failure that no one should ever leave. Dederich 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 out right or by “squeezes.”

Many who studied Synanon agreed. It was reported between 6000 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 walking around money. Others reported in 1973 that the Synanon absorbing members was retention, not rehabilitation, a result found unfortunately in many of the Synanon clones, which Synanon bragged 2,400 existed.

By 1971 Dederich would submit that while 10 to 12,000 people had gone through Synanon only about 10% stayed free of drugs for as much as 2 years, which was similar to the statistics everyone else concluded, which were the same at Lexington Hospital when Synanon was founded.

Ultimately, as stated above, Dederich would testify 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.

In 1971, Dederich stated, as Ofshe noted:

“we want at the idea of ‘graduate.’ This 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 asked me, if an addict enters Synanon, how long will it take?’ My answer is, ‘If he is lucky, it will take forever.”

As stated above, as Dederich believed this, his squeezes and toss outs—like old timer Bill Crawford– was willfully sentencing one to death for CED’s ego and financial gain. The Old Man would testify that he never gave a splitee a single thought from the moment each left.

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 further 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.

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:

“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 2 years?

“It still such a bracing business that I 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 ts great fun, to watch that. Its like, its 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 to 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 1000 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, and threatened to get rid of all of them and replace them with squares.

After saying staying in Synanon is the addicts only chance for sustained life, in 1976 Dederich said that in 5 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. 5 years from now we won’t need people like you.”

Finally, even the founder was not cured, returning to marijuana by 1977 and to an alcoholic stupor in 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. Rather than a commune wonderfully described by Yablonsky and Janzen as reforming criminals, it made criminals out of non-criminals, and took former reformed criminals to a higher level of criminal violence.

The example story might be that of Joe Musico and Lance Kenton. From Musico’s past, one can infer antisocial makeup, but when he came to Synanon he was able to function and had acceptance, something he probably could not otherwise obtain. But he was tapped for his past violent tendencies and unleashed like Russell Crowe in “L. A. Confidential.” Ordered by the court out of Synanon, he returned to a life of crime and was murdered. Kenton, through no fault of his own, was placed in the Synanon school by square musician parents and at age 18 became the youngest member of the Imperial Marines. He participated in several missions, and arguably would have lived a better life but for his exposure to Synanon.

As stated in the Skeptics Dictionary, law enforcement officials, politicians and religious leaders helped push those fearing addiction to what it determined was primarily rackets designed to make money with little regard for human well-being (like Elan and CeDu). It reasoned that success stories generally had little to do with the programs themselves. It’s first example, naturally, as failure, was Synanon, and like Synanon, its clones became the darlings of the media and politicians in election years. The problem of these programs was it was believed it was justified to use any means, denying human and civil rights and treating people who didn’t need treatment; all this done without any proof that behavior modification programs ever worked. Further, it is foolish to treat all persons in the same manner. Neither AA, Synanon, or those that followed, were based on any scientific studies. Rather, the organizations said they worked, so people believed it. Today as it is known that alcoholic recovery has a 40% success rate with no treatment at all; it is doubtful AA can surpass that. Similarly, there is no evidence that every substance abuser is such for life and can only avoid destruction through one of these programs.

As provided by Wes Fager in 2000:

“Synanon was the first therapeutic community devoted to the treatment of the drug addicted according to the Encyclopedia of Drugs and Alcohol, which is edited by the first White House Drug Czar; Dr. Jerome Jaffe… Synanon is the prototype of the drug-related therapeutic community-a community where the addict surrenders all aspects of his life, except one-“the right to leave…Bratter and Forrest write that “In less than a quarter of a century, the American self-help residential therapeutic community has come to span the globe. [Chuck] Dederich [Synanon’s founder], an exile from A.A., is credited with being the genius behind the TC [therapeutic community] movement.”… Leon Brill acknowledges in The Clinical Treatment of Substance Abusers that the original therapeutic community directed by ex-addicts was Synanon though others, he writes, such as Daytop Village, Odyssey House and Phoenix House in New York City have used psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other professionals as part of their staff.”

“In 1984 a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia awarded Fred Collins, Jr. $220,000 for being falsely imprisoned at Straight.Inc. Straight’s attorney for that trial was a prominent Washington, DC civil liberties lawyer named Ronald Goldfarb. Seven years before that trial Goldfarb had written a book calling for prison reform using the Synanon-style therapeutic community. The reviewer for his section on synanons for prisoners is none other than Dr. Robert DuPont, the second White House Drug Czar and founding director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and who administered a whopping $1.8 million contract to an experimental, start-up synanon for kids-only called The Seed in Fort Lauderdale. And furthermore, the National Institutes of Health (NIDA’s parent) had funded the first Synanon copy-cat program in NYC called Daytop Lodge. (Joe Ricci was a former Daytop student who went on to found his own program for troubled youth in Maine called Elan–see below.) NIH had even started its own experimental synanon at the federal lockup hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. This program was called MATRIX. Eventually Dr. DuPont left government service and became a paid consultant for Straight, which had replaced The Seed after the US Senate likened its methods to North Korean brainwashing.

” A recovering alcoholic named Art Barker in 1970 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and run almost entirely by kids for kids. Barker had been arrested at age 16 for burglary and when he was 18 he was charged with assault and robbery, for which he joined the Army a few days later and then went AWOL. According to newspaper articles of the day he has publicly disclosed, “I’ve smoked pot, popped pills, but none of the hard stuff.” Hereceived a degree in psychology from a mail-order company in Florida. One feature of Seed was the Spanking Machine where a child’s father must publicly whip his kid before the large peer Group. Dr. Jerome Jaffe, the first White House Drug Czar, had written the foreward to Dr. Meyers’ book which had called for caution in the use of synanon-style screaming matches against kids. Despite this, despite the warnings of so many other notables, despite Art Barker’s total lack of credentials and less than admirable past, The Seed received a $1.8 million U.S. government grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) soon after it opened. And the grant had been administered by the founding director of NIDA who also happened to be the second White House Drug Czar-Robert DuPont. By 1975 Barker had opened four expansion Seeds, but in 1974 both houses of the US Congress had investigated and made the brainwashing charges.”

Wrote Fager: “Despite the fact that the only way Synanon Church could keep addicts off drugs was to keep them at Synanon forever–that is Synanon was a cult–and despite Synanon’s sordid past–Synanon was a violent cult–the idea of the Game became the basis for a new breed of therapy where the addict himself helps in his own recovery just as Chinese thought reform students help in their own recovery. Almost all modern day therapeutic communities–and there are hundreds of them–are based on the game. This is due, in part, to many Synanites having left to form their own lucrative drug rehabilitation companies–a degree in medicine is not a requirement…

“A popular TV series was based on John Maher, a colorful former Synanite, who formed his own second generation Synanon in San Francisco called The Delancey Street Gang. Synanon’s advertising of its few success stories was so convincing that many professionals like New York psychiatrist Dan Casriel had become convinced of the Game’s efficacy. Casriel teamed up with Father William O’Brien to form Daytop Village which today is one of the largest therapeutic communities in the world. Early on they selected former Synanite David Deitch to run Daytop but later released him when they claimed he tried to set up a Communist-based political action committee of ex-drug addicts. In 1966 New York City Mayor John Lindsay hired Puerto Rican psychiatrist Efren Esteban Ramirez to run the city’s Addiction Services Agency. Ramirez set up the synanon-based Phoenix House which hired former Synanite Ted Dibble to manage one of its centers. Phoenix House is one of the biggest TCs today. Psychiatrist Dr. Judianne Densen-Gerber visited Dr. Ramirez in Puerto Rico and setup her own synanon-based TC in New York City called Odyssey House. Many entrepreneurs, previously excluded from the lucrative drug rehabilitation trade because of lack of a medical degree, have opened their own second, third, and fourth generation synanon-type therapeutic communities.

“And just how successful were the Synanon imitators? Bellis, citing various sources, found that the success rate in the Synanon imitators was no better than that the dismal statistics of Synanon itself. Glasser, he wrote, found that eighty six of every hundred admissions to a large residential program terminated themselves against the advise of staff with most terminating within the first 30 days. Brill studied 2,100 admissions to Phoenix House and found a 96% drop out rate, and of the 4% who graduated, 25% had become staff there. He found that at Odyssey House only 25% of admissions stay more than 30 days, that the rate is down to 9.7% after six months, 5.6% at 1 year, and 2.8% after 18 months; the program’s required length of stay to “graduate.”

Books have steadily been written stating the same, perhaps the best was “Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids” by Ms. Maia Szalavitz.

Elan was known of using such standards as haircut, pull- up, the game and humiliating signs; but added a boxing ring for resisters to be plummeted by bigger guys until a bloody confession was extracted, regardless of its truth. A former member of Elan wrote:

“Elan is best described as a, “sadistic, brutal, violent, soul-eating hellhole.” At Elan, the Game was transformed into constant screaming and degradation and the physically rough treatment became all day violence. We were beaten for the slightest infractions of the rules. Spankings with paddles often drew blood and Phil Williams was beaten to death in the ring. 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. I had never been arrested nor done drugs. None of us were hardcore drug addicts. We were mentally ill.

“Chuck Dederich would not only envy the Money Elan made, but the protection they got. Joe Ricci, the owner, survived the state of Illinois pulling residents out because of the abuse and beat them in court. Joe was a thug and a gangster, but when a law abiding citizen said so, Joe sued his bank and won ten million dollars. Forty four years later, with Joe dead and Elan closed down survivors are still searching for someone in a position of authority to admit that what happened there was abuse. If CED had that kind of protection, he would have died a king.”

Liam Scheff describes CeDu:

“Students quickly found themselves in a new, strange, uncomfortable and often frightening world of intense group relationships and heightened, invasive and violent group therapies. Relationships at the school between students – and staff – seemed to have little formal structure or sense of normal boundary – and a student’s life was always under threat of intense and unpredictable disciplining and punishment.

“The Cedu schools (one in California, and one in Idaho) were each located in a mountain wilderness, and students soon discovered that they were teenage captives, without identification or money, in an imposing geography they could not easily or safely negotiate or escape.

“The real origins of the Cedu schools remained hidden from the students, their parents – and much of the staff – until years after their graduation or departure. At the heart of the Cedu program was 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. The Cedu Schools developed into an industry of sister schools, clones and copy-cats, that are now a multi-million dollar, international – and unregulated business.”

CDU: look familiar?


As with The Seed, at Straight abuse was omnipresent—including beatings and kidnapping of adult participants. Facing seven-figure legal judgments, despite ties with the Bush family and Nancy Reagan, it closed in 1993.” In 1993, Dr. DuPont testified that the progenitor of Straight was Synanon and that those places which used Synanon’s methods are called therapeutic communities and that there are two rules for these therapeutic communities: No Sex and No Violence. But these rules had long been eradicated at Synanon– the root of today’s confrontational-type therapeutic communities. Synanon was the first therapeutic community devoted to the treatment of the drug addicted according to the Encyclopedia of Drugs and Alcohol, which is edited by the first White House Drug Czar, per Wes Fager, who also noted Dr. Jerome Jaffe stated Synanon is the prototype of the drug-related therapeutic community-a community where the addict surrenders all aspects of his life, except one-‘the right to leave.’ Fager further noted Bratter and Forrest write that “In less than a quarter of a century, the American self-help residential therapeutic community has come to span the globe. [Chuck] Dederich [Synanon’s founder], an exile from A.A., is credited with being the genius behind the TC [therapeutic community] movement and Leon Brill acknowledges in The Clinical Treatment of Substance Abusers that the original therapeutic community directed by ex-addicts was Synanon though others, he writes, such as Daytop Village, Odyssey House and Phoenix House in New York City have used psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other professionals as part of their staff;” in an article for Substance Abuse: Clinical Problems and Perspectives written in 1981, Deitch and Zweben acknowledge that Synanon is the progenitor of the present-day therapeutic communities.”

As Fager summarized: “Almost all modern day therapeutic communities–and there are hundreds of them–are based on synanons. This is due, in part, to many Synanites having left to form their own lucrative drug rehabilitation companies–a degree in medicine is not a requirement.”


The Synanon Game:

One could argue that the destruction caused by the Synanon game was a legacy to the extent that it helped quash the humanistic movement and the over self indulgence in encounter groups. As stated in earlier chapter, one study on encounter groups in 1971 found the Synanon methods of attack therapy was the most likely to create psychological injury, and the experiment led to mental breakdowns and one suicide. Unfortunately, came the imitators who sold the idea it was rehabilitative and copied it leading to a much greater list of damaged individuals than Synanon could ever achieve. Worse, they continue today despite strong efforts to expose them. Perhaps worse, was Dederich’s friendship with Caesar Chavez wherein CED convinced Caesar to live like a rich man on La Paz and import the game which led to mutiny and the downfall of the UFW.

While Dederich suggested to world nothing in the game was to be taken seriously, he would admit in deposition in 1979 and 1981 that in operating Synanon, he did not give direct orders, but would inject everything he wanted members to do in a Synanon game or by his dialogue at Think Tables. He stated he “consciously” directed the Synanon population through this method. He also admitted violence could not occur without his approval but he forgot the details due to his stroke.

The game and all other methods of forced confessions, real or false to conform, are the essence of Lifton’s brainwashing. Even today, some ex Synanon members, including many who had claimed they were harmed and/or were critical upon leaving, have played an on-line version with each other that slowly brought them back into the fold, confessing what others want to hear and afraid to say what they don’t.

Fager, in 2000 wrote:

“Some had warned of the potential dangers of using synanons (game) on adults. Professor David Bellis was one. He wrote that, “High discipline programs usually employ the confrontive ‘Synanon game’-a leaderless group encounter session to create aggressive and provocative interchange, using ridicule, cross examination and hostile attack. During these group assaults on individual residents in the ‘hot seat,’ especially newcomers, any castigation and ridicule appear to come from the whole community of clients. One either plays the game and is rewarded with privilege and favorable discharge, or one ‘splits’ from the program. Experience indicates that when these counselors use an especially intrusive, aggressive approach, frequently debasing and harshly confronting clients, they may do more harm than good. . . This intrusive, assertive therapeutic style works well for a few clients but may injure many more.” Professor Bellis noted that, “A number of clients. . .relinquish all independence and subjugate themselves to these staff and senior residents, accepting humiliation and total control of their lives even to the extent of accepting complete direction of their sex lives. . .” And he told of the case of one TC therapist who forced female clients to perform fellatio on him while he talked on the phone to their probation officers.”


The Punk Squad:

While the abuse in Synanon was bad enough, it pails in comparison to a stream of sociopaths who hijacked the system to become Millionaires through the abuse of children; in some cases even as morally deprived as organizations that kidnap children and sell them for profit.

Fager wrtoe further in 2000:

” Dr. Roger Meyer and psychotherapists Thomas Bratter and Gary Forrest warned about using synanons on kids. Dr. Roger Meyer, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University, and formerly the Acting Chief of the Center for Studies of Narcotics and Drug Abuse at NIMH, was one of the first to question the wisdom of subjecting kids to the brutality of the Synanon Game. In 1972 he reported on the case of a 12 year old boy who had been admitted, along with older clients, to a second generation Synanon called The Odyssey House in New York City. He noted that the child seemed lost in the “rigid hierarchy and confrontation tactics of the program.” He wrote:

‘As a clinician I am concerned about the effects of intense, violent verbal interaction upon young teenagers engaged in a sensitive process of identity formation. The effects of this type of interaction upon a fragile self-image and upon later impulse control in the world at large have not been determined. This issue obviously needs further elaboration and research, but there are suggestions that there are age limits below which this form of treatment is contraindicated. Arbitrarily, I would say that young persons under 16 years of age should be excluded from these programs and that careful evaluation be given admitting persons between 16 and 18 years of age . . .It is also clear that the psychological effects of this modality upon different age groups have not been adequately studied.’

“In 1974 Arnold Rachman and M. Heller warned about using the Game with kids when they wrote: “There is a serious shortcoming within the theory and the practice of the T.C. in the understanding and treatment of adolescents. The experiences with the original population of adult addicts still pervade the thinking and functioning of most T.C.’s. Many programs report a high dropout rate with younger adolescents, which is directly related to this factor…. In addition, group practice becomes an anti-therapeutic factor with the T.C. when the uniqueness of adolescent psychological development is not understood and incorporated into clinical practice.(16) In 1985 psychotherapists Thomas Bratter and Gary Forrest echoed the conclusion of Rachman and Heller and added a caution of their own when they wrote that “such a treatment [for self-destructive drug abusers] may not be necessary or appropriate for other treatment populations, i.e. borderline schizophrenic patients, schizoid personalities, and acutely anxious, neurotic adolescents.(17)

“The evidence has shown that brutal, verbal confrontation sessions are no more effective in controlling drug abuse among adult hard-core heroin addicts than other methods of control. Some have shown that synanon confrontations can potentially be psychologically damaging and may not be suitable for all audiences-especially for adolescents. In 1974 Rachman and Heller had noted that many youths had dropped out of TCs because the methods were geared to curing adult addicts. S. B. Sells noted in 1976 that, ‘The more strict the program the lower the percentage of clients retained in the [TC] program..’Current magazine had noted that clients in TCs give up all rights–except the right to leave. Former Synanite Dr. David Deitch, then a Phoenix House director, has stated, ‘A client must have the choice of leaving treatment, even if the youngster is on probation and the alternative is jail.”(19) Richard Ashley wrote in Heroin that, “The only power of decision the member retains once he enters a TC is the decision to leave.” Dr. Efren Ramirez, founder of Phoenix House, has said that “you don’t rehabilitate a person against his will.”

Researched by Maia Szalavitz for a book in 2006 and for Mother Jones in 2007 she described the clone horrors and traced them back to Synanon. Some of these programs were in the wilderness, some were high in the Mountains, or in deserts, or per parents trading children and keeping them in locked rooms when they were not in camps– many of which were like old time chain gangs– this saving cost of shelter and food. Some children were taken to foreign countries, or islands, although foreign countries have done more to stop them than our government. Many have the support of state agencies, because of the past publicity for Synanon, unaware of what happened in California and assuming therefor these programs worked. Instead it is led to countless deaths, destruction of lives and still continues today. Some children have been placed for nothing more than marijuana smoking, and some because the programs told the parents unless they gave them the younger kid they would expel the older sibling. Some of the kids when graduated became counselors for cheap wages, and there is probably nothing more vicious than an 18 year-old who was abused and now given the power to abuse.

Ms Szalavitz wrote there are hundreds of “emotional growth boarding schools,” wilderness camps, and “tough love” anti-drug programs that make up the billion-dollar teen residential treatment industry.

One clone—Vision Quest–it has been written had 9 deaths; forced marches, black uniforms in triple-digit temperatures, harsh discipline and a daily diet limited to an apple, a carrot and a bowl of beans, all which were common to these orgs. Vision Quest’s leader was convicted of smuggling cocaine. Maia wrote:

“No fewer than 50 programs can trace their treatment philosophy, directly or indirectly, to an anti-drug cult called Synanon. Founded in 1958, Synanon sold itself as a cure for hardcore heroin addicts who could help each other by “breaking” new initiates with isolation, humiliation, hard labor, and sleep deprivation.

“Today, troubled-teen programs use Synanon-like tactics, advertising themselves to parents as solutions for everything from poor study habits to substance misuse. However, there is little evidence that harsh behavior-modification techniques can solve these problems. Studies found that Synanon’s “encounter groups” could produce lasting psychological harm and that only 10 to 15 percent of the addicts who participated in them recovered. And as the classic 1971 Stanford prison experiment demonstrated, creating situations in which the severe treatment of powerless people is rewarded inevitably yields abuse. This is especially true when punishment is viewed as a healing process. Synanon was discredited in the late 1970s and 1980s as its violent record was exposed. Yet by the time Synanon shut down in 1991, its model had already been widely copied.

“In 1971, the federal government, through he second White House Drug Czar, Robertq L. Dupont, Jr. MD. gave a grant to a Florida organization called The Seed, which applied Synanon’s methods to teenagers, even to those only suspected of trying drugs . In 1974, Congress opened an investigation into such behavior-modification programs, finding that The Seed had used methods “similar to the highly refined brainwashing techniques employed by the North Koreans.

“The bad publicity led some supporters, Melvin and Betty Sembler of The Seed to create a copycat organization under a different name– Straight Inc.–but employed Du Point as a consultant. By the mid-’80s Straight was operating in seven states.

But, Ms. Szalavitz writes, the shuttered programs simply changed their names and reopened, often with the same staff, in the same state—even in the same building. The money was too good; parents panicking at the finding of a joint and willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money to anyone with the sales pitch, never quite understanding the tortures and deaths that awaited.

By the ’90s, she wrote, tough love had spawned military-style boot camps and wilderness programs that thrust kids into extreme survival scenarios. At least three dozen teens have died in these programs, often because staff see medical complaints as malingering. A 15-year-old boy died from a staph infection at a Colorado wilderness program. His family claims his pleas for help were ignored. In his final letter to his mother, he wrote, “They found my weakness and I want to go home.”

Another boy froze to death (given no coat or shelter), and the victims even included former Synanon children who were placed in these camps by parents still believing in the Synanon system.

14-year-old Anthony Haynes died while attending a five-week boot camp operated by the America’s Buffalo Soldiers Re-enactors Association.

The medical examiner’s office said Haynes died of complications from dehydration and near-drowning — dehydration after being made to stand in the sun for up to five hours, the near-drowning from being left in a motel bathtub, where he had been taken to cool him off.

Children say they were punched, kicked and forced to eat dirt for minor infractions such as failing to stand up straight. Campers say they had bruised ribs from an exercise in which they were ordered to lie on their backs while counselors ran across their chests in boots.

In “Is This A Camp Or Jail?” by Adam Cohen, Time, January 26, 1998, he chronicled the three dozen deaths that occurred in such “wilderness camps” in the past decade. Children’s deaths in “tough love” boot camps 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 that she was faking when she complained.

Aaron Bacon, 16, 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 and called him “a faker” and asked him if he were “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, 1999 was run to death. That is, she was forced to run in the summer sun until she collapsed, and then she was left laying in the hot sun until she died. Her alleged crime—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.

Fourteen-year-old Martin Lee Anderson was murdered within 3 hours of his arrival at a Florida boot camp that was run by the local sheriff, Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen, on January 6, 2006. They covered his mouth with a hand and forced him to inhale ammonia, which caused “spasm of his vocal cords” and prevented him from being able to inhale.

The article listed more; interesting the largest number of abusive clones were in Arizona, where several juvenile probation officers had became visitor/participators in Synanon and recommended Synanon to officials and courts even though Marin County juvenile probation had stopped all sending of kids to Synanon and returning runaways.

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. Below is a chart made by Maia in Mother Jones:



A. Orange on his website lists interesting quotes:

“Tough Love: Abuse of a type particularly gratifying to the abuser, in that it combines the pleasures of sadism with those of self-righteousness. Commonly employed and widely admired in 12-step groups and treatment.”

— Charles Bufe

“The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.”

— H. L. Mencken

C. S. Lewis wrote:

“ Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”


Fager wrote: “Dr. Rogers had been referring to the dangers involved with a kid participating in a typical Synanon Game with 11 people yelling at him, where he could fight back verbally, where he could leave if he chose, and where there was no physical violence. But nobody, especially Dr. Rogers, ever imagined children sitting in one continuous synanon 12 hours a day, 5 ½ days a week for several years–with 200 kids screaming and spitting at him, where the child could not verbally defend himself against his indicters, where he would be beaten and physically restrained, and, most importantly, where he could not leave–namely Straight, Inc.

“In other words Straight took a program that had been designed (and poorly so) to control hard-core adult heroin addicts and used it to control kids who had experimented with pot and alcohol–sometimes worse, but sometimes no drugs at all. Straight used Synanon’s vaginal and anal searches to search for contraband for years even though they never found any. Kids were assaulted and restrained without cause and all the rest. In short Straight took a bad treatment modality, made it worse, and then force their young subjects to endure it. And when former clients sued Straight for holding them against their will, Straight pressured parents into letting Straight fight for them for the right to force their kids into treatment with the force of a court order.


In conclusion, while the notions in Synanon arose out of Dederich’s troubled childhood, I don’t think all blame is on Synanon—such systems existed all throughout history. Synanon just gave it a giant shove through its PR machine which unfortunately attracted sociopaths wanting an easy road to riches and unfortunately led many governmental agencies and politicians to back their concepts.

In one sense it becomes like the question of which came first– the chicken or the egg. Were they all out to get rich at the sadistic treatment of others, or was this end in part of natural consequence of using such a punitive system, as suggested by the Stanford experiment on role playing of prisoners and guards?

But that question—while interesting—is really moot; the fact is that while shelter and support is of assistance, the Synanon system based on hate (as stated by Dederich) and punishment was not only a failure but its achievement in publicity, like a Synanon movie starring Ed O’Brien, has led to 50 years of horror to countless victims all over the world and continues to do so.

That’s the legacy.