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http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2007/08/cultspawnedtoughloveteenindustry

TheCultThatSpawnedtheToughLoveTeenIndustry
ByMaiaSzalavitz

TheideathatpunishmentcanbetherapeuticisnotuniquetotheRotenbergCenter.Infact,thisnotionis
widespreadamongthehundredsof"emotionalgrowthboardingschools,"wildernesscamps,and"toughlove"
antidrugprogramsthatmakeupthebilliondollarteenresidentialtreatmentindustry.
Thisharshapproachtohelpingtroubledteenshasalonganddisturbinghistory.Nofewerthan50programs
(thoughnottheRotenbergCenter)cantracetheirtreatmentphilosophy,directlyorindirectly,toanantidrugcult
calledSynanon.Foundedin1958,Synanonsolditselfasacureforhardcoreheroinaddictswhocouldhelp
eachotherby"breaking"newinitiateswithisolation,humiliation,hardlabor,andsleepdeprivation.
Today,troubledteenprogramsuseSynanonliketactics,advertisingthemselvestoparentsassolutionsfor
everythingfrompoorstudyhabitstosubstancemisuse.However,thereislittleevidencethatharshbehavior
modificationtechniquescansolvetheseproblems.StudiesfoundthatSynanon's"encountergroups"could
producelastingpsychologicalharmandthatonly10to15percentoftheaddictswhoparticipatedinthem
recovered.Andastheclassic1971Stanfordprisonexperimentdemonstrated,creatingsituationsinwhichthe
severetreatmentofpowerlesspeopleisrewardedinevitablyyieldsabuse.Thisisespeciallytruewhen
punishmentisviewedasahealingprocess.Synanonwasdiscreditedinthelate1970sand1980sasitsviolent
recordwasexposed.(Thegroupisnowrememberedforanincidentinwhichamemberplacedalive
rattlesnakerattleremovedinthemailboxofalawyerwho'dsuccessfullysuedit.)YetbythetimeSynanon
shutdownin1991,itsmodelhadalreadybeenwidelycopied.
In1971,thefederalgovernmentgaveagranttoaFloridaorganizationcalledTheSeed,whichapplied
Synanon'smethodstoteenagers,eventhoseonlysuspectedoftryingdrugs.In1974,Congressopenedan
investigationintosuchbehaviormodificationprograms,findingthatTheSeedhadusedmethods"similartothe
highlyrefinedbrainwashingtechniquesemployedbytheNorthKoreans."
ThebadpublicityledsomesupportersofTheSeedtocreateacopycatorganizationunderadifferentname.
StraightInc.wascofoundedbyMelSembler,aBushfamilyfriendwhowouldbecomethegop's2000finance
chairandwhoheadsLewis"Scooter"Libby'slegaldefensefund.Bythemid'80s,Straightwasoperatingin
sevenstates.FirstLadyNancyReagandeclareditherfavoriteantidrugprogram.AswithTheSeed,abusewas
omnipresentincludingbeatingsandkidnappingofadultparticipants.Facingsevenfigurelegaljudgments,it
closedin1993.
Butloopholesinstatelawsandalackoffederaloversightallowedshutteredprogramstosimplychangetheir
namesandreopen,oftenwiththesamestaff,inthesamestateeveninthesamebuilding.Straightspinoffs
likethePathwayFamilyCenterarestillinbusiness.
ConfrontationandhumiliationarealsousedbyreligiousprogramssuchasEscuelaCaribeintheDominican
Republicandmyriad"emotionalgrowthboardingschools"affiliatedwiththeWorldWideAssociationofSpecialty
Programs(wwasp),suchasTranquilityBayinJamaica.wwasp'spresidenttoldmethattheorganization"tooka
littlebitofwhatSynanon[did]."LobbyingbywellconnectedsupporterssuchaswwaspfounderRobertLichfield
(who,likeSembler,isafundraiserforRepublicanpresidentialaspirantMittRomney)haskeptstateregulators
atbayandblockedfederalregulationentirely.

Bythe'90s,toughlovehadspawnedmilitarystylebootcampsandwildernessprogramsthatthrustkidsinto
extremesurvivalscenarios.Atleastthreedozenteenshavediedintheseprograms,oftenbecausestaffsee
medicalcomplaintsasmalingering.ThisMay,a15yearoldboydiedfromastaphinfectionataColorado
wildernessprogram.Hisfamilyclaimshispleasforhelpwereignored.Inhisfinallettertohismother,hewrote,
"TheyfoundmyweaknessandIwanttogohome."

*Hasdisavowedextremeandhumiliatingtactics