Ali-Cincinnati, Ohio 1984-86 & Plymouth, MI Straights, 1986
As I started to read the stories of others who survived Straight, I
got a knot in my stomach and started to cry, once again over the
horrific experiences I endured for over 2 years. It began in
Cincinnati 1984, and ended finally in Plymouth, MI in 1986. My
brother had been taken awhile before me--kidnapped in the middle of
the night. I was completely unaware of what Straight was, so I
willingly agreed to go visit my brother in August of 94. What
happened after that was surreal. I was 14 years old and getting ready
to start my 2nd year at Community High in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My
family had recently returned to my hometown from Texas and I was
happy. I had my childhood friends back and I was just a kid having
fun. We partied and when I was questioned about that in my
"interview" which really was an intake, I had no problems telling the
kids there that I smoked some pot and drank a little. My "assessment"
done by other teenagers who had been through the program labeled me as
a stage 4 addict/alcoholic. Anyone in the addiction field knows that
is the stage where you have DTs, your liver is shutting down, and your
body is basically giving in after years of substance abuse. I was a
vibrant, healthy young girl. I was NOT addicted to any substance at
that time, but I was doing what many teenagers do. I was rebellious,
I was angry at my parents, and my friends and I liked to smoke a
little pot. This did not constitute the need of 2 years of inpatient
'treatment,' where I was not able to go to school, see a doctor or
dentist, have any contact with boys, date, wear make-up, listen to
music, etc. I now have a teenage daughter of my own and I teach high
school, so I see these behaviors everyday! These kids, like me, are
trying to find themselves and their identities while dealing with
hormones, decisions about drinking and/or drugs, friendships,
boyfriends/girlfriends and all the other things that Straight, Inc.
somehow convinced parents was going to kill us.
That really bothers me. The staff and other brainwashed parents all
played on the threat of death if they didn't send their kids to
Straight. My own father died from his addiction, so I know that as my
mother watched my older brother and worried that Shaun was going to
suffer from manic depression and addiction like our father. She was
scared that she would lose us like she lost our father. Shaun was 16
when he was sent to Cincinnati, which is around the same age my
parents were when they met.But mental illness was not addressed at
Straight, and had my father gotten some help with his manic
depression, the drugs might have not led him to take his own life.
Neither Shaun nor I were suicidal, isolated, depressed, or even old
enough to understand what this completely insane cult was doing. They
used sleep deprivation, humiliation, physical and mental abuse to
'cure' the teens. They used fear and the mass mentality of that place
was out of control. They made you admit things you didn't even do in
order to move up in the program. The worse the storied you told, the
higher you went in the program. The more you fed into their
'motivation' and yelled at other kids, the more praise you got. It
was a privilege to be the abuser. If you got to a certain stage, then
you could guard the doors or restrain other kids. All of this was
based on the principles of God, which was really strange for me since
my family wasn't religious at all. The first week I was there Nancy
Reagan came to an open meeting where the parents come to yell across
the room at their kids, ''confronting' their children in a room of
hundreds of people. The therapeutic value was nil and most of us
suffer from post traumatic stress disorder from the mind fucking
(excuse my language) that Straight put us through. I was completely
cut off from contact of any other family members who were not a part
of the program. I couln't talk to my paternal grandparents, because
my dad was a 'druggie' and therefore Straight decided for my parents
who I was allowed to call when I got to certain stages. My aunt, who
was one of the few adults that I had a good relationship with, was not
allowed to talk to me for 2 years.
Many years later, my aunt told me that once my mom called and told her
"Ali is biting people." She asked my mom "Well, did Ali ever bite
anyone before she was sent to Straight?"Obviously the answer is no.
I bit a girl because I was thrown into a small intake room which was
probably about 10x10 with 7 girls. They confronted me about not
following the program and told me to go ahead and leave if I wanted
to. They then preceded to beat me, pull my hair, restrain me on the
floor for hours upon hours at a time. I'm talking about 4 girls
holding you face down with your arms behind your back, like the police
do. They would sit on top of me. One on each leg, and one on each
arm. Every hour or so they might be nice enough to stretch your arms
out for me, but the physical pain of those restraints was unbearable.
I turned into a violent person, because I was defending myself from
fights where I was far outnumbered. These fights happened daily in
Cincinnati and the fact that NO adult at that facility saw anything
wrong with that behavior blows my mind.
I ran away every chance I got. They had their own lingo for
everything, and running away was called 'copping out.' Once I got
into the city of Cincinnati and sought help at a shelter for teens. I
made a complaint to the state of Ohio, but when the case worker showed
up, the staff had everyone on their best behavior. I was not allowed
to talk to her any further, and they showed her what I had admitted to
doing. She decided that I was a drug addict who just belonged in
treatment. And let me tell you, this place was not treatment or
rehab. It was nothing of the sort, because later I went to a real
treatment center in Cleveland and learned that Straight had taken AA's
principles and twisted them into their own 7 steps. So, they took a
12 step program that has worked for millions, and changed those steps
into their own interpretation. Why they were allowed to do this is
another question I have. I mean, Bill W. laid out the path to
recovery, and reputable teenage treatment centers use the 12 steps.
Every thing that place did went against the principles of recovery.
What they did a great job at was taking kids who were already dealing
with issues and adding more on top. Later in my life I became the
victim of an abusive relationship. I learned that behavior at
Straight, not at home. My mom never even spanked me from what I
remember. But the place had her convinced that the awful, viscous
abuse was going to save my life.
I am appalled that places like this still exist. The Seed is just
Straight with a new name, and there is one just a few miles from my
home in Florida. I have seen other spin offs of the program that was
ordered to shut their doors. Several clients sued and got millions, I
didn't. Somehow I think that a financial settlement would make me
feel better, but really the scars are so deep that I know it wouldn't
fix it. Parents be warned--if a treatment center takes your child and
does not let you have contact with them then something is wrong. I
don't think my mom knew they locked us in rooms at night, sometimes up
to 8 girls sleeping on mattresses or the floor. The 'oldcomer' would
push their bed in front of the door so there was no escaping. There
were alarms on the doors and windows of the 'host homes' that we slept
at. During the day, and usually late into the night, we were sitting
in hard chairs in a warehouse. No education, no doctors, no time to
do anything but yell at other kids. And the staff got off and the
fights and the long hours of groups. They incited many of the
incidents that at this time I don't even want to describe.
Yes, I survived, but I didn't ever function the same when I was
finally pulled out of the program. As I was getting ready to
graduate, some other teenager decided I shouldn't because I had, at
the facility in Cincinnati, been in a confrontation with her years
earlier and never 'made amends.' At that time I had been moved to the
Plymouth Michigan program, which had much more lenient rules. I guess
Ohio was okay with child abuse and Michigan legislators saw things
differently. I have much, much more I could say, but I will leave it
at this. I truly believe in life what goes around comes around. And
on the days that I get those painful memories, I think of karma. May
Mel Sembler and all of his employees that followed suit get back every
ounce of pain that they inflicted on millions of innocent children.
Carolyn - Cincinnati Straight, 82-84
My personal experience with Straight Inc. and the ruins it left of my life has been an ongoing event. Although my time there ended many years ago, I have been haunted by the things I was made to believe about myself, about the world, and about right and wrong. The images of abuse I endured and witnessed have remained in my mind through the years. The mental scars I carry are far worse than being physically restrained and hit. These are the silent killers, which eat away at my very core each day. More than anything, I have wondered, "How could this have been allowed? Why did this happen?"
Until I typed in the words Straight Inc. about three years ago on an internet search engine, I wondered if my recollection of what happened to me there were just imagined nightmares. I would try to talk about my experiences there but I sounded like I was describing some madhouse. It was so extreme, anyone who hadn't been there, could not comprehend. I had no idea how sadly, simple, the motives behind such a place were. We the victims, went through the program, being convinced we were saving our lives and of all the kid's lives that were there, and that without Straight, we would end up dead on the streets. The truth is, that program was about one thing, and one thing only. Money
I was very young when I was placed there. As I got older, I did not know that normal people don't have severe anxiety, depression, daily thoughts of suicide, night sweats and panic attacks. I had no prior experience to compare it to. I thought these were normal for everyone. I cannot explain how disturbing it is, to find out the things about yourself, that you considered personality traits, are really nothing more than side effects of abuse. Practically every person that was there has similar symptoms and scars and disturbing images.
When we are young, a foundation is formed. A layering if you will. This becomes the basis for which everything else we build in our lives. If that foundation is flawed, nothing built there can ever endure.
I was 13 years old when I entered Straight. I was there more than two years before I finally graduated. When I was released, I was 16 years old and mentally broken. My education was denied me. I couldn't speak clearly about the tortures I suffered and witnessed. After leaving, I could barely hold a normal conversation. I couldn't put the words together. I was angry and afraid. I was confrontational but most of all, I was lost.
Why is that those who need to be heard most, often cannot find the words or the voice with which to speak? The reason is, those abilities were taken from us. I didn't understand that I had been mistreated. I was taught the ends justify the means. I was told and came to believe I deserved everything that happened to me. I was told again and again that I had a drug problem. Even though I had never done drugs. In my home I was a sexual, mental and physical abuse victim, plain and simple. I needed help. Real help from qualified caretakers, trained to deal with real-life emotional trauma. Trained professionals skilled in recognizing and reporting abuse victims to the proper authorities. People that could help me put my life together and begin to heal. I received no such treatment in Straight Inc. Instead I was humiliated and berated. I was forced to reconcile with my abuser, or I would never have graduated the program.
Time moves forward, and while I am still here. There is a lot to be said about "Quality of Life." There is no way to regain such loss. To repair damage done and opportunities past by. I don't want to relive all of this again. I don't want to feel angry any more. I do not want to punish the people responsible. I do not want to, but I feel they must be. They must be punished for every suicide that occurred in a mind they wore down and away. This must be brought in the public eye to vindicate each and every one of us. They must take responsibility for the wrongs they've done.
I did not want to come here and to go through this again. But then I remembered something. I remembered what it was like to be there in Straight. I was isolated from the world, hungry and alone. I was so tired and afraid of what was going to happen next. All the time, praying, begging god that someone would help me. That someone would come in and stop the madness. Together, we are that someone. I came because I Do Know. These programs continue today, they adapt and change but they are still here. You CANNOT scare someone better. These people should be held accountable and our story should be told. The truth is eternal. Validation is what I seek.
Carolyn - Cincinnati Straight, 82-84
Christine Flannery, Straight, Inc. - Cincinnati, Ohio - Oct 20, 1984 - Feb 7, 1986
BEFORE STRAIGHT INC.
I was not the model child but I was not a hellion either. I was however rebellious and defiant, fought with my step-mother and step brother, and spent a lot a time in my bedroom listening to music to avoid my family. I did skip school a few times, was caught and reprimanded by the principal, and then I never cut class again. My grades were ok: mostly Bs and Cs. I was never in trouble with the law for any reason. My parents did catch me drunk once, the first and only time I was ever intoxicated. I NEVER tried a drug of any kind. In fact, drugs scared me so I wasnt even tempted to try them.
LATE OCTOBER 1984
I remember, I cant remember. This is actually not a contradiction. I vaguely remember the first few weeks. My parents told me they were taking me to talk to a counselor. I didnt think much of it and thought I would be in and out of there in no time. Wrong! Strangers led me into a very small room with concrete cinder block walls, no windows and three plastic chairs. Two teenage girls started asking me a bunch of questions about my drug and alcohol abuse and sexual history. I was baffled by the questions, but answered all of them honestly. I told them that I had tried alcohol a few times in very small quantities, was drunk once, had never tried drugs and was a virgin. I was so shocked when I was repeatedly called a liar and re-interrogated numerous times. Somewhere along the line I was accused of getting high off liquid paper (white out). I admitted I used it a lot for schoolwork but I insisted that I never got high off liquid paperagain I was called a liar. A junior staff member (program graduate) came in at one point and repeated the entire interrogation and also accused me of lying.
Eventually staff proclaimed that I had a drug problem, I couldnt go home and I had to stay. I was told the 14-day liethat I could leave after 14 days. Not true as I would later find out. I cried. I was so confused about why I was there, why I had to stay, and devastated that no one believed me. My parents were led in to say goodbye. I was not allowed to have a private conversation with them nor was I permitted to ask my own parents any questions. Next came the strip search and then I was led into a large group of kids sitting in plastic chairs. I was terrified as the teenage staff member led me to the front of the group by my belt loop then introduced me. I was an extremely shy person so being in front of the group like that was horrifying to me.
Since I had never used drugs prior to Straight, Inc., it was extremely difficult to even understand why I was essentially being punished for something I never did. At the same time that I was struggling to understand the reasons for being in an essentially private jail, Straight, Inc.s so-called positive peer pressure traumatized me tremendously. I was utterly terrified by Straights brutal peer confrontation therapy. The untrained teenage staff and teenage clients repeatedly confronted me for lying whenever I insisted that I never used drugs. Confrontation in Straight, Inc. was downright inhumane: teenagers repeatedly inflicted brutal verbal attacks, accusations, insults, name calling, yelling and screaming upon anyone deemed not being honest. As a result, every moment I was in the Straight warehouse (all 15.5 months), I constantly felt extreme fear that I would be confronted.
Being in Straight seemed very surreal to me. I remember thinking things like, This cant be real, this cant be happening to me. I prayed over and over again that Straight was just a bad nightmare and that I would wake up and Straight would be gone. On a certain level, I simply could not accept Straight as my reality. So, after a few short weeks of unanswered prayers, the rest of my time in Straight transformed into, for lack of a better expression, something of an out-of-body experience. In psychological terms, this phenomenon is known as dissociation.
A FLY ON THE WALL
As for the remaining 15 months in Straight, Inc., I have almost no personal memories. I do remember my first day back to school when I tearfully told my best friend that I couldnt talk to her anymore. Straight did not allow us to speak to anyone they considered a druggie. Anyone from our past was called a druggie friend. I also vaguely remember riding the school bus after school on the way to Straight. That is it. So, essentially 15 months of my life is almost a complete blank. It was as if I was a fly on the wall watching it happen to everyone else in the group. I can tell you what it was like in Straight and the things that went on, but only in terms of generalities.
The daily routine was nothing less than torture. All of us were sleep deprived to varying degrees. We always got to our host homes late at night and often left the host homes before daybreak. Our day at Straight was also excruciatingly long and seemingly never ending. Even though the day officially didnt start until 9 am, many of us arrived at 7 am. We were crammed into the tiny, hot, overcrowded cinder block intake rooms with no ventilation where, as we waited for group to start, we were forced to talk about changes we were making, sharing our feelings, etc. Then, off the windowless group room for 12 hours of raps.
The things we could talk about were strictly controlled. Getting high, physical fights with family, breaking the law, skipping and or dropping out of school, sex, bestiality, acts of violence, etc. were things we were allowed to talk about in group. So, if someone revealed highly personal information, it was disclosed to a large group of teenagers (roughly 150-200). Of course if you didnt speak with sufficient remorse or acknowledge that you were a druggie, that would lead to immediate verbal assaults from the teenage staff and teenagers in the group. Since for the most part I did not have specific incidents in my past that met the above criteria, I never knew what to talk about. This is another reason I endured an onslaught of nasty confrontations, verbal attacks and group humiliation during my first few weeks.
The underlying cause of our problems (ie. divorce, death of family member, rape, etc.) were forbidden topics of discussion. For example, I once made the dreadful mistake of bringing up my parents divorce and my mothers absence. I knew that was the root of my problems and I sensed that I needed to talk about it. The group and staff immediately became hostile. Ill never forget being told that I wasnt there because of my mother that I was there because of my drug problem. So, the one thing I did need counseling for, all the issues stemming from my mothers abandonment of me, I never received.
I saw things that scared the living daylights out of me while in Straight, Inc. I saw kids thrown to the floor and sat on for hours by 4 or 5 other teenagers simply for refusing to participate in group. I saw kids denied access to bathrooms and have accidents because staff considered such requests as a way to avoid group or yourself! I saw kids carving in their arms. For carving, many kids were stood up and ridiculed by the group. I cannot begin to explain how horrifying it was to helplessly watch as others were so blatantly abused. Before Straight Inc., I had never been exposed to abuse or violence of that nature. No words can convey how terrified I was, 24 hours a day, every day. Exposure to Straights violence and abusive punishments also made a lasting impression on me.
Not only was child abuse a routine daily event at Straight, Inc., but we were all subjected to many extreme forms of psychological control and humiliation. For example, using the restroom was a nightmare. Bathroom stall doors were wide open and an oldcomer stood in front of each open door and literally stared at the newcomer as she urinated or defecated. This was extremely humiliating for both the newcomer and the oldcomer. Privacy was absolutely forbidden in the host home bathrooms as well. Even in the shower newcomers were supervised. Beltlooping was another method of control and humiliation at Straight, Inc.: Oldcomers stuck their hands down the back of a newcomers pants, their thumb went through a beltloop and then a fist was made. All newcomers were led around the building all day long in this manner.
On February 7, 1986, I graduated (aka 7 stepped) from Straight. During the summer of 86 I turned 18. On my birthday, I was 4 months 7th stepped from Straight. I had just graduated from high school a few weeks before and I was working at Wendys. I was also still pretty brainwashed on that day, but I had begun to cultivate friendships that Straight did not approve of. No I hadnt starting using drugs or drinking, I was still fairly compliant. But a fellow male employee and I got along a little to well for Straights liking.
A couple weeks later, now July 86, I was caught breaking the no dating rule until 6 months 7 stepped. One day I was holding hands with this other male employee in the parking lot of Wendys when who should stop by unexpectedly, but my step-monster. To this day I think the bitch was spying on me trying to catch me in the act of some "crime" I was committing. Handholding a crime?...to my shock and horror, yes as it turned out. She reported me to Straight immediately. That evening at home the shit hit the fan when my parents confronted me. Yes there was a nasty fight. My programmed/brainwashed parents gave me two options. Either sign myself back in Straight or leave the house immediately. I didnt hesitate, I defiantly chose to be kicked out without any idea what I would do, rather than spend another second in Straight, Inc. Even in my still somewhat brainwashed state, there was no way in hell I would set foot in that hell-hole ever again. I naively believed that it would go no further since I was a legal adult and could make this choice for myself. God was I wrong.
Two days later, I'm at work, completely enjoying my new freedom, when my parents visited me at work.Since it was summer, we often kept the back door in the food prep/kitchen area propped open. It was an employee/delivery entrance, not for the public. Well, my step-monster and dad boldlystrolled right in anyway, and preceded to the drive up window, inside the store, where I was working. Yes, I was then lured out under false pretenses. They said they just wanted to talk to me. Embarrassed by the spectacle they were causing, I reluctantly agreed and followedmy parentsout the opened back door. The back door then was mysteriously & quietly closed behind me. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the door was shut by one of the three accomplices that managed to stay out of my view. I was so caught off guard by my parent's unusual behavior that I didn't think too much about it. I should have run right then.But I was taking too much in at once already, was confused, and had no clue what was about to happen. My worst nightmare was about to happen.
Behind the restaurant, my parents pleaded with me to go back to Straight, they said they were afraid I would go back to drugs (which I never did to begin with), end up in jail, or dead. Both begged and pleaded, tried several guilt trips. They were soooo brainwashed! I was completely unmoved by their desperate pleas and repeatedly refused to give in. I angrily made it crystal clear I would never go back to Straight and that I had every right to refuse. Suddenly and without warning, each one of them, my father and step monster, grabbed me and told me I was going back there, it was for my own good, they were doing it because they loved me, blah, blah, blah.... I kicked, screamed, and resisted in every way I could. I violently thrashed like an out of control wild animal. In my entire life I had never fought back the way I did that day. As my struggle continued, and as I was forced toward my parents waiting car, three men appeared to assist my parents! I would later find out these men were friends of my parents that were not involved in Straight at all. Anyway, the three men surrounded us so that escape was utterly impossible. Despite their difficulty in gaining total control over me, they eventually forced me into the car. One strange man sat on either side of me, my dad behind me, my step-monster drove, and one thug sat in front with her...I was completely surrounded, trapped, and had no way out.
Apparently, my struggle, and my repeated screams of things like Im 18, you cant do this to me!, etc. in broad daylight alarmed Wendy's customers who fortunately, happened to be in the parking lot as this entire ordeal unfolded. One of these customers, tried to open the car door, which of course was locked. That Good Samaritan was still hanging onto that door handle as the car drove off. He fell off the car onto the pavement, but then (I found out later) ran inside to tell the manager to call the police.
Meanwhile I was whisked off to Straight, where I encountered staff who were obviously expecting our arrival. At that moment, I was completely shattered cause I suddenly understood what a fucking conspiracy it all really was, and I realized that everything that just happened was very well planned by Straight. Naturally, I was next taken to an intake room where I was held captive against my will. Staff bombarded me with more bullshit such as, you are going back to drugs, to jail, and will die without Straight and various other guilt trips. I was lectured for god knows how long. My stupid fucking step-monster and staff shared about how concerned they were about me. My dad also shared his feelings incessantly. All kinds of manipulative shit was thrown at me to guilt me into signing myself in. I still wasnt budging but by this time I felt so damn defeated, hopeless, and trapped that I was no longer violent. I knew I was totally screwed.
Quite unexpectedly, the police showed up, came to the intake room, and ordered all of them to release me. I have no idea how long I was in the intake room before police arrived. I didnt know what to expect from the police next, but it seemed pretty clear they were on my side. This shocked me actually and I was so relieved to be able to leave with the police. I was then taken to the station where I was informed of the serious criminal implications of my parents, their accomplices, and Straights little stunt. Since I was an adult, it was apparently a completely different matter (legally) than if I had still been a minor, and the police encouraged me to press charges. I was told, that the police were well aware of many things going on with Straight that they didn't like and that they were actively trying to shut the place down. Police wanted me to prosecute because it would really help their quest to stop the madness. But I knew my parents would have to be prosecuted to bring Straight down. You see, Straight, my parents, and the three men were all just as legally responsible because it was a conspiracy.
As overjoyed as I was that police understood how bad Straight was and wanted to close it down, I still couldn't press charges because of one person, my dad. I repeatedly insisted, through my hysterical crying, that I couldn't do that to my dad, no matter how much I hated him at that moment. In fact, I actually begged them not to press charges against my parents. I also felt so overwhelmed that I just wanted to get as far away from Straight as I could because pressing charges would have been like reliving the nightmare over and over. The rest of the conspirators I could have cared less about. Nothing would have made me happier than to see my step-monster and Straight staff rot in jail along with all the rest of the conspirators. Police did warn me however that the state could prosecute whether or not I pressed charges, given the seriousness of my case (kidnapping is level 1 felony). After I was released I was finally free of Straight. I had escaped their evil clutches thanks to an unlikely hero that refused to stand by and do nothing. I only regret that I never got to personally thank that Good Samaritan and hate the fact that the Straight staff was never held responsible for this crime.
I never called the police to find out what became of my case. The last thing I wanted to think about was that awful day. Years later, quite recently actually, my dad told me that there was an ongoing investigation for quite some time and he, along with the others were really worried (as they should have been!). But it eventually got dropped. I always knew my kidnapping was a very carefully planned conspiracy, but this fact was not verified until the fall of 2005 when my dad admitted as much to me. But heres the most fucked up part. Neither Straight nor my step-monster ever told my dad exactly what I did wrong...my crimes were greatly exaggerated. What a surprise. So my father was deceived in order to get sucked into kidnapping me at Straights direction. Straight staff persuaded him that it was necessary to save my life and so he was falsely led to believe that his participation was the right thing to do for my well-being. Straight staff then instructed my parents exactly how to carry out my kidnapping. My father also said that had he known the truth, he never would have gone along with it.
Even though kidnapping turned out to be my unlikely escape from Straight, I have never gotten over that day. It will haunt me forever, just as my time in Straight, Inc. will always haunt me.
The kidnapping incident accelerated the process of snapping out of my brainwashed state. Little by little I realized my head was full of Straights false teachings and lies. In addition, I had to try to adjust to the real world on my ownI had no clue how to function at all. I could not relate to anyone and was painfully aware of how different I was from my peers. I was angry because Straight, Inc deprived me of the opportunity to do normal teenage things dating, proms, music, and other silly things teenagers do. In a nutshell, I felt like a complete freak. I was also still scared to death of saying the wrong things and feared anyone who did drugs or drank alcohol. I had no idea how to carry on a normal conversation and didnt know what the boundaries were. I told my entire life story immediately upon meeting anyone new. You see, Straight routinely forced us to reveal personal information, including every last detail, thought and feeling to a large group of teenagers. This was Straights twisted idea of honesty. Needless to say, the tendency to reveal so much information about myself in the real world scared off a lot of people. I also had trouble adapting to the fact that people do not go around sharing their feelings and erroneously thought they were doing something wrong. Because Straight constantly reinforced the notion that the group would accept us (as long as we agreed with them, complied and went along with the program that is) by screaming Love Ya so and so all the time, and because of being forced to confess personal information to a large group daily, I entered the real word an extremely naive and trusting individual, towards strangers that is. But at the same time I distrusted my family and authority figures because these are the people that betrayed me.
Then there was the curse of awareness. Straight called this the Gift of Awareness. I call it the curse of making false assumptions about people and proclaiming that those assumptions are the truth. I ran around psychoanalyzing everyone I came in contact with. This person is not in touch with their feelings, this person is an alcoholic, etc. Mind you I didnt say these things to people, but I know those taught assumptions (aka Gift of Awareness) detrimentally influenced my opinions, reactions and my relationships with people. The other aspect of the curse of awareness was an extreme, unhealthy focus on oneself. I was aware of every single thought, feeling and motivation I ever had. Straight taught that this was how you were supposed to be. But, what this really is, is the curse of analyzing yourself constantly, self-persecution, being extremely hard on yourself, etc. I assure you this is no way to live, its not pretty.
Because of how deeply Straight corrupted my mind and deprived me of important teenage years, because of the confusion I experienced when Straights false teachings sharply conflicted with reality, I desperately wanted to be normal and set out to become normal. I also vowed that I would recapture all that I had lost because of Straight, that I would never grow up, and that I would do every single thing they told me not to do. At the same time I was extremely angry about the kidnapping, for being put in Straight to begin with, and for how much Straight screwed with my head. So, a few months after the kidnapping, I embarked on one very long party. I felt normal when I was drinking, I could laugh, and carry on a conversation.I partied my ass off to block out of my mind Straights false ideas, to forget everything about Straight, to recover my lost childhood, and partly because I was just totally lost and confused. I spent years rebelling against Straight.
The party lasted roughly for 7 years. I mellowed out when I got tired of it. In other words, I outgrew itYou would think this would have been a bad or unhealthy reaction on my part. To a degree I would agree that my reaction against Straight, partying and living a wild lifestyle did create some problems. However, in my case it was a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was also a natural reaction against Straight. For all the problems I created for myself during those wild years, that period actually helped me deprogram: I rediscover myself, discovered what MY values were, and yes to an extent, it helped me feel normal and adjust to the real world. To be honest, I dont regret this period at allI learned too much from it.
It would take years to reverse Straight, Inc. programming but even with all the effort I made to recapture myself.I still see how much Straight harmed me and remnants of Straights programming to this day. I acquired an extreme fear of being falsely accused of anything in my life. When it happens, I FREAK OUT, I'm hyper-sensitive that way....nobody ever understands why I have such a strong reaction. I always hear "if their wrong don't worry about it...you can't control what other people think" Stuff like that. But it always REALLY upsets when me when I have been misunderstood in any way. Obviously being misunderstood by my parents and falsely accused of being a druggie by Straight became my worst nightmare. Then there is the tendency to be too honest and reveal too much information about myself. That is a common criticism of me that I still hear from other people. The fear of confrontation never left me either. I also have occasional panic attacks for no apparent or obvious reason. I have noticed however that fear of confrontation can sometimes trigger them. I still carry a sense of loss for the part of my childhood that Straight unjustly stole from me. A part of me still feels stuck in childhood as well. Its as if I cant let go of it because of how much I missed. I also learned what injustice, and cruel and unusual punishment means.
Straights insidious after effects show up in even more ways. I also learned an extreme and unhealthy form of taking responsibility for my actions. Blaming anyone other than myself was strictly forbidden in Straight and would lead to immediate harshconfrontation. Kids in Straight were never allowed to talk about horrible things done to them unless the kid shared feelings about what the kid was supposedly responsible for. For example, if a kid was sexually abused, the child had to share feelings and take responsibility for their "role" in the incident. If you happened to have parents that beat the crap out of you, got into physical fights with parents etc, you had to talk about how horrible you were to your parents for hitting them. If a kid was ever allowed to "share" with the group about the horrors of child abuse, without being forced to "take responsibility," it was the exception, not the rule....that would have been highly unusual. Also, if talking in the group about present incidents, the same was true, we had to assume full responsibility no matter what the circumstances. It was ALWAYS about how we were responsible no matter what was being discussed. We were NOT taught to distinguish between what we were responsible for and what we werent. This created a very destructive pattern in all my relationships: Ever since Straight I have tended to shoulder all responsibility, even when I am not at fault. The passage of time has diminished this unhealthy pattern but it still shows up to a degree. And last but not least, I have a diagnosed disorder because of Straight: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
20 YEARS LATER
In late July 2005, while watching the television show Dateline, my life turned upside down all over again. I unexpectedly encountered the past that I spent so many years trying to forget. Little did I know at the time, I was about to completely fall apart. Dateline ran a piece on two childrens deaths caused by being restrained while in treatment. Memories of seeing other children brutally restrained came flooding back uncontrollably. As I struggled to see my computer screen through my tears, I immediately typed a letter to Dateline. Two days later, I posted that same letter on an internet discussion site opposed to ABCs Brat Camp. To my shock and disbelief, I then noticed a reference by another person as being a Straight, Inc. survivor. Turns out, I had accidentally stumbled on a forum full of Straight, Inc. survivors! As I read other survivor stories, I rapidly came unraveled as a flood of emotions overwhelmed me. I posted this on a Straight Survivors forum on August 8, 2005:
Less than two weeks ago dateline jolted me out of my comfortably numb state when it aired its piece on program restraints. And then I found this forum immediately...
I didn't know there were so many Straight and other program POW's out there....and so I read, and read and read....so many things that I have forgotten about. At times I had to stop reading because I couldn't handle it...way too much reality.
I always thought I was able to put Straight behind me...and after years of post-Straight struggling in every way imaginable...I became, for lack of better words, an "over-achiever." I guess you could say I drove myself to success out of sheer determination to forget Straight, forget the label of being a bad kid/druggie, and partly, to prove every last one of them how wrong they were about me.
I thought I finally silenced the Straight demons, calmed that uneasy haunted feeling that never goes away, I though I had it under control.
Yes Ive always been very aware of the anger that I carried with me, knew that Straight damaged me, have felt resentful every day since my incarceration in Straight and the kidnapping incident. But since I knew there wasn't a damn thing I could do to change the horrors of Straight, I just refused to think much about the entire experience.
And now.....I read on the verge of tears everyone else's experiences in Straight, nodding, yeah I remember that. But yet I cant cry, I cant break down, cant even comprehend my own emotional turmoil that is just beneath the surface...nor can I reach it...BUT I know its there.
I feel shell-shocked, just like the day I was first sat down in group....I'm numb and its so damn uncomfortable...and at the same time, I feel as if I'm on the verge of an emotional breakdown of sorts.
What the hell is this? After 20 years how is this possible??? Can somebody please explain this to me??????
Over the next few weeks, I became increasingly dysfunctional as persistent and invasive memories of my time in Straight constantly interfered with my ability to concentrate at work and school. There were even times I would find myself crying while at work. Before long, it was impossible for me to function at work, in school, and in my personal life. Out of total desperation, I set aside my Straight, Inc. related fear of therapy, and sought help. So, in early September 2005, my therapist, who has a PhD in Psychology, diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (see also, C-PTSD) related to my time spent in Straight, Inc. 20 years earlier. I then started a 90-day medical leave of absence from work on September 21 and within two weeks, I had also stopped attending classes. Taking time off from my life and attending weekly therapy sessions was a necessity since severe depression, severe anxiety, Straight nightmares, memories and flashbacks and an avalanche of emotions overwhelmed me to the point I had become I utterly incapable of functioning in the real world.
As it turns out, I was essentially reliving all the emotions I suppressed while I was actually in Straight, Inc., which explains the avalanche of emotions, flashbacks, nightmares, etc. I was reliving all the shock, disbelief, confusion and fear I felt during the initial weeks of my captivity. I also relived the nightmare of witnessing other children being violently abused for the smallest infractions. This explains why I reacted so strongly to Datelines story regarding two teenage deaths caused by violent restraint.
Suppressing real emotions was practically a necessity in Straight, Inc. If a child dared express fear, homesickness, that he/she felt confused about being in Straight, Inc., or simply voiced any unhappiness with the program, the client would be harshly confronted by a group of angry teenagers. In recent therapy, I learned that suppression and dissociation were my techniques to survive Straight, Inc.s extremely cruel and unbearable environment.
In January 2006 I returned to work and school but remained in therapy. I still struggled emotionally, but therapy helped me keep going. Slowly I learned how to deal with all that happened to me. I remained in therapy until May 2006 and finally graduated from law school that same month.
Straight will always affect meI will take it to my grave. I dont know if I will ever be able to forgive those who unjustly labeled me as a druggie or those who broke the law by kidnapping me. I cannot stand how many of us were nearly or completely destroyed by Straight, Inc. So many people involved in Straight should have gone to prison but too much time has passedthey will never answer for their crimes. But at least now, I believe I am on the road to finding peace. Ill be ok.
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