Heather Cooley, Springfield, VA Straight, FEB 85-Oct/Nov 1985
I had been raped as a virgin at 13 and convinced to let the 17 yr old plea out on statutory rape. I became permiscuous and rebellious. Parents that should never BE parents shirk their duty. By February 1985, after running away from a group home that I actually requested to go to, for the 3rd or 4th time ( last time being out of state), I was told, after 3 days in Crater Detention in Petersburg, VA that i was going to family therapy in Springfield, VA. My intake was much like others. It sounded to me as if people were playing basketball next door. Later I would find out that one of my intake girls was from Richmond VA where I was from. And that there was no basketball, just motivating. I did not advance through phases as one might hope, but i also knew a story of a young girl like me me (13,14) who had already been there for almost a 1 yr. and a half. Never passing 2nd phase. Same was true for me. But I Knew how to counter-brainwash them after my 4th month. I sat with my hands down, put in a chain of command to a 5th phaser every day for 2 and a 1/2 months to be discharged. I committed myself to the idea that I would not be a success story for them. I zombied out and got sent to P.I.W. which only psychiatrist said that I was majorly depressed. ( I was first diagnosed with deppression at 13 although I can remember being depressed since I was 4.). They tried hug rap on me to break me. It was hard ( having girls AND boys stand in line to hug me/break me again in a adifferent way). I stood my ground, kept the tears welling in my eyes from falling and a week later, I had a 5th phaser motion to me instead of the other way around! The most freedom I had felt in years. Truly, convincing Straight, inc. that you will not be a success story, no feelings, no soul, no heart, is the quickest way to get the hell out of there! I brainwashed them! I was out of there in 7 and a 1/2 mo.s! Without consequences!! I boast because I tricked them. But the humiliation, personal things said to my parents and step-parents will always stay with me. We know that they did not need or desire to hear these intimate issues! And I feel very, very lucky to have been kicked out as soon as I was! I do feel very strongly about one point: After Straight, inc., you are forever changed. Whether you ever got to read or graduated, or neither like me; the abuse, the nightmares, and the best part of the day: lunch, remains the same. Much Love, Heather Cooley (I am not ashamed. It was not our fault!).
Cathi Jones (Buchanan), Springfield, VA Straight Inc., November 1986 to March 1987
As I sat in group motivating my brain away in walked three phasors
and a new victim. This newcomer was fairly big and looked really
really angry. I'm not talking about someone lied to me and tricked me
into this shithole angry ... I'm talking nail all the windows shut at
the host home and light the house on fire while watching his
oldcomers and family wither in the flames laughing at the voices in
his head I need Thorazine angry!
You guessed it he got sent to the house where I was living.
For the first few days things seemed ok. Then the fun began...
Q: "Why can't you be cool with me?"
A: "Cool is halfway cold and cold is dead!"
Q: "I don't want to be here anymore!"
A: "Acceptance is the key! You're POWERLESS to change your
Q: "When can I talk to my parents?"
A: "When you earn T&R"
Q:"When does this program end?"
A:" That depends on you."
Q: "Why won't you be cool with me?"
Again and again and over and over....
Day after day we went to the building. He just sat on front row and
Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock ...
It was a bright sunny brisk morning we got up on time, ate and took
showers ready for the glorious new straight day... I am straight hear
me roar ect ect ect ...
I was sitting in my favorite reclining chair reading a book for
school. My newcomer asked if he could use the mirror to comb his
hair. I said sure as he walked to the wall next to me he picked up
his jacket and fished for his comb. I thought this odd considering I
could see it sticking out of his pocket. I mentioned this to him and
he walked closer asking where when all of a sudden he quickly took
his jacket and drove it into my face.
I couldn't see and could barely breathe the only thing I remember was
the awful smell of stale sweat as he choked and bludgeoned me into
unconsciousness. When I came to I looked around the room and it was
as though someone went ape shit every thing was torn apart. He must
have gone completely crazy trying to get out the locked front door.
As I stood up we both looked at the window across the room. I tried
to respond but was really hard pressed to coordinate my legs and
arms. I was then that realized that my eye was bleeding and I
couldn't shut my eye lid.
He dove across the room and kicked out the window. By the time I got
there he was half way in and half way out. Teetering on freedom!
I completely panicked all I could think of was getting set back to
first phase because I let him escape. I stumbled over the debris in
the room because I could not see due to the blood running into my
damaged eye. When I got to the window he had ducked the top half of
his body through the jagged opening. In my panic I drove my hand
right into razor sharp shards he left sticking out of the window
frame. It was all in vain because by that time his outward inertia
impaled my hand on the glass. I felt and saw it enter just above my
middle finger knuckle and travel completely through my left hand to
protrude just below my wrist.
By this time Mrs.E came down stairs. She was very sickly
because of a stomach operation where they removed 3/4 of it. She was
going to call 911 and I told her to call the building first to get
direction. I was so paranoid that I would be set back. It gets pretty
hazy after that.
The next thing I remember was being in the ER of the Bethesda Naval
Hospital. Before they gave me anything for the pain I asked to call
the staff. I was told I could not have anything for the pain. No
aspirin no nothing. I was directed to decline all meds. The doctor
tried to reason with me but I was so fuckin brainwashed that if I did
this I would be relapsing and saying FUCK YOU TO THE GROUP I refused.
His quote was "Ok have it your way." Two male orderlies held me down
as they took a pair of pliers and began to remove the broken shards
of glass from my butchered hand. I remember them using a tool that
held my wound open after the large piece was removed. They then used
hemostats to fish around in there to get the little bits of wood and
glass slivers out.
That part wasn't bad compared to the contusions around my right eye.
They took a little brush the one you would use to scrub your hands
with after you got car grease on them and started to clean out around
my swollen socket.
I remember when they sewed the tendons in my left hand back together
watching my fingers move by them selves like I was playing a phantom piano...
At that point I began to scream.
When I got back to the building I was surrounded by Senior staff and interrogated about what I did during the incident. I was so frightened that I would get set back onto first phase. That is the one thing you never wanted to happen. They kept asking me the same questions using different words for hours. I just had major surgery with NO anesthetic and was writhing in pain. That made absolutely no difference to them at all. No one ever asked how I was feeling. Nothing. It was torture and pain for months on end.
I was told that I could not be in group and was locked in an intake room for about six weeks. God forgive if the parents who came twice a week ever saw how badly I assaulted. I was not fed, I was not taken to the bathroom for sometimes 16 hours a day. I was 18 years old and couldn’t sign myself out. I was held prisoner with no medical follow up or physical therapy as told to me by the Doctor who treated me. I am 52 years old and have permanent scarring and nerve damage.
I f you think the above is really unbelievable keep reading. That was nothing compared to what happened when the kid who caused this was captured by the police.
About 5 weeks of being held in an intake room (5 x 12) the door opened and the light came on. I was terribly blinded by the glare. Standing there was a fifth phasor. Fifth phasors were the in the last phase before being “graduated”. He said follow me. I got up and walked into the very large group room. Afternoon rap was going on. I looked and saw 6 people being restrained all over the floor. I can hear the muffled screams of children as I write this. I followed the Fifth Phasor into the staff office. There sat all the Senior Staff Executive Staff Mel Riddle and Rick Toy who was Straight Public Relations.
As a scanned the room I could not believe my Mother was there as well. This story occurred at the Springfield Virginia Straight. My Mother lived in New Jersey. I became incredibly terrified. They began to interrogate me again about exactly what happened that night several several times. Over and over. It got very intense. My Mother knew better than to say anything or she would too get confronted. She was like a deer in the head lights with fear. Dean Mistreada was a violent self-seeking child abuser who was on Senior Staff. He got really angry jumping up and slamming me into the desk behind me. I tried to not fall down but with out the use of my dominant left had. I fell . Due to the damage to my hand I was not able to form a fist or be able to use it to hold to anything. Come to think of it I really could use my hand much at all for about nine months. It never healed right due to denied medical treatment.
When I pulled myself up onto my feet Jim sailor (Senior Staff) grabbed me by my shirt collar and threw me out of the door. I crashed again this time coming down on my meat glove of a left hand. I screamed in pain. For a moment the room went absolutely white with unbelievable pain like I had never felt before. Jim sailor grabbed me by the seat of my pants picked me up again. He shoved me into an office and inside was the boy who assaulted me with the a Springfeild Virginia Law Enforcement and his parents.
A moment later in walked Rick Toy Straight Inc. Public Relations Officer. He held a document in his hands and said “Sign the paper. Don’t read it just sign it. I said no without reading it. My Mother came in about that time with a female staff member named Courtney Bright ( Junior Staff). I said to Mr. Toy that I want to read this first. He became very agitated. I could feel intense panic coming on. At Straight you were not allowed to say no to anything that staff said to do. If you did consequences were inhumanly cruel. He walked over and punched them into my chest. “Fine have it your way BOY! I will see you in group later.” I thought I was going to about wet myself II was so frightened. I meekly held the document up to read. I cant remember all of what it said as much of it was legalese. What I read said that this entire ordeal was 100% my fault. That Straight Inc. was in no way responsible for what happed. By signing this the boys aggravated assault charge would be dropped. I was blown away. My Mother said that all the staff said this is the right thing to do. “So just sign the damned thing. I did not want to sign. It meant I could not sue Straight Inc. for being negligent for taking in a very violent mentally ill child in Straight Inc. I said no again. At that point the Senior Staff member Jim Sailor grabbed me again by the seat of my pants and moved me into another intake room and the confrontation began. It lasted six hours. During that time I was repeatedly assaulted over and over. I was in so much pain I could not raise me hands to ward off the blows any longer. In the end I was forced to sign against my will. What cracked me was this one statement. “ If you don’t sign those fucking papers Im going to freeze you on day zero till you do.” At Straight Inc. you moved through the phases. There were a minimum of days that each phase would last. I saw this consequence before. Your sat facing the wall from 9am till 10:30pm or so. No one could speak to you. You could not speak to anyone even the higher phases. This consequence included a major diet change. You were fed peanut butter sandwich at every meal with a six once cup of warm water.
The pressure kept building up as I was confronted even longer. Finally I was shoved into an office chair with the document in front of me. Dean Mistreada just smiled as they put a pen in my right hand. I could not sign it. My left hand could not even hold a pen at this time. So he grabbed my right hand and tried to force me to sign it. I resisted a little while until he grabbed my damaged hand and slowly squeezed. I remember tears rolling down my face it hurt so very badly. I shouted STOP!!! PLEASE STOP> To no avail. At the end of the day I made my mark. This was 100% coercion. I did not want to sign but was beaten and humiliated into doing this against my will. This was common during that time.
The only way out was in.
Richard S. Moroski
Drug War P.O.W
Kirsten Larson - Springfield, VA Straight Inc. Nov. 1987 to early -mid 1989
I recently read Cyndy Etler’s book “Straightling – a memoir”. After over two decades of being free from my imprisonment at Straight Inc., all of the memories of abuse, fear, and abandonment came rushing right back as if I had just been there yesterday. What really disgusts me most is that I was placed in a warehouse, and the key was seemingly thrown away for two years, where there was not one single person on staff running the place with a mental health license or any clues of how you are supposed to help problem youth. Yes, I admit I was one of the kids who most likely did have a problem. My problem was severe clinical depression. I know this now because I am a master level counselor who is currently getting my PhD in instruction and cognition of psychology. After learning in depth about addictions and recovery, it is crucial to understand that drug and alcohol abuse is merely a symptom of the underlying problem (i.e. sexual or physical abuse, eating disorders, pathologies such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia etc…). You cannot cure the underlying problem by treating the symptom.
While on first phase in Straight Inc. I tried to assert the last bit of my own identity when I wrote every rock band down that I could think of, instead of writing my “MI” (moral inventory). I was forced to wear the paper around pinned to the front of me like a scarlet letter for a week. As a consequence I was given 90 second showers; this was 30 seconds water on, 30 seconds water off, 30 seconds water on. When I refused to take a shower that night, stating it would not be long enough for me to get clean; I was physically forced into the shower. This punishment lasted three months; the staff member who gave it to me refused to call on me to take the punishment away.
It was quite clear that I was severely clinically depressed. Straight had their fly-by-night doctor put me on an anti-depressant called Desipramine. After taking a recent psychopharmacology class I learned that this drug is to be administered only at night to help people with depression during sleep; if given during the daytime or waking hours it will cause severe hallucinations and atrophy. I sat in group like a zombie staring at the wall and drooling. I was then periodically restrained for not paying attention. The following is a poem I made up in my head during this time:
I’m falling down hard,
And I can’t stop;
Into a death pool,
Like a raindrop.
Happiness I’ll never miss;
For pain is all I’ve gained.
Day by day I can’t go on,
So here I’ll lie in this peaceful pond.
Day in day out forevermore,
Resting in peace is my back door.
When I finally made second phase after nine months, I ran away. After running away from Straight Inc. and being caught, my parents talked to staff who told them not to listen to anything I said, it was merely “druggie” language; but to get me back to rehab immediately. Right before we left to go back, I begged my parents to put me into a PI (psychiatric institute) to treat me for depression. When they refused, I locked myself in the bathroom and slit my wrists; I would rather have died than go back to Straight. Once I was back in the intake room, a staff member told me, “Next time you try to kill myself, make the cuts vertically from wrist to elbow”.
I had my wisdom teeth removed while in Straight. I was put to sleep for the operation. Upon waking up I was told that I could not have anything for the pain because I was a drug addict. I was then, the very same day, put back into group and sat next to someone who was misbehaving and throwing punches; and yes, I did get punched directly in the jaw.
I have had many altercations regarding other members of group who were angry to be there. More than once I had large clumps of my hair pulled out by the roots. I still have a permanent bald spot in the back of my head to this day. I have many, many stories I could tell about what happened to me. Some of the most disturbing things I saw happened to others. For example: a child on the guys side of group stood up on his chair and swan dove head first into the concrete floor; another kid got up from his front row seat and ran head first into the wall in front of him; this slightly knocked him out all the while staff made a joke at his expense and the group laughed.
The underlying problems of the kids I shared this prison with were myriad. These kids suffered, but were not limited to: incest, sexual and physical abuse, being raised in a satanic cult, trichotillomania, which is the compulsive urge to pull out one's own hair leading to noticeable hair loss, distress, and social or functional impairment, Tourette’s syndrome, anorexia/bulimia, etc… None of us ever received help for the real problems we were suffering while a prisoner of Straight Inc.
Mary Somers - Springfield, VA. Straight, 1983
I was in straight,at springfield VA,when i was 17 years old. I remember being bodily forced out of my chair, physically restrained, someone holding, or, sitting on my legs, arms and chest, whyle someone else would hold thare hands over my mouth. I ended up getting to third phase thru nothing but lies from me just so i could get to night school and run away my first night. I was restrained numerous times and no matter how truthful I was in the beginning, they wouldnt believe anything but lies. My mind gose back thare alot,and the vertual abandoment by my family. my name was mary somers and I was in straight in 1982 and will never forget the verbal and physical abuse.
Kim Stentzel,Springfield, VA. Straight, April 1986 - March 1988
First phase was supposed to take 14 days to complete, according to the guidebook I was briefly allowed to review during my intake, but I soon realized that most people were lucky to make second phase after several months. So when I made second phase, the phase where you could live at your own house, I was on Day 77. I had mostly skated through first phase by making myself as small as possible, trying to say the right things, and being as good of a newcomer as I could be, so that my oldcomers would recommend me for second phase.
Looking back, I realize that being an oldcomer meant that you actually had to be responsible for at least one other human being in your home. Being an oldcomer meant that you had to watch what your newcomer was doing at all times, be able to point out the hundreds of rules she would inevitably break, demand that she write acceptable Moral Inventories every night, and on, and on, and on. You had to be aware of the fact that your newcomer might be really pissed about being in Straight, and take it out on you. At the time, though, I was just glad I was allowed to be in my own home at night.
A few weeks into my oldcomer status, I had a newcomer who was a misbehavor; she would refuse to participate in group. We were locked into my empty bedroom with an actual lock as well as an alarm, and it was time for bed. We were chatting about something, when she began to sing Jesses Girl by Rick Springfield. This being a radio hit, I wasnt sure she was allowed to sing it, and I suggested that maybe she should stop. She explained that there was nothing at all about drugs or drinking in the song, and after a minute of consideration, I deemed it okay for her to sing the song. I reasoned with myself that this song could not possibly lead someone to drug usage, and after a little while, fell asleep.
The next day was a Friday, which was always Open Meeting night, when the parents would come and stare at us from their side of the room, while we sat on our side facing them and various kids would be promoted to various phases or even graduate. This meeting would last for hours, at the end of which we were all pretty exhausted. But Friday nights never ended there. After every Open Meeting, at around 10:00 or 11:00 pm, the girls would gather their plastic chairs close together facing one corner of the big warehouse room, and the guys would do the same in another corner. This signaled the beginning of Review.
Review was a time for kids who had reported concerns about other kids, to bring those concerns to light. It sounds like a caring event, but in reality, its sole purpose was an onslaught of non-stop, in your face, brutal confrontation. The thought of being called on during Review was terrifying. So, picture it: about one hundred girls, chairs crammed tightly together, motivating by wildly and frantically waving and beating their arms up and down with the sweat starting to come up in steam
and then, Staffmember yells Kim Stentzel!. Silence. I stand up, confused, heart racing, breath caught in my throat, literally feeling my face getting pale and cold. Im petrified. Im standing in the middle of a sea of faces looking up at me, all of them wondering what theyre about to hear about me that will really piss them off. Staffmember asks me in a gentle tone about my day, then about the previous night, lulling me into thinking I might be the one person who doesnt get in trouble tonight. Until Staffmember calls on my newcomer, and asks her if she has something she wants to share with the group about Kim. And sure enough, Newcomer proceeds to tell the group that I allowed her to sing Jesses Girl by Rick Springfield. Staffmember asks me why I allowed this to happen, and I answer, truthfully, that I didnt realize it would be a bad song to sing, that I didnt mean anything by it and while Im talking, one set of hands goes up in the air, begging to be called on then another and another and by the time the sentence is finished, it sounds like a cattle stampede with the chairs banging and the arms flapping. Girls get called on, one after the other, to scream at me about how full of shit I am and how much I disgust them. It all blends together in a helpless blur, as Im wondering to myself how I got there, why I was even put on second phase if I couldnt be trusted to know if a song was dangerous and then a fifth phase girl is called on. Fifth phasers are like demi-gods around here. She squirms her way in between the chairs of girls, puts her face right into mine, and screams You make me sick! You were weak with MY friend! And no matter what else she says, this is what breaks me, deep inside. She doesnt know me, she barely knows my newcomer, and yet she is spitting on my face in the name of her friendship with my newcomer, who I apparently put in mortal danger with Jesses Girl. And up until now, Ive been able to hold it together and fool myself into thinking that Ill make it out of here, and Ill be the same person when I leave, as when I arrived. But now I cry, knowing that in the world of Straight, I not only messed with an important persons friend, but that I myself have nobody in my corner, because I let someone sing a song. I realize that I am nothing, and I feel it, too, and its embarrassing to see that I was stupid enough to think I had been something. For the first time in my 14 years, I am actually hopeless. As I stand there, someone else gets called on to tell me they dont want to see my crocodile tears, and Staffmember finishes with me by getting the group to sing Tastykake.
There are many stories belonging to other people and me, which are much worse than this one. But this story is about the night I first learned my true place.
I ran away twice after that event, both times from school when I made it to third phase. By the time I was brought back for my last tour in Straight, I had gotten it. I knew exactly what I had to do to make it through the program. I became the fifth phase girl who broke me with one sentence, all those months before.
Cyndy Drew Etler, Springfield, VA Straight, Nov 85 to March 87
I was locked up on Backlick Road,, in November of 85. Sometime in 86, when I finally made 2nd phase, they shuttled my ass up to . There I remained, festering, until they 7th Stepped me in March of 87.
The wife of a survivor recently asked me how she might help her husband now, as his memories are flooding in. I realized my healing did have a clear trajectory, a set of steps; Im going to post them here. She and I were communicating about how a partner might support her spouse, so I wrote in that context: of how my husband, Eric, helped me (I am a very lucky girl). However, I think any survivor, single or partnered up, can use some of these ideas.
1)I needed Eric just to listen. I needed to brainbarf the memories and the horror and I needed him just to hear itand the bigger part of that, to believe it. To validate the horror, to be shocked by it. That was the biggest thing I needed, actually: validation of it. Like a vet, before I met Eric, I wouldnt tell anyone about Straight, because there was no way to describe the terror to someone who hadnt lived it. To even try would allow the possibility of someone pooh-poohing, and I dont know why, but that would have been excruciating. The externals, the things that were describable (belt-looping, motivating, alarmed and locked doors) couldnt accurately convey the hell emotion that accompanied those things. There is no way to convey the terror; theres no common experience that a listener can draw on to understand how it felt to get stood up in Review. Still, my stomach drops when I type those words. But what he could do, and did do, was listen, and believe, and express shock. That alone accounts for 75% of my heal-up.
2)Next, I started searching online and reading others accounts. That got hairy, because others memories brought back my own. I became kind of obsessive, running downstairs to tell Eric about a new memory. That part of my recovery was trying for him, because it felt self-inflicted. I didnt have to read others memories; couldnt I just leave it alone? I understand his feeling that way. He was Straight-saturated, and furthermore, the caregiver role becomes exhausting, especially once the initial flare of trauma has passed. There are many online groups of survivors; the Yahoo group is, in general, very active and very supportive of newcomers (ha!) revelations. I didnt participate in the group then, but Ive been around for others new-memory phases, and Ive seen people rally around them. I imagine that would make a huge impact, and might even take some of the burden off the primary supporter. Eventually (and I mean eventually), Eric put the kybosh on my reading about Straight online. And believe it or not, thats a good thing, not a control-freak thing. I had become obsessed, and it was to the point where I was just spinning my wheels, rather than moving forward. Perhaps thats something the partner can agree with the survivor about ahead of time: that the partner and the survivor both will be aware of that possibility (becoming mired in rehashing, past the point where its beneficial), and that the partner will gently ask if thats happening, if/when the survivor gets that glazed, obsessive look. Key point, though, is the gentleness and the asking. A survivor will flare up like a pack of hemorrhoids (Erics phrase; I cant take credit!) if challenged on the validity of their pain regarding Straight. At least, I did.
3)A ton of healing can be accomplished with just these two steps. But if its wanted and its possible, a counselor trained in PTSDand good lord, if possible, a counselor familiar with Straightcan stitch the survivor back together. My unreasonably cool counselor, Doctor Skin, has helped me with all the deep, long-term issuesI didnt need to hash Straight memories out with her, but shes helped me with all the current-day vestiges: the inability to deal with groups, the paranoia. In short, my counselor helped me morph into a functioning adult.
4)This ones not for everyone. In fact, it might be just for me. Ive known since I was a teenager that I was going to write a book. Ive known it was my purpose. It took me four years of pre-dawn writing and hiding in barricaded closets and listening to Floyd in a dark garage (no, the motor wasnt running) to scrape out the resin of memory and put it down on paper. The Review scenes, in particular, involved a great deal of heaving and gnashing. But since Ive finished my book, Im like, clean and clear. Im basically see-through, Im so healed. (Books called Straightling, by the way; its in the process of becoming available. Read about it at www.cyndyetler.com)
5)The thing thats brought the most profound healingIm talking, like, otherworldlyis my getting a rescue dog. In fact, we have two now, but Oscar, the one who we rescued as an adult (as opposed to Eli, who was found as a pup, so has no memory of strife), is like my soulmate. He and I just get each other, on a level Ive never felt before, because of our shared experience of abuse and neglect. And because hes a dog, he has no need to trump my pain, nor does he have any relationship issues. Its just pure love and interdependence and healing. I cant recommend it enough.
--Cyndy Drew Etler
March 12th 1988.Barely 15 years old.I awoke in the morning to someone dressing me.I looked up and two huge family friends stood over me.i basically was shuffled into a car only to drive several hours to the gates of demoralization.I visualize being in the front waiting area.Looking at a picture of Nancy Reagan and Princess Di.I just kept thinking where the fuck am i?They sent several oldcomers up front cause they thought i was gonna be a problem.Little did they know i would eventually become one but not that day.
I was truly terrified in my interview.I lied about all kinds of drugs i did.I actually had only drank a couple of times and smoked weed maybe twice but I even said i had shot lsd.I thought that was what"druggies"did.I knew i needed to please my parents and let them hear what they wanted to hear but it backfired.I thought if i lied they would just take me home.Wrong,now i was labeled a "druggie"and ready for behavior modification oops i meant treatment.They told me i would be on 2nd phase in two weeks and i could go home.So i thought no biggie.I'll just run away.Little did i know how much bullshit that would be.Said farewells to my parents.Then came the finger through the belt loop.
Being led into group by my beltloop.Somebody was sharing and then cut off to introduce me.I looked around at this warehouse.Painted all in white or tan.American flags in front with the twelve steps on aa/na on wall.Fluorescent lighting was the sunshine they had promised in the interview.I was brought in front of the group.I looked over and one the wall was the serenity prayer.That we would chant daily.Terry F.Introduced me and then.Boom!!It sounded like fucking thunder.Kids waving there arms and snapping there fingers.The chairs rumbled.Several people were called on to welcome me one male and one female and onto the front row i went.
I truly don't remember the exact time it took me to make second phase but it certainly wasn't two weeks.What made me cop out the first time and kept that rebellious streak going.Was i had to sit next to a friend from the real world i knew before straight.He was"misbehaving"said he didn't want to share and staff ordered him to the floor.Remind you he didn't act out or act violent.He just refused to talk.As i did on many occasions myself only to be"restrained".It would always start with them holding your hands to your side.The you would struggle a little because one of them is always being a jerk.I was always suspicious of those eager to sit next to misbehavers or behind.But some also didn't have a choice.Then you are pulled violently to the floor.While one holds your ankles and one sits on your knees.This pressure of there weight could make you heels feel like they were on fire or being pricked with a million needles.Another two guys are holding your arms by putting pressure on the elbow joint.They literally lock there arms so if you move your arms it hurts like a mother fucker.While one is behind you with their sweaty,stinky hands over your mouth and digging there knees into your back sometimes pulling your head back to leverage themselves with your knees.So when you struggle it only gets worse as some of us hard headed ones never learned.Seriously don't believe me on the pain.If you have never been through it.Take your arm while sitting down make it straight putting your elbow over your knee.Now with the other arm apply pressure to the wrists downward.Don't be scared push hard so for a brief second you understand the pain.I visualize hafting to hold his arm and i knew it hurt him.I cried the whole time begging him to stop fighting.I see his eyes pleading with me to help him and i couldn't.HE WAS MY FUCKING FRIEND and I hated them and myself for that.I CANT even say I'm sorry cause hes gone.He had real problems and i knew that.I'm not a savior or a saint.I'm a fucking sinner just like everybody else.Sometimes the guilt of what i had to do in there weighs so heavy on my heart.I think why was i lucky to make it out?Why do i deserve life?It brings so much pain when i think about it.I need to put my face in a towel and sob .I picture those that really needed help and got none.All those children perverted for life.Some were stronger than others but my story is a testimony for those that weren't.
I hauled ass from that place 8 times.The first time i made it to 3rd phase.It wasn't so bad i worked at the golden greek in the Springfield mall.So i didn't have to be in group so much.Got stood up in group for something dumb.Next day got my check saw a movie (batman)bought a guns and roses t-shirt and got caught by mall security.That was my first"Who remembers".This time they were not so welcoming.I cant explain that feeling in words of that fresh air you smell.Knowing you don't have to go back to that place at least for the night.Not having people ram fists down your back,getting spit on.Maybe eating a big mac.Or maybe taking a shower with soap that was free of other peoples body hair.I hated that, it was so gross.especially if a host home had a lot of newcomers. But for me it was that first cig.But those highs usually didn't last long.Sleeping on the streets is no joke especially for a kid.Worried about being found,predators or a safe place to sleep.I got caught usually by the police.Sometimes i welcomed the peaceful slumber i got from sleeping in a cell.especially after i had been walking for miles.I knew if i rocked out in the bathroom and the oldcomer i was with didn't do anything.I knew he was hating that place and would leave.Some would tell on me.One oldcomer and i hid in the ceiling till they closed shop.We had it planned for two days.Climbed on this little fridge in the infirmary climbed up into the ceiling and hid there.Straddling the drywall.We could hear our name called.It was so awesome.We hitchhiked all the way to pa only to get one ride and then to almost get there and get caught on the highway.Another time I hid with priests in Potomac,Md for months till i got caught.And they were all really good guys.I helped a kid get out when i was a newcomer from the shower.I dont know if anybody remembers joe.He was a little slow.We ran out of his place.I had to wear bowling shoes.When i copped out again Alex .helped us to stay with these priests.It was so cool Cloak and dagger stuff.But when i left again.They wouldn't help me cause straight was suing them.Ive pushed beds away from doors that didn't have alarms.I even walked out the back door with an oldcomer.Staff let us out.HAHA!I was always looking for an escape.I never used when i left cause i knew if i did that there was no way i was coming home.I even went back to my old neighborhood and got caught by a cop who knew me.Dumb!!I really hated it when former withdraws and cop outs would help my parents bring me back.Fucking hypocrites who would tell me this is the best for me.
My last cop out.I made it to fourth phase got a job.The whole time it seemed every time i tried to talk in group somebody had something against me.It was policy to eat each other but the whole time i was there i felt like i had a bag over my head.It was extremely hard for me to be an oldcomer.2 and a half years had passed.I grabbed a beer glass by accident and i knew if i went back to group they would eat me alive.I said fuck it and fuck that place.I just wanted to go home.I didn't have any desire to complete the program.I just wanted to go home.I knew all my attempts at getting my parents to take me back were a failure.So now i knew i had to hide till i turn 18.Thankfully my parents weren't so persistent this time.I stayed with another "straightling" for a couple of months.Till she developed a tumor.Thank you Judy:)I hope you are doing well:)I stayed with some other former clients.It wasn't till my 18th birthday did i surely know i would never have to go back.
My life has been ups and downs since then.It has always been hard for me to keep friendships.I have no problem saying fuck em.As i felt people have towards me.Trust is a word i cant even grasp.Even though i try and it seems when i do i get burned.I have never given up though.As many times as they called me loser,starved me,loading dock therapy,Intake room spit therapy tried to drill in my head that i was nothing without the program.Well I have fought real addiction, been to jails and institutions.Yet here i am.A testimony to the failure of a program that was built on degradation.That the individual couldn't survive without it.Yet i am a survivor who has.
In conclusion i feel the need to say that even though my parents and i do not have a very good relationship.I don't blame them.I was pretty wild and rebellious which i think might of helped me at straight.In a twisted way.I was a very confused kid finding out i was adopted and feeling the oppression sometimes religion can play in a life.I had a hard time just realizing that no parent comes with a manual and they did the best that they knew how.Im not saying they handled things very well but i understand.Only now being a parent do i understand.Some of it:)
I am also deeply sorry to anybody that i may have caused harm to.If through misbehaving or cowardly compliance.I truly apologize.I am a proud cop out.I wear that as a badge of honor.I am grateful for those that helped me escape.The ones that looked on with eyes of compassion.Gave me shelter, food,put up with my adolescent foolery.Except for the one crazy lady who said a guy was killed in her bathroom and smacked me in the face for eating a piece of bread that she gave me but thats another story.....
Meredith Gibbs - Springfield VA Straight 5/88 - 2/89
February 23, 2010
This is a piece of my history.
I was a mess of a teenager, due to post-traumatic stress from being abused as a child. This place offered me no 'treatment' or therapy whatsoever.
It did, however, offer me a further-strained relationship with my family and a life-long struggle with anxiety, depression, a serious inability to trust others, nightmares, paranoia, anger and rage. It also offered some of the most horrific images my brain could ever recall, some 20+ years later. Thanks Straight, for the mindfuck.
Having been in therapy for the better part of the last decade, I am in a place now where I can openly speak of this experience and share it with others. It is not something I have disclosed or discussed in 21 years.
Some of you may have known me then... the girl who disappeared.
Some of you know nothing about this, in regards to my life experience.
And some of you were living in hell, right alongside me, in this POW camp. What a way to meet some of the most respectable people I have the privilege of knowing. I will forever hold you, my fellow group-mates and survivors, with the highest honor.
It is now my goal to educate EVERYONE I can reach, on this type of 'wilderness/ bootcamp/ cult/ gulag/ snake-pit school'/ whatever you want to call it. These places still exist today, under different names. They use propaganda and an aggressive sales pitch to prey on the fears and desperation [and bank accounts] of distraught parents.
These off-shoot programs use the same unethical, inhumane 'treatment' methods as their ancestors and like them, are not state-regulated, nor do they house any medical personnel on staff. Unlicensed and unqualified. They use behavior modification and mind control to 'turn your troubled teen into a darling'. BEWARE!! These kids have NO voice in the 'outside' world and no one is allowed to check on them, to see to their care! Anything can happen behind their locked doors and nobody outside will be able to know about it and protect them!
It is the very definition of a secret society.
They had my folks totally brainwashed and convinced that they should treat me like a criminal, when all I needed was some good therapy. Real therapy. And some understanding.
If you happen to know (or learn of) someone who is entertaining the thought of dumping their kid in one of these places, in order to get them 'fixed', please refer them to my facebook page at:
be afraid. be very afraid.
February 21, 2011
My 18th birthday...
began with much anticipation. Im not sure I even had breakfast. I couldnt eat. I was so full of feelings. My bag was packed and it didnt contain much. Of course, I had no money and only faded memories of old phone numbers.
AndI definitely didnt want to wear my barrettes today.
How long would I have to wait? How long are they going to try and keep me? I AM legal today. This means Adult. This means I can Go. But ive got to see my parents first. Damn. When will I have my withdraw meeting? Will my parents be here early today? It is my birthday after all.
I really want them to know I intend to stay sober. Ive got to convince them and prove it to them over time. They dont trust me, thanks to these people and the wedge theyve put between us. I only hope that they will meet me at the Hardees and hear me out without all of the hawks lurking around. So we can actually communicate or at least try to. I felt so damn guilty in front of them.
As we pulled up near the building I began to look for my moms car. It would be great if I didnt have to go to group today. Luckily, I was in a very local host home, so the wait in the intake room was not too long on this particular morning. I dont even think I had time to share before group that morning. maybe a little. I was bursting with emotion, mostly fear. Fear that they had put into me about my trekking out into society on my own without the support of the group.
I wasnt really sure where i would sleep on this night, either.
I filed into thewarehouse room for the last time; taking my place in the random sea of blue plastic. Im pretty sure I was there long enough for attendance to be taken. They made me put my barrettes in.
I wanted so badly to give one last hug to my besties, but there would be no such goodbyes.
I got pulled out of group during the first few moments of morning rap. I looked into a few eyes before I left the large room to set down the intake hallway to meet my parents. Im sure by the time I reached them, I was sobbing. I dont remember much about what was said in the meeting. All I knew was that I HAD to STAND my ground because this was going to be my first act as an adult! This was my focus throughout the morning with them, until I was set free.. finally free. Nobody holding onto me. No hands in my face. Nobody but me. I could not cave. I could not waver.
I maintained my position and didnt want to spend much time trying to speak to my parents while the hawks listened and tried to convince me that I wouldnt make it out there on my own. My parents told me that I was not allowed to come home. I was not surprised. Well,guess Im not sleeping there tonight...
I signed my papers and I was free.
Under our breath, my parents and I agreed to meet at Hardees. Whew! I will finally get to have a private conversation with my mom and dad for the first time in over nine months! I was relieved that they would even take the time with my druggie ass, considering I had just left on them, basically. They wont let me come home, but at least they will speak to me. I was encouraged.
It is my birthday after all. And theyre my parents. And I know they love me, despite the way they were told to behave towards me
I was embarrassed that I had all of my belongings in a garbage bag, so as John Roberts escorted me out the back door to the parking lot, I began to look around for a place to stash my stuff so it wouldnt get stolen while I met with my parents across the street. The tree line at the back of the lot provided the cover I needed for my most humble possessions. I left it there in some leaves and headed backover the gravel lot to cross the road.
The morning sun was shining and it was chilly. February.
Ah, the sun Yes, there you are. I stopped and stood in it for a moment, to try and remember the way it felt on my face. It was then that I realized I was still wearing my barrettes.
I took a deep breath of fresh air and a step toward where I was to meet my parents.
... and Ipulled outthose damned barrettes. Threw them down, right there in the parking lot.
Across town Across state lines Across the span of two decades
YOU... have crossed my mind a time or two or twenty-two. And here we are in touch again, thanks to this thing we call Facebook.
As a survivor of the program called Straight, Incorporated it may be expected, on this day, to write about my experience of being taken there; removed from my life and friends and job only to be left there with strangers, terrified; locked up by my well-meaning, fearful parents, in a rehab that utilized personal humiliation, physical restraints, abuse and mind-control tactics upon its clients, as the basis of their so-called therapy'.
I was there for nine months and one week. 283 days. I was seventeen. It left scars in my mind and hurt in my heart.
I could go into great detail about the events of that day and I DO mean detail. But Im not going to do it. Not this May 20th.
Although this date marks a wretched anniversary in my history, I AM THANKFUL.
I am thankful to be alive. I am thankful to be self-aware. I am thankful for my two beautiful children. I am thankful to have no anger toward my parents. I am thankful for the love and support of family and friends. I am thankful for the right to think for myself. I am thankful for the chance to make amends to those who were left, not understanding I am thankful for my sisters and brothers who KNOW what Im talking about, when I talk about. I am thankful to be keeping in touch with my cousins. I am thankful to have made some new friends that get who I am. I am thankful to be able to support my friends when they are having a rough day. I am thankful to see my dear, school-age friends having children & grown! children and enjoying life.
I am thankful for of all things Facebook. I know it sounds silly, but my life has become a bit richer since joining up here.
I have a whole new [easy] way of keeping up with people that are important to me; YOU good folks that I have loved, along my journey. ;-) (I can't stand the telephone).
I have opened a door to an understanding group of people that offer me peace and solace from the fear and hurt we once endured. These people and their words of empathy and care, lift me up and remind me that I am not alone. Having spent all these years feeling very alone with my thoughts, it is comforting [especially on this 22nd year] to have this community to lean on, during those moments. I love you all, my sisters and brothers. You are helping me to become whole.
This forum has also afforded the chance to repair some things that I had broken. I have carried guilt, for a long time, in regards to a couple of people and making amends to them has lifted the heavy weight and left me feeling lighter and more free than ever. Were it not for Facebook, being able to find someone after many years, then humbly say, Im sorry', I would still be carting those skeletons around. Nope. Not me. Not anymore. Thankful on this May 20th
To be alive. For the love of great friends and family. For the opportunity to right some wrongs. To be among a community of people who understand why this date continues to give me pause. For my own perseverance and desire to progress and evolve as a Spirit and a human.
Life is good.
Bill Earnshaw, Sr., Springfield, VA Straight 83-84
Towards the end of February 1983 I had decided that I needed help to change my way of life, considering I was heavily involved with drugs and my health was marginal at best. A pastor from my parents church recommended that I go to a detox center. So, I loaded up my clothes and went to a place in Winchester VA called New Life Center. It was there, after the initial 28 days, that the nurse recommended that I get further treatment at straight, inc. I still had traces of 4 drugs in my system at the 28 day blood test, so they kept me until 45 days. I then was taken to the Front Royal Airport and went flying for an hour by myself, then we headed to 5515 Backlick Rd ie straight inc.
My intake was rather uneventful since I had done more drugs than all the folks doing the intake had done put together and I was a volunteer client 20 years old, so I was waiting for them so to speak. After the strip search and introduction to group, I sat there trying to figure out what was going on since the group of about 150 kids started motivating. I was actually very nervous at the time. When it came time to use the bathroom, I couldnt go since there was a guy holding my beltloop telling me GO!! As soon as I would sit down in group, I had to go real bad. This went on for 3 days. Being unable to urinate for 3 days is excruciatingly painful and is one of the experiences that I had there that keeps me interested in seeing this kind of treatment stopped. Over the next couple of months, I saw kids being restrained on the floor for carving on their arms, or not wanting to sit up in their chairs, refusing to eat the food they served there for dinner, and various other reasons, mostly all which were perpetrated by staff. I saw times when kids would get locked in closets, made to wear diapers, sit in cribs. One of the hardest times for me was anytime we had to sit on the tile or 2mm thick carpet Indian style. This was VERY painful and I still have problems today because of that. I remember once sitting in a room there next to the large group room, maybe an 8x12 sardine can packaging with all the other phasers in a inch deep pool of sweat and condensation from not having any ventilation and being forced to motivate and suffocate the whole time. We had to get off drugs and they darn near killed us to do it. Then there was the time when I had to do my first number 2, and that was on day 10. I can tell you now that you should not hold your crap for 10 days. This is another experience that inspires me to get this kind of treatment shut down.
For the most part, the experiences I had there for 19 months in and around that warehouse were mostly psychologically distressing. I lived in a constant state of I wonder what people are thinking I am thinking. This still happens today. Before the program, I never worried about what people thought of my thoughts. We were taught how to doubt ourselves and how ashamed of ourselves we should be all time and that we were powerless over drugs, like we have to admit ALL of our thoughts ALL the time and use the 7 steps they stole and morphed from AA to help us through the times when we felt like doing drugs or drinking alcoholic beverages. They even taught us that reading signs with alcohol ads and wearing concert t-shirts would kill us if we didnt talk about it in group and get help from our peers. One of the most drastic forms of this came to me when my mom was told that my LPs would lead me back to drugs since I listened to them when I was high. So, she smashed them all with a hammer. My guitar and amp was given away for the same reason. All told, today they would be worth over $10,000. Since when does music make people want to get high? And if it does, it also doesnt. Theres lots of people who dont get high and listen to music. Straight inc. was a cult concentration camp program for kids that may or may not have had problems with drug use. Many adults 18 to 25 went through the program too, and they may have actually had their problems made worse because of it. There is so much to tell about the place where we were held captive, devoid of sunlight for months, forced to get little sleep and report on each other daily. Side effects linger for years. Some may never go away. I did meet my wife of 21 years there, which is a good thing, but that would be about the only one I can think of at this time.
I may add to this later, but for now, I will leave it here as there are many kids who are STILL being detained in warehouses by the cult of straight inc. and I have more work to do to help stop that from happening.
Alex Layne, Springfield, Va - 1982 - 1985
The worst day of my life was on November 6th, 1982. I had spent a few weeks in bed with the flu after returning home after running away. By the time that fateful Saturday rolled around, I was starting to feel better again. My parents told me they wanted to take me down to Virginia where there were some people I could talk to about getting back on track, or something to that effect. I imagined going to a cabin by a picturesque lake, but I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me. Little did I know, from that day forward my life would never be the same.
My trust in my parents was destroyed that day when I realized that they had abandoned me into the hands of the people at Straight Inc. I found myself in a room with two kids about my age sitting in chairs in front of the only door to the small, bare, windowless room. They asked me all sorts of intrusive questions beginning with what drugs had I used? How long did I use them? How many of my friends drank or used drugs? Had I had premarital sex? I did my best to answer their questions, and didn't bother lying. I told them that my drug use had tapered off considerably. Granted, I had run away from home after dropping out of the 10th grade, but I hadn't been getting high or even drinking regularly by this time. My overall use had decreased in recent months. They told me my parents didn't want me back unless I completed the program and that if I didn't sign myself in for two weeks, they would get me court ordered for two years. I eventually signed myself in and was led into the "group room" by someone behind me holding onto my belt loop.
Straight, Inc. was a behavior modification facility based on the "tough love" philosophy. It masqueraded as a drug rehabilitation center that professed to help kids and families deal with problem addiction. Everyone there was required to admit to the group their "powerlessness over drugs" or remain on what was known as first phase until they "got honest." Getting honest meant professing Straight's version of your life; you had to feel certain ways about things, and make it convincing. You conditioned yourself to feel bad about things so that next time you stood up you could "share feelings" about something and earn "Talk," etc. According to them, I needed a "higher power" which equated to the group and its corrupted 12-step dogma (the 12 steps reduced to 7 steps) to save myself from "jail, insanity or death." I had difficulty admitting to myself (and to them) that I was a drug addict or an alcoholic. The inmates were overseen by staff whose only credentials were having gone through this place themselves. This made them anything but qualified for what they were supposed to be doing; the program was not valid treatment for drug addiction. They took anyone that they could on absurd pretenses and with very little discrimination!
During the two years that I was at Straight, I was victim of and witness to its daily abuse. The group sessions took place from 9AM to at least 9PM six days a week. (It started a little later on Sundays.) On Mondays and Fridays, the "open meeting reviews" could last until well after midnight. When we got back to the host home, we had to write "moral inventories" and then have them reviewed, which could take a while depending on how many there were to go over. Due to the parents' work schedules, we were usually dropped off at the building early in the morning. Getting little sleep was the norm there. During the day-long group sessions, you were required to sit bolt upright in a chair. "No leaning or slouching" was a rule, and God forbid you got caught "nodding off in group" which resulted in a confrontation or worse. To them, sleeping in group was a sign that you lacked motivation and were holding something back from them; it meant that you probably weren't "being honest."
One night during my first few months there, I was caught falling asleep while someone was talking. Staff had me taken out to the side of group to be exercised by a few of the other group members. After a while, I couldn't do any more push-ups, but they told me to keep going. I finally broke down and cried, telling them that I couldn't do any more even though I was afraid I'd get confronted again. Bad as that was for me, this was just a mild example of the type of things that would happen and that I saw happen while I was there.
Non-compliant kids were dealt with harshly. It could start with as simple of a thing as someone putting their knuckles into someone's back to make them sit up straight. That person might get ticked off and flick their hand off of them. Before you know it, things escalated to the point where staff deemed it necessary to have the kid restrained there in his chair by the kids around him. Staff would usually pick certain people for this job. The kid's arms were held on either side and his head was forcibly turned in an attempt to make him pay attention. Then the kid might start getting violent and end up on the floor on the side of group with 4 or 5 people sitting on their limbs and chest. None of the kids involved in this were trained in the proper ways to restrain someone so as to avoid injury. This sort of thing went on all the time while I was there! Some ex-clients have permanent injuries and lifelong medical problems as a result of this sort of thing.
The abuse was effectively concealed by their "confidentiality" rule, which was strictly enforced. No one was allowed to talk about anything that went on in there. There was no phone access, and if kids didn't "work their program" they weren't allowed to talk to their parents at all. When "first phasers" would earn the right to speak with their parents, this was done only in the presence of a higher phaser. When the kids reached the higher phases, they knew better than to break confidentiality. The 'no talking behind backs' rule was taken to such an extreme that the passive voice had to be employed and names could never be used unless the person was present. The upshot of this was that most parents were kept in the dark about what was really happening behind Straight's doors. Straight was a cult.
After I got out, years went by before I reconnected with my family. It took a while for me to even think of addressing the subject of Straight with them, and several years following that to repair damage that Straight caused my family.
Straight is just one of several private sector behavior modification facilities operating today. People should avoid a place like Straight Inc. at all costs.
Copyright 2009 Surviving Straight Inc. All rights reserved.