Natalie, St Petersburg, FL Straight Inc, 88-89
Just another day- Front row, blue chair…. Motivating and scared because I have no idea what I will say if I get called on, I better think quick and come up with something. I’ve been here for a long time…. I stop moving my hands in the air and my brain kicks in for a minute. I don’t want to wave my hands in the air and motivate. I DON’T want to be here. This place is messed up. I think they are brainwashing me.
I put my face in my hands I can’t take what is going on to the right of me or to the left of me. I can’t take it. I should have opted for juvie. I would rather be dead than take one more minute of this. GOD please help me. Somebody please help me. I want to scream, I want to run. Oh, shit they notice I‘m not participating. Here they come. I shake my head violently no,no,no. Fuck you! They grab my arms and pull them away from my face. No, no, no leave me alone, just leave me alone. I’m struggling, I’m losing my mind. Don't touch me! My nemeses in the tall chair in front of the group gives the order- “take her down”.
I’m on the floor; I hit my head hard on the concrete. No, no, no- don’t sit on my chest, don’t fucking do that. DON’T….. DON'T.... The pressure pushes the air out of my lungs. I can’t breathe. I can’t fucking breathe. I get angrier but I am in so much pain. My arms are crushed It feels like my muscles are exploding. Please stop, Please stop, I scream GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME!!!!! I can only scream for a few minutes. The air is gone from my lungs. My face turns red and I am gasping again. Why doesn't someone help me? I didn't do ANYTHING.
Chance Terrance, St. Petersburg Straight Inc, 1986-1987
I was in Straight St Pete from 86 to 87 for about seven months. Well, I was about the only black kid I know in that warehouse at the time, except for Nathan. I think he turned 18 and then commenced a few weeks later. I copped out because they were hitting and spitting on kids inside the warehouse and I was like 'fuck that shit'. During a 'bullshit rap' or 'sex rap' and sometimes a 'boy's rap' to get aroused about fake experiences, virgin newcomers felt pressured to discuss activities we all knew nobody in that sectional room could perform. I was trying to get on a greyhound bus, an elderly lady paid for my bus ticket. Cops were looking for me, they cuffed and drove me to a juvenile hall out near Hwy 19. In juvie I got into fights. They let my dad pick me up and take me back to Straight warehouse a couple weeks later. I got up to 2nd phase but was "restarted" on my "phases" because I refused to grab kids asses and take them home with me. Nathan was talking with me and some oldcomers in his host home, he said staff beat a kid to death and buried him in the yard of Straight, by a large tree. An oldcomer said he knew one of the staff who was in on that. Another straightling who went on staff sometimes joked there were two kids murdered and buried at the founders' Treasure Island house. I am not surprised Straight murders are lost when I look at other camps, known for burying their victims. When Nathan came back on staff later he always looked high with red eyes and I remember thinking a few times most of the staff looked high. When I copped out the second time I got hooked on lsd, shrooms, and low grade heroine; that was over a decade ago and I haven't done anything unlawful since. Before Straight I never missed school and I even went to church sometimes with family or friends. During and after Straight program, all my education was destroyed, my parents didn't care if I went to school or not after Straight. Nathan was trying to be cool as a trainee staff this one time he took me out of group for a "one on one" meeting, just me and him. He asked me how I was doing and I said okay and we got quiet. I worked up the nuts to ask him about the dead kid. He said 'he saw two staffers retrieve a shovel and another utensil from the shed to bury the kid in the ground'. Nathan said the kid's name and that the kid intake the same week Nathan did. He told me not to worry about that boy and he got my back, and try to work with the steps and signs. At Straight I think kids got dumped on, some got murdered for speaking up or trying to escape. I was in my underwear when I "copped out" 2nd time at an oldcomer's host home. We finally got out the window, walked along the waterway, that afternoon we made it into Clearwater. After five days homeless in the woods, I went home and told my dad what happened, why, and he gave up. I do not know what he did later with Straight or if they called him. I consider that I am an adult now and I have no use for my childhood any more, I put those things away. But I am against abusing kids.
Straight Inc 86 - 87
Lorraine, St Petersburg Straight Inc. 1979-1981
My name is Lorraine and I was in Straight Inc from August 1979 to January 1981.
Tony Patino - The Great Escape, St. Petersburg, FL 1987
It was the 1987, I was 17 years old, and I was quite the hell raiser. Although I tried all the basic recreational drugs of that era, I was addicted to nothing. Either way, my parents were concerned about me. There were a few occasions where I hadn't come home for a week or two because I was shacked up with a few of my druggie friends, enjoying their score with them. It was shortly after one of those excursions that my parents asked me if I would agree to go to drug rehab. I replied with a stright-up, “Hell no!” Eventually they asked me if I would agree to a simple seven day evaluation at a drug rehab. I thought about it, and said, “What the hell.....let's do it!” I figured I wasn't a drug addict, so I had nothing to worry about. I felt like I could use a break from life anyway, and to be catered to by a professional staff sounded great to me. I envisioned myself kicked back in the cool air conditioning, on a nice comfy bed, watching TV and eating yummy cafeteria food, as people in white coats asked me stupid questions. Ah, yes.....a week long vacation.
So I packed a bag, then my parents took me out to eat, and then on to the facility. We lived just North of Tampa, Florida, and this place was just across the bridge in St. Petersburg. I remember pulling into the place and seeing the word “STRAIGHT” in big letters across the front of the building. I don't remember much about the intake process, except for how surprised the staff seemed to be that I was coming in voluntarily. Eventually, when all the paperwork and stuff was finished, they asked my parents if they had any final questions. My father said, “Yes. Are you positive that he can't escape?” They said, “Oh trust me. Nobody ever escapes from here.” That kinda' caught me off guard. I wasn't exactly happy that they took all my cigarettes either, but I should have seen that one coming.
It was early evening when I said goodbye to my folks, and the days festivities had already wound down. I was put in a room with another kid who started talking to me about the program. He was also surprised that I was there on my own free will. I told him all about how I was looking forward to seven days of relaxation, and he said, “Seven days?? There is no seven day program. You're here for at least ninety days.” I was like, “What?” He was a “level 3” patient, and I ended up going home with him and his father. I was told that they were to be my “host” home. As it goes, “level 1” patients (me) stay at the homes of “level 3” patients (him). Level 3 patients are allegedly clean and sober and ready to move on, and are no longer a flight risk.
We went to their home nearby, which was a two-story home in a very nice neighborhood. We had a nice dinner, then I was instructed to take a shower. While I was in the shower, the father sat on the toilet watching me. He allowed me to keep the shower curtain closed, as long as I kept one had on the wall outside the shower at all times. After that, the father watched me use the bathroom, then he took me to the room where I would be sleeping. It was an empty room on the second floor, with two beds in it, and nothing else. He showed me how the windows had alarms on them, and promised me that if I opened any of them that the entire neighborhood would hear the sirens. He went thru all the clothes I'd brought and told me that I was only allowed to wear long pants with belt loops on them. I wondered what the hell that was all about, but I didn't ask him about it. He then took all of my clothes except the socks and underweaar I wearing, and set them outside the bedroom door, which was also set up with an alarm. His son and I slept in there together that night.
We were up bright and early the next morning ready to head back to the facility, and the first thing they did was start leading me around by a belt loop on the back of my pants. The first thing I did was ask to call my parents to ask them about this ninety day crap. I was told that I was not allowed to call my parents, and that I would have to wait and see them on parents' day. We all ended up in the main room of the building, where there were about 100 plastic chairs full of different kinds of teenagers. That day's events consisted of sing-along-songs, lectures, and crying. I watched as kids would randomly leap out of their seat and make a break for the door, only to be pummelled by staff members and level 3 patients. Sometimes it was pretty brutal too. The more they fought to get away, the more they got beaten into submission. At times, there would be five or six kids try to split all at once, resulting in sort of a mini-riot. Their was one particular kid that tried to escape three or four times. They eventually put him in the corner by himself, with three or four people guarding him. We had lunch around noon, then it was back to singing nursery rymes and freaking out.
That night was “parents' night,” but I'd just gotten there, so mine didn't come. I watched as a line of parents entered the room and stood up front, and their kids were allowed to address them. There were lots of tears to say the least, and lots of, “Please get me the hell outta' here!” We sat in those chairs for a total of twelve hours that day, and I was not allowed to do anything unless someone had me by the belt loop. When I was ALLOWED to go to the bathroom, I had to do it with someone staring at me. After several request to call my parents, I decided that this was NOT what I signed up for, and if nobody had ever escaped from there, I was gonna' be the first. I knew I'd never make it out of the facility, but the “host” home was a different story.
On our drive back to the “host” home that evening, I made it a point to watch for specific landmarks so I could figure out where I was. I wasn't familiar with the area, so if I were to make it out of the house, I'd need to know how to get back to the main roads. After dinner and everything, the father was telling me how wonderful he thought it was that I knew I needed help, and was excepting it so willingly. Inside my head I was freaking out, but I had to continue to play the game so they didn't feel the need to throw any extra security measures my way.
Once I was locked in the room with my sleeping partner, I immediately closed my eyes and acted like I was sleeping. I waited until “level 3 boy” was fast asleep and snoring, then I climbed out of bed and started creeping around the room. Looking out the window, I realized that we were pretty high up off the ground. That window was my only option though. There was an air conditioning unit right underneath us, and I noticed that the fan would rattle really loudly for a few seconds when it kicked on. I decided that the next time it did that, that would be my cue to go for it. It must have kicked on and off five times though, and I just couldn't seem to build up the nerve. Eventually though, I unlocked the window and waited, as it began to rain like hell outside. Talk about bad timing! It must have been about 2am. Finally, the a/c fan began to rattle, I through up the window, the alarm started blaring, and I backed up and dove straight through it with the screen still in place. The screen popped out, and I flew through the window head/hands first, scraping the hell out of my hipbone on the way through. Somehow I didn't twist or break anything as I slammed into the hard, wet ground below. In one quick second I was up and running. Wearing nothing but underwear and socks. In the pouring rain!
My first order of business was to get as far away from that house as possible, and I could hear the alarm siren the whole time I was running. Once I felt like I was at a safe distance, I decided I'd better find some clothes. I had originally planned to look for some back yard clothes lines, but that plan got nixed by the rain. Plan B was to check for unlocked cars and hopefully find some clothes that way. The only thing I could find was a white bed sheet in somebody's back seat though. So there I was, wandering through the suburbs of St. Petersburg wearing nothing but a bed sheet. Luckily the rain had stopped at that point.
On my walk, I came across a kick scooter for little kids. I wasn't perfect, but it did help me cover ground in a more timely mannor. So I kick scootered myself back into a more populated area, using the landmarks I had taken note of on our way home that day. Of course I had to stay out of plain site, but somehow I managed to scooter all the way North to Tampa Bay, where I faced my next obstacle.....The Howard Frankland Bridge! That thing is three miles long, and about fifty feet high above the water.
I ended up hiding behind a convenience store near the onramp leading to bridge, wondering what the hell I was gonna' do next. I knew I needed I ride, but I was wearing a toga, and it was 3am and nobody was around. Eventually some goofball was coming out of the store, and I just walked up and said, “Hey man! I need a ride!” He asked me why I was wearing a bed sheet, and I told him I would tell him if he gave me a ride across the bridge. Amazingly, he agreed, and I ran and retrieved my little scooter from behind a dumpster and jumped into his car.
Not only did that guy give me a ride across the bridge, he even went the extra mile and took me all the way to my buddy Dave's parents' house. From Dave's house, I got some rest, then called my father at his job and told him that I had escaped. Of course he said I had to go back (which I completely understand), but I told him of the abuse I witnessed there, and threatened to dissappear if he forced me to go back. He reluctanly came and got me, then took me to a store to buy a shirt and some shorts, then took me home and yelled, “Stay here!” As soon as he left to go back to work, the phone rang. It was somebody from The Straight Program, and they said, “Yeah, we've been trying to call. I don't know how else to say this, so I'll just say it. Tony escaped last night and we have no idea where he is.” I can't remember exactly what my response was, but I'm quite certain there were some four letter words included.
JC, My Straight Story-Surviving the Cult St Petersburg, FL 1985-1986
There are so many events and details I could write, but I'll try to condense everything for easier reading and just hit the high points. (no pun intended...haha!)
Caveat: Due to trauma there are many events I simply don't remember. Some events I can remember one thing, but the other parts are totally blacked out. I'll do my best to recall.
At the age of 15 my parents were going through a very ugly, combative divorce after 20 years of marriage. Me, my twin sister and older brother were all having a hard time with what was going on. My twin had already been hospitilized and treated for severe Anorexia Nervosa. My brother was actively using drugs and drinking. I was definitely using drugs and drinking. I ran away from home several times, but only stayed gone overnight. The last time, my boyfriend's mother agreed to take me in. I was almost 16, and things were very bad at home.
About a month later, my mom calls me and says she wants to take me to lunch to talk things over. My boyfriend dropped me off at the meeting place. Soon as he drove off, police officers descended on me and put me in hancuffs. They took me to Juvenile Detention where I stayed for several nights. (A terrifying experience, by the way) Long story long...my mom picks me up from there and authorities put me on a flight. I had no clue where I was going.
It turned out my mom had decided to sell our house and go live in Merritt Island, FL. She'd discovered Staight, INC in St Petersburg and that is where I was going. My parents were in large cult in the 70's and I think, maybe the mentality of Straight appealed to them. It was probably familiar territory. They got out while I was young, but I remember alot of things about the religion.
Anyway, we landed, got there and went right into intake-mode. All jewelry off, makeup off, they interrogated me for hours. They grabbed me by my beltloop and marched me to my first group. It happened to be one of those big Friday night rallies where the parents attended. Parents were standing up confronting their kids. The kid would reply across the room, then the parents would yell "Love ya Kimberly (or whoever...) !!!!", and the kid would yell back "Love ya mom! Love ya dad!" I immediately recognized this place as a mind-control thing, from my past cult exposure.
I was assigned an "old comer" and went to their house that night. Their car didn't have doors that locked where you could not escape, so she sat on me with her legs twisted into my legs the whole way home. So I couldn't "cop-out", she said.
My oldcomer was a mean girl. She probably had to be to survive in that place. She told me awful stories of her "druggie days" where she prostituted for drugs. Which, looking back, I'm not so sure was true. I now know kids made up all kinds of stories to fit in and move up in the program.
She made me take a shower while she watched every second of it. There were permanent locks on her bedroom windows, and the bedroom door had an alarm on it which sat on the outside of the door. To exit, she'd open the door, then quickly turn the alarm off. Looking back, it was kind of stupid, because anyone could turn it off like that.......but anyway......
So I learned all about "motivating"; flapping my arms like a maniac to show how enthusiastic I was about getting Straight. Woo hoo!
We were denied medical care, and I saw many, many kids violently restrained. I saw public humiliations over and over again. It seemed the whole system was set up that no matter what a person did, they were going to FAIL. I pretty much went along with the program. I hated it, but was stuck there. If I slouched in my chair, they knuckled me in the back. If I had to pee, too bad. I had to hold it. And hold it. And hold it. Actually I think I peed around 7am everyday and maybe 7pm at night, that's it. I saw kids have accidents on themselves. I saw punishments for such accidents. Some kids were punished by having food withheld. I think the most disturbing was watching other kids tackle and beat up the kids who were running for their lives.........
I also think some of those kids ran for the doors during group out of sheer boredom.
It certainly did serve as some entertainment. You knew they'd never get out, but they barrelled head-first towards those doors regardless.....
I honestly have no idea how long I was on 1st phase, but it was a while. I finally made it to 2nd phase. From the minute I walked into that place, I knew the moment I made 3rd phase and "went home", I was going to run for it.Now....keep in mind...my mom lived THREE HOURS AWAY from St. Petersburg. So, I was doomed to live in foster "host homes" for the entire duration of my recovery. Talk about a stupid set-up! There was no way I could "integrate" back into my family...much less attend school until I finally graduated that hell-hole. Plus, my family was in a total shambles at the time. I couldn't go home, and staying was futile. It felt so hopeless.
We were denied medical care, food, sometimes beverages, our dignity, abused, we were NOT allowed to see family or friends much less talk to them, or go to school. At least SOME kids did eventually go sleep in their own beds. But the bedroom I'd knows was far away in another state, and my new bedroom was some room I had never seen, much less would sleep in every night on 3rd phase. It was so stupid. I'm convinced Straight, INC realized this, but talked my mom into the program for the money they'd gain from yet another client.
12 to 14 hour days were completely inundated with group sessions, run by kids or graduates of Straight, 7 days per week. I never once saw a professional counselor or therapist of any kind.
But this is what happens when you let the inmates run the asylum..............
Staight told my mom to destroy ALL pictures of me, me with my friends, and school yearbooks with pictures when I was a "druggie." She did. As a result, I'm 45 years old now and have exactly ONE picture of myself as a teenager. I have no pictures with my family, brother or sister. Definitely none of friends from back then.
It's like I didn't even exist from ages 14-18.
At one point I was assigned a "newcomer." I'll never forget the look on her face...I think she was in complete shock for about the first 3 weeks. Me and the other "oldcomer" did the twister-leg thing with her in the car each day to and from the facility. We told her if she tried to run, we'd "get her" and she'd be sorry. I was never intentionally cruel to her, but looking back it seemed natural, like that was what I had to do so I did it. I had to play along with the rest of this pack, if I were ever going to get out.
One night while on 2nd phase, I woke up in the middle of the night at my "host home." Everyone was sleeping, out cold. I got up, opened that bedroom door and flipped the alarm. I was in the hallway! Alone! I went into the living room and ..... gasp!! READ A MAGAZINE. (Reading was NOT allowed) I may have been out for all of 10 minutes, but it was insane how free I felt!!!!! I crept back into the bedroom. Nobody woke up and I got away with it....... (insert cheers here!!!!)
However, I was convinced the rest of my duration in Straight that I was going to burn in hell for keeping this secret escapade to myself....the brainwashing was starting to sink in.....
At one point, I was authorized a weekend visit with my mom, outside the Straight walls. She drove all the way from Cocoa Beach area, paid for a hotel suite she couldn't afford, and had all kinds of food for me. I/we were so excited. I had been at the hotel maybe an hour...when Straight called my mom. She was to bring me back to Straight immediately, and we were not told why. My mom said she'd wait in the lobby until we could go back to the hotel........
I was sat in a group rap session. The person leading the rap was a female who'd graduated already. She kept walking by me, back and forth, back and forth, wagging her finger and singing "somebody's in trouuuuuuuuble", "shame, shame, for shame on someboooooooody who's been a very bad girrrrrrlll...". I was just shocked and had no idea what was going on....
The next thing I know, this girl who'd ran away ("copped out") a month prior was standing up screaming at me. I'd taken her to the bathroom by her beltloop a week before. While in the bathroom, she started talking and saying how great it was to see her boyfriend while she was free. I had let her talk for a minute, but then did the "shhhh" sign with my hand to mouth because as we know, "newcomers" were not allowed to talk unsupervised, inside the building if not in group.
She had turned me in for "inappropriate behavior of an oldcomer." She was yelling at me, crying and saying "I'd just returned from copping out!!!! I was NEW!! You should have known better than to let me talk about my boyfriend!!! You've been faking your recovery this whole time!!!!"
The whole group started devouring me like ravage animals. I was immediately set back to Phase1.
I was denied my weekend with my mom, and that night led to a new "host home" by my belt loop. I stayed in many host homes actually, but this one was punishment.
Right after this happened, one day we were getting ready in the host home's bathroom. I used one of my old dry toothbrushes as a grooming tool on my eyelashes. You know, just brushed them upwards.
In a girl's-only group that day, I was blasted for two hours straight for "vanity". Told I was on my way to being a slut again. And, that I was a druggie who was displaying "druggie behavior" by grooming my eyelashes. They shoved a full-length mirror in front of me, grabbed my head by the hair and screamed "Look at yourself!! Look at yourself!! How pretty are you now druggie?!?!" as they slammed my face right into the mirror.
Then, they took me to another group, a big one with both boys and girls. The boys stood up and made fun of me. They told me I was ugly, a whore, and when then were on the outside wouldn't have had anything to do with me even when they were "druggies" because I was so ugly.
It was a very hard month.
Fast forward. I make it to 3rd phase. I get a weekend visit home to my mom's 3 hours away. Provided, another "3rd phaser" goes with me. The first night we spent the night and just visited. The next day after dinner, my mom lay down on the couch in a back room because she had a migraine. The other "3rd phaser" went to take a shower.
This was my only chance.
I very, very quietly opened the front door. The sun was setting and I had no idea where I was, or where I was going. I had nothing, and I mean nothing, but the shoes on my feet and the clothes on my back.
And I ran like hell for my life.
Now, I was picked up later, but did not return to Straight, INC. For anyone who's interested, I'm going to post my "cop-out" story at Copout Stories From Straight Inc. Survivors
After all this was said and done, I went to live with my dad at the age of 16 in another state. In my early 30's, I was diagnosed with a severe and incurable bladder disease.
The specialiasts (doctors) say my bladder disease is a direct result of being forced to hold my urine for so many hours, so often, for a year while in Straight, INC.
In the 90's, I had no idea someone could sue Straight for damages, or I would have. I have severe PTSD, have had Major Depressive Episodes off and on my whole life, wound up with more than one very abusive man. I've had problems relating to other people. I'm terrified of people in uniform...police, military, fireman etc., it brings on PTSD symptoms really bad. I don't like being told what to do. I've had more therapy than you could imagine, but have done my very best to overcome the past.
Through it all, I managed to secure a career and earn a license in another field. I still work but as I age the bladder disease is becoming very difficult to live with. Two years ago, I tried to kill myself. I flat-lined but someone found me and I lived.
My family is a complete mess. Nobody in my immediate family speaks to each other. My twin was very traumatized by having her twin ripped away from her at 15, and not being allowed to see me. She even came to the Straight building once trying to save me! They tried to put HER in a room and "intake" her! She doesn't talk to any of us. It's a long story but she is just so traumatized. Everyone handles trauma in their own way. She walked away from the whole family 8 years ago, and I really don't fault her for doing so.
My brother became a severe drug addict/alcoholic, but has been sober for several years now.
We are all making our way in the world on our own, the best we know how.
Straight ruined my health and my family. The emotional and psychological scars just run too deep, I guess, for my family to reconcile all the trauma.
I don't date lately and did not have kids. I did get married once for 7 years. But, it's kinda hard to explain my past to anyone. There are times in my life where I sort of rise up from the ashes and am successful.
I have a huge fear of getting close to anyone. I'm glad I ran away from Straight, INC. That place sucked and I hope the founders rot forever. Thank you for letting me share my story. I sincerely hope it helps others recognize and avoid cults of any kind.
JC/Straight, INC Surivovor
Casey Smith - St. Petersburg, FL Straight, 1980-1982
One Blue Chair
Christmas In Straight, Inc.
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