Charles E. Dederich
- Category : Religion-Cult-leader
- Type : PM
- Profile : 4/6 - Opportunistic / Role Model
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX The Vessel of Love 1
The Synanon organization, initially a drug rehabilitation program, was founded by Charles E. "Chuck" Dederich, Sr., (1913–1997) in 1958, in Santa Monica, California, United States. By the early 1960s, Synanon had also become an alternative community, attracting people with its emphasis on living a self-examined life, as aided by group truth-telling sessions that came to be known as the "Synanon Game". Synanon ultimately became the Church of Synanon in the 1970s, and disbanded permanently in 1989 due to many alleged criminal activities, including attempted murder, and civil legal problems, including Federal tax-evasion problems with the Internal Revenue Service.
Charles Dederich, a reformed alcoholic and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), was said to be an admired speaker at A.A. meetings. Those suffering from addictions to illegal drugs, besides alcohol, were considered to be significantly different than alcoholics, and therefore were not accepted into A.A. Dederich decided to create his own program to respond to their needs. He was said to have coined the phrase "today is the first day of the rest of your life" During 1965, Columbia Pictures produced a movie, Synanon, which was directed by Richard Quine, and starred Edmond O'Brien as Chuck Dederich, and also Chuck Connors, Stella Stevens, Richard Conte, and Eartha Kitt.
Synanon began as a two-year residential program, but Dederich soon concluded that its members could never graduate, because a full recovery was impossible. The Synanon organization also developed a business that sold promotional items. This became a successful enterprise that for a time generated roughly $10 million per year.
Synanon purchased the Club Casa del Mar, a large beachside hotel in Santa Monica, and this was used as its headquarters and as a dormitory for those undergoing anti-drug treatment. Later on, Synanon acquired a large industrial building, which had been the home of the Oakland Athletic Club, in Oakland, California, and then transformed it into a residential facility for Synanon's members. Outsiders were permitted to attend the "Synanon Game" there as well. Children were reared communally in the Synanon School, and juveniles were often ordered to enroll in Synanon by California's courts.
Professionals, even those without drug addictions, were invited to join Synanon. The New York psychiatrist Daniel Casriel M.D., founder of AREBA (today the oldest surviving private addiction treatment centre in the United States) and cofounder of Daytop Village (one of the world’s largest therapeutic communities) visited in 1962 and lived there in 1963 and wrote a book about his experiences. Control over members occurred through the "Game". The "Game" could have been considered to be a therapeutic tool, likened to a form of group therapy; or else to a form of a "social control", in which members humiliated one another and encouraged the exposure of one another's innermost weaknesses, or maybe both of these. Beginning in the mid-1970s, women in Synanon were required to shave their heads, and married couples were made to break up and take new partners. Men were given forced vasectomies, and a few pregnant women were forced to have abortions.
The film director George Lucas needed a large group of people with shaved heads for the filming of his movie THX 1138, and so he hired some of his extras from Synanon. Robert Altman hired members of Synanon to be extras for the gambling scenes in his movie California Split.
Lifetime rehabilitation concept
Beginning in 1974, the legal authorities began to investigate Synanon's practices. The concept of "lifetime rehabilitation" did not agree with therapeutic norms, and it was alleged that the Synanon group was running an unauthorized medical clinic. Furthermore, it was alleged that on remote properties in California such as at Tomales Bay in Marin County and in Badger, Tulare County, Synanon had erected buildings without the legally-required permits, had created a trash dump, and built an airstrip. Taxation issues also arose. In response to these accusations, Dederich declared that Synanon was a tax exempt religious organization, the "Church of Synanon."
Legal problems continued, despite this change. Children who had been assigned to Synanon began running away, and an "underground railroad" had been created in the area that sought to help them return to their parents. Beatings of Synanon's opponents and its ex-members, "splittees", occurred across California. A state Grand Jury in Marin County issued a scathing report in 1978 that attacked Synanon for the very strong evidence of its child abuse, and also for the monetary profits that flowed to Dederich. The Grand Jury report also rebuked the governmental authorities involved for their lack of oversight, although it stopped short of directly interceding in the Synanon situation.
Though many San Francisco area newspapers and broadcasters covered the Synanon case, they were largely silenced by legal action from Synanon's lawyers, who made claims of libel. These lawsuits ultimately turned out to be a large part of Synanon's undoing, by giving journalists access to Synanon's own internal documents.
Synanon's influence in the behavior-modification field
Mel Wasserman, influenced by his Synanon experience, founded CEDU Education. CEDU's schools used the confrontation model of Synanon. The CEDU model was widely influential on the development of parent-choice, private-pay residential programs. People originally inspired by their CEDU experience developed or strongly influenced a significant number of the schools in the Therapeutic boarding school industry.
Father William B. O’Brien, the founder of New York's Daytop Village, included Synanon's group encounters and confrontational approach in his research into addiction treatment methods.
Author, journalist and activist Maia Szalavitz claims to chart the influence of Synanon in other programs including Phoenix House and Boot Camps in addition to those mentioned above.
Alleged criminal activity
This article's Criticism or Controversy section may compromise the article's neutral point of view of the subject. Please integrate the section's contents into the article as a whole, or rewrite the material. (February 2013)
On March 20, 1978, a former member of Synanon was severely beaten (for being a "splittee") during his honeymoon when he took his bride to show her where he had once lived at the Walker Creek Ranch.
Synanon is heavily implicated in the late-1972 or early-1973 disappearance of Rose Lena Cole, who was ordered by a court to enroll in Synanon before she disappeared. She has not been seen or heard from since.
During the summer of 1978, the NBC Nightly News produced a news segment on the controversies surrounding Synanon. Following this broadcast, several executives of the NBC network and its corporate chairman allegedly received hundreds of threats from Synanon members and supporters. However, NBC continued with a series of reports on the Synanon situation on the NBC Nightly News.
On September 21, 1978, ex-Synanon member Phil Ritter was severely beaten by two Synanon members, which fractured his skull and caused him to fall into a coma with a near-fatal case of bacterial meningitis.
Several weeks later, on October 11, 1978, two Synanon members placed a de-rattled rattlesnake in the mailbox of attorney Paul Morantz of Pacific Palisades, California. Morantz had successfully brought suit on behalf of a woman abducted by Synanon. The snake bit and almost killed him.
Six weeks later, the Los Angeles Police Department performed a search of the ranch in Badger that found a recorded speech by Dederich in which he said, "We're not going to mess with the old-time, turn-the-other-cheek religious postures...our religious posture is: Don't mess with us. You can get killed dead, literally dead...these are real threats," he snarled. "They are draining life's blood from us, and expecting us to play by their silly rules. We will make the rules. I see nothing frightening about it...I am quite willing to break some lawyer's legs, and next break his wife's legs, and threaten to cut their child's arm off. That is the end of that lawyer. That is a very satisfactory, humane way of transmitting information. I really do want an ear in a glass of alcohol on my desk."
Dederich was arrested while drunk on December 2, 1978. The two other Synanon residents, one of whom was Lance Kenton, the son of the musician Stan Kenton, pleaded "no contest" to charges of assault, and also conspiracy to commit murder. While his associates went to jail, Dederich himself avoided imprisonment by formally stepping down as the chairman of Synanon.
Much of the violence by Synanon had been carried out by a group within Synanon called the "Imperial Marines."
The Point Reyes Light, a small-circulation weekly newspaper in Marin County, received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1979 in recognition of its coverage of Synanon when other news agencies avoided reporting on it.
Synanon struggled to survive without its leader, and also with a severely tarnished reputation. The Internal Revenue Service sued for $17 million in back taxes, and all of its properties were confiscated and sold. Synanon formally dissolved in 1991.
Despite its controversies and its downfall, the Synanon program is credited with curing some people of their addictions. For example, Synanon was credited with curing, at least temporarily, the heroin-addicted jazz musicians Frank Rehak, Joe Pass, and Art Pepper (Pepper discussed his Synanon experiences at length in his autobiography Straight Life), and the actor Matthew "Stymie" Beard. In 1962, Pass formed a band made up of Synanon patients who recorded an album titled, The Sounds of Synanon. The Synanon organization was praised by the motivational speaker Florrie Fisher in her speeches to high school students, and she credited Synanon with curing her of her heroin addiction. Synanon also inspired the creation of successful programs such as the Delancey Street Foundation, co-founded by John Maher, a former Synanon member. Many former members still value what they see as the positive aspects of Synanon, primarily its strong sense of community and remain in close contact, in person or through on-line chat groups, and have gone into business together.
A branch of Synanon that was founded in Germany in 1971 is still in operation.
Synanon is referred to in Bob Dylan's song "Lenny Bruce", from his album Shot of Love (Bruce "never made it to Synanon."). It is also referred to in the song "Opening Doors" from Stephen Sondheim's musical Merrily We Roll Along, which mentions it as a hypothetical song title in a satirical revue of the 1960s.
The TV producer/ writer J. Michael Straczynski used a version of the Synanon Game in his science-fiction TV series Babylon 5, in the episodes "Signs and Portents" and "Comes the Inquisitor".
The New-Path drug treatment centers in the science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick's novel, A Scanner Darkly, bear numerous similarities to Synanon. Dick's novel VALIS begins with the initial romantic interest committing suicide off of the tenth floor of the Synanon building in Oakland, California.
In his 1977 novel, "Not sleeping, Just Dead", Charles Alverson, who lived in Synanon for six months in 1967 as a straight, or non-addicted resident, sent his private eye, Joe Goodey, to solve a suspected murder at The Institute, an organization that bears more than a passing resemblance to Synanon.
Synanon is mentioned in Joan Didion's essay, The White Album.
Synanon appears in the movie "Unknown" as Liam Neeson is flipping through the yellow pages in Berlin.
Many of the extras in the 1971 George Lucas movie THX 1138 were brought in from the San Francisco-area Synanon chapters. Lucas explains in the DVD commentary, "we were attracted to them simply because everyone who joined this program had to shave their head and we needed hundreds of people with shaved heads for some of the larger scenes in the film". Synanon is thus thanked in the end credits of the movie.