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Task Force Investigation 1978: Former Straight, Inc. ‘Client C’ was Interviewed.

1978 investigationFlorida District V task force, chaired by J.B. Holley, District Mental Health Specialist wrote a report of their findings on January 11, 1978 from their November 1977 – January 1978 investigation of Straight Inc. in response to community concerns about the Straight, Inc. program.

Interview with ‘Client C’:

White Male

Age: Unknown

Program Dates: Prior to January 11, 1978

Exited program: prior to completion.

‘Client C’ states that even though he was court ordered to the program, it was his idea to try the Straight, Inc. program. The report does not state whether or not the court order took place after a month of being in the program like many of the the others, so whether the court order came before or after he was in the program is unclear.

‘Client C’ stated that he signed a paper agreeing to follow the rules. He did not receive a copy of the foster home standards, but stated that the foster home he was in was good.

He stated that there were mandatory exercises.

He stated that he did not attend academic classes.

‘Client C’ Saw Kids Kicked, Dragged, Kneed in the Chest and Slapped in the Face

He said that he was both physically and verbally abused by both staff and kids. He saw kids kicked and dragged, kneed in the chest, and slapped in the face.

Meals were not withheld but drinks were if he was caught drinking from a faucet in the bathroom.

He was never isolated but knows of a girl who was tied up for most of one day, and another kid was rolled up in a sheet for several hours.

He felt that staff was fair to some people but not consistent.

He felt that half of the staff was concerned and that some were knowledgeable. But he felt that Jim Hartz was not qualified and that Helen Petermann was “two-faced.” Overall the staff was not very often available for discussing problems.

He basically felt that the program was OK, but that it was not being run right, that they should not expect so much of the kids, and should show more empathy. He no longer wants help from Straight and felt that he was held against his will by both staff and the other kids.


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Task Force Investigation 1978: Former Straight, Inc. ‘Client B’ Was Interviewed.

1978 investigationFlorida District V task force, chaired by J.B. Holley, District Mental Health Specialist wrote a report of their findings on January 11, 1978 from their November 1977 – January 1978 investigation of Straight Inc. in response to community concerns about the Straight, Inc. program.

Interview with ‘Client B’

White Male

Age Unknown,

Program Dates: Prior to January 11, 1978

Exited Program Before Completion.


‘Therapeutic methods’ typically included court orders and  physical and verbal abuses.

Client B told investigators that he did not go to the program of his own free will; his parents took him to Straight, Inc. and a month later he was court ordered into the program. (Author’s note: According to my recent interview with a former client, getting court ordered to the program after about a month was fairly standard practice in the early years of Straight, Inc.)

Client B said that exercise periods did not occur daily, but occurred about twice a month. He wasn’t able to attend academic classes until after he reached third phase. He felt that he was physically and verbally abused. When asked to explain he included the following:

He had money in his possession that was taken from him.

He was also grabbed by his hair by both staff and other kids in the program.

He said food was withheld from him one night and one morning in the foster home.

After he ran away from Straight, he was isolated in the clinic and in an intake room from 6:00pm – 9:30pm the first night he was back at the program and the next morning from 8:00am – 10:30am. Other kids in the program stayed at the door to watch that he stayed there.

He said that the kids were required to run fifty laps and if they couldn’t do it then they were dragged (made to run by other kids in the program holding him and forcing him to run)

He did not elaborate on the verbal abuse other than to say that both staff an other kids were involved.

He did mention that kids have to have staff permission before doing anything.

When he was asked if he felt the staff was fair he said no at first then changed it to “Yes, as long as everything goes OK.”  He said he felt the staff was consistent and concerned but not really knowledgeable.

Staff was available to discuss problems when they had the time, but it was necessary to use the chain of command — If the oldcomer (kids who had been in the program longer and had advanced to at least second phase, but usually a fourth or fifth phaser and the first step in the chain of command) didn’t feel the problem was important, the request didn’t go any further.

He left the program because they were bringing people in and beating them up if they were uncooperative. He did not want any help from Straight and states that he was held against his will and that he was taken into a room and held there by other kids.

He requested to talk to me away from home as his mother was “still high on the program” and he did not want to talk in front of her.

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Task Force Investigation 1978: Former Straight, Inc. ‘Client A’ was Interviewed.

1978 investigationInterview of ‘Client A’:

White Female

Age Unknown

Program Dates: October 1976 – June 1977

Exited Program: by Escape


Information obtained by Investigator in 1977-1978.

The Florida District V investigators spoke with those no longer participating in the Straight, Inc. program and revealed many complaints about Helen Petermann.

Executive Staff Lacked Sufficient Education

In an earlier post one of the former Board Members said she heard Mel Sembler tell her husband that Jim Hartz was hired for his B.A. degree in psychology, but Helen Petermann was hired to run the place. Helen Petermann did not have a college degree, she hadn’t even complete high school.

Petermann’s qualifications were that she was had worked in the Seed, Inc. the previous adolescent program in St. Petersburg, Florida, from which she was eventually fired, and once had a daughter enrolled in the Seed, Inc.

Some of the interviews didn’t include the former clients’ dates in the program but of those that did include intake dates and exit dates, the earliest enrollee that was interviewed was a girl who went into Straight the second month that their doors had been open for business, October 1976. She spent eight months in the program before she ran away from the program in June 1977.

Physical Abuse: Helen Petermann grabbed her by the jaw and jerked her head around.

She told the investigator that she rarely had breakfast in her foster home and only had a dry sandwich for lunch and dinner most of the time that she was there. She felt she was both physically and verbally abused when Helen Petermann grabbed her by the jaw, jerked her head around, and screamed abuses at her. Robin (a staff member) also threatened to hit her, but didn’t follow through. Helen Petermann also repeatedly ‘cut down’ Client A’s parents, and they were glad to see her out of the program.

When this former client ran away she was subsequently sent to the Juvenile Detention Home and then placed in Pinellas Marine Institute where she got along very well. Even though she reached fourth phase, she maintained that she got nothing from the program and that she just “conned” her way through the program to get by.

Information from a recent interview conducted with a former client whose time in Straight, Inc. overlapped the program dates of the interviewee above.

I recently spoke with another female who was enrolled in Straight, Inc. from March 1977 to early or mid-1978 and learned some interesting things about the program from that time period.

No fifth phase and shorter operating hours in the early days.

In March of 1977, Straight’s operating hours were 10:00am – 8:00pm, rather than 9am-9pm as they became later.

Also during this time frame there were only a total of four phases, and fourth phase was slated to be 90 days/three months. However, sometime during the summer of 1977, fourth phase was extended to a six month minimum.

My interviwee described the change as extremely demoralizing (as those who were there can imagine). It was also around this time when marathon ‘come down’ raps came into existence. These ‘raps’ were group meetings of program kids, which were particularly heavy on physical and verbal abuse, as a method of ‘therapy.’ (We will describe these ‘group therapy sessions’ in further detail in a future post).

Client A from the investigation was probably one of many fourth phasers who, as my interviewee described, began “screwing up” during this time. (“Screwing up” can refer to any action that goes against the program up to and including “copping out” or escaping/running from the program.)

It was also during this time when some of Staff’s favorite former clients wrote an article for the Pinellas Park High School about the marathon raps/abuses at Straight, Inc. Staff was shocked by the unrest of many of these former Staff favorites and seemed to be an impetus to create a fifth phase with slightly more freedom than fourth phase and to shorten fourth phase back to its original three month minimum time period.

This was horrible news for the fourth phasers who had done their full six months on fourth phase and now had to pretend to be happy about doing even more time on a new fifth phase. My interviewee remembers the day Jim Hartz walked into group to announce this ‘amazing new opportunity’ to become fifth phasers.

My interviewee was one of the original fifth phasers. Even in the early days of the program, the fifth phasers stood around the group for the entire day when they were in the building participating in raps (or group meetings) and wrote notes in the Observations Book (Obs. Book for short) about group members. Often these notes were used by Staff against members of the group.


Task Force Investigation 1978: What did current board members, foster families and clients say?

1978 investigationQuick Recap of 1978 Investigation:

In November 1977, Jim Holley, Mental Health Specialist from District V, called the state Florida Department of Mental Health and indicated there were reports from various people within the St. Petersburg community that there were problems with Project Straight, Inc., a private non-profit organization licensed as a day care program with foster homes. He indicated that the district staff were forming a task force to investigate the allegations.

The investigators would interview current clients, staff members, foster home families, and Board members as well as  former client-graduates, former staff members, ‘Straight parents,’ former Board members, and clients who had left the program before completing it.

In previous blog posts we have covered the responses from some of the original board members who resigned, a few of the former program parents, current and former staff members as well as graduates of the program. In this post we will report the responses from current Board Members, current foster home families and current clients in the program.

Current Board Members and Foster Home Families

There is a list of 11 items of information given by the current members of the Board of Directors. This is exactly how it was listed in the document.

  1. There seemed to be an awareness of the state licensing regulations, however, Board members did not appear to be familiar with these regulations.
  2. All were familiar with the Straight rules and regulations.
  3. While it was reported that the Board met frequently, there was no set date or time for such meetings.
  4. Most of the Board members reported attending Board meetings regularly.
  5. There appeared to be functioning committees of the Board.
  6. Several Board members had a family member or close friend in the program.
  7. It was reported that the Board establishes or approves all program policies.
  8. All Board members were deeply involved in the program.
  9. The program does have an advisory board.
  10. It was reported that there was no written formal procedure for the Board to handle grievances and/or complaints related to the program. Certain Board members have been involved in handling such grievances and/or complaints.
  11. Only one Board member reported knowledge of any violations of program rules or regulations. This Board member felt that such incidents were primarily errors in judgement by Junior Staff.

This is, in verbatim, the paragraph in the report that summarized the interviews of the five foster home families.

Five foster home families were interviewed. All were extremely supportive of the program and praised the program for saving the lives of their children and, in some cases, credited the program with saving their marriages.

Current Clients (those children currently enrolled in Straight, Inc. At the Time of the Investigation)

This section is also verbatim from the investigative report:

Forty-eight (48) current clients were interviewed, twenty-four (24) selected at random by the Straight Staff, and twenty-four (24) selected at random by the task force team. There was very little variance between the responses of the two groups. All interviewed were polite, outgoing, and cooperative. The following information was obtained:

  1. Responses to the questions on previous drug use ranged from one drug to as many as ten different drugs.
  2. Thirteen (13) clients professed to have entered the program of their own free will. The remainders were put into the program either by their parents or by the court.
  3. One client reported that she did want help, but that she would leave if she could. The remainder reported that they now consent to getting help from Straight.
  4. Ten (10) clients felt that they were then, or had been, held in the program against their will.
  5. Twenty-one (21) felt that they could leave the program if they so chose. The majority of the remainder felt that either the court or parents would see to it that they continue in the program.
  6. All felt that they knew the program rules and that most remembered signing an agreement to this effect.
  7. All Phase I and II clients receive organized periods of singing and exercise; however, there was no period of completely free time, other than when asleep.
  8. Phase I and II clients do not attend academic classes during the day. Phase III and IV clients attend school, if appropriate.
  9. One client stated that he had been slapped once, all others stated that they had not been physically abused.
  10. Five (5) clients felt that they had been verbally abused, the remainders did not so feel.
  11. No one reported a meal being withheld for failure to conform to program rules.
  12. One client reported that he had been put in isolation for program violations. He was placed in the intake room for one full day and was checked on every five or ten minutes. All others reported no isolation.
  13. All but one client reported that staff was fair, consistent, concerned, and knowledgeable.
  14. All but one client felt that the staff was available for discussing their problems.
  15. When asked if they received a copy of the foster home standards, twenty-five answered, “no,” twenty (20) answered, “yes,” and three (3) answered, “don’t know.”

Numerous clients expressed unhappiness over the recent publicity. Several clients expressed praise for the program and none expressed dissatisfaction with the program.

Author’s note:  I think it is important to add that even though this task force report states that of the forty-eight (48) clients that were interviewed, twenty-four (24) selected at random by the task force team, that they probably selected these random clients from the large group session. There is a good chance that they did not go searching in the bathrooms or the clinic or the intake rooms to find the clients who were actively being ‘broken’ or ‘abused’ during the time the investigators were visiting the program. In fact, one of the former clients who left the program before graduating stated “that the day the Health and Rehabilitative Services people and reporters were in the program to interview people, that she was kept away from them and watched carefully by Staff members so she could not talk to any of them.”


Task Force Investigation 1978: Review of the report four decades later by former clients.

Quick Recap of 1978 Investigation:

In November 1977, Jim Holley, Mental Health Specialist from District V, called the state Florida Department of Mental Health and indicated there were reports from various people within the St. Petersburg community that there were problems with Project Straight, Inc., a private non-profit organization licensed as a day care program with foster homes. He indicated that the district staff were forming a task force to investigate the allegations.

The investigators would interview current clients, staff members, foster home families, and Board members as well as  former client-graduates, former staff members, ‘Straight parents,’ former Board members, and clients who had left the program before completing it.

So far we have covered the responses from some of the original board members who resigned, a few of the former program parents, current and former staff members as well as early graduates of the program. Before we continue with the responses of the remaining groups of interviewees (current foster families, current Board members, current and former clients)

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What was the purpose of the 1978 Investigation of Straight Inc.?

1978 investigationPurpose of the 1977-1978 Investigation of Straight Inc.

Straight Inc. filed papers for incorporation on April 22, 1976.
Straight Inc.’s doors opened for operation on Sept. 1, 1976.

The following 1978 Task Force Investigation blog posts come from two documents dated January 11, 1978 and January 12, 1978.

The second document, that explains why the District V task force was created, dated January 12, 1978 shows that it was written by Harry W. Moffett,  PDMHD (Dept. of Mental Heath), to PDMH Robert R. Furlough, Ph.D.

The subject of the memo: Attached report from District V Concerning Project Straight, Inc. Investigation.

Approximately two months ago, Jim Holley, Mental Health Specialist from District V, called and indicated that there were reports from various people within the St. Petersburg community that there were problems with Project Straight, Inc., a private non-profit organization licensed as a day care program with foster homes. He indicated that the district staff were forming a task force to investigate allegations. ….

On Thursday I met with Bob Marshall, District Administrator, and members of the Licensing Review Committee and the task force who have been investigating Project Straight, Inc. It was decided to issue a ninety-day interim license to Project Straight. Also, because of the serious allegations made to the investigators there is a possibility that the District Administrator may turn over his full report to the State Attorney’s office. I raised the question of both federal and state laws regarding confidentiality for drug clients.

I seriously question the handling over of the report to the state Attorney’s offices, which includes names and addresses of current clients and some former clients. I recommended that Mr. Marshall consider having the State Attorney’s office subpoena his report rather than just giving it to him without a subpoena.

At the time of this writing, it is unknown whether Mr. Marshall will, in fact, turn over the entire report to the State Attorney’s office without being issued a subpoena.

It should be noted that this project is funded by LEAA and local contributions, and there is no general revenue funding involved.

Update: January 13, 1978:

I received a call from Jim Holley, District Mental Health specialist at 2:30pm, January 13, 1978, regarding the Project Straight report. Jim indicated that Bob Marshall, District Administrator, and Barbara McPherson, Attorney, met with a staff member from the State Attorney’s office in St. Petersburg, and it was determined that the State Attorney’s office would subpoena the entire report, which includes names of current clients and former clients of the Straight Project.

The subpoena has been issued, and the entire report has been turned over to the State Attorney’s office. Mr. Marshall has indicated to his entire staff that this information is confidential, and the fact that he has turned it over to the State Attorney’s office is not to be released to anyone. 

Attached to this letter is the ‘Confidential Report’ written up by John Bustle on January 11, 1978.

The first report, dated January 11, 1978, states: The following persons were appointed to a District V task force to investigate allegations being made against Straight, Inc.:

J.B. Holley, Chairman

Cliff Brockson

Mildred Parker

Sara Parker

Wallace Webb

John Bustle

Frankie Goldsby (part-time)

During this investigation, the task force conducted interviews with the following people:

9 members of the current Board of Directors

5 former member of the Board of Directors

13 members of the current staff

4 previous employees of Straight, Inc.

5 foster home families

9 graduates of the program

48 current clients (24 selected at random by Straight Staff and 24 selected at random by the task force team)

6 clients who, for one reason or another, had left the program prior to completion

2 parents who earlier had children in the Straight program

9 clients and/or their parents who we had reason to believe were either involved in or observed physical or verbal abuse.

A review of records and files was also carried out.

Included in the report was be the Findings, the Conclusions, and Recommendations.


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1978 Investigation: What Did Ten Straight Inc Graduates Tell the Investigators?

1978 investigation

Things Started Changing Very Soon After Straight, Inc. Opened.

The graduates of the Straight Inc. program were interviewed in December of 1977. They entered the program in 1976 and graduated in 1977. All of the graduates had similar stories. They were enrolled in the program against their will by a parent and within the first week realized they wanted to be there and/or needed the help that was available there.

The first graduate investigators interviewed was a seventeen year old who had a five-month-long program and became one of the first graduates of the program. His intake date was September 4, 1976 and he graduated on February 11, 1977. He said he was not physically or verbally abused and didn’t see that happen to anyone else and he spoke very highly of the four counselors that were on staff during that time. (They had since left the program). He told investigators that he no longer visited Straight or participated in the graduate rap sessions because he didn’t approve of the way things were now being done. He told them that things were a lot different now than we he was there and he doubted that he would have been helped if the things going on now were occurring when he was there. He noted that he was shocked in one of the graduate raps he attended when he heard Jim Hartz call one of the participants a ‘dumb-ass.’  He tried to stay around to change things that he did not believe were right for the program, but his efforts seemed useless. He finally gave up and has not visited Straight since.

When the second graduate, a 16-year-old who had a seven month program, was interviewed she began by saying she was neither physically abuse or verbally abused, nor did she see anyone else abused. However, she stated that she did remember one case of possible abuse. In one rap Helen Petermann asked —–‘s sister if she (the sister) wanted to hit her brother and when the sister answered yes, Mrs. Petermann took the two of them out of the sight of group. No one knew for sure what happened out of their view. Also Helen Petermann refused to grant this second graduate permission to take some prescribed pain-killer medicine that was given to her by her doctor following a tooth extraction. She had a strong dislike for Helen Petermann and reported that her sex lectures were gross. She has not attended any of the graduate raps and has no intentions of doing so as they were just “come down” raps.

The next two graduates interviewed spoke of having histories of multiple drug abuse and feel that they would be dead or in jail now if it hadn’t been for Straight Inc. They praised Helen Petermann and express gratitude not only for helping themselves but their families as well.

All together the graduates were almost a perfect sample of the controversy that has always surrounded the program. About five of the graduates spoke specifically of disturbing aspects of how the program had changed since the very beginning and the other five spoke of the program as though it were literally a life saver.


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Former Program Family: Straight, Inc. Uses “Gestapo Tactics”

psi with us or against usThere Are Consequences for Speaking Out Against the Straight, Inc. Program

Recall that Board members Mr. and Mrs. Henson wanted to help open Straight, Inc. because they were under the impression that this program was going to be similar to The Seed Program (I will cover The Seed Program in-depth in future posts) only without all of the negative aspects of The Seed. Straight, Inc. was supposed to be a kinder, more gentle version of The Seed. So, it is easy to understand why Mr. Henson was voicing concerns to the Officers and to fellow members of the Board of Directors of Straight when he saw that things were opposite of what he had expected.

Also call to mind that a former client’s parents wrote a letter to the Board of Directors and the Advisory Committee to inform them of their removal of their daughter from Straight, Inc. on January 30, 1977, and some of their reasons for this removal. The letter included statements not only about how they thought that Straight’s staff and its administration used ‘cruel gestapo tactics’ instead of using love, empathy and sensitivity; but also how (the executive staff members) Jim Hartz and Helen Petermann told the parents to stay away from the Henson family, “People like the Hensons were nothing but trouble and they did not know what they were doing.” They also told these parents that they would be real sorry if they associated with the likes of them.

On December 4, 1977, the St. Petersburg Times newspaper published and article, STRAIGHT: Six directors have resigned, but drug program officials say lives are being saved. It is stated in the first sentence that six corporate directors have resigned to protest its management and treatment techniques. ‘One director has accused the nonprofit corporation of “misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance.”

misfeasancethe willful inappropriate action or intentional incorrect action or advice.

malfeasancethe willful and intentional action that injures a party.

nonfeasanceis the failure to act where action is required—willfully or in neglect

Director Jim Hartz and Board President Melvin F. Sembler called the resignations insignificant and stated, “These individuals don’t know how a board functions.” Sembler said several of the former directors were invited to discuss their grievances and a board meeting; but the declined,” according to the news article.

However, according to the interview with one of the directors that resigned, he wrote a letter about his concerns which prompted an executive meeting. At that meeting, Betty Sembler read the issues then said, “You son of bitch who do you think you are to question anything my husband does?” And she continued yelling as he walked out the door.

When a former volunteer told the reporters about Mrs. Petermann maliciously kicking a youth, both Hartz and Petermann flatly denied that it took place and Petermann is quoted as saying, “I sure wish they (disgruntled former directors) would get off my back, they would love to see this (program) go down the drain.”

Hartz is quoted as saying this about the directors who resigned, “They couldn’t get their own egos out of the way. They just wanted to run the whole thing. They were upset that the program could be run so well without them. This board has come through some growth problems, and people have left. These people were trying to be so damned picky. Any group would have this problem — go to any church board.”

Hartz also referred to this topic of the directors’ resignation as “digging up…garbage.” He said he tried to make the complaining directors happy – “we did everything we could.” Then he compared them to small children, “If they didn’t get their candy, they would go home.”

The young counselors Debbie Solanes, 19 at the time, and Diana Shanahan, 20 at that time, who were members of Straight’s founding para-professional treatment staff, were also not immune from suffering consequences when they also resigned protest, according to a December 22, 1977 St. Petersburg Times article. The girls claimed their former boss “maliciously” had them fired from jobs with a Clearwater retirement home, where their new supervisor coincidentally had children enrolled in Straight.

Hartz allegedly instructed the administrator to fire the two women or he would not permit the administrator’s children “to visit with their mother,” the suit says.  Hartz was unavailable for comment but the retirement home administrator denied the allegations. She said the two women frequently discussed their dispute with Straight while on the job, and “it was disruptive,” but the firing was not done at Hartz’s orders.



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1978 Investigation: Current and Former Staff Members are Interviewed

sep 1978 straight logo

January 1978 Report from Florida’s District V Mental Health Task Force Investigation

So far we’ve heard from former and current (at the time of the investigation interviews) Board members and parents who had children in Straight, Inc. at an earlier time. Next, we will look at what current and former Straight, Inc. staff members/employees had to say to the investigators.

Interviews of People Who Were Still on Staff During this Investigation

Thirteen (13) members of the current staff were interviewed. Investigators questions elicited the following responses:

  1. Only Jim Hartz held a college degree, Hartz has a Masters in Psychology. Two (2) had completed two years of college, two were attending college and the remainder had high school education.
  2. All staff stated that they had accurate job descriptions.
  3. All staff seemed to understand the grievance procedures.
  4. There did not appear to be any written personnel policies.
  5. The senior staff meets weekly and the entire staff meets once per month.
  6. No one felt that there was any job discrimination.
  7. All staff felt that the Board of Directors was cognizant of the operation of the Center.
  8. Three (3) of the staff have undergone on-the-job training, three have had JWB Listening Training (author’s note: JWB – Juvenile Welfare Board).
  9. All felt that the Administration was supporting of their efforts.
  10. No one reported any client being retained in the program against his will.

Interviews with Previous Staff Members

Next, four previous employees of Straight, Inc. were interviewed: Mike and Diana Shanahan were interviewed on Dec. 14, 1977 and Ron and Debbie Solanes were interviewed on December 20, 1977. The following was reported by those interviewed:

  1. None of those interviewed had received any in-service training at Straight. Only one had any previous experience in drug abuse rehabilitation.
  2. None were aware of any written personnel policies.
  3. Actual salary was less than promised salary.
  4. Many times required to work in excess of 40 hours with no compensation.
  5. Required to take clients home with them if no foster home available.
  6. Were instructed that they were not to attend Board meetings or go to the homes of Board members. The reason given was that “there were some things the Board members did not need to know.”
  7. All felt that they were used to set up the program and then the administration’s position changed to “you are not needed any more, there’s the door.”
  8. Client at times were held against their will in that they were physically held until they had calmed down and were no longer upset and compulsive.
  9. Two former staff members observed Helen Petermann hold a client by the hair and slap him repeatedly; when one of them attempted to stop her, he was told by Mrs. Petermann to “get out of here.”
  10. All felt that clients were verbally abused during “come down” sessions.
  11. Two reported that the majority of the foster home inspections were written up where as no visit was actually made to the home.
  12. All reported that client records were falsified in that they were not accomplished timely and routinely, but that many were done long after the due date, based on memory. Pat phrases were used solely to make the records look complete.
  13. Several clients who had extensive emotional problems were refused referral to outside professional treatment by Jim Hartz.

Included in this report is the Deborah Solanes written resignation to Jim Hartz on Straight, Inc. letterhead dated April 22, 1977, in which she outlines specifically why she is resigning.

Dear Jim:

Please accept this letter as my resignation as a staff member of Straight, Inc.

While I do appreciate some of the opportunities I’ve been given at Straight, Inc., I feel that it is in my own best interest and the best interests of the program to leave rather than to support some of the policies that have been in effect for some time now.

In order to better clarify my position, I would like to list some of my reasons more specifically:

  1. A health insurance package was promised and not delivered.
  2. Initially I was offered an annual salary or $6,500. After 8 months my salary is $6,350.00.
  3. The original staff members were told there would be promotions from within. To date this has not happened.
  4. Putting adult staff members in positions of authority, I believe has undermined the effectiveness of the younger staff members.
  5. You’ve objected to my off-duty friendships with other staff members. I feel that I have the right to associate with whomever I please, provided my choice of friends does not reflect unfavorably on the program.
  6. After working 50 – 60 hours per week for a prolonged period of time, my dedication to the program was questioned, an attitude that hurt me personally and that I find unacceptable.
  7. I feel that you, as Director of the program, have relinquished your authority to adult staff members and your relationship with the younger staff members, like myself, has suffered accordingly.
  8. In a recent staff meeting, my effectiveness as a group leader was questioned, I believe unfairly. You appeared to agree with the unfavorable comments.

In view of the above, my decision to resign is the only logical course of action to take.

Please understand that this decision is being made only after a great deal of soul searching. If my criticisms seem harsh it is only because I sincerely want Straight, Inc. to be around for a long time.

I’ve gained a great deal of personal satisfaction from whatever contribution I’ve been able to make to the program. Regardless of your personal evaluation of my performance, I feel secure in the knowledge that I’ve done my very best to help and support the program. Hopefully my efforts will not have been in vain.


Deborah Solanes.

In return Jim Hartz wrote this on April 25, 1977:

To:       Deborah Solanes

From:  Jim Hartz

RE:      Resignation

In view of the situations past and much careful consideration I have decided to accept your resignation dated April 22, which is effective April 30, 1977.

I thought that several statements in your letter of resignation were out of context or misrepresentation of facts. However, I hope you will continue to strive for your full potential and be willing to exhibit those qualities necessary for such fulfillment.

I feel that your decision is in the interest of the program, and only hope for the most for your future and future employment.

Again, good luck in the near future and visit us as you can.


James E. Hartz

Executive Director

Straight, Inc.


And the final correspondence was dated April 30, 1977:

TO:           Deborah Solanes

FROM:   Jim Hartz

Dear Debbie:

Enclosed please find you payroll check for period ending April 30, 1977. Also included in this payment you will find one extra weeks pay. This covers any vacation time accumulated during your past employment.

We wish you the best of luck in the near future, and hope you will come visit,

From all the staff and kids at Straight,

Best Wishes,

James E. Hartz

Executive Director

Straight, Inc.

Here is the final interview that I could find conducted during this 1978 investigation with staff members.

Michael and Diana Shanahan agreed that in the beginning the Straight Program was a very good program and was working well. They stated they felt after having gone through The Seed and being involved in The Seed they were able to bring the best things from The Seed Program to the Straight Program and do away with the things that they felt were objectionable in  that program. The Shanahans both advised that the element of fear was not in the Straight Program in the beginning and they were able to relate to the kids and felt a very close relationship with a lot of the clients. The Shanahans felt the clients were responding to this type of treatment knowing that someone cared and was willing to help them through their problems.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Shanahan felt the program began to develop problems when Mrs. Petermann was appointed Staff Supervisor and given authority over all staff members in the program. They advised that she was preoccupied with sex and that she, in fact, talk a lot about sex in groups. Diana Shanahan advised that at one time while conducting a rap group Mrs. Petermann got down on the floor in front of the group, which consisted of girls and demonstrated various sex positions to the girls in the group indicating those were positions used in various parts of the world.

It should be noted that this was later corroborated by Mrs. Henson who advised that the  ____  daughter was in that particular group and observed what Mrs. Shanahan had stated.

The Shanahans both advised that it was clearly understood by the staff that no one under 18 could leave the program by just walking out. Mike Shanahan advised that Jim Hartz said that if a kid went outside the building we couldn’t stop them but if they were still in the building we could stop them anyway we wanted to within reason.  Mike said he asked Jim Hartz if he meant just don’t hit them and knock them down and he said that Hartz replied, “No, use equal force but just don’t tell anybody.” Shanahans stated that on many occasions Mike was called upon to help drag a client for failure to participate in running or exercise programs within the program or to subdue a client who had become unruly.

The Shanahans felt that after Mrs. Petermann took over the program the element of fear began to creep into the program and become a part of it. Diana Shanahan advised at one point she saw Mrs. Petermann slap  _____ in the face several times after she picked the child up by his hair. She then took him in a room and hit him several more times and Ron Solanes tried to stop it and was told by Mrs. Petermann to “get the hell out, I can handle this.” According to Mrs. Shanahan this took place around 8:30 to 9:00pm during the month of July , however, she did not recall the exact date. Others present beside Diana Shanahan and Ron Solanes was Ron’s wife, Debbie Solanes. The same youngster was made to sit in a room by himself from 8:00am until 10:00pm for approximately a week. He was fed and given water and taken back to the foster home at night. The Shanahans also advised that kids were made to scrub down bathrooms with a toothbrush or to sweep a parking lot with a small broom.

Both  Shanahans both feel the program is very much needed in Pinellas County, but they have some bad feelings regarding Jim Hartz and Helen Petermann. The Shanahans feel that Jim Hartz is unqualified for his job and indicate that prior to his coming to the Straight Program he had no experience in dealing with drugs or druggies and knew nothing about them when he got the job. Both feel the program would work fine if Jim Hartz and Helen Petermann were not involved in it and in concluding the interview both felt that the fear tactics which they feel are now used in the program are very bad for the kids involved.

1 Comment

April 22, 1976: Straight, Incorporated was formed in St. Petersburg, Florida

articles of incorporationApril 22, 1976: Straight, Incorporated was formed in St. Petersburg, Florida

According to the Articles of Incorporation, Straight, Inc. was formed as a corporation not for profit, for charitable and philanthropic purposes on April 22, 1976. Its specific purposes according to its Articles of Incorporation were to develop and administer programs for victims of drug abuse, dealing with rehabilitation, welfare, and health, in order to assist them in adjusting themselves to their environment; to train them in vocations and avocations; to aid them in all their activities; and to be of assistance in solving their particular problems, and to interest and unite men and women in social work for the welfare of boys and girls and young men and young women to the end that crime, poverty, and misery may be lessened, that a nobler manhood and womanhood may be developed, and that a more perfect love of home, family and country may be fostered, and to cooperate with all federal, state and local government agencies to secure these ends, utilizing all powers this corporation may exercise as granted it by Chapter 617, Florida Statutes.

The subscribers to these Articles of Incorporation are listed as:

Melvin F. Sembler

H. Goldstein, Ph.D.

Fred Kenfield


The officers of the corporation are listed as:

PRESIDENT: Melvin F. Sembler

SECRETARY: Raymond Bourgholtzer (resigned in September, 1976)

TREASURER: Raymond Bourgholtzer


The Board of Directors are listed as:

H. Goldstein, Ph.D.

Fred Kenfield

Leon Sellers, D.V.M.

R. C. Garby, M.D.

Ray Waymire

Robert E. Chapin (Resigned August 8, 1977)

Ruth E. Chapin (Resigned)

Mel F. Sembler

Betty S. Sembler

Helen Petermann

John E. White

Thomas E. Wykoff

Arthur W. Bauknight (Resigned September 22, 1976)

Lila L. Bauknight (Resigned July 20, 1977)

Under Article X. Miscellaneous in Straight, Inc.’s Articles of Incorporation, the following sections are included:

Section 1: No part of the net earnings of the corporation shall inure to the benefit of any individual or member.

Section 4: This Corporation is not organized for a pecuniary profit, it shall not have any power to issue certificates of stock or declare dividends, and no part of its net earnings shall inure to the benefit of any member, director, or individual. The balance, if any, of all money received by the corporation from its operators after the payment in full of all debts and obligations of the corporation, of whatever kind or nature, shall be used and distributed exclusively for charitable, scientific, and educational purposes in the fields of drug abuse education, prevention, control and education awareness.

It was signed by the three subscribers mentioned above, and Straight, Inc., named Dr. Leon H. Sellers, Jr. as its resident agent.

1976 july 27 evening independent-straight set for sept 1July 27, 1976 – The Evening Independent Ran a News Article about Straight, Inc.

Straight Inc. New Drug Program Set for Sept. 1.
By Staff Writer, Joe Childs

A new drug treatment program which will be almost totally dependent on support it gets from the community will begin Sept 1 to combat what has been called a fast-growing local teenage drug problem.

Aimed at youths 12 to 18 years old, the program called Straight, Inc. will strive to help drug abusers and drug offenders, not addicts or those with a physical dependence on narcotics. 1

The project’s backers, including a number of persons prominent in public and private life here, the week capped seven months of quiet organizing and fund-raising2 with the announcement that Straight, Inc. indeed will become a reality and by setting Sept. 1 as a target date for opening the facility.

The program now has a building, enough money to start and a director to steer its courses, supporters said.

Straight Inc. will be located at 700 43rd St. S. a two-story, former office building donated3 to the project. The facility is big enough to serve 200-300 clients, the eventual program goal.

Directing Straight, Inc. will be James E. Hartz, a 27-year-old clinical psychologist4 lured to St. Petersburg from Augusta, GA, where he set up a training center for mentally disabled persons.

Straight, Inc. will attempt to fill what is regarded as a void in the community’s drug treatment system. Judges and law enforcement officials supporting Straight from its inception have argued this community lacks a program for non-addicts.5 Chief Circuit Judge David Patterson, a major program backer, has said young drug offenders who are not hard-core users can only be referred to overloaded probation officers because no treatment facilities exits.

According to Hartz, Straight Inc. will provide a therapeutic environment where teenagers can resolve, in group sessions and individually, drug problems and other social trauma that may have led to experiences with drugs.6

Straight Inc. will accept youngsters who have had minor drug troubles and are stirring worry among parents, Hartz said. The program will also treat youths who have known extended drug use. In addition, Straight Inc. hopes to take court-referred drug offenders.7

The aim of the program is to work with teenagers by day at the facility. Participants will live in foster homes and eventually return to their own homes while still receiving treatment.

Parents will be required to take an active part in their child’s treatment. Straight Inc. plans to organize group sessions for parents, who will discuss their own family units. Siblings of program participants also will be involved, said Hartz.

Straight, Inc.’s ultimate treatment goal, Hartz said, is to turn a youngster away from drugs and encourage the youth to be a contributing member of society. The program’s staff will be six young adults who have experienced drugs and been helped by other treatment program. Like Hartz, they will be salaried employees.8

Funding of Straight, Inc. organizers hope, will continue to be supported by public and private donations. Revenue also will be generated by fee charge clients.

Dr. Leon Sellers, a veterinarian and founding father of the program estimated Straight Inc. will need at least $130,000 in its first year. He said the program would like to stay clear of government financing to avoid dependence, but may eventually be forced to seek public funds.9

The program’s eventual aim is to become self-supporting, reliant on client fees and a regular donation program. Fees for participants have not been determined yet, but likely will be in the neighborhood of $300 to $500, said Sellers. Families not able to pay that much will be allowed to pay what they can, he noted.10

My observations about this news article. Please tell what you think in the comments below. Do you agree? Or Disagree? Or have a different perspective, all together?

1, 5, 7 – In comments 1 & 5 they repeatedly speak of establishing a program for youth who are not addicts and who do not have a physical dependence on narcotics because the community lacks a program for non-addicts and young drug offenders who are not hard core.

Straight Inc. will accept youngsters who have had minor drug troubles and are stirring worry among parents, Hartz said. ß This statement comes the closest to being accurate (although they forgot to add or have not had any drug troubles and are stirring worry among parents) though you will never find a statement like this again in the history of the program because that would undermine the program’s biggest threat of the child ending up ‘Dead, Insane or in Jail,’ if they do not complete the program.

Then in that same paragraph it says ‘the program will also treat youths who have known extended drug use. In addition, Straight Inc. hopes to take court-referred drug offenders.’

This seems like a contradiction to the emphasis on non-addicts and minor drug troubles.

2Why was the organizing and fund-raising done quietly? If it is a program that is supposed to support the community and hopes to be supported by the community, and is a noble non-profit organization to help children in need, what is the reason for getting set up quietly? Is there something to hide?

3 & 9If they already have had a building that has been donated to them, their operating equipment is essentially, some old wooden benches or plastic chairs, an American flag and some poster board with the program steps (like AA steps) on them for the walls, and one office for the staff, the salaries for one ‘professional staff member’ and the rest are ‘para-professional staff members’ or high school or young adult aged kids who have been involved in previous programs, and utilities… then why on earth would they need $130,000 ‘1976-dollars’ to operate during the first year? Not to mention the parents fees, and all of their fundraising efforts and all of the donated help to get the donated building ready. They had so much donated to them, I can’t imagine where that figure came from. If you know, please let me know in the comments below.

4 – Well, Jim Hartz wasn’t exactly a clinical psychologist. He had a master’s degree in psychology. You need a Ph.D. in clinical psychology to call yourself a clinical psychologist. Did the reporter get this wrong? This is possible. Or did someone speaking to the reporter embellish just a little? This seems entirely possible as well. We will never know for sure.  1/29/2016: Update: A former client has stated that when Jim Hartz was first hired, he only had his bachelor’s degree. He then worked on earning his master’s degree during the first few years of his being director at Straight, Inc. – In the 1978 investigative report of Straight, Inc. a former parent and intake mother stated to the investigators that she heard Mel Sembler, the president of Straight, Inc., tell her husband that Jim Hartz was hired for his degree and that Helen Petermann would operate the program. (By 1978 Jim Hartz was reported to have his master’s degree in psychology as per the investigation.)

6According to Hartz, Straight Inc. will provide a therapeutic environment where teenagers can resolve, in group sessions and individually, drug problems and other social trauma that may have led to experiences with drugs.I believe something like this may have been helpful to adolescents and young adults who were enrolled in this program. It seems that Hartz was thinking right when he first joined Straight, Inc., but then as with many, his education and training got lost when he decided to embrace this unproven method of ‘helping kids.’

8The program’s staff will be six young adults who have experienced drugs and been helped by other treatment program. Like Hartz, they will be salaried employees.

Right from the beginning people were told that the staff members would be experienced drug abusers who had been helped by other programs. The general public bought the tagline “kids helping kids,” and “peer pressure got them on to drugs, peer pressure is going to get them off of drugs.” This is what happened, but in a “Lord of The Flies” kind of way, not under the supervision of highly qualified professional staff members as the parents were told.

10 Families not able to pay that much will be allowed to pay what they can, he noted.

I’ve heard and read mixed reviews on this policy. Evidently, sometimes it was in effect, and sometimes it wasn’t. But I don’t know what criteria determined when it was and wasn’t offered.

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