Most of the following information comes from the March 7, 1977 St. Petersburg, Times article written by David M. Snyder, Staff Writer, A new place for young to ‘get straight.’ Some parts have been summarized, left out or rearranged, to read the original article in its entirety, click here.
The article begins with a typical scene straight out of an ‘open meeting,’ where two times per week (Monday and Friday nights) the kids in the program sit in rows of plastic blue chairs facing rows of seated parents. At this meeting (which is open to the public), each family takes turns speaking to their child or children that are enrolled in Straight, Inc. in front of the entire room using microphones. But before that happens, the newest kids in the program have to stand up and do their introductions. That is state their name, age, drugs they’ve done, that they are a druggie, something they feel bad about that they did in their past, what they have learned since they’ve been enrolled in straight and their goals for the future.
Here is an example:
Call her Alice. She is 15, with short, bouncy blond hair and a physique that Mother Nature has just begun to rearrange. She’s yesterday’s tomboy; tomorrow’s woman.
The program believes that confession is good for the soul. So in front of 200 people –parents and peers – she begins a ritual:
She talks on, her face contorting and her voice cracking more and more as she tells about fights with her parents, beating up her brother, pressure from her “druggie” friends, bad grades . . .
“. . . I was unhappy all the time,” she says. “So, I tried to find happiness with guys – a bunch of different guys that I didn’t even know. It didn’t work. They were just one-night stands.”
When she says “one-night stands, her composure disintegrates. Her face turns deep red with shame-rage. Tears pour down her cheeks. Silence surrounds her quiet sobs and a muffled cough from someone in the group seems as loud as a gunshot.
Tom, the staff member, sits facing her – inscrutable behind tinted granny glasses. He sits on his hands, his thin shoulders hunched forward.
When Alice stops sobbing, he speaks – softly, gently – reassuring and rebuilding her confidence.
Tom tells Alice that everyone in the room is going to help her get straight. Then, to complete the ritual, he asks; “Do you have any goals? Tell us what you’re going to do here.”
Alice pauses for a moment. Then, when she speaks, it is not clear whether she is asking or telling, “I guess I’ve got to get my attitude worked on some more,’ she says.
Straight Inc.’s Phases & ‘Positive Peer-Pressure’
The reporter goes on to describe the rest of “Alice’s” experience in Straight, Inc. “Like most of the approximately 130 teenagers in the program, she did not volunteer to get straight – that was decided by her parents or the courts.
She is in a totally new environment – out of school, away from old friends and her parents – leading, for the present, a highly regimented life. She will learn a new vocabulary to supplement the street-slang she uses to describe drugs. Like most newcomers, she resented the loss of her freedom.
The program is divided into phases, beginning with the complete separation of the child from past environment and progressing as the child gradually returns to home, school and society.
Those who violate a long list of rules, run away, or fail to make acceptable progress are held back until they do it right.
Parents are not allowed to talk to their children during the first phase of the program which lasts from two weeks to a month. They see their children only across a crowded room at the center on Park Street north of Tyrone Boulevard during “open meetings” twice weekly at which emotions run high.”
The reporter writes, “If clothing styles of their parents are any indication of their socio-economic status, the teenagers in Straight – almost all white – come from all levels.”
“An overriding characteristic of the program is that there is no laxity on moral issues.
Besides strict rules such as no boy-girl relationships, no drug hangouts or friends who use drugs, and no telephone calls for several months, “We have a saying here that ‘what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong,’” Hartz said.
When asked who determines what is right and wrong, Hartz replied, “We do.” Drugs and premarital sex “because we’ve seen how it causes problems for the girls” are wrong, and obeying parents and doing well in school are right, he says, giving examples.
These standards are fully explained to parents, and those who want “the easy way out” are told to take their children elsewhere, he says.
One of the most effective tools to impart these values to teenagers is peer-group pressure. There were complaints that The Seed abused this tactic. Hartz says Straight uses positive pressure.”
Clean-cut and articulate, he seems more mature than most of the teenagers. He says he has used pot and alcohol and other drugs, but “I don’t need them.”
No one in the program will listen to his side, he says, and besides, it’s all phony because the others “would do or say anything just to get out of here.”
He doesn’t want to get straight.
Unruffled, Tom asks the group “How many of you want to help Frank get straight?”
A hundred hands fly into the air.
Frank is unmoved, and he tries to defend himself. But Helen, another staff member shouts out, “Don’t worry Frank, you’ll be on the staff here someday.”
With that, the whole room erupts in laughter.
Flushed and near tears, Frank retreats to his chair.
Program Director’s Reaction to Frank’s Introduction
“He didn’t know how to handle it – all that caring,” Hartz said later.
“If there is pressure there is also support from the group. A youth facing a difficult confrontation with his parents is not alone. The Straight veterans hold his hands, steady his quaking shoulders, encourage him to reveal his feelings and comfort him with “we love you” when he cries.
The result is that the “straights” are truly evangelistic about the program. Tom does not lie when he tells a girl who has twice run away that the group will help her get straight “whether you want it or not.”
“Straight, Inc. is NOT The Seed, Inc., It’s Better!”
James E. Hartz was identified as Straight’s director, who has a master’s degree in psychology, called it “the most fantastic therapeutic system I’ve ever seen.” His staff consists of mostly Seed graduates in their late teens. ‘The staff is touchy about comparisons of their program to the Seed and they take pains to show visitors that there are no “whips and chains in the closet.”
As with all of the previous articles about Straight, Inc. they stated that their aim was not to revive The Seed.
Circuit Judge Jack A. Page has placed several teenagers in the program and called it “excellent” – he said it seems to have the same effect, without the “pressure tactics.” “I haven’t had the kids revolt like they did with The Seed,” he said. “And there have been almost no complaints from parents and kids. It is an attitude program, not just a drug program. It teaches self-respect and traditional values and gives teenagers a strong sense of responsibility. It would be good for all types of delinquents, not just drug abusers.”
Although the program has produced only one graduate so far, there have been few immediate failures among the 130 teenagers now enrolled Hartz said.
Randy the graduate says “straight is great – it gave me a chance to start over. It really helped me.”
He says his school work has improved and he is a happier person.
“They didn’t force me to do a thing, not even get my hair cut. They like you to get your hair cut, but they don’t force you,” he said.
Straight is Intensive Behavior Modification
Circuit Judge Jack E. Dadswell, who works with Page in Pinellas County’s juvenile court, supports Straight.
Known for dispensing “jail therapy” to delinquents, Dadswell says Straight is one of the few rehabilitation programs he trusts.
He puts it simply: “Straight is probably the most intensive behavior modification program I know of.”
Straight, Inc. is a private nonprofit organization aided by federal funds
In the article Straight, Inc. is described as “a private nonprofit organization. Its $130,000 budget for the current fiscal year is aided by $50,000 in federal money. Straight, Inc. is applying for another $50,000 in federal funds.
Straight, Inc. appears to be far more open to public scrutiny than The Seed, which generally refused to disclose details of its finances. Hartz, in fact, readily offers visitors a chance to see the organization’s books.
Controversy stems from those in the drug scene that don’t like Straight, Inc.
Regarding any controversy surrounding Straight, Inc. Hartz says that like reformed alcoholics, Straight clients are told to stay away from their old druggie friends and maintain a “cordial distance” until they can handle temptation. This often leads to animosity and resentment among teenagers who still are a part of the drug scene, and as a result, Hartz expects controversy. “We’re going to have an impact on the community and people are going to say bad things about us.” Pressure from those in the drug scene already has been felt. Staff members asked that their last names be withheld because “we still have old drug-using friends that don’t appreciate us.”
After children’s public introductions, parents speak to their children publicly
After the newer clients spoke, a staff member brought the microphone over to the parents side of the room. Each parent said their piece to their child(ren), the child says, “I love you,” then the mic is passed on to the next parent to do the same.
Mother: “When you were born you were the joy of my life. It was the same when you were growing up. But then you started taking drugs and something changed. Now, thanks to these people and thanks to you, you’re the joy of my life like you were before. I love you.”
Son: ‘I love you too, Mom.”
Next blog post is a letter to the editor that shows up about two weeks after this article, pointing out how dangerous the pseudo-science of Straight, Inc. is, (apparently it fell on deaf ears.)