Straight, Inc. would be open and ‘above board’ with the public
One week before Straight, Inc. was to open its doors, this was the title of an article that appeared in The Evening Independent Newspaper, dated Wednesday, August 25, 1976. It was an announcement for an “Open House” to be held at Straight, Inc., the following Sunday from 5-8pm. Visitors would be ‘greeted by Hartz, his staff and others who helped organize the program.’
“We are set up to serve individuals not involved in hard core $100-$150 per day drug habits,” Hartz said, “We’re thinking more of marijuana, pills, acid and alcohol abuse problems.”
Straight, Inc. hoped ‘to show the public a willingness to be open and “above board.”‘ Straight emphasized this in order to distinguish itself from The Seed program which closed not only amidst claims of using physical abuse, mental abuse and brainwashing techniques to affect changes in adolescents, but also due to being unforthcoming about their finances despite receiving public grants.
The foul language and hostility found in The Seed wouldn’t be a part of the Straight program
Straight,Inc. claimed it was trying to fill the void left by The Seed program closing. However, as Straight, Inc. was trying to distinguish itself from The Seed program, Hartz admitted they intended to borrow some techniques used in The Seed program and that all of the Straight staff are graduates of The Seed. Nevertheless, according to Hartz the foul language and hostility found in The Seed will not be a part of the Straight program.
Straight, Inc. Opened on September 1, 2016
On Thursday September 2, 1976, The Evening Independent reported that Straight’s open house was attended by nearly 200 people according to Hartz. He also said that he was pleased with the first day’s registration as Straight took in its first five youngsters and expected the number to grow as the program became better known.
45 days later. . .
Paul Zach, Staff Writer for The Evening Independent wrote an article simply entitled Straight, Inc., (October 15, 1976). He reported ‘more than 20 youths confessed kicking drug habits, some after less than a week in Straight, during an open meeting with their parents’ the previous Monday. The kids confessed to using all kinds of drugs from pot and alcohol to cocaine and heroin. ‘They said they had used all those drugs, that they had shot them into their veins, inhaled them into their lungs, [and] sucked them up their nostrils. Until they were coaxed, cajoled or court-ordered into Straight Inc., the area’s [St. Petersburg, Florida] newest drug program.’
Straight, Inc. said it was similar to The Seed program, but wouldn’t make the same mistakes
Zach reminded his readers that if this scene sounded familiar to them it was because ‘its behavior modification techniques were used by The Seed, the private drug rehabilitation program that closed last October after three stormy years in St. Petersburg.’
He also pointed out the fact that ‘most of Straight’s creators, board of directors and staff members are alumni of The Seed. But they say they’ve learned their lesson from the defunct drug program and won’t make the same mistakes that sowed distrust in The Seed.’
Dr. Leon Sellers, the local veterinarian who founded Straight told Zach, “Most of us involved feel that The Seed did this community a lot of good. But in order for it to work we must have community acceptance and involvement. To me the biggest problem in this community is our lost youth. The drug problem may not be as obvious as it was three years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away.”
‘The eight paid staff members who run the groups . . . were involved in The Seed, but have no other experience except for Hartz’s tutelage. “The emphasis here is on kids helping kids so our staff members are from 18 to 20 years old. You don’t find many people that age with a degree. Many are taking courses at JC (St. Petersburg Junior College,)” Hartz said.
How Straight, Inc. Operated
Zach wrote that the program set up shop in a donated building, was awarded a $47,000 grant from The Law Enforcement Administration, and the AFL-CIO members donated $15,000 worth of labor to get the building in shape.
The clients were ‘problem teens from 12 to 18 years old referred to the program by the Division of Youth Services, Social and Economic Services or the courts.’
‘Each attends closed rap sessions from 10am to 8pm everyday except Sunday when the session lasts from 2pm – 8pm. A rigorous total of at least 66 hours each week.’
‘Shopping center developer Mel Sembler, another board member, emphasized, “It’s not meant to be a country club.”‘
‘Hartz said what transpires during the lengthy sessions is “extremely confidential.” Visitors are not permitted unless they are from state or county agencies that oversee such programs.’
‘Unlike The Seed in which teenagers were often verbally abused by their peers and staff members, Hartz said the emphasis is on the positive in Straight’s rap sessions, “We try to create an environment of trust, care, honesty and sincerity. We try to provide a proper environment for change and allow each person to progress at his own rate.”’
The Straight, Inc. Program operated on ‘the principles of Skinnerian psychology’
Program director, Jim Hartz ‘readily admitted their technique is a form of “behavior modification” — a controversial concept equated with brainwashing by some critics. But he noted, “The principles of Skinnerian psychology are very sound. They can be abused but used professionally they can be a very valuable tool.” He emphasized that everyone encounters forms of behavior modification at his job, in his marriage and other stages of his life.’
The phases of the program
‘Each teenager goes through three phases. In the first phase he is separated from school and his family to live with another family that usually has children that have been through The Seed. A client is allowed to return to his home in the second phase of Straight. He returns to school in the third phase considered “critical” by Hartz because of the temptations there to revert to his old way of life and rejoin his old friends. Finally, the teenager is slowly eased out of the program, but encouraged to volunteer his services to help “newcomers.”‘
‘The whole routine can last anywhere from two to eight months depending on how quickly a teenager decides to accept the Straight philosophy. A minimum contribution of $350 per child is requested from the parents, but Hartz said no one will be turned away from the program who can’t afford it.’
‘Hartz said he had little input in developing Straight’s program and techniques. “The Board of directors did that. What you see here is a lot of good feelings from the former program without the things they didn’t like,” he said.’
Straight claimed it was significantly different from the Seed
‘The most apparent difference from The Seed is a more relaxed attitude toward the media at Straight. Seed Director Art Barker surrounded his building with staff members to keep teenagers in and the public and press out. He did not permit his employees to talk to newspaper reporters and rarely gave interviews himself.’
“It’s quite a change from The Seed,” said Carolyn Henson, a Straight volunteer whose daughter went through the former program. “The change is for the better, 100 per cent better.” (Check out this link to read how Carolyn Henson’s opinion of the program dramatically changed after just a short time of Straight, Inc. being in operation.)
‘At Straight, some of the secrecy has been eliminated. Though the daily rap session are closed, the building and Hartz’s door is open. Barker, the primary target of Seed critics, is in no way connected with Straight, according to Hartz.’
‘There are not guards surrounding Straight now, although Hartz said people with walkie-talkies may be stationed outside if the program grows to its target size of about 200 clients “mainly to give directions and help parking.”‘
‘In another of the significant differences from The Seed, [Straight claimed] visitors and the press are permitted to attend open meetings — encounter sessions between the teens and their parents held each Monday and Friday in which the results of the long rap sessions burst forth, often in emotional exchanges.’
Each of the teens stood up, gave their first name, age and recited a long list of drugs that they said they had been taking, then they said they were through with drugs and loved their parents.
An older girl told a story of trying to attempt suicide by downing a bunch of pills, her mother (sitting among the parents) confirmed the story and told how her life stopped when the doctor told her how serious it was. Both mother and daughter ‘tearfully admitted a new found love for each other and happiness since going through The Seed program.’
Most of the parents told their kids they missed them and hoped they returned home as soon as they were ready. At the end of the meeting ‘everyone rose, held hands and recited The Lord’s Prayer . . . Then a cookie jar was passed around and stuffed with money by parents.’
Can you spot all of the inconsistencies of Straight, Inc.’s claims?