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“Therapy” for Entertainment = Pseudo-psychology (not to mention unethical)

Dr. Phil is not a psychologist, but he does play one on TV

Dr. Phil performs “therapy” for entertainment purposes only.

Dr. Phil is an ENTERTAINER, not a therapist.

  1. Dr. Phil is a Doctor.  He has a Ph.D. in Psychology.
  2. Dr. Phil is not a psychologist.  He is not licensed as a psychologist.  
  3. Dr. Phil used to be a psychologist.  He used to be licensed.
  4. He cannot practice psychology,  and what he does is not actually the practice of psychology.
  5. Yes,  he can call him self Dr. Phil.

Source: Paul G. Mattiuzzi, Ph.D.

Read more about “Is Dr. Phil actually a psychologist?by Paul G. Mattiuzzi, Ph.D. at this link.

The following clip was published by the Dr. Phil Show on Thursday, July 27, 2017.

Watch the clip and ask yourself if this seems like legitimate therapy to you.

Here is the blurb posted below this clip on YouTube written by the Dr. Phil Show:

Tom and Karen claim their oldest daughter, Madison, drinks, smokes weed, steals, is violent, and a bad influence on her 13-year-old sister, Liz. Madison says she would “do anything” not to be living at home, but when the 15-year-old is informed she’s been enrolled in a residential program for women and teens, she rejects the idea saying, “You’re sending me away…as if sending me away is going to help?” Watch to the very end to find out what Madison does, when Tom says they’re committed to getting her help.

Dr. Phil uses the power of television to tell compelling stories about real people.

The Dr. Phil show provides the most comprehensive forum on mental health issues in the history of television. For over a decade, Dr. McGraw has used the show’s platform to make psychology accessible and understandable to the general public by addressing important personal and social issues. Using his top-rated show as a teaching tool, he takes aim at the critical issues of our time, including the “silent epidemics” of bullying, drug abuse, domestic violence, depression, child abuse, suicide and various forms of severe mental illness.

Category: Entertainment

Notice the YouTube category is ENTERTAINMENT.  Also notice, disclaimers (aka the small print) shown at the end of his show that reiterates that this show is for entertainment purposes only.

This poor family is in crisis and needs legitimate advice from a licensed family therapist, not a “Television Therapist” that participates in dispensing pseudo-psychology as therapy, despite the fact that he should know better with his educational background being in psychology.

There are no scientific studies and no evidence that support the legitimacy of the types of programs that Dr. Phil recommends.

However, I have seen in the credits of the Dr. Phil’s show that these programs advertise, in other words, sponsor the Dr. Phil show. So yes, Dr. Phil gets kickbacks for recommending these programs to desperate families and obviously has no problem doing so without any regards as to whether or not they are harmful or helpful.

I take huge issue with the paragraph that Dr. McGraw has used the show’s platform to make psychology accessible and understandable to the general public by addressing important personal and social issues. Instead, he has made the science of psychology even confusing to the general public by presenting himself as a legitimate therapist, which he is not, and by promoting pseudo psychology which is NOT legitimate, evidence-based psychology.

The show’s writers state that Dr. Phil uses his top-rated show as a teaching tool, he takes aim at the critical issues of our time, including the “silent epidemics” of bullying, drug abuse, domestic violence, depression, child abuse, suicide and various forms of severe mental illness.  I don’t understand how he can allow this to be written about his show when he is well aware of the fact that he is teaching false psychological approaches to therapy, he uses bullying tactics to get these parents to enroll their daughter in this program in which he knows there is a possibility that these programs could possibly cause a client to become more depressed, to eventually partake in drug abuse or be abused by these unregulated, unsupervised businesses claiming to be therapeutic programs. 

Maybe Dr. Phil isn’t aware of the dangers of these programs.

NOPE! This is not the case. Even if this was the case, it seems the responsible thing for him to do would be to have his staff do some research on these programs.

But the fact is that this issue has been brought to his attention. In fact, there was a Dr. Phil show called “Children Sent Away: Trapped and Tortured?” See the clip and read more about it here.   Find one paragraph taken from that page:

Dr. Phil’s guests say the residential treatment centers they encountered as troubled teens did more harm than good. Marianne says she was abused at a therapeutic boarding school — and that her mom, Tami, did nothing to stop it. The two come face to face for the first time in five years. Can they call a truce and work on rebuilding their relationship? And, Nick and Theresa say they felt trapped and tortured at the residential treatment program where their mom, Leslie, sent them. Can these siblings find forgiveness?  

That was from 2013, yet here he is four years later still promoting the “services” of these so-called therapeutic businesses.

The Dr. Phil Show does not allow comments on videos about these programs because they know there will be many of them who disagree with them. Wouldn’t a legitimate, ethical therapist want the general public to become aware of both positive and negative opinions about the programs he suggests?

Lastly, why doesn’t the American Psychological Association (APA) speak out about this television show that is doing so much to delegitimize the real science of psychology?

I would love to hear from someone who is a member of the APA address this.

I would also like to hear all thoughts and comments about this issue, to get both positive and negative opinions in the public eye.


“Therapy” for Entertainment = Pseudo-psychology (not to mention unethical)

What is Pseudopsychology?

pseu·do·sci·ence /ˌso͞odōˈsīəns/

noun – a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method.

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An Answer to the Question: Why revisit the past?

May 11th, 1983 — 34 years later, May 11, 2017

“Why drudge up the past?” “Move on.” “Get over it.”

That’s what some people say in response to addressing the story of Straight, Inc. and other businesses pretending to be legitimate treatment programs. I understand where they are coming from when they say this, but they fail to understand that examining the past doesn’t mean you haven’t ‘moved on’ or ‘gotten over it.’ Conversely, forgetting the past doesn’t mean you have ‘gotten over it,’ or ‘moved on.’ 

It seems that the people who ask this question should review the reasons government-sponsored (a.k.a. public) schools, as well as private schools specifically, require history classes throughout a student’s educational career.

The explicit purpose of ‘drudging up the past,’ is to learn from it. We learn to avoid repeating the mistakes that were previously made, and we review what went into past successes to relay that knowledge to future generations.

You don’t forget a parent just because they passed away.

Straight, Inc., the ‘not-for-profit’ business that was posturing as a treatment center, permanently changed me and the trajectory of my life. When I walked into that building, I entered a world more depraved than I had ever been exposed to previously. That day May 29, 1982, marked the end of my childhood.

[pullquote]You don’t just get over it. You grieve, then you learn to accept your new reality and go about life accordingly.[/pullquote]Only a few weeks less than a year later, on May 11, 1983, (when I was still in the supposed 6-month long program) an exclamation point was added to the end of my childhood, as that was the day my father died. (Read more about that day here) I was still in the program during this time, and you don’t just forget a parent because they passed on. You don’t just get over it. You grieve, then you learn to accept your new reality and go about life accordingly. This is exactly what I did, both in response to my experience in Straight, Inc. and in response to my father’s death.

While Straight, Inc. didn’t directly cause my father’s death, it undoubtedly hastened its occurrence. The various circumstances in which the program put my father, and the incredible amounts of unnecessary stress this program caused him, without a doubt accelerated his journey to the grave. Straight, Inc., without due process and without a valid reason, stole the last year of my father’s life both from him and me. Do I harbor resentments? No, that wouldn’t be beneficial to me or anyone. Nevertheless, I do not wish for anyone else to be subjected to similar experiences.

Though the story doesn’t just end there. Every phase of my life has been affected by this program in various ways, even after leaving the program permanently in 1985. The ways in which my life was affected are too numerous to recount in this blog post. But suffice to say the program, and its connections even ended up playing a part in my mother’s death (January 09, 2012), though I didn’t discover this until a couple of years later. (This story will be told another time.)

We remember in order to learn from past mistakes and do better in the future.

You see, for some people (perhaps, most?), Straight’s effects never actually disappeared, they just hibernate until a significant event takes place in a person’s life. That person, in this case, me, may not even immediately realize the “straight-effect” is taking place, but that doesn’t stop it from occurring.

So to answer the “Why remember?” question about the Straight, Inc. experience, I have to say the most important reason to remember is to learn from what happened inside that dreadful place, to record what I have learned, and to teach future generations how to avoid making the same mistakes.

NOTE: (Also notice the “in lieu of flowers” blurb on the obituaries. This was printed in two papers in two states, and became a part of my permanent history. Just another reason to address this issue. )

In loving memory of my father.

In memory of William T. Barry (April 30, 1929 – May 11, 1983)

Washington Post – May 14, 1983

straight death donations
New York Newspaper – May 14, 1983 (below)   straight death donations

Tell us what you think about bringing this subject to the public’s attention.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below this post.

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Imagine it’s 1985 – You’re in Group in Straight, Inc.

 Imagine:  It’s 1985. You suddenly find yourself as a teenager in Group, in Straight, Inc.

Nov. 11, 1985 – Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana approaching the Straight, Inc Building in Springfield, VA

Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana are scheduled to make an appearance at Straight, Inc. which makes things even more confusing now. Straight, Inc.’s day to day operations are carried out by kids and you notice the similarity between the way this group operates and that novel you read in your English class The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. You think, “The way things are done here just can’t be legal, but now Nancy Reagan and Princess Di are visiting. Why and how can this be?” Oh well, you decide it doesn’t really matter how and why since there is no way to find the answers. Besides, it is kind of exciting to have such well-known world figures visiting. Where else would you get an opportunity to see them up-close like this? Suddenly you feel like you must be part of something important, so you ignore the fact that so-called-misbehavers are ‘hidden away’ during the visit and you welcome the diversion from the mind-numbing daily routines.

The Pilgrimage of Hope: Straight Inc. 1985

This video contains promotional coverage of Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana’s visit to Straight, Inc. It shows an abbreviated open meeting put on especially for the dignitaries. Even though it is only a brief example of what the real open meetings were like, it’s enough to give you an idea of the kind of show these kids had to put on each week for their parents and the public during these meetings. Open Meetings bore no resemblance of the so-called ‘therapy’ that took place when no adults were present.

Following the Pilgrimage of Hope video, is a clip from the made-for-television special Not My Kidbased on the Straight, Inc. program and the book Not My Kid, written by former “national clinical director” of Straight, Inc., Miller Newton.

Former Straight, Inc. Student who became an Executive Staff Member, Richard Mullinax Tells All

Richard Mullinax was just a scared young teenager when I first saw him as he was introduced to ‘The Group” in 1983. He escaped from the Straight, Inc. program several times before eventually returning to the group, successfully graduating the program, then becoming a regular staff member. During a majority of Straight, Inc’s existence only adults served as executive staff members (and usually didn’t partake in daily sessions, but were only there when the parents and members of the community came to ‘visit’), but Rich was one of the rare former students that eventually went on to become an Executive Staff Member as well. He worked as a staff member in numerous Straight, Inc. locations and was familiar with probably more former students of Straight Inc. than anyone else who was ever involved.

In 2006, a letter was crafted to Nancy Reagan, President George Bush, Sr., Former Straight, Inc. Executives & Other Responsible Parties on behalf of Survivors of Straight Inc. In 2008, Rich Mullinax became the only person to respond to the Straight, Inc. Survivors’ Letter Requesting Acknowledgment and an Apology. (You can read the Survivors’ request and Mullinax’s reply at this link.) Mr. Mullinax seemed to agonize over his participation as staff in this program but was brave enough to put his apology in writing and publish it on the Internet. His courageous act provided relief and validation to many who survived their ordeal in this program.

Honoring Rich Mullinax’s Request

On April 4, 2000, I created my first website named Straight, Inc Survivors and I have had various websites dedicated to this topic since then. There have been times when life has called me away from this project (while I was raising my family) and there were some lapses in my coverage of the topic. During one of these periods of time, Chris Flannery decided to make a static site where she could post related documents permanently. This is what led to the creation of her site Surviving Straight Inc. I’m forever grateful that she was able to do this because when Rich emailed his apology to Ms. Flannery, he also sent me a copy asking me to post it on my website along with this video. However, soon after I posted Rich’s apology, I had to take a break from my advocacy work and go tend to life. Thank goodness, Chris Flannery continued to keep her website available allowing Rich Mullinax to publish his apology, which seemed to mean so much to so many.


rip rich (2)With Cyndy Etler’s recent book launch about her Straight, Inc. experiences (The Dead Inside: A true story) and the recent passing of Rich Mullinax, a kind soul, former Straight, Inc. student, executive staff member and most recently, advocate for former Straight, Inc. clients, it seems like the right time to to pick up where I left off, and finally, honor Rich’s request. This video contains promotional coverage of Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana’s visit to Straight, Inc… Following the Pilgrimage of Hope video is a clip from the made-for-television special Not My Kidbased on the Straight, Inc. program and the book Not My Kid, written by former “national clinical director” of Straight, Inc., Miller Newton. I am publishing this video not only to honor Rich’s request but also for posterity; as part of a history lesson for future generations.

The reasons we record events in history, and the reasons we study recorded historical events.

Remember when you finally realized that the reason we take history classes in school was so that we could learn from the past? We are to repeat the things that have been successful and hopefully avoid repeating historical events that turned out to be disastrous and just plain wrong?

Well, consider this just another part of an important piece of our social history that we must begin to learn from, lest we continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Even if these events never makes mainstream history books, they should at least be recorded as a part of the Study of the History of Psychology (as lessons about not only what doesn’t work for so-called troubled teens or troubled families, but also how harmful non-scientific based therapies can be.)

History has already repeated itself and will continue until we pay attention.

Watching that clip from the Not My Kid television special reminded me of another similar promotional television show from approximately 1972 called A Seed of Hope.  

Think about it:

  • Seed Inc. was founded in 1970,  and a couple of years later had a promotional television show created called A Seed of Hope.
  • The Seed program was run out of St. Petersburg, Florida in 1975 due to claims of abuse.
  • One year later in 1976, a group of former Seed, Inc. families got together to form and open the business called Straight, Inc.
  • Within a few months after opening for business an investigation found rampant abuses in the Straight Inc. Program.
  • Straight, Inc. created a promotional video called A Pilgrimage of Hope.
  • Straight, Inc.’s treatment program was eventually shut down due to numerous lawsuits of abuse. (Although, Straight, Inc. still operates as a “drug abuse education” non-profit corp now called Drug Free America Foundation.)
  • But Straight Inc.’s idea of ‘treatment’ lives on through its spin-off programs. There are many more programs that were born out of Straight, Inc. but that will have to be addressed in another post. Suffice to say history has, does and will continue to repeat itself until attention is brought to the reasons why something should not be repeated.
  • The main takeaway is that Straight, Inc. was a pseudo-psycho-junk-science-based treatment center, founded by troubled families who had been through another non-evidence-based treatment center. These families (with no formal education in the treatment of adolescents) seemed to think it was a good idea to open up a program of their own and have their own children run it, and the abuse cycle not only continued but grew worse with time.

Where were you in 1985? What are your memories about 1985 and Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana?  Please share your memories below in the comments.


The Next Step: Making A Difference

Laura Faehner Reed, Making a Difference with Haircuts for the Homeless.

Many ‘clients’ of so-called “tough love” programs have not only survived their ordeals but have also used their life experiences to drive them forward to shape society in positive ways. Laura Faehner Reed is one such person.

What made you decide to provide haircuts for homeless people?

Reed: I have done hair for the past twenty years, and I love it. When I moved to a different salon several years ago, I was slow because I was waiting for my clients to follow me. In the meantime, I had to do figure out something else to do with my time.

When I started to look through a magazine, I spotted an ad for a place that houses kids with special needs. I decided to offer to free haircuts for the children at this home. I know how difficult it can be to take special needs kids to get a haircut because both of my kids have Tourette’s Syndrome. People look at them, and the kids feel like they are different.

The following day, I met with the director of the children’s home to discuss my proposal. He surprised me when his first question to me was, “What do you want and why are you doing this?” However, I just told him, “I’m doing it because I have some extra time right now.” He asked, “Do you want to get paid?” I explained to him that I had kids with special needs so I would like to give back. Then he told me, “Well, you can’t wear what you are wearing. You can’t wear those earrings because it distracts the kids.” I said I’d wear all yellow if he wanted me to. I just wanted to be able to help the children, because I know how even getting a haircut can be difficult for them. I thought it would be nice for them to have someone come into their environment to give them a free haircut.

[pullquote]The director asked me, “What do you want and why are you doing this?”[/pullquote]

I assume he didn’t get it because he never called me back. I called him two weeks later, but he never returned my phone call. I was beyond livid. I couldn’t have presented myself in a more professional manner to this gentleman. It was just crazy–like he just didn’t trust me. He couldn’t understand that someone was trying to do something nice without any money.

A couple of days later I called a woman’s shelter. I said, “My name is Laura, I have down time…” and they said, “Well, this Saturday we have an event, can you do nails?” I hadn’t done nails since the state board, I mean I do my nails, but I don’t usually do nails in my profession. I said, “Sure! I can do nails.” It wasn’t what I wanted, but I knew it was my ‘in.’

The following Saturday, I brought my stuff, did the ladies’ nails, and the woman in charge loved me. She said, “Oh my gosh, this was great! You helped these women feel so good.”  I said, “Well, can I come back and do haircuts?” She said, “Sure! No problem.” So I started doing haircuts there once a week.

It felt so extraordinary to be able to do that, that I started trying to branch out to do a little bit more.

So many shelters had turned me down for various reasons. The reasons they gave made perfect sense. The shelter for abused women couldn’t take advantage of my offer due to safety concerns for the women. I get that, I do, but was discouraging because I just felt like I was always jumping through hoops.

Then one day I saw an interview with this hairdresser, Mark Bustos, in New York. On his days off he cuts hair for the homeless out on the street. I was so excited because I knew I could do this and I wouldn’t have to ask anybody for permission. I could just go out and offer free haircuts.

The following morning I bought some cordless clippers and trimmers. Then I went out to Westminster, Maryland near my house. I’m cautious with whom I approach, but I saw these two guys and I could kind of tell that they were in need. So I walked up to them, and I used my own words to say something like what Mark Bustos says to the people he reaches out to. I was nervous, but I went up to them and said, “Hi, my name is Laura, I’m a hairdresser, and it’s my day off. I offer free haircuts to those who are in need, and I was just wondering if you needed a haircut. When they said, “Sure!” I was nervous, excited and relieved all at the same time.

That was about six years ago, but even today when someone I approach says yes to me, I start shaking. I get nervous because while I am a ‘people-person,’ I am not a ‘crowd-person.’ Each time I do this, it causes the same reaction. As soon as I get the person to sit down, I put a cape on them and start getting out my things; a crowd begins to form. People walk by and see that something unusual is happening, and they stop to watch.

Laura Faehner Reed provides Haircuts for the HomelessI’ve done this in a variety of places including on the streets of New York City, and it is always the same. People stop to watch. If I were to look up and see a massive crowd watching, I would have an anxiety attack. So I just focus on what I am doing. I put the cape on the person, start combing their hair, and start talking to them. I start cutting in the back because I don’t want this person to see my hands shaking. It takes me about seven minutes per person to stop trembling (I’ve clocked it). After that point, I calm down, I can flow with it, and everything is good. There have been times when people have taken videos of me doing this. When I review the videos, I can’t believe how many people are actually looking at me. I am always thankful that I didn’t look up.

My nervousness begins to fade as I lose myself in what I’m doing. I focus on this person who has allowed me into their life, to touch them and to talk to them. Some of these people haven’t been spoken to or even acknowledged in weeks. These individuals are destitute. They are people who don’t want to go to shelters because they don’t trust the shelters. They are isolated because they have been on the streets for so long that they don’t trust anybody.

[pullquote]I focus on this person who has allowed me into their life, to touch them and to talk to them.[/pullquote]

Before I approach anyone, I usually watch them for a few minutes without them realizing it. I wait to see their mannerisms, how they are acting, and to get a feel for what’s going on with them. I don’t want to walk into a situation that I am not comfortable with or that they may not be comfortable with.

When I start talking to them, they don’t understand what I am doing. Some people say yes to me right away; others don’t. When I first approach a person, I kneel to get down to their eye-level, say hello and give them an apple. I say, “My name is Laura, today is my day off from work. How are you doing?” They usually say, “Good,” then just kind of look at me. Often, I have to talk with them for a while, but they usually say yes.

There was one time when I was in Chicago when I went up to this one guy to introduce myself. The whole time I was talking, he was nodding his head and when I said, “Do you need a haircut?” He responded with an enthusiastic and immediate “Yes!” It happened in one minute, but that is more of the exception than the rule.

Do the people you approach ever ask why you are doing this?

Reed: If they ask me why I’m doing this I usually tell them because I know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the barrel. I know what it’s like to be afraid and scared and to not have anyone to turn it. I do know that feeling well from earlier experiences in life and when they hear that, they understand. It is easy for me to connect with them.

Once I told a person, “I remember what it was like to live out of a paper bag with my name on it.” There was a time when that was all I had. I had shelter, but it was in no way a safe atmosphere and I would have rather been out on the streets. These homeless people are in a terrible situation. They are afraid half the time, and anything could happen, but at least they have their freedom. I did not have that. Even though I had nothing and no one, I also didn’t have my freedom. Luckily they have their freedom and by offering them a haircut, I can give them back some of their dignity. It also affords me the opportunity to talk to them, ask them questions and most important, listen to them.

[pullquote]I remember what it was like to live out of a paper bag with my name on it.[/pullquote]

Most people want to talk. They just pour out everything that is on their mind. I have my entire Instagram account #LauraOntheStreet dedicated to sharing these stories. They are the stories of people that nobody will listen to. I usually ask the person, “Do you mind if I take your picture?” If they say yes, then I’m good. If they said “Ok, as long as you don’t get my face,” I tell them no problem. Then I’ll take a picture of the side or the back of their hair. Sometimes I just photograph the hair that has fallen to the floor. Then I’ll put a caption on the picture and tell their story.

When I leave that person, I leave him or her feeling better than they’ve felt in a long time. And this costs me nothing but a little bit of time. It is so worth it. I feel like I’ve made somebody happier. It is the best feeling in the world to be able to connect with someone in that way. I love doing this work; it is incredibly powerful.

Is there any one category of people you find among the homeless more than another?

Reed: No. Homelessness isn’t picky. It can happen to anyone. I have met men, women, and children of all ages and races. But it does seem that our society as a whole has stereotyped the homeless. I even remember as a kid, when we would pass a homeless person my dad would say, “Oh that’s just a bum. He’s just trying to get money for alcohol.”

Moya: What are some of the ways you’ve heard that people end up homeless?

Reed: First, we are all only a step away from homelessness. It could happen to any one of us. A lot of people think that homeless people are just people with drug or alcohol problems. Sure, some of them are, but it seems that family is a big thing. Many people have not gotten along with their families, and they just don’t have anyone to fall back on. They have had a catastrophic incident occur in their lives and when there is no one to turn to this is what happens.

It’s funny because people often ask me, “Aren’t they dirty? Don’t you come across some dirty hair?” I will tell you this. The dirtiest people that I have met have sat in my salon chair and spent $300.00 on a color and cut. Just two weeks ago a woman came in and her hair was wet. I asked her, “Did you just get out of the shower?” She said, “No, I just played two hours of tennis.” She was sweaty. She smelled bad. Her breath smelled. It was unbelievable. She was dirtier than any homeless person I have ever come across. You have to be careful before you judge people because you never know.

Moya: Is there any man, women or child that particularly stands out in your memory?

Reed: There are so many that stand out, but recently I just did an event in Frederick, Maryland. I was cutting hair Laura Faehner Reed provides Haircuts for the Homelessfor families in need at a local shelter. There was one little girl, who was there with her mother and three brothers. I gave haircuts to the entire family. The kids didn’t look good. They look malnourished; they had bags under their eyes, and they just didn’t look healthy. Before the little girl left, she hugged me, and she had her face buried in my stomach. She was hugging me so tight, and she wouldn’t let go. I had to take her little arms from my waist and take her off of me, but she didn’t want to go.

I had to step outside after that one. Before that day, I’ve never cried or gotten emotional like that. I learned when I was at the fire department as a young adult when people are injured or hurt, we just take them to the hospital, hand the chart to the charge nurse and that was it. I didn’t know if they lived, died, or anything that happened to them from that point on. So I got somewhat used to that disconnection. For me to be able to cut hair for homeless, I can’t follow through on each individual. I just can’t. It’s not good for me; it’s not good for them. I just focus on what we are doing at the moment. I cut their hair, it’s going to be a great half hour or hour, however long they want to talk to me. We will do the haircut and talk, and that’s just it. Good luck with your life. I have to make the disconnection. However, with this little girl, I had to walk outside, that one was very, very hard.

Moya: What did you say to the little girl as you were taking her arms off of you?

Reed: I just said, “It was so nice to meet you. You are such a precious little girl, and you have such a great family.”

Coincidently, just the other night I read a letter that the mom of the little girl wrote to the director of this event. She wrote that she wanted to let the director know how happy she was, and she wanted to know more about me and to thank me for taking care of her family. She wrote, “I’m the mom whose daughter wouldn’t let go of the hairdresser. I want to thank you for providing me a safe place to bring my children, and thank the hairdresser.” That was incredible.

It’s hard when you see the kids, but it’s also hard to see women in their eighties who are in the shelter. I’ve cut hair for a couple of woman in the homeless shelter who have been in their eighties. They tell me that they don’t want to die there. They are getting older, and they don’t know what is going to happen to them. That is extraordinarily hard.

[pullquote]I was at the homeless shelter getting ready as usual. . .  I turned around, and I see this woman walking down the hall who used to be one of my regular clients at the salon[/pullquote]

There is one other person that stands out in my memory. I was at the homeless shelter getting ready as usual. I set my stuff up; I tell them I’m ready then somebody walks back to call for the next person. I usually listen to their footsteps and try to imagine what they are going to look like when they come in. This one time I turned around, and I see this woman walking down the hall who used to be one of my regular clients at the salon. She used to spend a lot of money every six weeks for me to cut and color her hair. She had two kids in private schools and lived in an affluent area of Maryland. We recognized each other, and I said, “What are you doing here? Are you volunteering?” She said, “I’m a client.” I was dumbfounded. She was embarrassed. I told her to sit down, and I said, “Wow. How does something like this happen?”  She told me she had gone through a divorce with her husband; then her father got very sick. She was taking care of her dad until he passed away. Then there were problems with the will, and she didn’t get the money she thought was coming to her, and the divorce just wrecked her. She just ended up with nothing and nobody could help her. The kids were with their father, but I felt so sorry for this lady who previously seemed to have it all. That was a crazy situation, and I just couldn’t believe it. She was the last person on this earth I would have expected to see in the homeless shelter. It just proved to me that anyone could end up homeless in an instant.

You mentioned earlier that you had some experiences in your adolescent years that allowed you to identify with the homeless, could you elaborate on that?

Reed: Yes, I had some rough times during my teen years which provided me with experiences that allow me to understand what it’s like to be homeless. I tried to forget about those years, but every two to three years something would happen, or I’d see something that reminded me of a drug abuse program that I was in. I knew the things that happened there were not right.  The older I got, the more I realized that children should not have been treated like that. There was no supervision and the young people who were in charge, watched as ungodly things happened to other kids. The worst part is that I got pulled into the corruption myself, and what was done to me, I then did to others thinking that is just how to survive in this program. I had a lot of regret for what I had done, so I ran from it for a long time.

About ten years ago, when we got a computer in our home, I decided to google Straight, Incorporated. That was theStraight Inc Logo name of the program I was in from May of 1987 to May of 1989, in Springfield, Virginia. It was, in essence, a cult that operated under the guise of a national, adolescent drug rehabilitation program. I don’t know if you have ever heard of the cult called Synanon that served as a drug rehabilitation program for adults, but this was primarily the same thing only the adolescent version.

When I googled Straight, Incorporated, everything that I had been running from just hit me and I was in tears.  I’m a strong person, and I don’t cry over much, but it just hit me. All my thoughts and feelings about those years were validated. When I read some of the things that said that this program was not right, and there are other program survivors out there—the term ‘survivor’ hit me—it hit me like a ton of bricks. I called my husband and said, “You have to come home.” He said, “What’s wrong?” I never do that under any circumstance because I had been through the Straight, Inc. program. That’s how I handle my life, most things that could happen to me couldn’t be that bad because I’ve already been through the some of the worst possible things that could happen. This program basically kidnaped me and forced me to do things that were against my will for two years. When he realized something unusual was going on, he came home. I showed him all of this stuff and told him what had happened to me and others in this program. He already knew I was in this program, but he never knew just how bad it was. It was just so shocking to see all of these ‘secrets’ published online; to see that it was out there.

Moya: What was his response to what you told him?

Reed: He wanted me to put it behind me. He said that this is stuff that had happened a long time ago and that I needed just to move on. And so I did. But sometimes the memories would still come up, and I would talk to him about it. At one point, I guess he got sick of me reflecting back on it, and he turned to me and said, “Stop talking about it! I never want to hear you talk about Straight again.” And so I did, and our marriage ended.

We were married for 23 years; it didn’t end because of Straight—at all. It was just one more thing in the line of things that happened to contribute to the divorce. He met me five years after I got out of that program and I still wasn’t back to normal. I was still getting used to just being back in mainstream society. I was trying to figure out how to adjust to certain things when I met him, and I ended up not being happy, but I just sucked it up like I did in Straight. As I grew older and stronger as a person, and as a woman, when he told me he never wanted me to talk about it again, it was like he was saying he didn’t care about me. I mean I have always run from it—my whole life had been running from Straight, whether I realized it or not—Straight was and is a huge part of my life.

Moya: You mentioned this program was like a cult, so how did you get out of it?

Reed: Well, I was fourteen years old when I was first put in this program, so two years later I was sixteen when they had let me return to school. I was sitting in gym class, and one of the girls wrote on my shoe “I Love Chad.” Now, I did have a crush on Chad, but I was in Straight, and I wasn’t allowed even to look at boys. I surely wasn’t supposed to have a crush on a boy. Those were a part of the written rules of the program, all of which had very literal interpretations. I had to go back to the Straight building directly after school. When I saw another girl from the program read my shoe, I knew I was going to get in big trouble.

[pullquote]you were prevented from going anywhere else including school[/pullquote]

In this program, you begin in the first phase of the program, where you are told that you have lost all of your freedom and all of your rights because you decided to do drugs. That meant you were walked around by another girl like a dog on a leash, only the leash was a girl’s hand tightly wrapped around the top of the back of your pants and her thumb inserted through the belt loop. From the minute you entered the building (even if your parents just brought you there for an assessment, once you walked through the front doors they owned you) you were grabbed by your pants to be walked around and put in a seat. You were not allowed to get up from the seat without asking permission. You were watched at all times, and if you attempted to get up from your seat, other girls would grab you and sit you back down in your seat (or worse). You were watched by other kids 24/7. There were two bathroom breaks during the 12+ hour days, at which time girls who had earned back their freedom would grab you by the pants and walk you to the bathrooms. There were no doors on the stalls, and there were girls standing guard, one in front of each stall. You had 30 seconds to do your thing then you were pulled up and out of the stall and walked back to your chair in the group. This is just one example of the literal meaning of having lost all freedom according to the program. When you weren’t in the building, you were sent home (by the belt loop of course) to another kid’s home where the same treatment continued, and you were prevented from going anywhere else including school. You progress through the phases of the program by proving you’ve become a true believer in their ways, and you slowly earn back freedom along the way.

I had been in this program for two years and was in the fifth and final phase of the program when this “I love Chad” incident occurred. I knew she had seen the writing on my shoe, and she knew I saw her see it. We both knew that she would have to turn me in. It was part of this strange culture; she had to report me so she wouldn’t get in trouble. ‘Trouble’ almost always meant having all of your freedoms taken away once again.

When I was at home that night, I decided I was going to leave the program the next day. I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go, but I knew I couldn’t just go back to the building. If I did, I’d be set back to the first phase and shuffled between random houses with nothing more than my clothes in my paper bag (if I was lucky enough even to have that).

I had a couple of girls in their first stages of the program staying with me at my house that I had to get to the Straight building the next day. Luckily, by then the program had a Straight, Inc. bus that would transport Maryland people to the Springfield, Virginia building. I was so afraid I was going to miss getting them on that bus because I knew if I had to go anywhere near the building that day, that I would get set back to the first phase. However, we got there on time, I got them on the bus, and I knew I was home free. Then, my mother took me to school.

Moya: Where did you go from there?

Reed: I went to the school counselor whom I was close to and had already talked to about Straight. I told her that I was going to leave Straight, and a couple of friends were going to help me. I decided I would just walk into the woods behind the school and stay there until I could figure out where to go. I spoke with the counselor that morning and stayed with her most of the day. At about noon, I went to the bathroom, and when I came back, my parents were standing there in the counselor’s office.

We’re on the fourth floor of the school, and my parents are standing to my right, and there are open windows to my left. I’m looking at the windows and noticed that they open inwardly, but I’m small, so I think if I run fast enough I could jump out the window. There was just no way I could go back to Straight, Inc. My parents saw me looking at the windows and immediately understood what was going through my mind. I started crying, “I’m not going back. I’ll die before I go back, I’m not going back.” They just started crying and said, “You don’t have to go back, Laura. You don’t have to go back.”

[pullquote]I was so messed up in the head from that place I didn’t know what to believe and what not to believe.[/pullquote]

I was so messed up in the head from that place I didn’t know what to believe and what not to believe. I can’t remember how long I stood there contemplating whether I was going to jump out that window or not. Eventually, we sat down in the counselor’s office and started talking and everything kind of simmered down. When my dad drove me to his house, I had my hand on the car door the whole way home because I had a feeling he might still try to take me back to the building. I knew if he got onto the beltway, I would jump out of the car. However, he did end up taking me home.

He called the building and said, “We’ve graduated ourselves from the program today.” The staff, as was par for the course, told him, “You need to come back in. She is a druggy, and she is manipulating you. You need to come back in, and we need to sit down and talk about it.” My dad said, “No. We’ve done enough talking. We’re not going to do this anymore. We are graduating.”

So that night and for the next couple of months, I had my parents put an alarm on my bedroom door. They already had the alarms because the program required parents to put alarms on the bedroom doors to keep all of the kids in their room at nights to prevent them from escaping. But I was nervous that people from the program would come into my house and try to take me back to the program in the middle of the night. I figured if my parents alarmed me in the room, it would at least give me a chance to run. And this was crazy because I never thought that way before I went into this program, I never thought like that. I was… I mean I was a kid that was rebellious, but I never did drugs. I didn’t drink or do any drugs before I went in there. I may have had a couple of sips of Jack Daniels because my friends did, but other than that I never did anything. Then I end up in the toughest drug rehabilitation program in the country.

Moya: Why did that happen?

Reed: It was because there wasn’t enough information out there. My mom found the program through my dentist whose child was in there. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I found out later that you got a discount if you referred people to the program. He said to my mom, “Your daughter isn’t looking good, are you struggling with her?” My mom was like, “Yes, she’s just difficult.”  He asked her, “Do you think she’s on drugs?” My mom responded, “I have no idea.”

He proceeded to ask her some questions from a Straight checklist about me and of course, every teenage kid in the world meets the criteria of the list. So she took me to Straight, to find out if I was on drugs. And that is how I ended up there. Just by chance.

Even though it was over twenty years ago when I was 14 years old and in that program, I can still vividly remember that feeling of being completely alone, not knowing who to trust, witnessing horrible violence, and never knowing where I would be sleeping that night. That’s how I can understand the experiences of the homeless people.

Now, I’ve developed as a woman and as a person, and I love where I am in my life. And I love doing the things I have a passion for. I love cutting hair, and I love working with the homeless.

You do seem to have a passion for cutting hair for the homeless, how does this work affect you?

Laura Faehner Reed provides Haircuts for the HomelessReed: I will tell you this; I cannot give it up now. If I tried, I would probably have withdrawals. Doing this work is actually very selfish. Going through the divorce, and custody disputes this past summer was probably one of the worst times in my life, especially since Straight was brought up in the custody situation. It was just brutal. While my world felt like it was falling apart, I cut more hair for the homeless than I ever had because it was the only thing that made me happy. It helped me get through it. Helping other people and giving back to other people gave me my life back. It was a beautiful thing to fall back on. So it is was my drug. I would go to shelters, and I would come home and think I did really good today, I helped those people. Cutting hair for the homeless feeds me the drug of satisfaction.

What does the future look like for #LauraOnTheStreet?

Reed: Oh, I will do this forever. I am going to Australia in a couple of weeks (because my daughter will be studying abroad there), so I’m going to bring my scissors and do it there. I want to keep doing this for as long as I possibly can. I want to give haircuts to the homeless in every city or country I visit.

What is your advice to people who might be interested in doing something similar?

Reed: Oh my goodness! Do it! I found my niche, I kind of stumbled on it. I was very lucky, but everybody has something or some way that he or she can give back to humanity, you just have to find what is right for you.

Moya: I have mentioned what you do to my hairdresser, and she thought it was nice, but didn’t seem interested in doing something similar, what would you say to those people?

Reed: Some people want to do it, and some people don’t want to do it. If you don’t want to give back, that’s fine, but don’t complain about being unhappy. You will find that the happiest people are the ones that give back to others—the ones that make a difference in the world, whether it’s helping animals or people. There are homeless shelters down the street that need things for their clients. It could be as simple as bringing yarn to a homeless shelter, a lot of the ladies knit. There is a ton of stuff that you can do. Anybody can do it, and it isn’t money that these people need.

Regardless of what or if you choose to do anything, at least acknowledge the homeless people. That is what people who have been on the street for a long time say—that acknowledgment is huge. So many people walk by them and ignore them because they just don’t realize that homeless people are individuals too. They need time, and they need to be treated like humans. I think that is the most important thing. I carry apples with me all the time. Sometimes all it takes is a little a bit of acknowledgment, “Here ya go, have a great day,” I say as I hand them an apple.

Here is a sampling of what you will find on Laura’s Instagram


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Series: First Investigation of Straight, Inc. (01/07/1978)- Part 1

[Originally posted on Jan. 16, 2016. Updated May 12, 2017]

January 1978: Report from 1977-1978 Investigation of Project Straight Inc.

Straight Inc. filed papers for incorporation on April 22, 1976.
Straight Inc.’s doors opened for operation on Sept. 1, 1976.
By November 1977, Straight was being investigated in response to complaints from the community.

Straight Inc. is referred to as Project Straight, Inc. because it was considered a project that was funded by LEAA and local contributions.

Please see the original documents here: 

Project Straight, Inc. is a private non-profit organization licensed as a day care program with foster homes.

An investigation was initiated in November 1977, concerning Project Straight, Inc. in response to 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 (yes, a day care program!) with foster homes.

How the investigation was conducted.

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.

This blog post contains the information uncovered from the investigation interviews of current and former members of the Straight, Inc. Board of Directors.

Five Former board members were interviewed during this investigation.

In 2015, I sat down and thoroughly combed through a couple of reports written on January 11, 1978, by task force members. The task force was chaired by J.B. Holley and formed to investigate allegations being made against Straight, Inc. The interviews and documents collected by this task force corroborate the statements made in the telephone interview with Mr. Henson in November of 2001. (Mr. Henson’s 2001 telephone interview is here.)

The Henson Interviews.

Mr. & Mrs. L. A. Henson were interviewed together, with the following points being made by one or the other.

Important decisions being made without the Board of Directors’ input.

Mr. Henson felt that important decisions were being made without the Board of Directors’ input; e.g., certain aspects of the LEAA grant, hospitalization for staff, the decision to move from the Anderson Building, and the establishment of the Straight court. He also said that for a time there were no written minutes of the executive committee or the Board. After the issue was forced the practice of writing up the minutes was resumed.

Concerns about safety.

Mr. Henson had several concerns about safety; e.g., appliance left plugged in at the facility overnight, transportation of large numbers of clients in one car at one time, and foster home situations. He said that young, inexperienced persons do the investigations into foster homes, and he felt that a great deal of professional expertise, experience, and judgment, is needed in visiting and evaluating a foster home.

No written accepted procedure for handling grievances and/or complaints.

There is no written accepted procedure for handling grievances and/or complaints, and he feels the present procedure is not responsive to complaints of parents or staff. Although there is an advisory board, Mr. Henson states that they do not meet and function regularly.

Mrs. Helen Petermann is not qualified to serve as the staff supervisor.

Mrs. Henson feels very strongly that Mrs. Helen Petermann is not qualified to serve as the staff supervisor. He said that the decision to hire her was made at a Board meeting which he could not attend.

It was his feeling that originally no board member would have been willing to hire her, and then the Board took action to hire her. It puzzles Mr. Henson that this reversal took place.

He understands that Mrs. Petermann was fired from her position at the Seed. Mrs. Henson stated that she had observed Mrs. Petermann kick a client and that there were other witnesses.

Clients were told they could not discuss the program or even mention ‘Straight, Inc.’ to outsiders without receiving serious consequences.

According to the Hensons, the clients were told they could not discuss the program, or even mention “Straight, Inc.” to outsiders or they would be started over again in the program. Also a staff member was told he could not visit the Henson residence.

Mr. Henson thinks the program will fail eventually because of mismanagement, poor staff, autocratic decision making, personnel problems, and the lack of appropriate response to grievances and charges of abuse.

It was a critical issue with the Henson’s that the task force interview persons who are no longer with the program. They felt the task force would get only a partial picture of the program if they interviewed only those persons currently involved in Straight, Inc.

Another interview was conducted with Mrs. L. A. Henson and Mrs. Rose.

Mrs. Henson and Mrs. Rose were formerly intake-mothers with the Straight, Inc. program and Mrs. Rose was the mother of a former staff member in Straight, Inc.

Mrs. Henson and Mrs. Rose were involved in the formation of the Straight, Inc. program.

Mrs. Henson and Mrs. Rose advised that they were involved in the formation of the program as they and several other parents felt there was a definite need for a program of this nature in the community.

Mel Sembler said Jim Hartz was hired for his degree, but Helen Petermann would operate the program.

Mrs. Henson said she heard Mel Sembler, the president of Straight, Inc., tell her husband, Hap Henson, that Jim Hartz was hired for his degree and that Helen Petermann would operate the program.

Mrs. Henson and Mrs. Rose both said that they had no idea Helen Petermann would be involved in the program at the level she is now involved or they would not have supported it from the beginning.

Mrs. Petermann presses [the kids] a great deal for details involving anything related to sex.

Both ladies feel Mrs. Petermann has some problems, one of them is that she presses a great deal for any detail involving anything related to sex. Henson indicated that the ——‘s daughter had been in a group at one point in the program where she observed Mrs. Petermann down on the floor, in front of the group, demonstrating various sexual positions used throughout the world. This was in a female group conducted by Mrs. Petermann.

This coincides with information received from Diana Shanahan, a former staff member, in a previous interview.

Mrs. Petermann repeatedly kicked a new intake boy while he was being dragged out of an intake room by two young staff members. 

straight, helen peterman, helen petermann
Helen Petermann

Mrs. Rose stated that during one of the first intakes she conducted, she noted the youth was unusually quiet which was very alarming to her. She went to Helen Petermann and other staff members and told them of her fears with the youth. Mrs. Rose told them she did not want to be left alone with him because she thought he was going to go off the deep end.

Helen Petermann and young staff members Ron Solanas and Mike Shanahan went with Mrs. Rose back to the intake room. Mrs. Rose advised that when they entered the intake room Helen Petermann began to talk to the youth and the youth went off the deep end. The boy went rigid and was drug from the room by Ron Solanas and Mike Shanahan in that condition. She said each of the boys grabbed the new intake by his arms and dragged him with his heels dragging along the floor while Helen Petermann walked along behind the boy kicking him.

Mrs. Henson confirms this. She states she was an eyewitness to this incident and would swear to it in court. Mrs. Rose and Mrs. Henson also said that at the time this incident took place, it was also witnessed by Jim Hartz and [Solanes’s] wife, Debbie, who came in as it was going on.

Staff uses obscene language and ostracization to the detriment of the children’s welfare

Both Mrs. Henson and Mrs. Rose feel that some of the more negative aspects of the Straight program are the obscene language used by members of the staff toward clients and the practice of coventry. [Ostracizing.] Both feel this is very detrimental to the children’s welfare.

Mrs. Henson and Mrs. Rose feel that such a program is very definitely needed in this community, however, they feel the program needs to be cleaned up and operated as it was in the beginning.

Mrs. Bob Chapin’s interview:

Bob Chapin was involved with the Seed Program and helped get Straight started.

He resigned because he did not feel that he and his wife wanted to devote the time necessary to be members of the board. He feels that Straight is a good program, and would place his child there if needed. He personally feels that the staff supervisor, Helen Petermann, should be a younger person who could relate more to the children in the program. He feels that a follow-up program is needed for graduates from Straight, Inc.

Mr. Ted Anderson’s interview:

Kangaroo courts and tracking down runaways

Ted Anderson stated that the final straw that caused him to resign was when Jim Hartz reported on the establishment of what Mr. Anderson called “kangaroo court” consisting of clients trying other clients who break rules and setting their punishment. He said that Hartz reported that one of the punishments imposed was to make the client clean the bathroom floor with a toothbrush; he further said that the heard that the client was forced to drink the bucket of wash water.

He also disliked the practice of sending staff to track down runaways and felt that such clients should not be forced to return to the program.

The original concept of one-to-one attention has been lost with the extensive, no-control expansion of the program.

He feels that with the extensive, no-control, expansion of the program, the original concept of one-on-one has been lost. He feels that a distance restriction should be imposed and the client census should be held to a workable level.

Clients are kept out of school for too long.

He feels that the clients are kept in Phase I and II, and thus out of school, for too long a period of time. He is concerned about the lack of any definitive standards on which a client is moved from phase to phase.

Poor fiscal management

He is also concerned about what he considers to be poor fiscal management. He claims that he had never seen a full and accurate treasurer’s report. He feels that major decisions are made by the president and the executive director, rather than by the board.

Jim Hartz is power hungry, staff time records are falsified, and Helen Petermann

Hartz, straight
Jim Hartz

is totally unqualified for the position of staff supervisor. 

He feels that Jim Hartz is power hungry and is asking for more and more authority to act unilaterally.

He states that staff time records are falsified in that only forty hours of work are shown, whereas fifty and sixty hours are actually put in.

The original intention of the founders of Straight was to bring the staff on board and train them before any clients were accepted. This did not happen.

He feels that the staff supervisor should be a young person and that Mrs. Petermann is totally unqualified for the position.

Letters from former Board members, which were included in the task force report:

This letter is dated Aug. 8, 1977, addressed to Mr. Melvin F. Sembler, President, Straight, Inc. P.O. Box 40052, St. Petersburg, Florida 33743

Dear Mr. President:

As president of Straight, Inc. you are bound by its charter and by-laws and said charter and by-laws do not confer upon you the authority to make a unilateral decision.

The by-laws provide that decision making authority rests only with the Board of Directors and/or its executive committee and that decision making grows out of a majority vote of said duly authorized decision-making bodies.

To the extent that you continue to make and implement decisions without majority approval of said governing bodies of Straight, Inc., I am becoming concerned that said unilateral acts on your part may expose me to loss or damage and/or expensive litigation. Hence, I am placing you on notice that should such a contingency occur I will then demand that you indemnify, defend, save and hold me harmless from the consequences of your unilateral acts. Should you then fail to do so I shall bring an action for indemnity against you.

Further, I disclaim any responsibility for your unilateral actions during your term as president of Straight, Inc. both in the past and in the future.


Hap Henson

Robert Chapin

Theodore Anderson

This letter of resignation was attached to the above letter.

This letter is also dated August 8, 1977. This one is addressed to Mr. Melvin F. Sembler, President, Straight, Inc., 6539 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida 33710

Dear Mr. Sembler:

We, the undersigned, submit our resignation as members of the Board of Directors of Straight, Inc. for the following reasons:

  1. It is our feeling and belief that as far as we are concerned, Straight, Inc., by no stretch of the imagination, follows the guidelines we envisioned prior to its inception.
  2. We do not feel the present Executive Director or Program Director have the necessary qualifications to rehabilitate preteens or teens, who have a drug or alcohol problem. Furthermore, we feel we cannot recommend Straight Inc. to our friends or citizens of our community.
  3. There is no method whereby a member of the board can determine how effective or ineffective the program is being administered. Factual information is not available to us. Roberts Rules of Order has not been followed at board meetings as contemplated by the original by-laws. Therefore, we cannot function effectively on a non-functional board and hereby submit our resignation.


Hap Henson

Robert Chapin

Theodore Anderson

Interview with former Board Member, Mr. Ray Bourgholtzer:

Mr. Ray Bourgholtzer resigned due to a conflict of interest due to a new position with the City of St. Petersburg. He indicated that he was unhappy with the administration of the program. He felt that the program was excellent and he enjoyed working with the children. He did feel that Mel Sembler was autocratic in his position as president. This member resigned in September 1976.

Interview with former Board Members Mr. & Mrs. Bauknight:

Mr. & Mrs. Bauknight feel that the president, the executive director, and the staff supervisor make all of the important decisions without Board participation.

They felt that the staff supervisor should be a younger person and that the incumbent was appointed without Board approval. They felt that the Board was a “rubber-stamp board” and did not, in fact, set policy. They reported that one of them witnessed Helen Petermann actually kicking a client for a minor infraction of the rules.

What task force member, John Bustle, wrote on January 11, 1978, about his interview with the Bauknights:

[Mr. and Mrs. Bauknight were] Former members of the Board of Directors with Straight, Inc. During my interview, I learned very little that we don’t already know and that is not already listed in the reports by other members of the team, therefore, I did not find it necessary to record very much of the information given by the Bauknights. I did find, however, that the Bauknights were able to furnish me with several documents. One document was represented by Mr. Bauknight as the original by-laws of the corporation. Mr. Bauknight also gave me a copy of his letter of resignation from the Board of Directors and a copy of the resignation from the Board of Directors submitted by his wife,  and finally a copy of the resignation submitted by Hap Henson, Robert Chapin, and Theodore Anderson, also former members of the Board of Directors. With these documents in hand and information which helped me gain some insight into the inner-workings of the corporation, I concluded my interview with Mr. & Mr. Bauknight.

Letters of Resignation from the Bauknights:

Dated July 20, 1977

Re: Resignation

Dear Mr. Sembler:

I submit my resignation as a member of the Board of Directors of Straight, Inc. for the following reasons:

  1. Straight, Inc., in my opinion, does not operate along the guidelines envisioned by its founders.
  2. The Board of which I am a member is largely non-functional and exercises no control in the nature of establishing and enforcing rules and guidelines for the conduct of the purposes and functions of Straight, Inc.
  3. There is no method whereby a member of said Board can determine precisely how said program is being administered or the program is being conducted. To the contrary, program direction is entirely in the hands of the Executive Director and his staff without the benefit of Board monitoring as contemplated by the original by-laws.
  4. Major decisions involving the operation of Straight, Inc. are made without consultation of Board members or their approval.

Finally, I disclaim any and all responsibility for decisions which have been made outside of the framework of the Corporate Chapter and the original by-laws of Straight, Inc.


Mrs. Lila L. Bauknight


September 22, 1976

Dear Mr. President:

This will confirm our conversation of Monday last in which I advised you that I would not serve further as Executive Vice President of Straight, Inc. I want to alert you now so you can handle my replacement.

I have advised you and others of the Executive Committee that said committee and board are not operating as required by Florida Statutes, it’s Charter and By-laws. It is the function of the Board of Directors to set guideline parameters for the supervision, control, and direction of the affairs of the Corporation. On the advice of Counsel, I am advised, informed and believe that each member of the board has dangerous personal exposure to monetary loss for errors and omissions in failing to adopt those rules and regulations for the conduct of its corporate affairs that reasonable directors and officers would have under the same or similar circumstances. Further, for failure to audit the operations of said corporation to the end that it functions as intended.

There are voids in your insurance coverage. Money is being handled by non-bonded employees and officers. The value insured on the building is understated. There is no coverage for the Director’s and Officer’s errors and omissions. There is no coverage for Malpractice and as simple a thing as cutting hair, (malpractice item) is excluded under the General Liability policy. This is not intended to be a full list of your insurance needs. I suggest you employ an agent to survey your needs. Until last Monday I have not been requested to do so and now I would prefer not to do so.

We have not promulgated basic safety rules to protect others from unreasonable risk of bodily harm, loss or damage. This failure exposes the Board to possible claims for damages.

The Executive Committee has not functioned as required by Florida Statute. It has not been in executive session since August 18, 1976, and this despite the fact that you have been urged to comply with the By-Laws and hold such meetings. The By-Laws require weekly meetings or meetings as deemed required by its members (plural, not singular). To the extent, we have not met and errors and omissions have occurred I believe that the Executive Committee is guilty of misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance. I disclaim any responsibility for the unilateral actions of any officers or board members of Straight, Inc. which are ultra vires and without color of legality under Florida Statutes, the corporate charter or the By-Laws of the Corporation.

On further consideration, I respectfully tender my resignation as a member of the Board of Directors of Straight, Inc. as of the close of its special meeting on September 22, 1976.


Arthur W. Bauknight

Nine Current Board Members were interviewed during this investigation.

Here is the information that was gathered from nine members of the current Board of Directors who were interviewed:

  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 a 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 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 judgment by junior staff.

The Straight, Inc. program was founded on and perpetuated by deceptions and dishonesty, which is why it was ‘controversial’ from its inception. Of course, Straight, Inc. was born from The Seed, Inc., the controversial program that came before it. We will visit The Seed Program in future posts. But first, we will look into some of the other interviews that took place during this initial investigation.

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