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