By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The trust that prisoners like Journey, Hinojosa and Goshen place in Amity is personified by another inmate who shares their troubled history. Mark Schuettinger also did time at CRC before cleaning up. He is now an Amity consultant. "I was 25 when I quit an 11-year heroin habit," says Schuettinger, a slim man in his 40s with long, swept-back hair and the look of a casually dressed English professor. "I was committed to CRC twice in the late '70s, when all this talk about how nothing works for drug addicts was taking hold. And a big part of that emerging consciousness was the failure of places like CRC. They were supposed to be giving treatment, but I never did anything the whole time I was there except pass my GED -- they were big on that -- lift weights, and make good drug connections from Ventura all the way up to San Francisco. The staff was tremendously overworked, with one counselor handling 80 guys. [The Amity ratio is 18 prisoners per counselor.] And they were all Department of Corrections people, who, in my opinion, were inadequately prepared. It was really just another prison, but CRC, nonetheless, was always used in this state as an example of how treatment didn't work."
SCHUETTINGER'S PROMINENT ROLE IN AMITY REFLECTS the program's genesis, when it and other therapeutic communities arose out of the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the late 1950s, Charles Dederich Sr., a self-destructive alcoholic of gargantuan appetite, started his own A.A. group in his small beachfront apartment in Venice. He was a garrulous former salesman for Gulf ã Oil, a man so full of himself, as the story goes, that he was thrown out of his local A.A. chapter because he wouldn't stop talking and give anyone else a chance. Soon, drug addicts joined the alcoholics at the meetings and stopped using drugs -- something that was then unheard-of. Up until that time it was generally thought that alcoholics could clean up, but not junkies. The two federal hospitals dealing with addicts -- at Lexington, Kentucky, and Fort Worth, Texas -- had been dismally unsuccessful in trying to cure them.
Out of those Venice meetings grew a community known as Synanon, established when Dederich and the others bought a little storefront and started living together. The group's fundamental philosophy was the same as A.A.'s -- when addict A helps addict B, addict A, the helper, gets better. He gets his life together by helping others. Synanon differed from A.A., however, in that people were now living together, and in a confrontational atmosphere. The order of the day was to tell someone they were full of shit when you thought they were full of shit, and demand total honesty.
The original members of Synanon were a rough crew -- chronic junkies, hookers, ex-cons -- whose efforts succeeded, though the group itself eventually disintegrated into a dangerous and scandal-plagued cult. From them, the concept of therapeutic communities grew into a movement during the rebellious counterculture of the '60s. An exploding rate of drug addiction had become a hallmark of the times, and the medical and psychiatric establishments -- which had so utterly failed in the treatment of addiction and alcoholism over the preceding 40 years -- continued their irrelevancy.
In that vacuum, a new therapeutic community movement developed, using the early years of Synanon as a model. Many of its pioneers were recovering addicts, who insisted that the leaders emerge from within the community itself. The philosophy broadened beyond the precepts of A.A. and group confrontation, and took on elements that Dr. David Deitch* (himself an early member of Synanon, and now a clinical professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego and a consultant to a newly established therapeutic community in the bloody state prison at Corcoran) describes as "humanistic and behavioral psychology, the Essences and other early religious sects, the Methodists, Calvinists and Zen." The movement's broad goal was far more ambitious than mere freedom from substance abuse; it was personal transformation through the development of self-reliance within a supportive, humane community. This was to be achieved through personal and group encounters, seminars, psychodrama, community rituals, and written and oral exercises. Each member would progress individually, from one benchmark to another. Once healed, the ex-member was obliged to be part of a wider social transformation. Out of the congealing of all these aspects grew the now universally accepted drug-treatment methods used by such therapeutic communities as Day Top, Phoenix House, Walden House and the Amity Foundation.
Rod Mullen, now Amity's CEO, was once a Synanon student volunteer. A veteran of the free-speech and civil rights movements in Berkeley in the '60s, Mullen became deeply impressed with Synanon's racial harmony, the concrete changes it made in people's lives and its model of addicts aiding themselves by aiding other addicts.
Everyone who works for Amity has been through the Amity program and has a background similar to the inmates'. Before she stopped using seven and a half years ago, Veronica Sluss had been a longtime heroin and cocaine addict, a prostitute, a thief, a residential burglar and a fencer of stolen goods. Through Amity, and after a mandatory placement by the courts, she changed her life. Today, Sluss is one of 12 Amity outside counselors at Donovan. Thin and birdlike at 41, wearing loose clothes and no makeup, her long brown hair combed straight back over her shoulders as if to neutralize her femininity, she cuts a vulnerable figure. But standing before seven denim-clad prisoners in one of the counseling trailers, she has the authority of hard experience.
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