Perched on a bluff above Pacific Coast Highway, Passages Malibu Addiction Cure Center looks more like a prefab movie set than a place to kick hard drugs. Near the entrance of the garish $23 million mansion stands a glass-enclosed gym filled with the latest high-tech equipment, on which men and women work out feverishly with the assistance of hands-on trainers. Beside a well-stocked koi pond, two stone-carved lions with gargoyle-like faces guard the marble walkway to the imposing front door, which is framed by a Parthenon-style stone portico and supported by eight 20-foot-high Ionic columns. Marble is everywhere.
Inside the cavernous main hall — there are two other buildings on the 10-acre facility — are yet more columns, a cascading staircase and a gaggle of pretty young guys and gals. These are the personal assistants. Each client at Passages gets his or her own personal assistant, which is kinda cool when you’ve been hammer-heading (combining Ecstasy and Viagra) for months and need a Himalayan goji-berry cocktail brought quickly to your bedside so you don’t miss the next installment of Intervention on your personal 46-inch plasma TV while waiting for your kick meds to kick in. The 29 comfortable beds here are currently filled with patients who pay $67,550 a month for them. Passages, owned and run by Chris Prentiss and his son Pax, is the most expensive, luxurious and controversial residential drug-treatment center in the world.
Also read Going Undercover at Impact House and Rehab or Bust: A Guide to L.A.'s Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centers by Mark Groubert
The Prentisses are the Holocaust deniers of the addiction-recovery industry. They deny the existence of addiction. They deny the existence of alcoholism. They deny that it is a disease, or that it is incurable.
In April 2007, Chris and Pax Prentiss appeared on a segment for Paula Zahn Now, in an interview with CNN’s Brooke Anderson.
“The Prentiss duo,” Anderson explained, “claim a success rate of better than 80 percent and even wrote a book about their unconventional approach. They reject the decades-old 12-step program and proudly defy scientific studies about addiction. Doctors, scientists say addiction is a disease. You say it’s not.”
“I know it’s not,” Pax stated bluntly.
“When you send patients home, what do you say to them?” Anderson asked.
Young and old Prentiss almost in unison: “You’re cured. Totally.”
“You will never use drugs and alcohol again,” Pax added. “Your dependency has been cured. Have a wonderful life.”
Chris Prentiss’ personal assistant, Deena Avery, a woman in her late 40s with a Hale-Bopp glint in her eyes, leads me on a mini-tour. She indicates the “graduation room” to our right and tells me about the Native American talking-stick ceremony that graduates take part in. I’m given a glass of fresh carrot juice, which I sip nervously while watching six kitchen workers busily prepare food at a Spago pace. Suddenly, Prentiss appears behind me, seemingly out of nowhere, and introduces himself. He has bright-white combed-back hair and a permanent tan, and is wearing a dark-suede bomber jacket. He looks like a movie producer. (Then again, everyone his age out here looks like a movie producer.)
“Doctors and scientists are still treating alcoholism as if it is the problem, when it has nothing at all to do with the problem,” Prentiss tells me. “They might as well be studying scratchism for people who have a chronic itch.” Prentiss insists that one of his major goals is to “see the word alcoholism eliminated from the English language.”
Pax Prentiss arrives. At 34, he’s a younger version of his dad: tall, surfer-blond, buffed and tan. With steel-gray shark eyes and the slinky, swaying body language that junkies never seem to lose, he looks at me with a suspicion he tries to hide but can’t. The three of us sit down in his father’s office.
Prentiss immediately tells me the I Ching is “the greatest book ever written,” that “it tells the future with 100 percent accuracy.” He tells me he has written more books on the I Ching than any writer in the world. I wonder if that’s true, seeing as how I am currently surrounded by I Ching books written by an author named Wu Wei — titles like I Ching Wisdom and I Ching Life, I Ching Readings, TheI Ching Workbook, The I Ching: The Book of Answers. Wu Wei, it turns out, is Prentiss’ pen name. It means “no name.” All his books are self-published under his own imprint, Power Press.
Prentiss explains that his cure techniques simply involve intense around-the-clock therapy. When I ask why he charges $67,550 a month for this cure, he says, “These are the finest therapists on the planet, and when you start to hire that kind of people, they cost a lot of money.”