2 War Orphan
ON TOP of the world. That's where Fred Charles Collins III was as he and his father, Frederick Charles Collins, Jr., and his mother, Teruyo Collins, drove up to a large unimposing one-story structure in the suburbs of St. Petersburg, Florida. It was approximately 10:00 A.m. on June 19, 1982. At the relatively young age of 19, Fred felt quite successful. While there had been a good deal of turbulence in his life during the previous few years, now almost everything seemed to be on track.
Soon, though, Fred's world was torn apart by his parents and by the well-meaning people in that building, organized as Straight, Inc., who were operating with the support of some of the most powerful people in American government, medicine, and drug-abuse treatment. This courageous young man eventually fought back and won a stunning victory over these powerful forces. In the process he revealed how destructive are many of the principles motivating our war on drugs and the new wave of cults dedicated to controlling the allegedly chemically crazed current generation of youth. Yet, the facts about Fred's unlawful imprisonment, es-cape, and eventual vindication have been largely forgotten. The tactics of Straight, Inc., have been promulgated to the world as the wave of the future in youth drug-control treatment. Lest, then, we visit this nightmare on millions of other young people and their families, the story of what happened to one American teenager is worth recalling.
I was fortunate that in this case the details of his story were made available to me in massive volume, much of it in sworn pre-trial depositions and trial testimony from the law suit that even-tually occurred. Moreover, Fred Collins, who believed he had a duty to expose the harshness of his treatment so as to save other youths, spent days as a guest in my house relating his story. Sev-eral of the people who had served as jurors in the subsequent lawsuit also agreed to talk to me or my assistants. We taped many of those discussions, which were then transcribed. Most of the direct quotations in this account come from those tape transcrip-tions or from the sworn depositions and trial testimony.
I spent months reviewing all of the written records and the transcripts of the many interviews that my assistants and I taped. I recognize that the story seems unbelievable in places and that Fred at times appears incredibly naïve. And I also recognize that there is another side to the matter: that of the passionate, sincere supporters of Straight, of which there are many. I came to believe that Fred was telling the truth. So did an impartial federal jury, as documented in two separate votes and also in later recorded personal interviews. What follows, then, is a summary of the true story of Fred Collins's incredible ordeal.
A HAPPY CHILDHOOD
Fred had been born on October 22, 1962, near the beginning of the so-called Dope Decade, in Washington, D.C. His mother was a native Japanese. His parents had met in Japan at a time when his father, a brilliant, well-educated man, was working there for the American government. Mrs. Collins eventually became a nat-uralized American citizen. Four years later, a second son, George, was born. Fred Senior (as I will occasionally call him, even though his formal name does have a "junior" attached to it) had good relationships with his sons in their early years.
"I had everything I wanted as a child. I was happy. . . . I lived in a beautiful neighborhood . . . a big house! The neighborhood is
... in Alexandria, Virginia, right next to the Mount Vernon Estate. In fact, my backyard was once . . . part of one of George Wash-ington's farms," Fred recalled during one of our discussions.
In the seventh grade at Walt Whitman Junior High School, Alexandria, Virginia, Fred was placed in the Gifted and Talented Child program, played first-chair clarinet in the school orchestra, and after school one day in the summer following completion of that grade, he partook of his first drug—half a joint of marijuana—with his schoolmate, Robert,* in the woods that once were George Washington's plantation.
If the stories about the Father of Our Country growing hemp on his land are true, then there was an elegant historical congru-ence in the carefree actions of these two happy young boys on that hot afternoon. Of course, they were not thinking of the history of marijuana-growing at that moment. "All I remember about that joint is that I laughed for three hours afterward," Fred recalls. "I tried pot a few more times during that summer and during the next one. Robert told me that if I used pot the girls would think I was less of a nerd."
In the ninth grade in Mount Vernon High School, Fred en-countered Mark, who was to become a close friend. "I met Mark through the video club when I was filming a play he was acting in. Then I became involved with the members of the Drama Club because they had good parties, went drinking after the plays. How-ever, when I tried alcohol, I found I had no tolerance for it, would turn red in the face, and fall asleep after two beers. My new friends used to joke about it. They said I was a real lightweight or a wimp because I couldn't handle my beer.
"I found that I had a much greater tolerance for pot than I did for alcohol. . . . Pot agreed with me and beer did not. . . . [Yet] we sometimes would go for a month without smoldng any. During those years, I probably smoked pot about twice a month during the school year and perhaps once or twice a week over the summer. None of us seemed to have any trouble with drugs."
Fred's eleventh grade was a rough yeax. By now, he was going through a hippie phase and grew his hair long, down to his shoul-ders. He began to fight with his father, now retired from the government with a pension and also working successfully as a real estate agent, whom he viewed as a representative of the Estab-lishment. By the twelfth grade, however, he started to change, began working on the grounds crew of the Mount Vernon Estate, saved money, and even bought an old car. Then, he cut his hair short, improved his grades, and began preparing himself for col-lege. He achieved a 3.0 in his senior year, which brought his overall high school average up to a middling 2.5., high C, low B. However, he scored a very respectable 1135 on his Scholastic Aptitude Test. He applied only to one school, the Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University, known as Virginia Tech, a good engineering school in rural Blacksburg, and was happy as a lark to be admitted.
As Fred was getting his life together, his younger brother, George, seemed to be doing the opposite. George started taking on a tough-guy image, in part by using drugs. He was extremely successful with girls, started ignoring school, and spoke often of dropping out. "I don't know if he really had a drug problem or not, while I know he did use a great deal," Fred recalls.
It was during this period that his parents encountered the new national movement known as Toughlove (usually spelled in all cap-ital letters by purists), which emphasized the need for parents to group together in order to control their children, sometimes using very harsh measures. Mr. and Mrs. Collins began attending Tough-love meetings at the local high school. That Toughlove philosophy was a vital part of the operating policy of a new drug treatment organization, Straight, Inc., which appeared in the community dur-ing the late Seventies and soon gained two new enthusiastic sup-porters. This came about in part because the Collinses met parents at a Toughlove meeting who had a child in the Straight program.
Shortly afterwards, Mr. and Mrs. Collins began attending Sun-day meetings of Straight parents at a church in nearby Annandale. Both organizations supported yet a third, the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, which had the enthusiastic back-ing of the White House and, in particular, First Lady Nancy Reagan.
All of these new groups emphasized the need to reassert pa-rental power that had been allegedly destroyed by the permissiveness of the Sixties. The new youth-control cults, then, tended to view virtually any form of private pleasure-seeking by young people as essentially suspect. In particular, sex and drugs were viewed as clear signs of degeneracy. Parents who were committed to these new groups paired the two activities and demanded both drug-free and sex-free children.
Fred Senior was deeply impressed by Dr. Miller Newton's book, Gone Way Down, which explained the Straight clinical philosophy. "That really opened my eyes," Mr. Collins said, "and I read that two or three times." The Straight official's book declares that any drug use by adolescents is evidence of a disease that impels insane behavior, and that parents must intervene forcefully or risk the possible death of their children from drugs. Not only did Mr. Collins read the book, he took direct action, as have so many other parents in recent years, on the basis of this and other extremist tracts. He made up his mind to put George into the Straight program and also, in line with Straight doctrine, decided to make the whole family drug-free.
Wine and beer had been frequently served in the Collins house-hold up to this time. The elder Collins regularly had a martini before dinner. He did not originally consider alcohol a drug and his major worry was the use of marijuana by his sons, especially the younger boy, George. Mr. Collins apparently stopped drinking martinis in the house and told Fred that he, too, must stop using marijuana, as well as alcohol, both for himself and also to assist in the rehabilitation of George, who kept going downhill.
In January 1982, George was tricked into entering the Straight program in St. Petersburg, Florida. His parents had told him they were going to visit Disney World during the Christmas vacation period. Mr. and Mrs. Collins got George into the interview room by telling him they were visiting a real estate office.
Such outright lies by parents to their children are an accepted part of the doctrine of the new youth-control cults. They lie to us about their drug use, the dogma declares, so it is perfectly ethical for us to lie to them in order to save them from drugs and death. The drug-free parent leaders seem oblivious to the destructive impact of such practices on the feeling of trust that cements normal families together.
Fred's first real glimpse inside the program came a few months later in April 1982. He happened to see the last part of a brief documentary on Straight, which appeared on NBC-TV's "News Magazine." The program featured an emotional and approving visit by First Lady Nancy Reagan to the very facility where George was being confined in St. Petersburg. Fred was appalled. "It scared me. I wondered what they were doing to George. I was hoping to see him and wondered what he would look like by then, but I didn't see him. That worried me more. It all reminded me of a Moonie cult."
Nevertheless, Fred's happy and successful academic work in the difficult first year of an engineering curriculum continued. He joined a respected fraternity, Theta Delta Chi, whose members became very much like a close family to him. They elected him house chairman. Fred had a good social life and achieved the top grade in chemistry of all 750 freshmen at the entire university during one semester, he claims. Also, Fred got an A— in calculus, an achievement of which he was quite proud. Fred's overall average for the entire freshman year was 3.2 on a four-point scale, a B.
While he had drunk beer and smoked pot during this year, these were occasional events. During the entire twelve months prior to June 19, 1982, the day of his illegal imprisonment by Straight, Fred claims that he had a maximum of 15 joints of mar-ijuana. He did not use any marijuana at all during the last three months of the spring semester, just prior to the trip which brought him to that building in St. Petersburg. His last beer had been several weeks before the trip. Fred believed that he was following his father's wishes in his consumption of beer and marijuana, in that he was an occasional, responsible user, which he had always been, and that he did not use them at all in the family home. My review of the entire record leads me to believe Fred in these important claims as in so many others. I encountered no evidence that suggested he used more beer or pot than he claimed. Like so many of America's youth, he used marijuana and beer but he did so quite responsibly.
CAUGHT IN THE STRAIGHT TRAP
After final examinations, the plan was for the Collins family in Virginia to take a pleasant automobile trip to Florida, see George, and take in the beaches. The trip down was simply great, Fred recalls. He glowed under the praise of his father about his academic achievements. Such paternal approval was a new experience for the young man. Upon arrival, the happy family checked into a motel in the St. Petersburg area. That evening while his parents went to a meeting at the Straight facility, Fred took a pleasant swim in the motel pool, which caused a bit of redness in his eyes, a condition slightly aggravated by his contact lenses and which would greatly affect his life the next day.
Fred knew that early on that next day he had to undergo some-thing called a sibling interview in order to see his brother, George, for the first time in months. Even though he had been bothered by his first view of Straight on that NBC documentary, he was not at all concerned about the interview.
Had Fred investigated Straight further, he might well have been deeply impressed by the fervent endorsements it has received from highly placed professionals and officials. These included Mrs. Reagan and the chief White House drug policy adviser, Dr. Carlton Turner. In addition, Senator Paula Hawkins (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, was an outspoken supporter.
The most enthusiastic endorsements have come from Dr. Rob-ert L. DuPont, a world-famous drug-abuse expert who has held a number of leading positions, including the presidency of the Amer-ican Council on Marijuana; he was also founding director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. At the First Annual Awareness Banquet of Straight, Inc., on October 17, 1981, ac-cording to a Straight brochure, Dr. DuPont had said: "To be blunt, I have spent 15 years working in the drug-abuse field, traveling to more than 20 countries and visiting hundreds of prevention programs. Straight, Inc., is the best drug-abuse treatment pro-gram I have seen. Lest there be any doubt that this is an accolade I have bestowed easily or casually, I can tell you that I have not said that about any other program."
Fred was not aware of these endorsements, however, as he strolled confidently in the door of that large, low-lying building in St. Petersburg with his parents, looldng forward to seeing his brother. Just before walldng in, he said to himself, recalling how his parents had tricked George, this does look like a real estate office! Fred was separated from his parents and led away by a blond-haired young fellow to a small reception room.
The young man's name was Jack Jeffrey Waldron. On this day, Jeff was 18 years old, a year younger than Fred, had not yet graduated from high school, and, as was brought out in the course of the later trial, his entire training in the profession of drug-abuse treatment consisted of five and one-half months as an inmate and staff-trainee in this Straight facility. He represented the epitome of the nonprofessional peer counselors so touted by the White House and by many leading national drug-abuse experts. Mr. Waldron bore the main responsibility for determining whether or not Fred Collins III would be locked up in this institution. Fred had not the vaguest idea that he was being so evaluated. He was asked a series of questions about family problems and his drug use, which he answered quite honestly. There seemed no reason not to.
"I told Jeff that I never believed that drugs were a major factor in my life. I told him, and wrote on the form they asked me to fill out, that I had tried pot, hash, alcohol, caffeine pills, and, once, laughing gas, nitrous codde. VkThen I asked how I should answer the question 'How long have you been doing drugs?' he said say five years, since I had first tried pot back then. I was apprehensive because it was very misleading, it looked like I had done them every day, but I wrote down what he said. Also, when I said 'caffeine pills' he wrote down 'speed' and said it was the same thing. [To most people in the drug-abuse field "speed" refers to amphet-amines, sometimes the source of serious abuse. "Caffeine pills" normally evoke thoughts of relatively mild nonprescription com-pounds such as No-Doz.] Then, Jeff started to ask me a lot of things about my sex life, including if I had premarital sex in college. I said I had. Jeff retorted, 'How does it feel masturbating inside a woman?' At this point, I was starting to get angry and told him, 'My sex life is none of your damn business.'
"About then, three more young men, all rather large, came into the room and sat so that they blocked the door. Suddenly, I was scared shitless. I was sweating like crazy. I asked to see my dad but they said we had more forms to fill out. As I was doing them, they started to 'relate' to me, telling me about their bad drug and sex habits. They started to accuse me of being like them, that is, of having a terrible drug habit and perverse sexual habits. This went on for hours; I had lunch and dinner brought to me on a paper plate inside that small room under guard." Eventually Fred blurted out angrily, "You guys are crazy as shit. I don't have any drug or sex problems and I have a good relation with my family and if you get my father in here he'll straighten it out. I want to see my parents. Let me out. If I have a drug problem, then everyone at college must have a drug problem. I drink far less and I smoke far less than anyone there. I have good grades."
One of the young men replied, "You can't see your parents yet." It became clear to Fred that he was being kept in that room and if he attempted to leave, he would be forcibly detained. The young men have since testified that such physical restraint was standard Straight policy in sibling interviews and that their mission that day was indeed to prevent Fred from leaving that small room. The illegal imprisonment of Fred Collins had beg-un.
Why did he fill out that form about his drug use, as minimal as it was? Why did he not simply run out of there once he realized that these unarmed kids were holding him? What kind of a wimp was he, anyhow? Such questions have been raised about Fred's story, especially this part of it. I have no easy answers to those questions, except to say that many other young people were sim-ilarly taken in by these shocking tactics. Perhaps, indeed, shock was a major part of their power. Fred and other young people were traumatized by the impact of well-meaning authority imposed on them in an unexpected fashion and they acted almost like pris-oners-of-war. Moreover, the guards often were strong and had the combined personal strength to beat down defiant inmates, which they did on numerous occasions.
Back at that first interview, Jeff Waldron brought his notes to Christopher Yarnold, 31 years old, who was on the executive staff. In the notes, Jeff had written, "I don't feel good about this guy. I don't believe him." Even though Mr. Yarnold had not yet even seen Fred, both went to Fred's parents in the lobby and told them, "Fred needs the program." His father disagreed with them, de-claring that Fred had a good family relationship, and was doing well in school. Mr. Yarnold said he was going to talk to Fred directly. He spent fifteen minutes in the room with Fred and went back and told his parents, "I have found physical evidence of Fred doing drugs within the last 48 hours." Mr. Yarnold was a former priest with no professional education, save for a one-day session on alcoholism and on-the-job training in Straight, in the field of drug abuse. Nevertheless, as soon as Mr. Yarnold told Fred's dad of the physical evidence, and even though he had been with his son during most of the past 48 hours, the senior Collins did not ask what that evidence was. Instead, Fred's father told the stranger, "Take him in."
Before that fateful decision, the parents had been reminded of a fundamental Straight policy: if a sibling is using drugs, he or she must come into the program, or be emotionally and financially disowned; if not, the original child will be thrown out of the pro-gram. The doctrine was that when that child left the program he or she "would go down ten times as far." Often, it was stated that the discharged druggie child would surely die. This was the belief of many parents, including the Collinses. At this point, they be-lieved that they had the choice of putting Fred in or taking George out and killing him. They chose the former.
The Collins parents were also influenced by a sincere concern for Fred's welfare. Despite all of the evidence of the fine manner in which their elder son was conducting his life, despite the fact that they had had no trouble with him about drugs or any other significant matter since the previous Christmas, despite the fine family relationship which had developed, these educated people chose to institutionalize their child on the basis of the judgment of two ill-trained strangers—because they now truly believed that Fred, also, must have a drug problem.
After seven to ten hours of being confined in that small room, of continually being told he was a drug addict, of having his denials met by the classic drug-abuse expert diagnosis that this was proof that he was "into denial," of being refused permission to go to the bathroom even once, Fred was near the end of his resistance. At this point, Chris Yarnold came back into the room and said, "Fred, I just talked with your father and he said that he's not going to give you any more money for school unless you sign yourself into the program." It is not at all clear if the senior Collins actually made that statement, but the news of it seemed to have been the final blow. Fred also wanted very much to see his brother after all those months, and he was also influenced by the fact that he was on vacation and hence would not miss school. He signed himself in at approximately 6:00 P.M. on the explicit assurance that at the expiration of 14 days he would be free to leave. He felt he could take almost anything for 14 days.
He was warned not to say anything to his parents, only to hug them and to tell them that he loved them. He was taken to them—literally taken, since from then on he was considered a "druggie," not to be trusted, and an "oldcomer" (an experienced inmate) had to hold him at all times, usually by the belt. Fred followed direc-tions and hugged his parents and told them that he loved them. Mrs. Collins cried and Mr. Collins told his son, "I'm proud you signed yourself in." For reasons which can only be described as perverse and unfathomable, no other contact or discussion was allowed. Parents and son went along with this perversity.
In my mind, the behavior of all concerned here defied reason. Fred was not a drug abuser and his parents should have known it. So should the Straight staff who imprisoned him. The whole episode was in a sense pathological and unbelievable. That's the whole point of this recitation. It is unbelievable and pathological but that is what happens when irrational power is applied with great conviction to individual human beings: the will to resist of the victim is broken and he does and believes what he is told.
INSIDE THE STRAIGHT PRISON
Fred was taken into a room and made to take off all of his clothes, whereupon the Straight staff and "phasers" (yet another term for experienced inmates who were proceeding through the seven phases of the program) searched his clothes and his body, including all cavities, his anus, his mouth, and his ears. "I felt extremely de-graded," Fred recalled, not surprisingly.
After this, he was taken into a large room about the size of a basketball court, in which were seated hundreds of other residents who were involved in a standard treatment session. Fred was introduced to the group as a newcomer who did not want to be there, but who had agreed to try the program for 14 days to deal with his drug problem. Then, Fred vividly recalls, the entire group turned toward him and said in unison, "We love you, Fred!" He sagged, put his head in his hands, and asked himself in despair, "What have I gotten myself into?"
The young man had gotten himself into a program that had been started in the Seventies by Florida parents worried about the drug-taking habits of their children, over whom they felt they had lost control. In many cases, of course, their fears were well justified. Straight parents made sincere and significant commit-ments to their new cause, including allowing their homes to be used as residences where the "druggie" youth lived while undergoing treatment. Most of the treatment program in each community took place in a central facility, such as that large building in St. Petersburg, to which the young people were brought every day from their scattered so-called foster homes, which meant the res-idences of the Straight parents.
Straight, Inc., which by this time had facilities in several east-ern cities, combined elements of a number of established drug-abuse treatment programs, especially Alcoholics Anonymous and the more rigorous residential therapeutic communities, such as Synanon. Both of these program models emphasize the need to confess one's failures before a group and for the group to confront its members who are not being honest enough about those failures. Essential elements of the famous Twelve Steps, which are the heart of the AA program, involve participants admitting that they are "powerless over alcohol," have come to believe "that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity," have made "a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves," and have "admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs."
As applied in AA, this philosophy is invoked in nonresidential settings, normally in meetings that last one hour during a time of day or evening convenient to the participants. Within therapeutic communities, residents often spend many hours of rigorous con-frontations, seeldng to dig out confessions from other residents, all aimed at getting the truth fully revealed and at creating an honest atmosphere for change. Once troubled people enter AA or a normal residential therapeutic community program, however, they are free to leave at any time. This was not the case with Straight, as Fred had already discovered. And there were other vital differences.
Within a few days of arrival, Fred was taken to a pleasant waterfront residence, a foster home run by Straight parents, and placed in the care of John, an oldcomer who lived there. The old-comer proceeded to educate his newcomer in the realities of Straight and Toughlove. "John looked like the Hollywood example of a Nazi Aryan type. Built like a lifeguard. He scared me more than anyone else in Straight. He would tell me things like, you know, if you try to leave, I'm gonna make your teeth eat the concrete, or some-thing. He would poke his finger into my chest, just grind his teeth and just yell at me and tell me the things he would like to do to me if I tried to escape. . . . And this is all being thrown at me the first couple of nights. And of course every night before I would go to bed John . . . would say, 'Love ya, Fred!' . . . That was what they called Toughlove. It was brutality."
Fred discovered another hidden feature of the program in those first few days at the foster home: children were often institution-alized because they did not measure up to parental demands, whether or not they had drug problems. A second newcomer in that home was Tony, who had not used drugs, he claimed, for over a year before being committed. He was not as smart as his siblings and did not do as well in school. The parents diagnosed this as a drug problem. Straight agreed and accepted him without further ques-tion. Virtually any failing of a young person, Fred saw, Straight and its disciples traced somehow to drug use.
Total control of the residents in the early stages of treatment was the keynote of the program. Usually, Fred would spend the night in the home of Straight parents, often those who had a child in the program. He would be driven to the home under guard of his oldcomer. He would be walked to the car in the company of several oldcomers, at least one of whom had his hand through Fred's belt loop.
The homes were prisons. Under the direction of Straight staff and phasers, parents placed locks on windows and doors, installed alarm systems, and placed beds in such a way as to bar exits. Oldcomers slept on these beds so as to prevent newcomers from leaving their bedrooms, which were usually shared. Before going to bed, newcomers had to be watched even when they went to the bathroom, whether to use the toilet or to wash. If the oldcomer took a shower, he made his newcomers put their hands over the curtain rod and keep talking to him. Why? So he could know they had not left his presence and thus were not doing anything wrong, such as taking drugs or escaping. If a newcomer felt the need to leave the bedroom and go to the bathroom during the night, he was discouraged. Often Fred was forced to urinate in a jar kept in the bedroom.
The major activity of each evening in the Straight home was writing Moral Inventories, a sometimes wholesome concept bor-rowed from AA but invoked with quite a different impact. The oldcomers trained the newcomers how to write proper Moral In-ventories, or MIs. It was important to confess guilt in the form of drug and alcohol use, or not being respectful to parents, and then for the resident to explain how he was going to improve. It helped if the newcomer made his guilt appear to be great, which meant his remedial measures then became more impressive. At first Fred tried to write truthful MIs and every day his oldcomer at the time, John, would confront him with, "This is bullshit, Fred!" Soon Fred learned to write a proper MI, especially since his meager food rations were often cut in half if he did not.
Fred usually got to sleep late at night, and had to get up early in order to be back at the Straight facility by 8:00 or 9:00 A.M. He became exhausted. Two nights a week, he got a maximum of four hours of sleep, often less than that.
The days were spent in the large warehouse-like Straight fa-cility in St. Petersburg. For at least twelve hours on weekdays, and often half that time on weekend days, the residents went through a series of group sessions, or raps. In these raps, the males would be on one side of the large room and the females on the other. Even eye contact was forbidden between the sexes, although on many occasions, the group sessions were held jointly with both sexes present. If a female walked by the male group, it was expected that the males would cast their eyes downward.
A major feature of each rap was "motivating." The residents flailed their arms wildly about, moving their bodies frantically in their chairs, in order to get recognized by the group leader. The chosen person would stand and make confessions and "renounce-ments," often crying as he or she did so. These public confessions were usually about their "druggie pasts." It was common for res-idents to exaggerate their drug involvement so as to demonstrate the great progress they were making, as in the case of the Moral Inventories. At least half of the children and youth there, as far as Fred could tell, had been tricked into the program during sibling interviews. Almost all of this group simply did not have a drug problem so that public exaggeration was necessary. My indepen-dent research confirms the presence of large numbers of children in Straight who had no drug problems. I could not determine the precise percentage but came to believe that it was high.
In Rules Rap, the phasers discussed the rules of Straight and the Seven Steps (adapted from the 12 in AA and made more like absolute commandments than in AA) to a drug-free life. The top achievement was the Seventh Step, whose words Fred quoted as follows: "Having received the gift of awareness, I will practice these principles in all my daily affairs and carry the message to all I can help." This meant that once a person was a Seventh Stepper, he or she had great freedom of movement but was in that seventh phase for life, and, as in many religions, was a committed mis-sionary to help convert and thus save others.
In a separate rap for males only, the discussion was often about sex and how to avoid it. Sex and drugs were equated as destructive activities. The teaching was that if the young man had a sexual relationship with a girl and got pleasure from it and sought to repeat it, then sex had become like a drug to him. He was, as unbelievable as it sounds, told he was addicted to sex.
In "homes" or homes rap, residents were informed if they had earned the right to a visit to their own homes. Residents were coached to shout "Coming home!" and to rush into the arms of their parents, if they happened to be present, when granted this privilege. Despite all of the pressure and harassment, Fred made it to his fourteenth day in reasonably good spirits. He was right: he could take almost anything for two weeks. Fred stood up in homes rap that day and said that he wanted to go home, as he had been promised. The group turned on him harshly and informed him that no one left after only 14 days; 70 was the usual minimum. He was also told that he did not really want to "get straight," to really get rid of his "drug problem." From then on, Fred was depressed. He saw no way of brealdng out of the main facility or out of the foster home. "I was scared to death!"
Much of his fear came from what he had been told and what he saw with his own eyes in regard to the punishment inflicted upon residents who fought the system. When residents defied the program while in the facility, a variety of physical punishments were imposed. It was common to have other phasers (of the same sex) simply sit on the offenders for minutes or hours until they were totally subdued and compliant. Fred was deeply affected, for example, by what happened to Keith, a young man who was openly defiant. Often Keith would walk toward one of the doors, all of which were constantly guarded, telling the Straight staff and up-per-level phasers blocldng his way to "fuck off." One time staff and phasers forced Keith into a bathroom, where Fred happened to be at the time, and proceeded to sit on him. Fred heard a loud crack and Keith yelled, "You've broken my ribs!" A staff member shouted, "Get back on his chest!" Some of the phasers did so. Later, it turned out that young Keith had suffered seven broken ribs and could not move his arm.
Still later, Fred heard, Keith left the program to go into a psychiatric hospital where he was diagnosed to be a schizophrenic. It appears likely that Keith suffered from this psychosis before coming to Straight, but Straight viewed all of his problems as stemming from drug abuse and were incapable of recognizing his mental illness or dealing with it. Instead, the Straight treatment seems much more likely to have aggravated that condition than to have helped it.
Leah Bright was quite sane but she also soon became defiant. She apparently did have a drug problem, which she recognized, and had entered the program voluntarily, with the encouragement of her parents. This 15-year-old girl was somewhat overweight and suffered from arthritis. Nevertheless, she was harassed during an exercise rap because she had difficulty doing the exercises and eventually simply refused to continue. Staff and other residents started to "marathon" her, which meant they continued to force her to conform, intending to keep at that process of coercion in-definitely, until she complied. She did not. Staff members ordered "a bunch of girls" to confront her and make her do the exercises. She fought back and was thrown to the ground. "And one girl stood behind me and took my hair . . . and pushed me down like doing a toe touch and then pulled me up by my hair. And by the time she was done with that, my head was numb."
The teenager was pulled in front of the group to be confronted. Leah Bright continued in sworn testimony, "And they took me to the front of the room and people would stand up and start telling me I was worthless . . . and I was so fat anyway I needed to exercise, and everything in the world. . . . And I started—you know, one boy, I flipped him off or shot him the bird. . . . And the next thing I knew, I was on the floor. And I looked up and Dr. Newton got up in my face and pointed his finger at me and said, 'I want this girl the fuck out of my group. . . .' He [had] grabbed me by the hair and threw me. But I didn't feel him grab my head or my hair because my head was so numb."
The man referred to was Dr. Miller Newton, the director of the St. Petersburg Straight program, whose books and methods have been endorsed by the Reagan White House. Indeed, Mrs. Reagan specifically recommended one of his books to the nation when she appeared on the CBS television network in January 1985 at the end of a program, "Not My Kid," that held up Straight methods as a model for treating youth drug abuse. Dr. Newton's performance demonstrating some of these new treatment tech-niques on Leah in 1982 took place in front of a group of approxi-mately 600 young people, including Fred Collins.
Later, further treatment was ordered for the young lady by Dr. Newton: "This girl is to stay awake until after open meeting on Monday." Since this order was given on a Saturday, when this incident occurred, it mandated 80 hours of continuous marathoning by staff and other residents. The treatment order was carried out.
Special treatment was reserved for those who tried to escape or who actually did so and were recaptured. Very soon after he arrived, Fred's oldcomer, John, explained in great detail what had happened on his own escape attempt. John had been brought back by Seventh Step parents, apparently aided by a private investi-gator, "who brought him back in handcuffs," Fred told me. "And he explained to me that he was barefooted, dragged over the pave-ment. He was all bloodied and everything, and his hair was down in his face and they brought him up and confronted him before the group." Someone told him while he was before the group that he could leave, but that if he did the authorities "would put his parents in jail for kidnapping." This theme was often used to control defiant inmates, so it must be assumed that Straight leaders were aware of the fact that their actions raised serious questions as to whether or not they persistently committed wholesale violations of federal and state kidnapping statutes.
Fred became insistent on leaving when his brother, George, escaped from the St. Petersburg program on September 8. (George was later brought back to the program and stayed in it until he became a Seventh Stepper.) On September 10, 1982, "I told them that I didn't have a drug problem. And I just wanted to leave. The only reason why I was there was just because of my brother. . . . And [staff trainee] Joey Glaze . . . brought me in front of the whole group, and he told me 'We're going to make sure that you're never going to leave because we are going to ride your butt.' " To show they meant business, Straight pulled him from the second phase of the program, into which he had just recently advanced, and started him over on the first phase.
In some cases, these acts of humiliation before the group were punctuated by a standard tactic of a finger poked in the chest, or by a push back off his feet and into the group, or even by a punch. Fred suffered most, however, from what might be termed the ordinary activities of the program. "I was starving," Fred now claims. Whether or not this was literally true, he claims that he was always hungry and he was never fed enough. He had the huge appetite of a growing young man. Fred entered Straight a gangling 6 feet, 2 inches, 155 pounds. Within several months he had lost 20-25 pounds and looked like a concentration-camp survivor. He dreamed of food.
He was constantly constipated in part because what food there was consisted mainly of starches and some meats, and only rarely fresh fruit and vegetables. Also, he found it virtually impossible at first to move his bowels while he was being watched, and he was watched almost every minute of his imprisonment. Later he succeeded at times in moving his bowels while under supervision.
First phasers had severe limits on the times when they could avail themselves of restrooms while a rap was in progress. On a few occasions, a "bust-ass" rap would run into the early morning hours, after an already long day. It was common to see young men and women, by the hundreds, sitting for hours of "treatment" in a large room, motivating by flailing their arms so they could stand up and confess, while many of them were sitting in small pools of their own sweat and urine. Fred both saw this in others and suf-fered that humiliation himself. The rooms were often hot and stuffy both from the heat of the climate and also from body heat of the large number of emotional persons present. Inmates sometimes vomited, hyperventilated, and fainted. Rarely did residents see the sun or have exercise in the open air. Many, including Fred, took on a sickly skin pallor. In these unsanitary and stressful con-ditions, some of the girls reported vaginal infections and missed or delayed periods.
Despite his deteriorating physical and mental condition—or perhaps largely because of it--at one point Fred Collins started to believe he really did have a drug problem and that the Straight program was needed to save the country. One evening in mid-October, he was reading a novel which dealt in part with mind control and it suddenly dawned on him that he had probably been brainwashed.* Fred started to fear that the apparent brainwashing would continue and would never stop, and that he would never get out from under its spell. At various times during the previous several months, Fred had been so depressed as to be suicidal in his thoughts and he wondered how he could kill himself. Depression is sometimes described as anger turned inward. Upon achieving the brainwashing insight, his anger turned outward. He would become a good con and work the system to the limit, appearing to be a committed Straightling. But in actuality he started to think about how to escape.
This was difficult since he had no money or personal identifi-cation and had been kept in incommunicado detention during the entire period, except for two brief visits with his parents when they traveled to Florida. No mail or telephone calls were permitted in or out of Straight. Had he been held in a jail or prison for serious criminal violations, such detention would be deemed a violation of his constitutional rights. Such practices were normal in Straight, however. He had no idea, then, if he could count on anyone to help in his escape because he had been cut off for so long.
On October 28, 1982, Fred was transported under guard and in extreme heat in the back of what appeared to be a U-Haul trailer to the airport. The private chartered plane took him, along with over 100 other Straight youths originally from the northern Vir-ginia area, to Dulles Airport. Again under continuous guard, he went to the new Straight facility in Springfield, Virginia, not far from his home. At approximately 9:00 P.M. he was transported under guard, with several other Straight children, to his new place of imprisonment. As in the past, down in Florida, this was the home of Straight parents, that is, adults who had a child in Straight and who had become fully comznitted to the Straight theology. In this case, Fred Collins's new place of confinement became his own luxurious home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.
Home is where the heart is. This had been Fred's home for fourteen years and where virtually all of his memories of childhood and family and friends were centered. He had been away from this beloved place since Easter vacation the previous April. When he returned after that absence and the most traumatic months of his life, he found that his parents had converted that home into a prison, under the guidance of Straight staff utilizing written in-structions prepared by the organization. Locks had been placed on all exterior doors and on many of those inside the house. The same was true of the windows. On the door of his own bedroom, his father had installed an electronic alarm system. The doorknob had been turned around so that the key could only be used from the outside. Most of his old belongings and mementos had been taken out and placed in the hall. A Straight staff member supervised the security of this locked institution, which, as far as I can determine, contained three inmates including Fred.
On the third night at home, at 3:30 A.M. on October 31, 1982, Halloween, Fred pulled off his escape after 135 days as a prisoner. He threw a table through a window and jumped out to the waiting car of a friend, Lorna, whose father is a retired FBI agent, whose brother-in-law is a Montgomery County, Maryland, police officer, and whose brother is a correctional officer. Lorna had come to his rescue after he had made a frantic telephone call to her in a moment when he briefly got out of the hearing of his guards. The two young people sped off into the night to freedom. They went to her brother, who took them to the Groveton Police Station in Alexandria where Fred reported his escape. Fred believed that his father and the Straight staff would report the matter in such a way that the police might be persuaded to recapture him. He left the police station and went underground with the help of his fraternity brothers in Theta Delta Chi, who took him in and showed him the first true love and care he had experienced in many months. When he called Mike, his fraternity Big Brother, Mike immediately drove over in the middle of the night and took Fred back to his house. Fred started to feel somewhat more secure again at 5:00 that morning when he arrived at Mike's home.
For weeks, Fred acted like a hunted criminal or an escaped POW behind enemy lines. Five hours after he escaped, his father and Straight staff members showed up at the house where he was staying. His fraternity brothers lied and protected him, while he hid upstairs in a big commercial-style clothes dryer. Fred Senior urged his friends to call as soon as they saw his son because "Fred is chemically dependent and I fear for his life. We want very much to get him back into Straight." There is every reason to believe that the elder Collins was sincere in making this preposterous plea, and believed that only Straight could save him. The same seems to be true of Straight staff and other parents who supported efforts to recapture young Fred Collins. The sincerity of such destructive beliefs makes them all the more difficult to deal with rationally and humanely.
From members and alumni of his fraternity, money and offers of help poured into the safe houses to which Fred was spirited. Also, his fraternity friends kept offering him pizzas and other rich food which he had been missing so much. He found he could not even touch alcohol or marijuana and he remained quite paranoid. He trusted nobody except known fraternity brothers. Why did he not simply go to the police and ask for protection? Fred's answer: in Florida he had been led to believe that the police would simply hold him until Straight came to pick him up—and that Straight controlled many police agencies.
During this period of fearful hiding, he stayed for a while with David, a young man who recently had been the president of his fraternity, at his home in northern Virginia. To reassure Fred, David allowed him to keep a 30.06 rifle, a very powerful weapon, in his possession. One day, a man in a white coat came into the house and told Fred that he was there to pick up some furniture. Fred leveled the rifle at his chest and said, "You're from Straight, aren't you?" The terrified stranger asked, "What the hell are you doing?" David happened to come into the room from a side door, saw the scene, and tackled Fred, screaming, "He's here for the furniture, Fred!" Later, Fred said, "I was going to blow him away. That's how nuts I was. . . . I look back and honestly think I was insane."
When Fred was telling me about this event, he became very emotional and it might appear that he was engaging in hyperbole. Yet I believe that instances of true insanity periodically appeared in this tale, and not only on the part of Fred.
Fred realized that he had to take some more rational action to deal with his disabling fear of being forcibly Iddnapped back into Straight and also with the real possibility of that event. He finally decided to seek legal advice. (Why in the world did it take him so long? Perhaps because he was a traumatized 19-year-old who truly had been brainwashed and who never had even contemplated ask-ing a lawyer for help for any purpose.) One of his fraternity friends took him to his sister, who was a young attorney in Baltimore. When she heard Fred's story, she became furious that such prac-tices could take place in this country. She also realized that she could not do the case justice. She told Fred that in her opinion the only lawyer for this case was Phil Hirschkop. The young lawyer called Mr. Hirschkop's office and made an appointment for Fred.
Phil Hirschkop is a trial advocate, a civil libertarian, and a fighter for unpopular causes. He is a successful lawyer whose firm owns a group of townhouses converted into stylish offices in a fashionable section of historic Alexandria. Mr. Hirschkop built a major portion of his practice by handling the litigation of cases referred to him from all over the country by attorneys who had tried in vain to settle these matters. Thus he is a lawyer's lawyer. A man of medium build and slightly graying hair at the age of 46, when Fred met him, he had a pugnacious reputation with judges and opposing counsel. He was the chief counsel in many of the cases that arose out of the peace movement during the Vietnam War. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer described Mr. Hirschkop in those peace movement cases as being "built like a young bull." Mailer continued in ad-miration: "A perfect fullback. His physique spoke of the ability to mount a good second effort, which was the term in football this season for being able to drive hard with the ball, and when stopped by tacklers, able to drive forward again before the whistle blew." I had met Phil in the early Sixties when he was still a law student and I was an official of the National Legal Aid and Defender As-sociation. I was not surprised that he had turned out as Mailer portrayed him.
The first meeting between Philip Hirschkop and Fred Collins on the afternoon of November 5, 1982, was significant for them and for the country. Fred related his situation to Mr. Hirschkop and to his younger associate, David Fudala. Both attorneys had listened to far-fetched tales before from potential clients. This one seemed beyond the pale of possibility in America.
At first, Fred's demeanor and story seemed too bizarm to be believed. "He was frightened to death that Straight and his father were both going to kidnap him," David Fudala later recalled in one of his many reflective discussions with me. The attorneys started to put this skinny, disheveled visitor to the standard lawyer's test. Tell us the significant dates, times, names, and events, precisely as they happened; don't leave anything out. Even though Fred had been through traumatic months involving imprisonment at the hands of his own parents, as well as other destructive physical and emotional stresses, he was able to respond in such detail that the experienced lawyers started to believe he might be telling the truth.
Both lawyers soon became outraged that such actions could be carried out in this country with such high-level official and profes-sional medical support and open endorsements. Phil Hirschkop also found himself becoming emotionally involved as a parent of teenage children himself. "Who's going to protect the children? It could have been my son!" he thought then and still does. At some point during that meeting, Phil started to take on the role of the father-protector Fred had lost. He even growled protectively once, to Fred's delight, contemplating the potential of a new Straight kid-napping attempt, "I was a Green Beret!" (And so he was, having been in the first unit created by President Kennedy.)
I was touched by the emotion both Phil and young Fred still showed when they talked about these events to me several years later. Fred had been at the point of emotional collapse. Phil had been overcome with emotion that a decent young kid, who indeed could have been one of his own children, had been so brutally treated by a cult operating with the active support and collabo-ration of the boy's own parents—and all for no reason.
Phil Hirschkop called the Straight office in Virginia and the senior Collins, telling both that Fred was now represented by counsel, that he was to be left alone, and that if attempts were made to recapture him, Phil would immediately see to it that kid-napping warrants were sworn out against them. (There seems solid grounds for that threat and I wonder why no criminal justice official has arrested Straight officials for Iddnapping. Florida officials con-sidered doing so but did not, apparently because they believed both the involved parents and the Straight staff were sincerely trying to help the victims. Perhaps also it is not politically popular to seem to be on the side of "druggies" and against the drug warriors. It is difficult to imagine, for example, the Reagan De-partment of Justice arresting Straight leaders on kidnapping war-rants.) Both Mr. Hirschkop and Mr. Fudala thought that would be the end of their involvement. They had not contemplated that the case would demand so much more effort from them.
Their temporary involvement sta-etched into several years. Within a few days, they had to respond to a criminal complaint and a warrant for destruction of property sworn out by the senior Collins against his own son. Fred had caused some damage in the house when he made his escape and, on the advice of Virginia Straight program director Melvin Riddile, Mr. Collins brought criminal charges and thus gave Fred the only criminal record he ever had. (Later at the trial, Phil Hirschkop asked, "You say you love your son. You think having your son arrested is expressing love, Mr. Collins?" The father replied, "Yes, I do. It may be a tough kind of love, but I believe it's the kind of love he needed at the time.") Phil defended Fred in that matter, which involved a settlement: Fred paid his father $75 for the damages incurred during his es-cape, and his father agreed to drop the criminal charges and to allow his son the right to come to the house and take most of his belongings.
Within the space of a few months, therefore, Fred Collins had become a war orphan. The American war on drugs had created a situation in which this successful college student and citizen could not live in his own house, could not visit his father or his mother or his brother, and could expect no financial support to continue his college education. As the new youth-control dogmas of Tough-love and Straight mandated, the young man had been cut off from his family, emotionally and fmancially. He was in intense emotional pain. Hanging over him, moreover, was the real threat that he might be kidnapped back into the Straight prison.
Phil wanted to sue the elder Collins, but Fred insisted that, despite everything, he still loved his father and under no circum-stances would he participate in a suit against him. Within several months Mr. Hirschkop filed a civil suit against Straight, Inc., claim-ing that it had visited upon Fred Collins the civil wrongs of false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and as-sault and battery. Marty months went into investigations, the tak-ing of extensive sworn depositions from potential witnesses, and hearings on pre-trial motions. Because this case involved what is known as diversity of citizenship—in technical legal terms, Fred was a citizen of Virginia and Straight was a corporate citizen of Florida—it was possible to invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court,.
THE TRIAL BEGINS
At 10:00 A.M. on May 9, 1983, the case of Fred Collins v. Straight, Inc. commenced in the United States District Court for the East-ern District of Virginia (Alexandria Division). The courtroom in downtown Alexandria was small, stuffy, and sometimes affected by street noise. The presiding judge, the Honorable Albert V. Bryan, Jr., was a conservative, no-nonsense jurist who seemed to take special pleasure in controlling hard-fighting advocates such as Phil Hirschkop. Lead counsel for the defense was Ronald L. Goldfarb of the firm of Goldfarb, Singer, and Austern of Washing-ton, D.C. Over the years, Mr. Goldfarb had earned a solid repu-tation as a civil libertarian and an advocate of humane treatment of prisoners. In addition to his lawyering, he is an award-winning author of books that extol the need for protections of the rights of the accused. For example, his book Ransom (1965) called for re-form of the American bail system so that no person would suffer the injustice of punishment before an impartial tribunal had ren-dered a verdict of guilty. In defending Straight, it is quite possible that Mr. Goldfarb was simply carrying out the canons of legal ethics which declare that all clients are entitled to competent counsel.
It also appears, however, that Ronald Goldfarb sincerely be-lieved in the rightness of the Straight program both in general and in this particular case. That is the impression Phil Hirschkop got as the lawyers went through pre-trial skirmishes. He became per-sonally offended over some remarks that Mr. Goldfarb made to the press. Mr. Hirschkop told me bitterly, "It's almost like Goldfarb, protector of rights, represents a whole group of people that says when it comes to drugs, civil rights don't count." By the time the trial actually started on that May morning in 1983, the lawyers were poised at each other's emotional tliroats, illustrating the schism created by the drug issue in traditional civil libertarian ranks.
A jury of seven people was quickly chosen from a panel of local citizens, six regulars and one alternate in case of an emergency. The six regulars who actually decided the case were, on the whole, mature, well-educated, and middle class. They seemed precisely the type of people who might well support any program to control defiant young drug users.
The trial dealt with two key questions. First, did Straight hold Fred in custody improperly and thus imprison him falsely? That was the formal legal issue which the jury had to decide. False imprisonment is a centuries-old civil wrong, which Judge Bryan explained to be "restraint of one's liberty without any sufficient cause and against [one's] will." Actual force was not essential. If Fred was "under a reasonable apprehension that force will be used unless he willingly submits . . . it is false imprisonment." Nor was "malice or ill will or wrongful intention" necessary, only that Straight did accomplish the wrongful act of imprisonment.
Second, was Fred a drug abuser or an addict? That question was not a central point in the formal pleadings, technically speak-ing, but in actual fact it dominated the trial. It would indeed seem logical to say that if this second question were to be answered in the affirmative, then the charge of false imprisonment would be impossible to sustain. That conclusion was by no means certain, however, because both law and medicine are confused about how to defme the condition known as drug addiction and also about the legal rights of people classified as addicts.
Fred's lawyers sought to show that Fred was a well-adjusted young man and loving son with a good family relationship who used alcohol and other drugs occasionally but not abusively, and who was imprisoned without just cause and against his will. At the same time, Phil Hirschkop argued to the jury, even "if Fred Collins was a heroin addict they had no right to kidnap him or hold him against his will" because he was an adult.
The lawyers for Straight sought to show, in the words of co-counsel John J. Brandt, "that the Collins family, who had two sons, was invaded by [the] curse of alcohol and drug abuse," and that during that initial sibling interview in June 1982 "there was re-vealed deep drug involvement by Fred Collins," who thereupon voluntarily entered the program for treatment. "The evidence will show you," Mr. Brandt also told the jmy, "that Straight is the most successful drug rehabilitation program in the country."
Dr. Newton, the director of this highly successful program, filed an affidavit that put forth Christopher Yarnold as its designated expert who would explain how Straight diagnosed chemical dependency. In the actual event, Mr. Yarnold's testimony demonstrated the profound ignorance of some of the alleged leading experts on drug abuse in America. During the course of taking sworn pre-trial depositions, lawyers Hirschkop and Fudala brought out that diagnostic expert Yarnold did not know the name of the active ingredient in marijuana, did not know what laughing gas was, and had only the vaguest idea of how drugs interacted with human health and behavior. On the witness stand during the trial, this state of ignorance was again demonstrated by Mr. Yarnold. When asked if he knew at the time of the intake how the hallucin-ogenic factor in drugs worked, he replied, "No. All I knew was drugs affected people." In my opinion, that remark was a fair representation of the level of sophistication of Mr. Yarn°ld and of most Straight experts.
Mr. Yarnold also reiterated that it was his decision to commit Fred to the Straight institution—and then explained the physical evidence he had found that confirmed his professional diagnosis that Fred Collins was a drug abuser. "I'd diagnosed that--in my interview with Fred, his eyes were red," Christopher Yarnold testified. "Mr. Yarnold, are you telling these seven good people, you can look in someone's eyes and tell that they've been smoking marijuana?" asked attorney Hirschkop. "You can look in someone's eyes and tell that they've been smoking marijuana, yes," replied Straight executive staff member Yarn°ld. Phil Hirschkop then asked Chris Yarnold to come down and look in Fred's eyes right then, during the trial, for any indication of recent drug use. Mr. Yarnold did so and found no indication of dilation or redness, thus no hint of recent drug use.
Then Mr. Hirschkop brought out that the Straight executive had not noticed that Fred was wearing contact lenses that day in court, nor had Mr. Yarnold noticed it on the day of the sibling interview. Mr. Yarnold admitted that he knew that contact lenses could make eyes look dilated. (There was no mention of Fred's swim in the pool the night before the sibling interview which might also have contributed to red eyes. Fred believes that the combi-nation of the swim plus the contact lenses might have given his eyes a dilated, red appearance during the interview, which he would have explained if asked at the time.)
Another important factor in the diagnosis of the chosen Straight expert was that Fred denied his drug problem, which, as in Catch-22, was taken as impressive evidence that he had one. "Fred was into denial, which is an indication that he didn't wish to be there and recognize his drug problem," Mr. Yarnold testified. In some cases, of course, denial is a major part of the addiction syndrome, but when used simplistically, as it was here, this symptom could be used to slap half the world into institutions.
Also important was that Fred had admitted to using a number of drugs, especially marijuana, even though he had not used it in the three months before the interview. On the witness stand, after intensive cross-examination, Mr. Yarnold delivered this conclusive pronouncement: "Anybody that is using a drug that is mood-altering has a problem. Okay. He has a problem. From now until eternity, Fred will be chemically dependent." Several jurors later recalled in discussions with me and my research assistants that they were deeply and negatively impressed by this dogmatic tes-timony of Straight, Inc. executive Christopher Yarnold.
WAS FRED COLLINS AN ADDICT?
However, the clash of values in this unique case, and by extension in the country, was brought out most dramatically in the testimony of the two psychiatrists presented as expert witnesses by each side. The dominant official view of adolescent drug abuse, which is strongly supported by the White House and many medical and social leaders, was represented by Dr. Robert L. DuPont, Jr., who was a paid consultant to Straight. He is a preeminent spokesman for that view—the world's heavyweight champion, in the eyes of many people--hence his testimony made this contest, in a very real sense, a trial not only of one narrow case but of a whole philosophy, one that controls much of American drug treatment today.
On the core issue in this case, Dr. DuPont testified that in his expert opinion, Fred Collins definitely was "a pathological user" at the time he "voluntarily" entered Straight. When asked how he would define a pathological user, Dr. DuPont replied, "Use of drugs in a pattern that is recklessly disregarding the real interest of the individual. There were at least two striking examples of that in that year we are talking about. One of these was his inability to continue on INH [a medicine which had been prescribed by a doc-tor] because he chose to drink instead, and the other was his risking his financial support to go to college and choosing marijuana in-stead. I considered both of these sick, pathological, and evidence of drug dependence."
That was the considered scientific judgment of one of the lead-ing drug abuse experts in the world. That conclusion involved ethical and factual issues about which there were clear conflicts in testimony. Fred had been advised by his school's medical center to take the medicine INH (which is a brand name for the drug isoniazid) as a precaution after he had a positive TB test. This is a commonly used medicine in such situations. Fred claimed that he was told by medical personnel that it was acceptable if he drank moderately, that he did so, that he also kept taldng the medicine, and that he experienced no difficulty from the medicine or, as it later turned out, from tuberculosis. His father's version was that adopted by DuPont. So also was Fred Senior's version of the ul-timatum on marijuana and financial support for school, as we have seen.
In other words, there was a conflict in the testimony as to whether Fred's father had ever told him that he would be cut off financially and emotionally, in line with Toughlove and Straight ideology, if he ever used drugs or alcohol in any quantity. And there was a conflict as to the precise instructions of the school's medical personnel about the taking of INH and the moderate use of alcohol. In each case, Dr. DuPont came down against Fred although the doctor never took advantage of the opportunity given him to examine Fred.
Even had the facts been precisely as Dr. DuPont claimed, his invocation of mental disease on the basis of this behavior graphi-cally demonstrates why many people who are not physicians have come to believe that there is precious little science involved when many doctors solemnly pronounce that a given person is suffering from the disease of drug abuse. Too often, the diagnosis is made entirely on the basis of the doctor's personal feelings about drug use (or, in some cases, as we have seen earlier, on the basis of the doctor's desire to obtain customers). In this case, citizen Robert DuPont might have said he strongly disapproved of citizen Fred Collins's behavior, and then there would have been no major prob-lem. When, however, psychiatrist and drug-abuse expert Dr. DuPont made the supposedly scientific diagnosis that patient Collins was diseased on the basis of secondhand evidence, then serious ques-tions should have been raised, which indeed they were at the trial.
There are standards by which fairly objective and impartial judgments may be made as to whether an individual is suffering from the disease of drug abuse. Some of the most authoritative have been formulated by the American Psychiatric Association. The primary APA diagmostic criteria for cannabis, or marijuana, abuse are "intoxication throughout the day; use of cannabis nearly every day for at least one month; episodes of cannabis delusional disorder." A related standard is "impairment in social or occupa-tional functioning due to cannabis use." As Phil Hirschkop read these and other tests of cannabis pathology to Dr. DuPont in the course of the cross-examination, the physician admitted that none of them applied to Fred in any clearly significant manner.
Then how in the world did one of America's best-known drug-abuse treatment experts make a public scientific diagnosis that Fred Collins was a sick, pathological abuser of drugs? In the end, when pressed by Philip Hirschkop, Dr. DuPont retreated once again to the position that Fred violated the disputed agreement with his father not to smoke marijuana while in college--and thus rested his medical case primarily on a factor having little to do with the actual abuse of drugs.
The majority of the jury, according to juror Louis A. DeSanti, who holds a Ph.D. in political science, simply did not feel that the evidence showed Fred to be drug dependent. Moreover, they dis-trusted Straight's primary expert witness. "DuPont's tie-in with Straight was obvious," Dr. DeSanti observed in an interview with one of my research assistants after the trial was over. "He seemed to bend his testimony to protect his client. We believed Dr. Egan; he gave what appeared to us [to be] good professional advice."
James Harold Egan, chairman, Department of Psychiatry, Children's Hospital National Medical Center in the nation's capital, provided a different professional vision of the universe of youth drug taldng and of the medical status of one young man. Dr. Egan's vision has a fair number of scientific and lay supporters, but it is ignored by most major political and scientific policymakers today.
"I think Fred had a number of devices that he used to defy authority. They were rather typical adolescent ones, I must say; letting his hair grow very long and wearing used, beat-up old clothes and getting an A one semester in a course and getting this supreme pleasure of getting a C the next semester, to sort of thumb his nose at the teacher, the equivalent of what many adolescents do as they attempt to become autonomous adults, which is to break away from the family by defying its norms, so that if the parents sv, hate rock music,' they buy three more rock records and play them very loudly." According to Dr. Egan's view of the whole universe of adolescent behavior, therefore, this conduct was "very normal."
Even if Fred had continued to smoke marijuana in defiance of the ultimatum allegedly issued by his father, Dr. Egan, unlike Dr. DuPont, would not have seen that form of adolescent risk-taking as necessarily a clear sign of drug dependency. "It depends on the motive for the risk-taking. If, for example, one takes the risk because one has a compelling need, an internal need for the drug, then one would say that the risk-taldng is dependent on the drug. With a number of young people that I see, the drug is merely the instrument or the pawn in a battle with their parents, and not the problem itself," Dr. Egan stated on the witness stand.
Think of the global implications of that statement. The youth of America were not going to hell in a chemical handbasket. There was a venerable theme to the new and scary youth drug scene. Kids were fighting with their parents as they had since the begin-ning of time, as today's parents fought with their own parents a generation ago. Only the weapons in the ancient power struggle were somewhat new. Different chemicals, for example.
On the basis of having examined Fred for several hours (which Dr. DuPont never bothered to do) and of having read most of the important records, Dr. Egan stated flatly on the witness stand, "I do not think that he was at the time or now chemically dependent on any drugs." In maldng this diagnosis, the physician apparently closely applied the APA criteria that Dr. DuPont largely seemed to ignore. Even though Fred did occasionally use drugs, he was not regularly intoxicated, and he was functioning well academi-cally, socially, and personally. "Let me be very frank," Dr. Egan interposed in the midst of a question being put to him on the stand. "Were I to have seen him as a patient in my office, I would not have referred him to a drug rehabilitation program." The next question was, "Do you think he needed any treatment for drug abuse at all?" The immediate, firm response was, "No."
In Dr. Egan's opinion, Fred was not only a "typical college student," he was "perhaps above average on most dimensions," particularly in regard to his independence and ability to endure difficulties. Dr. Egan was impressed that after the Straight epi-sode, Fred persevered, got himself back into college on loans, and rose from being house chairman to being elected the president of his fraternity. "I think it's rather extraordinary and a sign of quite a healthy young man . . . who is not showing signs of deterioration from chronic drug abuse."
Young Fred Collins, the above-average achiever, did show signs of deterioration, however, from another source, in the eyes of Dr. Egan—and that was from the experience of going through the treatment program of Straight, Inc. He developed a number of neurotic symptoms stemming from the program that was supposed to cure him and save his life from a disease that, in fact, he did not have. He became depressed, fearful and anxious regarding involvement with women, and had recurrent, haunting dreams of being chased. The worst damage was done when his own family applied the Straight-Toughlove dogma to Fred. Dr. Egan thus concluded that he was most deeply wounded "by the serious es-trangement from his family, the sense that he was in essence on his own, that he had been abandoned emotionally, interpersonally, financially, that each time he sees a father and son on the street, for example, he is emotionally overcome. He says he feels like an orphan, and at one point told me that he wishes, in fact, that he had been. That it would be much easier. And then, you know, [he] broke down and wept."
FRED WINS TWO JURY VERDICTS
At 12:18 P.M. on the fourth day of the trial, Thursday, May 12, 1983, the case went to the jury of six citizens, the alternate having been excused shortly beforehand. The jury was most influenced by the solid evidence that Fred, at 19 legally an adult, had indeed been imprisoned against his will. Had the jury believed him to be a true drug abuser, they might have doubted his ability to object to his imprisonment. That issue did not arise, however, for the six citizens did not believe that the evidence showed Fred Collins to be a drug addict. To the surprise of all concerned, the jury took very little time to deliberate, reaching a unanimous verdict by 3:15 P.M.
While the verdict was in favor of plaintiff Fred Collins on the claim of false imprisonment, for some reason the jury decided to find for the defendant on the claims of intentional infliction of emo-tional distress and assault. After having rendered such a speedy verdict, it was then the turn of the members of the jury to be surprised. Judge Bryan announced that this was a bifurcated trial and that there would be a separate trial on the issue of the extent of damages. This took place on May 24 and 25.
At that trial, Phil Hirschkop asked for two ldnds of monetary damages for Fred Collins. First, compensatory damages, which are tied to actual and future projected losses: to pay him for his suffering and time lost from school, for his medical expenses to treat his mental and emotional distress, and to assist him in paying for his education. Second, punitive damages, to punish Straight by the seemingly indirect route of paying Fred additional money, on the idea that this civil "fine" would persuade the wrongdoers to stop harming children. In the proof of punitive damages, the law allows relatively wide leeway to bring in other cases of mis-conduct to demonstrate that this was not an isolated misstep but one piece of a larger pattern. Attorneys Hirschkop and Fudala sought to prove to the jury that both types of damages were needed in this case, especially the second.
They attempted to do so primarily by bringing in as witnesses young adults who, like Fred, were forcibly detained against their will by Straight. Arletha Schauteet, for example, had visited the St. Petersburg facility for a sibling interview to visit her brother on October 23, 1981, ten days short of her eighteenth birthday. She was kept against her will until April 21, 1982, when she man-aged to escape. At nearly midnight on April 25, her mother came to the door of the friend's house where she was hiding and told her emotionally that her brother would be terminated from the program if she did not return. Her mother grabbed Arletha by the arm and started dragging her toward a car. Two adult men and a woman, all strangers to the young girl, joined in the violent kid-napping, which involved thirty minutes of battling, and then they forced her into the car and drove her back to Straight. Despite the familiar routine of confrontation over her alleged involvement in drugs and sex, Ms. Schauteet stood her ground and insisted that there was no reason to keep her imprisoned.
After many hours of such harassment, the young girl was taken into Dr. Newton's office. On this occasion, the Reagan White House—endorsed expert told her that if she persisted in saying that she was being held against her will, "the state of Florida would take over and they would put my mother in jail for kidnapping." At one point, Arletha's brother was brought into a rap where she was being confronted and the treatment specialists "let him yell at me, too, like everybody else and call me names and tell me how much he hated me." When the pleas of friends on the outside prompted a Detective Brown from the local Sanford police department to call Dr. Newton, the girl was released later the next day.
The story of Arletha, then, demonstrated practices existing before Fred arrived. Hope Hyrons's ordeal took place after Fred left and at a time when Straight executives were telling the world that the Collins case had prompted them to make major changes and also to clear up some minor administrative oversights. On January 19, 1983, Hope, then 18, went to the St. Petersburg facility for a sibling interview so that she could visit her brother. She had held a student internship at the Seminole County sheriff's office and had some knowledge of her legal rights. Hope Hyrons persisted in refusing to sign herself in during the familiar scenario when she was told that the event had become an intake interview. In this case, though, a new twist was added. This young girl was told that not only would she be cut off from her family in line with Straight-Toughlove doctrine, but also that she would be cut off immediately. If she persisted in her refusal, her parents would simply leave her there in St. Petersburg, over a two-hour drive from her home in Longwood. She stuck to her legal guns and her parents carried out the Toughlove threat. Young Hope Hyrons was forced to walk and hitchhike alone to the home of her aunt and uncle in Longwood.
Approximately one month later, her mother apparently re-lented and picked her up in the family car to visit a doctor. At a gas station, her father and two strange men got into the car. She was restrained by the men and told by her father that she was being taken back to Straight. Soon, she found herself in the intake room where she was again forcibly restrained as she struck at her captors and fought to get out of the room. The young law-enforce-ment intern told the three or four girls that they were violating her legal rights. A man came into the small intake room and said, "I hear someone in here has a problem with their legal rights." "Yes, I do," replied Hope Hyrons. According to Hope, Dr. Miller Newton replied, "Well, I don't give a damn about your legal rights." A Florida social services official did, however, and helped secure the release of Hope Hyrons within two days.
(The cases of Ms. Schauteet and Ms. Hyrons received considerable publicity in Florida. Both retained lawyer William A. Leffler of Sanford, who commenced proceedings against Straight and Miller Newton. Months after Fred's victory, Straight settled both claims out of court. Mr. Leffler said that the settlements were "handsome" and that both of his young clients were "very happy.")
Unlike the two young people just described, Jeffrey McQuillen, a Canadian and 19 at the time of entry on April 5, 1983, testified that he had a drug problem and that he voluntarily entered the program in accord vvith an agreement he made with his parents. He entered the newer facility in Springfield, Virginia. However, almost immediately the young man announced that he wanted to leave. His requests were denied. He repeated them after the four-teenth day and again was refused. In addition, Straight staff then put a rope through his belt loops "and started tying me up and leading me around like a little monkey."
On April 23, he was led from the foster home where he was kept at night and into a car by his oldcomer, Bob, and driven toward the Straight facility. As the car was moving slowly in a traffic jam in suburban Maryland approaching the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Jeffrey McQuillen managed to break partially free. Bob grabbed one end of the rope which was still attached to the prisoner, and grabbed onto his leg, screaming at him. The two young men fought on the side of the road. Jeff ran away with Bob in hot pursuit. Finally, young McQuillen lost his pursuer as he raced across the huge bridge, with the Straight ropes trailing from his body. Jeff eventually managed to hitchhike back to his native country.
Thus, the stories of Arletha Schauteet, Hope Hyrons, and Jef-frey McQuillen demonstrated that Fred Collins was only one among many young people abused by Straight, Incorporated. As I relate their stories and go back over their sworn testimony at the trial, my own sense of outrage starts to take over again. I have worked so hard to make sure that all of these facts are correctly set down here that at times I forget to insert my own emotions and I also forget that others may read them in disbelief. Let me assure any-one who has that feeling that this testimony was allowed to go into the public record of the trial without rebuttal by Straight and with only minimal cross-examination by defense counsel John Brandt. Therefore, this shocking and, in my opinion, unrebutted testimony had a strong impact on the jury in their assessment of punitive damages.
At 10:32 A.M. on May 25, the jury retired to commence its deliberations, which were much more heated than the first time. The lone woman juror wanted to do precisely as counsel Ronald Goldfarb urged in pleading for a "Toughlove verdict"—an award of one dollar. She felt that Straight was doing vital work which should not be curtailed. Psychologist William Watson later told me that he believed that a substantial penalty had to be imposed, perhaps in the neighborhood of $100,000. Louis DeSanti found himself "100 percent pro–Fred Collins." He thought Fred was "a regular guy" and that he had been severely hurt by Straight and by his paxents.
The most forceful juror seemed to have been Robert H. Hart-zell, who was a relatively high-ranking federal civil servant—chief, Division of Administrative Services, Administrative Office of the United States Courts, located in the nation's capital across the river from northern Virginia, where he lives. Like any citizen of that district, Mr. Hartzell is expected to serve on juries in those cases in which he has no professional involvement. An open-faced, short, likable fellow in his late fifties at the time I interviewed him in his comfortable office a few blocks from the White House, Hart-zell is a secure inhabitant of Middle America, with roots in tradi-tional values. He was utterly appalled at seeing drug users face to face at the trial. It seemed to him that he had been "transported to a foreign land" because in his world, to his knowledge, people did not use drugs like marijuana. "I don't think I really believed that people took dope until I sat in that courtroom. I'd read it . . . but . . . I don't know if this will make any sense to you, I believed it but I didn't believe it. . . . I've come to realize that I've lived all my life rather sheltered. . . . A Mr. Straight."
While he was appalled at the revelations of drug use, Robert Hartzell was even more disturbed by the tactics of Straight, Inc. "I found myself angry. . . . I had concluded that . . . regardless of what their motives were, if not nipped in the bud, [their tactics] were the seeds of destruction for a nation. If you allow a little thing here that is the antithesis of democracy, a little thing there, a little thing here, you really have the deterioration of democracy in the incipient stage. And then the first thing you know you can't stop it anymore. And this business of scooping people up off the street, and just being so convinced of their rightness in the matter that they just scoop 'em up off the street and take 'em away!"
At times during the testimony, however, Hartzell had wavered and felt that if Straight had to use some harsh tactics to help the users beat their drug habits, then "You're darn right. Use them. Whatever it takes! But then you hear about locking them up with-out authority to do so, and then you hear about at least questionable practices from the standpoint of mental and physical abuse, and you get a little scared because, if you want to be honest about it, you knaw that that self-righteous organization can be convinced that you're . . . whatever . . . and they got the answer for ya, and God is on their side, so there can't be anything wrong with scooping you up off the street, and the first thing you know, you're scooped up because you're a Lutheran, or you're scooped up because you're a Methodist . . . or an alcoholic. . . . Now, some people, you'd be surprised, I think, at the number of people who think . . . this country will never come to that just because you scoop up an addict off the street."
Robert Hartzell, however, thought differently. To him, the time to protect liberty was at the first sign of a serious threat--and the actions of Straight represented just such a threat to his traditional concepts of American freedom. He was annoyed that some of his fellow jurors did not see that the proper thing to do was to stand up on your hindlegs and shout that such behavior is not allowed in this country. That is what he did when it came down to assessing damages. He felt that the Straight leaders and all those who be-lieved as they did had to be sent a strong message. That is why his initial position was an award of $500,000 to Fred Collins. The single woman stood by her one-dollar award. Juror DeSanti sided with Hartzell and wanted a high award against the organization.
"A look of shock fell over the faces of attorneys for both sides as the decision was read in a stuffy, packed courtroom," said a newspaper account. The verdict: $40,000 in compensatory damages and $180,000 in punitive damages, a total of $220,000.
The message that the jury sought to convey to Straight with this large award was not heard, however. The lesson that Dr. Newton took from the verdict was, "It certainly will open the door for people with 25 bucks and an unemployed attorney to come after us." The defiance implied in that declaration has been carried out in practice. After months of searching through records, reports on visits, and correspondence, I have yet to find solid proof of major changes in Straight's practices. Complaints against various Straight facilities around the country continue, as do passionate claims of successful help from supporters.
Moreover, the Collins case did not even deal with the rights of children who have not reached adulthood. The legal protection of their rights in relation to their parents is very weak. While some states are increasing that protection, only rarely is it possible for an American child to protest institutionalization ordered by a par-ent, even when the child is not mentally ill. One of those rare cases occurred roughly three months after the verdict in Fred's case. A mother in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hired two private detectives to abduct her 16-year-old son, Charles, who used drugs of which the parent did not approve. The detectives shackled the young American citizen in leg irons, and drove him 1,700 miles across numerous state lines to the St. Petersburg Straight facility, which took him in on September 3, 1983. Charles was lucky because he was able to get his case into a Florida circuit court where a judge ordered his release because proper legal procedure for a commit-ment had not been followed. Also, the judge found no sound evi-dence that Charles was a drug addict or abuser. Thus, it was plain that young Charles had been abducted.
Straight national executive director William Oliver fumed, "How can a parent abduct their own child? . . . A parent has a right to place, detain and restrain a child short of abuse. . . . Parents have the right to take an unwilling child to a dentist or a school or anywhere else that the parent feels is in the best interests of the child." Because the law on this matter is so vague, in most cases and in most states, Mr. Oliver's sweeping claim of parental power is, as a practical matter, sadly accurate. Clearly, then, we have reached that point in our national history when serious consider-ation must be given to new laws that create explicit protections for the rights of children against their own parents and, moreover, against those who would treat them for diseases which they do not have.
Until that reform occurs, we must still deal with the harm caused by present practices. Individual court cases are not the best methods to protect our children, even those who have reached adulthood. Although Fred Collins is now approximately 0,000 richer, after paying all attorneys' fees and expenses, he considers his victory to have been a hollow one. "Money is no comparison to a family. You can't buy back your parents' love."
Fred spent the Christmases of 1982 and 1983 away from his family and utterly depressed. The young man looked forward to spending the Christmas of 1984 with his own family in an attempt to re-establish a relationship. When he returned to the family home shortly before Christmas day, he found his brother, George, now a Straight Seventh Stepper (in the most advanced phase, out in the community) to be a drug-free but hostile human being. For the first few days, though, events went relatively smoothly. Then his father discovered upon reading a newspaper that Fred had told some reporters of his hopes for a family reconciliation.
An argument ensued over the unwanted publicity, and he left his house and came to mine for a few hours. I had spent a good deal of time with Fred over a period of months in the course of conducting research on this book and I suppose that I had taken on a touch of the father's role that Phil Hirschkop had assumed at times. On this occasion, my attempts to comfort him were to no avail. I could see that this young fellow's mental and spiritual health were still damaged by his unbelievable ordeal.
Fred Collins was again cut off from his family and more deeply depressed than I had ever seen him to be. For several years, he remained an orphan of the war on drugs.
Between December 1984 and December 1986, despite repeated attempts, I was unable to find Fred nor was I able to contact him through his family. They refused to speak to me on the telephone nor would they answer my letters asldng about Fred's welfare. I was worried about him—and them.
Out of the blue, Fred called me in early December 1986. He told me that he had just discovered my letters lying about his parents' home. They had never told him about the letters or about my frequent attempts to contact him. Fred told me that he was doing well, that he had completed his undergraduate work and was pursuing a master's degree at Virginia Tech. The young man claimed that he was reconciled with his family but that they simply did not talk about their ordeal with Straight.
The matter has never been faced or resolved.
I remain worried about him and them.
1 I will use only first names—sometimes fictional, sometimes real—when anonymity has been requested or when it seems otherwise appropriate. Whenever a full name appears, however, it is real.
2 While the charge of brainwashing may seem overly dramatic, Fred was probably correct. After reviewing a draft of this chapter, Professor Barry Beyerstein, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, wrote me that Straight's tech-niques seemed similar to those of the Chinese Communists in dealing with United Nations prisoners of war during the Korean War. Dr. Beyerstein explained: "The parallels with Straight's methods are strildng. Contrary to widely held opinion, the Chinese (as opposed to the North Koreans) relied very little on physical abuse to achieve conversions and they had considerable success. In light of the P.O.W.'s performance, Fred's ability to resist to the end and escape are truly remarkable.
"The Chinese used techniques that Straight seems to have lifted wholesale. The group criticism sessions, self-confessions, etc., are particularly similar. What is most insidious about them is that many P.O.W.'s went along with these procedures thinking they would just play-act to achieve some small reward (such as an 'increase in rations or a letter from home) while secretly maintaining their previous political convictions. What was found was that this is very difficult to do—behaving in a way contrary to one's beliefs is very likely to cause the beliefs to shift in the direction of the behavior. Numerous studies in social psychology support this. . . .
"It seemed to me as I read your account that someone at Straight had read the literature on brainwashing and systematically set out to apply it."