Straight, Inc. Rehabilitation, Thought Reform and the Destruction of Young Egos


The web page is an introduction to the book A Clockwork Straight and to the online-newspaper �Never Again�� which gives up to the minute news on destructive rehabilitative programs.  This Press Kit is provided to give media representatives a quick look into what the fuss is all about.

In 1974 the US Senate published a report that likened the methods of a juvenile drug rehabilitation program in Florida called The Seed to the brainwashing methods used by North Korean soldiers on American prisoners of war during the Korean War.  (Paradoxically, The Seed had been funded by a grant from the US government�s National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA]).   That report was a primary reason for the closing of all Seed expansion programs including the one in Saint Petersburg, Florida where local multi-millionaires Melvin and Betty Sembler had a son enrolled.  In spite of the Senate report which included a statement by clinical psychologist Jeffery J. Elenewski, Ph.D. stating: �I have also interviewed children who made suicide attempts following their running from the Seed.  Overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair were in evidence,� Melvin and Betty with other Seed parents opened their own Seed which they called Straight, Inc.  Just before they opened Straight an article appeared in The Saint Petersburg Times which told the story of a 16 year old girl who had become so demoralized in The Seed that she had slit her wrists in the bathroom with a razor she had concealed in her pants. Seed staffers had been able to convince the little girl not to tell her parents about the aborted suicide attempt because they told her she had not really wanted to kill herself�but only to get attention.  Surely Straight planners were aware of psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton�s seminal work on thought reform in which he states, �Some prisoners may be brought by their severe anxiety and depression to the point of suicidal preoccupations.�  Because of the dangers of driving a child to suicide through severe degradation and humiliation, Straight resorted to issuing plastic razor blades, to clipping new comers� fingernails, and to observing its young prisoners 24 hours a day�even when they wiped themselves on the toilet.  Nevertheless the body carvings and suicide attempts came in droves.  From a piece of plastic broken off a chair to biting the inside of one�s mouth or tongue.  When a kid did manage to harm himself he was laughed at by his peer Group.  They shouted at him and sang teasing songs to him and told him he just wanted attention.  Straight was so destructive that a half dozen board members left within the first 16 months of operation with one of them making a public statement implying Straight was worse than The Seed. 

Straight was plagued with reports of child abuse all during its 17 years of operation and yet Straight became the biggest, and one of the most destructive, juvenile drug rehabilitation programs in the world.  A major reason for this success is the backing of Straight by prominent Republicans like Ronald and Nancy Reagan and George Bush.  This was due to political influence buying by Straight founder Mel Sembler. Another reason for Straight�s success was successful advertising through the media such as a favorable special report by NBC News, and by articles in �Readers Digest�, �The National Geographic� and �The Ladies Home Journal.� A made-for-TV movie was produced.  Another reason for Straight�s success was the failure of Pinellas County states attorney James T. Russell to prosecute Straight and its officers (Russell had brought The Seed to Pinellas County and one of his deputies was on the board of directors for Straight) and the collusion between  Pinellas County judges and policemen and Straight.  At one point the state social services was investigating Straight for child abuse when a citizen�s committee was formed to investigate the state�s investigator.   Prominent on that committee was a county judge and the man who would become chief of police.  The state�s investigator was fired and Straight kept its license.  And that is just one of many instances of collusion.  Another reason for Straight�s success is former White House Drug Czar and founding director of NIDA  Dr. Robert L. DuPont, Jr.  As director of  NIDA  Dr. DuPont had administered the grant to The Seed.  After Dr. DuPont left the government  he became a paid consultant for Straight who traveled around the country as an expert witness defending Straight in  many of its civil suits for child abuse.  Straight�s national research director Dr. Donald Ian Macdonald became the White House Drug Czar, and Drug Czars Martinez, Bennett and Turner have been favorable to Straight.

Straight planners read accounts on brainwashing and applied these techniques to little kids.   But Straight devised slick ways to disguise these methods to protect themselves from criminal prosecution.  For example, they starved kids by giving them food!   Kids were fed thick peanut butter sandwiches (without jelly), and nothing but.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner for up to a solid month, until even a kid would say��give me another peanut butter sandwich and I�ll vomit.�  Thus he did not eat and was starved.  Chinese thought reformers keep their students in chains.  Straight did not do this as it would be bondage.  Instead they had Group pick fights with a kid and then have five or six kids sit on the child covering every part of his body  to the point the child struggled to breathe.  Many have  complained that they thought they were going to smother to death. Another popular restraint was to have five or six kids dig their fingernails into the pressure points of arms and legs until circulation was cut off and limbs went numb.   Spitting and making kids defecate on themselves came right out of the brainwashing manuals.  Straight kids would spit in one another�s face and the spit would be allowed to dry causing skin infections.  In such a demoralized state it is little wonder that many kids resorted to carving or attempted suicide

Mel�s Kids.  Melvin Sembler is now our ambassador to Italy.  During his confirmation hearing he told the Senate,  Other than our children, nothing was more rewarding than this effort [founding Straight].�    Jeff Leugers did not fair so well.  He graduated Straight and even became president of his local Straight Seventh Step Society in Cincinnati, but then one day he wrapped himself up in a sheet to prevent messing up the place and shot himself dead with a hand gun.  Fred Collins became a man in Straight in Virginia.  When he turned 18, Fred tried to leave but he was held against his will until he escaped and was awarded  $220,000 by a federal jury.  By the time Steve Mathews turned 18, Straight had understandably relaxed its policy on imprisonment of adults.  Steve just walked right out and nine months later he walked right out of a motel window to his death�the same way Straight graduate Christine  Stottlemeyer did it.  Straight board member Joseph Zappala became our ambassador to Spain even though he spoke no Spanish and was but a high school graduate.  Samantha Monroe was more qualified to be an ambassador than Joe Zappala.  After fleeing Straight-Sarasota Samantha learned French and graduated from a university in France.  She says that when she was in Straight some women found her in a closet sitting in her own feces.  She says she tried chewing the inside of her mouth trying to kill herself to escape her Straight-induced stress.  She had her nervous breakdown in 2000.  But at least Zappala was better educated than Duane Rholfs who never even graduated from high school.  Duane had made fifth phase in Straight and like so many others had been set back for rule infractions�he had had a relationship with a girl.  In his senior year Duane and a male friend ran a hose from his car exhaust to the cabin and committed suicide.  Straight board member Harry Spear who founded cable�s Home Shopping Network  got the concessions for the summer Olympics in Madrid just after  Joe Zappala had been ambassador.  Tom Hughes wasn�t an ambassador but he still loved his son Gregg.  Problem is Straight would not let him see his own son; he had to get a writ of habeas corpus to do that!  And time was short for Tom and his boy.   The next year Greg Hughes hung himself.  Bill and Dylan are still insane after their Straight experiences in Virginia,  but  Kay H. has been relived of her schizophrenia after Straight-Atlanta.  Her mother finally took her out when it became apparent she had been admitted at age 12 only for the money.  Kay heard voices.  One day she walked in front of a car killing herself.    Ironically Straight Foundation president Walter Lobenberg went on to found the Pinellas County Holocaust Museum. Matt Hunter and Jamie C. were caught up in Straight�s own Holocaust and committed suicide after their experience there.  Lisa D. hung herself in 2001.   Jeb Bush named August 8, 2000 Betty Sembler Day after his finance co-chairman for her work with youths on drugs, but her work with Paul Riffle was a dismal failure.   After escaping the hells of Straight Paul took a gun and shot himself dead while Straight was suing his mother into bankruptcy.   Maybe Timothy Nixon celebrated BSD.  He�s still alive you know.  One day after he got out of Straight in Texas he took a baseball bat and splattered his mother�s brains and guts all over the wall.  He will be in prison for the rest of his life.  But not Bradley Martin.  Bradley went on a killing spree after Straight and even made America�s Most Wanted.  Bradley is sitting on death row in Pennsylvania.  And so it goes with Straight graduates and copouts alike�MEL�S KIDS.    

So why are these former clients haunted all these years later by Straight.  It�s because of the forced, extorted confessions they had to endure.  Their sex lives and total character were opened up for examination and criticism by 200 screaming kids all at once.  They have been mind-raped, violated, exposed, deflated.  You can kill a person doing that.   Straight took in kids who were 12 and 13 who had experimented with marijuana or beer, or who were addicted to harder drugs, or who had used no drugs at all.  The two things they did have in common were they were white and their parents could afford the price.  These kids were abused and tried to kill themselves to escape the misery and humiliation.  Negligently, Straight did not always inform a kid�s parents that their child had made a suicide attempt while in Straight.  Many kids like the ones mentioned here killed themselves after Straight. 

Was Straight a program to help kids with drug addiction or was it a pyramid scam to make money on the fears of parents by having them involved in an endless series of fundraising activities to raise money for Straight.  Actually Straight did take in nearly $100 million�tax free.  The stated purpose of the fundraisers was so that minority kids could receive treatment, but there were hardly ever any minority kids there!  That�s Sembler�s Third Paradox.    Sooner or later parents realized that their kids would never graduate at a reasonable time and so they removed their child after having first paid a substantial amount of money up front.   For those few who graduated, they invariably became counselors at Straight, or, at least, joined the Seventh Step Society and went around to local high schools to recruit new parents for the base of the pyramid. 

Straight parades their clients at public confessionals in Open Meetings, PTA meetings and to the media.  These kids tell horrific stories of their prior drug addiction and sex life and how Straight saved them.  Their audiences are expected to believe these tales.   But when these same kids escape and say they have been abused, Straight officials will tell you that Straight kids are liars and drug addicts and can�t be believed.  We call this Sembler�s First Paradox�where you are to believe everything the kid says, unless he escapes and says bad things about Straight.  This should not be confused with Sembler�s Second Paradox which says these are druggie kids and must be forcefully restrained by five to six old comers when they act out in Group.  And then these same kids are sent home to a foster home in the evening with only two old comer escorts as if the kids only act out in the day time�which is exactly when they do it because Straight eggs them on.   

Straight bowed to the pressure of state criminal investigations and civil suits and closed  in 1993, but former Straight officials opened up their own Straight-like programs  which are still running.  Why is it that there were 29 reported restraints in one Straight expansion program in one month, but only one reported restraint in all other juvenile rehab programs in that county combined in the previous three months!    Why did three old comers gang rape a newcomer in another Straight descendent program.  One boy was unable to get his penis in the kid�s mouth; another boy shot-off in the youth�s hair.  Why did Straight�s former national clinical director settle with a client in 2000 for $4.5 million for abuses she says she sustained?

Straight�s name is now so synonymous with child abuse that Straight Foundation changed its name in 1996 to its current name--the Drug Free America Foundation.  Today DFAF is at the forefront of American and international drug policy formulation. 

We are having a conference in Saint Petersburg Florida in June to find out why these kids were abused.  To seek reimbursement from the state of Florida for abetting Straight in its nefarious and illegal activities.  To get laws passed so that these programs can no longer abuse our children.  To reexamine Florida�s Marchman Act which allows parents to get their kids into treatment with the effect of a court order.  

If you want to know what Straight was like, 60 Minutes did a good analogy several years ago.  The program was doing a segment on animal rights.  A controversial TV commercial which had been yanked by the networks was shown.  In the film some attractive models were strutting down a runway wearing fur coats and mink stoles. Suddenly as they twisted and turned members of the audience started to become splattered with a red substance.  As the splatter increased  the audience realized that the red substance was blood.  Blood dripping from animals that had been poached in order for ladies to wear fine coats.  That�s Straight.  Money and death.

LINKS (some personal stories):

Mel Sembler buying the Italian Ambassadorship:

Collusion between Florida state officials and the Straights: