Sharing my Synanon Story by Judi Erlich
I first joined Synanon as a Notion (teenaged Game Player) in Santa Monica in 1969. I moved in, in June 1974 after I graduated from high school. I lived in Synanon from 1974 to May 1985Judi Erlich
Hard to believe now, so many years later, that I shaved my head for 11 years of my life. That’s a lot of years, no matter how you slice it. And I hated every minute of all 11 of those years – well, hated my lack of hair during that time, anyway.
I’d just moved into Synanon about 8 months earlier – at the age of 17. At that point in time, I was Synanon’s youngest “lifestyler” – I lived in, but I had a job out, at a law firm in downtown San Francisco. I came from Beverly Hills,
but I moved into the Oakland facility because I wanted to work in Synanon’s Legal Department – which I ultimately did – and because my boyfriend at the time lived in Oakland
As a teenager, I had distinctive hair – it went to my waist and was long and dark brown and gorgeous. I was insecure and did not believe any other part of me was beautiful (in retrospect, I was probably wrong), but I was pretty certain about my hair being excellent. The night of the mass head-shaving, I was in Oakland. Two senior members coaxed me into the chair and gleefully shaved off my hair. I remember my bald head stuck to my pillow that night in my Oakland dorm, and I woke up the next morning cold and horrified.
Did I mention I hated it? Oh, see now, that’s a major understatement. I didn’t think it was great for a second. When all the women loaded up into jitneys and went down to UC Berkeley to show off their shaved heads and newfound liberation, I declined and stayed in my room. I remember Chuck saying something like, “When you grow long hair on a dog, you get a long-haired dog.” True, but what about the opposite? I hadn’t been a dog but I became one, I felt, and when we went to wearing overalls all the time, things went from bad to worse for me. I looked like a large-breasted box with a crewcut.
I wish I had some silver-lining story for you, but I don’t. After I left Synanon, the first wonderful feeling I had was my growing-out hair rustling in the breeze. At 63, I still have good hair, but there’s nothing quite like 17-year-old girl hair. Even now, I don’t have a “big picture” for keeping our heads shorn. I think part of Synanon’s ultimate demise was that we distanced ourselves too far from “normal” society, and shorn heads were part of that separation. You could see us coming for miles. We stood out in any crowd. We reminded folks (maybe subconsciously, maybe not) of the Manson women. We became strangers in a strange land. I did it solely because I had chosen to live in Synanon, and I wasn’t going to leave, but that’s really the only reason.