This is Not What I Signed Up For

A Nostalgic Contemplation by Cory

In interviewing the people of Synanon I’ve heard this expression several times.  I haven’t found the sources of this American English idiom.  It sounds like it might come from the military or maybe the Merchant Marines.

So, what did they, we, sign up for?  It is easier to understand a drug addict wanting to get clean or wanting to avoid a prison or jail sentence. 

Joe B.: “On my way to the methadone clinic when I saw the huge iconic billboard: Go to Synanon or go to Hell. Given my state of addiction, it sounded like a pretty good idea. I went to the Detroit house and Jerry Rost interviewed me. He asked. ‘why should we take you in and some other tough questions. What do you have for us? Donate any money? If I had money I wouldn’t be here, I said but had a house full of nice furniture. He had a truck back up to my house and loaded all the furniture. Good tradeoff”  

Joe B. got what he came for and at some point moved on to what I believe is a nice life, free of addiction.

Then at some point, nearly everyone who came into Synanon concluded that this, whatever Synanon was at this point, was not what they signed up for.

Some people had other reasons for leaving.  Some were running away, and some were running to.  Some people just wanted to get high, some people were humiliated and outraged by a punishment.  Billy Farry left, with Chuck’s blessing because he wanted to help his aging parents.  There was a point when a person could just leave Synanon without becoming a pariah. It seemed to be determined on an individual basis.    

Out on a sales trip, feeling lonely and noting that he was out making money to pay for the lawyer’s defending Synanon against misdeeds instigated by our unstable founder.  Richard S. called back to a friend back in Synanon in California “Dude, I’m done. This is not what I signed up for”  That was in 1981 and by September of that year Richard with $1000.00 given to him by Chuck, Richard was out of Synanon. “Chuck always liked me, that was a plus.”

The timing for those who felt that Synanon had changed into something they no longer wanted to be part of was different for each person.  In some cases, like myself, I never left Synanon, Synanon left me.  I was not pleased with the direction of Synanon in those last years. In fact, I spent several years being outright miserable.   I thought that there was something to be salvaged once Chuck could be gotten out of the way but there was nothing left when he was done destroying what he had built. 

In an interview with Warren Katz, we began the conversation talking about Synanon’s sad demise.  

Warren:  “I just remember sitting in those Game Lab Games, thinking this is not what I signed up for.”

Me: What would you have done?

Warren: “I went through a scenario in my head a million times…I thought I could have been a catalyst, maybe that was just bullshit, but I thought maybe if only I had started to speak up…That’s my regret.”

That was in 1989, almost ten years after Richard. 

6 responses to “This is Not What I Signed Up For”

  1. Good read as always Cory..

  2. Thought provoking, thanks

  3. Lovely Cory. Put me down as leaving because I was bored.

  4. Three days after I moved into the Seawall, in 1968, I felt like I was “signing up” for the life I’d been looking for for years. It was a clean, productive, idealistic, exciting life. I never thought about drugs again, and I really did think I’d live out my life in this place that had a vision of making the world better. I left in 1982, with the same feeling that you expressed, Cory….that Synanon had left me. I think I’ve been mourning that loss ever since.

  5. Excellent read.
    I also loved Synanon from the first day I got there.
    I was given many great opportunities and experiences. I also learned construction, that gave me a successful life after Synanon.
    Rick Seivers and I were made to patrol the Strip with rifles, that was a turning point for me.
    I brought it up in a game saying: I thought Chuck was loosing it. Ginny told Chuck: Steve is too close to you, he needs to go.
    The next day I was shipped to Santa Monica and out to work. At CRLawrence.
    I was still okay, then Bill and Sylvia Crawford, we’re searched and had to leave.
    Bill was one of my friends and hero’s.
    I gathered my important papers and mailed them to my mom.
    Then went and talked to the director telling him I was leaving. Frank Rehack. He wished me well.
    Dave Fagel put me up for a short while, until I got my feet on the ground.
    Milt Thaylor, loaned me money to buy a truck, and gave me lots of construction work.
    So I still had Synanon people in my life helping me.
    I still hang out with many Synanon friends.
    Today I still love Synanon more than anything else in the world. It made me a good person and I have a good life.
    I still admire Chuck and thank him for Synanon.

    Steve De Rosa

    1. Steve,

      Thank you for reading this post and sharing your thoughts.

      It’s great to hear from you and learn about the life you’ve led since leaving Synanon. I commend your insight into “Chuck losing it.” I wish more people had come to the realization that he was on the brink of destroying the beautiful thing he had built. In my hypothetical book, which I’ll probably never write, the tagline would be “Synanon is Dead, Long Live the Community.”

      The other day, I had a conversation with another former resident about the unique individuals and the profound life lessons, both positive and negative, that we experienced in the community. Of course, there are the sad stories of those who ended up going down the proverbial “manhole.” However, for those of us who came and left enriched and enlightened, well, hooray for us.

      If you have any stories you’d like to share on the website I am in the process of gathering for posterity as many of them as I can. My goal is to provide a well rounded archive of our unique experiences.
      All my best,
      Cory (Beach Levy Becker)

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