The Institute of Social Experiments #5

by Bob Navarro

This is the first of what we hope to be many entries by poet, scholar, and writer, attorney Robert Navarro. This piece stands on its own. Some definitions and historical context follow in “The Wall is your friend …” which this piece inspired.

This is the captain speaking. Some misguided sailors on this ship still think they can pull a fast one on me. Well they’re very much mistaken. Since you’ve taken this course, the innocent will be punished with the guilty. There will be no liberty for any member of the crew for three months. I will not be made a fool of! Do you hear me?

Captain Queg, The Caine Munity

I am listening or reluctantly waiting to listen to the “Wall.”

At the moment, Institute technicians are attending to the Wall’s crackling connections, unintelligible background voices, until I hear Am I in there? Am I in there yet?

I was commanded to listen. We all were. Even from bed. From all quarters hastily dressed we walked under the lunatic sky to the Shed, rows of chairs waiting, coffee brewing. I sit as far to the rear as I can from the ersatz stage, most are doing the same. Quiet fussing-about before the long sit as in church on a dour Sunday in old Free Presbyterian Scotland, but with the fiery lecture oscillating instead from afar through a wire looped to a speaker box hanging on the Wall.

Our venerable nomenklatura are making heartbreakingly useless announcements, but really nothing is clear, all is time filler, throat clearing, the overstatement and unconvincing business of embarrassment. Then the Wire pops and the Wall speaks. Enough instant muscle contraction to break all the Steelcase chairs. The Wall speaks. I’m told I’m in there.  I am going to explain an event, an act of terrible consequences, that happened here this evening in my own office.  My office.  My office.

No one enters my office but my small staff and they know how I do things, how I keep everything here, including everything on my desk, as I’ve done for years. Tonight I came in and sat at my desk, as I do all the time, all the time. And I reached for my glasses, and they were not in the place where they always are, where I keep my glasses. You all need to understand what I just said – they were not in the place where I keep my glasses, all the time. My glasses were on the opposite side of the desk from where they always are. That they were on the opposite side, where they are never kept, means someone came into my office, sat in my chair, and and and moved my glasses from one side to the other. Do you – do you know what that means? I, not my office, not my desk, not my glasses, but I, I have been violated. Do you know what it feels like to be violated? I have been violated, and and raped, what happened here was nothing less than rape. Until now I have never been raped, but I know that some of you have been raped, literally raped, sexually violated, your deepest privacy penetrated, and and I want you – I want to hear your stories – and everyone to hear your stories – of that violation so that everyone understands the enormity of what happened here, to me, tonight. And speak up goddamn it.

And so it begins with confusion, fear, reticence. The nomenklatura, all men, of course, seek speakers to end the rupture of silence. I am silent and think silence the only answer to this oral voyeurism, this psychotropic fever dream. There is murmuring in the assembly, but no one is moving. The air’s static charge broken only when the first woman takes the stage, but is saying she’s not been raped, yet has some idea, maybe, why the Wall is outraged. Then tell me what it would be like, what it would be to be raped, the Wall demands, explain to me how it would feel, and speak up. The struggle appears on the face of the woman speaking to comprehend how to put imagination to such service, and as I and others

wonder what or who exactly is being served, the speaker is joined by another woman coming to her aid by saying she does not need to imagine humiliation, she lived it and she unspools her story of violence, victimization by power, and the long hours proceed braiding more volatile testimony, real and imagined, all scored with emotion, and more exhortation from the Wall, into a symposium cum symphony on violence against the person, against the sense of self, and – I believe – by the Wall. All of us, all of me for sure, wanting only to get out.

But – Solzhenitsyn, describing the protocol of Soviet party meetings, quoted a nomenklatura: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”

Finally, exhausted, leaving the Shed for still rumpled beds, with the sun already above the treeline, the hapless nomenklatura are having trouble starting their aging Continental, and as we pass them we Speak Up Goddamn It and yell, just yell, anything at all.

Bob’s Bio

I came to Synanon for an interview the first time just before Christmas 1971 with Peggy Yost, my wife and mother of our sons Darrin and Michael. To make a long story short, Peggy was accepted and I was told I was just a hippie and did not qualify. Undeterred, I joined the Santa Monica Game Club one month later and kept at it until Labor Day 1972 when I moved in as a work out. The boys came in under the Kidsnatchers Program a few years later. I became an employee and turned down a very kind offer by Carl Frazzano to learn the boiler room trade, which would have been a significant step up for me. A few years later though, the beautiful Gloria Geller, with whom I was then love matched, opened the door for me to the Synanon Law Office, and I never worked anywhere else in Synanon thereafter. It was the summer of 1978 and I was a newbie investigator under the tutelage of Chris Haberman, Chris Reynolds, and many others.

Within a few months, the shit hit the proverbial fan, and for years the law office was hotter than the Frazz’s boiler going full blast. I accepted the invitation to enter the CED School of Law and became a lawyer on the second attempt at the bar exam. Post Synanon, I’ve kept at the trade, and with my best friend, Tom Quinn, and his wife Catherine Campbell, and my present love partner, Carolyn, we took it to the California prison system and got them to stop shooting prisoners.

2 replies »

  1. Well Bob, that is the first decently articulated account of ‘rape weekend’ I have encountered. Blissfully, I was not there for it. It’s now April 9, 2022 and I am happily ensconced in the mountains of southern Mexico. My sole recollection of that god-awful occasion was when, after the felonious movement of CED’s glasses upon his desk, Phil Bourdette and Larry Akey made an ’emergency’ run over to the Strip property (as emissaries of Chuck) from the Home Place to gather everyone together. The Strip facility ‘red alert’ alarm sounded and we all came rushing to the shed. I can’t recall whether it was Phil or Larry who then announced in a shouting voice to the assembled rabble-in-good-standing, “Speak up or beat it!” That’s all, nothing more. That was another incident where then-management had lost its mind with its head up its own sycophancy. You see, at the time of the great glasses ‘rape’ I had been on a trans-Sierra backpacking trip with my then-wife Colleen and our pals, the late Alan Alberts and his wife Phyllis Shacter. We were completely out of touch, given there were no cell phones. We had had a great time humping it over the eastern Sierra crest, up over Forrester Pass at 13,000 feet, then across the Kern plateau and back over the western crest down to Road’s End in Kings Canyon National Park where our Synanon jitney pick-up was anticipated. It was both Joel Wicks and Marion (Marn) Reich who picked us up at Road’s End. Alan, Phyllis, Colleen and I were joking as we waited for our pick up that we wondered if anything crazy had happened at home (the Strip or Home Place) while we were having a fabulous 10 days hiking the mountains, forests, streams and experiencing nature’s grandeur. When Joel and Marion arrived, still in a subdued state of shock from the community gathering for ‘rape weekend’, we immediately upon hearing of the incident experienced our own subdued, “Oh shit” moment. It certainly made no sense from hearing Joel’s and Marion’s account. We subsequently were told, don’t know if it is true, that CED was also going a bit nuts that no one could get hold of us for his ‘all hands on deck’ gathering in the Strip shed. “What do you mean you can’t reach them?” That was absolutely one shit-hole occasion I am so pleased we missed, notwithstanding the “Speak up or beat it” command attendance that took place when we finally did get back to the Strip. What year was that, 1989? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…in short, it was a period very much like the present”. . . opening line of, A Tale of Two Cities. — Charles Dickens

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