Born in Synanon

Here is the trailer to Cassidy Arkin’s docuseries to be aired on Paramount Plus on December 12th.

My reaction? Gut punch. I try to remember all the good Synanon did, and what a remarkable place it was in the late 60s and early 70s. And then this reminder comes out.

8 responses to “Born in Synanon”

  1. Is Paramount + the only place that we can see this ????

    1. Matthew – I believe so. I think you can sign up for Paramount Plus for $5.00 for a month, then cancel it. $10 will give it to you without commercials.

    2. I actually agree with you 100 percent, David. Mine was a slow process to becoming a true believer. I doubt you ever were. We traveled in different circles – you immediately lived around Chuck so were privy to much more than I was as a young, naive Game Player in Oakland. But as I wrote my memoir, I noticed many, many inflection points where I should have said, what the hell? Times when I should have run. Even Guy Endore in his book “Synanon” refers to Chuck’s drive for power and demand for unrelenting commitment. It was always, love it 110% or leave. As the Wire became endless propaganda, we were fed what the directors wanted us to be fed. Propaganda at it’s best. I believe that Cassidy created this project as a way of discovering where she came from. She expected to find a loving family. She had the same gut-punch I did.

  2. if the trailer typifies “Born in Synanon,” what’s coming our way from Paramount is another titillation special that will offer little insight into what Synanon was nor how it developed. It will be another round of sensationalistic entertainment trash — a story of a wonderful, idealistic community that somehow, abruptly and tragically went bad. The trailer sure looks like that. Maybe the trailer is misleading and for once we will get a well told and insightful narrative. Not likely. Trash sells. When was the last time Parmount released something that wasn’t?

    Yep, maybe Synanon did some good. Maybe it helped into recovery some people who would have not otherwise made it. Or maybe it just used them as building blocks in Charles Dederich’s megalomaniacal enterprise when other paths to recovery would have cost them far less loss of freedom, of personal development, and of earning power. We’ll never know for sure.

    As for the so-called “remarkable place” it was in the late ’60’s and ‘early 70’s, with all due respect, Ms. Dart: Yeah, there were some fun parties and moving trips and it was often pleasurable to “live in community” and there was even a fair amount of creative work being done in Synanon. And, yes, some enduring friendships were formed.
    But Synanon was already profoundly corrupt and vicious during the time you celebrate. Among the central corruptions:
    * Bringing people in with the pretense that they were entering a recovery program that would help them get back on track in life, then attempting instead to turn them into obedient acolytes for life, and turning on them if they dared leave to pursue different dreams – with so-called dear friends refusing to talk with them and speaking of them with utter contempt. That process was solidly in place with graduation ending in the mid-60’s.
    * Verbally brutalizing people in the so-called “Games,” driving them to denounce themselves and corrode their self-respect via “engrossed” and repetitive “rotten story telling.”
    * Ripping off the public by evading taxes under a tax exemption for a recovery community and collecting huge contributions from business by claiming to be a recovery community when less and less of its energy went to helping people with addiction problems and more and more to supporting Dederich’s grandiose ambitions and a cushy lifestyle for people who could easily have supported themselves.
    * Savaging people who dared question or criticize Synanon and Dederich even mildly.
    * And that is just the beginning.

    A few weeks ago David Mitchell, the owner and editor of the Point Reyes Light who won the Pulitzer Prize for is take down of Synanon, passed away. He should be honored at this website. When Synanon was still persuading people that it was some sort of idealistic recovery community — and that, even while it was beating “enemies” (80 of them by last count was it?) and near murdering a couple of them — Mitchell had the fortitude to unmask it at risk of serious bodily harm to himself — at risk, in fact, of getting killed. Synanon may not have been remarkable in the positive sense of the word. David Mitchell was. He was a friend. I miss him.

  3. This is all very sad. My name is Ronald and I am one of the founders of Synanon Berlin in 1971. Our contact to Syn. Inc. ended with an invitation from Ingo and Irene to Formia in Italy. There they met a group of synanists, with Chuck at the top, who invited them to drink alcohol with them, which of course they rejected. Then they were unloaded again. That’s it. The people who were with Chuck were not addicts. They had no idea what was going on or they had no balls to tell him to leave the nonsense. I guess no game was played there either.

    1. I am so happy that you in Germany took the rehabilitation aspects of Synanon and left behind the devotion to the founder. I hope you will read my memoir when I publish it in the spring.

  4. Janet. I appreciate the honesty in your reply above. I will be looking forward to your memoir and will be especially curious to see how you narrate your “step-by-step” process to becoming a true believer even though warning bells were going off in your head.
    As for me, I was questioning and challenging and resisting conversion after a few weeks in Synanon . . . and yet at the same time allowing myself to be compromised and compromising and being dragged deeper in. I thank god that after about 20 months I said “fuck you, no more,” declined a job in the kitchen in Oakland and went out to work to pursue my dream of becoming a carpenter.
    But my understanding of the depth of Synanon’s corruption, of just how early it began, and of the truth about my own participation — namely that I had contributed to the development of a fascist operation — that was a long time coming. For a long while I was, at the very best, loyal opposition.
    Since Cory dragged/charmed me back into the conversation about Synanon with this wonderful website, I have been thinking a lot about its central paradox — namely that it was simultaneously such a powerful and beguiling and even productive intentional community and such a viscious organization.
    When will be be able to read your memoir?
    Btw, I have very positive memories of you from Synanon. I hope life is good for you now.
    david gerstel

    1. Thank you, David, for looking beyond what it became. I love your sentiment: “and yet at the same time allowing myself to be compromised and compromising and being dragged deeper in.” I am about to start asking for positive blurbs about my manuscript, and you were top of my list until you scared me away with the last post. I know I’m supposed to get blurbs from famous people, but you’re famous in this circle, at least. And you’re a published author. Are you game?

      And yes, I’ve had a good life, married a good man (non-Synanon), and have two wonderful sons and one grandson.

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