This website is for people who lived in Synanon to share their experience of Synanon as drug rehabilitation center, therapeutic community, social experiment, cult — it depends on your point of view
Photo by Jim Law
“It seems as though interest in Synanon on the public stage ebbs and flows. Right now it seems to be flowing pretty heavily. A new book comes out, and all of the tried-and-true attention grabbers get hauled out with video clips, dramatic music, and voice-overs by a guy with a three-pack-a day habit telling us about The Cult. And the snake. And the shaved heads. And the violence. And … and … and. Wherever you come down on Synanon, that sort of advertising is intended to be emotionally manipulative. The ads play to our morbid curiosity, and we, as a society of rubberneckers, cannot help but look at it. However, having lived there, I often feel as though someone is trying to wrest the shower curtain away from me while I am taking a shower. It seems to tell the viewer that Synanon was not inhabited by people, but was populated by Cultists, and therefore the human beings therein either deserve our sympathy or our contempt.
But that is my life they are clumping into these preformed molds. I don’t believe that I am special or even unique. I don’t believe that anyone who is not in my immediate circle should give a shit about my story. But then another book is written or documentary looms on the horizon, and I feel as though I am at the mercy of these events and that the story in them does not reflect my life. And I feel small and unseen and lonely. ” —Zoe Bagger, Synanon kid 1974–1989
I think that the truth or the specialness of life moves around, and I think that for a while it settled on Synanon. Synanon was a particularly cogent and vital and important convulsion. It was an important thing to have happened. Then like life does, it moves on to something else.Hugh Kenny, Synanon 1965–1979
One of the things Synanon was
“Alcoholics Anonymous veteran Chuck E. Dederich established Synanon as an innovative drug rehabilitation center near the Santa Monica beach in 1958. Synanon evolved quickly, however, into an experimental commune and ‘religion,’ which attracted thousands of non-addict members and was strongly committed to social justice and progressive education. This constantly experimenting group gave tremendous power, however, to its charismatic founder and to a small group of Chuck Dederich’s hand-picked, top-level associates. This caused Synanon to be engaged in a number of highly publicized violent actions and radical lifestyle innovations from 1976–1978. The latter events obscured the community’s significant successes in other areas, for example, drug rehabilitation, social integration (across class, gender, age, race, and professional lines), and the provision of millions of dollars in goods and services to disadvantaged people through its redistribution program. The Synanon legacy continues most notably in the ‘therapeutic communities’ approach to drug rehabilitation.”
—Rod Janzen from The Rise and Fall of Synanon