There are two categories of people who chose to come to Synanon: Dope-fiends and Squares. And, many of those chose to bring their children along (including Synanon’s founder), and oddly enough many chose to birth them into Synanon. It could be the addition of children was how Synanon morphed from a “rehab” into a “lifestyle” or as we are currently branded “a cult”. Those children are all grown up now and they are filled with varying degrees of rancor, PTSD, affection, and confusion and they are telling their stories. Here are some who have graciously shared their stories with this site.
Currently in production is a film “The Synanon Kids” by Don Anderson. The Instagram account for this compelling documentary is found on instagram @synanonkids.
There is a bible on the table (who knows how it got there, that sort of religion being neither taught nor encouraged ) never the less we had each taken turns putting our hand on it and swearing that we had not ripped the chair.
Some of the memories are quite funny, and many are painful. This is a place that is for the benefit of those of us who grew up there during various phases of our lives.
Vicki Van Dalsem – Kaufman-Stephenson
Photography – my Passion and my escape! (Request log-in to see all of Vicki’s photos)
I came to Synanon in 1968 as a freckled-faced, pig tail-wearing pre-teen – then called “Notions”. (we were just “Notions” and didn’t qualify as being fully developed people yet! My parents were game players so thought to bring my brother and me down on the weekends. What was cool back then is the constant sounds of congas on the beach – as many of the residents there were from Puerto Rico or New York. Live music on Saturday nights with every kind of person in attendance and was the first time I saw every color of person altogether!
Moved in in 1970, I made lifelong friendships that have lasted over half a century. Also met this guy named Bill Crawford who gave me my first real lessons in photography and my first camera. It was through the lens I could capture the agony of despair, the “act as if” hard at work – the babies from the corner of the room learning to become toddlers and walk and talk and fight…was really fascinating!
My journey took me through school (even though I tried to make a run for it twice – teenagers really do not want to follow rules and always think they know better!) through working as an “aid” in our communal school, and finally through intense training to what has become my career for the past 44 years. BUT, I always loved the view from the lens of a camera. Luckily I fell in love with Bruce Levine and together we photographed dissipations, trips, and all of the photos that eventually became the salespeople’s “pitch” book. He taught me so much!
Later in my Syna life – I had the luxury of working in a dark room at the end of the airstrip where I listened to the soulful sounds of Al Green, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, the Ohio Players, etc. It was my beautiful escape from the constant yammer of the Wire – which mostly consisted of invitations to the feared Monday Night Games, or someone complaining that their ice was melting and their meat was freezing in the refrigerator… not realizing that the food was placed in the opposite bin sides – thus ice actually would melt in the refrigerated side and the meat would freeze if put in the opposite side. Music was a much better and more pleasant sound for me.
Photography is still my escape and passion. Thank you, Bill Crawford and Bruce Levine, for helping me realize what awesome art can be made as long as you look through the lens!