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Synanon Foundation Inc.

Delmar Club
The Delmar Club

Santa Monica, 1972 — No matter what happened in the life stream of my time in Santa Monica, I still can smell that light breeze bringing the fog in as the daylight fades over the beach. This is one of those places where the sheer beauty of the earth weighs in more heavily than the daily maelstrom of human endeavor.

Charles E. Dederich
Charles E. Dederich

We lived in a building called the Delmar Club. The Delmar Club sits at the base of Santa Monica Boulevard. It was once a private beach club boasting an all white clientele including Ronald Reagan. No Jews at the Delmar Club. Synanon gleefully smashed that claim to fame, filling the Delmar with hordes of black, Puerto Rican, Mexican, New Jersey street Italians and Brooklyn Jew dopefiends. Whores, thieves and murderers poured through the doors to the dismay of the Santa Monicans. But by the time Synanon bought the Delmar Club, the City of Santa Monica had already learned the conse­quences of picking a fight with Chuck Dederich.

The City of Santa Monica actually put Synanon on the national map when it arrested him for running a hos­pital without a license. It was a ludicrous charge. Synanon did not resemble a hospital in any way but the charge was all the dimwits at City Hall could drum up. They felt compelled to do something. After all, this was Santa Monica, bastion of conservatism. And suddenly they found this fat guy with half his face paralyzed (from a bout with meningitis) down on the beach actually invit­ing, in fact, importing bottom feeders from the East Coast to the beach in Santa Monica. Italian hoods. Ex-cons. Right on the beach. But they had no idea what kind of man they were taking on. Chuck Dederich was an ex-alcoholic, ex-AA guy, ex-Standard Oil executive who had more charisma in his one good eye than all those assholes put together.

The Santa Monica Outlook (a notch up from the Ukiah Daily Journal in all directions — more pages, more conservative, more underhanded, more money) was on the lookout for just this kind of menace. They started the ball rolling. Soon the community was in a state of uproar. These people lived in Santa Monica so they wouldn’t have to be around those people who were now moving in down below the palisades on the Beach, the prettiest part of Santa Monica, for Christ’s sake! They got some movie star yahoos like Brian Keith to join the fight to give it some credibility and they went after the guy we called “The Old Man.” Chuck must have been all of 50 years old. But the median age of the average heroin addict is about 20. Few live to be 30 years old. So to us he was the Old Man.

The jailing of Dederich made Time magazine. It gave Synanon instant good guy status, catapulting us to instant fame. The net result was a bulge on the balance sheet, a great inflow of money and dopefiends to the foundation. Dederich did his time instead of accepting a conditional release if he agreed to have nothing to do with Synanon. Every day he served resulted in more recognition, more money for Synanon. He was released on the steps of the Santa Monica jail surrounded by reporters and photogra­phers. He was a celebrity, the darling of the national press. The hero of this little story. The man who fought city hall. The man who took the dregs of society, the walking dead, and transformed them into hopeful, hard­working, bright-eyed, ambitious young men and women. He was all of that and more. Of course he had a dark side that eventually would bring him down. But you couldn’t see it in those days. He was on his way up.

The fact that he won this battle only made the Outlook and the City of Santa Monica hate him more. But they were unable to find any grounds for retaliation, until Chuck bought the Delmar Club with the money they had helped him generate. That was too much for them. Their indignation got the better of them. Here were all these nasty dopefiends down there lounging around on this private beach — which was actually rented from the City on a 99-year lease wangled many years ago by the original Delmar Club and passed on in the sale. That is as far as we knew it was. The language in the lease clearly said that it was transferable. It was in fact like giving a 99-year deed to the beach to the builders of the Delmar Club. But of course the City wanted them there. They would have done almost anything to make them happy. And they did. They gave them a lease to a piece of the most beautiful beach in America. Nobody had that. Nobody but the Delmar Club. And now Synanon had it. So on a Sunday morning they sent city workers in with bulldozers and razed it. Totally rude. They knocked down the beach cabanas, chairs, tables and anything else they could find, sweeping it all into a pile of debris to be loaded into city garbage trucks. We are talking thousands of dollars in personal property here.

We saw a great promotional opportunity coming our way. I was there that morning. The news went through the sleeping facility like lightening. We got up and dressed instantly. “The City is invading Synanon! Get out of bed. Onto the beach!” We piled out of the building and jumped in front of the bulldozers in an instant protest. The City had every available paddywagon stand­ing by in anticipation of this so they handcuffed every junky they could get a hold of and took them off to jail. We were astounded by their stupidity but elated with our good luck.

Once again Santa Monica took a beating in the national press. Chuck was a natural in self-promotion. The City of Santa Monica was run by a pack of senile Lions Clubbers.

The cabanas were back up by Monday. Synanon was all over the national news. Chuck was David fighting Goliath. The glory of it was that they made their swoop on Sunday. Not just time and a half but double time for the gaggle of city workers out there fighting to clean the beach of riffraff and debris. About 50 city workers and cops. All kinds of vehicles and equipment down at the beach for several hours at the taxpayer’s expense. You can imagine how that played on the evening news. Lawyers tied up our phone lines volunteering to defend our little beach for free. In fact, pay us to defend it. Donate some money. Get involved.

One thing about Chuck Dederich, he knew the impor­tance of cultivating lawyers. We had lawyers coming out our ears even in the old days before things started getting weird.

I realize there are those of you out there who are saying, “Who the hell is she talking about? Why should I care about the difficulties of some obscure drug program back in the sixties?” And that is just the point. It was a drug program. It was the first drug program.

At that time heroin addiction was considered untreat­able. You got caught doing it, you went to jail on what was called a 99. That meant you had an unending sen­tence. You went to Corona. After a while you got released. You were given surprise Nalene tests. If you didn’t pass you went back to Corona. Once you got into that system that is how you spent your life, short as your life might have been. The average time a junkie spent on the streets before the trip back to Corona was six months. It was an untreatable, incurable disease. The accepted precept was that if you stuck a needle in your arm that was it. You would never be able to stop because heroin was so strong and so addictive nobody could break that habit. In truth, cigarettes beat heroin all to hell in addict­iveness, but that’s another point.

So Chuck Dederich who was an alcoholic who screwed his life ’til he was 40ish was over there in Venice getting sick of all the religious shit in AA plus he thought they babied drunks by never confronting them with reality. He spent a month reading R.W. Emerson. Liked him a lot and decided to start his own AA based on Emerson rather than God. “When the doctrine of love whines and pules then the doctrine of rude truth must be preached and with vengeance.” (That is a paraphrase of Emerson but it is essentially the notion that caught Dederich’s attention. To him AA was bullshit. He pulled a splinter group of drunks from AA and started his own meetings. Somebody brought a junkie in, then another. It turned out the drunks did not do well with hearing the truth so they disappeared, but the dopefiends thrived. Soon there were no drunks at all. Synanon was born. The first donor was a guy named Izzy Cohen who made bagels. Synanon was fueled on bagels and coffee. The dopefiends, of course, had no place to live so they rented a store front in Venice and it was suddenly the first live-in drug program in the world run by ex-addicts. Nobody noticed for a while. It was actually illegal for a junkie on 99 in California to associate with another junkie, so dope fiends who were clean for the first time in their adult lives, because they were in Synanon, were jerked out and sent back to prison for parole violation. Some of them never came back. Some of them died.

Why would the State do that when the addict was clean, which obviously should have been the goal? Because Chuck refused to suck up to the State. Refused to allow them in the door to inspect the distance between the beds in the dorm. Because he put up a sign at the door saying that if you were from the State you weren’t welcome. Because he had some of his New Jersey dope­fiend boys pick these little bureaucrats up and gently deposit them out on the sidewalk when the came around in their official capacity. They hated him. They wanted him shut down. Chuck was quick to point out how much money was in the dopefiend business. If a dopefiend stopped shooting dope that cost the State money and jobs. Maybe it was in State’s best interest to not cure addicts, he pointed out. But he wanted to save lives. Synanon was in the business of saving lives.

So that’s why you should know who Chuck Dederich is. Because he saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people by designing the first treatment modality that actually worked for drug addiction. Because he fought the battles with the State to make it legally possibly for drug addicts to get help outside of the system that was systematically steam rolling them. Because he turned public opinion 180 degrees and made the ex-dopefiend into an innocent, young, bright-eyed hero fighting the corrupt, mean-spirited, government bureaucrats in polyester business suits.

So you wonder why you don’t know about this man if he did all that? You wonder why if you go to Delancy Street in San Francisco (biggest private program on the West Coast) you will not find his name in any of their literature? Why you won’t hear his name cross Mimi Silbert’s lips? When the founder of Delancy Street (her ex-husband), John Maher, cloned Delancy Street straight from Synanon?

When I walked in the doors of the big Synanon ware­house on the waterfront under North Beach in San Francisco in 1964, John Maher was Chuck Dederich’s shining young man. Five years later he left, taking all he learned from the Old Man and started Delancy Street. To this day it is almost a complete clone of Synanon, 1968. It works. It is the best. But no credit will ever be given to the source of their success. Oh yes, John Maher gets a little credit, but no mention is made of his being in Synanon.

The same holds true for Phoenix House in NYC started by Frank Natale, another Synanon golden boy. Phoenix House is the biggest private program on the East Coast. Another Synanon clone. Again you will not see any mention of Chuck Dederich or Synanon in their literature.

In fact, all these little rinky-dink programs run by the State are diluted versions of Synanon. I worked briefly several years ago for R House in Ukiah, and as watered down as it is, you can still see the structure of Synanon in it. They will deny that fervently, those few who even know what you’re talking about.

So why then does this man not get the credit he deserves? Why is this man who saved so many lives; whose ideas continue to save lives today, completely unacknowledged?

First because he refused to buy into the system. He could not be bought. He would not make even the smallest concession to the mega State/Federal social services system. He would not pay them lip service. He would not yes sir ’em. He in fact went out of his way to provoke them. He delighted in poking a stick into the snake’s lair and stirring them up. He had utter and com­plete contempt for them and he made sure they knew it. He confounded them. They offered money, lots of money, in an effort to gain control of him and Synanon. And he said no. We are talking millions of dollars here. He said no. Not interested.

They retaliated by pulling all parolees out of Synanon. He retaliated by putting 500-plus Synanon members on TV shaving their heads in protest of the State of California tearing two parolees out of the place where they were trying to turn their lives around and throwing them back in prison to rot. The State looked petty and malicious. Chuck won. They lost. They hated him. When he went nuts they stood up in their chairs and applauded. They sniggered behind their hands. They chortled in the urinals of social services. They gloated over white bread and tuna in the lunchroom. And they quickly turned the page. Chuck Dederich was the invisi­ble man. He never happened. He did nothing. They, themselves, must have figured out how to treat drug ad­diction. In fact, they had always known it. It was a given.

Yes he did go crazy. Without a doubt. He self-destructed. It started while I was still there. Exactly what day I could not say. Exactly which event was the precipi­tating event in the long slide over the cliff and into obliv­ion I can not say. I know that in 1964 when I arrived, Synanon was a glorious, exciting, vibrant place — full of hope and energy. Ideas raced all through the air. Excitement. New concepts. We stayed up all night talk­ing philosophy. We were going to change the world. The Old Man was on the floor then. He was talking to new comers like me. He was running ten-hour seminars that never got boring for a minute. He was running groups. Dropping in on anything that was happening. Turning a boring group into an exciting event by taking a chair in the circle. And there was always a chair left open for him. He was simply in the business of saving dope fiends then.

He is the only person I know who went off the deep end on philosophy instead of emotion. I mean he was thinking along real fine. Then all the sudden he took the wrong turn and from then on we were lost. We just didn’t know it for awhile. Oh, we knew something was going wrong. I even knew what it was, I thought, was wrong. It was when he said that Synanon was not just for dope­fiends. It was a social movement. It was the model for the 21st century. Everybody would have to live like us or all was lost, or the ills of society would continue to escalate unabated.

So it boiled down to this. I think he got bored with junkies. He thought he could do more. He said Synanon was not about rehabilitating dopefiends. It was a social movement. It made me uneasy. He invited non-dope­fiends into Synanon. After telling us we had to earn our way he gave them privileges the dopefiends had to fight to get. Resentments began to brew. Of course these people had money. He could hardly start them out washing dishes, but it put a crack in the foundation of Synanon. The dopefiends took note, as they always do, of hypocrisy.

He did not want people to leave Synanon. For awhile he took it as a personal betrayal when any of the old timers left, especially if they started a spin-off program, which many of them did: They had no other skills. They shot dope, then they came to Synanon. Synanon people were in great demand so they did the only thing they knew how to do. They set up programs. Phoenix House in NYC and Delancy Street in San Francisco, the most successful and long standing.

There was a book called The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. That book was big with the Old Man. It said that if you took people like the dopefiend and you could hook them into something and turn them around they make the best true believers. They will become the most devoted followers of a cult or a social movement. I think Chuck thought that was true for awhile. Then he found that it was 180 degrees off. Dopefiends don’t believe anything, really. Not deeply. They’ll give you a good rap on it but when all is said and done they will follow their own path. They are the outsiders. What you need for a true believer is someone who wants to fit in so bad they will do anything. The Old Man found that in the end, that was the straight residents.

I talked to people who lived in Synanon for five years and had never been to Zucky’s Jewish Deli up the street because they believed in the concept of “containment.” Containment meant this: The only way to make some­thing emerge in Synanon is not to go out and get it. Push for it to become a part of Synanon. In other words if you want a pastrami on dark rye don’t walk a few blocks to Zucky’s and buy one. If you do that we will never get our own deli in Synanon. That is containment. Now cer­tainly, I too believed in the truth of that concept. But like all the other ex-dopefiends, I still planned to go to Zucky’s because I knew that some people already had their pastrami on rye in Synanon. The people at the top. So containment was working for them. I was not willing to wait for the trickle down. But these new true-believer, non-addict types that were running around with fervent expressions on their pale faces; they were just sitting there like chumps waiting for containment to fulfill itself.

We became the bad guys. Eventually we were hounded and badgered until we left. We were called din­osaurs. We were extinct. We could not make the leap into the 21st century. The truth is that we were the back­bone of Synanon. We were what made it work. We truly loved the Old Man. But we knew he was nuts. We went along on the surface with his wild ideas but we never bought into the bullshit. Not the way the non-addicts did. None of us wanted to leave Synanon really. We felt it was our home. We felt that we had built it. We had planned to live our lives there. But he wouldn’t have it. He felt betrayed by us. He wanted only the few who proved complete devotion to him. He set up test after test. He pushed harder and harder. He ran people out the door. It became common to hear that so-and-so had been run out the door. These were people who had given 10- 15 years of their lives to Synanon. Run out the door. Worthless dinosaur freeloader that he was. Synanon turned upon itself, eating its tail. It continued tearing away at its own body until there was nothing left.

Oh there was something left. Money. There must have been millions of dollars. Where did that money go? I know that about ten years before Chuck died (February 1996, Badger, California) he made the papers for trying to launder money out of the country, because if the Foundation was defunct, then all that money belonged to the State of California. It would have been very hard for him to let go of that money.

This was after the real crazy stuff. In the mid-70s his wife died. I had heard several old timers say that Betty Dederich stopped him from crossing the line. His ideas tumbled from his great flat skull like boulders. They crashed into lives, changing those lives permanently. Sometimes for the good; sometimes not so good. But Betty was the balancing. Suddenly Betty was gone. She died of Cancer. I had left by then.

Chuck discontinued all the marriages in Synanon. He had everyone change partners. Some people left. Chuck decided that every male in Synanon should have a vasec­tomy; there were too many unwanted children in the world. Synanon would raise those children, not create more. Many people left. Chuck said no smoking. People left. Chuck said no fat people. Everyone goes on a diet. A weight goal is established for each person. Enforced exercise. Enforced diet. Many people left. Chuck says Synanon will no longer turn the other cheek. No more non-violence. You can expect retaliation (after Synanon members were beat up in Marin County). He trained an army. He started armed patrols of the properties. He armed these people. He demanded that teams get up at all hours of the night to do drills in the dark. People left. If they tried to take their children, he called it kidnapping and sent goon squads after them. They smashed a guy’s skull in Berkeley and put him in the hospital with meningitis.

Ex-Synanon people started having meetings. We were becoming alarmed. The Old Man was out of his fucking mind. He was after his enemies. Anybody who said anything negative about Synanon publicly was his enemy. He didn’t have to even order these zealots to hurt people. They wanted to hurt people just to please him. Then he went several steps too far. Stan Kenton’s son put a rattlesnake in the mailbox of a lawyer who was fighting to take a child out of Synanon (one parent out/one in). Dederich was charged with attempted murder. About the same time the Chronicle’s TV station in the San Francisco did an exposé on the Tomales Bay facility where the little army had taken shape.

I don’t know the timing on all this mess. It seemed to happen rather quickly. Time magazine did a story. Dederich threatened the lives of Time magazine execu­tives and their families. He claimed that he had so many devoted followers he could not control them. They might do harm to news people, news people who deserved harm to come to them. This from a tape of him talking over what was called The Wire (an internal news net­work broadcasting eerily 24 hours a day in every Synanon facility).

So he was now completely over the edge. Crashing towards insanity. Rumor had it that he and a small group of groupies were in Italy drunk. Synanon’s basic premise was: no drugs or alcohol. Chuck said, “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”

The only way they kept him out of jail on the rattle­snake deal was by declaring him incompetent and mak­ing his daughter, Jady, his guardian. By that time no one was going into Synanon. No one would send a junky to them. There were plenty of good programs out there, Synanon clones run by ex-Synanon people, but very competent programs. Dederich had completely discred­ited himself.

They sold all the properties in Marin, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Connecticut and New York. All that was left was the facility at Badger, California, his family, a few residents stayed around to serve table, I suppose, and all that money. And then he died a few years back. I saw it in the Chronicle. They gave him a small paragraph. I was surprised that they did that much considering that he sued them and sued them and sued them, costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees and settlements over the Marin story. They must have hated him like the plague.

Eventually the ex-Synanon people disappeared from the drug programs as well. Ex-addicts, they found, were often more trouble than they were worth. Deeply moral­istic people. Judgmental. Troublemakers. People who won’t go along to get along. Nobody needs that. So now the programs have social workers (professionals as they are called) running things. Just the way it ought to be. Don’t you think? ¥¥


  1. December 8, 2013

    There are similarities that can’t be ignored when you read about Scientology, Peoples Temple, Adi Da and Synanon.
    Probably not hard to find many more.
    Jim Armstrong

    • Margo Macartney February 9, 2021

      There are similarities. I think Dayla did a splendid job capturing the scope of Synanon. I was there during those early years. Morantz, who never was in Synanon, has postured himself into some kind of expert on Synanon. It saved a lot of lives, including my own, and taught us how to live. The snake in the mailbox was godawful, for sure. And it was a crime. And it was bad. But Morantz has parlayed his injury into a life-defining “expertise” about Synanon, a place he never lived or spent a day in. He should go make a life for himself without Synanon. But he seems unable to do that.

      Great job, Dayla. You’re a really good writer! Thank you!

  2. JEfromSM January 2, 2014

    Absolutely awesome article. Thank you for preserving Synanon’s “other” history – the real one, that SHOULD be remembered. It is appreciated. And who knows? It may even save a life or two…

    • Miriam Bourdette January 2, 2014

      More than one reality exists here. Problems did develop over time, in fact from the beginning. But the reality and history that have been ignored for many years is the one put forth by Dayla Hepting. Thank you, Dayla. It is too bad for so many who never got there in time that we could not rein-in the excesses and keep Synanon going. And for everyone’s information, at no time were we near the extreme of People’s Temple.

      • Dayla Hepting January 4, 2014

        Thank you Miriam. You were a powerful influence on me in Synanon.

    • Micki Courtney January 3, 2014

      You know you can walk down the road and get 15 different opinions on anything. It sounds like you were off a few roads. There are many stories out there from all of us. some of what was said in this short muse sounded accurate and other things were “assumed” I suspect by the author. The claims of interviewing only 15 people is irresponsible as there were thousands who came through those doors. I don’t know who you are as you did not identify yourself but hope you are clean and sober now. My life is significantly better because I was there. I was not a drug addict or alcoholic, just a square looking for something more than what my peer group in the real world was offering – smoking pot, taking pills, etc. I was a shy, immature girl and after 17 yrs of ups and downs and incredible experiences, some good some not so good – I emerged feeling good and stronger and wiser. Gee those experiences sound like what people go through just out of high school or college. My college was Synanon. But I got a life long family of hundreds. There isn’t a city I drive through that I don’t know someone member of my Synanon Family. We all know we are there for each other. So, maybe you should have stuck around and grown up like we did. It prepared us for the rest of our lives.

      • Dayla Hepting January 4, 2014

        I did not mean to sound like I didn’t love Synanon. I did love it and wanted to stay there all my life. However after 7 years I found there were some things I just couldn’t live with. Leaving Synanon was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It saved my life. But I stand by what I wrote. It is the truth as I see it.

  3. Benjamin Parks January 2, 2014

    I found your musing about early Synanon interesting because, even though I knew people from that era, I wasn’t there to witness those events. However, you could’ve easily obtained more accurate information about subsequent events so as to 1. Have them in proper order; 2. Learned about the brief period when Chuck’s communal concept seemed to gel and function well; and 3. Learned about the true circumstances of Synanon’s decline.

    The simple of it is that right after Betty received her terminal diagnosis Chuck relapsed. Few knew that and I do only because the old timer who fetched his first jug told me about it years later. Most of the insanity flowed from Synanon being led by a practicing alcoholic and none of us (those who knew) had the courage to do for him what he’d done for us.

    I was a founding member of The Network of Friends, the only (so far as I know) formal group of ex-members. Our first picnic was attended by some 600 ex members and our periodic meetings morphed into the various reunions held over the years. The Network, as much as any Synanon attorney, exerted influence sufficient to deter the prosecution’s initial intention to jail Chuck.

    In later post Synanon years, our online groups, initially on Yahoo and now on Facebook, have engaged in long debates and conversations that has resulted in a fairly accurate accounting of events from the early 70’s until the very end of The Foundation. I don’t know whether or not you interviewed any of us but, in my opinion, it would’ve enhanced your article to have done so.

    Benjamin Parks

    • Dayla Hepting January 4, 2014

      I believe the problems started before CED went back to drinking and the drinking was the final blow. I was Dayla Morris in those days. I went in in 1964 and split in 1971 or 72.

  4. Michael Title January 4, 2014

    The bond that Ben and Micki referred to is stronger then most blood families will ever have. It is for life without any if, but or conditions. We may not have talked in years and within seconds it is like we have never been apart. Every minute I was in Synanon I was comfortable. Synanon was a very special place.

    With the fondest of memories.
    Michael Title

  5. David Hesford January 21, 2014

    Thanks for the Article and keeping Synanon alive. Was there in 1968/68. Saved my life and haven’t relapsed into my old ways since leaving. The 60s is the best example of Synanons best and most positive program..

  6. rob kirschner February 17, 2014

    I was there from dec-1968 to july 1971. I worked in contracting with ron eschenhauer, my tribe leaders were tom patton, ted dibble, john mayer, in oakland ester phillips. I grew up in synanon. Came in a dopefiend,and learned from some really incredible people about the real culture to be had in life. I was in the unicept posse, I was a flute player and played with art pepper at the hup-las, I also sculpted with ted luchancick. Im 68 years old now, havent drank in 8 years, shot-dope in 20. I could go on for pages, but that would just be too egotistical, love ya all, rob

  7. nick gavriil November 9, 2015

    Wonderful article.
    I am an offspring of such a rehab program in far of Greece and will agree not enough if at all any recognition is given to dederich and Synanon!
    I’ve been clean since 94 and owe it to him and all of you people who made it work!
    thanks a lot and hope that some of you would like to get in touch! I tried to get access to the Synanon site but could not….i have read all the books available on Synanon and still cant get enough…

  8. paul morantz April 24, 2016

    This guy should go to work for Trump–weaves small truths into large lies.

    CED was guilty of operating a hospital w/o license. Defined as offering treatment to live-ins. Evidene was overwhelming and upheld on appeal. To give Synanon chance, law was modified just for Synanon and to be permitted by Medical Board. But CED refused to cooperate. He was also out of zone.

    Description of Del Mar not accurate but 1967 action by SM was ludicrous. Just as ludicrous Dederich stopped notion anyoe should leave /synano and by 1974 he and Garrett, started stock piling weapons and introduced violence. Synanon attacked over 80 people and attempted 3 murders.

    Incompetency hearing for being drunk had nothing to do with his getting probation; his physical condition did. At deposition he testified he approved all beatings they did, and confirmed his methods of controlling his followers.

    Synanon loss its tax case for intentionally destroying its records of gleefully gang beating people so badly they ended in hospital.

    If you want to learn truth about Synanon, from child abuse, changing partners to attempted murder read my book on Amazon From Miracle to Madness; The True Story of Charles Dederich and Synanon. Written primarily from Synanon documents.

    Synanon never-before seen records now can be privately reviewed by contacting

  9. David Hesford April 24, 2016

    All I know about Synanon is the two years I spent in San Francisco and Oakland, and that is “It saved my life” Hope others had a great experience.

  10. paul morantz June 2, 2016

    David–one’s experience there is defined by when and where they were there. Your article on days you were there was interesting your assumptions as to what happen later and why are inaccurate.

  11. Don August 14, 2016

    Is there a feature length documentary about Synanon? I have seen mention of one online but cannot find verification of it or the actual video. Any thoughts?


      • Don August 14, 2016

        Thanks Louis but that isn’t a documentary. I think that’s the scripted movie with Chuck Connors etc.

        • LouisBedrock August 15, 2016

          I too am quite sure that there is a documentary.
          However, I can’t find any record of it.

        • nick gavriil August 16, 2016

          No documentary exists….there is only the movie!

          • LouisBedrock August 16, 2016


            You may be right.
            This wouldn’t be the first time I was deceived by false memories.

            • nick gavriil August 26, 2016

              you can also check this out….
              and this….

  12. Jim Gibbons August 14, 2016

    I was never a dope addict, though I did go thru my experimental drug phase, which made me like heroin too much, so I decided to put it off until I’m on my death bed.
    Interesting article, and it made me remember that I ran a 10k that Synanon put on out on their Tomales Bay property sometime back in the late 70s or early eighties. Although I’ve kept track of all my races (I recently ran my 525th), I don’t have that one on my list.
    Does anybody remember it and when it was?
    Since I won it they showed me around the facility, even the sleeping quarters. We walked thru rooms where people were still sleeping, many in sleeping bags on the floor.
    Wasn’t very inspiring.

    • nick gavriil August 16, 2016

      My man Jim don’t knock it….a safe surrounding,a good meal and a sleeping bag on a floor has saved many a lives!

  13. Jacques James February 21, 2018

    As a child who grew up in synanon from 5 in 1977 to 14 in 1986 my memories about synanon are not pleasant at all. I still have nightmare’s from the abuse i suffered their and find it very hard to believe most or all of the adults their were complicit in the abuse. We were children, being abused daily by multiple people, and i have several memories of running for help, and the adults i ran to helping the abuser. Escaping was impossible as a child. Had i not joined the marine corp and developed an actual moral compass, im sure i would have been probably one of the worst mass murderers or maybe even a serial killer. To this day i avoid all discussion on cults religion and especially synanon. I dont care that some of you loved it. What they did was criminal and the vast majority of the adults who were their should still be locked up under the prison

    • Nick Gavriil September 2, 2020

      Jacques a really believe you are exaggerating! ….Thank the lord though that you found your moral compass in the marines… killing innocent people all around the world for the rights of the rich in the usa. god bless america

  14. Don Anderson February 21, 2018

    Hi Jacques,

    I’m so sorry you had to experience that. I’m doing a documentary about kids who grew up in Synanon. I would love to talk to you. I sent you a friend request on FB. Or if you want, you can contact me at

    Thanks for sharing.

  15. Andy Golombek September 2, 2020

    Good story but there is one major discrepancy, The Delmar club’s address was 1910 Ocean Avenue and Synanon sat on the base of Pico Blvd, Not Santa Monica Blvd. I was a Lifestyler there between the tail end of ’73 to the end of summer in ’75.

  16. gary morris September 2, 2020

    I was dropped off in Santa Monica by my mother on March 12 1968. I was 16. I left on February 22 1973. I have read many stories about life in Synanon over the years. The one thing that stands out is that no one person can tell something about Synanon that is even close to the experience of someone else. Living there was unique. Those five years have defined my life since. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

  17. Dori Sullivan September 3, 2020

    Wow…so many memories. My sister Dyane ended up with Lance when Chuck decided to play match maker. I was at the “Ranch” in the Boot Camp. Traumatic to say the least. Worked my butt off. Needless to say, I split & ended up in Delancey Street. 1972 ish. We could smoke there, they even supplied 1 carton of cigarettes per week. Maher was all right.

  18. Pat Kittle September 6, 2020

    There’s even a self-help group for people who talk too much.


  19. Norman Myers September 9, 2020

    I was 12 years old at the time and my mother sent me to Synanon as a juvenile from 74′-77′ and she paid $100 a month for me to be out of her hair . I left just as just as things were getting out of hand. I remember being punched in the stomach in basic training and another kid be punched multiple times because he peed his bed at the age of 13. I learned Karate and learned how to shoot firearms at a young age, enrolled in the synanon school in Badger, a breakfast and lunch cook at Walker Creek, drove Heavy equipment and hot mop roofing. I learned a work ethic to this day. lost 1 year of schooling when I left Synanon and took me 4 years to graduate at the age of 22. The synanon game is what made it a success until it got stuck on stupid. It was an experience I will never forget. I met many people from all walks of life and I still remember their names. Some were proud of the experience and some were embarrassed. Eventually we all have to take care of ourselves. You do what you have to, so you can do what you want to when you get in your retirement years. I made something of myself and I am better for it. Life is about more options as you get older. There is a finish line. Make the most of it!

  20. Larry Thomas September 17, 2020

    I resided in Synanon from ’73-’78. Helped run the boot camp under Ted Dibble; worked as a gopher for Betty and Chuck D; and married Louise King. Stayed married to her for 9 years. Now I’ve been remarried for almost 35 years. Remember you, as an individual, male/female, Always have a choice :)

  21. Jay Hechtman February 10, 2021

    The date is etched in my brain after 52 years. 1/22/69 was the day I entered. Flew the first time in my life from NYC to Detroit. Was kept a “prisoner” in Detroit for almost 6 months by Gerry Brod, because, I guess, I was useful to him, as I was literate and could also cook.
    I was rescued by Bill D. when he came to visit,and we had a pleasant conversation. I remember him telling me I would be in Santa Monica shortly, and would be working in Industries.
    I stayed for a bit more than a year, and remember Chuck’s speech about no more graduates. That sealed the door for me, and left shortly thereafter, to NYC. I could really feel the insanity in the air.
    Could go on forever, but won’t. Still in touch with two others who were there at the same time

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