The State of the Art: The Malcolms’ Examination of Straight, Incorporated, Part 1

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series from Marcus Chatfield, a regular contributor to Points. Here he continues his examination of Straight, Inc., the controversial adolescent drug treatment program that existed from 1976 to 1993. 

In 2011, I obtained a 31-page report, entitled, An Examination of Straight Incorporated (1981, unpublished), from the Carlton Turner collection in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Archives. Written by Canadian psychiatrist, Dr. Andrew I. Malcolm, and his wife Barbara, their favorable assessment of Straight’s controversial methods was an important endorsement during the early stages of Straight’s national expansion.

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Dr. Andrew I. Malcolm

Along with the Malcolms’ report, I obtained several correspondences between Straight executives and White House officials, describing preparations for Straight’s national expansion and some of their efforts to promote the program in the midst of widespread criticism. One of the reasons Straight was able to franchise its operations across the United States, while simultaneously fighting a growing reputation for abuse, is that the program’s public image was constantly nurtured by White House endorsements during the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Straight’s directors invited the Malcolms’ examination because “it was likely” they would “submit an objective and unbiased report and that Straight, as a result, might benefit from [their] observations” (p. 1). The Malcolms’ expertise in drug use, their knowledge of cults, and their lack of involvement with Straight lent authenticity to their endorsement, which was presented to potential donors in a promotional package. Straight’s directors developed this “Solicitation Presentation” (p. 17-18) hoping to raise 18.2 million dollars (p. 16) for the construction of 26 new facilities over a five-year period – 1982 to 1986. “We suspect that money is going to be forthcoming, from diverse sources, for a programme as enlightened and as nationally necessary as is that of Straight,” the Malcolms proclaimed in their endorsement letter (p. 36-37).

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Fiction Points: Sarah Gerard

SarahbyDavidSarah Gerard is the author of a novel, Binary Star (2015); two chapbooks, BFF (2015)  and Things I Told My Mother (2013); and a forthcoming collection of essays, Sunshine State, centered on her childhood in Florida, the home state she shares with PointsShe also writes a monthly column on artists’ notebooks, “Paper Trail” for Hazlitt. Gerard’s chapbooks garnered praise from tastemakers such as Hobart and The Rumpus, and Binary Star received glowing reviews from, among other publications, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, NPR, Vanity Fair, and The Los Angeles Times, which chose the book as a finalist for its Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.  Buzzfeed, Flavorwire, Largehearted Boy, NPR, and Vanity Fair put Gerard’s debut novel on their 2015 year-end lists. Her short stories, essays, and criticism have appeared in venues including BOMB Magazine, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, New York Magazine’s “The Cut,” The Paris Review Daily, and Vice, as well as in anthologies for Joyland and The Saturday Evening Post. She teaches writing in New York City and has been a visiting writer at the University of Maine, The New School, Pratt, and other institutions.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I write about the intersection of arctic birds and religion. Can I interview you?

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

Well, the protagonist of Binary Star is anorexic and addicted to diet pills. Her boyfriend is an alcoholic and takes his psychiatric medication not exactly as prescribed. So, they may find that interesting. I write about drugs and alcohol in a rather different way in my essay collection, which I’m finishing now. I kind of toy with the boundaries of what is a drug: alcohol is a drug, ecstasy is a drug, but is religion also a drug? Is capitalism? Is success? Also, I don’t like to categorically vilify drugs and alcohol. Sometimes recreational drugs are a lot of fun, and sometimes they’re used as medication when another isn’t available. Read More »

Online Video Resources for Alcohol, Drug, and Addiction History

Talks from Addictions Old and New (October 22-23, 2017) and the National History Center Congressional Briefing on the History of Drug Policy and Addiction (May 9, 2016) are available online. The videos include PowerPoint slides, enlarged and edited for clarity, and follow-up questions.

Addictions Old and New, which Kyle Bridge first reported in an October 27, 2015 Points story, brought together scholars from different disciplines to discuss traditional and emerging patterns of addictive behavior. The videos feature neuroscientist Chuck O’Brien, historian David Courtwright, historian Virginia Berridge, historian David Herzberg, addiction medicine specialist Andrew Kolodny, cultural anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll, social worker and sex-addiction expert Robert Weiss, behavioral pharmacologist and tobacco expert Robert Balster, policy analyst Mark Kleiman, and historian David Leary.

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Cultural anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll was among the featured speakers at Addictions Old and New. She spoke on Addiction by Design: From Slot Machines to Candy Crush.

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Moderator Alan Kraut (left) kicked off the National History Center Congressional Briefing on the History of Drug Policy and Addiction, which featured an overview of U.S. drug-policy history by David Courtwright and an analysis of the origins of the opioid epidemic by Keith Wailoo (right). Historian Dane Kennedy summarized and commented on the presentations.

 

Fiction Points: Eileen Cronin

CRONINEileen Cronin is a writer and clinical psychologist. Her book Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience (2014) centers on her search for the truth about her body and the role that the drug thalidomide played in its shape, her childhood in a large Catholic family, her mother’s mental illness, her marriage, and her own struggles with alcohol. In addition to nonfiction, Cronin writes poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Bellevue Literary Review, Los Angeles Times, Third Coast,  and Best American Essays, among other venues. She also writes for The Huffington Post. Mermaid appeared on O, The Oprah Magazine‘s Best Memoirs of 2014 list and Pop Sugar‘s “Must Reads of 2014.” In 2008, Cronin won the Washington Writing Prize for Short Fiction. Her nonfiction has earned her a Pushcart Prize nomination, and her two novels were finalists for the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Award for Novels-in-Progress. Cronin serves as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine and lives in Los Angeles. 

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

I can’t help but to notice the resemblance between these folks at the bar. But I don’t ask about that, nor do I tell them that I have written about a nun who looked like a penguin when she ran. Instead I tell them what I have in common with them. I write about Catholics, sort of like Alice McDermott but with a bit more of an edge.Read More »

The 30th Anniversary of Len Bias’s Death

LenBiasThis may be hard to believe, but June 19th will mark the 30th anniversary of the death of Len Bias. The University of Maryland all-star and first-round pick for the Boston Celtics died two days after the NBA draft after overdosing on powder cocaine. His death was partially responsible for the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which in many ways set the tone for the excessively punitive drug war to come.

I was recently contacted by Tom Bonanno, editor of the website Celtics Life, who wanted to run segments of a blog post I wrote last September about visiting Bias’s grave in Suitland, Maryland. Bonanno’s post did a nice job of comparing my description of Bias’s small, quiet and frankly neglected grave with some of the flashier and more extravagant graves of other Celtics players who have passed. The differences between the graves – their size, their upkeep, their obvious visitors – is striking, and I think it speaks to what happens when we lose someone before their peak, when we’ve only seen glimmers of what they were truly capable of. Bias was an incredibly talented college player, but he died before playing a single NBA game, and his death was clearly tainted by its association with an illegal drug.

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Fiction Points: Chloe Caldwell

Chloe Caldwell in Kingston, NY for Grazia 5/31/14Chloe Caldwell is the author of the novella WOMEN (2014) and the essay collection Legs Get Led Astray (2012). Her work has appeared in VICE, Salon, The Rumpus, The Sun, Men’s Health, several anthologies (including Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York)and elsewhere. Lena Dunham named WOMEN among her 10 Favorite Books in the New York Times, and Caldwell’s work has earned her praise from Bitch Magazine, Buzzfeed Books, The Master’s Review, and Publisher’s Weekly, among others. Coffee House Press/Emily Books will publish her next essay collection, I’ll Tell You in Person, in October 2016.

 

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?

This is my worst nightmare. I change what I write about depending on who I’m talking to and what I think they can ingest. I meet them where they are. So female! When I’m talking to a parent’s friend or something, I say, travel essays. I really dislike talking about my work with strangers. It takes away the magic of the work. I suck at talking about my work. I’d rather have it speak for itself. So I’d probably get guarded and weird and tell them I wrote a novella. Then I’d text my friends saying OMFG there’s a penguin and a nun in this bar.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about your work?

I’m stumped!

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What led you to write about drugs and alcohol in the first place?

Because I was using drugs and alcohol and writing about my life. So….was inevitable.

How would you describe the way that drugs function in your work, whether in terms of thematic concerns or the choices you make about how to craft a narrative? Do you think there are things that you wouldn’t be able to explore as successfully if drugs weren’t in your writing arsenal?

The essay I wrote “Heroin and Acne” for Salon is a good example of this. I like exploring gray areas and middle grounds of themes. Our culture always wants people to be black or white: you’re either a drug addict or you’re not. You’re either a lesbian or your straight. I’ve struggled with identity issues throughout my twenties (like everyone) because often I fell in between, and there weren’t many narratives for me to read that were coming from that place, so I wanted to write them.

What do you personally find most interesting about how drugs work in your writing, and where do you see that interest leading you in future projects?

WOMENI like how drugs and alcohol inform the narrator’s choices in WOMEN. One event in the book is the narrator moves to a new town to get away from the drugs she’s doing, but she finds Finn and begins an addictive relationship with her. I’m interested in any addictive behaviors. in my own life, in books and films, in my friends’ lives, and I don’t mean with drugs and alcohol specifically—with the internet, chocolate, fruit, exercise, coffee.

I’m not sure where it will lead me in future projects. I don’t do drugs anymore, but I still reflect on them a ton and am always fascinated with them as much as I am with recovery and health. It’s important to me to un-cliche the way addiction and recovery stories are told. The ways people stay physically and mentally healthy are just as if not more fascinating than addiction stories.

BONUS QUESTION: Let’s hope that your novella Women gets made into a major motion picture. If you have your choice, which is it, and what song do you fantasize about hearing as the credits roll?

Better Off” by Haim or “My Baby Don’t Understand Me” by Natalie Prass or “Daydreaming” by Dark Dark Dark.

Teaching Points: Surveying United States’ History of Drugs and Alcohol

This past semester, I taught a course called Altered States: Drugs and Alcohol in America at the University at Albany, SUNY. It was my third version of the course. I had the unique opportunity to design two courses from scratch during my first adjunct gig at Utica College in 2010 and 2011. In addition to the drug course, I also designed a survey-level course on sports in US history. Professionally, this trial-by-fire was enormously beneficial and intensely productive, but for better or for (far) worse, my initial test subjects had to suffer through some serious inexperience as I fumbled through course design, reading lists (painfully long ones…), and lectures. I had wanted to hit every major vein in the field (so to speak) and did it without adequate attention to the broader historical context.

So this spring, I decided to stick with the basics. Rather than point out how drug histories stick out of the general narrative of American history, I wanted to make an argument that the histories of a myriad of psychoactive substances can help us better understand some important trends in the history of the United States. Through my doctoral coursework and achievement of candidacy, I came to this section with a much firmer grasp of the historiographical arguments in the field.Read More »

Drug War Dissents: Robinson v. California

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Dr. David Herzberg, as associate professor of history at SUNY Buffalo and the author of Happy Pills in America (2010) and his forthcoming project The Other Drug War: A History of Prescription Drug AbuseEnjoy! 

Most American drug policy historians are familiar with the 1962 Supreme Court decision Robinson v. California, which held that addiction was an illness and not a crime. The case involved a California man sentenced to jail not for buying, possessing, or using narcotics, but for the condition of being a narcotic addict. In striking down the law, the Court declared that addiction was an illness, and that—in Justice Potter Stewart’s memorable words—“Even one day in prison would be a cruel and unusual punishment for the ‘crime’ of having a common cold.” (Stewart would probably be glad to know that at least one group of people, however small, remembers him for this quotation rather than his “I-know- it-when- I-see- it” definition of “hard-core pornography,” which he later feared would adorn his tombstone.) For historians the decision serves as a convenient marker of the broader shift away from the punitive policies of the “classic era” of narcotics control and towards more medicalized approaches to addiction.

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Of late, drug policy historians have been placing this shift under increasing scrutiny. Complementing the vast and growing literature on medicine as a form of social control, historians like Eric Schneider and Points’ own Claire Clark have begun to focus more on how medical approaches harmonized with, rather than diverged from, punitive ones. Methadone maintenance, for example, was implemented primarily as a crime control measure and was evaluated on that basis, and thus ultimately complemented rather than upended prison-based approaches. Meanwhile, therapeutic communities’ tough-love philosophies could lead to “scared straight” type tactics that, in many cases, were much harsher and farther-reaching than simple imprisonment. Historians’ increased focus on the disciplinary dimensions of medical treatment may be due, in part, to the increasing visibility and intellectual availability of “harm reduction,” which also draws parallels between medical and criminal control of drug use.

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Religion and Anti-Prohibition

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Brendan Payne, a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History at Baylor University finishing his dissertation, “Cup of Salvation: Race, Religion, and (Anti-)Prohibition in Texas, 1885-1935.” Enjoy!

Jews and BoozeWhen I tell people that my dissertation addresses religion and alcohol prohibition, many recall stories of relatives involved in the noble experiment. Almost invariably, those who make a point of their ancestors’ religiosity recount how they joined the crusade for prohibition, such as a grandmother who led a chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union or a minister who railed against demon rum, while those who mention their grandfather’s bootlegging have little to comment on his piety. The implicit assumption – that religion inspired only prohibition’s backers and not its opponents – may be too blunt for most scholars to state plainly, though this assumption casts a significant shadow over much of prohibition scholarship. Only a few books, such as Marni Davis’s Jews and Booze, deal in-depth with an overwhelmingly wet religious minority, though even that work is more interested in the tremendously important questions of ethnicity and American identity than in religion as such. Too many academic works on prohibition that address religion either focus almost exclusively on drys or oversimplify the connection between faith and prohibition, with (for example) Catholics always being wet and Baptists invariably dry.

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