Why did the FBI stop their investigation of Straight, Incorporated?

Editor’s Note: Today we welcome a post from Marcus Chatfield, who has spent years studying Straight, Inc. Chatfield is a recent graduate of Goddard College, where he received an Individualized Bachelor of Arts degree in the prevention of institutional child abuse. His undergraduate thesis, Institutionalized Persuasion, was self-published in December, 2014. He is a prospective grad student living in Florida. Enjoy!

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The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) recently arranged for the release of documents from the FBI’s investigation of Straight, Inc., a controversial teen treatment program. An initial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the author in 2010 received no response and the collection was only released after subsequent requests and inquiries by the OGIS. After the FBI reviewed more than 1,224 pages in their possession, 970 were released with redactions and 254 pages were deleted, withheld by their Record/Information Dissemination Section. Almost all of these records were accumulated between 1992 and 1994 during a Grand Jury investigation that initiated in the Middle District of Florida. The investigation focused on fraudulent financial activities within the Straight, Inc. organization and the documents clearly state that federal authorities had evidence of criminal insurance fraud committed by Straight executives (p.55). Perhaps even more important, the documents seem to indicate that the FBI’s investigation was stopped before agents had a chance to review all of the evidence or explore all relevant leads (p.109-111).

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Fiction Points: Wendy C. Ortiz

WendyCOrtiznewWendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (2014), Hollywood Notebook (2015), and Bruja (forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms in late 2016). Entropy Magazine put Hollywood Notebook not only on its Best Nonfiction Books of 2015 list but also on its list of Most Notable Books in the same year; Excavation was named among Large-Hearted Boy‘s best nonfiction books of 2014 and featured in Bustle‘s “11 Groundbreaking Books about Women Making History with Their Thinking, Activism, and Courage.”  Ortiz’s work has appeared in the New York TimesPalabraThe Rumpus, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn, among other venues. For the entirety of 2014, she wrote a monthly column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, “On the Trail of Mary Jane,” about Southern California’s medical-marijuana dispensary culture. Ortiz cofounded and, from 2001 until 2015, curated the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series in Los Angeles, where she was born and raised and currently resides.

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?

Am I on LSD? Well, okay, two nuns and a penguin. I write about growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles; gestating into adulthood in the Pacific Northwest, and living in Los Angeles since 2001. More specifically? Adolescent sexual agency, sexuality, spirituality in its broadest sense, power dynamics in relationships, “relationships” and many of the things that fall under that umbrella, and what it’s like to live in this body at this time. Read More »

The Great White Hope: Can Hopelessness and Drug Abuse in White Communities Change the Drug War?

“Cocaine is an epidemic now.  White people are doing it.” – Richard Pryor

Heroin has a new face.  The new face of heroin elicits more sympathy, compassion, and OD. BY RACE.understanding.  The new face of heroin is, were told, less threatening.  Ninety percent of new heroin users are white.  From punishment to public health, local and national responses to heroin have been remarkably fluid over time.  In each case, our approach is animated by the esteem—or lack thereof—with which we hold using demographics.  As new heroin and opioid users are disproportionately white and often middle class, how we view the problem and options to address said problem have changed dramatically.  An ahistorical optimist might view our new vibrant discussion and consideration of public health approaches and harm reduction at the local and state level as clear markers of progress.  A drug historian might ask: how will approaches change when users change or new drugs with new using demographics emerge?  Those that prescribe to David Musto’s dictum of periods of tolerance and intolerance in United States drug control might rightly hold their breath for our next period of intolerance.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the reason nonwhite populations have been less adversely effected by heroin’s rise is also steeped in racial prejudice.  The history of medicine has long revealed the ways in which various nonwhite ailments have been ignored or OD. Heroin. 2minimized by the medical profession.  In our present context, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a drug abuse expert argues that doctors are much more reluctant to prescribe painkillers to minority patients, worrying that they might sell them or become addicted.  Had practitioners viewed all of their patients with similar suspicion and caution the iatrogenic addiction of opioids leading to heroin may have been avoided.  In 2012, twelve states processed a volume of opioid prescriptions that outstripped their population.  In Alabama, the staggering ratio rested at 142.9 opioid prescriptions for every 100 citizens.

I first wrote about this trend in 2014, after the Governor of Vermont dedicated his State of the State Address to the heroin problem.  As I argued then: Sound policy steeped in punishment—it turns out—makes much more sense when applied to 1970s Harlem rather than the land of maple syrup, autumn foliage, and good neighbors.  od. vermontWhen addressing the same drug with different users in decades past, punishment reigned.  The addict and the peddler–often doubling as the same shadowy figure–became cemented as cultural boogeymen.  Addicts, not society or disease, caused the problem and bore the threat to public safety.  In Vermont however, Governor Peter Shumlin transformed addicts as victims.  De-centering traditional narratives of crime and deviance, Shumlin painted a picture of heroin users as everyday people, victims caught in a downward spiral.  Schulman cited the conclusions of a local Pediatrician Dr. Fred Holmes: “These kids don’t look different, walk different, talk different.  It’s just the nature of the disease that’s different.  A relentless relapsing illness that is potentially fatal.”  A far cry from the “super-predators” of the Crack Era.  Read More »

Fiction Points: Rob Roberge

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Rob Roberge

Rob Roberge is the author of the memoir Liar (2016), three novels–The Cost of Living (2013), More Than They Could Chew (2005), and Drive (2001)–and the short-story collection Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life (2010). Liar has been excerpted by The Rumpus and praised in The LA Review of BooksPublisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus, and Roberge’s previous work earned him a spot on The Literary Review’s “Ten Writers Worth Knowing” list as well as the admiration of authors including Steve Almond, previous Fiction Points participant Stephen Elliott, Janet Fitch, and Cheryl Strayed. His work has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, The Nervous BreakdownPenthouse, The Rumpus, and  ZYZZYVA, among other venues. Roberge is also a musician, singing and playing guitar in the Los Angeles-based band The Urinals. He teaches in the University of California Riverside/Palm Desert’s MFA program and received his own MFA from Vermont College.

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?

Hmm. Well, I probably wouldn’t tell them I’m a writer unless they’d asked what I do, as I try not to force that info on people (and, I would suppose, Penguins). And I’m terrible (as many writers are) at answering the question of what I write about. Sometimes I say black humor, but that’s only an aspect of it—not the whole deal. I probably write the most about the quietly horrifying gap between who we know we are capable of being at our best, and who we actually are in our day to day lives.Read More »

Whitney Houston And The Enduring Stigma Of Crack

Popular perceptions of drugs and alcohol are fluid and in many cases highly volatile.  What we think about drugs and addiction, “very much depends on who is addicted.”  This whitney houston just say no.assertion leveled by David Courtwright is amongst drug scholars, a matter of consensus. The public and government response to crack, as well as the drug’s enduring stigma, have much to do with society’s fears and fantasies of poor nonwhites and urban districts.  It is telling that in her infamous 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, singer Whitney Houston vociferously disavowed previous crack use.  When Sawyer read from a press clipping implying said use, Houston grew indignant reminding viewers that “crack is cheap”.  Continuing, Houston cited her wealth and status.  She “made too much money to smoke crack.”  In the same interview, Houston admitted to the abuse of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, prescription drugs, and implied past struggles with eating disorders.  However, Houstonwhitney. crack is wack. haring mural
would not allow her public image to be stained by the triumvirate of blackness, poverty, and crack.  Borrowing from Keith Haring’s mural and a long-standing cultural meme, Houston concluded dismissively, “crack is wack.”

Houston’s denial was motivated by the class and racial politics of cocaine use. To put it another way, crack is wack because it’s perceived to be a drug dominated by poor, black users. News accounts portrayed it as an almost exclusively black drug, as opposed to its upscale chemical cousin, cocaine.  From the perspective of drug warriors like William Bennett, one might argue that Hoston’s interview represents the fruits of nearly two decades of anti-crack media assaults.  In this respect, the invisible hand of culture may appear to have done the good work of categorizing crack as a vice of disrepute.  The War on Drugs had succeeded in driving down demand for crack as the drug became increasingly stigmatized in popular culture and on the street corner.  But what of other drugs?  Might addicts and corner boys have turned to other less stigmatized drugs as a crutch?  If so, all Houston’s denial and the broader demise of crack represents is a another chapter in the grand saga of wack-a-mole drug enforcement. Read More »

Fiction Points: Tao Lin

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Tao Lin

Tao Lin‘s novels include Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007), Richard Yates (2010), and Taipei (2013). Lin is also the author of the novella Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009), the short-story collection Bed (2007), and two books of poetry: you are a little bit happier than i am (2006) and  cognitive behavioral therapy (2008). His most recent offering is Selected Tweets (2015), a collaboration with poet–and upcoming Fiction Points interviewee–Mira Gonzalez. Lin is also founder and editor of the press MuuMuu House and cofounder, with writer and filmmaker Megan Boyle, of MDMAfilms, which has released Lin and Boyle’s features MDMA (2011) and Mumblecore (2011), as well as their documentary Bebe Zeva (2011). He has taught at Sarah Lawrence College and presented his work at, among other venues, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. He has written for Vice, The Rumpus, and a variety of online publications and platforms. Lin holds a BA in journalism from New York University.

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?

If I feel like answering the nuns and penguin in a curt manner so they don’t feel encouraged to talk to me more, or if I feel not in the mood to try to define my writing in a sentence or few sentences—which is most of the time—I mumble something like “I don’t know” or “novels” or “myself”. If I feel like talking to the nuns and penguin, or if I am in a good mood and feeling garrulous, I answer something like “my next book is about Terence McKenna and psychedelic drugs and it’s called Beyond Existentialism” then start talking about that more depending on how they respond.Read More »

James Dunworth’s Interview with Herbert A. Gilbert, Inventor of the E-Cigarette

Last January, we brought you a post from Camille Higham, a patent attorney in Jacksonville, Florida. She discussed “The Strange and Complicated History of Patenting the E-Cigarette,” and argued that “the increased popularity [of e-cigarettes] has prompted ample innovation. And as the industry becomes more competitive, the patent applications will continue to narrow, and the companies who prepared for this vaping revolution early on will have a big advantage over pop-ups seeking to capitalize on the opportunity.”

Ten months after this post was published, we received a note from reader James Dunworth, who clued us into an interview he had conducted with Herbert Gilbert, inventor of the e-cigarette. Dunworth generously allowed us to republish his interview here. Many thanks to James Dunworth, and we hope you enjoy it.

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From “Addiction in American Life” to the Addiction Oral History Project

Every semester the UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program offers an undergraduate internship for those interested in learning oral history theory and practice, archive management, and so on. SPOHP maintains several ongoing projects but also welcomes the development of new collections and, with the help of some enthusiastic interns, during my tenure as an internship coordinator in spring 2015 I inaugurated a new collection centered on addiction. The Addiction Oral History Project features some life histories of self-professed addicts in recovery, treatment providers, drug court personnel, and addiction researchers (from the humanities and sciences).

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Said enthusiastic interns and coordinators

I wrote about my experience putting together the thematic internship, titled “Addiction in American Life,” in a post last summer. This time around, I’m excited to announce that the interviews and transcripts are now available online! Curious readers should first peruse the podcasts created in spring 2015. (Many, though not all, were created from the relevant interviews.) You can then search for particularly interesting narratives on the Addiction Oral History Project’s web page.

I hope this modest but growing collection can be of use to researchers and of interest to everyone else. For now, the stories mostly involve the onset and maintenance of addiction, law enforcement protocols, changing drug use patterns, and life in Florida cities like Gainesville and Jacksonville since the 1960s. Forthcoming additions will include active user experiences and views on evolving drug scenes, as well as insider perspectives on the policymaking process, among others. I will update Points readers about significant new interviews as they are transcribed and uploaded. In the meantime, like any good oral historian should, I only ask that you talk about it.

Teaching Points: Using “Drugs and Trade” to Teach and Research American History

This winter I have the pleasure of teaching an upper-level history seminar on “Drugs and Trade in American History.” Working with fourteen undergraduates, I am using the opportunity to apply some principles of learner-centered teaching. In doing so, I hope to take a popular buzzword in teaching philosophies and faculty meetings from the realm of jargon and put it into actual practice. I believe the process of completing an original research project – the course’s primary objective – will prompt students to follow their own path into this history and engage with the themes and topics about which they are most passionate, encouraging the kind of deep learning not always possible in classes driven by content alone. I am also convinced a focus on the history of psychoactive substances – from heroin and cocaine to tobacco and alcohol – can be used to highlight general trends in U.S. history, helping students contextualize information and construct broader frameworks for understanding.

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President George H.W. Bush holding a bag of crack cocaine (1989)

While elements of my course may be unfamiliar, the obstacles it faces should not be surprising. First and foremost, if we expect students to succeed with an original research project, they need the proper instruction and sufficient time to complete the task. Students also need a starting point for their own explorations. We cannot forgo content completely, as it is needed to spark interests, provide context, and form research questions. (Not to mention, we are still in the business of communicating important information about the past.) Attempting to give both objectives sufficient in-class attention, however, can require some tricky balancing acts – a problem compounded by the particulars of my university’s ten-week quarter system.

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El Chapo Guzmán (beta, 1.0) – Prison Escape and Drug Smuggling in the Early 20th Century

El Chapo It’s no secret that Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most wanted drug cartel kingpin, was recently recaptured and imprisoned in Mexico. After all, between his two previous high profile prison escapes and a recently published interview with Sean Penn in Rolling Stone magazine, El Chapo has frequently been front and center in the national media of late. As so often is the case when it comes to news coverage on the war on drugs in the United States, there’s been a deep sense of presentism in framing the nature of El Chapo’s rise to power and infamy. This is especially true when discussing his penchant for using tunnels – to smuggle drugs, evade capture, and of course, escape from prison. Indeed, Penn’s Rolling Stone piece went so far as to claim: “In 1989, El Chapo dug the first subterranean passage beneath the border from Tijuana to San Diego, and pioneered the use of tunnels to transport his products and to evade capture.” Yet, while there’s no denying El Chapo’s tunnels are widespread, impressive and effective, to suggest he was the first drug smuggler to use such methods ignores the history of more than a century of drug smuggling on the U.S.-Mexico Border.

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