Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Jordan Mylet, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of California, San Diego. She is working on a dissertation titled, “‘Dope Hope’: The Synanon Foundation, Grassroots Recovery Activism, and the Postwar Struggle over Addiction Rehabilitation, 1945-1980.”
Synanon ad poster plastered in New York City subway stations, 1960s
When my grandfather moved into Synanon in Santa Monica in 1968, the organization had already inspired a Hollywood film, a jazz LP, numerous bomb threats and eviction notices, and kudos from the Kennedy administration. In the decade after his arrival, Synanon founded a multi-million-dollar enterprise, registered as a religion, and made headlines for placing a live rattlesnake in the mailbox of a rival attorney, who nearly died from its bite. By 1978—the year of the Jonestown massacre and the first federal charges brought against Church of Scientology leaders—Synanon had cemented its place in the ranks of America’s numerous bizarre and violent cults.
Now, when my grandfather sat on a bench in Synanon’s Santa Monica clubhouse lobby, he didn’t know any of this. A few days earlier, his father had found him sitting in a street gutter in the Bronx, nodding off from recent heroin use. He asked his son if he would get on a plane to go to Synanon in California—the best place, everyone in their neighborhood said, for a heroin addict to get clean. So, my grandfather went. Before landing in Los Angeles, he shot up in the airplane bathroom with some supplies that he had smuggled onboard. After six years of heroin addiction, this would be the last time he ever used. He stayed in Synanon, along with his wife—my grandmother—and hundreds of others until its dissolution in 1990.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Bob Beach. Beach is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY, and, if this post is any indication, a lot of other pretty cool things as well. If you’re interested in working with Bob on any of his upcoming projects, his contact info is below.
An historian, a comedian, and a podcaster walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “Just you today Bob?”
Uptown Theater for Creative Arts, in Utica, NY
That’s right, this Points contributor is going to get into podcasting. And if you didn’t know, this Points contributor is also a (very amateur) stand-up comedian and improv stage actor. Along with doing live comedy, I’ve also had a chance to participate as a semi-regular guest on the Fish Guy Media Network, a podcast network run by two brothers. We met while performing live comedy at the Uptown Theater for Creative Arts in Utica, New York. I’ve been given a platform on the network to start my own podcast blending history (not limited to my nascent expertise in marijuana/drug history), comedy, and current events. The podcast is currently in the planning stages.
In the words of George Costanza, my worlds are colliding.
The Science History Institute, formed by the merger of the Chemical Heritage Foundation and the Life Sciences Foundation, is a fantastic resource for those interested in researching the history of chemistry, chemical engineering, and the life sciences – topics that are necessary if we’re to understand the role that intoxicants have played in our lives.
Located in Philadelphia with outposts in Europe and California, the Science History Institute has an archive and library, an acclaimed museum, and a variety of fellowship programs that are definitely worth a look.
Through Distillations, their outlet for podcasts, a magazine, videos and blogs, the organization is also a publishing powerhouse. Check out their remarkable longform story on opioids, and subscribe to their podcast. The Institute is launching a new series on the history of addiction treatment, including The Narcotic Farm, Therapeutic Communities like Synanon, methadone maintenance, and buprenorphine/Suboxone. It’s definitely worth a listen.
One more thing: As we mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of excitement around here. Points and the ADHS’s journal, the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, are both working hard to increase and improve our reach over the next few years, with the assistance of the University of Chicago Press.
Points is incredibly excited to announce that our assistant managing editor Kyle Bridge and Alex Tepperman, PhD candidate in history at the University of Florida, have launched a new podcast called, naturally, Pointscast.
Deputing here is the first episode, which discusses drugs and alcohol in the news, and features interviews and some really excellent sound effects.