January 20, 2007
The (subscription-only) Wall Street Journal goes into rehab, Scientology-style:
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Last November, in a cedar sauna cranked up to 160 degrees, a crowd of sweaty men read books and chatted amid mariachi music. They emerged to nibble from a tray of raw vegetables or take shots of olive oil.
This is not a spa. This is Second Chance, one of the country’s most unusual alternatives to the nation’s prison systems. Founded by a Scientologist and former real-estate developer—and funded partly by federal tax dollars—
Second Chance is a treatment program for nonviolent prisoners with substance-abuse problems.
It is based on principles of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Scientology religion, who argued that toxins from drugs and pesticides accumulate in the body’s fatty tissues, making it difficult for addicts to kick their habit. Saunas and vitamins are intended to purge these residues. Facing few options for successful long-term ways to treat criminal defendants with serious drug problems, 24 of New Mexico’s 84 district judges have sentenced more than 50 prisoners to terms at Second Chance.
Even before it opened its doors to inmates last September, Second Chance and its unconventional methods had ignited a controversy in New Mexico’s legal community. At the center of the debate are two former friends and sometime adversaries. William Lang, chief district judge in the area that includes Albuquerque, doesn’t want his colleagues to sentence inmates to Second Chance. On the other side is Judge Lang’s predecessor, W. John Brennan, who was hired by Second Chance to convince judges to do just that.
These, it should be noted, are no ordinary judges:
For most of his 25-year career, Mr. Brennan was a highly respected member of the legal community. He and Judge Lang were close; Mr. Brennan presided over Judge Lang’s wedding 18 years ago. But the men had a falling out in 2002, when Judge Lang unsuccessfully attempted to gather enough votes from judges to unseat Judge Brennan.
Then, late one night in May 2004, Judge Brennan was arrested. Within four months he had resigned as judge and pleaded guilty to drunk driving and cocaine possession. He was sentenced to a year’s probation. Judge Lang assumed Mr. Brennan’s post as chief judge of New Mexico’s Second Judicial District.
Now a consultant for Second Chance, Mr. Brennan believes that Judge Lang is cool toward the program because of his personal grudges. “I think it has to do with me,” says Mr. Brennan, who lobbies judges to send convicts to Second Chance. “I don’t think it has to do with the program.” He adds Judge Lang’s own battle with alcoholism makes him skeptical of unorthodox treatment programs.
Judge Lang, who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, says personal grudges have nothing to do with his skepticism about Second Chance. Judge Lang says he believes funding for treatment should go to existing programs that have a track record.
While the Cheech and Chong of the New Mexico judiciary are duking it out, Second Chance is giving inmates “nerve assist” massages. Don’t ask:
Mr. Hubbard’s principles have been taken to prisons before. For many years a program called Criminon, also based on Mr. Hubbard’s teachings, has operated drug-intervention programs in jails. But Second Chance represents the first time in the U.S. that an incarceration facility has been designed around Mr. Hubbard’s methods, which involve not just behavioral treatments but saunas and specific diets as well.
Located on a tumbleweed-strewn patch of desert, Second Chance’s cement structure is ringed by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Inside, linoleum hallways give way to an open dormitory. A nearby room houses the sauna, which is used by every inmate for a four-week period, five hours a day.
Inmates eat organic beef. They choose from an array of vitamins to ingest, including potassium pills if they’re feeling dizzy, or bioplasma pills to offset salt depletion. Inmates addicted to heroin can get a massage, called a “nerve assist,” from another inmate. Scientologists believe nerve assists help drugs depart the body.
And if that doesn’t work, how about a little bull-baiting:
In addition to saunas and specific diets, Second Chance focuses on helping inmates communicate more effectively, on the belief that better communication skills will reduce offenders’ need to act out in negative ways.
… One drill, called bull-baiting, is designed to help participants learn how to tolerate verbal assaults. Mr. Gutierrez stared into the eyes of another inmate stationed three feet away. As his partner yelled scripted statements at him like “You look like a frog!” Mr. Gutierrez was supposed to remain impassive. Another drill has inmates sit opposite each other, look each other in the eye and read lines from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
In other words, the kind of techniques you’ll find at any rehab facility in a parallel universe. But hey, look at the success rate claimed by Second Chance founder Rick Pendery, a former real-estate developer who says he has “spent decades studying world religions with a focus on the writings of Mr. Hubbard:”
Mr. Pendery says that by addressing the root causes of drug abuse, his program reduces the number of inmates who return to jail after being released. He says a study shows that the Second Chance program in Ensenada [Mexico] resulted in a drop in recidivism rates to 10% from 83% over a six-year period.
That must be why the facility recently lost its government funding and shut down.
Which, fortunately, is the fate that likely awaits Second Chance in New Mexico—its $350,000 in federal funds is apparently running out, and not a minute too soon.
(Oh, and doesn’t all this sound horribly familiar?)
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