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Letters for January 13-19, 2005

Artist as Art

Deirdra nailed the wicked cynic: I was hucklebucking home from the studio, being as nicely mannered to passing ladies as my southern roots would allow and planning my next humiliation of other aspiring artists in town, when I saw the latest issue of New Times in the box. Upon my arrival in my tastefully appointed and magnolia-filled parlor, I sat down to relax and read your fine publication. My 58-year-old eyes (not 57, unfortunately) took in the image of my award-winning painting on page 24 in Night & Day (January 6), and I was heard to exclaim, "Merciful heavens!"

With trembling hands and quickening heart, I read the most delightful sidebar (by Deirdra Funcheon) I believe I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. You have captured my wicked self like no one has done before. How did you know these things? I have never told a soul my fondest wish was to win Best Image in a Newspaper!!

Sarcasm, cynicism, wit, humor -- I think I love you!

Alfred Phillips

Via the Internet

Double Whammy

Very nice work if you can get it: Broward commissioners make a pretty good livable wage, yet are still not satisfied ("The Lobbyist Who Wasn't There," Bob Norman, December 16). I believe it is wrong to be a full-time commissioner accepting an $80,000 salary and hold another job, either full or part-time.

More wrong, even disgusting, are those jobs that involve lobbying or any financial deals in which the Broward County commission is involved. Apparently Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion would not agree. Thanks to this newspaper we already know that Commissioner Rodstrom, Commissioner Lieberman, and others, so involved, would also not agree. I don't give a damn about the Broward County ethics commission giving its OK. It's wrong!

As for Miami-Dade, our commissioners do not do as bad financially as some would have us believe. The $6,000 salary is augmented by an $18,000 expense account which requires no receipts. Therefore, that must be "salary."

I would be the first to champion a six-figure salary for those serving on the Miami-Dade commission if commissioners would change the charter so that upon attaining such a salary, they would give up any outside employment. How can anyone justify a commissioner earning $125,000 annually as head of a nonprofit which gets its funds, in part, from the county?

Alan Rigerman


Straight-ahead Cult

How did degradation become a form of treatment?: Thank you Trevor Aaronson and New Times for your riveting story on Growing Together ("Suffering Together," December 9). In 1989 I suspected my son was in the high school drug scene in

Fairfax County, Virginia. A school guidance counselor suggested Growing Together's predecessor, Straight Inc., because it was like a Marine Corps character-building program. After enrolling my son in Straight Inc., it just seemed normal that I could not communicate with him until they told me I could. Somehow it seemed normal that my mother or minister could not visit my home when I had Straight kids there until Straight Inc. had cleared them. It seemed normal that I had to ask Straight Inc. for permission to go on a business trip. It seemed normal that we adults sang childish songs and verbally tore one another apart in raps but ended each indictment with, "I love you."

In hindsight it does seem strange that during Parent Weekend I squirmed in my seat, needing to go to the bathroom, and that I was forbidden to have conjugal relations with my wife -- there were kid spies in my house to report on me if I did. It was strange to be riding down the road taking kids to the program and hearing one boy blurt out about dressing in his mother's underwear and having another kid saying, "I can relate to that from the time I had on my sister's underwear." Or to hear another kid blurt out of the clear blue sky, "I remember the time my druggie buddy fucked me in the ass." It was just as casual as if he had said, "Say, did anybody see Monday Night Football last night?"

Why did I go along? Because they convinced me my son would die without them. Because the program took over my entire life, all of my time. Because it was more like a church than a drug rehab. You think the treatment will last three months or so, but it always takes 18 months or more. Straight Inc. is a profitable, $100 million, tax-exempt cult. It is an extortion racket where kids are deprived of food and sleep, beaten, made to mess in their pants, screamed at, spat upon. They are coaxed into signing a confession, frequently sexual in nature. They covered my son's face in human spit and made him sleep in it. Today, Straight Inc. is out of the treatment business, but many have continued to use the Straight Inc. therapeutic method. And many of these second-generation Straights have been accused of child abuse.

As your article suggests, the Straight concept is rehabilitation through Republican politics. The program was popularized by Mel and Betty Sembler of St. Petersburg. Melvin Sembler is the U.S. Ambassador to Italy. He bought his way into politics, and now on his official US government web page he proclaims that he saved 12,000 kids at Straight! Yet, over 40 former clients from these programs, including Travis Stone at Growing Together, have committed suicide.

It is wrong for kids in treatment to be clinicians for other kids in treatment. Kids must have unmonitored visitation with parents, at least at set aside times. Every current and prospective parent at Growing Together who has read Aaronson's article has to ask himself: What are our kids saying in there? Thank you again for having the courage to publish your article.

Wes Fager


Via the Internet

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