The “beach-house-relaxed” Cliffside Malibu claims to provide an oasis for recovering addicts and alcoholics. And that’s just what you'll get—if you’ve got the cash.
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Jokingly dubbed "The Heaven's Gate of Rehabs” this family-owned facility is one of the the costliest (and most controversial) rehabs in the country. A plush, upscale playground nestled in the verdant hills of Malibu, Passages offers discreet and deluxe treatment for wealthy addicts and a bevy of bold-faced names. Designer Marc Jacobs, who entered Passages several years ago, has credited the facility for his sober, pumped-up incarnation. In addition to its Malibu headquarters, the facility operates a more modest rehab in nearby Ventura. And a third outpost in the Hamptons is expected to be completed next year.
Passages was founded in 2001 by a wealthy Los Angeles businessman named Chris Prentiss, who was desperately seeking to save his son Pax from a 10-year cycle of addiction to heroin, cocaine and alcohol. Over the years, Chris Prentiss paid Pax's way though a flurry of reputable rehabs, without any success. Finally, frustrated by the quality of treatment programs at existing facilities, he resolved to start his own. Unlike most rehabs, Passages is not a 12-step based program. It rejects the "disease concept" of addiction entirely. Instead, the facility operates under the belief that people abuse drugs and alcohol because of “diverse ailments in the mind and body—a behavioral problem that can be cured by a diverse regimen of individualized therapies.
The Center's massive "treatment team" includes a primary therapist, a family therapist, a "life purpose" coach, hypnotherapists, nutritionists, spiritualists, masseuses, physical trainers, acupuncturists and a medical doctor who makes occasional visits. But despite all this individualized attention, not all of Passages’ clients leave happily. One recent alum slams the therapy as “sub-par,” while another says that counselors inevitably chalked up all residents’ ills to “childhood trauma.” A third resident claims that Passage's doctors took away all her prescription medication, leaving her feeling suicidal and sick for a few weeks. Then “after a complex brainwave analysis,” they supplied her with a new mountain of meds including a heavy dose of Adderall, despite her long history of abusing stimulants. But to be fair, not all former clients are so disparaging. "It was a God-send, " exults a lawyer and former crack-head who has been sober for five years."That place changed my life around." Another former client says that his stint at Passages was so inspiring that he went back to school to become a therapist himself.
Indeed, when it comes to amenities, everyone agrees that Passages is “truly top shelf.” Upon entry, every resident is assigned an assistant, who tends to their complaints or needs. A highly-lauded chef prepares nutritious, delicious meals that cater to every patient’s exact specifications. And the surroundings are breathtaking—the $23 million mansion sits on 10 acres of a cliff that overlooks the Pacific and contains a state-of-the-art gym and koi pond, among other treasures. (Passage's Ventura off-shoot overlooks a harbor surrounded by perfectly landscaped gardens.) The Malibu house looks like a a plush palace, complete with grand marble entryways and expensive furnishings. Both locations are spotless, since a full retinue of housekeepers is engaged to ceaselessly dust, sweep and mop the premises for eight hours a day. Breakfast is served around 8 am, but lackadaisical residents "mostly meander in with their Prada pajamas whenever they they feel like it," says one alumnus.
While clients are expected to show up at groups and sessions, Passages exudes a much more permissive vibe than many other facilities. Clients are allowed full use of computers and cell phones and enjoy an unusual amount of freedom. But unsupervised freedom isn't always a good idea for addicts in the first stage of recovery. In contrast to many other rehabs, some clients claim that Passages tends to turn a blind eye to sexual hook-ups, even those involving their own staff. One former client alleges that a female resident was openly dating a staff member while she was a patient there. Another claims that groups of residents would regularly sneak out at night to go drinking and drugging, returning in the early morning unnoticed.
While the Center's two founders are no longer actively involved in its day-to-day operations, Pax occasionally makes himself available to clients who request an appointment. The mystically-inclined Buddhist Chris Prentiss, (or “Wu-Wei” as he has rechristened himself) sometimes drops in to lead discussion groups that some patients describe as “painful” and others praise as “mind-blowing.” Neither of the Prentisses have bothered to seek degrees in the field of addiction treatment, but their best-selling book reduces the road to lifelong sobriety to three simple steps: 1) believe in a cure, 2) discover and heal your inner problems, and 3) embrace a philosophy based on universal truth. (It also doesn't hurt if you're able to pony up nearly $100,000 a month.)
Though Passages widely advertises it's alleged 80% "cure rate,” several former clients and ex-employees energetically dispute that number. There's no doubt that some patients have managed to achieve sobriety after a few weeks (or months) of pampering by Passages. But one in-the-know employee estimates the Center's success rate at closer to 10%. So Prentiss's insistence that he has discovered the "cure" for addiction—and the volley of late-night TV ads promoting that claim—has outraged many colleagues in the recovery industry. As a result, despite its giant azure pool, muscled masseurs and gourmet cuisine, few rehabs in America are more reviled by industry insider than Passages. Not that the Prentisses much care. There's usually a long waiting list of clients seeking entry into their rehabs. Their much-maligned "Addiction Cure" book reportedly earns them extra millions of dollars a year. Whenever they're on the premises, father and son both park their matching fire-engine red Porsches side-by-side on Passage's winding driveway. Which pretty much sums up the rap on the place.
That said, if you can afford it, there are worse ways to spend a month than being pampered in a dazzling Malibu mansion. Perhaps you can even get sober along the way. But if it's luxury you're seeking, you could arrange a 28-day stay at Canyon Ranch for less than half the price. Just remember to bring along Chris Prentiss's book on curing alcoholism and addiction, and a copy of AA's Big Book—just in case.
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Glamour and luxury pervade Promises' magnificent Malibu facility. A month here may cost you three times more than a month at the Paris Ritz, but for well-heeled clients like Diana Ross and Britney Spears, price isn't really an issue.