Reporter Sam Dolnick paints a chilling picture of sexual abuse, horrific violence and rampant drug use in part two of the New York Times’ expose of New Jersey’s privately run halfway houses—of the fresh-out-of-prison, rather than fresh-out-of-rehab variety—in particular at Trenton’s 900-bed Albert M. “Bo” Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center. Inmates here (they still are inmates, having been released early from state prisons into the care of Community Education Centers, which runs Bo Robinson) live in overcrowded conditions, with far less security than in prison. In fact, many inmates ask to return to the lock-up. Drugs make their way into the facility by the same trade routes that they enter prisons: smuggled in by visitors, or stuffed inside balls that are tossed over the walls from the shoulder of nearby Highway 1. As a result, county officials conducting surprise drug testing at Bo Robinson in 2009 found that 73% of inmates tested positive.
Community Education Centers is meant to rehabilitate its charges, but this happens in only the most rudimentary of ways. Low-wage workers, very few of whom have any training in drug and alcohol treatment, merely read out self-help literature to packed rooms of disinterested (at best) inmates. But the in-house Narcotics Anonymous meetings are perhaps the worst parody of care. A former deputy director of treatment for the facility named Derrick Watkins (who was dismissed after the 2009 drug-test debacle) relates how an older inmate once came to tell him how “the Bloods are running the NA meetings.” An incredulous Watkins asked, “Excuse me?” To which the inmate replied, “Instead of drug and alcohol talk, they were talking gang stuff.”
Since leaving her job at xoJane.com last week, former beauty columnist and self-described "pill-head" Cat Marnell has been as unfiltered as usual, spilling to the media about her drug addiction and "crazy life." In an interview with New York Magazine, she describes herself as a "fucking freakshow," and admits "I'm always on drugs." But despite being on speed during the interview, the blogger speaks with staggering clarity about her addiction, which she says started when her psychiatrist dad put her on stimulants at 15—and "I’ve just been gobbling down pills ever since." There's some contention over whether she left her job intentionally, or was fired—but Marnell recognizes that a pharmaceutical-induced meltdown, and a lifestyle that includes "laying around all day" played their part. She also disputes claims that Jane enabled her by subsidizing her drug-addicted employment for years: "I am a walking syringe…I would have been doing drugs no matter what." As for being unemployed, the Rx addict's primary concern is a lack of health insurance, "because I fill so many prescriptions every month." Adderall and Vyvanse are in her repertoire—but like many addicts, she's resourceful: "Walgreens has a fabulous prescription drug saving program that I would recommend to any young addict."
Some of Marnell's avid readers and fans are beginning to express concern, but she says she hasn't hit rock bottom yet—although perhaps it's not far off. "I am sick, you know, so I have to be realistic. Maybe if there was something inspiring, I could get it together. I don’t plan to be like this all the time," she says, acknowledging that being an addict isn't all it's cracked up to be: "You definitely crash and burn as much as you fly."
Oh, the humanity: Oaksterdam University's collection of marijuana artifacts is about to become homeless. The cannabis teaching college was founded in 2007 to "provide students with the highest quality training for the cannabis industry”—and suffered a recent federal raid. The group has several auditoriums, classrooms and grow labs at its home site on Broadway St. in Oakland, California. The associated Oaksterdam Cannabis and Hemp Museum highly-valued by cannabis aficionados also occupies this space; but the exhibit area, sponsored by Richard Lee—the founder of Oaksterdam University and sponsor of California’s doomed Proposition 19 initiative to legalize marijuana—will be gone by the end of the month. “We’re looking for the right permanent location,” says Oaksterdam's chancellor, Dale Sky Jones. “Considering the current national situation, it is unthinkable we could allow the center for knowledge and American history to go into storage.” Unthinkable, too, to museum curator Chris Conrad, a former curator of the Hash Marihuana Hemp Museum of Amsterdam, who says that the Oaksterdam museum has amassed “the best collection of artifacts about hemp, cannabis as medicine, and the direct results of marijuana prohibition that I have seen on public display in North America.” The museum has put out a distress call for donors. Sounds like a candidate for the National Historic Landmarks roster.
In a last-ditch effort to save their sons from addiction to pornography, some parents are opting to send them to Oxbow Academy in Wales, Utah. The $9,000-a-month military boot camp-style facility aims to tackle teenage boys' sexual behavioral issues—including porn addiction, voyeurism and assaulting other children. Oxbow takes in boys aged between between 13 and 17, and offers extensive counseling as well as continued academic schooling. Some extra-curricular activities, like horseback riding and music therapy, are also available, but most of the students' free time is focused on schoolwork and chores. Phones and internet use are (as you might expect) generally banned at Oxbow—with all websites blocked from the school's computers except online encyclopedias. According to Oxbow's director, Stephen Schultz, society is becoming ever more "sexualized," contributing to an increase in compulsive sexual behavior. Porn addiction is Oxbow's largest treatment category, earning the academy its nickname: Porn School. "Threesomes and depraved sexual behavior is all over the internet, and children see those images before they develop into adolescents," says Schultz. Some of the boys apparently even experience withdrawal symptoms upon entering the facility. "One boy from Chicago actually got the shakes, like a drug abuser," says Schultz. "He was in very poor shape when he arrived. He'd been on his computer 10 to 12 hours a day looking at porn."
There is very little evidence that addictive behavior can be inherited biologically or genetically, argues Stanton Peele—the psychologist, leading opponent of the disease model of addiction and sometime Fix contributor—in a provocative article published by the non-12 step addiction treatment and research organization Saint Jude Retreats. Peele writes that of the many reasons why people choose to drink or do drugs, factors like circumstances and environment are far more important than genetic inheritance—for which the evidence is "minor"—or the brain's neurochemistry. "People are blinded by genetic theories so that they can't take in the facts all around them," he writes. "Becoming—and remaining—addicted has a lot more to do with the groups people come from and associate with, and from their beliefs and expectations about alcohol or drugs (or other activities), than from their biological makeup."
Peele cites the example of rock band Aerosmith: all five members joined AA at once—just as they once drank and did drugs together. "How unlikely a coincidence it is that five unrelated people with the alcoholic/addictive inheritance should run into one another and form a band!" he says. Mark Scheeren, Chairman of Saint Jude Retreats, agrees: "Addiction is simply a series of habitual behaviors which can be changed. Substance use boils down to a thought which is the conscious decision to drink and/or drug. There is no gene of addiction, unlike rehabilitation programs would like you to believe." Proponents of such programs, and of the disease model, will be quick to disagree.