• Born in Synanon

    1 Season
    Born in Synanon follows the rise and fall of the infamous cult, from the unique perspective of a courageous mother, daughter, and their community.

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Born in Synanon
BORN IN SYNANON chronicles one woman’s journey to discover the truth about what was once America’s largest cult - Synanon. It began as a drug and alcohol treatment center. It would become a utopian racially inclusive community. But its mission is corrupted by its megalomaniac founder as he descends into madness. Cassidy Arkin’s earliest memories are of a happy communal extended family, a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the abusive hierarchical society her peers recall. Cassidy, along with her mother Sandy, set out to unravel the secrets of Synanon. They reconnect with former members and share personal stories, revealing a vast trove of often disturbing archival footage – some of it never seen before. In 1958, Chuck Dederich disagreed with the prevailing notion that drug addiction was incurable. So he created an innovative rehab program in California that required participants to reside on one of Synanon’s “campuses” and strictly adhere to rules that he alone could decree. Besides the addicts or “dope fiends” – often people of color from big cities – there were also “squares,” those leading crime-free but conventional lives who wanted to try communal living. Children could create their own curriculum and were housed together from infancy, separated from their parents. Individual needs and egos were leveled. Everyone was required to play “The Game.” Sitting in a circle, each in turn could say anything they wanted about anyone in the group, dissecting their personalities. The criticism felt personal and often brutal with screaming and tears. Dederich’s interracial marriage was held forth as a model for the color blind society Synanon aspired to be. But as the leader becomes increasingly unhinged, it all falls apart as women are made to shave their heads, children are slapped and money is skimmed or stolen by Dederich’s lieutenants from the cult’s bank accounts. Cassidy and Sandy, in seeking truth about Synanon, were not prepared for what they found. 
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Born in Synanon