“Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” Lily Tomlin
art by Jonathan Weiner, San Francisco, CA 2015
Accented with unique and relevant art by Jonathan Weiner of San Francisco, CA,”Dead Insane or In Jail: A CEDU Memoir“, by Zack Bonnie, reveals with precision the mind bending abuse enacted inside of the youth reform industry. “The Cult That Spawned the Tough-Love Teen Industry”, by Mother Jones, explains the birth of this industry and provides the following graph. CEDU had roots in Synanon and began in 1967.
It was indeed an industry of profit as parents were indoctrinated with the belief that any slightly “off” behavior by their teenager was a sign of serious problems, resulting in parents not only giving away their children with the belief they were helping them, but additionally being swindled out of millions of dollars.
“Dead, Insane or In Jail: A CEDU Memoir” opens with Bonnie taking a ski trip with his father. Subsequent events find a fourteen-year-old Bonnie checked into a youth reform facility in Idaho. He is tricked, and left there against his will. Thus begins the enactment of Bonnie’s mental shattering. Overnight, he joins the ranks of the large number of throwaway youth in the eighties, who eventually were labeled “Generation X“.
With every phone call monitored and Bonnie’s parents receiving false reports of his progress, he becomes trapped in an intricately woven scheme of abuse. He has no means of escape. He is unable to relay his alarming conditions to anyone. Forced through bizarre, psychological techniques to become emotionally naked, Bonnie is often left confused about what is real in his mind. The children are left unsure of what a right answer to staff questions should be. They are love bombed, then verbally abused, with severely psychotic mind control rituals. The CEDU facilitators often use the children’s personal family dynamics to manipulate them.
“To not share would be to betray them and the confidences that they shared. I said the most innermost things that made my voice tremble to admit, bringing an ancient anger and self-hatred to the surface. It wasn’t just the situation; it was where it was taking me, inside myself.
“Who used to say that to you?” Keith’s soft voice back at me.
“Your father called you useless?”
Had he really? Yes, he had.
“Say it again. ‘My father said I’m useless.’ Good. It hurt you? Yeah. You can say that again, that’s riiiigth.”
Tess and Keith repeated what we said a lot. Just about every time a kid in my group said something, Jasper, Tess, or Keith was there to repeat it. This is how we always seemed to get roped into going deeper within ourselves.
Rituals involve teenagers verbally confronting themselves and each other. Every detail of their life is invited to be shared as their overseeing handlers note them to use against the children later. Rounded into groups, they are put through almost daily, mind bending sessions of unimaginable attacks as staff strategically controls the children into turning on one another.
art by Jonathan Weiner, San Francisco, CA 2015
Zack describes session after session, as every part of the children’s emotions are controlled and manipulated.
“Bianca, what do you remember about your mom? She used to have a name for you, too, didn’t she?”
“I guess so.” Bianca Taylor picked up her cue from Tess.
“Yeah. What was her favorite nickname for that beautiful little tyke? Can you remember for me?“
“She used to call me Rainbow...” Bianca started crying. I wanted to start crying from watching Bianca, who I’d never really even talked to. Seeing raw sadness like that felt like a punch to the solar plexus.
The berating of kids is a carefully crafted tool. Broken down into nothing, with their self-image lost and lacking any emotional worth, the children become easier for the staff to manipulate. Using every piece of their fragile lives, the staff takes as many opportunities as possible to verbally abuse the children.
“I can’t hear you, Bianca. A spoiled little bitch? Spoiled little bitch. LITTLE BITCH! Why did he call you that? That’s right, let me hear you.”
“Go for it, Wally…GET IT OUT, PEOPLE. That’s RIGHT!”
“A SLUT! Who said that to little Daphne? You really let that little girl down, didn’t you?“
“Yeah? When? After the abortion? Say that again, Narissa – you’ve got to stop being that girl with the reputation? Look at her!“
“Here’s some tissues, Bianca. Let it go.”
Catch terms such as “bans“, when children are forbidden to speak to one another, and “bad rapping“, children saying bad things about each other, are among a plethora of rituals used to manipulate the minds of vulnerable teenagers. Meanwhile, the children are allowed to smoke cigarettes and other self-harming behaviors, geared to feed into their anxiety, which grows, the longer they are forced to remain inside of the program.
Bonnie’s writing style allows his reader to easily flow between what he is forced to witness happening to other children and the silent thoughts he is disallowed to ever let leave his lips lest there be intense punishment. The children are trained to adhere to a system filled with mistrust and expected betrayal of one another. They are strip searched upon admittance to the program. They are heavily worked. They are humiliated in front of one another.
Yet, even trapped inside such a sordid system of complicated tier goals, systematic punishments, humiliation and anger, Bonnie’s resilience becomes his counter weight as he journals.
“Guess what I went through my truth prophet August 9 & 10 and I found out that I basically I was a dick at home. I have been mulling it over in my mind and I know the point of raps and prophets. Just to make you cry a lot so naturally being the way I am I didn’t cry. – Author journal entry, 11 August 1988 (one month at RMA)”
Through this writing, Bonnie brilliantly flows between descriptive enactment of the program and his attempt to retain a critical thinking mind. Bonnie takes his reader’s hand and pulls them directly into the center of his deeply intense experiences.
Bonnie navigates the CEDU system until he can no longer withstand the thin line between the reality in his mind and the constant psychological belittlement he daily endures. One day Bonnie decides to go on the run. Will he make it out?
“Dead, Insane or In Jail: A CEDU Memoir” reveals the sadistic truth of the youth reform’s use of mental and physical abuse to control children. Never has a book had an impact on my own teenage memories since I was a young person reading “Run, Baby, Run” by Nicky Cruz. The detail through which Bonnie brings his story to life is exceptionally mapped out.
“Dead, Insane or In Jail: A CEDU Memoir” is guaranteed to make you intensely feel. You will be outraged. You will ask why and how a human being can do such things to children. You will laugh, and you will cry. You will cheer for the incredible strength and courage Zack journeys into as he brings his teenage memories to life on the pages of this exceptional book.
Zack Bonnie is in the process of re-launching his website, complete with an audio-book of DEAD, INSANE OR IN JAIL: A CEDU MEMOIR, which is available in paperback and e-book. Additionally, he is beginning the publishing submission process for the sequel, entitled: DIJ: OVERWRITTEN. All of Zack’s work can be explored at his WEBSITE.
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Personal Note: Sometimes a book is so well written, it sinks into the skin of a trauma survivor like me, who found incredible familiarity in the words I read. This author touched my heart deeply when I met him. The ache in his eyes was familiar. The strength was admirable. The energy was filled with the passion for advocacy. So, dear Zack, please forgive my delay in this long overdue review of your book. I truly wanted to give you the honor you so rightly deserve. Love, Vennie Kocsis
Vennie Kocsis is the best-selling author of Cult Child and the hostess of Survivor Voices Show and her live Sunday broadcast Off the Cuff. She is an advocate, poet and artist.