NARCONON: NEW LIFE FOR CRIMINALS, ADDICTS
PRISON PROGRAM SPREADING
BY CLAUDIA LUTHER
Times Staff Writer
Ben Gibson, 30 year-old director of Narconon New Life, surveyed the roomful of people who were too busy to take notice of him.
In that room, he said, were drug addicts, robbers, an accessory to murder, prostitutes...
"We don't have the cream of the crop," he said, "But they're becoming it." Around him, participants were completing communications exercises which are the basis of Narconon, a rehabilitation and preventive program for alcoholics, drug users and criminal repeaters.
The name Narconon, although sometimes mistaken for an analogy with Alcoholics Anonymous, means non-narcosis, or the absence of stupor or insensibility.
Narconon takes its name one step further, to mean clearnness of thought and the control over the conditions of one's own life which comes primarily, leaders say, from attention to the present.
Begun in an Arizona prison with programs running since 1966, Narconon has spread throughout the United States and into Canada, Mexico, Germany, Sweden, New Zealand and South Africa.
In Los Angeles, there are Narconon centers at 1229 S. Westmoreland Ave, where Mark Jones, who is national director, has his offices in what was once Buster Keaton's home, and in the 800 block of Beacon Ave., where Narconon New Life occupies two homes. There, participants gather to learn what Jones calls the "basically philosophically simple" means for people to achieve what they want in life - without drugs or alcohol.
The exercises, which primarily bring a person's attention to the present, are drawn from those developed by L Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, a controversial church which was once kicked out of England but survived and now has thousands of members in many countries.
Jones and Gibson, both Scientologists, say Narconon is not a religious group and though Hubbard's materials are used, "there is no organizational connection" between the church and Narconon.
"There is no political, no religious dogma put on the person at all," Jones said. Funding of Narconon, which is nonprofit, is from private donations and some governmental support.
Narconon leaders say they have a high degree of success with drug addicts and alcoholics, and have even brought many heroin users through what is usually painful withdrawal without pain and without other drugs.
A study made by the Arizona Department of Corrections covering participants from 1966 to 1971 indicated 86% of the parolees who participated in Narconon had no further trouble with the law an extremely low rate of recidivism.
Another study done at the Youth Training School in Ontario, Calif. compared two groups: one participated in Narconon, and the other did not.
The Narconon group clearly did better than the control group in both number of disciplinary offenses (Narconon participants' offenses decreased during the study period, while the control group's increased) and grade averages in trade school.
The basis of Narconon is a series of "exercises" which are designed to bring a participant's attention from past injuries and anxieties about the future to the present.
"The present time doesn't have pain." Gibson said. "It doesn't have anxiety. When you get into present time you rid yourself of all these anxieties. You have the ability to choose which way you want to go."
Jones said the most common experience of drug and alcohol users is, as a result of their experiences, to put more and more of their attention elsewhere.
"When they're not high, they feel wooden, depressed, out of it, not alive," Jones said. "They have to get more and more high to get rid of that feeling."
The initial exercise is seemingly simple. It involves nothing but sitting and facing another person, giving him or her your full attention.
Jones, 53, a Marine for 20 years, said when he first began doing this face-to-face exercise, he found himself sticking his neck aggressively forward, staring hard.
The trick is, he said to be there lightly but attentively, "willing to let him see me as I am without putting him on."
The next exercise is verbal with two participants, again face to face, alternating in a search for their partner's emotional "buttons," those things which make him squirm, or laugh nervously, or cry, or become angry.
Jones and Jeff Dubron, 24, who handles public relations for Narconon, demonstrated the exercise with an exchange like this:
Jones: "Start. You're a pretty boy, Jeff..."
Dubron chuckled, and indicated the statement made him tense.
Jones: "Flunk. Start. You're a pretty boy, Jeff. I bet your mother thought you were the cutest thing..."
Dubron again laughed.
Jones: "Flunk. Start. You're a pretty boy, Jeff. I bet mother thought you were the cutest thing. She probably dressed you up in one of the little bow ties..."
Dubron laughed. And Jones once more "flunked" him and began afresh until he could talk the subject out without getting a nervous reaction from Dubron.
The idea is to deal with what others think of you, accept it and not be afraid to experience it.
"Somewhere over 50% of people will go off drugs just on this exercise," Jones said. After 30 or 35 hours of searching for buttons, working them out and accepting them, "you really have a changed individual, a person who is open and willing to experience things in life."
Other exercises involve one showing the entire communication process from intention (seeing that an idea goes where it is intended to go), attention (on part of receiver), duplication (understanding) and acknowledgement; another teaching a person to finish what he starts; one to teach a person how to study; and one to sensitize him about how he affects the conditions of his life.
"We work on the idea where a guy understands that he's causing the conditions (of his life)," Jones said.
"If we do our job right, and we usually do, out of this you have someone who has got something together--with skills, participating, willing to experience the effects they're creating, who takes responsibility for his own actions."
"That is a rehabilitated individual."
About 30 people live at Narconon New Life at any one time, and the idea is to work them through the program, not provide a permanent sheltered environment.
Many have undergone detoxification from a variety of drugs, including one 14-year-old boy who said he had taken everything from hashish and cocaine to LSD.
Although he resisted the idea of Narconon, he came at the suggestion of his father and after about three weeks began to get involved and interested.
His goal now, he said, is "to stay off drugs and be happy without them."
Narconon is especially proud of its detoxification program for heroin addicts, which it says works without Methadone or any other similarly dependent drug.
Many addicts have left a legacy of affidavits testifying to the success of the program.
The program recently received a special commendation from the City Council in honor of its eighth year of work with drug and alcohol rehabilitation. The council resolution called it "unique and remarkably successful."