1971: WILLIE BENITEZ - NEW LIFE WITHOUT DRUGS
Arizona State Prison officials were skeptical when Willie Benitez requested permission to form a drug rehabilitation group inside prison walls. They had little reason to imagine that the request of a drug addict and prison inmate would result in one of the nation’s largest and most successful drug rehabilitation programs.
Narconon, which means non-narcotics, spread from that one program in Arizona State Prison to well over 20 prisons around the country and currently has programs in Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Great Britain and South Africa. Narconon grew because it worked, not just in getting people off of “soft” drugs, but with hard drugs as well. And like all successes, great and small, it started with the action of a single man.
In this article Willie Benitez, Chairman of Narconon, and a successful independent businessman. tells his own story.
In 1963, I pleaded guilty to possession of narcotics. I had a lot of other charges against me, including burglary, grand theft and sale of narcotics, all of which resulted from my being a drug addict. As a four-time offender, I was tried as an habitual criminal - which means that if someone has been convicted four times, he’s considered habitual and there is no hope for him. The thing to do is just put him away, for his own good, and for the good of other people. This makes sense, I suppose, if you can’t do anything to assist him or make him more able or help him become a contributing citizen.
The judge who heard my case felt 1 might just be able to get my head straight. So instead of giving me life, he gave me a minimum sentence of fifteen years.
I started on drugs with marijuana at 13. When I first got addicted to hard narcotics, I was about 15 years old, and it wasn’t until a couple of years later when I was 17 that I thought I would want to get off narcotics. It was then that I started getting busted, started feeling some pain and began to see some of the people I had gone to school with completing high school. Later on, when I went to prison, I would read my home town paper and I would see pictures of them getting married, raising families, learning trades. I knew I wanted to get away from drugs, but I really didn’t know how. I made many attempts–by reading different books on just about anything that had to do with psychology or with increasing your ability to accomplish things. I tried everything from speech classes to therapy groups during most of the time I was inside prison. But every time I appeared to get better and fairly well able to strike out on my own, I would go right back on drugs … and from there to prison.
In 1964 I read a book that changed my life and resulted in my setting up Narconon.
At that time in prison, I was working on the gangs where you work outside the prison breaking rocks or chopping trees. It’s sort of like doing a great big nothing. This kind of activity pretty much keeps a person in apathy. He’s not learning anything, just sort of like a bump on a log. The only thing he’s got going is that one of these days he’s going to get out.
This was the frame of mind I was in when I came across the book Fundamentals of Thought by L. Ron Hubbard. I thought I might as well read it, and I was very impressed. There was a lot in there that didn’t have anything to do with narcotics, but it had to do with things that happen in life which I considered to be formulas – if you applied a certain formula, you would get a certain result. I was impressed by it, and I’m not one who is very gullible. That book was the beginning of Narconon.
After I read that book, I regained a certain amount of freedom, not a freedom outside the walls, so to speak, but a freedom inside my own head. For one thing my thoughts had become more clear. For another, my release date somehow appeared to be closer than when I thought about it before. I used to read that book every day. Maybe I’d read two or three pages every morning before I’d go out on the gangs.
I used to really have a ball, beating the heck out of those rocks. I was very happy and the guys on the gang used to look at me and say, “What the heck are you so happy about?” And I used to tell them, “Hey, you know what, life is beautiful.” They used to shake their heads and say, “I don’t know how you do it.” After I had read Fundamentals of Thought several times, I started reading other books by Hubbard. During this period I passed the point of danger. I knew I would never go back to drugs. It was after I had passed the danger point that I began thinking about setting up a program in the prison for drug addicts.
The only group the prison had was one for alcoholics which they allowed narcotics addicts to attend. I had tried it, but it wasn’t what I had been looking for because drinking was not a problem I had had. Mine was narcotics, and after attending a few of the sessions, I knew exactly what was going to happen at each meeting. Someone would stand up and say, “My name is…. I am an alcoholic.” That just didn’t sit well with me. If a person stands there and tells you that he is an alcoholic, I guess that’s what he is. It was the same at every meeting. A person would explain what he went through, and several weeks later when he got a chance to talk again, it was the same thing over again. When I was attending these groups, I always felt I wanted to get into a group where I could find out something different, something I didn’t know. My attitude was, “I know all of that. Tell me something I don’t know, because it is something I don’t know that is keeping me inside a prison.” So I decided to set up a program. I approached the prison administration and they said, “Well, one of these days, we’ll let you have a program.” This went on for many months. I had 20 men all ready to go, and I guess the officials just got tired of looking at me. Finally, they just gave up and said, “OK, we’ll give you a chance on a trial basis.” I’m sure they expected us to fold up in two or three weeks.
But we didn’t. And there are a lot of reasons that we didn’t, not the least of which was that we really didn’t talk all that much about drugs. For one reason, it had been my experience that drugs really weren’t the problem. Say a guy is bugged and anxious. If he then gets on drugs, he can maybe feel relaxed about all those things that were bugging him and that he didn’t want to handle.
Also, I noticed that whenever I would increase my ability and was able to do something, I felt better. And I felt less inclined to use narcotics. I came to view narcotic usage as a disability. A person would use narcotics because of other things he was not able to do in life, whether it might be an inability to communicate or an inability to start something and take it to its finish.
As Narconon was set up, we concentrated right from the start on increasing abilities and I don’t mean doing things like making paper dolls or weaving rugs or making pocket books out of leather. In Narconon, we took some of the drills that Hubbard developed and worked at increasing a person’s abilities in communication, in handling things that he started, in confronting things in life. We found that if a person were just able to perceive something in this universe, then really face it, and then resolve it the way he wanted it resolved, why then one of the by-products of this was that his narcotic addiction would just drop by the wayside.
And that is exactly what happened. In my case and just about everyone I ever worked with, they first become more able and, the next thing you know, they have no desire to use drugs.
We’ve gotten quite a few guys out of prison. For instance, my partner in my carpeting business, is a Narconon graduate. We have another fellow in California who is our first Narconon graduate who has his own business in building maintenance and janitorial work. It’s a funny thing. It seems that most Narconon graduates who come out of prison soon strike out to be their own bosses – which is great – but there is nothing wrong with being an employee either. Their abilities have just come way up.
I knew a lot of these men before Narconon. I can really tell a great difference in them. In others, the only way I can tell of the difference is from what they have told me and from what other people who know them have told me. Prior to Narconon, they were all mess-ups, goof-ups, always in trouble, in and out of jail. And today they are living good lives, creating good survival for themselves and the people around them.