I’ve been writing on family court corruption for the last two years, focusing specifically on IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) and women, since statistically, women make up a larger portion of victims. IPV is focused on because it’s present in nearly every case of family court bias and corruption. While this advocacy is important for many reasons, it does little to unite protective parents and sometimes singles out protective fathers who may or may not be victims of abuse themselves. And yet, with all this activism, advocacy, awareness, and legislative change, I still hear the same question asked by victims of family court corruption: Why is there still no change? The advocacy and activism approaches made by various groups have garnered a mainstream awareness and fought tirelessly to pass new legislation so I’m not knocking these various activist groups or organizations. They have helped countless victims and some of these groups have become family court watchdogs doing their best to set new case precedents while placing family court judges and lawyers in the media’s spotlight, important because judges are protected by immunity for their rulings.
Still, all this activism and awareness has done little to combat family court corruption, a war against families that was documented as early as the 1800s when large numbers of Native American children were removed from their homes and placed in Indian Boarding Schools. The Indian Adoption Project began in 1958 resulting in some 2300 children being adopted or placed in foster homes. [Restoring Native American Families, PBS]. Many will argue, rightfully so, that this was cultural genocide, and I agree, but I would like to point out two glaring realities of both the Indian Adoption Project and today’s family court corruption saga:
- Stealing children from loving homes is not new in America.
- The Government is trampling parents’ rights, telling parents that they know what’s best for our children.
There is some debate on whether family court corruption is a conspiracy and to that end, I’ll simply quote a fellow activist and point out that if judges had nothing to hide, they wouldn’t issue gag orders in these cases. In my own case, the lawyer informed me it was a common practice to pay off certain expert witnesses and others like family counselors and therapists. There are cases where judges have overturned decisions favoring one parent to then award custody to abusive parents, and in nearly all of those cases, the judges have had documented evidence of child abuse and domestic violence and issued gag orders against the protective parents involved. Why the sudden change of heart? I’ll leave you to ponder that, but if you think that family court isn’t earning monetary profits, you’re woefully naive or willfully blind. These cases have been well-documented and submitted in a petition to the UN by the Women’s Coalition. The money in these cases can be tracked on a federal level. It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a fact.
But there’s a side to family court corruption that we don’t often hear about and those are the stories of the children who’ve been separated from their loving parents. Rarer still, are the stories of children taken from loving fathers and placed with abusive mothers. The following is Aaron’s story.
The Synanon program was founded in 1958 in Santa Monica, California by Charles Dederich. The program was an alternative community originally designed to be an alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation program. Later, Synanon became the Church of Synanon, infamous for its cult-like practices. One of these practices, in particular, called The Game, was a method of therapy wherein members brutally criticized one another. The Game eventually became a 72-hour practice and effective brainwashing technique. Synanon reportedly made members shave their heads and forced divorces, abortions, and vasectomies. Members were beaten if they broke the rules or tried to escape. Matt Novak’s, “The Man Who Fought The Synanon Cult and Won,” describes these practices and others in greater detail. Eventually, The Church of Synanon was investigated for illegal activities, including murder, and lost their tax-exempt status with the IRS.
Once Synanon disbanded in 1991 (though a branch may still be in operation today, in Germany), a new program was created based on Synanon called Amity. Amity, like Synanon, is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, founded in 1969 in Tuscon, Arizona. They received federal grants and began a program for convicts arrested on various charges.
Aaron lived with his mother where he was regularly beaten by her boyfriend, Jamie. He describes his life with his mother, “I would pull needles out of her arm in the morning. I remember the blood in them. I spent most of my time away from the house. A week before she went to prison, I got up to go to the restroom and there she was partying with everyone as usual but with a shotgun. She said, ‘I thought I told you to go to bed!’ But with the gun pointed at me and everyone was laughing. Fifteen minutes later she shot out the back sliding glass door and the dog. Almost killed it.” Aaron’s mother, a heroin addict, was arrested on a weapons charge and for the destruction of government property after she drove through a military fence with a loaded .357.Following his mother’s arrest and conviction, Aaron lived with his father. “I got stabilized and started to excel in school, even got invited into a program for those that score high. I stopped fighting. It was the only time in my life that was normal.” Aaron was six-years-old when his mother was arrested.
Aaron’s mother’s weapons charge earned her a year in prison. Two former Synanon coordinators worked with Amity, and one of those, a woman whom we’ll call, Jane, went to court for Aaron, the first child at Amity. Aaron refers to Jane as his handler in the Amity program. Aaron’s mother’s release from prison was incumbent upon her entering treatment with Amity. Aaron entered Amity in late 1980, early 1981 and spent two years in the program, living in two different Amity facilities. He was seven-years-old upon entering Amity and nine when he left.
When asked if his mother’s treatment at Amity had been successful, Aaron responded, “No. The Game destroyed her. They had her on the stage for three weeks, yelling at her, calling her names. It was a very, very mean and hateful thing. I had to watch that. This was in the beginning, at the first location out in the desert before Circle Tree Ranch. Jane seemed to have it out for her the whole time. Jane taught me the Game well. She used me to destroy my mother often and all the men. I could make them cry at Jane’s request.” Aaron added, “I was taught by Jane that my mom deserved it. “Jane was comforting amidst the mental torture and games. I was lost. I had daily meetings with Jane for months to counter that effect. Watching peeps and my mom getting viciously attacked every day … Jane counseled me at first, confused me more like, it got to where I was mean to everyone. She had to tone my reaction down. Jane was very likable. I even asked her to be my mom. How fucked is that?
“They used the Game to full effect. Complete with isolation, gas lighting, stonewalling, and every cult trick. It evolved in the 90’s to psychiatric versions, like the confrontation therapy used by Tuscon Psychiatric when I was sixteen. Sucked. All the rich kids ganged up on us poor kids with the help of staff. That is another horrible story, though. Basically, the Game is the breakdown method in use today. I was just some kind of test rat.”
The Game wasn’t the only Synanon refrain members were forced to endure. Aaron recounts bonfires that were strange, “like some cross between therapy and church.” Amity members were forced to watch the Synanon movie. He adds that men and women were kept separated in their own quarters. Of Amity, Aaron states that it was tame in comparison to Synanon. I asked if he’d noticed cult-like behavior at Amity, practices like those used at Synanon, and Aaron replied, “That is where Synanon differed. [Amity] didn’t outright do that stuff unless you ran.”
While in Amity, Aaron was watched by his two “buddies,” members assigned to keep watch over him. When he left the Tuscon facility and relocated to Circle Tree Ranch, Aaron’s experience changed. He’d met a young girl there named, Jill. “At Circle Tree, one of the Watchmen molested my friend Jill. The Watchman did this every night next to me. He threatened to kill all of us. I turned him in at school. He went to jail, but things got weird there. That is when people started to go missing. After I found the knife, wallet, and watch … it wasn’t long then, even my mom ran.”
Aaron believed those who had gone missing had run away and says there were no investigations into their disappearances. I told him it must have been a difficult thing to be so young and have the courage to turn in the Watchman for Jill’s abuse. He replied, “It was more difficult to keep watching. Jill hated me for it cause she thought someone might kill her mom. She stopped talking to me.”
Aaron’s mother abandoned him at Amity when she fled. He called his father to pick him up. “My dad had no clue why I was so screwed up. Didn’t know what to do. I was very depressed.” He later moved to Massachusetts to live again with his mother who eventually relocated to Tuscon, and last Aaron heard, was leaving the Covenant House, a Christian half-way house.
As we were wrapping up the interview, Aaron made a couple of chilling observations, “When the program outside of Tucson [Synanon] was going on in the 70s it was far messier. Kids came up missing and others it seems were just handed over.” He later added, “Seventeen thousand children go missing out of America every year. This is an industry.”
An industry profiting off of children, fueled by Ronald Reagan’s Drug-Free America program. According to Amity’s Circle Tree website, “In 1986, Amity was recognized by the U.S. Senate as a model for its work with juvenile offenders. In 1987, Arbiter [Naya Arbiter, Director of the residential substance abuse treatment program] was appointed by the President as one of 125 national experts tapped for the White House Conference for a Drug-Free America. Later, Arizona Senior Senator Dennis DeConcini visited Amity and was particularly impressed with the success of alcohol and drug addicted mothers who were allowed to bring their children to Amity during their recovery process. DeConcini asked Amity senior faculty to work with him on the design of a federal initiative. This initiative made over $100 million in funding available for alcohol and drug treatment rehabilitation programs throughout the U.S. which used elements of Amity’s model and methodology.”
Aaron is married now with children of his own. He says the story of his time at Amity is not about him. “So many other children need help.”
Aaron’s story is hard to hear but one he describes as tame in comparison to Synanon. In addition to shedding light on the psychologically damaging practices of some rehabilitation half-way houses and how government funding is being used in such abusive practices, Aaron’s story answers that question so often asked by victims of family court corruption. Why is there no change?
“Michigan makes loads off stealing children for their privatized foster care. One town reported 50% removal of children from their homes. Very sad and angering. They target the really poor with no hope of fighting and get members of the community to testify against them like they’re in league. These families are getting destroyed so others can line their pockets,” Aaron said of family court.
He’s referring to Clare County. Author, Yvonne Mason writes:
In the majority of cases, school officials, such as teachers and counselors, never suspected child abuse or neglect in the families that were prosecuted. Moreover, in most cases the family physicians never suspected child abuse or neglect in the families prosecuted. Families are targeted because FIA [Michigan Department of Family Independence Agency] must justify its need for State and Federal grants to keep its workers employed. Currently, FIA receives, in Federal grants, $2,000 to $4,000 per month per child in foster care and $10,000 per child adopted out into permanent homes after the parent’s rights have been terminated due to neglect and abuse. The State of Michigan provides matching funds to FIA. Bill Clinton recently signed new legislation providing for an additional $2,000 to $4,000 per month per child in foster care and $10,000 for adoption. FIA is making money hand over fist through our tax dollars. FIA social workers receive bonuses for removing children from their homes and for adoption. The incentive for abuse of power is extremely high and has occurred at alarming rates.
During 1996, Clare County removed 50% of the children in the county for neglect and abuse in the home. It is very hard to comprehend that 50% of the parents in Clare County are neglecting and abusing their children. Clare County is a “demonstration county” that is a pilot county for The Binsfield Laws supported by Federal Grants. These programs involve privatizing the foster care system. The foster care program hires private industry to service the foster care needs of the county children removed from the home. Currently, Eagle Village in Hersey, Michigan holds the foster care contract for Clare County FIA.
The Courts believe that the FIA workers are the professionals and take their word as gold. The parents cannot defend against FIA. The testimony and statements mean nothing in the Probate/Family Court. In fact, the Court can issue an emergency pick up order for the children based on only FIA’s statements in an ex-parte hearing conduct[ed] by the judge and the FIA worker. The parents are not present during these hearings. The Court will issue an ex-parte emergency order allowing the FIA work to enter the home or child’s school to remove the child from the parent’s custody. [The State of Michigan Has A Dirty Little Secret. It Is Called Child Protection Services. Yvonne Mason]
Why is there no change in family court corruption? The reasons are simple. We’re not fighting family court corruption in the political arena where we should be fighting it, and we’re not targeting the corrupt use of government funding. We’ve targeted issues that are important, but not the problem at its source. We’ve separated family court corruption into a fight on domestic violence, on alcoholism and drug abuse, on poverty, and on gender. I’m not saying these issues shouldn’t be fought for or that they’re not important causes, but in the fight against family court corruption, our efforts must also include a demand for family court reform and a focus on corruption at a government level. We must look at the profits, the grants, and the government funding that once in the hands of corrupt individuals or groups, enables abusive atmospheres like Synanon to thrive. Though issues of IPV and drug and alcohol abuse are important and have been widely documented in cases of family court bias, family court corruption is not a gender issue. It’s a human rights issue perpetuated by special interest groups and programs and the corporate government that all prey off of social issues in family courts. Keep fighting social issues, yes, but also mount a political attack on corruption because until then, we’re not tackling the issue at its core but merely fighting skirmishes on the edge of what is a much bigger issue. We must unite our efforts to focus on the politics of family court corruption if we are ever to see an end to this nightmare endured by so many American families.
Special thanks to Aaron Wagner
*Some names were changed for this article.