memoirs

“Dead, Insane or In Jail: A CEDU Memoir” by Zack Bonnie

 “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” Lily Tomlin

Let Me Be

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.

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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.

I’m useless.”

Who used to say that to you?” Keith’s soft voice back at me.

My father.”

Your father called you useless?”

Yeah.

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.

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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.

Toughen up.

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.

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Zack Bonnie

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.

To subscribe and stay informed as Zack continues developing his literature, please sign up for his NEWSLETTER.  You may also follow Zack on Facebook and Twitter.

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  

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Born Crazy: A Video Poem

You’re crazy.”

How often have you heard this phrase thrown around, either flippantly, in jest or to victim blame someone who has overcome or is recovering from abuse?

I heard this often as a post-cult teenager and well into my adult years. While I was actually dealing with the behavioral aftermath of being an extremely abused child, instead of receiving support, caring and nurturing I was told that I was crazy. When a child is told enough times that they’re mind is insane, we begin to believe it.

This poetry piece is from my spoken word album, Dusted Shelves, which is available on Amazon in paperback and c.d. Written in 2013, it is a representation of a life by which I was conditioned to believe that I was crazy.

Some abuse survivor work is considered to be dark and oddly psychotic. This piece would fall under that theme.

**Trigger Warning for those who are sensitive to these themes**

Born Crazy

The Most Difficult Part Of Writing Is Writing

My life as a writer is a very solitary existence. Outside of my therapist, brother and sister and my fellow cult survivors on the internet, there is not one who has walked directly in my shoes and understands why writing my post cult experiences are just as daunting as writing Cult Child was.

It is different writing fiction from fact. If I was writing fiction, the ideas would drift from my fingers onto the page and the worst I might deal with is the daunting tasking of actually making myself WRITE.

It looks something like this:

Set the timer.
Write 20 minutes.
Off 20.

Set the timer.
Write 20 minutes.
Off 20.

Set the timer.
Write 20 minutes.
Off 20.

And it continues until….

MAYDAY! MEMORY SHUTDOWN!

This happens when I hit an empass like writing about a body shaming experience, one of the times I was raped as a teenager and more than anything, having to deeply recall conversations and the way that my mother manipulated us in every day small little ways. Her language, her body mannerisms, the things she allowed me to do as a teenager versus the things I couldn’t do and how grossly imbalanced these things were in regards to what actually is and isn’t okay for a teenager.

Yet, this is also a part of my therapy, writing these words, mashing the page, getting them out, shutting down and curling up in a ball wishing I could cry, the anger, the triumphs, the fact that I’m here, writing about it and hoping that other humans even give a shit to pick up the pages.

I am envious of writers who pound out books like grating cheese. Still I manage, juggling my life in the hopes that somehow I can push through this sequel. I write, hoping that when this is finished, I will feel some kind of completion of this phase; that I can purge these emotions enough.

and then I get to finish the fun novels; the series I’ve been working on when I need a break from the emotion.

She Died Today

Exactly eight years ago today she died.  I was at work when I got the phone call.  It was expected.  She guilted and ate herself into diabetes and an early death.  She was only 65.  I used to call her Mom, then Mother, and now I call her by her first name.   Maybe it’s my way of disconnecting in the hopes I can get through the rest of this writing journey to expel the rest of the pain.   I woke up this morning feeling tearful, raw, alone inside my soul, and so I start this journey of being blatantly vulnerable through the fear of mockery and judgment.  I wade through this mist splayed open to this journey of vlogging through The Rise.

Yesterday Was Her Birthday, and It Never Crossed My Mind

I knew I was shut down to her when I stopped praying for her every day.” My sister said.

I’ve never prayed for her. I don’t pray period. I’m non-religious, humanist, truther, but pray to an invisible entity? Not for me. I don’t even think of her fondly like I used to. I just think of what the cult formed her to be; a hardened, judgmental, passive aggressive, Narcissistic woman we called Mother.

Yesterday was her birthday, and it never crossed mine or my sister’s minds. We are just miles from her grave and feel no urge to go and visit it. We are closed off now.  She is ashes to ashes, dust to dust, cycled back into the dark matter. Did she come from there; meant to return to the nothingness she was formed into after Sam Fife’s Move of God cult took control of her mind?

As I write the sequel to Cult Child, the reality of who my mother became boils to the surface like a volcano. Stories I once thought funny now churn with the sadness and hurt of a woman who lost her spirit to an intricate ring of religious fanatics. They starved her, then criticized her when she got fat again. They treated our family like we were infected because we had no father. They urged her to divorce my dad, then abused her for being an unmarried woman. The mind control enacted on my mother, causing her to participate in and validate horrific abuses against her children, is deeper than any ocean ever dove into. Some call it a rabbit hole. I call it a bottomless abyss.

Every once in a while an ex-cult member will exclaim how wonderful my mother was, and I shake my head silently. As most narcissistic people are she was a fake angel to those she wanted to impress or gain something from and a human of passive aggressive and manipulative behavior behind closed doors.

It’s easier to talk about it. I can keep things short and sweet, tell the story in skeleton form so the listener gets it, and move on. Writing it out is much different. I am traveling deeply into this abyss, using ankle weights to sink me as far as my lungs can manage.  I am examining every angle to see and understand how fragmented our Mother became leaving pieces of evil to follow us kids into life after the cult.  She was so fragmented that she remained friends with the wife of my sister’s rapist up until my mother died.

What kind of mother does that to a child?
What kind of intense shattering did it take for the cult leaders to convince her to let them have her children?

These answers, I’ll never know from my mother directly. She is dead. What I have is acceptance of what was and a long journey of memories still left to purge from my body.

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday, and I didn’t remember.
Yesterday was my mother’s birthday, and I don’t feel a thing. No sadness.  No angst.  It’s a flat lake of nothingness in my feeling spaces.

I cannot succumb to the ridiculous notion of honoring parents just because she hosted my birth onto this planet. I was dying in her stomach before I even arrived. Does she deserve honor? Does she deserve respect? Some might say yes, she does.

I say no. She does not. There is no forgiveness without accountability, and that is something she can never give to me now. I do not believe in the notion that forgiveness is needed in order to heal and thrive. Just acceptance that there are malevolent humans wandering soulless through this planetary plane, and one of them end up being my Mother.

This was the last photo taken of me before the cult sucked her into their claws.  I wonder if she ever thought about how small my hands were, the dimples in my fingers, or how tiny my face was inside of those curls.   I never heard fond stories of my babyhood or reminiscing of when I was small.  Maybe she stayed silent because then the questions would come; questions that spawned answers which didn’t fit into the truth of what happened to us.  I look at my face, and I weep for a little girl who only had two years of happiness before spending the rest of her childhood in hell.

and it would be a long and winding road out of it; a road my feet still travel heavily on.

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Therapy Through Memoir Writing

I’m halfway through the grind. Cult Child took its toll. Seven years of digging through caves, days of uncontrollable crying, illness and so much more came like waves. All of them were unexpected.

As I now write the sequel, I am still digging. There’s even more to sift through as I continue to tell my story through Sila Caprin’s character.

In December I came to a place where I had to write a body shaming memory. I was sixty pages in, and I’ve been avoiding it since. I finally spit it out today; then painted those ghosts away on a canvas. I feel self congratulatory. I got that one out.

This time around I have no timelines or deadlines set for myself. There’s just me, time, being, accepting and writing as the strength comes. As I survey what I am writing now, Cult Child feels like the vertebrae upon which I have built this outlet. There is so much, so much more to tell.

Sila will stand alone in this second book, as sequels must do, and I am remembering teenage experiences with raw reality, accepting that whatever comes up is coming up.

A physical bi-product of this particular emotional memory purge this week has been extreme nausea and headache as well. Sunday I cried all day. Yesterday I headed to the forest to find my strength again. Today I made it through writing the memory that has had me frozen for so many days.

Now I feel ready for the next writing section. Sometimes I can pre-determine which sections of writing might bring emotional setbacks or shutdown. Other times they hit like an unpredicted earthquake.

Either way, I always come out okay.
👌👊😉