In 1984, Tony Suraci was a 17-year-old Fallbrook High senior who sang in local bands and acted in school plays. He remembers the day he became part of a "sobriety cult."
"I had the lead in [the play] Blythe Spirit. I didn't make it to a Sadie Hawkins dance the night before a dress rehearsal, and I shared with the cast why me and my date didn't make it. We went out to party." Suraci mentioned to cast members that he had drank and smoked pot the night before. The cast told the drama teacher, and the drama teacher told Suraci's mother.
"They kicked me out of the play and hired a professional actor," says Suraci. "A week later I got a call from my mom. In a friendly tone she said, 'Let's go to lunch.' We ended up going down the 15 freeway. She said, 'I am taking you to some people who know more about you than I do.' "
Those "people" were associated with Freeway, a drug-abuse program founded in the early '80s by Bob Meehan, self-proclaimed "father of drug intervention." In 1979, a 60 Minutes exposé noted that "the [treatment] program's tools are peer pressure and peer support" and that "members are told to steer clear of nonmembers and to attend as many meetings as they can." In his interview, Meehan affirmed his "power to persuade." Last year in the Tucson Weekly, a former counselor described Meehan's control over clients and counselors as "blind and absolute." (Though Meehan has been linked to treatment centers in Arizona, he is reportedly no longer involved with any in California.)
Suraci says when he graduated from high school in 1985 he was hired by Meehan to work at a live-in facility in Escondido called SLIC (Sober Live-In Center) Ranch.
"At the meetings everyone hugs each other and says, 'I love you,' " says Suraci. "And everyone smokes.... When I worked for SLIC Ranch, I had to stay up all night and make sure they didn't practice any of the three F's: fighting, fixing [drug use], and you know what the other 'F' is. I also cleaned the ranch. I mopped the floors, washed dishes."
In 1986 Suraci moved to Dallas to work for a recovery group he says was affiliated with Meehan.
"I was paid, like, $250 a week" to drive, perform maintenance duties, and to be a weekend supervisor/counselor. "They called me a counselor, but I was unaccredited."
Suraci left Dallas in 1988 to tour with a band called Recovery.
"We toured Texas, playing for sober audiences. All our songs were about sobriety and recovery, but I was always loyal to the cult."
Suraci says he and Meehan parted company in 1997.
"If you don't act a certain way, they excommunicate you. I was told I was no longer needed."
Suraci says he is now dedicated to music. His second solo CD (available at www.tonysuraci.com) is titled My Only Faith. He plays covers with his band at casinos, nightspots, and private parties.
Meehan's 1984 book, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road: Our Children and Drugs, is still sold by Meek Publishers in Roswell, Georgia. A request to speak with Meehan was left with Meek, but Meehan did not respond.
Suraci and band appear at the Promenade Bar in the Pala Casino from October 18 through 21.