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Dead Inside
Cover of Dead Inside
Dead Inside
A True Story

This fast-paced memoir that New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins called "Compelling. Scary. Totally real" gives readers a glimpse into the unbelievable reality of a young girl's 16 months in the notorious "tough love" program the ACLU called "a concentration camp for throwaway kids."

I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, or a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi's jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the staff at Straight.

I was thirteen when I ran away from my abusive home. After a month in a shelter for kids—the best month of my childhood—my mother heard about Princess Di and First Lady Nancy Reagan's visit to this place that was working miracles with troubled teens. Straight Inc., it was called.

Straight described itself as a drug rehab, a "direction for youth." Strictly false advertising. An accurate description came from the ACLU, which called it "A concentration camp for throwaway teens." Inside the windowless warehouse, Straight used bizarre and intimidating methods to "treat" us; to turn us into the type of kids our parents wanted. The Dead Inside takes readers behind Straight's closed doors, illustrating why the program was eventually investigated, sued, and closed down for abusing children.

"Raw and absorbing, Etler's voice captivates"—Kirkus Reviews
"[An] unnerving and heartrending memoir..."—Publishers Weekly
"Etler weaves her story with conviction, self-deprecating humor, and hard facts"—Booklist
"This is a memoir unlike anything else on the shelves today"—Germ Magazine

This fast-paced memoir that New York Times bestselling author Ellen Hopkins called "Compelling. Scary. Totally real" gives readers a glimpse into the unbelievable reality of a young girl's 16 months in the notorious "tough love" program the ACLU called "a concentration camp for throwaway kids."

I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, or a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi's jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the staff at Straight.

I was thirteen when I ran away from my abusive home. After a month in a shelter for kids—the best month of my childhood—my mother heard about Princess Di and First Lady Nancy Reagan's visit to this place that was working miracles with troubled teens. Straight Inc., it was called.

Straight described itself as a drug rehab, a "direction for youth." Strictly false advertising. An accurate description came from the ACLU, which called it "A concentration camp for throwaway teens." Inside the windowless warehouse, Straight used bizarre and intimidating methods to "treat" us; to turn us into the type of kids our parents wanted. The Dead Inside takes readers behind Straight's closed doors, illustrating why the program was eventually investigated, sued, and closed down for abusing children.

"Raw and absorbing, Etler's voice captivates"—Kirkus Reviews
"[An] unnerving and heartrending memoir..."—Publishers Weekly
"Etler weaves her story with conviction, self-deprecating humor, and hard facts"—Booklist
"This is a memoir unlike anything else on the shelves today"—Germ Magazine

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  • OverDrive Read
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Copies-
  • Available:
    0
  • Library copies:
    1
Levels-
  • ATOS:
    4.6
  • Lexile:
    640
  • Interest Level:
    UG
  • Text Difficulty:
    2 - 3

Recommended for you

About the Author-
  • A modern-day Cinderella, Cyndy Etler was homeless at fourteen, summa cum laude at thirty. In her current work as a teacher and teen life coach, Etler happily teaches teens that books are better than drugs. She lives with her husband and dogs in North Carolina. Find her at CyndyEtler.com.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 30, 2017
    Etler’s unnerving and heartrending memoir begins in 1980s Connecticut when she was 13; Cyndy’s father died years earlier, leaving her in the care of her mother, whose second husband sexually abused Cyndy. When Cyndy began fighting back and attempting to escape, she fell in with a bad crowd from nearby Bridgeport. Choosing to enter foster care rather than live with her mother, Cyndy was eventually sent to Straight, Incorporated, an ostensible rehab program/“boarding school” where she spent more than a year being abused, bullied, and brainwashed into believing she was a drug addict. Given Etler’s recounting of absurd and abusive scare tactics such as “spit therapy,” in which Straightlings are spit on by higher-ranking children, and “carrying,” in which newcomers are carted around by their belt loops and underwear, readers may be stunned that a place like Straight could exist, let alone that a parent would willingly send a child there. Details about the history of Straight, Inc., are included in an afterword, not seen by PW. Ages 14–up. Agent: Myrsini Stephanides, Carol Mann Agency.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2017
    In this debut memoir, Etler takes readers on a harrowing journey into Straight Inc., a nightmarish drug rehab that used controversial methods to "treat" its patients. At 14, Cyndy Etler was a white teenager desperately looking for a place to belong. Trying to escape from the abusive hands of her stepfather, she finds solace in Pink Floyd, God, and Bridgeport, the Connecticut city where she can escape with her best friend on weekends. When her mother reports her as a runaway, she sets off a chain of events that lands Cyndy at Straight Inc., a drug-rehabilitation facility in Virginia. Bewildered, Cyndy is sure she will be released as soon as the staff realizes she is not a drug addict. She cannot imagine that she will be stuck in this place--"a warehouse, literally...where, for a fee, parents can disappear their fuckups and rejects"--for the next 16 months. The treatment at Straight is bizarre and abusive, consisting largely of peer-led intimidation, emotional abuse, and mind games where the extensive rules are strictly enforced by the "group." Cyndy's progression into Stockholm syndrome is shocking yet wholly believable. Etler channels her younger self's voice with pitch-perfect verisimilitude as Cyndy goes from wide-eyed disbelief to acquiescence, having finally found a place where she feels like she belongs. An epilogue offers a redemptive conclusion, and an author's note provides chilling context for Straight's history and Cyndy's story. Raw and absorbing, Etler's voice captivates. (author's note) (Memoir. 15 & up)

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    March 1, 2017

    Gr 9 Up-In 1985, when 14-year-old runaway Etler was given the choice by police to either go home or be placed into foster care, she chose the latter. At home, she was routinely molested by her stepfather; her mother knew but denied it. Although being in foster care worked well for Etler, she was later transferred by her parents to Straight Inc., a drug treatment facility that turned out to be a cultlike organization bent on "rehabilitating" teen patients through abuse and isolation tactics. Etler's harrowing story details Straight Inc.'s bizarre rules, routines, and practices and her eventual chilling transformation into a true believer. The writing is fast-paced, and references to 1980s slang, music, and culture abound. Fans of dystopian novels, books about cults, and survival stories will find this account impossible to put down. Previously self-published in 2012 as Straightling: A Memoir, this is the first installment in Etler's story, with a sequel already in the works. Back matter offers further information on Straight Inc. Readers will be relieved to learn that the enterprise closed in 1993 but should be unsettled to discover that similar facilities still exist. VERDICT A can't-miss memoir for fans of Ellen Hopkins and Laura Wiess.-Miriam DesHarnais, Towson University, MD

    Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    February 15, 2017
    Grades 9-12 Cyndy Etler was by all accounts a normal teenager until her mother, for ill-conceived reasons, pushed her into a drug rehab facility known as Straight, Inc., kicking off 16 months of hell. Straight's methods of treatment were unconventional and abusive; they used healed teen graduates of their program as counselors, and their methods ranged from locking the teens inside rooms, sleep deprivation, physical abuse, spit therapy, and brainwashing disguised as positive peer pressure. The only way Etler knew how to survive was to confess to nonexistent sins and earn praise for her honesty. Etler weaves her story with conviction, self-deprecating humor, and hard facts, showing how Straight left in its wake people who were terrified of the real world. This memoir will leave readers scouring the Internet for more survivor stories and info about Straight (some of which is in the epilogue). Readers will come to respect the fighter that Etler is and the advocate she became for other teens in similar situations.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

  • GERM magazine "Etler's story is both inspiring and completely shocking; this is a memoir unlike anything else on the shelves today."
  • Publishers Weekly "[An] unnerving and heartrending memoir... readers may be stunned that a place like Straight could exist, let alone that a parent would willingly send a child there."
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A True Story
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