Officials denied permission for the following six months.
Mr. Benitezs request to start a program consisting of twenty convicted
drug addicts caused concern to officials who feared such a program might pose a
security problem (such programs were rare in prisons during that decade).
Officials had little reason to believe that the request of a habitual drug
addict and repeatedly convicted felon would result in one of the nations
most successful rehabilitation programs for substance abusers.
| On August 2, 1965, William Benitez, an inmate at Arizona
State Prison jumped down from his double bunk in the old cellblock where he was
housed and made the following notation on his wall calendar: Decision to
set up Narcotic Foundation. He also circled the 18th of the same month,
his target date to approach prison officials to request permission to set up a
drug rehabilitation program inside the prison walls.
Founder of Narconon
Mr. Benitez persisted and finally assured officials the
program was needed and would not pose a threat to the safe and orderly
operation of the prison. After being allowed to start the program on a trial
basis, he founded the NARCONON program (NARCOtics-NONe) on February 19,
Today, the Narconon program has spread from that one
program in Arizona State Prison to include community programs in many states
and countries such as Denmark, Italy, Holland, Germany, France, Sweden, Spain,
Canada, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Colombia, Switzerland, New
Zealand, South Africa, Ghana, the United Kingdom, Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan,
Argentina and Brazil.
Until he died from a sudden illness in 1999, Mr. Benitez
was a Hearing Officer with the Arizona Department of Corrections, the same
system which once kept him under lock and key. Below, he tells his own story:
I started smoking pot in
1947, when I was thirteen. Then I went on to injecting opium and other drugs
when I was about fifteen. I started to get into trouble and was arrested for
various crimes, so I decided to join the Marines to see if I could get away
from drugs. Instead, I ended up getting arrested on drug charges during the
Korean conflict, received a military court martial and was discharged as
In the following years,
I kept trying to stay away from drugs. Sometimes I could stay clean for a short
while, then I would go right back on the needle again. I carried the monkey for
about eighteen years, and it cost me thirteen calendar years of being locked
up. In addition to doing time in the Marines, I did a Federal prison term and
also was convicted three times in Arizona state courts.
On my last trip to
prison, I pled guilty on December 22, 1964 to possession of narcotics. Because
I was being sentenced as a habitual offender, the sentence called for a
mandatory fifteen years, and up to life. I remember speaking to one court
official and telling him how I was still going to leave drugs alone and maybe
even start a drug program. I remember his words so well: The best thing
to do with guys like you, after the first time, is take you behind a building
and do you and everyone else a favor and put you out of your misery.
My attorney arranged for
me to go before the judge just before Christmas, feeling that the spirit of the
holiday might be in my favor. It may have worked. I made my plea to the judge
telling him of all the attempts I had made over the years to stop using drugs,
such as joining the Marines, committing myself to hospitals for psychiatric
care and therapy on several occasions, isolating myself in mining towns in a
personal attempt to kick the habit, and even how two marriages had not helped
me straighten up. I told him that in spite of all those failures, I was still
going to make it and was going to find a solution to my problem, that I had not
yet quit. He must have believed there was still a spark of hope for me. He
sentenced me to the mandatory fifteen years, but instead of running it to life,
he made the term fifteen to sixteen years.
After arriving at
prison, a friend of mine gave me some reading material to keep me occupied
while I was in the Orientation Cellblock pending transfer to general
population. Among the material was an old, tattered book, Fundamentals of
Thought, by L. Ron Hubbard. I had heard of his writings when I previously
served a ten-year sentence at Arizona State Prison, but had never read them. I
had always been an avid reader of books dealing with human behavior. Yet, this
small book impressed me more than anything else I had ever read before. I read
it over and over and then purchased additional books by Mr. Hubbard and studied
them very carefully during the following year, even into the late hours of the
night in my cell.
The material identified
human abilities and their development. I was amazed I had never run across such
workability within a multitude of other works I had studied over the years.
Im not a gullible person when it comes to accepting new or different
approaches or ideas. If they work, fine. Otherwise, throw them out the window.
They either work or they dont. I was tired of experimenting with so many
ideas and philosophies, many having credence only because some
authority had written them.
What impressed me the
most about [Hubbards] materials was that they concentrated not only on
identifying abilities, but also on methods (practical exercises) by which to
develop them. I realized that drug addiction was nothing more than a
disability, resulting when a person ceases to use abilities
essential to constructive survival.
I found that if a person
rehabilitated and applied certain abilities, that person could persevere toward
goals set, confront life, isolate problems and resolve them, communicate with
life, be responsible and set ethical standards, and function within the band of
I finally realized I had
developed the essential abilities needed to overcome my drug problem. Feeling
myself on safe ground, I knew I had to make this technology available to other
addicts in the prison. I thought back over the years of all the junkies I had
shot up with, and remembered their most treasured conversation, One of
these days Im going to quit. I had found the means and was going to
share it with them. Thats when I made the decision real by writing it
down on my calendar page in my cell.
So effective was the
technology I had learned, that I experienced a freedom long lost to me. The
tall prison walls became only temporary barriers. I realized that my 6x8 foot
cell was all that I needed as a command post. Even back then, I knew Narconon
would reach international proportions, and even wrote an article on it in 1967,
The Purpose of Narconon.
The program was
sanctioned by the warden, and it soon began to expand from its original twenty
members. I then started to get requests from non-addict inmates who wanted to
get into Narconon. They told me they were impressed with what Narconon students
had told them about the program and what the technology taught. I approached
the Administration for permission to include non-addicts. At first it resisted,
saying that non-addict members didnt need the services of Narconon, and
that they might disrupt the program.
I demonstrated to
officials that any person, inmate or otherwise, could benefit from Narconon
because its attention was on increasing abilities, that we had an ethics
mechanism built into the program, and that the responsibility and involvement
required of a member would soon dissuade anyone not serious about improvement.
I convinced the prison officials. The program met its expectations so well that
seven months after the beginning of Narconon, I was asked to start another
program for young offenders housed in the annex outside the prison walls.
I then wrote to Mr.
Hubbard about Narconon. He and his organizations supported our program by
donating books, tapes and course materials. We received hundreds of letters
from throughout the world validating our efforts to make drug addiction and
criminal or illegal behavior a thing of the past in our lives.
Shortly after founding the Narconon program, William
Benitez researched his court conviction and discovered he had been tried under
the wrong statute and was sentenced in excess of that prescribed by law. Upon
return to court, Mr. Benitez was advised that he could conceivably be
re-sentenced to time served and be released based on his eighteen months
already served because of the miscarriage of justice.
The Narconon program was only a few months old at that
time and Mr. Benitez believed the program would collapse if he didnt
return to complete it. Rather than petitioning for his immediate release, he
requested a smaller sentence which would allow him to fully implement Narconon
program development. The Court re-sentenced him to four to six years, leaving
him sixteen months to serve. Mr. Benitez returned to prison and developed the
program to its full capacity. As he states, It was the best, but toughest
decision I ever made in my life. I would have loved to walk away from that
court a free man.
The Narconon program subsequently came to the attention
of the public when reporters from the Arizona Daily Star secured
permission from the warden to interview the inmate who requested to be returned
to the walls. The Star printed a two-part series on the Narconon program
in August 1966. TV Channel 10 News from Phoenix also took its cameras to the
prison to interview Mr. Benitez and members of the Narconon program and to
observe its functions.
Mr. Benitez completed his prison term and was released
in October 1967. He moved to California to expand the Narconon organization and
to make it available to persons in need. Mr. Hubbard and his organizations
supported the effort, resulting in worldwide expansion.
Years later, Mr. Benitez returned to Arizona and was
hired as Inmate Liaison by former Arizona Department of Corrections Director,
Ellis McDougall, in 1981. Until his death in 1999, he served as a Hearing
Officer on inmate complaints for the Corrections Director at Central
Headquarters. Read more information about
successful alcohol and other drug
addiction treatment and rehabilitation.
© 2002 Narconon International.
© 2001 Narconon of Oklahoma, Inc. All Rights
NARCONON, the Narconon logo and the Narconon "Jumping Man" are
trademarks and service marks owned by Association for Better Living and
Education International and are used with its permission.