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American Rehab

Reveal exposes how a treatment for drug addiction has turned tens of thousands of people into an unpaid, shadow workforce.

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Chapter 1

A Desperate Call

Penny Rawlings is relieved to finally get her brother into rehab at a place called Cenikor. She doesn’t realize that getting him out of treatment is going to be the bigger problem.

Chapter 2

Miracle on the Beach

Cenikor’s bizarre form of rehab has its roots in Synanon: a group that started on a beach in California in the 1950s, and mesmerized the nation by claiming that recovery from heroin addiction is possible.

Chapter 3

A Venomous Snake

After building a small fortune, Synanon’s megalomaniac leader turns the revolutionary rehab into a violent cult, with mass sterilization, a paramilitary group and a rattlesnake in a mailbox.

Chapter 4

Cowboy Conman

He’s a liar, a killer and a wannabe country music singer. Luke Austin finds Synanon in prison and borrows from its philosophy to create Cenikor. But graft and violence nearly destroy it.

Chapter 5

Reagan with the Snap

Cenikor rises from the ashes, thanks in part to an inventor of NFL football pads and the endorsement of an American president.

Chapter 6

the white vans

Before sunrise, a line of passenger vans heads to job sites across Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They carry squads of unpaid laborers, who launder hotel sheets at an industrial laundromat, scale scaffolding at chemical plants, and repair electrical wires at construction sites.

Chapter 7

the work cure

One man’s journey into Cenikor leads to punishments and almost two years of backbreaking labor. The program will change him. But can it help Chris Koon put his addiction behind him?

Chapter 8

shadow workforce

Thousands of phone calls. Hundreds of interviews. Reams of research. We track down how many people across America are getting “work therapy” instead of addiction treatment.

The Team

Shoshana Walter

Reporter and producer

Investigative reporter Shoshana Walter started uncovering work-based rehabs with Amy Julia Harris in 2017. Their reporting was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, and won a Knight Award for Public Service and an Edward R. Murrow Award. Walter lives in Oakland with her family.

Laura Starecheski

Reporter and series producer

Laura Starecheski has been reporting on mental health for 15 years. She got her real start in radio traveling the country with Al Letson for State of the Re:Union (SOTRU). Her work at Reveal has won a Peabody, a duPont, and a National Edward R. Murrow Award. Laura lives in Philly with her family.

Ike Sriskandarajah

Reporter and producer

Ike Sriskandarajah is an Emmy award-winning radio reporter/producer for Reveal. Ike was a narrative audio producer at The New York Times podcast “The Daily” and once tracked down the kids who appear on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. He hails from Wisconsin and is based in NYC with his family.

Brett Myers

Series editor

Brett Myers is a senior radio editor for Reveal. His work has won a Peabody, a Third Coast Award, and multiple National Edward R. Murrows. Previously, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with young reporters to file stories for NPR. Brett lives in the Bay with his family.

Jim Briggs

Original score, mix, and sound design

Sound designer, engineer and composer Jim Briggs has mixed for Reveal since its pilot episode. His work has received Emmy, duPont, and Dart Awards, and a National Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Sound. He makes music under the name Decoded Forests and resides with his family in the Bay.

Fernando Arruda

Original score, mix, and sound design

Fernando Arruda moved to the Bay Area with his wife in 2018 to form Reveal’s Dynamic Duo with Jim Briggs. He spent more than a decade in Brasília, Sydney and NYC working as an audio engineer, music performer and educator. He plays with SFJAZZ’s MNB Big Band and lives life one decibel at a time.