A Fairfax man testified yesterday that he was held against his will for 130 days and subjected to constant mental and physical abuse in a drug rehabilitation center operated by Straight Inc., a national drug abuse agency that last year opened a facility in Springfield.
Fred Collins, a sophomore at Virginia Tech, told a federal court jury in Alexandria that the Straight facility in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he says he was held, had guards at every door and used solitary confinement and raucous public criticism sessions against inmates deemed uncooperative.
Collins, 20, testifying in a suit that he brought against Straight alleging unlawful imprisonment and seeking $750,000 in damages, said he had used drugs but never had a drug problem. He said he was coerced into signing himself into the center after he went there to visit his brother in June last year.
Collins was preceded on the stand by his estranged father, Fred Collins Sr., who, in often emotional testimony, said Collins Jr. had started taking drugs years before he entered the facility and had seemed to be making progress there before he ran away from the program last October.
Straight says that Collins Jr. signed himself into the center voluntarily. The organization acknowledges that its treatment techniques are intense, but says they are necessary to break the cycle of drug addiction.
Straight officials did not testify at yesterday's court session, but are expected to present their case today.
Collins alleges that while at the facility to see his brother, he was taken to a windowless room and subjected to interrogation by several people about his own drug use and sex life and was told his father would cut off his college money unless he signed up for a 14-day program.
After several hours, during which he was not allowed to leave the room, he signed the form "under great duress", but found out later he could not leave after 14 days as promised, he told the court.
Patients attended 12 hours of seminars daily at which they were ordered to confess weakness of character and to write "moral inventories" of their days' progress, he said. At one point, he said, he was struck on the chest by a staff member who was criticizing his attitude.
Collins testified that newcomers were assigned "oldcomers," other patients who had advanced to a higher phase of treatment, who kept in contant physical contact, often by hanging on to their belt loops. "We were not allowed to make any sudden moves or move anywhere without somebody holding on to us," he said.
Collins was transferred to Straight's new Springfield facility last October. Two days later, while staying at home, he said, he escaped by smashing out a window with a table.