The Narconon program's Beginnings
By the age of 31, Bill Benitez had "carried the monkey" (heroin) for 18 years and spent 13 calendar years behind bars, including one Federal prison term. On 22 December 1964, he plead guilty to possession of narcotics. As a "habitual offender," the sentence called for a mandatory 15 years, up to life. He remembers telling one court official he still intended to kick drugs and even start a drug program. The man responded, "The best thing to do with guys like you is take you behind a building and do you and everyone else a favor and put you out of your misery."
Bill Benitez, far right, in the first class of Narconon at Arizona State Prison, 1966.
His attorney arranged for him to go before the judge just before Christmas, feeling that the spirit of the holiday might work in his favor. William Benitez recalls, "I made my plea to the judge, telling him of all my attempts over the years to stop using drugs, such as joining the Marines, committing myself to hospitals for psychiatric care and therapy several times, isolating myself in mining towns in a personal try to kick the habit, and even how two marriages hadn't helped straighten me up. I told him that in spite of all those failures, I was still going to make it that I had not yet given up. He must have believed there was still a spark of hope for me. He sentenced me to the mandatory 15 years, instead of running it to life."
With this small victory, Bill Benitez went back to Arizona State Prison. But something significant happened with far-reaching consequences. A friend gave Bill some reading material. Among the material was an old, tattered, well-read copy of L. Ron Hubbard's Fundamentals of Thought. He says, "This small book impressed me more than anything else I had ever read before. I read it over and over and then got additional books by Mr. Hubbard and studied them very carefully over the months. The material identified human abilities and their development, so basic.
"What impressed me," Benitez recalled later, "was that Hubbard's work 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 certainty."
On 2 August, l965, Bill Benitez, armed with new knowledge from Hubbard's books, jumped down from his double bunk and noted on his wall calendar, "Decision to set up Narcotic Foundation." Officials denied permission for six months to Bill's request to start a program with other convicted drug addicts. None of the prison officials could have conceived that out of the combination of these two factors--one man's indefatigable intention to change his life for the better and a philosopher's intention to help all men to help themselves--one of the world's most successful rehabilitation programs would evolve.
Finally obtaining permission to start his "Foundation" on a pilot basis from the warden, Benitez formed the first Narconon program with 20 inmates. The date was February 19th, 1966. The group expanded by word of mouth to more than 60 students. In a remarkable development, when offered an opportunity to leave prison based on a legal technicality, Benitez requested to stay in prison and get his students through what he had started. "It was the best decision I ever made in my life. Also the toughest--I would have loved to walk away from that court a free man."
William Benitez deservedly received a "Drug-Free Hero" award at Narconon's 25th Anniversary, shown with Native American celebrity Saginaw Morgan Grant, John Duff, Kirstie Alley, and jazz great Chick Corea.
With the encouragement of Mr. Hubbard and assistance in the form of contributed materials, Narconon quickly expanded. When Benitez was released from prison in 1967, Narconon programs existed in 14 other prisons in the U.S. Bill moved to California to take the Narconon program "to the streets."
The expanded Narconon group later in 1966.
In 1971, the first residential Narconon program opened in Los Angeles as a halfway house for inmates who had started the program in prison and were then paroled to Narconon Los Angeles to continue their rehabilitation. As demand increased, Narconon began accepting other substance abusers directly from the community. This halfway house gradually developed into a full residential program.
The First Narconon, Los Angeles, 1971.
Bill Benitez is kneeling on the steps on the right.
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