Grey Villet's ability to penetrate the private places of the human heart was brought to full effect in l961 when he took his cameras to Synanon, a drug rehabilitation center near Los Angelos.  The 1960’s became synonymous with a questioning of traditional values and the evolution of the drug.  Not surprisingly, addiction became a national concern. Despite the horrifying effects of addiction, Grey gave a very human face to the anguish of the addicted and the terrible emotional price to be paid. Continue on left...

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Top: Los Angles chapter of Synanon, 1961. Self rescue required a climb out of addiction  that its victims often defended against with the kind of  bravado seen in the faces of "Sandy" and "Cook." Bottom: LIFE Magazine* spread opening pages of addiction essay, Janis, a patient at Synanon climbs stairs with support of her peers.

Dependent for its drama on highly charged exchanges between addicts during confrontational  group therapy, this essay entitled “A Tunnel Back to the Human Race” probed lives that had been lived on the razor’s edge of self destruction. Laced with the language of rage, each “synanon” --as such sessions were called, was aimed at tearing away the fabric of lies with which most addicts defend their failures. But as rage, contempt, self pity, self disgust and sorrow fought with self recognition in the faces of his subjects, Grey found  his own truths.
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"I learned," he would later say in his understated way, "something of the subtle evasions, verbal and otherwise, in which we all indulge and recognized the rare flashes of honesty  that revealed the only path back to reality..."  The reporter working with him, Richard Stolley, confirmed this thought. "It was the penetrating self revelation and honesty that, I think, got to Grey.  I think those weeks at Synanon changed his life. "  If they did nothing else, they added to an already extraordinary awareness of and respect for the struggles of someone like Jeanne a long time Synanon resident (pictured at left talking with and then waiving goodbye to her son).  Jeanne's former addiction had cost her custody of her son whose first visit with her in years had just ended at the airport.
Right: 1961, Los Angeles chapter of Synanon. The face of Janis, the newest arrival at Synano revealed a sick resentment of her own life. Left: 1961, Los Angeles chapter of Synanon Jeanne meets with her son for the first time in years, then waives him goodbye at airport.
*LIFE is a registered trademark of TIME Inc. Essay spreads are copyright to LIFE magazine/TIME Inc./Getty Images.
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