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A Dead, Insane, or in Jail Primer

These definitions are based on my own experiences. I’ve included links to the official Wiki CEDU Lingo page for each term. This page is under construction. Check back soon for more and updated definitions.

“Every time I opened my mouth here now, I reinforced the new language; and so when I described my life, even in the few letters home, or brief monitored phone calls to the ol’ folks, I used new terminology and descriptions.” 


RMA’s rules were disingenuously termed Agreements. The three major Agreements prohibited sex, drugs, and physical violence. Others required tucked-in shirts, showers lasting more than five minutes, listening to forbidden music, etc.


A student “on bans” from a person or group was forbidden to speak, look at, or otherwise interact with them until the bans were lifted by a staff member.

Bonners Ferry, Idaho

Small town on the Kootenai River, close to the border with the Canadian province of British Columbia. Closest town to RMA campus.


Enclosed room in the house, next to the living room, with views of the kitchen and dining room. Students were prohibited from entering at most times. The phones for calls home to parents were here, as was a locked cabinet with prescription drugs for certain students. Music was controlled from here and some staff meetings took place in the Bridge.


The CEDU schools are generally credited with establishing a new kind of boarding school for troubled teens. Drawing on Synanon’s “encounter group” techniques and using interrogation practices, counselors applied what became known as “tough love” to force change on their teenaged charges. The two-and-a-half-year program included some academic subjects, and many labor assignments at the school’s farm, woodlot, and buildings and grounds. The schools featured extended “raps” – highly confrontational groups derived from Synanon’s “the Game” – and “propheets” – overnight sessions of extreme stress, reputedly based on the teachings of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. CEDU’s name, pronounced see-doo, suggests the educational method that ostensibly guided the for-profit schools. Although the schools explained the acronym as “See yourself as you are and do something about it,” history indicates the initials first stood for Charles E. Dederich University, in honor of the founder of Synanon, who strongly influenced CEDU’s founder, Mel Wasserman, a California businessman. The CEDU organization was founded in 1967 as CEDU Educational Services, Inc., and was acquired in 1998 by Brown Schools, Inc., under the name CEDU Education – Brown Schools, Inc. CEDU and Brown Schools closed and declared bankruptcy in 2005, thereby managing to sidestep financial settlements in lawsuits claiming student mistreatment, employee sexual abuse, and deceptive practices. Universal Health Services subsequently re-opened some of these schools, as “behavioral health centers.”

Challenge Expedition

Major winter outdoor expedition for up-per-school RMA students

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Resort town where parents of RMA students attended workshops before visiting RMA campus


Deep meaningful talks between students in evenings at the house


The students were organized by families, each with assigned staff members. To graduate, students needed to progress through all the families.

  • Papoose
  • Brave
  • Warrior
  • Summit

First light

Daily family meeting before work or classes.

a Full-time

Severe punishment for a specified number of days during which student was limited to isolation at a booth in the dining room, except when performing Work Details, or attending raps. Students on a full-time were given lengthy writing assignments to complete while at the booth, and were on bans from most if not all students.

the House

The central building at RMA. Orientation took place there, as did last lights, Morning Meetings, and DMT’s. The dining room, Bridge, and living room with hearth were all in the house.


One student indicted another, from across the rap circle, using confrontational, embarrassing, and often verbally abusive attack methods.

Last light

Nightly school-wide meeting in the house.

Morning Meeting

Weekly school-wide Monday general meetings


The term for someone’s motivations in raps or other encounters where they appeared to be helpful, but were really benefiting themselves.

Owyhee Desert

Barren area of southern Idaho where Survival program hiked and camped out


PG’s – abbreviation for peer groups, usually twelve or fewer kids who arrived around the same time at RMA and continued through the family system together. RMA families were composed of several peer groups.


I tried to sense how any of this shtick applied to me. Each day I would ponder a different puzzle piece. I knew that all of the content here had something to do with what everyone called “propheets.” The term remained mysterious. One thing we babies to the program knew was that our “Truth propheet” was one of the next propheets to “go in,” and that it took place overnight. It wasn’t scheduled for a few weeks. As days went by, and I went through more raps, my anxiety about the upcoming Truth propheet grew, since nobody would tell us what would happen when we went in the propheet – or even define the word.

Propheet: A 24 hour workshop. Named after Khalil Ghbiran’s “The Prophet”. CEDU Lingo

  • Truth
  • Brothers Keeper (or Brothers)
  • I Want To Live
  • I and Me
  • Summit

Purpose Brigade

RMA-approved group of upper-school students who were often permitted to travel into Bonners Ferry once a month.

Purpose Committees

Occasional project groups where students created handmade greeting cards, scrapbook pages, and assorted RMA memorabilia to support program milestones for other students.


The uncertainty in a rap was one of its interesting characteristics. You didn’t know what was going to happen. That I could become desensitized to the rap atmosphere as I moved through the program is testament to its purpose and logic. Hell, I would eventually look forward to raps, and feel that their existence – as a place to “take care of my feelings” – was something I needed, and that without them I would be deficient. Raps would come to be the place where the school reinforced our life lessons – the messages of the propheets.

“Words can’t hurt,” we were frequently told. Sometimes I believed that; but during some raps and propheets, when words mingled with action, I knew it to be false. Words hurt more than almost anything else, and I came to wish I’d never learned English. The staff claimed that the harder we pushed ourselves to use words to identify our deepest regrets and thoughts, the more we’d understand ourselves, and through this knowledge, a secret understanding of every other human on the planet would be available to us.

I felt before each rap that I was about to witness a terrible act of cruelty. Raps were very aggressive. Physically, not just emotionally, I mean; sometimes I thought a person was just going to snap and kick the living shit out of the person laying the indictment on them.

Rap: A group session, mostly confrontational and verbally abusive. Based on Synanon’s “The game”. Raps were held three days a week, and lasted around four hours. CEDU Lingo

Quest Expedition

Three-night group wilderness expedition involving canoeing, camping, rock climbing and rappelling, and raps.

RMA (Rocky Mountain Academy)

The second school in the CEDU group of Troubled Teen facilities, it opened in:

RMA Campus

  • Denali
  • the farm
  • Garden house (dorm)
  • the house
  • Kootenai Lodge
  • La Mancha (dorm)
  • Share Shack (dorm)
  • Skinner (education building)
  • Stellar Annex Walden (remote buliding for propheets)
  • the wood corral

Rock Bottom

The innocent little kid inside each RMA student.

Santa’s Workshop

Two-week period before Christmas when students created handmade gifts.


Chaste, clothed, physical affection, greatly encouraged among same-sex students.

Snot rippers

Zack’s term for the special recorded songs played repeatedly during propheets and other emotionally charged events to elicit deep feelings.

Solo (at SUWS)

Four-day period at the end of Survival when kids are left to fend for themselves

Spokane, Washington

Nearest airport to Bonners Ferry, Idaho

Summit Workshop

Final multiple-day event consummating the RMA experience. Followed by graduation, and a six-month prohibition from revisiting the RMA campus.


School of Urban and Wilderness Survival (“Survival” for short) was founded in southern Idaho in 1981 as a therapeutic wilderness program for youth aged fourteen to eighteen. A North Carolina program began in 2000. The SUWS programs became part of Aspen Education Group’s portfolio of private teen facilities. Now owned by Bain Capital, Aspen has divested many of their schools and programs, including SUWS Idaho, citing reduced demand.


Founded in Santa Monica, California in 1958 by Charles E. Dederich, Jr., as a behavior modification facility for addicts. Mel Wasserman was an early member. After he left Synanon, he founded CEDU. Initially, Synanon was a two-year treatment program, but over time its leaders changed the organization’s mission, declaring that members could never leave the program, as addiction could never be completely cured or reversed. Forced to close in the United States 1989 after problems with the IRS, the Synanon organization still exists in Germany.

Taking care of your feelings

Regular expressions of loud anger and deep pain and sadness were encouraged in raps and other group settings.


Discouraged, in favor of feelings, which come from a truer self – the “Me.”

Truth counseling sessions

Upper-school students paired off for introspective dyad exercises.

WD’s (abbrev Work Details)

Punishments in the form of manual labor, during which students were on bans from all other students.

Wilderness Challenge (WC’s)

Multiple-day outdoor excursions testing survival skills

Writing Assignments

Staff assigned these to students for many reasons, requiring lists of their negative thinking, their “dirt” (bad acts, out of agreement), etc.

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