Drive-thru Deliverance

It's not called est anymore, but you can still be ridiculed into self-awareness in just one expensive weekend

His father, on the other hand, has noticed tangible changes in his own life. He's lost weight, is more conscious about his health, and he dresses differently.

"It wasn't like someone told me I had to cut my dreads off . . . I was dreaded, and something happened that made me feel like I wanted to take responsibility for what people thought of me based on my physical appearance. Being responsible for that, rather than saying it's their problem, not mine," Steven says.

He jokes: "If it's brainwashing, it's good to have a clean brain."

Rick Ross, a Phoenix-based cult interventionist, receives numerous complaints about Landmark.
Rick Ross, a Phoenix-based cult interventionist, receives numerous complaints about Landmark.
Landmark Education's office building in central Phoenix holds "Forums" every six weeks.
Paolo Vescia
Landmark Education's office building in central Phoenix holds "Forums" every six weeks.

Steven, whose phone was shut off last week because he couldn't pay a $160 bill, is currently enrolled in a $1,700 Landmark course, but says he gets discounts because he has volunteered so many hours for the company. He says he has seen people who were contemplating suicide change their minds, and survivors of rape and incest forgive their attackers. He credits Landmark with his own project to help poor kids with asthma get access to medical care.

Jerry, on the other hand, is suffering through every minute of his Landmark experience, with the knowledge that, for him, leaving is not an option.

"Two days without sleep, and I had this guy's voice in my head telling me this bullshit constantly," Jerry says. "And I have it reinforced by everyone in the room. In a situation like this, you start to question reality. What exactly is going on?"

Jerry and I return reluctantly after the break, and Richard lets us in on the grand punch line of the whole weekend. Number one: You are a machine. Two: Life is empty and meaningless, and you are a meaning-making machine. And three: Standing in the empty meaningless of life there is nothing, and on the other side of that everything.

Now that we're all enlightened, Richard encourages us to sell the farm, do whatever we have to do to complete the Landmark curriculum.

After dinner, everyone is giddy and the atmosphere is fun and happy. The people who initially introduced us to the Forum are here (we've been encouraged to fly people in) and we are given the opportunity to register for an advanced course that costs $700, but only $600 if we sign up right away.

Richard calls these people "our community" and reassures us that going out into the "other" world won't be easy.

"Friday you couldn't wait to get out of here, now you're scared to leave," he says.

But not to worry. There are nearly 60 Landmark courses and infinite volunteer opportunities. If we want, we can easily spend the rest of our lives with Landmark Education.

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