Rudy Bentz and the Swift River Academy

What are teen “tough-love” and “behavior modification” programs like, from the inside?

You can discover at least a little by reading “What it takes to Pull Me Through,”, by a writer named Dave Marcus.

Reading the book, I recognize all of the details – the forced labor, the bizarre, unregulated, unprofessional group ‘therapies’; the tactics of humiliation, isolation and coercion. I have to say, however, that while the author shows a good facility with chronology, he seems to have done little to no research on the effectiveness, ethical nature – or legality – of what he was witnessing.

He describes the program at the Academy at Swift River, and the ‘behavior modification techniques’ invented by the (now former) Swift River (and former Cedu) headmaster, Rudy Bentz, and his wife, Jill Shwaiko Bentz, who managed the lives of adolescents, with a brutal ‘scared straight/tough love’ philosophy.

The Bentz’s, as well as other staff at the Cedu School, were also inappropriately physically close with students there; it was a Cedu philosophy to allow “smushing“, (or what sexually-active adults would call “cuddling”) between staff and students.

The book fails to offer any insight into the boundariless-ness of the Bentz’s philosophy-in-action, or a sense of ethics regarding the utility, helpfullness, effectiveness, discomfort and lack of compassion on view in the therapies. But it gets many of the details right.

Compare what you read Here, in a former students testimony, with what you find in the book.

The same philosophy is on view – essentially, “We won’t trust you, educate you, or give you individual counseling for your particular needs; instead, we’ll beat the bad out of you, shame it out of you, humiliate it out of you, bleed it, sweat it, yell, cry it, and scream it out of you.”

Bentz tough love tactics

These programs still exist, and are truly abusive…and yet very poorly regulated, probably as a result of the blind spot through which we as a society choose to view their existence (or, more specifically, the blind spot put in place by the parents who send their children to them).

A little regulation is in order.

How a Cult Spawned the Tough Love Industry


About Liam Scheff

"Author, Artist, Film, Permaculture." Liam Scheff is a writer, artist and stand-up lecturer on issues that people usually don't make comic books about. (Visit Liam's highly-praised book "Official Stories" reveals the complex details behind the myths of our times.

Posted on May 2, 2008, in Surviving Cedu. Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. heh… I know a girl who went to SRA. She never cut herself until she went there. Messed her up for a long time.

  2. I don’t know how to respond to this Liam and not totally contradict you. The culture we were a part of back then is drastically oversimplified here. For example, while I cannot speak for others, I didn’t find any discomfort in smooshing. I didn’t really find much use for it and participated mostly to be compliant, but it’s purpose was clear. Labeling it as “innappropriate” seems arbitrary and dramatic.

    Furthermore, tough love is a part of life. It certainly can be abused, but so can Rittalin. When my baby son (20 months old) wants continuously to get picked up and held, there is a point where I simply say “no – that’s too much.” I am to be labeled criminal for this? Hell no. There are limits to behavior and expectations. Many, many kids are allowed to grow out of control and need so very badly to receive the virtual slap that comes from tough love in order to correct their ability to interact with the average person. To rally against tough love as a concept is very provincial.

    And this statement…
    [quote]The same philosophy is on view – essentially, “We won’t trust you, educate you, or give you individual counseling for your particular needs; instead, we’ll beat the bad out of you, shame it out of you, humiliate it out of you, bleed it, sweat it, yell, cry it, and scream it out of you.”[/quote]
    …is very stilted. I was in fact frequently trusted, educated and directly counseled for my particular needs, BY RUDY BENTZ. I can directly point to sections of my ILE journal and draw lines to my life today, accounting measurably for the improvement. I chose to use what I was taught to improve myself and ignore those things that don’t suit me today. Because another does not have this experience, that doesn’t mean that the sweat, blood, tears, screams and humiliations were wrong or misguided attempts at opening someone’s eyes to a better way to think, feel or live.

    I guess ultimately there are two problems with this criticism of Rudy: you can’t prove what would have happened without his influence; and you can’t account for the choices of any one “victim” after his teachings. This seems to be more of a personal preference commentary about how “we wish it wasn’t the way it was.”

  3. Well Ned,

    I can see a few points of agreement, with which, I think, everybody who experienced Mr. Bentz, and the school, will be familiar and agree.

    That the major “therapeutic” element of this type of school, did involve: “sweat, blood, tears, screams and humiliations.”

    Perhaps you should tell the uninformed reader what the “ILE” – or “Fulltime,” as we knew it – refers to? What were the specifics? And what caused you to be on one?

    What is an I.L.E.? I’ll leave it to anyone who can answer that riddle.

    You say you have a young child, (congratulations), who always wants you to pick him up, and that sometimes, you don’t; I don’t recognize the analogy to that of sending adolescents and near-children to isolated, remote mountain-top cabins, where forced daily and nightly labor is the penalty for:

    Singing even a note of an “un-approved” song,

    Or for looking at someone, or God forbid, talking to someone, who you are “banned” from interacting with – usually because you are good friends;

    Or from expressing a romantic interest for a peer – not acting on it, but just the act of admitting it.

    It was for these ‘terrible’ acts,’ that students at the Cedu school were forced into daily and nightly labor, in the field, in the dirt, in the horse manure; on the stony back of a mountain filled with briers, snakes and scorpions; or over a sink, for the rest of the night, scrubbing blackened, carbonized pans with corrosive cleaners and broad, jagged steel wool.

    Do you see the difference between occasionally not picking up your child, and the reality of life at an abusive, unregulated ‘therapeutic’ boarding school such as this, staffed by admitted drug addicts, some of whom also regularly admitted to – and regaled us with stories of – committing incredible acts of violence, such as homicide and child abuse?

    Is there a slight difference there?

    That you enjoyed, or did not mind, being forced to snuggle with adult men and women who were your teachers and therapists – “smushing” – is something to consider. It’s not for you, as an adolescent, to have formed a complete opinion of the act, given the ease of manipulating an adolescent.

    But it is for you, as an adult, to ask yourself if you feel that it is appropriate, ethical, or legal, for 30 to 60 year-old, un-trained, un-liscenced, non-professional, former or recent drug and alcohol-addicted “counselors”, to be cuddling with the students in their care.

    If you were able to, as you say, “take the good” from the program, and not turn into an abuser yourself, then all the best to you. You might have a little humility, though, in allowing those who did not enjoy the experience, to speak their minds.

  4. face it Rudy is not a nice guy. I believe he was and still is an a**hole. He was very intimating, scary, and very selfish. If you were not part of his group then you were treated like the lowest person on the planet. Not too many know, but because I had a speech problem, Rudy started to call me “ELMER FUDD”.

    If Rudy was here to help me then why would he call me Elmer Fudd? Other staff members have come forward and stated that what they have done is not right, and have apologized. Rudy will never admit to what he did was wrong

  5. Well this is to no offense to the latter. But my opinion on , smushing .. ( I was a 14 year-old female)
    That is laying on a shoulder, between the legs, trading massages, laying on a hip or leg, being rubbed and “comforted” for anyone to do, period unless it is the person you are f#@%^ing is inappropriate.

    I don’t ever remember smushing with a female faculty. It was all male faculty, and they weren’t trying to be my daddy. I think the lines of love and care were blurred. I wasn’t just being held and comforted it was more.

    And no offense Ned, but your response does not surprise me in the least bit. Of course you were frequently trusted …you were the poster child for CEDU. no offense. I am glad you got out of it what you did. For me it was a different experience. I tried the ole, learn from this experience and for some reason the night terrors and all the other issues I had after that said something different why, one because they never stopped.I spent most of my time being punished, and told I was unworthy and worthless, and that could change if I choose to go with their belief system.

  6. Ned, I’ve come up with a shorter answer:

    You say you liked parts of the program. Others say they did not (by the truckload). Would you stop them from criticizing?

    Meaningful, experience-based criticism tends to make what’s good become better, and what’s not good become obsolete.

    The principle of competition, and free-markets. I think it applies here just as well.

  7. I think any program, as soon as Rudy and Jill enter it, becomes a poisonous, harmful environment.

    I hear from CEDU graduates (post Rudy era) that is wasn’t that bad.

    It’s very interesting to me. Food for thought.

  8. What is an I.L.E.?

  9. Oh BTW, HI NED!!!!

  10. Some other points of view [Here].

    You can add yours, for the record.

  11. A clip from the book. I recommend reading it, to see if you recognize some of the tactics and “therapeutic” exercises. As well as the feeling that one man, with no training in psychology, therapy, or child-development, is sternly lecturing, belittling, debasing, isolating, controlling the movement and communication of, and personally attacking, children in his care – and, to some degree, their gullible, willingly naive parents.

    “What it takes to Pull Me Through”

  12. Disclosure…disclosure…disclosure…DISCLOSE!! DISCLOSE!!!

    This is a theme that you find in this book and that we were taught at CEDU.

    Every propheet started with “dirt lists” and “disclosure circles”


    Little anecdote,

    My therapist is trying to re-teach me that I don’t need to disclose everything, that some things ARE personal, and not everyone needs to know them.

    We joke that I have OCD… Obsessive Compulsive Disclosure

  13. A letter to Rudy Bentz.

    RE: Google Forum

    Dear Mr. Bentz,

    Have you ever googled yourself? Have you ever seen what people think about you? Besides killing some poor innocent during a drunk driving accident.. do you realize just how many people you have hurt?

    Please, Take a moment and read what people have to say. Go down to the brass tacks and take a deep look at your inner child. Do you want to live? Are you living with your truth? Are you a shiny chrome ball or is your rock bottom hidden and dirty by the actions of your “I”. Where is your “me”? How close are you really to death and fear? Have you ever been a Brothers Keeper?

    Children learn what they live… and you made life pretty ugly for many youths. Perhaps this explains the suicide and drug overdose statistics of children that have crossed your path. When is the last time you found yourself “running yourself into the ground” or “digging holes in your life”?

    Is “me” winning? Did you “run” your thinking right out of town?

    To the degree you feel your sorrow.. to that same degree you feel your joy. I think your pendulum has been stuck on denial.

    Sounds like Bullshit to me.

    You know, the harder the truth to tell, the truer the friend who tells it. I think all these people on the web are really good friends to you… you just have to reach out an accept them.

    It’s time to cop out. Come clean. Climb out of the ditch you have dug and fill it back in!

    Rudy, The truth shall set you free.


  14. Guest:
    Rudy Bentz worked at the CEDU school along with his wife Jill. He was very prominent in this program that used groups (raps)not for therapy but to bully and emotionally abuse eachother. I can tell you right now that many kids confessed to false dirt or exaggerated dirt under heavy bombardment in the rap arena. They also facilitated workshops called propheets that were intense, highly contrived experientials that tore you down but did not build you up. Frankly, it was the worst kind of experience for developing minds. Look at the CEDU site, but start for the earliest page. The more current pages are irrelevant. There is a lot of anger.

    By the way, I did attend CEDU when the Bentzs were there. The whole program, on a systemic level, was damaging and not remotely designed for emotional growth. You do drink the Kool Aid just to survive; it is hard to resists the program directives when you are isolated, monitored, and your parents manipulated. You realize you have no recourse but to buy into the program.

    Rudy Bentz, by philosophy, has no business in the Waldorf program.

  15. Wow! How did I miss this thread with Ned? (couldn’t resist the rhyming)

    Where to start? Ned got a wholesome education from Cedu. I truly am happy for him that he was one of the lucky few the program was actually designed for and improved his life with no ill after effects. Seriously.

    I remember Ned and it doesn’t surprise me either. I think I was on a similar path as him and did everything I could by the book. But honestly, I did it to get by and survive and that’s it.

    At some point, they decided I wasn’t going to get by without doing an ILE, so they trumped up a reason. Get this: my mom put a package of new underwear in my visit bag before I left home to come back to Cedu and I didn’t know it. I got nailed with it because it wasn’t cleared for me to bring back before I ever left.

    So they slapped me on an ILE and I broke rocks with a pick ax and got reemed in raps. Just to stick it to me and give me the Full Time experience. What did I learn?

    I learned how it must have felt to be a dissenter and piss off someone in the Soviet system and be sent to a Gulag.

    But hey I’m not bitter.

  16. Robert A,

    My story exactly.

    I also followed the rules to the best of any humans ability so that I could survive the system and make my passage through the program as “easy” as possible… “Easy”… haha…. Sounds funny.

    Truly, so minimize the damage and pain of it all.

    After my Imagine I was put on a table ONLY because I had never been on a table before. Good ole Rudy Bentz’s idea. I got reamed in one of his raps for never getting into enough trouble to be put on a full time of table. He screamed … “well after this rap… go pick one on the upper level”

    One of many sentences that I will always remember… verbatim…

  17. My aunt happens to be a retired nursing professor of both the medical and psychological fields. I have emailed various articles I have found on CEDU to her recently. She was utterly sickened to hear of the BS we went through at CEDU. I was there 92-94. Her opinion was none other than the fact that there were some REALLY REALLY sick fuckers working at CEDU and the other various schools like it! I was not aware of this but on one visit I had where my mother and aunt came to visit, my aunt asked one of the admin (don’t remember who) exactly what CEDU’s success records were with the kids that had come and gone through the program! Answer was, “We do not kep records on that sorry!”

    Un-flipping believable eh?
    On to Rudy Bentz. I will never forget the day I was on one of quite a few “fulltimes” and he comes and sits down and says something to the extent of “You think you’re so smart huh? How are you gonna like it when someone kicks in your parents front door and blasts your old man with a shotgun right in front of you? Not so tough then huh?”
    I was thinking what in the f&&k is wrong with this lumbering maniac (Rudy). That guy had it out for me as well as so many others the entire time I was there. On a better note before I got sent to RMA for 10 weeks, I was on a room restriction in Rudy’s office in Emerson. While in there I drank all his Frappucino’s … HA HA HA fucker!!
    The thing that disturbs me the most is that people like Rudy and Jill who was just an absolute closet-case lesbian in my opinion, and Russ Decker and all these sick bastards that ran the place is that now they are in other educational environments tainting youths ever more with their un-reveling rotten propaganda. Does no one do thorough background checks anymore? Sick I tell you!!!! Props to the guy who wrote the book on his “emotional growth experience” at one of these torture compounds..
    I remember being up on the hill behind Emerson on work detail hauling wheel barrows full of bloulders all the way from the flipping farm. God I wanted to burn that place down so bad. Extreme?? Not really I am sure many others pondered that at one time or another.. For those of you that were there 80’s 90’s remember Cheryl the kitchen lady? She was pretty nice. Well enough for now I guess. Oh and by the way Ned, no offense but how much did you get paid to write such a fruitful review on CEDU??

    God bless and good night everyone…

  18. Hey guys! Check out this link and what “Rudy is known for”

    I just remember him comparing us all to him because HE killed someone drunk driving.

    Like at 14 I needed to burden myself with his adult mistakes.

    What a joke.

    I really wonder sometimes if he even knows what kind of DAMAGE he did to us kids.

    • Hey Heather,
      I attended attended asr between Feb-Oct of 99. I was pulled out due to a nervous breakdown I suffered during an attempt to “push me out of my comfort zone” my only regret is not keeping in touch with the handful of peers that I bonded with during the darkest time of my life. If you have any info or want to chat, hit me up.

  19. I would LOVE to take him to a rap.

  20. Hello to , Well Food for thought…We were all at Cedu because be did something wrong, I wasn’t the best kid-teenager,at cedu or before …Rudy was hard on me the whole time ,from day 1. I think Rudy saved my life ! Thank you Rudy for being such a hard ass on me ,it made my life better… Rodney Wright class of 1987

  21. Hi again. (Hi LA!)

    Many months have passed and somehow I came across the Youtube videos you made Liam. They are pretty good. Some of the commentary is a little exaggerated, but mostly fair.

    I wanted to say that I have come around on some of this. I really really fucking hated being at Cedu. And no Liam, I have no problem with those that want to discuss and criticize the experience. In retrospect, being sent far away to do what we did is something I’d never, ever ever force upon my son, ever. I can see what you are trying to say now. I had nightmares for years after leaving. Someone at my graduation asked me why I didn’t thank my mother when I was on stage. I think I know why now.

    Thanks for pursuing this. I still maintain that Cedu was far from the worst of it’s kind. Back in May when I first came across all this I did some research on legal action taken by parents with situations from other, totally non-Cedu related schools and I am comfortable saying that we were all pretty lucky. Sexual abuse and peer pressure that was exactly the opposite of our experience are the norm in most places. I’m glad I never woke up to 5 guys pressing their dick on my face to keep me from telling on them etc. (Yes, that’s from a court transcript.)

    Anyhow, I could dissect this further and discuss what was and wasn’t’ good about Rudy etc, but really I just needed to accept how much that experience as a whole hurt.

  22. Oh, also – I. L. E. = Individual Learning Experience

  23. Hi Ned,

    Again, thanks for your consideration. It was certainly a strange experience. My major goal has always been to un-bury this odd bit of hidden history, for pubic view, for ourselves and then again, because these schools go on and on, they exist today without regulation, and could really use some transparency and public review.

    Here’s to ‘truth in advertising’ as a basic principle we can all agree on. I do appreciate your re-consideration of the material and ideas on display here.


  24. Jonathan Schneiderman

    So my mother calls me at work, crying and apologizing for sending me to Cedu, saying she had seen clips from a documentary someone was making about, of all things Cedu. So after calming her down and assuring her she was a good mom and she did the best she could, I had to check it out. Wow. It all took me by surprise as I rarely think about Cedu, it was 20 years ago after all. Anyways, I guess I got what any student who went to Cedu wanted: an apology from a parent.

  25. Jonathan that is well said. Thanks for that. As far as Rudy, personally I never had a good feeling about him. I heard he and Jill are no longer together. If they were so honest then why has their relationship run short.

  26. My experience was different. I was the student whose father had a massive heart attack driving thru Running Springs back home to L.A. after my one and only visit with him.

    Staff couldn’t handle what had happened. Their “years” of education and experience led them to attempt to deny my going to my own father’s funeral. I went anyways. They knew if they didn’t allow that “privledge,” I would of split.

    6 months later I did split. Oh, and to Dan Earle….you stupid fuck, I didn’t “die” out there on the streets. You silly pervert!

    I’m 45 years-old now, and I’m still standing.
    Tracy Tannen
    Running Springs, 1980

  27. I had the displeasure of being in peer group 1 at ASR. Also known as Project One. The emotional abuse/torture was brutal, but eye opening. I want desperately to reconnect with my brothers Ryan, Chris, and especially Tim Mosher. If you can help please email me at

  28. I was thinking of ASR and project 1 its been 10 years. Shea I’m sending you and email.

  29. I’m an outsider trying to learn about the Academy at Swift River as it operates today (2009). The stories about its earlier history under Rudy Bentz are horrifying.

    From what I’ve been able to determine, Bentz was fired in 2003, and the place has completely turned over since then. Can anyone with personal experience of the place in the past two or three years (2007-2009) comment on what it’s like today? Just as people can change, so also can organizations change, and just because a place has the same name doesn’t mean it is like it was ten years before — it may be completely different and perhaps even very good now.

    I’d be pleased to hear informed opinions.

    Many thanks.


    This is a link to Dan Earle’s terribly horrible art. Included is a link to contact him, should anyone wish to send their love to him after all these years.

    I’m happy to report he looks like hell!

  31. I was at CEDU 1978-79. The experience was hard but I feel that it did help me in many ways. I was never abused but did do some hard work. The staff had flaws but most often attempted to set a good example. Based on what I’m reading, the situation degraded later under some people that I never knew.

    I have raised two boys that both provided my wife and I with rebellious behavior. A little hard work served them well and some pointed critique was required at times. Character is developed through discomfort and challenge. I did provide them with benevolent guidance that challenged them.

    My life has been largely successful. I have been married for 23-years and maintain a good relationship with my sons. The older one recently wrote home to tell his brother that he should listen to Dad 🙂

    Most of us that attended CEDU were not succeeding in life. CEDU, though imperfect, did offer many people help. Many of the lessons took years for me to understand. Probably the biggest being: “Quit focusing on you selfish needs and be your brother’s keeper.”

    I do not intend to disregard people’s claims of abuse. It seems that things went wrong in the later years.

  32. I graduated Cedu in 89. i am tripping on all the negativity I just read. I still dream about Cedu…it was the craziest, most intense and special place…it fucked me up socially after graduation because I believed in that Cedu magic. Whatever. I don’t blame the school for my problems. It was unbelivable. Like everyone else that attended, we all know the frustration of trying to convey our experiences. It sounds crazy. because it was, Crazy, special…all that. U all know. Stop bitching. it’s fodder for us all. it’s proven to be a “source” of most of the stuff I write. Believe it or not-that’s what i do for a living. —–Rudy? First man I ever fell in love with. Jill used to accuse me of trying to seduce him, calling me “sex kitten” in raps. well, i guess my fantasies made me feel “scummy” Meow!

  33. You sound really, really healthy Jennifer.

    What are you writing, by the way?

  34. ASR Survivor (for now/so far)

    I know this is ancient history but nobody can rightfully defend this program. I doubt anyone will see what I’m writing bur I was there I was in PG22. So many people who went there with me either before I got there during or after, have died and quite frankly I doubt it’s a coincidence. Sammy L, Andy, Tessa R, Shane R, there are many many more. It’s horrifying.

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