The logo for American Rehab shows an illustrated figure, in black, clinging to a large cog. In the background, other cogs spin against an orange color.
The logo for American Rehab shows an illustrated figure, in black, clinging to a large cog. In the background, other cogs spin against an orange color.

Reveal exposes how a treatment for drug addiction has turned tens of thousands of people into an unpaid shadow workforce.

Credit: Eren K. Wilson for Reveal

Chapter 1: A Desperate Call

Penny Rawlings is relieved to finally get her brother into rehab at a place called Cenikor. She doesn’t realize that getting him out of treatment is going to be the bigger problem.

Credit: Eren K. Wilson for Reveal

Chapter 2: Miracle on the Beach

Cenikor’s bizarre form of rehab has its roots in Synanon: a group that started on a beach in California in the 1950s and mesmerized the nation by claiming that recovery from heroin addiction is possible.

venomous snake
Credit: Eren K. Wilson for Reveal

Chapter 3: A Venomous Snake

After building a small fortune, Synanon’s megalomaniac leader turns the revolutionary rehab into a violent cult, with mass sterilization, a paramilitary group and a rattlesnake in a mailbox.

Credit: Eren K. Wilson for Reveal

Chapter 4: Cowboy Conman

He’s a liar, a killer and a wannabe country music singer. Luke Austin finds Synanon in prison and borrows from its philosophy to create Cenikor. But graft and violence nearly destroy it.

Credit: Eren K. Wilson for Reveal

Chapter 5: Reagan with the Snap

Cenikor rises from the ashes, thanks in part to an inventor of NFL football pads and the endorsement of an American president.

Credit: Eren K. Wilson for Reveal

Chapter 6: The White Vans

Before sunrise, a line of passenger vans heads to job sites across Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They carry squads of unpaid laborers, who launder hotel sheets at an industrial laundromat, scale scaffolding at chemical plants and repair electrical wires at construction sites.

Chapter 7: The Work Cure

One man’s journey into Cenikor leads to punishments and almost two years of backbreaking labor. The program will change him. But can it help Chris Koon put his addiction behind him?

Credit: Eren K. Wilson for Reveal

Chapter 8: Shadow Workforce

Thousands of phone calls. Hundreds of interviews. Reams of research. We track down how many people across America are getting “work therapy” instead of addiction treatment.

Read the Investigation

Dig into our digital series, All Work. No Pay.


Learn more about the rehab industry.


Gerald Loeb Awards
2021 winner, audio

Edward R. Murrow Awards
2021 winner, best podcast for network radio

Investigative Reporters & Editors
2020 winner, IRE Medal
2020 winner, large audio


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Shoshana Walter

Reporter and producer

Investigative reporter Shoshana Walter started uncovering work-based rehabs with Amy Julia Harris in 2017. Their reporting was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting and won a Knight Award for Public Service and an Edward R. Murrow Award. Walter lives in Oakland, California, with her family.

Laura Starecheski

Reporter and series producer

Laura Starecheski has been reporting on mental health for 15 years. They got their real start in radio traveling the country with Al Letson for State of the Re:Union. Their work at Reveal has won Peabody, duPont and national Edward R. Murrow awards. Starecheski lives in Philadelphia with their family.

Ike Sriskandarajah

Reporter and producer

Ike Sriskandarajah is an Emmy award-winning radio reporter and producer. He previously was a narrative audio producer at The Daily, a New York Times podcast, and once tracked down the kids who appeared on “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” He hails from Wisconsin and is based in New York City with his family.

Brett Myers

Series editor

Brett Myers is a senior radio editor for Reveal. His work has won a Peabody Award, a Third Coast Award and multiple national Edward R. Murrow Awards. Previously, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with young reporters to file stories for NPR. Myers lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his family.

Jim Briggs

Senior sound designer, engineer and composer

Jim Briggs has mixed for Reveal since its pilot episode. His work has received Emmy, duPont and Dart awards and a national Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in sound. He makes music under the name Decoded Forests.

Fernando Arruda

Sound designer, engineer and composer

Fernando Arruda joined Reveal in 2018 to form the Dynamic Duo with Jim Briggs. He spent more than a decade in Brasília, Sydney and New York City working as an audio engineer, music performer and educator. He plays with SFJAZZ’s MNB Big Band and lives life one decibel at a time.

Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Al Letson | Contributing reporter: Amy Julia Harris | Contributing producer: Katharine Mieszkowski | Associate producer: Najib Aminy | Production assistant: Amy Mostafa | Fact checker: Rosemarie Ho | Editor in chief: Matt Thompson | Editors: Esther Kaplan, Andrew Donohue and Narda Zacchino | Executive editor for TV and documentary: Amanda Pike | Additional mixing: Najib Aminy, Amy Mostafa and Claire Mullen | Art direction and layout design: Gabe Hongsdusit | Art direction and digital production: Sarah Mirk | Additional digital production: Nikki Frick | Director of audience: Hannah Young | Engagement reporter: Byard Duncan | Community engagement: David Rodriguez | Illustrations, logo and art: Eren K. Wilson