My Turbulent Time Treating Heroin Addicts at Odyssey House

Non-Fiction - Historical
194 Pages
Reviewed on 12/14/2019
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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Smack in the Middle is a work of non-fiction focusing on a memoir style to recount a career, and it was penned by Gibbs Williams Ph.D., with the aid of Joel Samberg. Subtitled “My Turbulent Time Treating Heroin Addicts at Odyssey House”, the events of the recollections take place more than fifty years ago in the late 1960s, when drug use was on a sharp rise. More than just the everyday struggles of the users and the staff members who were trying to help them, there is much discussion about the abuse of power when looking at Odyssey House’s leader, and reflections on rehab and power relations in the modern-day.

Author team Gibbs Williams and Joel Samberg recount a fascinating period of a dark history that we often don’t think of when we think about heroin usage and rehab, yet the past has much to teach us about how things have been and continue to be done. The prose is heartfelt and natural, taking readers from the simple to the sublime in the array of different experiences that the author has with patients seeking treatment at the aptly-named Odyssey House. The organization of the many incidents which are chronicled makes good sense, taking readers from tale to tale with clear breaks, and leaving observations and parallels to the modern-day to their appropriate moment to be brought up. These observations are poignant and well put without being preachy or political, and they elevate Smack in the Middle to a sophisticated and informative memoir that’s well worth a read.

Amy Raines

Smack In The Middle by Gibbs Williams, Ph.D. with Joel Samberg is the autobiography of his life and work at Odyssey House in New York. After more than fifty years, Williams shares the reality of what the world is like when attempting to work with addicts that needed help. Odyssey House operated on a very different principle than most halfway houses or rehabilitation centers in those times. Rather than giving their residents a drug that made matters worse, they were given love, acceptance, understanding, meaning, and purpose. Making addicts feel like every achievement was worth notice was Dr. Judi’s primary goal; to heal the addict by giving them the real support they so desperately needed. Williams discovered a whole new way of viewing an addict’s problems during his time at Odyssey House. Was there abuse of power inside Odyssey House’s walls? Were they truly helping as many addicts as they’d hoped? Were their ethics and methods too unorthodox or were their ideals and ambitions right on target?

I realize that Smack In The Middle may not have been written to inspire but that is exactly what this autobiography does as it gives the inside story of what life was really like at Odyssey House. The goals and concepts laid out by Dr. Judi’s idea of treating addicts like human beings from the very beginning are more than just inspiring. Through Williams’s memories of his time at Odyssey House, it is easy to see how he was quickly mesmerized by Dr. Judi’s passion for reaching out to help those that society deems unreachable. My favorite thing about Smack In The Middle is how Williams recounts how he learned to recognize that an addict was not just a person who chose to pick up a drug and use it but a real person with real problems they wanted to numb away rather than face. Their methods were very different than the typical rehabilitation centers and they had a fair share of successes. They also had their fair share of setbacks and problems that made them question whether or not they were helping as much as they thought. I recommend Smack In The Middle to anyone who has ever wondered how an addict’s life can change for the better once they decide to learn how to live again.

Edith Wairimu

SMACK in the MIDDLE by Gibbs Williams Ph.D. and Joel Samberg recounts Gibbs’s thought-provoking observations and experiences working in Odyssey House, a leading rehabilitation program for drug addiction. In November 1967, Gibbs arrived at Odyssey House for the first time. Excited and eager to join the program, Gibbs walked into what he thought would be an interview, only later to realize that it actually was his first day of work. At first, he was enthusiastic, fascinated even to work with Dr. Judianne Densen-Gerber, Odyssey’s intriguing founder and director. Half a year into his work, however, Gibbs began to question some of Dr. Judi’s methods of directing the program. As the months passed, Gibbs’s concerns continued to grow but the idea of leaving Odyssey House was still foreign to him.

SMACK in the MIDDLE parallels Gibbs’s personal growth with his professional journey while working at Odyssey House. A passionate man walks into work in 1967, not fully aware of his personal psychological issues that began in his teenage years, which will have a profound effect on his life at Odyssey House and his perspective on Dr. Judi, especially at the beginning. The work carefully explains Gibbs’s concerns at the time, following his observations with anecdotes that further explain the book’s contents. It also offers enlightening information regarding drug addiction, noting the complexity of the problem as causal factors and reactions are different from patient to patient. It contains keen, compelling observations and an analysis of a leading figure who had struggles of her own but could not see it. Gibbs Williams Ph.D. and Joel Samberg’s SMACK in the MIDDLE is a valuable read for its precise content on various topics ranging from human behavior and leadership to drug addiction.