EXCLUSIVE: Read an excerpt of THE DEAD INSIDE by Cyndy Etler!


Not sure what your next read should be? We know one way that helps: reading excerpts. So why not sample Cyndy Etler’s memoir The Dead Inside?

All Cyndy wanted was to be loved and accepted. By age fourteen, she had escaped from her violent home, only to be reported as a runaway and sent to a drug rehabilitation facility that changed her world.

To the public, Straight Inc. was a place of recovery. But behind closed doors, the program used bizarre and intimidating methods to “treat” its patients. In her raw and fearless memoir, Cyndy Etler recounts her sixteen months in the living nightmare that Straight Inc. considered “healing.”

The Dead Inside is available now.


The beige room gets even smaller as more people cram in. The door guys alone take up half the space, and two new kids, one guy and one girl, are in here now too. Barrette Chick calls them “staff” when they walk in.

The “staff” guy says they’re gonna see if I’m carrying. Then he says, “Drop your pants and underwear. Bend over.” So I bend. Do I have a choice?

They’re all behind me now, and I can feel them looking at me. My fingers are on my toes and my face, red and slimy, is the size of a beach ball. I’ve shed tears today that have been in storage for fourteen years.

I don’t know if it’s the guy or the girl “staff,” but I hear the snap of a rubber glove. Two hands peel my butt apart, harder and farther than it wants to get peeled. It hurts, but I won’t say ‘ow.’ Some choice words cut through the swirl in my head.


“Well, I wouldn’t say ‘clean,’ but drug free.”

There’s laughter, and another rubber snap.

“Cyndy, your intake’s over. Bring her to the group.”

Then comes Barrette Chick’s voice, but with an edge to it. “Pull up your pants, Cyndy.”

I pull my stuff up without a word, like I’ve been following orders all my life. I’m still buttoning my jeans when a hand scrapes down my back again, and a fist clenches onto my waistband. I throw my arms out to steady myself as I’m dragged toward the door. My top button stays undone.

The fist in my spine pushes me into the hall, where my stupid heart trips itself up again. My little girl fantasy tells me my mother will be standing out here. Arms open, face stained with tears, unable to leave me. Like jackrabbits, my eyes flick to the right, to the left—and nothing. Just a row of closed doors. That crushed dream kills something in me. Something important—something like hope. But the fist in my back doesn’t pause. It steers me away from the front office.

So I’m walking down this hallway with a hand in my pants. This ugly chick has her fist gripping my waistband, right above my butt. She’s pulling my pants up into my butt. And I—I can’t do anything about it. We saw what happened when I tried to fight. A door opens, and that kid with the badge comes walking toward us. The Runner. I don’t even care that he’s dweeby, he’s still a guy. God, if you’re there, don’t let Runner see the hand in my pants.

At the end of the hall, the silent girl leans on an industrial door, then shoves me into a massive room. And what’s happening in that room makes no sense. No sense at all. In front of me is this heaving…beast made of hundreds of human bodies. There are rows and rows of blue plastic chairs, each chair connected to the one next to it. There’s a kid in every chair, and all the kids’ bodies are whipping around—back and forth, up and down—like an epileptic mega-seizure.

Listen to me. This beast? It’s…it’s fighting itself. The top half of it is all arms, waving and bending, snapping toward the ceiling. Hundreds of heads shake and nod, but they’re not saying yes or no. They’re jerking in every direction, and nodding hard like the devil told ’em, “Nod.” The bottom half of the beast—the bodies below the armpits—are pogo-stick straight, butts glued to their plastic chairs. The only sound is a thrushy breathing and this weird, fleshy clicking. It’s a vision of hell.

I’m pushed across the empty half of the room, toward the rattling mass of people and chairs. All I can see are hundreds of backs, but then a few faces twist around to look. Their piston arms keep pumping over their heads, but their eyes are deep and blank. Their eyes are black holes. These kids—these kids are dead inside.

Barrette Chick jerks me to a stop, two feet behind the last row of chairs. The beast’s energy pings all over me like Pop Rocks dumped on a tongue. It’s bad, but no kind of bad I’ve felt before. It’s—it’s fucking terrifying.

With the fist in my Levi’s trapping me in place, I know how the damsel in distress felt, chained to the tracks with a train screaming toward her. Only this isn’t a game. And I have no hero coming.

Down the middle of the chairs is an aisle. It’s the spine of the beast. At the tip of the spine is the beast’s head: two teenagers sitting side by side on barstools. From the right stool, a blond girl smiles at me. It’s a hungry smile. From the left, a guy spots me over the bashing sea of heads.

“Stop!” he goes, and the beast falls. Every hand, every arm, every head—they all collapse at once. “Incoming!” he shouts.

The million-headed beast turns its black-hole eyes on me. On the left side are boys; on the right are girls that look like boys. No one’s wearing makeup, no one’s wearing jewelry. And many—way too many—have those third-eyebrow barrettes.

The barstool kid gives a tiny, frowning nod, and the silent girl is suddenly roaring.

“This is Cyndy! She went to Masuk High School in Connecticut! She says she’s done pot and alcohol!”

My jeans are yanked farther up my ass, and the beast makes its voice heard.

“Hi, Cyndy! Love ya, Cyndy!”

The faces turn to the front again, and the arms go back up. And all together, with no prompt that I can see, the beast starts convulsing again.

Barrette Chick’s hand steers me around the girl side. At the very front row, she pushes my head down so I’m duck-walking. I’m held from behind, getting whacked by flapping arms.

I watch a girl sitting in a chair at the end of the row. At least, a piece of her is in that chair, the edge of her butt. The rest of her is leaning forward, her arms waving at the girl on the barstool.

Barrette Chick leans in toward the girl. She shoves four fingers down the waist of the girl’s jeans, nails sliding against the skin of the girl’s back. She pushes her thumb through the middle belt loop, makes a fist around the waistband, and pulls the jeans up in a super-wedgie. And the girl just keeps flinging herself around, eyes locked on the barstool blond. What? She doesn’t feel this? This is no problem?

Next thing you know, the girl’s pulled out of her chair by the wedgie. The girl crouches next to me; then I’m swung around and plunk. I’m in her seat. The hand pulls out of my pants, and God, for a second, I feel free. Then I remember where I am: in the very first seat of this psycho beast, three short steps from the hungry blond smiler. I’m trapped in the bull’s-eye of this beast.

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