Meet the single dad, former heroin addict and co-founder of Passages Malibu, the most controversial and luxurious addiction-treatment center in the world.
Pax Prentiss, former drug addict and now CEO of luxury addiction rehab Passages Malibu, has this to say about Charlie Sheen: “There’s a hole in his life that Charlie keeps filling with drugs and women, and he will keep filling it until he’s dead.” Prentiss should know. During his own descent into heroin and cocaine addiction, he came close to dying several times, including the night when drug dealers beat him, broke his jaw and almost buried him alive in the desert.
Charlie might not like that assessment, but when it comes to treating addiction, Sheen and Prentiss share some important common ground. Both adhere to the controversial idea that the AA 12-step model is not the answer for everyone. In his book co-authored with his father, The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure, Prentiss details his own vida loca — the lies, the stealing, the self-destruction. He also writes of his recovery, but concealed that he was raising a daughter by himself and that she was born while he was still “chasing the dragon.”
“When Taylor was born, I had been in and out of treatment centers for about nine years, none of them sticking,” says the never-married Prentiss. He says he asked for custody of Taylor when it was clear her mother, a woman he had only casually dated, was not in a position to raise her. “The responsibility landed on me and I wanted it,” he says.
“Taylor was definitely motivation for me and helped me stay sober, but it took me another year before I actually achieved sobriety,” he says, adding that he wanted to protect his daughter until she could decide for herself if she wanted to be part of her father’s public story. “I didn’t want to bring her into it,” the 36-year-old Prentiss says. “But I’m fine with it now that she’s older.”
Although Prentiss credits his daughter with motivating him to get sober after numerous stays in rehabs, 12-step meetings and quitting cold turkey, he says his 10 years of sobriety is the result of an addiction-treatment approach he developed with his father. The younger Prentiss suggested they build Passages Malibu, and together they created the most luxurious, expensive and controversial addiction-treatment center in the world.
It’s controversial because unlike most drug and alcohol rehabs, Passages Malibu does not have any Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Books,” or sponsors or 12-step group meetings nor do they encourage their clients to join AA when they return home. Why would they? According to Prentiss, they’re cured.
“We don’t subscribe to any of the AA principles here,” the soft-spoken Prentiss says. “The 12-step model didn’t work for me and there are a lot of other people it doesn’t work for. The reason: AA doesn’t focus on healing the core issues. They want you to identify as an addict or an alcoholic for the rest of your life, and to me, that’s detrimental to healing. They also believe that it’s a disease. I don’t believe it’s a disease. I believe it’s caused by the underlying conditions.”
He says his own underlying condition came from feeling inferior to his father. “I was unsuccessful at the time, and I was insecure about it,” he says. “Heroin was a way of feeling better. It numbed the pain. When I discovered the reason, I worked on healing it through individual therapy, and that’s why I’ve been able to stay sober.”
Uncovering the core issues is what clients do when they come to Passages. Each person gets 70 hours of therapy from psychotherapists, marriage and family therapists, and hypnotherapists, along with acupuncture, acupressure, physical training, spiritual counseling, life purpose coaching plus gourmet meals, tennis courts, a swimming pool, spa services and plush accommodations overlooking the Pacific Ocean for $88,500 a month. Prentiss says clients at the 12-step-based Betty Ford Clinic get one hour of therapy a week something he calls an archaic treatment program. (The Betty Ford inpatient program costs $27,400 for 30 days.)
“I wanted to open a facility that offered individual therapy,” Prentiss says. “We immediately became successful because that’s what everybody wants. They don’t want to go to group meetings, they don’t want to be identified as an addict or alcoholic, and they don’t want to believe they have a disease.”
How long does it take to be cured? Prentiss says the average time is one to three months. Yet, he doesn’t recommend that Passages alumni try drinking or using when they go home. “I feel as though I could drink in a controlled fashion, but I also don’t desire to drink in a controlled fashion,” he says. “I just don’t desire it. A lot of the clients who graduate from here don’t desire it either, but I do know people who have gone back to drinking normally.”
Their non-conventional treatment philosophy has generated a lot of anger from the recovery community and skeptical reactions from some members of the media. Writer Mark Groubert blasted Passages in a 2008 cover story for the LA Weekly titled “Buying the Cure at Passages Malibu,” calling the Prentisses “the Holocaust deniers of the addiction-recovery industry.”
Pax Prentiss says that Groubert set them up. “He called Passages and said he wanted to do an article on the best rehab in L.A. I said great, come to Passages.” Prentiss says he let Groubert stay there for two days. “He was so nice when he was here, but the whole thing was a setup. He had those intentions from the beginning. His intent was to slam us. That’s what he does, he writes hit pieces. We get slammed by people in the 12-step programs as well they’re down on us too.”
Despite the skepticism and 12-steppers “throwing spears,” Prentiss says they get numerous referrals from therapists and doctors, and business is booming. He says people come to Passages from all over the world. Their clients include celebrities and corporate titans, as well as middle-class people who have health insurance often staying at Passages for as little as a $4,000 co-payment.
Besides the Malibu location, the Prentiss father-and-son team have a less expensive facility in Ventura ($32,500 per month), are planning to build one in Santa Barbara and have discussed a fourth location in the Hamptons. Prentiss says he also wants to open a nonprofit program for youth and another for homeless adults.
Prentiss says he splits his time between work and raising his daughter. Now that she’s 11 and more independent, he says he wants to start dating again, although he says he’s somewhat mystified by how, who and where.
“I’m certainly ready to start going out again,” Prentiss says, “but I don’t really know where to begin. It’s challenging doing it on your own. With things like homework and school duties, you don’t get to go out at night. I love spending time with my daughter, but it would be nice to go out once in a while too.”
While most women would view the attractive, successful co-owner of Passages Malibu a “hot property,” there’s the scary part too. After all, Prentiss did relapse numerous times before finding his cure, and spent a good part of his life strung out on heroin and cocaine not the kind of thing most women want to read on a Match.com profile. So for now, most nights out are daddy-daughter dates, like going to a recent taping of American Idol a show they often watch at home after dinner and homework, for their before-bedtime “appointment.”
Yet he does manage to squeeze some grown-up fun into his life. You might see him at the Commons in Calabasas enjoying movies (which he loves) or eating breakfast at the Rose Café, a longtime favorite. He likes to get away to La Paz, where he keeps a boat and goes deep-sea fishing for tuna and marlin. He enjoys hunting game like bighorn sheep and mule deer, and recently returned from a solo trip to Puerto Vallarta. “I was there for a week,” he says. “No girlfriend, no daughter, no work totally alone at the Four Seasons. I needed a break.”
He says that Taylor knows what he did when he was younger and knows that drugs and alcohol are not good something she tells her friends at school. “She’s had a good upbringing,” Prentiss says. “She has a clear idea about not using drugs or alcohol.” He says it’s one reason they live in Calabasas, not Venice where he grew up.
Prentiss says the best thing a parent can do is to lead by example, which is what he says he’s tried to do with Taylor. “There’s no time for drugs and alcohol, let me tell you,” he says about being a single dad. “It helps me stay sober. She keeps me out of trouble.”
Words: Copyright © Kim Calvert/2011 Singular Communications, LLC.
Photos: Copyright ©Todd Young/Young Studios.