University of Toronto professor explores transparency in Guatemalan drug rehabilitation centers

Pentecostal drug rehabilitation centers in Guatemala and their history of abducting drug abusers were the topics of “On Transparency: Christian Drug Rehabilitation Centers In Guatemala,” a lecture which took place on Tuesday as part of the Religion, Medicine, and Law Lecture Series.

Kevin Lewis O’Neill, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, spoke about the rise and propagation of these centers and the use of digital photography in the rehabilitation process to a large audience of faculty members and a few undergraduates in Umrath Hall.

There are approximately 200 rehabilitation centers throughout Guatemala, mainly concentrated in Guatemala City, the country’s capital. These centers often practice violent abductions arranged by drug-abusers’ families, and sometimes cram upwards of 60 men into a single floor of an abandoned warehouse.

O’Neill’s lecture revolved around transparency and digital photography as it applies to drug rehabilitation centers in Guatemala City.

During the lecture, O’Neill read from one of his papers, accompanied by a slideshow of photographs from various Guatemalan drug rehabilitation centers. O’Neill said pastors often utilize doctored before-and-after photo comparisons of drug users to document improvement for families, and these photos can determine whether the drug abuser is released or kept at the center.

After O’Neill’s lecture, the floor was opened to audience questions, the majority of which came from faculty members who were already familiar with theology and Pentecostalism. Nonetheless, O’Neill did draw some students to his lecture.

Sophomore Weber Gaowen was interested in the religious implications of O’Neill’s work.

“I’m Catholic, so I was kind of intrigued…I thought it was an interesting topic,” Gaowen said. “Like, what’s the difference between Christian rehab or other rehab?”

O’Neill spoke to the role of religion in these centers, and said this sense of a before-and-after, of being-lost-and-then-found, is distinctly Pentecostal, and these photographs help to explain how these drug rehabilitation centers function under the watch of Pentecostal pastors.

“[The abusers] disheveled state, attempted escape and inevitable arrest all index a troubled interiority; his body bears the outward signs of inner turmoil,” O’Neill said. “The pastor’s handheld digital library creates the structural possibility for meaningful difference.”

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Alex SiegmanComment