Damaged Goods

Institute History

  • 1994 January Screenwriters Lab


The movie, Damaged Goods , will be based on the one-woman show about Deborah Swisher's life growing up in a cult from age 7-18. The play was first presented as a staged reading to enthusiastic audiences in Los Angeles in September of this year, and, subsequently in New York.

The autobiographical story opens in Berkeley during the late 60's depicting the time of The Beat generation, People's Park, flower children, the Black Panthers, demonstrations, hallucinagenics and free love. The author's hippy-go-liberal Jewish mother became part of this scene in her early 20's. She was divorced with two bi-racial children, disowned by both prejudiced families, living in projects, fighting off an alcoholic ex-husband, struggling, and very alone. It is during this time that she was introduced to a path of enlightenment, "the Group."

Three years later the family moved in, and, at seven years old, the author began to encounter the life of "the Group,"—a live-in, work-in, non-smoking, non-drinking, drug, alcohol, and violence-free private community. Originally aimed at helping drug addicts and alcoholics, it gradually expanded into a kind of Kibbutz. The story of Damaged Goods unfolds through the author's eyes as a child, young and innocent, experiencing the rituals, philosophies, and their unique social tool of vocal inhibition and freedom called the Game. The journey involved the hurt of being separated from her mother and sister permanently and undergoing various psychological experiments that still haunt her today. In the author's own words, there was a lot of good, a lot of magic, and a lot of fear.

In the course of the author's ten years there, many things did change. The cult became controversial in the outside world. They began their path of "us" against "them." Then there were the incidents to question trusting the people at the top. Regardless of the gradual collapse of "the Group", at 18, the author wanted out but starting over became the next struggle. The path of fighting mind control, to stop believing in everything you've lived for and going "against the way" felt like personal betrayal to the soul. It took years of just fighting the voices in her head until one day she finally won over her fears and stopped believing. She was curious for the "outside" society. She had never used real currency in abundance, a check book, driven a car . . . the list of her personal incubation is endless. Damaged Goods is the author's story, an insider's view of a girl growing up in a cult and her search for family and identity.


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