Naked Men: The ManKind Project and Michael Scinto

The organization was supposed to make him a better man. Instead, his parents say, it made him a dead one.

Ralph called his daughter, Becky, and told her he was going to drive over to Michael's apartment in Webster to check on him. Becky said she wanted to go too, and drove over to her dad's house.

Half an hour later, they pulled up next to Michael Scinto's building. Ralph and Becky rushed over to the apartment's front door and began banging on it. When Ralph turned the knob, the door opened.

Ralph Scinto started screaming.

The police arrived shortly after and were hit by the unmistakable stench of decay as soon as they entered the apartment. Blood was everywhere, on the ceiling and on the floor. And there was Michael Scinto, sprawled out on the carpet, a shotgun laying beside him.

Weeks after finding her brother, Becky took several months off from work. A friend had moved Michael's computer from his apartment and gave it to Becky because he could not crack the password. Becky figured it out, and it was then, almost a month after her brother's death, that she first discovered the letter Michael had written to the Madison County sheriff's office.

Becky launched into a two-month research binge. She went on the Internet, reading and printing out countless articles about The ManKind Project. She found chat rooms where people were talking about their negative experiences with the group and where to find crucial insider documents. Becky tracked down every lead. She used Michael's password to get into the restricted members-only section of The ManKind Project Houston's Web site and downloaded internal papers, including the full membership roster. She did not know it at the time, but she was compiling most of the material that would later be the backbone of the family's ­lawsuit.

"Thank God Michael wrote the letter and thank God we found it," says Becky.

Family members describe Michael as quiet, calm and shy. He was "the type of guy who always left a few dollars more than he needed to as a tip at a restaurant," says his mother Kathy. Michael was not seeing a therapist, and as far she knows, had never tried to harm himself before.

"He was always the strength in our family," remembers Kathy.

Even so, in the years leading up to Michael's suicide, the 29-year-old plumber had been struggling with cocaine and alcohol. As far as his family knew, he had been clean for almost a year and a half up until the week of his death and was putting his life back together after a rocky 2004 during which Michael had bought a boat and a townhouse, only to have the bank foreclose because he was spending money on partying instead of making payments.

"He had psychological problems like anyone has who goes to AA," says Ralph. "He was drinking and drugging. He'd earn $5,000 and spend $10,000."

By the early part of 2005, it looked as though Michael had turned a corner. He was well into the Alcoholics Anonymous program, and had registered his new plumbing company with the Better Business Bureau, bought a new company truck, started a Web site, and had company pens and T-shirts printed up. Michael was forced to rent a less expensive apartment in Webster, but the upshot was it was closer to the Pearland Regional Airport, where Michael indulged his true passion in life, flying.

"He loved flying planes on the weekends," says Kathy, "and he was so optimistic, trying so hard to get his business going. But after the MKP weekend, it was all over. Something had changed."

Two days after Scinto returned from the retreat, he sought psychiatric help at Ben Taub Hospital, complaining of nightmares and painful memories since attending a men's workshop. According to the hospital report released by his family to the Press, Scinto began feeling better soon after checking in. The doctor wrote that Scinto claimed to have been sober for 16 months, but that he requested a tranquilizer. The doctor then scribbled the phrase "drug seeking" at the bottom of the report.

The Harris County Medical Examiner conducted Michael Scinto's autopsy, and concluded that his thoracic blood-alcohol level was 0.24, three times the legal limit to drive, and that he had used cocaine within an hour of his death. Kathy says that her son only began drinking again one week after returning from the retreat.

Three days after Michael Scinto left the hospital, he dated his letter to the Madison County Sheriff's Office attempting to file a complaint about The ManKind Project retreat. He sent the letter, in which he detailed the weekend, including allegations of kidnapping, to former Deputy Larry Adams. But the deputy never filed a complaint. According to a Webster police report, Adams said he reviewed Scinto's letter as well as The ManKind Project contracts he signed. A portion of the contract stipulated that Scinto agreed to remain on the retreat's grounds the entire weekend. The sheriff's office decided that the matter was best suited for a civil court and not a criminal investigation.

Houston contract attorney Dayle Pugh says this decision might have been an error.

"Even if you've contractually agreed to stay," he says, "you can leave any time you damn well please. And if they don't let you go, it really is kidnapping."

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5 comments
t.ariel.terry
t.ariel.terry

There are many other programs like this, including in the realm of evangelical christianity: 

twentyfourseven worldwide

24-7 leadership academy

teen mania honour academy

They fulfill most all the conditions for cult-status, and while they promise to be a launching pad to a great life, there are many silent sufferers(myself included) who spiral off in to greater depression and woundedness...secrecy as to the process, complete misrepresentation, or lack of representation of what is involved in the process, a fanatical devotion to leadership, mind and body control..usage of trauma to invoke change etc...very dangerous so please be warned

Colospgs_xplant
Colospgs_xplant

A shot in the dark here, since this post is older...I, too, am familiar with 24/7 and its many dysfunctions. If you need to speak to someone about it, I can help.

t.ariel.terry
t.ariel.terry

@Colospgs_xplant E-mail is nerds 'five two' @ hotmail.com ....substitute the words for   numbers in there and you have my address. 

Colospgs_xplant
Colospgs_xplant

Ariel, I shot you an email; hope I got the address correct.

 
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