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Horror Stories From Tough-Love Teen Homes


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Guest Anonymous

I was aware that a lot of these religious homes for teenagers are hell holes where the kids are abused, but I had no idea that in some states authorities are not allowed to regulate or keep track of them at all. It's a perfect set-up for sadists to make money off of their victims and torture people in the name of God. The article is very long and there are a lot of sources cited, I'm still working my way through the included links. IFB tie ins, politicians who vote down any attempts at regulation, it's a big mess. If the homes do get shut down the operators pick up, move to another state, and start all over with a new crop of victims.

http://m.motherjones.com/politics/2011/ ... omes-abuse

One day last November, a group of teenage girls dressed in long khaki skirts and modest blouses stepped onto the stage at an Independent Fundamental Baptist church in Maryland where Jeannie Marie (a military spouse who asked that her last name not be used) attended services with her family. The young women, visitors from a Missouri girls' home called New Beginnings Ministries, sang old-time hymns, recited Scripture, and gave tearful testimonies about their journeys out of lives of sin. Headmaster Bill McNamara spoke, too, depicting the home as a place where girls could get on track academically, restore broken relationships, and learn to walk with God.

New Beginnings describes itself as a character-building facility for "troubled teens," and what Jeannie Marie heard in church that day was that this might be a place for her daughter to heal. While jogging earlier that year, the 17-year-old (whom I'll call Roxy) had been pulled into a vehicle and assaulted by a group of men. Since then, she had begun acting up at home, as well as sneaking out and drinking. Two weeks after seeing the girls in church, Jeannie Marie and her husband left Roxy in McNamara's care with the promise that she would receive counseling twice a week and stay at New Beginnings no longer than two months. "It sounded like a discipleship program," Jeannie Marie recalls. "A safe place where a daughter can go to have time alone to find God and her direction."

Instead, Roxy found herself on the receiving end of brutal punishments. A soft-spoken young woman, blonde and blue-eyed with a bright smile, Roxy confided to me that she found it easier to discuss her ordeal with a stranger than with the people closest to her. She told me how, in her first weeks at the academy's Missouri compound—a summer-camp setup in remote La Russell, population 145—she and other girls snuck letters to their parents between the pages of hymnals in a local church they attended, along with entreaties to congregants to mail them. When another girl snitched, Roxy said, McNamara locked some girls in makeshift isolation cells, tiled closets without furniture or windows. Roxy got "the redshirt treatment": For a solid week, 10 hours a day, she had to stand facing a wall, with breaks only for worship or twice-daily bathroom trips.

She was monitored day and night by two "buddies," girls who'd been there awhile and knew the drill. They accompanied her to the shower and toilet, and introduced her to a life of communal isolation and rigid discipline. Girls were not allowed to converse except from 6 to 9 p.m. each Friday. They were not allowed contact with their families during their first month, or with anyone else for six months. By that time, Roxy said, most girls are "broken," having been told that their families have abandoned them, and that the world outside is a sinful, dangerous place where girls who leave are murdered or raped.

The girls' behavior was micromanaged down to the number of squares of toilet paper each was allowed; potential infractions ranged from making eye contact with another girl to not finishing a meal. Roxy, who suffered from urinary tract infections and menstrual complications, told me she was frequently put on redshirt, sometimes dripping blood as she stood. She was also punished with cold showers, she said, and endless sets of calisthenics after meals.

Back in Maryland, Jeannie Marie was unaware of her daughter's plight. Her letters went unanswered—only one of Roxy's replies got past the academy's censors. Getting through by phone also proved challenging, and calls were monitored. A billing dispute with New Beginnings' staff didn't make things any easier. It was two months before she and her husband could arrange a conference call with Roxy and the staff. They asked Roxy if she wanted to come home. Surrounded by her disciplinarians, the girl replied that she had to stay—that New Beginnings was good for her. The call dissolved into a shouting match between Jeannie Marie and McNamara—who finally declared that he would only discuss the matter with her husband.

When I phoned New Beginnings to ask about the family's allegations, a staffer referred all questions to Wesley Barnum, the academy's attorney, who did not return my repeated calls.

A week or so after the disastrous conference call, Jeannie Marie traveled to La Russell with a friend who'd heard about places like New Beginnings—sketchy teen homes drawn by Missouri's laissez-faire policy toward faith-based residential facilities. Authorities in the state are barred from inspecting the homes or even keeping track of them. (New Beginnings has operated under multiple names in Florida, Mississippi, and Texas.) "It's hard to understand it, but faith-based is just taboo for regulation," says Matthew Franck, an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who authored an investigative series on the state's homes in the mid-2000s. "It took decades of work to get just the most minimal standards of regulation at faith-based child-care centers," he adds. "I just knew that when certain lobbyists would stand up to say, 'We have a concern about how this affects faith-based institutions,' the bill was immediately amended—it was a very Republican legislature—or it would immediately die. That's still true." (Missouri isn't alone. In April, Montana state Rep. Christy Clark, who campaigned on a "faith and family" platform, joined 11 other Republicans in scuttling a bill that would have regulated religious teen homes; a mother of three, she cast the homes' residents as unreliable witnesses who "struggle with truthfulness.")

At both the state and federal levels, the "troubled teen" industry—religious and secular—enjoys quiet support from many politicians. (Key fundraisers for Mitt Romney's 2008 and 2012 campaigns hail from Utah's teen-home sector.) Local courts promote the homes as an alternative to juvenile detention, and facilities can collect a variety of state and federal grants.

Congress has tried, and so far failed, to rein in the schools. In 2007, a spate of deaths at teen residential programs prompted a nationwide investigation by the Government Accountability Office. Its findings—which detailed the use of extended stress positions, days of seclusion, strenuous labor, denial of bathroom access, and deaths—came out in a series of dramatic congressional hearings over two years. The result was House Resolution 911 (PDF), which proposed giving residents access to child-abuse hotlines and creating a national database of programs that would document reports of abuse and keep tabs on abusive staff members.

Hephzibah House's Ron Williams and Reclamation Ranch's Jack Patterson urged supporters to fight the bill. In an open letter, Williams argued that it would "effectively close all Christian ministries helping troubled youth because of its onerous provisions." They were joined by a group called the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, which opposed HR 911 on the grounds that states—despite all evidence to the contrary—are best situated to oversee the homes. The bill passed in the House, but stalled in a Senate committee.*

In March 2010, the House passed the Keeping All Students Safe Act, a bill that would have banned the use of seclusion and physical or chemical restraints by any school that benefits from federal education money. (It, too, died in the Senate.) Andy Kopsa, who covers abusive homes in her blog, Off the Record, noted that GOP members whose districts host tough-love schools rallied against the act. They included former Indiana Rep. Mark Souder (Hephzibah House), Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt (Reclamation Ranch, Rachel Academy), and North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx (King Family Ministries), who testified: "This bill is not needed...The states and the localities can handle these situations. They will look after the children."

In the absence of federal action, alumni of the teen institutions have been trying to expose the abuses. In 2008, Susan Grotte, a Hephzibah House alum, led some 60 survivors in campaigning for its closure; they wrote to newspapers and picketed outside the county courthouse in Warsaw, Indiana, near where the school is located. "We have laws to protect people from illegal incarceration," she says, "but apparently not if you're a teenage girl." In the past year, New Bethany alums staged a reunion trip to confront the Fords, and they joined with members of kindred groups such as Survivors of Institutional Abuse to gather and publicize survivor stories. SIA is planning a 2012 convention for adults who have been through "lockdown teen facilities."

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For those who don't know, New Beginnings is the same place that used to be called Rebekah (in Texas) and was one of the Roloff homes. Eventually, they changed the name to distance themselves from stories of abuse and kept moving to hide - to Pace, FL & La Russell, MO.

I could go on about these hellholes for pages, but at the same time its hard to go into at times. I got stuck at New Bethany for close to a year then sent to Happiness Hill, another home along the same lines, and my sister was at Rebekah (New Beginnings) and then Jubilee which was the home for adult women.

A lot of people are telling their stories, and there are still some efforts being made to bring charges against men like Mack Ford, but I wonder how many people even care, and then there are still people defending them too. There is a book in the works now of first-hand stories from New Bethany survivors, and maybe that will help some people realize what happens. It seems like so many things are similar from home to home (beatings, isolation, the red shirts, even the toilet paper rationing and limiting who you can talk to). There's a lady at my church who was at NB in the 80s, and its freaky how almost nothing changed between then and the 90s.

Some of their defenders say that everyone who speaks out is sinful or against Christ and stuff like that, but there are a lot of people who are still Christian and even still IFB who went through hell there and know they are wrong in how they run and what they do. I even know a pastor's wife who was at Hephzibah House and they try to warn people about these places, but so many people get convinced their kids are going straight to hell over just normal teenage rebellion and then put them in places that make life so much worse all because some person calls it a "Christian" program.

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Guest Anonymous

Holy shit, Raine. I am so, so, sorry that you went through that. I completely understand if you don't want to talk about it, but if you're okay with answering I'd like to know if your parents regret doing that to you and your sister? Did they know what was going on? From the article it seemed that some parents were not okay with the punishments and got their kids out.

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I am utterly, totally amazed. With all the muscle CPS has on private lives, they can't investigate a camp???

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Holy shit, Raine. I am so, so, sorry that you went through that. I completely understand if you don't want to talk about it, but if you're okay with answering I'd like to know if your parents regret doing that to you and your sister? Did they know what was going on? From the article it seemed that some parents were not okay with the punishments and got their kids out.

They do now. My dad didn't really have a say in it, which is one of the sketchy things. He was in Bosnia, yet somehow she got the forms signed to legally transfer custody/guardianship over to brother Mack. She says she told him, he says she said we were in some sort of enrichment type school. My mom says she had no idea things were so bad or that they had the sort of rules and punishments they did but, at the same time, she knew my sister was pregnant, and knew they would force her to give the baby up for adoption, and that seems as bad if not worse than the other stuff.

When New Bethany shut down and I was sent home, I did come back with an attitude and hating my mom for sending me there, and I ran away a couple times, so I can see how she justified it to my dad to send me to Happiness Hell, but most of the problems came from being sent of and abandoned and treated like crap and told I was trash and not good for anything. I was pretty obedient/compliant until then. All of those places monitor and censor letters and calls so there's no way to tell your parents what is happening, and I only had 1 visit over the course of 3 years, with a staff member in the room listening in. If people tired to say anything bad about the place, the phone was hung up or visit ended then and they were beaten and stuck on isolation or another punishment.

As far as CPS, they have raided a few places and actually shut down New Beginnings when I was there because of complaints, but the stories I've heard is that the people running the homes were usually tipped off and girls were sometimes literally put on buses and taken to homes in other states overnight or sent home before the investigators could show up to interview them. The parents usually sign over guardianship of the kids & teenagers there, and there is usually little or no outside contact (even in church, you can't talk to or make eye contact with people and have to keep your head/face down when walking or on the bus). Most parents are IFB and believe that the homes are ministries run by godly people and that corporal punishment is OK. It's assumed all girls there are extremely bad, liars, etc so any complaints are taken to be made up or exaggerated and ignored - you can't complain when you're there, and doing so once you get home is a good way to get sent back - also many girls stay until age 18 and then stay on to work as staff members. A lot of people end up believing that they were horrible and hellbound and were ultimately saved by their time in the homes, so they overlook all the bad and even defend it because of the good they think it did them. It's just complex, part Stockholm syndrome maybe and part religious/cultural brainwashing.

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Guest Anonymous
My mom says she had no idea things were so bad or that they had the sort of rules and punishments they did but, at the same time, she knew my sister was pregnant, and knew they would force her to give the baby up for adoption, and that seems as bad if not worse than the other stuff.

When New Bethany shut down and I was sent home, I did come back with an attitude and hating my mom for sending me there, and I ran away a couple times, so I can see how she justified it to my dad to send me to Happiness Hell, but most of the problems came from being sent of and abandoned and treated like crap and told I was trash and not good for anything. I was pretty obedient/compliant until then. All of those places monitor and censor letters and calls so there's no way to tell your parents what is happening, and I only had 1 visit over the course of 3 years, with a staff member in the room listening in. If people tired to say anything bad about the place, the phone was hung up or visit ended then and they were beaten and stuck on isolation or another punishment.

This should be illegal - hell, it is illegal in any other context. It's kidnapping, false imprisonment, child abuse, and torture. My blood boils to think of the politicians who knowingly facilitate this happening and shelter the people that commit these crimes.

I hope that you and your sister have healed as much as possible from your time in those places. Reading about the things that happen there is like reading about something that went on in a womens' prison in the 1800's, not the United States in the 21st freaking century.

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I can't believe I never heard of these place until I joined FJ. I'm so sorry for the hell that you went through and thank you for coming on here and sharing your story so we can learn and hopefully help change what is going on.

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I have heard some stories about these places before. There are also some non-religious types of these homes and centers that have done damage. I believe there was a tough love center in Arizona in which a teen died mysteriously and the investigation revealed a lot of ugly things.

To Raine, I'm sorry you went through that stuff and thank you for giving us a little more info on these places.

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We've discusses similar places to these before, haven't we? I forgot what the houses are called but they use similar treatments to the ones in the article, and as far as I can recall, they're still operating, although I think they've moved to florida? Correct me if I'm wrong.

It's illegal in every which way possible, and yet they've managed to dodge investigations over the years. How they managed to worm out of that I'll never know.

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On the Yuku FJ, there was a lengthy discussion of Hephzibah House. One of the HH survivors, and her husband, are FJ members, but seldom post. (I know they have very busy lives).

Unfortunately, it seems that nothing really changes after the lengthy discussions. Hephzibah House continues in operation today.

Perhaps there is at least a small effect, though. Maybe some parent googling such places will come upon these types of threads and gain a true picture of what is really going on before sending a child to one. One can hope.

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We've discusses similar places to these before, haven't we? I forgot what the houses are called but they use similar treatments to the ones in the article, and as far as I can recall, they're still operating, although I think they've moved to florida? Correct me if I'm wrong.

It's illegal in every which way possible, and yet they've managed to dodge investigations over the years. How they managed to worm out of that I'll never know.

Yes, some of the worst are still operating - Hephzibah House is pretty well-known and still in operation, as is Happiness Hill, and several of the Roloff homes. The one that moved to Pace Florida was Rebekah, then renamed to New Beginnings, now called "Marvelous Grace Girls Academy". I just checked their website & they've opened a new dorm for girls under 12. One of the pictures on their homepage shows 2 girls in skirts and a very young boy out working in a field/garden while a staff member watches - that and the mention of taking girls under 12 made me physically sick. I was 13 when I was in this same program and they worked us like slaves out in the heat (with little water and usually sick from too little food or being force fed if you weren't hungry or lost too much weight), I just can't imagine even younger children being subjected to that.

I don't know how they do manage to stay open, but I know a lot of it is because they hide behind religion and scream persecution every time they are questioned or investigated. By using worksheet based PACE curriculum (really pathetic) and having the parents sign over legal guardianship, they are able to use loopholes in the education laws to run as a school without even having licensed teachers and the parents trust and defend them, so there is no pressure on the states or local authorities to investigate.

I think one problem is parents are usually in crisis when they send their children to one of these homes, and take the advice of a pastor or someone in the church without really looking into things first. A woman started a thread on a Christian (mostly past or present fundie) message board I am part of asking about a particular home. When several of the women who had experience with them warned her about them and advised her not to send her daughter there, it came out that she had already sent her away but was having second thoughts. She kept saying it had to be better now and they couldn't be treating her daughter that way, and she couldn't go back on the promise she'd made to leave her there for at least a year or disappoint the church members who'd recommended it and helped raise the money to send her. People believe what the want and will praise the place to the rafters because they don't have to bother with parenting their child during tough times & especially because the daughter may be sending home letters talking about how she is saved now and loves God & wants to be obedient, because they'd censor the letters and punish her for writing anything else.

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