Monday, June 27, 2011
I was taken to Hephzibah House (HH), on December 7,1993 at the age of 13 (nearly 14). Little did I know I was going to be locked in this home and would spend the next 21 months of my life there.
To be clear, I had never had sex, done drugs, drank, or really done much of anything at all. I had always been home schooled and was struggling through normal growing up years. My parents had recently started a new church, and the pastor had gave them the large amount of money needed to go to HH. They were very religious and feared I was going to leave home as my older sister had, so they thought HH seemed like a good place for me at the time.
In retrospect, they know the place is not right and would not send any of my siblings there. That is a key thing with HH, it is presented as a super ministry,..in my personal opinion, based on my experience and observations, it is NOT!!
As a mother of two daughters myself, I am so glad they will never have to experience this place. By sharing this story, hopefully other girls will also be spared the experience.
My first day there, as we sat in the room with the director, Ron Williams, he pulled a very large wooden paddle out of the closet and proceeded to explain how if they felt a girl needed it, they would have her lay down on the floor, put a chair over each end of her body, and with staff members present (as I recall to sit on the chairs and probably to also be witnesses), they would proceed to spank the girl. I lived in fear when I was there and never wanted to do something which would lead to a spanking. From what I have heard, this was more of a beating. I remember one girl committing some transgression and being taken upstairs, when she came down, she was so shook up, they had her breathing into a brown paper bag. Things were not allowed to be questioned nor discussed among us.
If a girl was taken home before her fifteen months were up, she would just disappear while we were in school or doing assignments. Immediately she was referred to as , "past student", and no discussion as to why or where she went was allowed. I remember just sobbing the first night I was there, and telling the staff I needed to talk to my parents..I was not allowed to that night, nor for some time. Phone calls home were made once a month. A staff would come and get us once the connection had been established, we would take one seat in the closet room , she would take the seat right next to us as well as listen in on the other line and take notes as we spoke to our parents. Each call was strictly timed for 10 minutes, (15 was allowed for birthdays).
There were rules about what we could and could not talk about, so, not wanting to lose the precious privilege, I would leave so much unsaid and try my best to sound happy and conformed.
The same applied for visits, they were allowed once every three months for a certain amount of time. We were not informed of the visit until it was practically time to see our parents, then we would be taken up, and a staff would be present throughout the entire time and writing what was talked about. Again, I would try to appear happy and conformed, desperately hoping they would take me home, but not being allowed to mention such a thing. Each month we had to read and initial the, "rule book", in it, amongst many things, were rules such as we were not allowed to talk about going home, why we got demerits, and so forth. They had a chart with who we could speak or not speak to. If we couldn't speak to a certain girl, than we could not make eye contact with her, nor look in the dorm or bathroom mirror with her unless a staff gave permission while they watched.
I recall one night in particular, I had received permission to show another girl my pictures. The staff lady became very angry with us because she felt we were talking too quietly while looking at them, and for the rest of the evening, we were not allowed to talk to anyone but staff. This, "no talking", punishment was doled out liberally. If a girl had too many mistakes in the writing out of her weekly memory verses, ( there were required weekly and an even larger monthly passage from different sections of the Bible assigned), she was not allowed to talk to any one but staff all week, had to write it out numerous times as she could find moments here and there to do so, and wear a uniform to public services. All the while, the next weeks verses had to be perfected as well.
The wearing the uniform, silence, and writing of many sentences also applied if too many demerits were received in a week. Demerits could be received for virtually anything and everything. Things such as wearing my hair pulled back on one side, or slouching rather than cuffing my socks were considered worldly and could be punished. I guess the wearing of the uniform to services was to shame us publicly.
Which brings me to more memories... We were not allowed to enter the church until they started the service, then, we would file in lined up in our assigned place and sit in assigned metal chairs, the door was guarded as we filed past. Then, we would take notes on all sermons that would later be checked by staff, and not be allowed to use the bathroom during the entire service. This could be especially hard during Sunday mornings when we were not allowed to do anything but stare ahead while everyone else in the Church had the break between services and got to stretch their legs and use the bathroom. (No talking to other church members) Since a typical Sunday service lasted 3 hours or more, this could be uncomfortable at times. The same applied to school, no getting up to go to the bathroom until they took us to go.
I remember at least one girl wetting herself and having to wear depends diapers after that, I believe there were others as well. I know sometimes I would hold it so long in the morning, it would sometimes hurt and I would be so glad when the staff told us we could finally get up and get our stuff for the bathroom. Even then, we had to line up and wait for our assigned stall to be open. ( They had three bathroom and three shower stalls).
Showers were taken when they said, usually during the afternoon's many work duties, they would let three of us get in, call out we were ready, and wait for the other girls to be, so we could be given permission to start the water. Showers were timed for 3 minutes. I am so glad I didn't have the long hair some of the girls did at the time!! We didn't have much for free time at all, and if we did, I usually used it to clean, and re clean the small amount of things we were allowed there, (baskets my stuff was stored in, etc.), because we could be punished for things such as one too many hangers in our assigned areas, dust in our baskets, etc. Our assigned wardrobe or closet space was locked each and every night, and the staff would make sure our shoes were their before locking them. (I guess I had mentioned getting out early on, because they kept my shoes and made me wear slippers for some time). The doors and windows were locked and/or alarmed anyway, and we were surrounded by a very tall solid fence, so chances of escape were slim to none although I did dream of it. I remember getting permission to go outside and dump a bucket or something, and smelling the fresh air, and hearing the sounds of life outside, and just imagining freedom.
We were young girls, not hardened criminals, although we were not allowed to talk about why we were there either. Our days basically consisted of rushing to keep up with the assigned schedule, which was mostly school, cleaning, and more cleaning. During work duties, we weren't supposed to talk either, ...a great deal of our time there was spent in silence. Work duties were assigned, and we had to get permission to go from point A to point B to even accomplish the task. Then, we had to get a staff lady to check it and pass it for us. I got to the point where I was afraid to say I was done until they told me it was good enough , lest I failed. This didn't always work though because jobs were of course expected to be done in a short time as well. One staff lady would literally shine a flashlight and there best not any dust show up in the beam under the beds. I learned to keep my head down and mouth shut so to speak, the vast majority of my time there. I think I became as a puppet of sorts, dancing as I was told and showing no mind of my own. For this, I earned privileges, such as being allowed to eventually talk to all the girls, not having to perform the kitchen duties, etc. I was so afraid of using said privileges, that I think I just kept my mouth shut more and worked all the harder until they would tell me to take a break.
I honestly don't remember Patti, (the director's wife being around much, and when she did come around, it was terrifying, I would try to just blend in unnoticed. She would become very angry at us for things we didn't even know we had done wrong. She would also call down over the monitor angry at us, and all we dared say, was, "yes ma'am, or no ma'am." Her son Don, who was also part of the, "ministry", and the school principle when I was there, was kind to us, and would sometimes read to us in morning school. The thing is, even unintentional wrongdoings, things normal people would not consider as some horrible crime, were treated as such. Girls were publicly humiliated and made to feel terrible for small things. I recall one girl was chewed out in front of us all for not marking, "how much " diarrhea she had on the chart. (Yes, we were required to mark each day how we had gone to the bathroom,..this was a public chart and demerits would be giving for failing to mark it).
I had started my menstrual cycle the month or so before going to HH, I had one within my first couple weeks of being there, and then never again until some months after returning home. This would worry me, and when I would question it, they didn't give much for answers. This is strange, because it turns out many girls stopped menstruating while there and some of us have had reproductive/other issues later in life.
I never saw a doctor or dentist while there, ( with the exception of a forced and unexplained vaginal exam performed in their closet room by a man who I assume was a doctor). Their, "nurse", (also secretary..I'm not sure on her credentials), would answer any health questions we might have. If we said we were sick, (even if it was just a head cold or bad headache, etc. ), we got to go to bed for 24 hours, but of course this was spent in silence and no meals were allowed, just a can of ensure. There are some sicknesses that don't effect your appetite of course, and so it was as though we were punished for being sick as well. There were times when I would get so hungry, esp. on Saturdays when after a larger than usual breakfast, we had to work the day away and not eat again until dinner. On Sundays, dinner was generally something like measured out peanut butter and jelly and some sprouts...for the most part, we were fed adequately, but it was measured and not always the most tasty fare. They could also use no meals as a form of punishment.
We were also allowed to send letters to our families once a week, (we couldn't write anyone unless our parents had specifically put them on the list, then a note could be included on the same paper as we wrote to our parents on). There was a limit on how much we could write, although there wasn't much to write anyway, because so many things were not allowed to be talked about. All ingoing and outgoing mail was read, and if they would not like something, they would black it out. Patti would threaten that our letters would not go out if our menus were missing something, (we had to write what we ate), or if she didn't like what we were writing. So, as you may well imagine, my letters home were glowing reports.
That is one of the biggest things that saddens me about this place, the fear and isolation and no way out. Also, the fact that it is all done under the name of Christianity. Basically, we were made to feel inadequate and inferior and just over all as, "bad girls" in general. We were not allowed to keep any type of journal, diary, or calendars while there. So I am sure there are things that are forgotten. However, they can't erase some of the memories, even with all the brainwashing of us being bad, and them being good. The staff ladies were scary people, and although there were moments of kindness, for me, it was constant fear and uncertainty. I was one who wrote my , "testimony", for them after getting out, it basically read as all the other testimonies on their website., " I don't know where I would be if it hadn't been for HH", but that is the thing, ..they seemed to want and program us to think that. I have still struggled with speaking out against them, but I know that things were not right there, and again, hopefully some other girls will be spared the heartache.
To me, HH is like a cult, and it is horrifying that they are given total control behind closed doors with no unmonitored conversation between child and parent. I feel like I left there a shell of the girl I went in, and to this day, there are effects that are hard to shake. I have had dreams of being stuck back there and trying to get out to my babies. Essentially, the little good that may be learned there was far outweighed by the damaging effects!!!
Datasheet about the boarding school at Fornits Home for Wayward Web Fora
The original statement on cafety.youthrights.com
Saturday, June 18, 2011
My name is Alicia Hamilton. When I was sent to Hephzibah House (HH) in the fall of 1989, I had just recently turned 12 years old and my last name at that time was that of my stepfather, “Cornish”. When sent to HH, I was not in any trouble with the law; I had not yet had any boyfriends; I hadn’t done or even ever seen alcohol / drugs. My childhood “problems” only began after my mother married a man who began to physically and emotionally abuse me when I was 6-7 years old. Driving into the grounds of HH for the first time, I saw a simple but large white house with a church on the side and lots of fencing. My parents said little as we were quickly ushered to the upstairs room, the room where I would receive many beatings in the next 20 months to come. My memory begins to play tricks on me here, as there are some things that I VERY VIVIDLY recall about what happened to me during my stay at HH, and then other daily things that I have completely forgotten about. I do remember the initial trauma of my HH experience was being told that I would be there for 15 months (at least), and more importantly, I was told that I could not have contact with my grandparents (with whom I lived from birth to age 6 and were like parents to me).
Upon “orientation” Several of William’s family members went through my items with me and began marking them. I was told I could not have some of my belongings and I was stripped of the clothing I had, put into an itchy polyester outfit and the rules further explained to me, I remember saying “Oh my god!” and Heather, one of the Williams’ daughters, slapped my face and told me “we do not use the Lord’s name in vain here!” I was told that I will be learning to be a child of god and to become a Godly woman, and as such the dress code was explained to me among other rules. Much of my memory has repressed the details of daily life but I do remember being spanked “for being disrespectful” that very first night for questioning the food I was served (it was some kind of strange soup). On my first morning of HH, we were woken up very early, and of course after not sleeping most of the night I did not awaken easily. A staff lady ripped my sheets off me and later that day I was paddled again, this time for disobedience.
One of the more unusual things about HH’s rules is that as I learned upon my introduction to the living quarters, there were certain girls there that I was allowed to talk to and others that I could not even make eye contact with. This concept was incredibly strange, not being able to even LOOK at another girl. I was spanked many times for looking at girls I should not have looked at. Initially, I was limited to talking with a few girls, then they allowed me to talk to everyone…for a while….I will explain more about this later.
The most important thing that anyone should know about HH is that no girl has any privacy; even the one large bathroom was watched vigilantly by a staff member, and though we did have “stalls” for showers and the toilets, our time monitored closely (Just imagine, “Alicia you’ve been on the toilet for a while are you constipated?!” being loudly questioned in front of all the other girls in earshot), sanitary napkins were inspected and we were told to account on a public chart for what kind of bowel movement we had that day. We had a specific shower time, and we were herded into the shower stalls and given a short amount of time to get ready and then the timer was set: Three minutes to take a shower. Most of the time my shower was last and the water was cold so it wasn’t so bothersome, but I felt bad for the girls that had a lot of hair to wash and condition in such a short amount of time.
Fear was constant, most often it was the fear of intense pain and humiliation. The spankings I received were random (sometimes I’d be spanked 1 to 3 times in a week sometimes none for a week) so I was always on edge. The spankings were very ritualistic: I would be forced to lay down, a chair was placed over my head while either Ron Williams or his Wife Patty Williams, or in other situations I believe his son’s wife (Wanda?) would spank me. There were usually three staff members present to hold my feet and arms. After getting me on the floor and holding me down, whomever was going to do the spanking would pray for me, and then sometimes they would wait for what seemed like minutes before administering the punishment—I think it was to add to the fear I felt as I just wanted to get it over with. I personally felt they enjoyed being sadistic in the times they slowed the process down, to show us the power they had over us.
My first couple of spankings were 7 swats each time, and I cried in great pain, as they were very severe swats, and after the beatings I discovered severe bruising and sometimes welts with blood droppings oozing from the welts. Sometimes they missed my buttocks and hit my spine and this left very painful deep bruising. I had heard of a girl that had been there right before me that they deemed unable to help so I thought maybe if I was “too hard to help” that they would let me go early too. So, at my very insightful 12 years of age, I decided that if I didn’t cry during the spankings that they would think I was unable to be helped and that they would let me go. So when would get spanked I would try not to cry at first, biting my cheeks until they bled to fight the urge to scream, but I learned that this just led to more swats, usually 14 at which point I was certainly wimpering, but once I counted 21 and after that particular beating I was covered in welts and they were bleeding little droplets of blood, more blood than any other beating. I was so uncomfortable to sit or sleep that I was on very good behavior for the next week but I still somehow managed to get paddled again despite my best efforts to follow all the rules perfectly, and this time I cried immediately.
During the first few months at HH, I went to bed hungry many nights and fantasized about food and far away places. One of the ways that we were punished is to be denied dinner, which could be very difficult after several hours of performing vigorous chores, and for me that occurred at least 3 to 4 times a week; Instead of eating food, I was forced to drink a protein drink which was not mixed properly, and though some of the girls did not mind the drink, I had to gag it down. I dreaded these drinks. Dinner was taken away for just about any reason so it seemed, usually I did not pass my chores or do my “church notes” or memorize very long passages of bible verses well enough to earn my supper. And on the note of chores…The cleanliness standards that we were held to were above those of any 5 star hotel I’ve ever been to. When it came to work and doing the chores, I actually tried very hard to do them correctly (I hated that protein drink!) and would still fail. Again, I believe that this was yet another way for the leadership of HH to exert their power upon us and keep us insecure, afraid, and ready to embrace their extreme religious agenda.
Another note about the food, there were some very unusual meals that we had to eat along with many pills we had to take. Many of the “soups” they made were just a bunch of unmarked cans thrown into a pot together and the soups that arrived from this method were disgusting to say the least. I remember being unable to eat this soup a few times without throwing up, I could not eat it all at once. When at HH, if you did not eat all your food, it was served as your next meal. Cold. I had many cold, mystery soup breakfasts and dinners there. I lost a lot of weight and began to have irregular periods (I actually had my first period on my 12th birthday and was regular until a few months into HH). They gave us a lot of vitamins at HH as well, and I recall to this day an unusual reaction some of us had to the vitamins: the reaction was what we were told was a “B” reaction. I had over a dozen of these reactions and they always occurred after the mornings breakfast and during “devotional” time; what would happen to me is that the skin on my entire body would become red and burn for about 10-20 minutes then it would go away. Other girls could see if I was having a “B” reaction and I could see if they were as well as the skin would become very red and flushed. The staff explained that it was the body’s way of removing excess vitamin B from the system. It happened to some other girls as well and was random.
After about 4 months there at HH, I’d say around Feb of 1990, I was placed on “Shadow” status for about nine months, I remember this because I got off of it right before thanksgiving. Being shadowed was psychologically and emotional torture. Literally, I was not allowed to talk to any other human being or look them in the eye and I had to follow a staff member around 24/7 (including sleeping right next to one). Being “shadowed”, it was extremely humiliating, dehumanizing, and it served the purpose they wanted; they broke my spirit…I think I went a little crazy during this time, living in fantasy land, coming up with imaginary friends...If I was desperate enough to interact with another human being, I could ask for some “religious counseling” about some passage in the bible and get some conversation that way, but it really wasn’t what I wanted to talk about considering that all day and all night was religious indoctrination. Fortunately, I actually found some of the Old Testament gory and barbaric enough to be interesting, and I remember discussing with one of the staff ladies some of the stories and the meaning of why god wanted his armies to cut off the foreskins of his enemies, which often just got me into trouble (even though I was discussing scripture, I was not to “question it”). This, “do not question” rule I specifically learned when I questioned a staff member about Lot and how he basically murdered his daughter, and I was, in so many words told that “as you see this is gods way of showing us your role as a woman; women are not as important as a man and woman are flawed because of Eve’s sin this is the lot you bear; that you do not understand that by now is troubling” and I had to write some 500 sentences about my place under god and man. Sentence writing, by the way was another form of punishment. I probably wrote some ten thousand sentences over the course of my 20 months at HH and that is not an exaggeration.
So I learned to conform. I learned how to ask the right questions and how to appear submissive, weak, and without any will of my own. Sometimes I fear, that there were weeks that went by that I really was that way---they were stealing my soul and I was loosing any sense of individuality. We went to church at least three times a week. We had to sing in the choir, a choir in which we spent countless hours practicing and were ultimately recorded and tapes were made and sold with my / our voices on them. Since singing (and I have an awful voice) was the only time I could use my voice during my period of being shadowed, I sang with vigor. To become un-shadowed, I had to prove I was godly so I tried everything I could, I got baptized, I wrote profusely long church notes, I memorized extra bible verses, and so on and son on.
During my time of being shadowed, I became very sick. If one became sick with the flu or with the cold, no medicine was given, even though I remember a time when I was very sick with a high fever with vomiting. Even though I was throwing up, I was forced to drink the protein drink, I remember this vividly, I was nearing the end of the glass, then I gagged it all up, along with bile my stomach as I dry heaved into the into the bucket I was allowed to carry around with me. Ms. Saylor (Spelling?) made me drink my vomit out of the bucket, which took over an hour and I was very tearful. Later that night, with a high fever and still being very ill, I was paddled.
I was finally allowed to be off of being shadowed, and it was so strange to speak to another human being. I felt incredibly insecure, as if I didn’t know how to act anymore, what is the right thing to say or not? As I got more and more used to the routine and fast paced schedules of HH, the time began to go by faster, mostly because they kept us so busy.
Regarding some of the “chores” we had to do, I believe that I was exploited for labor, along with other girls. When staff discovered I had skill working with my hands and that I could crochet with fine thread and read / interpret complex stitching designs, I was given the task to make hundreds of these little figurines and cross stitch projects which were sold / traded for goods to benefit HH’s financials. I was 13 when I was making these things, and my curse was my speed and ability to do good work. Sometimes the demand was so high for these crafts that making the crafts was my only chore and I’d crochet for an entire Saturday or be told to do it during school hours. This was actually a job that girls wanted as it was more appealing than scrubbing the entire dorm floor on your hands and knees, but after doing it so much, my fingers and wrists would begin to really hurt. Also, though I never had to, I know other girls were sent upstairs to clean the Williams’ house. Near the end of my stay, when I was seen as “reformed” and “godly”, I was actually transported beyond the walls of HH, I was sent to a church “officials” home to clean and renovate, it was the Keagan’s (?) home I believe and my job was to remodel their kitchen and home. I used sanding paper and arm strength and worked for hours to sand off the old varnish and paint from their cabinets and then we stained and prepared the ‘new’ cabinets. We painted their home, we did their gardening….While at HH, I even had to “clean” a deer carcass killed by a car that the Williams family ate for many meals I imagine. I remember feeling misused but too afraid to do anything but the best of work and to do it with a smile on my face.
In short those are the most significant memories that come to light about my experience with this place. I indeed feel that HH abuses girls’ on a physical, psychological, emotional, religious and spiritual level. The isolation and fear tactics they use are powerful and the results, while short term may be successful, they leave a lasting impact.
As a disclaimer, I want it to be known that after “release” I was forced to write a “testimony” about how great HH was and how much it helped me. My stepfather sat down with me and pretty much wrote the testimony; After being there for 20 months and finally being “free” I was so afraid that if I did not do what they wanted me to do that I would be sent back, and my worst nightmare was having to stay there until I was 18. So whatever HH sent out as my “testimony” way back when…Those were not my words, they were forced.
For reason unknown to mankind this boarding school continues to remain open. The State of Indiana simply doesn't care about so-called troubled girls. It is located near Winona Lake in Indiana
Datasheet about the boarding school at Fornits Home for Wayward Web Fora
The original statement on cafety.youthrights.com
Friday, June 10, 2011
Hello. My name is Sarah Forman. I am a FFS survivor. I was there from February 98-August 99. My time there seemed so unreal, like it was just an awful nightmare I tried to block out the memory of. I. however have read every testimony from all the other FFS survivors, ones I knew personally and ones I didn’t and I again realized the hell I personally endured and watched others endure for the 17 months I was there. I now feel compelled to speak out about my experience. I only hope it helps to stop future abuse from occurring at the FFS or for the school to be shut down completely. I have a lot to say and I am not afraid to mention names of staff NOT students. I am not going to narrate my whole stay there, just the abuses that occurred to me and others. Sorry if my story isn’t smooth and all together. I have tried my best to remember what I blocked out of my memory for so long.
First I am going to tell you why I was sent to FFS. I had been in and out of the psychiatric hospitals from age 11-15 for depression/suicidal threats and behavior problems. I was then placed in a group home, with my consent. There I started smoking cigarettes and on home visits, I was defiant and very disrespectful towards my mother and got worse, although I was doing well in other areas like school and socialization. Still my parents had enough of my defiant and disrespectful behavior and someone recommended the Family Foundation School. I was informed I was going and went with a police escort and my parents.
During my stay at the FFS, I experienced and witnessed many horrors that should never be experienced by any child. First, I had an attorney who had fought on my behalf to keep me out of the school and lost prior to my arrival. I asked to call her several times during my stay there and was refused the right. We were told we didn’t have rights until we were 18 by the staff and senior members. I believed them. I was told I did not have a mental illness, which I in fact did and do and is documented to this day. I was told I was just a “brat”. I was shortly taken off all my psychiatric medication which included an antidepressant and antipsychotic to clear my thinking. They didn’t believe in mental illness there and there was no substantial treatment for mental illness unless you consider being verbally abused “therapy”. There was no positive criticism. Girls were called whores. I myself was not called one because I wasn’t considered pretty. Instead I was told I looked like a slob and criticized for bad outfit choices I made in front of the whole table. At the same time, I was denied new clothes. Most of my clothes had been taken from me when I arrived so I had little wardrobe choices. Character attacks and degradation at the table were common. We were told we “needed humility because we were arrogant” when in fact most of the students there suffered from low self esteem. One boy in family 2, who wasn’t there long, was videotaped by staff while he was restrained and had dog biscuits shoved in his mouth. I didn’t witness it but it was brought up at the table and the staff admitted doing it. I unfortunately don’t remember the staff’s name. I know they worked in family 2 and it wasn’t Bob and Susan. They also tried to impose the first step on us, which is to admit we’re powerless over our addictions, by placing us on work sanctions and giving us dry tuna to eat and other harsh punishments. Oh we realized how powerless we were but not over our “addictions”(some addictions were real, some were imagined by the staff). We realized we were completely powerless as far as rights.
The whole time I was there, I was shunned and treated like a leper. I was placed on house blackout as a punishment because they felt I didn’t really want the program and remained on it most of my stay. I couldn’t even talk to staff during part of my blackout. Being simply compliant wasn’t enough. Then you were “just skating by” or “biding your time”. I was resistant at first and negative but then when I realized that the school had complete control over me, I began to comply but that wasn’t good enough.
I enjoyed and excelled at school but for not “really working my program” I was taken out of school and placed on work sanctions frequently. During some of these sanctions, I endured harsh elements like the cold winter weather for most of my day as did the people who were in charge of watching me. I was always placed in the corner or isolation for long periods of time. Given that and the fact I was on house blackout and off my antidepressant, I was depressed and felt isolated most of my stay there. I will never forget the holidays, which is supposed to be a joyful time of year. I was compliant and trying to “work the program” but still on house blackout. Most of the staff took blackouts off for the holidays but Paul Geer, our family “father”, was particularly cruel and refused to let me and another girl speak to anyone on Christmas Day while everyone else had a good time. This girl and I were also forced to sit in the corner at a dance and not socialize with anyone. Like I said, we were doing what we were supposed to be doing.
I was also isolated from my family. I was placed on family blackout for refusing to do my work sanctions at times and refusing to eat dry tuna. I was taken off shortly when Paul thought I didn’t want to talk to my parents when the truth was I was just majorly depressed and my spirit was broken so I didn’t care anymore. Prior to the holidays, my mom and Grandpa drove several hours to see me in a play and visit me. I was told I could see them when I got done with the play and my mom was told the same. After the play, they were gone. My sponsor and family “mom”, Christine Spicer told me that my Grandpa was tired so my mom had to leave. Soon after that I was placed on family blackout. I later found out after leaving that my mom was told I had misbehaved when that was far from the truth. I remained on family blackout about 6 months.
As for nutritional deprivation, I would definitely say I was at times deprived nutrition. Dry tuna straight out of the can on an English muffin for lunch and dinner and a small bowl of maypo for breakfast hardly meet the daily nutritional requirements for a teen. This was the menu of choice for those who were deemed “defiant” or “not working their program”. I had to endure eating it sometimes. I got out of it sometimes though by refusing to do my work sanction unless I was given regular food and it worked a few times. I also at one time threatened Paul I would tell my lawyer who was due to visit me, that I was being malnourished. He then started adding mayonnaise and celery to my tuna. That wouldn’t last though. I saw one girl get served dry tuna for at least two months and started having problems with her bowels and was still given tuna and milk of magnesia. This same girl was also made to stand all day long in the corner and given only one pair of clothes to wear for months.
Whenever I was sick there, which was about 3 times during my stay there, I was accused of lying. I recall within my first few months there, I was in the dorm in Family 2, dusting(my chore). I started feeling extremely dizzy. I asked to lie down for a minute because I felt dizzy. The girls insisted I continue on with my chore so I did. I then knew I was going to faint so I kind of threw myself on the floor to avoid falling into something and hurting myself further. I blacked out for a minute and then came to. I awoke to being screamed at by my junior sponsor and told I was making the whole thing up. I was allowed to go to the nurse and my temperature was taken and it was high. Even though I was proven to be sick, I was told I had exaggerated the whole thing and after that is when the punishments started getting severe. Shortly after that, I was brought up for not doing a good enough job on dish crew. I was punished on Easter Day by being expected to clean up after my whole family of 30 people and do the dish crew of the whole school’s dishes by myself. While I did these chores, I was also required to trot. In the same family( family 2, which at the time was run by Bob and Susan Runge), I also remember a boy on crutches being forced to carry heavy tubs of dishes up the stairs without help. The last time I was sick there, I was put in the corner for claiming to be sick and when I asked to have my temperature taken, I was refused. Finally I begged to have it taken all day and the school nurse reluctantly took it and it was high. I was still punished in the corner.
Scare tactics were commonly used to make us stay there and/or comply. We were all told we would end up dead or in jail if we left. One girl was brought up at the table and taunted about a previous molestation that had occurred to her by Paul Geer. He made it feel like her fault she was molested and then told her if she dared try to run away or leave the school it would happen again. Kids were scared into eating foods they couldn’t tolerate by being threatened with food tubes. I myself had scare tactics used on me by my peers at the direction of Robin Ducey and Audra Runge. I was court ordered there. I was threatened if I didn’t comply by eating dry tuna and doing a work sanction, I would be sent to a juvenile detention facility. I started to think I would be happier there although I had never been to one. Girls were instructed to tell me horror stories of their times in juvenile facilities to scare me. Robin then threatened to have me shipped out in 24 hours and told me my parents were in full support of me going to a juvenile detention facility. I later found out this was not true at all.
I experienced minor physical abuse at the school. During my last month there, I was on yet another work sanction and I was to do dish crew. I refused to do it and was physically dragged up the stairs by staff and students by my arms. I had bruises all over my upper arms when I left the school.
All phone calls and letters to parents were monitored and read. We weren’t allowed to tell our parents what went in the school because it would be considered a manipulation and we would be heavily punished. My parents were in the dark most of the time about what happened to me at the school. I was on family blackout most of my stay and when I DID talk to my parents, I was only allowed to say positive things about the school.
I finally got out of the school by giving up on everything and being noncompliant. I then begged to call my mom and they finally let me. I begged her to take me out and told her that they were threatening me with juvenile hall. My mom came that day and got me. Other students weren’t so lucky though. I don’t care if the staff there or previous students think I was a “brat” who “didn’t work her program”. I did what I had to do to get out of an abusive situation. I tried to comply several times and that wasn’t enough so I gave up on everything and worked on fighting to get out. I suffered from a broken heart, a broken spirit and a low self esteem which was supported by staff mainly. I felt hopeless and suicidal at times. The only little gleam of hope I held on to was my 18th birthday. I haven’t led the most successful life since leaving the school and my mental condition has worsened. I won’t blame all my problems on the school but I will say they did absolutely nothing to help me. I experienced the same nightmares others have of being forced to go back there and trying to tell people that I’m over 18 and they can’t make me but somehow they can. The nightmares have only recently ended. This is my first time speaking out about the abuses that occurred because I didn’t realize it was actual abuse until hearing John Martin Crawford’s testimony and reading testimonies of my fellow classmates. Now I won’t shut up about it. Something must be done about the FFS and other institutions like it. I have now realized that I didn’t fail at the FFS. The FFS failed me and my parents. The school preys on desperate parents. Anyways this is my testimony. If I remember more details, I will edit it.
This boarding school continues to be in operation. It is located near Hancock in the state of New York. 2013 the school changed its name to Allynwood Academy due to the bad press.
Datasheet about the boarding school on the Fornits Home for Wayward Web Fora
The original statement on youthrights.org
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
The movie was directed by John N. Smith. It was produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
While the incidents which according to the movie took place at the boarding was nothing out of the ordinary, it is an interesting movie and provides fine basis for parents considering sending their children to a religious boarding school.
Every parents should rightfully ask themselves the question how staff are checked. The movie claims that this important task was not done properly at the Mount Cashel Orphanage.
The Boys of St. Vincent (The Internet Movie Database)