We have a chance to save a girl from a fundamentalist prison camp

Turns out you’re a miserable lot, readers of Leaving Fundamentalism. Monday’s blog post was the biggest piece of good news I’ve ever posted, and it was the least popular blog of the year. So alright, fine. Have some bad news. And some good news: you can help.

14-year-old Skyler is being held at Marvelous Grace Girls’ Academy in Pace, Florida (MGGA). Her parents are divorced, and her father has put Skyler in the home against her mother’s wishes. Her mother, Silke Matero, has a custody/visitation order to see her daughter. MGGA, however, refuses to let Silke see Skyler. It’s a residential reform home for ‘rebellious’ girls, and during their year-long stay, girls have no contact with outsiders except through letters and phone calls which are monitored by staff.

EDIT: Silke informs me that girls can receive visits from family after four months, if they have received no demerits. My own experience in an ACE school suggests that going four months without demerits is no mean feat, however.

MGGA is one of the ‘troubled teen’ reform homes I’ve blogged so much about. The existence of these homes is a stain on the free world. In fact, if people who are supportive of normal ACE schools would speak out against them, it would do their cause a great deal of good. Right now, their silence (and ACE’s supplying of curriculum to places like Marvelous Grace and Hephzibah House) looks a lot like complicity.

The home is on the grounds of the former New Beginnings Girls Academy, a place with survivor stories that will make your blood alternately boil and run cold. This is from the first entry on the “Stop NBGA” survivor stories page. It doesn’t get better from here:

There was a little girl with serious mental health problems. She was about 12 when she came in and was on a bunch of medication for her problems that she truly needed. They took her off all meds and said they could help her better than the medicine. She always looked like she didn’t know what was going on and she didn’t understand why they were treating her the way they did. I remember one time where myself and other girls and staff members were made to stay up with her until about 4 in the morning and force her to stand in a circle of masking tape on the floor. If she got out of the circle or didn’t comply then we had to push her back in.

If she kept misbehaving then we had to put her into an ice cold shower with all her clothes on while she screamed. She was always in trouble and yelled at for no reason at all. You could tell that there was something wrong with her and that was not the place she needed to be. She couldn’t even talk that well and we could barely ever understand what she was saying sometimes. They pretty much just treated her like crap and blamed her for it because she wasn’t “right with God” according to them. It was awful and I felt very bad for her.

The current MGGA website denies it is associated with New Beginnings, but the Tampa Bay Times found evidence that suggests they are very closely related:

An archived website, copyrighted in 2008, advertised “New Beginnings Girls Academy” with [MGGA director] Blankenship as the executive director. His biography described his youth as one of “Alcohol, Drugs, Thievery, Lying, Immorality, Strange Music and Strange Friends.” It said he found God “after years of living as a Satanist and a Witch.”
The home was called New Beginnings Girls Academy in police reports until 2010, the first year it appeared as Marvelous Grace Girls Academy. Online property records show the compound was never sold after the previous home left; the property is still owned by the same corporation, with [New Beginnings owner] Pastor Bill McNamara listed as an officer.

The Times also notes that MGGA itself has been the subject of direct allegations of abuse:

On the old grounds of New Beginnings, Marvelous Grace Girls Academy is run by a street preacher once photographed outside a bar holding a sign about Sodom with a fellow protester who was dressed like Satan. Girls describe a program similar to New Beginnings, where teens are expected to strictly follow fundamentalist Christian ideals.

In 2010, Santa Rosa County sheriff’s deputies came upon two scratched and sunburned runaways who told them Blankenship had called them “faggots” and “bastards,” forced them to street preach and shut girls who weren’t “preaching hard enough” in a van. They threatened suicide if taken back to the school. DCF investigated and found no evidence to support their claims.

Even if we give MGGA the benefit of the doubt and assume that the horrific abuses reported at New Beginnings haven’t taken place there, here are the facts about it we do know:

  • It teaches the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum (of course).
  • Its website lists an ultra-fundamentalist statement of faith, including statements that “God created the world in six literal 24-hour periods”, and this joyous section on “the eternal state”

We believe that the souls of unbelievers remain after death in conscious punishment and torment until the second resurrection, when with soul and body reunited, they shall appear at the Great White Throne Judgment and shall be cast into the Lake of Fire, not to be annihilated, but to suffer everlasting conscious punishment and  torment.

  • MGGA’s public performances are eerily similar to those by the unspeakable Lester Roloff, suggesting Roloff may have influenced the institution in other ways as well.
  • Girls are held on site and can’t leave or have uncensored communication with anyone on the outside
  • By refusing to let Silke see her daughter, Skyler’s presence at MGGA violates a court order from the state of Florida. EDIT: This post earlier reported that the court order was from Nebraska. This was incorrect.

So it’s an ACE prison camp. Isn’t that enough?

But we can make a difference. Silke has a GoFundMe page which has raised $6,195 in a month. She is trying to raise $7,500 to get a lawyer to get Skyler out. 

This blog has enough readers that if all of you just gave insignificant pocket change, Silke would hit her target. 

We’ve made a lot of differences lately. This would make a huge difference to one girl and her mother.

Click here to donate.

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About Jonny Scaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on August 13, 2014, in Accelerated Christian Education, Christianity, Creationism, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Florida’s Department of Human Services and Child Protective Services are notoriously bad. (There was an incident several years ago where a little girl in foster care was “lost” by the system for several YEARS. When she was “found” it was discovered that she had been dead for over a year and the foster “mother” had buried her in her yard, continuing to collect payment from the state for the child’s care.)
    I still think I would turn this place in to CPS, especially because the mother objects to her even being there.
    It sounds like a complicated legal situation for sure, though.

  2. Why are there so many of these things in Florida?

  3. The court order is from the state of Florida, not from the state of Nebraska.

  4. This is terrible. I still find it hard to understand (living in my comfortable British non-religious style) how this is ever allowed to happen. It is so easy to forget that not all of us have such an easy time and live in such a non-religious state. ACE is disgusting but this is just appalling. That poor girl is barely old enough to know what she thinks about anything and they will probably damage her for life with their treatment of her. I am so angry that this happens. I will make sure that as many people as possible I know hears about this and hopefully some of them will help.

  5. How horrible! I grew up in a church that often hosted these types of girls’ (& occasionally boys’ but usually girls’) homes. Not this particular one but similar ones that I now suspect may be just as creepy. Donation has been made. And I certainly hope we’ll be able to keep up to date on what happens & that this poor girl will be freed from this horrible place. It’s truly terrifying what people can get away with in the name of religion.

    • Bill McNamara of New Beginnings, treated a child I love as though she were a criminal. She had never kissed a boy, she dressed ultra conservative fundy, never touched drugs or alcohol but the preacher’s son was married and had a thing for teenage girls.

      McNamara “broke” this child without an ounce of compassion!

      The UCCJEA, fed and state law in USA, covers the issue of jurisdiction.

      If Nebraska is the child’s home, Nebraska has jurisdiction and FL courts have to request jurisdiction from Nebraska judge. Crossing state lines to interfere with judicial rulings on visitation and custodial rights is resolved through the UCCJEA.

  6. Perhaps it’s like the prison industry here in the states, which is big business. And since the people in prison are generally assumed to be “bad people” no one looks too closely at allegations of mistreatment.

  7. Reblogged this on Infinite Multiverses and commented:
    This is a very worthy cause.

  8. Reblogged this on Adventures in Mommyland and commented:
    If we all give a little, we can help save this girl!

  9. from one Silke to another...

    I have read about those camps which are little else but concentration camps or Gulags for children. The idea that those should exist in the USA makes me shiver. Now, my real name is Silke and I would like to reach out to this other Silke who is trying to free her daughter from Room 101. How do I donate from abroad?

    • The GoFundMe page accepts credit cards. Although you have to enter the currency in US dollars, the credit card will do the conversion for you. You will probably be charged a fee for currency conversion, which will happen automatically.

  10. This is almost more than I can stand to read. Why can’t that mother find a lawyer who will help her pro bono to get her daughter out! After growing up in an ACE school & suffering various shaming techniques etc. I can only imagine how this poor girl is being traumatized. How are fundamentalists getting away with this sh*t!!!

  11. Fascist zealots who call their hatred ‘religion’ and use others’ superstitious belief to claim that evil is good. Makes me sick. Thank you for posting this, Johnny. There’s no one for me to donate to to help resolve the police conflict in Ferguson, or to stop the massacre in Gaza, or to keep ISIS from killing every other religion, but thank the FSM I can spare a few bucks for a lawyer to fight for this girl.

  12. Yes, Johnny, thanks for posting. I can’t afford much but I donated what I could. Good to see that the minimum’s been donated already, but I expect more will be needed. I find stories like this just horrifying in the supposedly free west. I really enjoy following this blog….nice to see someone who’s “come out of the other side” of this kind of treatment telling it like it is!

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