A handy guide to ‘tough love’ teen reform homes

I spent some of 2013 collecting information about ‘troubled teen’ reform homes. These are usually compounds surrounded by barbed wire, where at-risk teens are sent ostensibly for a godly education. They have always been surrounded by shocking allegations of abuse and torture.

Many of them use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. Those are the ones I’ve come across in the course of my other research, so they’re the ones I’m writing about here, but they are by no means the only ones. My emphasis on ACE is not meant to imply that they are the worst or that the others are less important. If anyone has information on the others or can share a survivor story, I will gladly post it here.

In meantime, here’s a compilation of my findings so far. I trust this will be a useful resource for people seeking to raise awareness about these places or to get justice for the survivors.

There is more information online about troubled teen reform homes than I thought. These repugnant centres of abuse and torture have actually received a reasonable amount of coverage. In a sense, that’s a good thing, but it’s also worrying, because this huge amount of coverage hasn’t made much difference. These places still exist, and in some US states they can do so with no meaningful regulation. Some Americans think this is a good thing, thanks to some poisonous definition of liberty which includes “the freedom to abuse children in secret”. Because of statutes of limitations, in some cases victims of these places no longer have the possibility of seeking justice. So while abusers have no regulation whatsoever, their victims are restricted by the state.

So here’s a guide to some of the main culprits: Who they are, where they are, and what they’ve been accused of doing. Be warned, the list includes all kinds of vile abuse, cruel and unusual punishment, and rape. You’ll also see they almost all use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. And why not? It’s so beautifully conducive to abuse, by simultaneously promoting total obedience to authority and unquestioning acceptance.

This is a work in progress. If you know of other homes or other allegations, please add them in the comments or by email.

Rebekah Home for Girls/ Anchor Home for Boys 
The originals, founded by Lester Roloff in Corpus Christi, Texas. Roloff was an early adopter of Accelerated Christian Education. You can see him and one of his staff talking about ACE in this documentary. They were the model for all the other schools. Fornits lists eight Roloff group homes.

From Roloff’s obituary:

Mr. Roloff’s troubles with the Texas authorities began in 1973 over three homes housing 180 girls and 100 boys. It was charged that teenagers, most of them sent away by parents, were being beaten and underfed.

Most of the accusations centered on the Rebekah Home, where, it was charged, girls were fed inadequately and punished with denial of meals, lashings and solitary confinement.

Mr. Roloff, who consistently denied most of the charges, conceded that girls had been paddled and whipped for misbehavior. He asserted that such discipline was meant to save their souls. ”My old daddy spanked me, and some of these girls have to be spanked, too,” he said.

State officials insisted that he obtain licenses for his homes and observe state standards. Mr. Roloff countered that the licenses were ”Communistic” and violated religious freedom.

After years of wrangling, Mr. Roloff lost his final appeal to the Supreme Court in 1978 and, in June 1979, state officials, armed with court orders and backed by troopers, moved in to shut the Rebekah Home.

Thousands of supporters, led by ministers from around the country, formed a barrier around the People’s Church, with 200 children inside.

The other thing all these places have in common is that they operate without state regulation – and have fought tooth and claw to keep it that way. Fornits wiki lists 31 “independent Roloff-based facilities“, which may or may not have official ties to Roloff but appear to operate on the same principles.


News stories:

Survivors: http://rebekahhomevictims.myfreeforum.org/

New Bethany compound

New Bethany Homes
A compound surrounded by 10-foot chain-link fences topped with barbed wire.
: Mack Ford
Connection to Lester Roloff: Ford is a former employee of Roloff
Used ACE: Yes
Locations: Longstreet, Louisiana; Arcadia, Louisiana; Walterboro, South Carolina
Status: Longstreet and Walterboro closed 1981 and 1984 respectively. Arcadia reopened in 1998; some claim girls still attended until 2004.


  • Accusations of rape by Mack Ford over four decades
  • Horrific beatings (one girl says she received 147 licks)
  • Police report found a boy locked overnight in a cell with no bed or pillow.
  • Beatings sometimes involved a PVC pipe
  • Staff members Olin King, Robert King, and Richard Davis were charged with child neglect
  • Children were placed in handcuffs
  • Girls “forced, after lights out, to stand in the hallway on her tip toes with eggs or tomatoes under her heels. If she slipped and squished one, she’d get a whipping”

Survivor stories: There is a book of New Bethany survivor stories floating around, but I am not linking to it here out of respect for one of the contributors, who told me her first draft was included without her permission. You can read Cat Givens’ survivor story, and I will happily post others on the blog if any survivors get in touch.

News stories: 

Victory Christian Academy
: Mike Palmer
Location: Ramona, California; later Jay, Florida because Palmer refused to comply with California licensing laws
Used ACE: Yes
Still operational: No, became Lighthouse, Florida
Affiliated with Roloff: Yes, Palmer “an associate”:

Michele Ulriksen, a former student at Victory Christian Academy in Ramona, Calif., said Roloff was praised as a hero there. Michael Palmer who operated Victory, kept a framed photo of Roloff at Victory and spoke of him often, she said.


  • Rape
  • Girl dragged around by her hair
  • Girl strapped to her bed at night
  • Five girls ordered to sit on another girl
  • Beatings
  • Writing out “hundreds of lines” from Genesis as punishment
  • All communication with the outside world censored (link is to script from 2004 WearTV/ ABC documentary)
  • New arrivals banned from speaking or looking at most other students
  • The “Get Right Room” used for solitary confinement for “hours, even weeks
  • “17-year-old Melanie Silveria said she was beaten, tied up, and ridiculed while she was there.”
  • Bellying down” (in which girls who seem to be resisting Jesus are wrestled to the ground and held there)
  • Being made to write thousands of times phrases such as “I will open my heart to Jesus.”
  • Palmer refused to allow a concerned friend to visit a student, or deliver cards and letters from well-wishing friends

Survivors: Broken Pieces of Victory
Book: Michele Ulriksen’s memoir, Reform at Victory is sadly out of print, but a Kindle version is in the works and the website is still worth checking out; it has free chapter previews and survivor stories from other students.

Hephzibah House
Description: “The backyard at this facility was completely fenced in to keep the girls contained.  In approximately 1989, a 2 foot extension was added to the top of the already 8 foot high fence.  This was done after another girl tried to run away.  In addition, when the girls were taken to school or church, the entire walk there was within the fenced in area.  There were also male staff members who “guarded” the gates and doorways when the girls were going from one building to another.
Location: Winona Lake, Indiana
Founder: Ronald E. Williams
Connection to Roloff: Pictures of Roloff at HH, according to one former detainee, and his sermons played frequently; some reports Williams is a former student and employee of Roloff.
Uses ACE: Yes
Active: Yes
Allegations: Extensive allegations on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360:

  • Student says she was restrained by staff while being spanked
  • Student says she was restrained by staff while naked, and a man in a closet violated her with a speculum; staff say this was a medical examination.
  • Force feeding or drinking
  • Being denied food
  • Being denied access to the toilet except at specific times; one student says she wet the bed every night, she was made to wear diapers, and show this to staff.
  • 28 girls forced to share 3 bedrooms
  • Don Williams’ sermons included victim blaming, accusing women of causing male lust
  • Students can never leave the grounds, make private phone calls, or send uncensored letters
  • Bowel and bladder torture.” The girls were given bran, made to drink lots of water at breakfast, and then denied bathroom access until lunchtime

Survivors: Former Hephzibah Girls

Lighthouse of NW Florida
Used ACE: Yes
Status: Closed 2013, following extensive coverage of abuse in Tampa Bay Times

  • alcohol exposed child
  • asphyxiation
  • beatings
  • bizarre punishment
  • bone fracture
  • bruises/welts
  • burns
  • cuts/punctures/bites
  • deadly weapon injury
  • dislocation
  • environmental hazards
  • excessive corporal punishment
  • extended solitary confinement
  • students made to hold down other students

Bethel Children’s Home
Location: Lucedale, Mississippi
Founder: Herman Fountain
Relation to Lester Roloff: Fountain is a “former protégé
Used ACE: Yes
Status: Shut down by state officials in 2005
AllegationsFrom the Houston Chronicle, 23 October 1988

  • 35 children forcibly removed from the home by the state in 1980
  • Girls pitted in boxing matches against each other
  • Principal spat in a girl’s face
  • School buildings built by forced labour of teenage boys
  • The “black room.” An unlighted storage closet in which children were locked for disobedience.
  • The “cooler.” A bare room with an uncovered light bulb in which children were held for weeks at a time and forced to listen to the continuous droning of sermons by Roloff.
  • “Pops.” The floggings administered by Fountain and his staff, leaving welts and open wounds on the legs and buttocks.
  • “Nigger piles.” Bethel’s term for the practice of having a group of boys pile on one other boy and pummel him.
  • Being forced to eat vomit 
  • Electric shocks
  • Denial of medical care
  • Whippings that “left not only bruises, but scars for life

More information: Bethel Baptist Home
Survivor stories: http://www.heal-online.org/bethel.htm

Thanks to Calvary Baptist Church and Boarding Academy 
Location: Waynesville, MO
Founder: Nathan Day
Links to Roloff: Reportedly, the school displayed a picture of Roloff
Closed: 2004, after Day was charged with four counts of felony child abuse
Used ACE: Unknown – reports do not mention curriculum

  • Day tied a student to an all-terrain vehicle and made him run behind it.
  • Student was hospitalised in a catatonic state after beating
  • This student “will need treatment for the rest of his life” said his attorney
  • Students put in “Bible dormitory” where lights stay on around the clock
  • Students forced to dig a hole with a teaspoon

Reclamation Ranch (boys)/ Rachel Academy for Girls
Location: Empire, Alabama
Founder: “Dr” Jack Patterson, was due to be tried for aggravated child abuse in 2010, but walked with a plea bargain (harassment) after police mishandled evidence.
Use ACE: Yes
Link to Roloff: Patterson a former employee of Roloff at Lighthouse for Boys
Status: Reclamation Ranch closed following police raid in 2008; Rachel Academy uncertain (active in March 2010)

New Beginnings Girls Academy 
Roloff’s original Rebekah Home eventually morphed into NBGA, which still exists.
Location: At various times, Corpus Christi, Texas; La Russell, Missouri; Pace, Florida; Devil’s Elbow, Missouri
Founders: Wiley and Faye Cameron. Later run by Bill McNamara
Active: Yes
Uses ACE: Yes
Connection to Roloff: Founded by Roloff as Rebekah Home. Camerons worked with Roloff at Rebekah, as did Bill McNamara.
Allegations: From Stop NBGA’s survivor stories page:

  • Girls called “whores” and “sluts” by staff
  • Girls made to stand with their nose touching the edge of their bunk beds, in darkness, for two hours after lights out
  • Girls who attempted to escape were sat on by other girls
  • Gay students called faggots; told they were going to hell
  • Medical neglect; students denied access to proper care when sick or injured
  • Children made to do hard labour
  • Whippings; girls restrained while being beaten
  • Forced feeding
  • Stress positions; being forced to hold arms in the air “for hours at a time”
  • Forced exercise, “squats for hours at a time”
  • Student told by principal that she “smelled like masturbation”
  • Girl told that her grandfather would die of cancer because of her

Survivor Stories:

Dear Accelerated Christian Education:



Dear anyone who doesn’t believe these allegations…

So you think all the survivors are lying? It’s just a coincidence that the allegations overlap so much, even between students in different states and different decades? You think the fact that all these schools share their DNA with Roloff Homes and ACE is a coincidence? You think that magically survivor groups have popped up on Yahoo and Facebook for ex-detainees to discuss the abuse they experienced, and it’s all fabricated?

Even if you only accept the brute, undeniable facts (the compounds were surrounded by barbed wire, teens couldn’t leave, corporal punishment took place), you’re still left with a tale of abuse.

Related posts:

More from this series:

About jonnyscaramanga

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 January 27, 2014, in Accelerated Christian Education, Atheism, Christianity, Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 48 Comments.

  1. Thanks for posting. I have long wondered about these “schools.”

    I do understand the problems and frustrations of a parent with a rebellious child. But I wonder whether the parents created that rebellion with their parenting style. For example, I’ve just read Libby Anne’s post TTUAC: Children Obey Your Siblings, and that style of parenting, an expectation of total obedience (which Libby Anne is criticizing), seems likely to create rebellious kids.

  2. This is disgusting for all the stated reasons, and also because honestly a large percentage of “Troubled” or “Bad” kids are actually mentally ill, and not completely in control of their reasoning process, or their actions. This kind of treatment of people who are semi-out-of-their-wits to begin with is just medieval.

    There was also a secular school in North Florida that was recently shut down for similar violations. There were something like 25 corpses of boys who’d been killed over the course of 40 years found burried randomly on the premises.

    Did you actually physically send that letter to ACE? Or more specifically that letter and a list of the schools/grievances above? I’d like to see their mealy-mouthed reply. “We simply sell the curriculum, we don’t get involved beyond that…” or something similar.

    • I haven’t sent anything to ACE in a long time, because I wouldn’t get a reply. But ACE don’t just sell the curriculum. As I’ve previously blogged, they produce PACEs which glorify Roloff as a godly hero, and ACE’s lawyers also defended Roloff. One of those lawyers, David Gibbs, went on to be ACE president for a while. The connections run way deeper than just supplying curriculum.

  3. I went to a Fundamental Baptist church in the midwestern US. Hephzibah house was an unspoken threat that was always there. If you were too “rebellious,” (like maybe you snuck out of the house in pants or listened to rock music) you knew you would be sent there. It was sickening.

  4. You should look up Camp Tracey Children’s Home in Florida. The home church was Harvest Baptist Church. I lived in this hell for three years. Thankfully, it is finally closed!

  5. I was unfamiliar with these schools. Apparently the IFB schools that I attended in Colorado did not have anything to do with these kinds of “homes.” I would be curious to know if there are homes like the ones listed above in Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, or New Mexico.

    All I know is reading the article and some of the links made me ill. It is abhorrent that people would think that treating teens in the manner documented was “godly” or in any way, okay.

    I am grateful that the states have mostly shut down these kinds of schools and I hope that laws are created to keep these kinds of religious “torture chambers” from operating ever again. My heart goes out to anyone who suffered at the hands of one of these demented, sick, “administrators”!

  6. I have often wondered if these ‘troubled’ young people are simply normal kids but with parents who expect too much from them. All children will push boundaries and develop their own personality. It looks sometimes as if these Fundamentalist parents simply decide they have a wrong ‘un the first time they show any individuality or spirit. My own father used to threaten me with being taken to ‘a home’ if I was bad as a kid, and often seemed to expect total quiet obedience whatever he said (and his demands could be unreasonable). He isn’t a bad man but he doesn’t understand young girls very well. I remember him telling my Mother that me and my sister were worse than other kids despite everyone else thinking I was pretty normal (my sister has ADD so could be a handful at times) and many of the kids we knew were up to all sorts of mischief we would never dare to do. He has remarried a fundamentalist since and become one himself, moved to N Ireland and they have two girls together. He tells me without irony that they are worse than other kids and need to behave better. When I visit I see two good kids whom I love dearly and I am afraid for them as it worries me that their closeted upbringing will either squash or damage their personalities. My other older sister went right off the rails once she got old enough to not be under parental control and I am afraid that they might end up the same or simply lose themselves to controlling fundamentalist husbands as they are expected to. I have even stood between them and my Dad who was going to hit them with a stick for not going to sleep and talking after lights out (they were excited to see me so it isn’t their fault they were restless). These schools are a terrible example to any parent bringing up a child of any faith or none. The same methods are encouraged in some faith schools (ACE or not) but of course they suggest the parent do the dicipline since the school can be prosecuted.

    • Thanks for your comment, Patricia. I think you’re right on the money. Some of the survivors of these places say they were sent there for talking back to their parents, or a first instance of being caught with a cigarette. These homes have a very different idea of ‘troubled’ than I have.

  7. An excellent project Jonny. I have a blog of archived news reports on religion related child abuse. I have some articles on some of the groups you’ve mentioned so far, and a few you haven’t. At the following link you will find an article by Maia Szalavitz on the abuse in the industry, which I’m sure you’ve seen. At the end I have a few dozen links to related articles in that archive. I also use the comments sections to updates articles with related relevant reports, so check those out as well.


    As an example of what you can find there, here are two articles linked to at the end of that article above on groups you haven’t mentioned yet.

    Shepherd’s Hill Farm


    Family Foundation School


    A few years ago, I got an email from a woman very worried about her granddaughter being forced to go to the Shepherd’s Hill Farm facility. She felt that if she tried to intervene with the girl’s parents it would just make it worse for her, so all she could really do was attempt to keep a line of communication open with her. It was very sad as I felt helpless without any useful suggestion other than to keep fighting for her granddaughter’s rights.

    • Thank you for these additions Perry. Cataloguing all the reports on this is a huge task, but there really should be more online about this. I think I will have a dedicated page on the blog at some point, perhaps with subpages for each institution, but that will take time.

      • It is a lot of work, but it is worth it if you can save even just one person from this kind of abuse and torment. The internet changed the game so that abusers have a harder time to hide or convince potential victims they are good rather than evil. Several years ago I stopped adding new posts to that archive blog, and only add updates or significantly relevant news reports in the comments sections of existing articles. Yet I still get close to a thousand daily page views on that archive, sometimes to articles from many years ago. So although it is time consuming I encourage you to keep documenting these groups so that others can be warned away. If the internet existed when I was a naive, ignorant teen in the 1960s I would never have been deceived by the deadly dogma of a dangerous evangelical cult who took advantage of my Catholic indoctrination.

  8. >>>I hope that laws are created to keep these kinds of religious “torture chambers” from operating ever again<<<

    The already ARE illegal. That's why they got shut down: there's absolutely no law anywhere in the US that allows people to treat kids like that It's also illegal to take guns into movie theaters and shoot people, or to take drugs, but people do it anyway. It's a messed up world.

    The sad truths:
    1) Reform school kids – secular and religious – are viewed by society and the authorities as as "Bad Kids" and so they're less likely to look into protecting them. It's considered "Low Priority."

    2) Bad people know this, and jocky for position in these schools so they can get their jollies by beating or berating or raping or whatever kids they know the system is likely to overlook.

    3) as it pertains to RELIGIOUS reform schools, I think it's our nature as Americans to automatically assume anyone doing thankless jobs like Reform School Teacher in the name of God are probably good people, and we tend to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    Put those three things together, and it's got the all-too-often-realized potential to become disastrous.

    • Well, there are certainly a lot of associated laws that make this possible. And the ones that are still open are doing it in states where there is no regulation, or even in other countries like the Dominican Republic. They have a history of moving state to state wherever the regulation is currently most lax.

      I’m neither a lawyer nor a politics major, but perhaps this should be a federal matter.

      • I whole-heartedly agree!

        Unfortunately, the Religious Right has a disproportionate amount of power over here. HSLDA (which allegedly is there to protect people’s right to homeschool their children) is against any and all forms of regulation of home-schools, including whether you’re even required to tell your home state that you’re home-schooling, or to teach your kids anything at all. HSLDA also called a man who kept his children in cages a “hero” and urges parents never to let child services into their homes AT ALL, for any reason. They’re essentially a religious-based-child-abuse lobby that gives decent home-schoolers a really BAD name.

        Also, a lot of “family” organizations are pushing for religous exemptions on any and all laws against the assault of children. Anti-bullying law? Needs a religious exemption so holier-than-thou, anti-WWJD Christians can demean and beat LGBTQ classmates to their hearts’ content. Oversight for boarding schools and reform schools? Not if it’s a Christian one!

        These assholes’ favorite trick is to pretend that “religious liberty” means “Christians have free reign to do anything that is even tangentially related to something you can find in the Bible if you tilt your head and squint, but non-Christians don’t deserve any similar rights.” When asked, they will insist that this is what the First Amendment really means.

  9. Sad, sad stories. Sure, there are kids that go off the rails (I have friends with troubled kids), but I still cannot accept this kind of torture as a “solution”. What kind of self righteouss, power-mad sadist would found, or even work at such institutions?

    One thing does occur to me…none of this treatment or abuse comes even close to the glorious torture Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild purportedly has planned for us after “Judgement Day”. So, to some of these parents and the operators of the schools, this treatment may be “mild”. Because their loving Sky Monster will treat us…and these kids…far worse unless they are brought into line. So to me, the root problem is the theology of Christianity. Especially the fundamentalist sects so evident in the US.

    • Most Christians don’t believe in God-as-torturer, and a lot of them don’t believe that a Hell exists. There are also a lot of anti-corporal-punishment Christians, both in the US and abroad.

      It’s fundamentalism that’s really to blame here, especially ATI (Quiverfull) and the Dominionist strains. Please do not lump good decent people in with the monsters who do this to kids.

  10. >>So to me, the root problem is the theology of Christianity<<

    So how do you explain Aztecs whipping disobedient children until they bled, then rubbing chili peppers into the wounds? Or Pre-Common-era Arabs simply burrying their kids in the sand if they were bad? Or the vicious cane beatings administered to children in China throughout the course of Chinese history if they weren't appropriately behaved around their social betters? Is all that the fault of the theology of Christianity?

    Or is it just that people kind of suck, and people have always kinda' sucked, and it's much easier to lash out in anger than it is to sit back, think, and come up with a peaceful solution?

    The Theology of Christianity has nothing whatsoever to do with beating, torturing, raping, and killing children. What you're looking at here is people who abuse their power, and then try to justify it by blaming it on God.

    Brian, this is a world-wide problem that has been around as long as humans have been definably human. You're attempting to pin it on a faith that has existed for a mere eyeblink of time, at the very end of that period. What you're saying is illogical, and demonstrably false. That's like saying "Racism never existed until the Civil War." It's just nonsense.

    I agree with you that Fundamentalism is particularly at risk for this kind of behavior, and I agree that something needs to be done, but saying "Christians are stupid and everything wrong in the world is their fault" simply isn't very helpful.

    • Kevin, you know I welcome you on the board giving a more progressive Christian’s take on things, but I’m actually going to agree with BrianM here. I think you’re arguing against the claim “All abuse is the result of Christian theology”, which isn’t what Brian said. He argued that this specific abuse is the result of Christian theology. While I can’t claim to know what went on in the minds of Lester Roloff, Mack Ford, and Wiley Cameron, I think it’s very likely that’s true.

      It’s also possible that those men were frauds, people who never believed at all and were simply exploiting Christians, possibly for financial gain. I doubt that though; emails I’ve had from Roloff’s supporters have persuaded me he was sincere.

      The supervisors at my ACE school were cruel to children. Not on anything like this scale, mind you, but they were undoubtedly cruel. The headmaster rearranged the furniture in his office so that he could get a better swing with the paddle. Children were sometimes made to hold stress positions for huge periods of time, even if they were crying from the pain.

      These supervisors were old family friends; I knew them very well. One of them pulled the entire school round for a talk one day, and she talked about how much it hurt her to punish us, how much she didn’t want to do it, but that she had to because it was for our own good and the Bible commanded it. I’m not sure she really did hate it that much (she did it a lot), but I’m certain she was sincere in her belief. If she had thought punishing us physically was not what God wanted, she wouldn’t have done it.

      My own mother spanked my brother and I sometimes, and unlike my supervisor, she definitely hated it. It really upset her to do it. She would never have done it without that theology.

      I think it’s beyond debate that poisonous theology makes otherwise good people do terrible things. I’m not saying all theology is poisonous, or that the only theology that does it is Christian. I am saying the theology is at fault here.

      And I agree with Brian. The doctrine of hell is a massive problem. God is all-loving and perfectly moral, we are told, yet he is going to send some people to eternal torture.
      It is therefore reasonable to conclude:
      1) Torture is justified in some circumstances. In fact, not just some; we are told that this is what we all deserve. It is only because of Jesus that some of us will escape the default position of eternal damnation.
      2) Physical punishment can be a loving act. This is the really poisonous part of the theology.

      And furthermore:
      3) With punishment that evil on the horizon, almost anything you do to save a child from hell is worth it in the long run. If you have to break their spine so they can’t sin anymore, well, you’ve still done them a favour if they make it to heaven.

      This theology is the problem. Not all theology, but this is.

  11. willowblackbird

    This makes me physically sick.

  12. Hm.

    Ok, re-reading his comment, I see how it could be taken the way you say it’s intended, though its glib tone made it come across differently to me. Perhaps I’m too close to the problem not to be a little knee-jerk about it. I’ll think on that. In any event, it’s your site, and if I’ve over-reacted or been trollish, I apologize. That was never my intent.

    Regarding poisonous theology, that’s something else I’ll have to think on. I do know that bad ideas can be infectious. “Original Sin,” for instance, has no basis in scripture, but nearly every denomination believes it. Half of Aristotle’s philosophy is ignorant horse-crap, but it shaped the thinking of the western world for more than a millenium, so certainly that’s possible. I’m not sure the concept of “Hell” itself is enough of a root cause for this, though. I mean, the Jews have hell too – we stole the idea from them – and they don’t pull this kind of crap. Still, I’ll think it through. Promise.

    As to abusive discipline: I totally believe you and your experiences, and the ones listed above. I have no doubts that they happened, and I’m not attempting to diminish anyone’s suffering. My own personal experience is a much milder version than this, though: I went to three schools. The first two started out fine, then there was a regime change, and the new administrator in both cases was a whack-a-mole disciplinarian who was unflinching in his interpretation of the rules. Clearly, then, there is a propensity towards over-strictness in these situations.

    In both my cases, physical violence was pretty minimal, and the situation was self-correcting. Ludicrous numbers of detentions were given for ridiculous things (I got in trouble for having a picture of Jesus up in my office, and they objected to Him having long hair). This resulted in parents pulling their kids, the schools faltered financially, and the despots were deposed. In one case, the school ultimately went out of business, in the other they not only kicked out the principal, but they abandoned ACE and went to a regular curriculum. The principle at the 2nd school didn’t use a lot of physical violence, but he DID use psychological torture a lot.

    That’s not an argument, though, it’s just my experiences. I have no idea how common they are. I HAVE noticed a propensity towards authoritarianism.

    In other w

  13. Since my dad was a pastor, I have heard of most of these places. i also had a couple of friends who went through those places. One of them doesn’t talk about it. The other has told me similar stories of being made to do things against her will and what not. She, however, claims that she deserved it all. Sad to say, this girl is still in the cult.

    • That’s shocking. I’ve heard supporters deny the allegations. I’ve never personally met anyone who admits to them but then defends them.

      • Sadly, it’s not uncommon at all. Abused wives tend to defend their abusive husbands, abused kids tend to defend their abusive parents. It’s well documented that hostages tend to begin to identify with their captors over a while.

        You break someone’s spirit thoroughly enough, and they’ll claim all the bad stuff you did to them was their own fault.

      • Yea, same here. She had a really bad, abusive background and as a teen she started drugs. The way that she looked at it was that the home saved her from all that. Seriously though she deserved nothing of what they put her through.

  14. Kevin: I am sorry if I came across as “glib”. Jonny’s response makes my point more completely and elegantly.

    The problem is I find Christianity an appalling religion. Even the most liberal denominations still posit a fallen creation that needs to be saved or corrected by a supposedly perfect Father-God. In other words, the flawed, contingent creation is blamed for the massive error of the Creator. That seems appalling unfair, even EVIL to me. So…as a resident Misotheist, I sometimes rant a bit.

  15. Brian: Apology accepted. Likewise, I apologize if I was being too strident. I tend to run across people who say that Christianity (And/or Religion) is the source of all evil in the universe, and that’s simply not true, so I probably tend to be a little defensive. I’ll work on that. Sorry.

    Christianity is not the only religion that has noted a fundamental disconnect between ourselves and the rest of creation. We’re self-aware. We posit entities bigger and more powerful than ourselves who may or may not exist, and to most peoples at most times, there’s a ‘we don’t fit’ belief. This results in us assuming we’re stuck halfway between animal and angel, between meat and magic. There’s a zillion different formulae different societies have cooked up to explain/deal with this. Christianity/Judaism/Islam posit an initial fall. Eastern religions tend towards an assumption of fundamental crappyness gradually redeemed by life after life after life. Zoroastrians assumed humans were allies of God in a war between Him and evil. The Gnostics had a zillion different schemes/explanations for this. My point being: It’s not a notion unique to my tribe. (Indeed, we inherited it from another).

    I actually don’t view this terribly differently than you do. Though I obviously don’t hate God, I was raised to regard the doctrine of “Original Sin” as a medieval heresy. The fact that it’s dominant in Christianity annoys the living crap out of me, and I believe it leads to bad stuff. If I believed that God blamed me for the sins of some guy 6000 years ago, I’d be pretty upset. Fortunately, (And ironically) my childhood fundamentalism insulated me from that particular kind of craziness.

    As to hell itself, again that concept didn’t originate with us. The standard explanation in my childhood was “Hell is separation from God. If one has rejected God repeatedly through life, then when they die, they’re simply alone.” That said, the concept was occasionally used to scare us, and I myself was pretty convinced of my own damnation for an extended period of time which resulted in a nervous breakdown.

    Anyway: I understand your point better now, and I thank you for clarifying, and I’m sorry for going off the handle at you. Friends?

  16. Sure. It’s the Internet! 🙂

  17. Re-reading this, and based on my recent ACE experiences over the last 18 months, it strikes me that there’s a kind of paranoia in evangelical fundamentalism. For instance, I would imagine that in Canada or wherever, if there was a private religious school, and the government wanted to look into it, the Canadians would be pretty likely to say, “Sure.” That’s probably true in a lot of countries. In the hard right fundamentalists, however, the ones who believe that the Illuminati put their symbol on the dollar bill and so on, there’s a kind of paranoia that treats any government interest as “They’re tools of the devil come to shut us down,” even if they’re just coming to check on the avaliability of school lunches or whatever.

    How about you ACE-ers in the UK? Is this paranoia there as well?

    • “I would imagine that in Canada or wherever, if there was a private religious school, and the government wanted to look into it, the Canadians would be pretty likely to say, “Sure.””

      Actually, there is a situation here that is the opposite of that. A fundamentalist Mormon community called Bountiful has isolated itself for decades. They have their own ‘schools’ which indoctrinate the children, with almost no government oversight at all. But the bigger problem is child brides and child trafficking to similar Mormon groups in the U.S. The British Columbia government has lots of evidence of underage forced marriages and child trafficking, some of it from the high profile US case against Warren Jeffs, the pedophile leader of the FLDS now in jail. BC citizens for years have been calling on the government to do something about this open secret child abuse in Bountiful. A few years ago a major legal decision upheld the illegality of polygamy in Canada, and since then BC prosecutors have been studying all the evidence they have, yet still are not close to bringing charges. Children have been abused and denied their basic rights for decades in that community, there is strong evidence to bring charges, and still nothing is done. It is a puzzle to those of us monitoring this situation.

      Here is the most recent article on this situation in my archive. There are dozens of links to related articles, many of which describe the extreme abuses of children. Just reading the headlines will give you an idea of the crimes. Strange that no child abuse related charges have been brought against the leaders of Bountiful yet, but a tax fraud case has been.

      “Mormon fundamentalist leader must testify in tax case and reveal details of polygamy and child brides in Bountiful”


  18. I think I might need you to spell out your point for me a little more clearly. I’m not being sarcastic, I’m just not sure what you’re getting at.

    I said that there’s a paranoid streak in US Fundamentalists that may not (insofar as I’m aware) exist in other countries. You pointed out an extremely paranoid fundamentalist cult that seems to back my assumption. I said (earlier and elsewhere) that American society in general tends to give religious groups a pass, which evidently we did here, and that Canadian society didn’t. God bless Canada! Still, that seems to back up my general assertion/wonder.

    As cults go, Fundamentalists Mormons are EXTREMELY dangerous. There’s the paranoia, the resentment of the government, the isolation, the sex trafficing, the religious fanaticism, the violence, (Their enforcers are called “The Danites”) and some cursory ties to organized crime. Mad, bad, and dangeous to know. And now they’re spreading, and the useless courts aren’t doing enough to uphold anti-polygamy laws.

    Anyway: not disagreeing, just not sure what you were saying. can you reiterate?

    • And I wasn’t necessarily disagreeing with you, Kevin, just trying to point out that things are not as simple as you made it out to be. In fact, we probably agree on more things than we disagree.

      You imagined a scenario where the Canadian government wanted to investigate a private religious school, I assume because of alleged abuses, and Canadian citizens agreeing to that government intrusion into religious freedom. My comment was intended to demonstrate that while Canadian citizens may welcome and even demand such investigations, the Canadian and BC governments are reluctant to do more than just investigate. They have investigated many times the abuses in Bountiful for a few decades now, they have mountains of evidence including evidence that has already been vetted in US courts, they know that children’s rights are being violated, and yet they still hesitate to do anything about it.

      One of the problems, in my opinion, is the continuing clash between parental and children’s rights. Even though all countries have signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, except for the US and Somalia, countries like Canada still tend to respect parental rights more than children’s rights. In US states that permit religious defenses to child medical neglect, even when a child dies from that neglect, children have virtually no rights at all. I’m not sure what else explains the reluctance to lay charges in Bountiful.

      see my short blog article: “Respecting a Child’s Point of View”


      • Ah. I see. I didn’t really understand you before. Sorry. I had no idea that the Canadian government was so reticent to get involved, and I’m honestly rather surprised by that. I’m half-Canadian on my dad’s side (Non-practicing), and spent many a summer up there as a kid. The government seemed to continually have thier fingers in everyone’s pies. I’m surprised they left that one on the sill.

        Thank you for clearing that up.

      • Excellently put, Perry. Children’s rights are ignored in these debates.

  19. Roloff has been dead for more than 30 years. None of these allegations are news to me but it seems like you’re reaching back pretty far for this stuff.

    I actually stopped by to share an interesting ‘current event’ but since you’re on the subject of Lester Roloff, Dr. Howard absolutely thought the world of him. He told the story of the night Roloff’s plane went down over and over. I heard it for the first time in May of ’83. Roloff died on election night in ’82 and conservatives hadn’t fared as well as they had hoped in Texas. The Republican governor lost his seat to a Democrat and Howard reasoned that God had taken Roloff home to spare him the grim news. I don’t remember if there was another issue at stake in that election but I know Howard thought Roloff would have taken the results pretty hard so God took him.

    I thought you might be interested to learn that the lady that did the official Republican response to the SOTU last night was an ACE kid. I have that on good authority though I couldn’t find documentation for it. She apparently used ACE to homeschool before her dad became the principal of the ACE school where she attended. She may even be a thoroughbred. She went on to attend Pensacola Christian College, an IFB school, and graduated in 1990. The fact that she graduated from college in that year is evidence to me that she probably did graduate from an ACE high school. She probably finished high school a year early which was common for ACE students at that time, particularly those who had used ACE for many years. Anyone born on her birth date would have had to skip a year somewhere to finish college in 90 rather than 91. She took her unaccredited IFB degree and managed to be appointed to the Washington (state) House of Representatives when she was just 25. She has been in politics ever since and is now the highest ranking Republican woman in the House. Whether you agree with her politics or not, you have to admit she did pretty good for someone whose education would have left them void of critical thinking skills. Or maybe she was another one of those rare exceptions (that aren’t particularly rare).

    • Thanks Tiffany. Although if by “reaching pretty far back for this stuff” you mean “this is now irrelevant”, I beg to differ. For one thing, the abuse survivors are still alive and have never been given the justice they seek and deserve. For another, at least two of the institutions on this page are still in operation. For a third, ACE still glorifies Roloff and the Rebekah Home in English 1084, a current PACE.

      The ACE student you speak of undoubtedly has done well. Although if you want me to accept a spokesperson for the Republican party in its current incarnation as someone with good critical thinking skills, I’m afraid I must demur.

    • As per a conversation Jonny and I had the other day, we can’t forget that Roloff’s plane had already crash-landed twice before, but he still insisted on flying it with his Honeybee Quartet on board and he killed them all. And ACE’s description is that the first two crashes (which Roloff survived) were proof that God was protecting him, and the final crash was because “God yearned to take His servant home.”

      The guy was criminally negligent and he killed four innocent young women. I’m not sure what an ‘amusing’ election story has to do with Roloff being an asshole.

  20. Hi Jonny,
    I was wondering if you had any information about the program Teen Challenge in the US? My sister has been in that program twice now, once in Bakersfield, CA; and now in Casa Grande, AZ. The more moderate people in my family are quite disturbed by the brainwashing she’s received, and it often creates friction with my wife, who’s a post-soviet Muslim.

  21. I was sent to one when I was 15. I saw one boy get raped on the pool table. Two get in a fist fight with injuries, and a smaller kid held a knife to my throat one night. I grabbed him and yanked him from his top bunk and he broke his head open on the terrazzo floor. I spent 3 nights there as a “scared straight” familiarization visit. Some of the counselors openly smoked pot with the kids.

    I was sent there for decking the Principal of my high school. He hit me first, 6 or 7 times, and I only hit BACK after his 7th hit, but I was the one who got in trouble. That was high school in 1982. I gather they can’t do that anymore. BTW, the home I was sent to was called “Campbell Lodge” in Northern Kentucky. Christian.

    • Troy, this is horrendous. Are you talking about a Roloff home, or another ‘troubled teen’ institution?

      I’m so sorry you had to go through this. Thank you for having the courage to speak out.

  22. Feb 4, 1982 My New Bethany Day. Today back in 1982 was my first day waking up there. Today is a day that I get to tell what happened to us. Thank you for allowing me to share the survivors truths. May We ALL Rest In Peace. May We All See Justice. Kim Holt New Bethany Survivor Feb 4, 1982- 1983

  23. Please keep digging. I was in Rebekah 1979-1980 and not one I was in with had her period the entire time we were there. Some of us believe we were drugged.

    Thanks for calling what they did to us torture, it STILL feels like I was tortured.

    Thank you again.

  1. Pingback: Christian abuse | Doubting Thomas too?

  2. Pingback: Keeping Up With the Creationists Vol. I Issue 2: Busy, Busy » En Tequila Es Verdad

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