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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.

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Horror stories from tough-love teen homes

If you only read one story on “troubled teen” Christian reform homes, Kathryn Joyce’s piece for Mother Jones is probably the most comprehensive choice. Joyce is a tireless campaigner for survivors of religious abuse, having also released books on the “Quiverfull” Christian patriarchy movement, and the evangelical adoption industry.

Once you’ve looked at this, along with the previous things I’ve posted, you’ll get the picture on fundamentalist reform homes.

chain link fences and barbed wire surrounding New Bethany Home for Girls

The compound at New Bethany. No one got in or out without Mack Ford’s permission

Check it out in full here, or see a few choice quotations from me below. As usual, trigger warnings all round.

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Religious exemption at some Florida children’s homes shields prying eyes

Excerpts from a Tampa Bay Times article, by Alexandra Zayas, October 26, 2012. Read it in full, and see the Times’ video.

Trigger warning: Almost everything.

They shaved him bald that first morning in 2008, put him in an orange jumpsuit and made him exercise past dark. • Through the night, as he slept on the floor, they forced him awake for more. • The sun had not yet risen over the Christian military home when Samson Lehman collapsed for the sixth time. Still, he said, they made him run. • The screaming, the endless exercise, it was all in the name of God, a necessary step at the Gateway Christian Military Academy on the path to righteousness. • So when Samson vomited, they threw him a rag. When his urine turned red, they said that was normal. • By Day 3, the 15-year-old was on the verge of death, his dehydrated organs shutting down. • Slumped against a wall, cold and immobile, Lehman recalls men who recited Scripture calling him a wimp. And he thought: Maybe, if I die here, someone will shut this place down. • Not in Florida.

In this state, unlicensed religious homes can abuse children and go on operating for years. Almost 30 years ago, Florida legislators passed a law eliminating state oversight of children’s homes that claim government rules hamper their religious practices.

Today, virtually anyone can claim a list of religious ideals, take in children and subject them to punishment and isolation that verge on torture — so long as they quote chapter and verse to justify it. Read the rest of this entry

Christian reform homes: An introduction

There’s a trend I’ve long noticed on this blog: Articles which involve creationism and/or fundamentalists being hiliarious get a lot of hits. Posts about child abuse get nothing by comparison. This blog is about to take a turn that may lose me some readers. I can understand this. Some of you read this blog for entertainment; these posts will not be entertaining. They will, however, be extremely important. There is now strong evidence that children have been abused in “Christian” reform homes for decades. Despite this, the victims’ voices have barely been heard. The perpetrators have rarely seen any kind of justice, and the public is largely oblivious. I have a platform on this blog, and I am determined to help give these victims a voice.

It will take a lot of posts to alert you to the scale of the problem. To begin with, these will mostly be reposts and links to existing material online. You may not have time to read them all, or you may find them too distressing; virtually all of it needs to come with a trigger warning. I don’t expect you to read every word (even I haven’t managed that); I just want you to see enough to recognise the patterns and themes in victims’ testimonies, the way multiple independent witnesses corroborate each other.

Most of the material has been written from the standpoint of deep sympathy for the victims. As a result, sometimes the evidence provided is not as rigorous as it might need to be to stand up in court, or even to go on Wikipedia without a [citation needed] tag. This is a problem, and when I have time I hope to provide more concrete evidence. I understand the victims are in possession of this type of evidence, in the form of court documents and school records. Some are in the process of giving witness statements to local sheriff’s departments. They deserve justice, and I want to help them get it. In the meantime, you will see that the sheer quantity of evidence means that, although we can’t always be sure of the details of what happened, it is beyond reasonable doubt that these homes are abusive. This abuse is not peripheral, or just by a few bad apples. It is endemic.

I became aware of these schools because so many of them use Accelerated Christian Education. ACE’s relationship to these schools is interesting and complex, but, as we’ll see later, ACE specifically praises them in at least one of its own PACEs.

Please stay with me on this. I might post more typical, fun creationist stuff in between to keep you all on side.

You may remember Cat Givens’ story about her time in one of these schools. This is an indicator of what’s to come:

Off to a girls’ home in Louisiana for me! New Bethany Home for Wayward Girls. I was to be there for a year.

Surely, this would save my soul and make me a compliant teenager. At this girls’ home, the same type of hellfire and brimstone attitude prevailed. I was not allowed to wear pants, as that was a sin. I could not listen to any music besides gospel, as that was a sin. I could not talk about my past, as I had no past. I had to be called by my first and middle name because I was to become a new person.

There was an evangelical preacher who ran the place, Rev. Mac Ford. He and his wife, Thelma founded the home, and they took in rebellious teens from all over the country and also took in the unwanted girls who would just be abandoned there. We were all to comply with every rule or get whipped with a belt. That was the easy punishment. If a girl acted out, often she would be 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 or get hit with the switch. Runaways from the home were usually caught and then, after a sound whipping with the belt from Bro. Mac, she’d be handcuffed to her bed and a ‘trusted girl” would have the key. All meals were served her at her bed, and only was she uncuffed for bathroom and shower breaks. Once Bro Mac determined she had repented, she was off the cuffs.