Hephzibah House Journal

Hephzibah House Journal
Susan Grotte's journal from her experience as a student at Hephzibah House, told in short-story form.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


I was barely 14 years old in July of 1998 when I was sentenced to 15 months at a “boarding school for troubled girls” called Hephzibah House.  There was no judge, no jury; it wasn’t that kind of sentence, but a sentence nonetheless.  I was found guilty and sentenced without a trial; my authoritarian parents and their pastor were the judges without me ever pleading my case or even aware that I was on trial.  I served 8 months of my sentence, but those 8 months were detrimental to my mental and physical health.  I knew then and still know now that a state run juvenile detention center would have been more kind and at least there I would have been guilty of actually doing something wrong. 
My parents are die hard conservative, Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB), they believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen –barefoot and pregnant preferred, that a woman’s highest calling is a missionary wife or pastor’s wife, and that breaking a child’s will and spirit is incredibly vital to saving her soul. I was raised where the length of my skirt determined my worth, except I was already being molested despite the length of my skirt, the lack of makeup, my hair as my “head covering”.  My mother was physically and emotionally abusive to me and several of my siblings, although she called that “spanking” and “discipline.”  After several altercations with my mother, I ran away for the night but went to the private church school we attended the next day.  I stayed at my brother’s home for a few days on another occasion, but went back home determined to get along with my mother.  I was back home about a day when she said we were headed to the zoo, so my brother and I got up early the next morning and went with our parents. I woke up in the car at a house. My parents said something about us visiting this Hephzibah House and to come in.  I had to use the bathroom so was willing.  We were ushered into a conference room of sorts and sat at the table. A man stood behind me.  A big man was talking to my parents as they were looking at papers.  I don’t remember much of that initial meeting other than the big man (Mr. R) and the demonstration of how they “spank” which included lying down on the floor with chairs over the shoulder area/ legs, and the paddle.  There were women in the room as well, although I don’t recall who.  I refused to leave the room with them and a man grabbed me and forcibly took me downstairs.  I kicked and screamed, but it was no use.  I was taken down the hall to the shower/bathroom and was told to strip and shower.  I did. I sobbed in that shower.  I couldn’t understand how my parents could do this to me, how they could just leave me there. All my clothing was taken from me and replaced with an itchy shirt and jumper: the uniform.  
Time no longer existed there, I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone except staff, I wasn’t allowed to make eye contact with anyone except staff.  I was completely silenced.  I begged God in that triple bunk at night, crying silently to take my life or save me or something.  Even God was silent. Psychological abuse in the worst way.  In the entirety of my stay at HH, I spoke to 3 girls, but only ever in the presence of staff.
 I was forced to drink astronomical amounts of water, and even the half portion of food which I was given the first couple days was too much. I had read the rule book (required reading) and thoroughly understood what would happen if I didn’t eat my food: demerits and the food saved until the next meal where both portions would be required.   I gained over 20 pounds, and was then overweight.
Within a few days of my arrival, I was given a vaginal exam in a hall closet room across from the bathroom, the same room we would call our parents and pastor in the future for our monthly 10 minute phone call home.  I don’t recall much of that either, other than a big woman telling me to lie down and take off my underwear.  I guess I did what she said because I recall a man looking briefly at my face and without a word touching my vaginal area.  I dissociated in that moment, but the cold (real or imagined?) seeped through the back of my dress from the exam table/ bed thing.  Even there, my innermost parts weren’t protected, only they called it a “medical exam”.   To me then and now, I was raped. I only recall my period a couple times there, but I wasn’t regular before getting there.  I recall having to ask for pads and trying to make sure I didn’t ruin my underwear because staff would have made my life hell for that. I have spent my life with documented reproductive issues.
 We were allowed to go to the bathroom about 4x a day, scheduled times, and one scheduled break at night.  Holding my bladder was worse than the abusive silent treatment.   Holding my bladder was torture.  It would have been torture without the added problems from UTIs,  I was given more water and cranberry juice to cure the UTIs, a problem compounded.  I’ve spent my life battling UTIs since then.  Had I wet myself, I would have had to wear adult diapers, shamed, and shunned even more than I already was.  There was a gal who came after me that couldn’t hold her bladder.  She was forced to wear diapers, show them to staff, strip her bed daily, shamed at every turn.  She tried to hold onto her dignity but every bit of it was stripped from her, just like her underwear.
Our bowels were recorded on a chart in the hall way. All of our bowel movements.  If you didn’t mark you bowel movements, you received demerits or it was assumed you were constipated and were forced to drink Metamucil with extra water.  Of course, then you weren’t allowed to use the commode outside of the scheduled bathroom breaks.  I spent most of my stay there constipated, but there was no way I was telling them that, I lied on the chart.  Digestive issues is yet another lifelong complication.
Showers were 3 minutes, timed.  I was allowed to shower on Thursdays and Sundays due to my greasy hair, thankfully; but most girls were not allowed to shower on church days unless they were on their period.  
I went to the doctor two times if I remember correctly, and was on crutches for much of my stay there because scrubbing the brick floor on my knees caused swelling in my knees.  I was given a gardeners knee pad so I could keep scrubbing the floors, despite the pain, fluid on the knees, and necessity of crutches.
The indoctrination and propaganda was everywhere.  We read the bible, wrote the bible, listened to the bible, day and night.  Our punishment for too many demerits was writing the Bible –“sentences”. Hundreds and hundreds of bible verses written over and over and over. I became numb, regurgitating their own words, trying hard to be good enough for them and maybe even for God.  I may never recover from the spiritual abuse.
Mr. R’s granddaughter received free violin lessons from me, at the expense of my education.  They took from me anything they could, especially my talents.  I loved to write and had started a novel but they forbid me from writing.  I continued to play my violin and write after HH, but so much of my joy in it was lost.  I laid down my violin for the last time a few years ago.
I always like to see the silver lining in everything, to find the joy that no one can steal from me; but I cannot think of one good thing that came out of Hephzibah House for me. I already knew the Bible, knew that I wanted to question my parents cultish IFB doctrine, knew that women are meant for more –that no one’s genitalia defines them, had a strong work ethic, was kind and compassionate, had clear goals for my life and my education, including writing and music.  All of that was derailed by Hephzibah House.  My education suffered greatly, my self-worth was destroyed, my life was hopeless, my physical health suffered exponentially.  
Thankfully, after months of dreaming of death, I got sick and they sent me home. The nightmares never went away though.  Even after all these years, my parents still get to abandon and imprison me in my dreams.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Deborah Bogardus: Surviver Stories

            My name is Deborah (Fritz) Bogardus. I was a student at Hephzibah House (HH) for over 3 years.  I have tried to write down my experience at HH before but have always ended up putting it aside, unable to complete it.  When the subject of HH is brought up, life seems to stand still. I get sucked into this spiraling black hole, even 25 years later. The damage is done. I survived it. I will not allow the people who are responsible for my treatment and experiences at HH to destroy the unconditional love, mercy and grace I know my Savior has for me. I am able to stand firm in my faith, despite HH.   It is extremely difficult reliving these memories. Very few memories were good.  The only good memories I have are from spending time directly with other girls, those were rare moments, but ones I treasure.
My parents fought a lot.  I couldn’t take the constant bickering and fighting.  One night, I ran away to a friend of a friend’s house. The next day I was returned to my parent’s home. I was immediately taken to the ER. My parents wanted to make sure I hadn’t been raped. I assured them I had not been, but was asked to be examined by a physician. I agreed. The physician explained they were going to do an exam. I saw a speculum on the tray and said I do NOT want a vaginal examine. The Dr agreed it was unnecessary and respected my wishes. I had a regular physical examine minus the vaginal exam/ pap smear.  I was 13. I had never had sex, done drugs, drank, smoked etc, and in general, was not a problem child. I was a typical frustrated, unhappy, complicated, hormonal teen, growing up. Unbeknownst to me parents looked into reform and boarding schools. I was not told I was going to HH.   I arrived at HH on May 13, 1994. I was 13 years old. I remember being so scared. My first interaction with Ronald Williams was that day. Most of the conversation was a blur, but I vividly remember he told me I would be living there for a minimum of 15 months. He said there were staff ladies who would be taking care of me and if I ever stepped out of line or became defiant, I would be brought upstairs and he would discipline me. He proceeded to pull out a long wood paddle to show me. He said two chairs would be placed over me, one over my shoulders, and the other over my legs. Two staff would sit on the chairs while he administered discipline. I was terrified at the very thought.
I was led downstairs to the basement by a staff lady. The door shut behind me and was locked.  I soon found out all the doors and windows had locks and alarms. The basement opened up as a walkout by the kitchen. The entire backyard was surrounded in a huge fence at least 15ft high. There was no way to leave. I was a prisoner. 
 I was told I would be allowed to see my parents in 3 months, my sibling in 6 months. Little did I know I would be monitored at all times, unable to talk to my family and tell them what life was really like for me.  I was required to write my parents and pastor weekly. Every letter was monitored and read. If any content was unflattering or did not portray HH or their staff, or our activities in a good light, we were required to rewrite it or our letter would not go home.  Often letters from home had blacked out content. Staff decided what we were allowed to read and receive from home. The same monitoring went for phone calls.  We were allowed one 10 minute phone call home each month. On our birthday month we received an extra 5 minutes.  A staff lady would dial the number, connect with our family, call us into the staff closet and sit next to us the entire time, monitoring our conversation. Our letters from home were opened and read before we received them.  We were not allowed to have communication with anyone other than through our parents.
We were dehumanized.  We became puppets. Shells of the girls we once were. We were unable to help each other. So many times I cried myself to sleep, horrified that I couldn’t speak up or help as one of the other girls were punished for some ridiculous offense that day. While I was never beaten by him over the course of my stay, many times I heard girls being beat. I witnessed girls coming back downstairs from being “disciplined”. They would be visibly shaken tear stained eyes. You could tell they had been broken.  We became hopeless, helpless and broken. 
The day I arrived I was forced to strip and shower moments after I walked through the basement door. They took my clothes while I showered and provided me a uniform. I wish I had taken a longer shower, because after that moment, every shower I had at HH was timed. We were allowed 3 minutes of running water. 10 minutes total in the bathroom stall, 2min. to undress, 3min. to shower, and 5min. to dry and dress.  After I was in their approved attire, I was led down a hall where other girls were.  Relief poured through me when I saw another girl my age. It was short lived. I asked her a question and a look of sadness filled her eyes as she nodded her head toward the staff lady. I looked at the staff lady who told me girls were not allowed to talk to each other unless they were on their talking list.
 Every single aspect of our lives were controlled. We could not use the bathroom unless it was during the allotted bathroom break. So many times over the many years I witnessed normal, healthy girls wet themselves or their bed because they were not suppose to use the bathroom and could not physically hold it. They were then forced to wear diapers and be publicly shamed and humiliated further. We could use the restroom “anytime” but they gave out a punishment so severe we would hold it as long as humanly possible. Using the restroom not on a scheduled break was instant 16 demerits.  I am positive many of us girls have experienced damaging, long term affects due to holding our urine to the point of severe pain almost daily. I regularly heard girls stirring in their beds, rocking, crying because of the pain, sitting on the edge of their bed, waiting for the clock to strike the precious moment we could get off our bed without punishment. The mind games were sickening. Most of us girls, who previously had normal menses, stopped menstruating due to the trauma, stress, and lack of nutrition our bodies were put through.
  Staff would move beds in front of the exit doors at night. As if alarms and deadbolt locks weren’t enough, they had motion lights added so that if a girl got off her bunk at night, all of the lights in the dorm would turn on.  
Demerits were handed out liberally.  If you accumulated more than 15 demerits, you had to write sentences. (a scripture verse was a sentence) 16 demerits=100 verses,  17demerits =200 verses,  18 demerits =300 verses,  19 demerits =400 verses,  20 demerits =500 verses. Writing out God’s word was their punishment, along with no talking all week, isolation, no treats, or any extras of any kind (birthday parties, special occasions, etc.)We were forced to wear our uniform to church services to further distinguish our shame. We would also be removed from outside crew for the week if you were deemed lucky enough to be on outside crew. Outside crew meant you were trusted enough not to run away. (Stockholm syndrome at its finest)  If a girl made it to outside crew status, she would walk (supervised the entire time by staff ) through the briefly unlocked door, work outside, and walk right back down into captivity.  We did so much manual labor that did not pertain to us girls, but help was needed by other staff, and we were free labor. We hauled massive heavy 5 gallon buckets, unloaded food trucks, cleaned the outdoor walk in freezer, thoroughly cleaned staff member’s homes and personal quarters, weeding their personal gardens, detailing their vehicles, raking and weeding  the outside grounds and collated so much scripture ( they had a printing press and made little booklets of scripture) when they needed it.    Demerits were given for all sorts of things, a chore not passing the white glove test, looking in the mirror at the same time as another student who not on your talking list.  Infractions were decided by the staff. It was easy to accumulate demerits.   I forgot my hairbrush on the dorm ledge and received 15 demerits for it. Already having had 4 demerits at the end of the week, that put me at 19 demerits which instantly gave me sentences the next week. This occurred regularly.  The staff laughed at me when I asked if we were allowed to earn merits too. There was a rule book we had to read and initial monthly. It was a thick rule book with so many rules you probably wouldn’t believe me unless you read it for yourself.
We were forced to eat and drink excessive amounts of liquids and foods at times and other times went hungry, our stomachs would growl most often on Saturdays & Sundays. Saturday we would be fed two meals and Sunday, being the observed Sabbath, very light food.  Food was mostly donated. Often food was rotten, expired, or just a mystery. They struggled to meet our nutritional needs.  I literally cringe when I hear Ronald Williams laugh at how much teen girls eat, as if it was some joke. Every bit of food was measured. We were forced to drink powdered milk.  I will never forget a new girl arrived and told the staff she was allergic to dairy. The staff did not believe her and told her to drink it anyway. She pleaded with them to talk to her parents. They would not listen to her and forced her to drink it. She drank it and within moments she vomited. She turned bright red and broke out in hives. They made her clean it up.
After 15 months of following the rules and doing what I was told, I went home. Unfortunately, nothing had changed in our home.  I still struggled. I never shared what truly happened at HH with my family.I had been brainwashed into believing that was acceptable behavior.  Talking about HH was one of the last things I wanted to discuss. I was free.  I was still unhappy in our home. The fighting continued. Discord, all the time. Looking back, my parents had to have known that if they sent me back to HH, they wouldn’t have to deal with me or my unhappiness.  I was so shocked the 2nd time my dad pulled up the drive at HH. I couldn’t believe they were doing this, again. I was numb.  I was now 15. I remember the first counseling session after I arrived back at HH. Ronald Williams asked me why I was back. I said I didn’t know why. I hadn’t done anything wrong. He asked me if I was still a virgin. It felt gross discussing this with him. I assured him no sex, no drugs, no alcohol. I had friends my parents didn’t approve of and I was generally unhappy. That was my offense.
  I was given a medical “exam” while at HH. I was forced. There was no option. I was brought into the staff closet by the compound nurse. It was a very tiny room which housed some staff belongings.   An old medical table was uncovered and some man preformed the exam. I had no choice. I had never met him before and never met him again. I was outnumbered physically. There was nothing professional about that exam. It was violating and traumatic. I have had lasting trauma as a result of that forced exam.
Medical care was a joke. If you were ill, you were forced to be in bed for 24hours. If you threw up you cleaned it up immediately. Staff would not offer help or support.  We were treated as an inconvenience. We would be required to stay on the bed for 24 hours.  It was not an experience any girl would enjoy.   You were given a can of ensure, no comfort food was allowed, such as a bowl of soup. The only comfort or affection I was given while at HH was a hug by my parents every 3 months. THREE PLUS YEARS. As a mother of 5 children, this alone brings tears to my eyes and breaks my heart.  We were developing young girls. This alone will have damaging psychological impact.
The sexual, physical, mental, emotional & spiritual abuse I experienced and witnessed while at HH have had lasting effects on my life.  What us girls were put through was not done in the name of God. We lived in a constant state of perpetual fear.  We could never be good enough.  We were not hardened criminals, yet we were treated like it. At night as we fell asleep we were often repeatedly subjected to listening to audio religious scare tactical propaganda. More brainwashing as we went to sleep. I cannot remember the name of one the audio tapes,  but I distinctly remember the sound of hearing  souls crying in hell, as they were tormented.  I remember praying to God and wondering if this is what He heard from our minds at night as us girls lay in bed. Our heartache. Our desperation.  We were forced to be silent, in our beds, while we listened to these tapes. Submission and obedience was key.  As a Christian woman who knows and understands what the Bible says, the methods HH used are more cult like than Christ like.

None of the staff ladies I was surrounded with in the 3 plus year span I was there had any formal training to deal with “troubled” girls. The school is not credited.  There is no program that the family of these “troubled” girls are required to complete at home.  No counseling is provided for the family as a whole. “Troubled” girls don’t arrive at this point in their life all on their own.  I have heard so many horror stories from other HH survivors. As mandated reporters, HH staff have covered up and lied to so many people in efforts to keep the doors of HH open. HH sounds wonderful in the brochure. They lead you to believe they are a ministry serving troubled girls out of the kindness of their hearts.  They portray that girls will experience a balanced life in their stay at HH.  In reality they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, sucking parents financially dry and accepting donations and raising support as they “voluntarily” serve Christ.  They lure in parents who are desperate to help their daughters, preying on families who are searching for help.  They forced obedience through fear, but they did little to reach my heart.   Unfortunately HH still has their doors open and still has girls forced in captivity as I write this. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Monday, January 7, 2019

Shelly Merideth-Adams

None of you know my story. I've never felt it important to share. But I will now. I was molested by family. It started around 10. And it wasn't just one family member. My mom died when I was 14. My mom was my world. My father was in the navy and obviously hardly ever around as he was often out to sea. I am the oldest of 4 (blood). After mom died, I simply lost my mind. I attempted suicide. I was drinking heavily and doing drugs. I was so out of it one night I was nearly raped. Thankfully I wasn't, as a dear soul stepped in. My father stuck me in a mental ward. It also served as a drug rehab as I was an addict. Upon release my father felt the 4 of us would be better off living with an aunt and uncle. I was 15. We had met these people once. She was my moms sister. They were very active in their IFB church. Now understand this please, I was raised in church. My mom was a Christian. She was very active in church. We all went to the private Christian school there. Mom sang in the choir, and was a class mom at school. We were baptist. But, my mom was sane. She never took discipline out of hand.

Back to the IFB. The first year there, other parents looked down on me. I wasn't good enough for their child to befriend. It was a lonely life. I did make a few good, life long friends. The rest simply never understood. Yes I still smoked, but I no longer drank or did drugs or fooled around with boys. I was not in "the world" anymore. I hung out with kids from the school and church, but of course they weren't good enough either. They were the result of single parent homes. Or parents who wanted the best education money could buy, but didn't agree with the religious politics being taught there. Or they were children there on scholarships. Money and power does strange things to people. Anyway, my friends, they were the rebels. I tried to make it in this new life, this new culture. But I wasn't a mindless robot, so I too was deemed a rebel. I spoke up against the wrongs I saw and that simply wasn't allowed. I was given two options as the school year came to a close. Go to Hephzibah House or be expelled. Not wanting to ruin my school record and assuming HH was safe, I agreed. I was not given the forced pelvic exam at HH as my aunt had one done by a doctor right before. I thank her for that...but only that. Upon entering HH, Heather took me into the bathroom where I was told to strip and shower. I did, out of fear. My clothes were taken from me. My dignity was stripped of me. Then I was led downstairs...

I don't remember all the details of my two years at HH. However I do remember I was given the beatings the other girls discuss. Again, I WAS SPANKED BEFORE HH. There is a difference. I was told to lay on the floor while chairs were placed over me. Staff sat in those chairs. Ron Williams, a man of 6 plus feet and over 250 pounds lit into my 5'4", 135lb frame. I was sore for days after. I don't know exactly how many times he hit me with that wood board each time I was beat. I remember being "spanked" at least on two separate occasions. I can remember being mortified that this room full of strangers was lifting my skirt and inflicting this terrible pain on me.

I remember always feeling like nothing I did would be good enough. I was so desperate to please the staff and the Williams family. I longed to feel like I mattered. I cried myself to sleep almost every night for the two years I was there. I remember being told when I could use the bathroom. I can remember when my dusting chore failed the white glove test, wondering what my punishment would be. Would it be a beating, sentences or a skipped meal? I can remember only being allowed to talk to a few girls upon arrival. I can remember being told I had to mark my bodily secretions on a chart for everyone to see. I remember being lined up and checked for body odor to see if I was wearing deodorant. I can remember having broth for meals and taking pills that we were told were vitamins. I can remember daily seeing girls come through the door, their faces red and their breathing short because of the beating they had just received. I remember being told I was not allowed to wear panties to bed if I slept on the bottom bunk. I can remember being told I had to eat the slimy eggplant on my plate and gagging at every bite. I can remember lugging 5 gallon buckets full of rice and beans and other heavy foods up a flight of stairs into storage. I remember being scared daily.

I can remember being told I would never be good enough for a Williams boy, not to even look at them. I remember never having my period at HH. I can remember only being able to take a 3 minute shower and no shower on Sunday. I can remember being called a harlot because men found me attractive. I remember missing my siblings so much and only seeing them once during my two years at HH. I can remember being worked so hard physically, that I hurt to move. I can remember being so lonely yet surrounded by people all the time. I remember letters from my family where whole sections would be marked out because someone at HH felt it was inappropriate. I can remember being told how to wear my hair. I remember wanting so badly to please them I let a staff lady experiment on my hair. I remember feeling sick to my stomach every time my name was called. I can remember the first time I refused to eat what was on my plate. I got it back for my next two meals, and only it. I ate it out of sheer hunger. I can remember being told I was no good. I can remember feeling like I was nothing, a no one...

I spent two years at HH. They broke me. I was given broth when my chores were not good enough. I wrote sentences because my schooling wasn't good enough. I was beaten because I wasn't good enough. I learned to comply. I was broken. I lost who I was at HH. I lost the individual that Christ created while I was at HH. I was no longer His creation. I was the creation of HH. Upon arriving home I was so brainwashed I'm shocked my few friends still talked to me. I was a mess. I put on a good show, but inside I was hurt and confused; scared and alone. HH marred me so much I always doubted my salvation. I never believed I was good enough for Jesus to die for me. I was broken.
I realize that there are 2 or 3 girls who praise HH. I realize in their eyes HH was a haven, not a house of horror. I realize they came out of insanely abusive homes and feel they were nothing but loved at HH. I realize they see no evil done in God's name at HH. I realize they think I'm a liar. I realize they think I seek some kind of attention. I realize they call me names and say hurtful, spiteful things about me.

But know this, hear me and hear me clearly.

I WAS ABUSED AT HEPHZIBAH HOUSE. I was there from 89-91. I was starved. I was beaten. I was humiliated. I was broken. I have over 100 sisters who KNOW I speak the truth. I have over 100 sisters who WERE THERE TOO. I have over 100 sisters who have cried with me. I have over 100 sisters who suffered the same and actually MORE! Please listen carefully with not just your ears but with your heart, with your mind. Please know that just because one or two girls say they were never abused does NOT mean the over 100 who say they were are lying.
Why was I sent to HH? Because I was in pain. I was hurting. I had been abused and my mom had died. I wasn't out of control as we have been portrayed. I was hurting, I was in pain.

Slowly, I have recently started to heal. It has been an insane process. I still doubt so much. I still have no self worth. I still see myself as nothing. I try to remind myself that I am wonderfully made. But I'm broken. WE ARE ALL HURTING. Some like myself, simply have a strong face on. They, like myself simply don't want anyone to know...
Shelly Merideth-Adams

I'm not alone in my account of the horrors at HH. And I'm not telling you my story as an act of revenge. I share because girls are still being abused, not only at HH but in homes everywhere. Please do diligent research before supporting this place. And dear God, please don't send anyone else there...

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