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 29, 2020

Jody Lynn Ranisate

Hi! I was at HH back in 91 or 92. Last name was Ellis back then. My adoptive parents took me to this place thinking it would help me. I was an out of control rebellious person who went through a very significant amount of trauma as a child. 
This place still haunts me almost 30 years later . I use to wet the bed and I can remember being beat and screamed at for it, humiliated in front of the other girls,sorting stamps, I still remember being forced to eat banana yogurt( which I'm allergic to bananas- even the smell makes me very sick) and I'd throw up all over the floor. I remember one of the workers there wanted me to eat my vomit off the floor because they thought I was doing it on purpose. They told me to get use to eating it. I remember not eating for several days because I'd refuse to eat the yogurt and they kept telling me that was my next meal.. 
I still cant eat yogurt and when I see it at the store, that flashback comes back to me alot. I remember it was winter cause there was snow on the ground.
They didnt keep me there very long. The pastors wife screamed and berated at me. Told me that I was unreformable and that I was being sent home because I had to much sin in me and I was a devil child. 
I'm sorry for the rest of you who were there longer and went through so much more then I did. I didnt know I wasnt alone. I dont speak about HH very often in conversations just because i tried for years to forget about the torture i went through. I'm currently writing a book and HH is a small chapter in it. I started researching on fb and online and this is when I found this group and the YouTube videos and the interview with Dr.phil.
My adoptive dad and grandfather were and still preach occasionally. Strict Baptist families.

Katrina Anne

From 1988-1991, I was sent away to what my parents believed was an all-girls "Christian" boarding school in Indiana called Hephzibah House (HH), run by Pastor Ron Williams. My parents were wrapped up in a whacko Baptist cult here in Michigan and were encouraged to send me away for reprogramming. I was among several young teenage girls that church sent to HH. The night I left, I was drugged, bound & gagged, taken in the middle of the night to prevent anyone from seeing and reporting to police and to prevent me from fighting. I was driven almost 3 hours away to Warsaw, Indiana. There I was stripped naked in front of people I didn't know, just shy of a body cavity search and forced to shower in front of a woman I had never met--I was just 14 years old! On day two or three (I can't remember), I was blindfolded and forced into a van and taken somewhere (I vividly remember the brown panel walls and the exam table). A man came in and said he would be doing an exam, then two of the female staff members held me down on the exam table, pried my legs apart while he forcibly performed a vaginal exam on me. I was screaming and crying and told if I didn't stop struggling, I would be punished when we got back. I later learned that this exam was at the direction of Ron Williams to determine if I was a virgin (no idea why this was so important to them). I was blindfolded again and taken back to the compound (yes it was an isolated compound out in the country--the only analogy I can give is Waco). 
During those three years, I was physically tortured (beaten by Patti Williams, Ron's wife at the time-forced to lay on the floor face down while two staff members held my arms above my head and one held my legs at the ankles so I couldn't get up. She then hit me with a large wooden paddle 5 times. I was black and blue from above my tailbone to the top of my hamstrings for almost two weeks. It hurt to sit for days), brainwashed, starved, isolated (I wasn't allowed to speak to/or look at anyone for over 15 months-expect the 4 staff), emotionally beaten and broken as a human being. Phone calls to my parents once a month were monitored with a staff member sitting right beside me under threat of abuse, if I said that I wanted to come home or if I said anything bad about my life there. Visits with my parents three times a year were also heavily guarded by a staff member sitting right next to us for the three hours. Again threat of punishment and abuse, if I said I wanted to come home or that anything was wrong. Outgoing mail was also monitored. So no way to cry out for help. On any given day, there were typically 30 other girls there with me. 
I completed my entire high school in 2 1/2 years, in hopes of getting released sooner. That didn't work and I was forced to stay until I turned 17 and could be immediately sent off to a "Christian" college also in Indiana. I spent the next two years at this school studying elementary education (there were only three paths for women--pastor's wife training, secretary or Christian school teacher--all of which are unaccredited). During my second summer away from Hephzibah House, I was forced to go work at a "Christian" camp in Iowa, also against my will. I know, you're thinking--but you were 18, why didn't you just leave...? Anyone who truly understands abuse, knows that when you are under someone else's mental control, you don't have the capacity to make your own decisions, out of fear of retaliation. (This is probably why I became a police officer and have been so incredibly good at investigating sexual assault and child abuse cases the past 24 years.) During my second year at the "Christian" college, the blinders started to come off and I managed to meet up with some former HH students. I took that summer off and went back to Michigan where I got back into contact with a former friend and her mom who helped me eventually tell my parents that I was done! (Thank you Nina and Sonya--you two saved my life!). 
You're probably wondering how on earth I have any kind of relationship with my parents...again, I understand the power of brainwashing and how cults draw on the insecurities of people. My parents made mistakes, but I believe they would not have made the same decisions, if they would have had all of the facts! This has taken me years to realize.
Sharing my story publicly has been one of the hardest things I've ever done. In 2010, I went on a Fox news affiliate in Fort Wayne, Indiana, along with several other former students, in an effort to tell our stories, to shed light on what is REALLY happening at this "school" and to try to get the local authorities to shut the place down. We also went to the local police department and filed official abuse reports. We did several demonstrations on the steps of the County Courthouse in an effort to raise awareness to the citizens about what is really happening in their backyard. That was TEN years ago and it is still open despite our efforts!! 
Several news/journalist outlets have picked up our story here and there, including Anderson Cooper in 2011 and A&E in 2019. Finally our story has gotten the attention of Dr. Phil. In December 2019, several former students and one of Ron Williams' sons travelled to California to talk about the abuse. Because of my work schedule, I wasn't able to be with my girls but I was there in spirit. The Dr. Phil story is airing in two parts beginning tomorrow Monday January 13 and Tuesday January 14. You will see the woman on the left, Lucinda Pennington, attempt to refute the truth. She and I were there TOGETHER. I have no idea why she continues to defend Ron Williams and Hephzibah House, but I can tell you that I personally witnessed her being abused. I haven't seen anything but this preview, so this will be a difficult two days for me...I stand with an army of survivors who are no longer willing to sit back and do nothing!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Christy ~

“  In fact, if a rebel seeks your assistance, it is very likely you yourself are a rebel because rebellious hearts have "rebel radar," and will instinctively seek out those with whom they have a compatibility.”    Ron Williams from the sermon Subverting Parental Authority



Christy showed up at Hephzibah House like a shot of sunshine, like a fresh breeze over the city dump. She drove a car. She had stylish bobbed hair. She had snapping, intelligence eyes, and a warm smile that erupted from her whole face.  

I drank her in. I studied her.    Pastor Williams said rebels attracted rebels and sniffed each other out in a crowd.  Was Christy a rebel?  Miss Diana seemed to think so,  she scowled and grunted and stomped her feet whenever Christy tried to be kind or engage in a conversation with us girls.

Christy brought a new idea,  a different opinion.    Maybe Ron Williams was wrong,  maybe it was not Christian what was happening at Hephzibah House~maybe it was not Christian at all.  


I watched Christy's body language. I watched her face. I watched her eyes. It was blatantly obvious that Christy was shocked and horrified by the food, by our lack of medical care and personal care, and by the brutality of our treatment. She was alarmed by the lack of schooling,  and horrified at the nightly beatings.  Over the 3 months of summer, young  Christy connected with almost every girl.  When she left I prayed and wished and hoped  she would find a way to help us.  I imagined her coming back with a posse of pastors and deacons to rescue us.   I sighed,  if Christy did not return to rescue us it meant that Ron Williams was indeed right and holy and good.    
As the days turned to weeks and then months I knew what had happened.  The fresh idea,  the other opinion had been extinguished.  

Christy must have repented of her rebellion.        

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Cindy Giovannetti

Ron Williams frequently discredits his past students’ accusations as bitterness, piling on, forever unreliable due to teenage misdemeanors, or simply inaccurate.  I mean, who can really say what happened so long ago?
I was at Hephzibah House the summer of 1981. 
I was not there for being what Ron Williams considered a “wayward girl.”  In fact, I was “good enough” that he hired me as a summer staff member.
I was not abused at Hephzibah House.  Indeed, Ron was actually quite kind to me.  He was charming and charismatic.  He made me feel like an important part of the ministry that summer.  I loved him as a pastor and believed in the work he was doing. 
I left at the end of the summer in good standing.  I had no reason to be bitter against him and have never spoken against him in bitterness.
However, I will speak out against him. 
While Ron Williams didn’t abuse me, he did abuse the students, and he convinced us all that he had a special word from God to do so. 
I was so stunned by the harshness that I wrote about it in letters home to my then-boyfriend, now-husband.  I will share excerpts from these letters below.  
But first, I need to say something about collaboration. 
In 1981, we dared not speak of our dissatisfaction.  For example, we did not discuss the fact that we were hungry.  Never.  Not a word, not an eye roll, not a sigh.  No girl would have dared express discontent about anything. 
In fact, because all the other girls smiled pleasantly through all the trials, I sometimes wondered if I was the only one shocked by the situation.  
So, no, no one collaborated with me when I wrote down these observations. 
Nearly 30 years later when I reconnected with my former students, they told me they kept smiling only because they feared allowing any other emotion to cross their faces.  Virtually all of them were harmed by their experience at Hephzibah House.  I'm talking about permanent scars, both physical and emotional.
When someone encounters a true Christian ministry, they don’t walk away scarred.  If they walk away scarred, it wasn’t a Christian ministry they encountered.
So, here’s some of what I wrote home:
Observations of paddlings
“The other night Maria, my sweet girl, got in trouble.  The spanking was horrible!  She got eight licks!  Eight!  Eight licks! 
And I promise you, Sharon hit her as hard as she could!  It was like she thought she could beat the badness out of her.  It was like she was not hitting a human being at all.  
And this didn’t bother Sharon at all.  She did not have any spirit of sorrow.  No “this hurts me more than it hurts you.”  She just picked up that huge paddle and beat Maria with all the strength in her body, whack, whack, whack, whack, whack, whack, whack, whack, like it was nothing. 
I would pass out if somebody hit me that hard.  It is not like a normal spanking.  It is truly horrifying!”
“The girls are paddled constantly, but I’ll never get used to it.  It makes me feel sick.  They get anywhere from 7-10 licks for all sorts of minor offenses—for biting their fingernails, for not being feminine, for pride, for being homesick, for crying. 
And Pastor Williams beats them hard!  I’ve had my share of spankings, but nobody has ever hit me that way.  I’d pass out.  I don’t know how they stand it day after day, night after night.” 
 “The absolute worst thing that they do here is the nightly spankings.  We tuck the girls in bed.  We kiss them goodnight.  Then, presumably, they begin to fall asleep hoping to be left to sleep until morning.  
But then Miss Emery begins calling names over the intercom for them to get out of bed, go down the stairs, and be paddled. 
I lie on my mattress (in the floor) [staff members slept in the floor across the doorway] dreading to hear the next name she calls out, even though I know she won’t be calling mine!  I cringe and cry a little with every name I hear.  I can’t even imagine how terrified the girls must be.” 
“We have this system for punishments.  When a girl does something wrong, we assign work duties, which are like demerits, except you have to work them off.  It takes an hour to work off a work duty.  If you get over 35, you get paddled every night until you’re down under 35.”
“And poor little Cherie is so little.  She gets paddled every night because she has more than 35 work duties.  She is not allowed to speak to anybody but staff.  She is really not doing well.  I mean physically.  She looks just awful.  Her skin is all broken out in a terrible rash.  It’s all over her body.  She’s so thin, and she looks terrible.  She must be miserable.  It just breaks my heart.”
About the food
“I could not eat the first meal they served me.   We had a huge plate of leaves with no salad dressing.  Do not picture the kind of lettuce that comes in a head from the grocery store.  This plant comes out of a garden.  It has the texture of canvas and the taste of grass.  And no dressing!  Also we had a large Cool Whip tub full of beans (no seasoning).  Each.  I ate about a third of each.  It was awful!  Oh, and we had water to drink.
“The next morning for breakfast we had a fried egg and powdered milk.  It tasted awful!  The milk wasn’t even cold.  But no one dared say a word.  I ate.  I drank.”
“I dread each meal.”
“For supper last night we had huge bowls of spinach with sardines.  Then, for breakfast we had a bowl of bran.  Not Bran Flakes.  Not Raisin Bran.  Just the stuff that looks like dust like you would buy at a health food store, soaked in water.  It has no flavor.  It has the texture of wet sawdust.  It is very hard to swallow.  I feel like I’m a missionary to Africa.”
“The food here doesn’t taste a bit better.  I can barely force myself to swallow it – but I do.  It’s important for the girls that I eat it.  I’m famished, but I don’t want any more!
My main problem is the lettuce/grass and the huge bowls of greens.  Sometimes it’s gritty with dirt.  And we have it almost every day.  Huge bowls of it.  Which must be consumed, grit and all.  Last night for supper we had a bowl of beans.  The night before that, it was boiled chicken wings.  (Don’t even imagine any tasty sauce.)  This morning we had plain bran again.  We are hungry all the time.”
“The atmosphere around our dinner table is nothing short of oppressive.  The girls are afraid to say the wrong thing, to look at the wrong person, to grimace at the taste of the food.  Miss Emery snaps at every mistake.  The girls who aren’t allowed to eat sit in hungry silence.”
“The girls have to work off three “work duties” a day (and five on Saturday) in order to be allowed supper each night.  Supper is the biggest meal of the day, so to miss supper means missing most of the day’s food (especially on Saturdays when we only get two meals.)  It is truly pitiful to see the girls who aren’t allowed to eat sitting on the couch with nothing to do but watch us eat.” 
“Meanwhile, the girls are hungry, and I mean seriously hungry.  Their stomachs growl constantly.  The ones who have been here a long time are painfully thin.  Renee looks like she’s about to starve to death."
About the work
“I wish you could understand the work here.  I could never describe it so that you would get a good mental picture of it.  The girls do hard manual labor every moment that they’re not in school.  Some of it is regular cleaning and scrubbing.  But some of it is heavy outdoor labor like a man would do.  They are just exhausted all the time.  Some of them are so thin!”
“We do so much work in that dang garden!  Saturdays we work in the garden all day, without even a break for lunch.  It’s hard, hard work, and the time drags unbearably.  Sometimes we can chat, and that makes it so much sweeter.  Other times, though, either the girls aren’t allowed to talk or we’re too far apart. 
Saturday nights, after working all day in the blazing sun, my arms are lobster red with sunburn, and I’m covered with bug bites.  I’m just exhausted.  We all are.”
About the isolation
“We just got two new girls Dawn and Cheri.  Pray for them.  It’s a very lonely time.  They aren’t allowed to talk to each other or the other girls.  They have no contact with their family or former friends.  It’s a terrible adjustment.”
“They are allowed one phone call every three weeks after they’ve been here one month.  But they only get to make the call if they have less than 9 work duties and at least an 87% on scripture memory (not an easy task).  Naturally, that means a lot of the girls miss their phone calls. 
And, when they make their call home, a staff member is on the line with them so they can’t complain or beg their parents to come get them.  They’re not even allowed to cry.  If they start crying, the staff member will cut off the call immediately.”
Just plain meanness
“Miss Emry and Sharon snap at the girls, talk down to them, and criticize them constantly.  Like at breakfast today, Miss Emry said, “Karen, your hair looks terrible!  Remind me to give you a work duty.”  (Remember, after 35 work duties, each one translates into a paddling, so essentially, Karen was going to be spanked for her hair being messy.)” 
“You would not believe the room checks!  We don’t have daily room checks.  We have spot checks.  It includes everything:  inside drawers, inside closets, shelves, beds, etc.  Whatever doesn’t check gets stripped and dumped all over the floor!  You’ve never seen such a mess in all your life!  It’s like a crime scene.  I can’t tell you how shocked I was the first time I saw this.”
No love
“I guess what I like least about it here is that this is not a place of happiness.  Someone is always in trouble, or scared, or crying, getting paddled, or being criticized.”
“If anybody is loving these girls, I don’t see it.  They are regarded, spoken to, and treated very harshly.”
“I just wish the girls could be loved.  They do not feel loved -- not by the Williams, not by the staff, not by their families, not by God.  Pastor Williams says I’m naïve about this.”
“I wanted to tell her [Mrs. Williams] how much the girls are starved for love.  How lonely, confused, and discouraged they are.  How severely they are punished.  How afraid they are.  Surely she wouldn’t want her own children to be treated like that, would she?”
Because I was only there three months, I wasn’t privy to everything that ever happened.  For instance, I don’t remember any diapers or other toileting issues.   I don’t doubt this happened, based on so many testimonies; but I don’t remember it going on the summer of 1981. 
I also wasn’t aware of the pelvic exams.  I don’t doubt this happened either, based on so many testimonies, but I can’t vouch for it personally.  
I can vouch that Ron Williams preached to them daily about the utter importance of their purity and modesty.  It is beyond me how he thought they could reconcile the constant deification of purity with his authorizing their violation.
I can also verify the lack of menstruation.  None of the girls menstruated the summer of 1981.  I have no explanation for why this was, but it can’t be anything good.  And no staff member was unaware of it as it was charted and posted publicly.
But maybe Ron Williams has changed since then 1981!
If he, indeed, had instruction from God on how to manage girls (as he claimed often in recorded sermons and published literature), he can’t have changed much because God’s word hasn’t changed.  But if his methodology was not from God, and thus he was free to change it, then he owes the girls from 1981 an apology for the harm he did to them.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Patti

My question is why??? No one is listening.

Every women that went there has to same story no matter what years. I graduated in 1984. I got whatever that paper was that said I was done. One of the happiest days. I never even told my parents because I did want them to feel guilty. I just kept in all inside. Unsure how I feel about opening this box with no changes still. Very Very sad .  

I got out of Hephzibah House and I completely blocked everything that happen there from my mind. First, I never thought any one would believe it and I needed to move past it. For the longest I thought I deserved it.
I can only remember was actually happened to me and not really all of that. I can tell you every thing I remember.

I was one of the girl workers. I remember laying tile in the big house. Gardening, you could not miss a bean or blue room. 
My bunk was right above that blue room. I could hear every girl that had to go there every single night. Praying my name would not be called.
I remember only one black girl she didn't stay long she was pregnant. 
I remember awful tales of past students who got out and didn't make it. I don't know if there was any truth to that other to just scare me more.
I remember I was not allowed to be friends with anyone because we were to bad for that. I remember not knowing if I could even trust the other girls for fear they may tell something on me. I remember Don Williams being bad and the awful sermon that night. This was before he married the younger house mother there her name started with a W.
I remember my feet turning all the way blue from working out in the cold so long. I remember my back side being black and blue then yellow for weeks. It hurt to sit down. These are just a few of my on personal memories.  

Patricia Stewart Parker

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Mindy~

To whom it may concern:

I arrived at Hepzhibah House towards the end of 2001 at the age of 12 and a half and left at the beginning of 2005 at almost 16 years old. During my time there I not only suffered physical and mental abuse but I also witnessed the abuse of others while I was there. Upon my arrival, they (staff) required us to undergo a "medical" exam from someone who they claimed was a doctor. The staff members put me in a small closet where the exam was to be performed. While getting prepared for their "doctor" to come into the closet,  I'm already crying and telling the staff that I already had a full physical exam done by my own family physician before arriving there and that I didn't want to go through this again. The staff member slapped me across the face and told me this was a requirement and that I needed to just suck it up and comply with the rules. As I'm crying more, this said doctor comes into the closet to perform this exam. He didn't say a word to me. He wasn't wearing anything to identify himself as a doctor. So no scrubs, no white coat, just jeans and a collared polo type shirt. The staff member that had just slapped me is now holding me down on this table as I am dreaming and telling them NO repeatedly  and another staff member was prying my legs apart for this doctor. At this time, I'm not being held down and restricted by two staff members. There was no type of sink or anything in this room so the doctor didn't wash his hands. This "exam" he did lasted for what seemed like forever to me but probably about 30-45 minutes. During the entire time, as I'm being held down and my legs held in a pried open manner I'm screaming as loud as I possibly can hoping that someone will hear me to help me. This "doctor" shoved different objects that I wasn't able to see inside of me during this examination and I screamed even more in shear pain and agony added to the terror I was already in! I just wanted it to stop! When it was finally over, the staff made me clean up my own blood and mess from the eternal damage they had done! It hurt so bad for so long after this traumatic experience I could barely move or walk.