Monday, April 14, 2008

Alicia Sanders-Wagner: Survivor!

My name is Alicia Wagner formerly it was Alicia Sanders.

My stay at HH is hard to talk about. I do not have as many memories as you would think I would. My mind has tried to block out most of it. I can only recall probably 40% of what went on there. I do not remember most of the girl’s names. The 4 names I do remember I was able to get in contact with later through searching on the internet.

I was there from about 1998-2000.

I remember that I was told I was being taken on a family trip that summer. (Many of the girls were told this and the pastor there once admitted to telling the parents to tell us that to get us to cooperate for the car ride.) I did find out through my sister that I was not being taken on a family trip minutes before leaving. Had I known the place I was going to be taken I would have run away but at the time I had no idea. My home life was not much to talk about at the time so as much as I screamed I didn’t want to go.

I thought to myself well it couldn’t be much worse. It was much worse. I was no longer being given the” rod of god” by my mother but I might as well have been. I was never given a bruise or a beating while I was there but the fear and brain washing I received will always be a part of my life. The bruises fade, some memories fade, but the impact and black cloud the experience has on my life will never go away no matter how hard I try.

I wake up 3-4 times a month with horrible nightmares that I am locked up somewhere and can’t get out. The dreams are so real. I often wake up trying to catch my breath. My months at HH affect my every day life as well. I am very much a people person yet I find it hard to truly trust anyone. I have a constant struggle with how I perceive God. I often have spouts of depression when I think of this place. I have seen a therapist who has stated that I have had depression from this place. She has pointed out many signs in my life of depression from this place that I wasn’t even aware I had.

I will start from the day I arrived and give you as many memories that I have left of the place.

So back to the beginning I was told I was being taken on a family trip I was taken by my mom’s friend and my mom. We arrived at the place and the sons of the Pastor there came out as soon as we pulled up to get the bags out of the car. I was escorted by the pastor into the house. My first thought was the way the people dressed. It was very much like in the pilgrim days. This didn’t bother me much as it was not too different than the way I was raised to dress.

As soon as we got there the first discussion was money. My mom gave the pastor some money and he said it wasn’t enough and she said that his dad (the head pastor) had told her she would get a discount. He stated he would talk to his dad about it. I felt like a piece of meat being sold. They were bargaining over how much they needed to take me and my mom was paying to get me off of her hands.

I have never in my life felt so unwanted as I did in that moment. I have never felt more abandoned or of less worth than I felt on that day. I truly can say I felt as if I had no one. It is such a horrible feeling to have no one. Not a soul to go to. I had never been so alone and I pray I never will again. I was told to say goodbye to my mother as if I was going to thank her for taking me there or something. I told her I would never forgive if she left me there and that promise I have kept.

I was taken downstairs and told to take off all my clothes in front of two staff members. It was almost as if I had been admitted to jail. Although, at the time I wouldn’t have known much about jail. I had never seen a drug, never tasted alcohol., never seen porn or used bad language. I had a boyfriend that my mom did not approve of and that was the reason for me being there. Not really sure what 16 year old boyfriends any moms approve of but this was just the sin of all sins in my family.

After I stripped I was told to get in the shower and wash really hard. I was told afterward this is custom when a new girl gets there to wash the sin off of her upon entering. I was told when I got out that I would never be able to use a hair dryer or makeup or any hair supplies as long as I was there so not to bother asking. I was dressed in a very itchy old uniform. My mother had paid for culottes to be made for me. She was told the pastor’s daughter would sew some for me. I was given instead some old bleached stained form of a skirt. That had been used by many past student.

After entering there I was never again to look the same. Never could I pretend to like something about myself and I really didn’t have to pretend. I could never so much as get the tangles out of my hair. I never wore anything (expect to church or my uniform to school, that didn’t have huge bleach stains on them. I was told that my mother had told the staff that I had an eating disorder so I was never given small or half portions upon my arrival. I was told I had to eat heaping amounts of food. The first week there I would throw up after every meal. If I did not eat my whole meal I was given it at the next meal. If I did not eat my fish for supper I was given it in the morning to eat cold right out of the fridge I had to eat it as well as my breakfast and it would just keep adding up and getting more old every day that I couldn’t finish.

We only had a small amount of time to eat our meals so food was swallowed never eaten. We were only allowed to talk to our assigned talking buddies at the table if a staff member was present so talking really didn’t happen as the few minutes we had to eat were spent shoveling food in so that we didn’t have to eat it cold the next morning. Some girls did not get to eat at all if they were being punished. This was hard especially on days we had to work very hard outside.

We were sometimes given jobs that grown men should have been doing. I remember a particular day having to break up rock with shovels and load the rock into the back of a truck. The rocks were huge many girls were crying from trying to lift the rocks. The pastor’s wife (about 150 pounds over weight) would stand on the balcony of her house and yell at us that we were lazy and needed to work harder. She often did this when we would do our daily exercises also. She would correct us in our format.

I was not allowed to talk to anyone but one person for many months and like I said that was only at the dinner table if a staff member was present. I had to read the rule book weekly. It told us what we could and cold not say on the phone or in letters home. My phone calls were timed and monitored by someone on another phone sitting 1 foot away from me. Everything I said was written down in a book by the staff lady listening to the conversation. I was always warned before the phone call that If I said anything wrong the phone call would be disconnected and I would not get a phone call for a few months.

We only got to talk to our parents for 10 minutes once a month on a Sunday. I was only allowed to see my mother once I believe my whole stay there. My meeting with my family ended horrible as I was told I was giving to much eye contact to my sister. I was brought down to the basement and in front of all the students scorned and told that I am the reason that they would not be able to have siblings come to see them anymore. They were told that from now on only the parents could visit them in these meetings. I believe they were allowed to visit for 3 hours in the conference room once every 3 months with a staff member present at all times.

I felt so horrible not because I had gotten in trouble but because I would never do anything to make the stay harder for any one else there. I had let my girls down and I felt as though I would never be able to make it up to them. Of course I could not tell them I was sorry or anything of the sort. There was no form of love shown. No one could touch or show emotion. I was a walking puppet for fear I do anything to be punished. Punishment was given out hourly. I tried to blend in and never say anything. I tried to always act happy although the inside of me was screaming..

We had to write down when we pooped and how big or small it was and if it was not what the staff thought it should be were where given castor oil and psyillium seed. If we had a period (I did for some of the months there) we were to show the staff member our pad before throwing it away. Not really sure the reasoning behind that. If we went a day without pooping we had to show the staff member our bowel movement before we could flush. There was no such thing as any privacy or self respect. It was non existent.

I really put everything I had into my school work it was my escape and my hope to finish early and leave. I did stay 2 months longer than 15 months because I was 2 months short of being done with school. My mother was not told I was done with my school work until 2 weeks after I had graduated (or finished my courses) I was forced to sit in a cubicle and read a book since my studies were through. Humiliation was often a way to punish us. I made A and B honor roll all throughout my schooling there. One time I failed a history test and Patty had me stand in front of the school and say that I was selfish for failing this test and when I asked her why I had to say this she said because I didn’t care a damn about anyone if I did I would have memorized the dates of the war because I would have cared about those people that died there.

I remember having horrible migraines while I was there and I was never given any medicine not even so much as an Advil. My migraines were so bad I would often throw up from the pain. I was told to lay in bed and my meals were taken from me. If I wasn’t better in 24 hours I had to repeat the same thing for the next 24 hours even if I was feeling better in the next 12.

I remember a new student coming in and screaming and banging to get out she yelled I cannot live hear I cannot be like those robots. They are robots they are robots can you not see that!!!! It hit me like a slap in the face. That is exactly what I am a robot. But as fast as it hit me I reminded myself – but I have no other choice.

We had to line up to go to the bathroom and wait our turn for our stall to open. We could never just go to the restroom when we wanted it was when the staff member wanted to take us all. I remember a couple of girls being forced to wear depends because they could not wait for the next bathroom break and since the staff members would not let them go they would wet themselves. One girl was forced to wear depends every day to school and and to church. All of her underwear were taken from her. I remember being so afraid that I would maybe be that person one day. She was such a normal person when she came in just like me. But now she was wearing depends and crying all of the time almost as if she turned into a crazy person. I use to pray every night that God would keep me sane.

Speaking of God: He was used to scare us. He was a god of judgment and wrath; He was never portrayed as a god of love unless they were talking about the fact that he so lovingly died for our sins. That is the only time god and love were used in the same sentence.

I was never beaten but I know of a girl that was taken upstairs and given the rod of god while I was there. I did not see what happened but I know that it did. My sister use to send me about $20.00 per month to use on books or school socks. I was never given any of this money. I once asked if I could buy some chewable vitamin C from the pantry since I had a horrible cold. I was told I had no money in my account. We were where constantly reminded how much it cost to keep us there and how grateful we should be and that our parents only paid 1/4th of what it cost to keep us there.

I remember cleaning a warehouse they had there. It was filled with shelves from top to bottom of gifts given to the home. Pots and pan in boxes not even opened so many things that would never be used that someone could be using in this warehouse. We were never given good food unless it was a birthday. We were forced to drink moldy orange juice, powdered milk still warm, old cereal all dumped together no matter what kind. We often had to open cans of food with no labels and dump them all in a pot and that was supper.

I remember one a girl found a big green hairy worm in her salad we had picked they forced her to eat it. She started throwing it up and it became a huge debate that some of the staff thought she should have to eat the portion she threw up also and some thought she should just have to finish the worm. The plate had to be taken upstairs so patty could determine what portion of the plate she had to finish. She had to finish eating the worm but not the part she threw up. Were where told this would happen if we did not clean our lettuce good enough.

We lived in constant fear. We were never allowed to leave – not for a wedding or a funeral – never. We were taught that men are superior to obey them no matter what. To never disrespect them. We were told not to talk in the presence of a man unless asked a question. It was very much a place of mind control (brain washing). I would never wish anyone to go there. I have left so much out but I really wish to not remember most of it.

I have written this against the advice of many. I was told there is no point in it it would only make me remember bad things and for a stranger I don’t even know. My instant response was I want to do it because it is the right thing to do. But after much thought if we don’t do this for the strangers that are going there now or might go there later who will? It won’t be the people that send them there. It won’t be the family and friends at home because most of them have no idea where the student has been taken. If we don’t do it no one will. Not only that but these aren’t strangers we are HH sisters.

I live for the day that this place will be shut down. I think only that would make me feel the weight lifted off of me. How can a place like this exist in America? How can it not be against the law to lock someone in a basement for months on end with no outside communication and no crime committed?

They are abusing girls in the name of God and that is unforgivable. I feel as though not family, not a best friend, no one could every truly understand me. And they never really could unless they went to a place like this and woke up every single morning brokenhearted because it wasn’t just a nightmare. Every morning feeling sick because you have to live another day after day after day in the basement.

People can say they understand but they really can’t. They have not lived it. Only us girls truly understand. We will always feel close for that reason.

My testimony is open to anyone and I will answer any questions anyone has about this place.