Hephzibah House Journal

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Connie's Story: Survivor!

 This is a duplicate post which also appears HERE.

Hello. My name is Connie and I was at Hephzibah House from Oct or Nov 1980 to July 1983.

I currently am involved with Foster Parenting/Adoption and have worked closely with The Department of Child Services. I have read a lot of the postings and been through the sites online. I feel it is my time to write my experiences and hopefully bring some insight to help those still there.

I came from a rather good home. At the time, you don’t see or even understand some of the things you go through, but you do learn from them. I was the youngest of three girls. My next to oldest sister was what my parents called “a bad influence” on me. We ran around together quite frequently. My parents’ biggest concern for me was I was going to turn out like her. They also did not like the boyfriend I had at the time. So, they thought if I went to another place then I would not be able to ruin my life.

I really did not think I was that bad of a child to have gone through this even though I do believe my parents did what they thought they had to do at the time. I also know that if they had known all of this they would not have sent me. I do believe it has done some damage along the way and I am not sure it will ever be overcome. At the time and quite some time after that I really never stopped to think that it was child abuse. Probably because it was not much different than the home life I came from.

I was confronted about going to a girl’s home where I could come home for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and 2 weeks in the summer. I asked for how long. They said for 15 months. I said okay, not knowing what I was in for at the time. My parents, I do believe, had good intentions.

The night before I left, my father and I had a disagreement. My father was abusive. He used the belt as well as his hands on us girls. You only spoke when you were spoken to and you always did what he said no matter if you agreed or not. You were never to voice your opinion or even question things. After the disagreement, I had a black eye, busted knee, and bruises.

I must put in that my father has since passed away. He ended up being a GREAT man that I looked up to. He admitted that he did us girls wrong and apologized. He tried to make it up with the grandkids. He was and always will be my best friend.

My father, mother and I made the trip to Winona Lake. We had stopped at a restaurant for breakfast/lunch. We then went to the School House location where I would spend the rest of my time. We went in to what was called “the blue room”. Little did I know that was where all the paddling would occur. They went through my suitcases and took out almost everything my parents had sent saying I could not have it. My parents left and I was then taken upstairs to the “big dorm” where I would live for the moment. I had to go into a closet to change into the uniform assigned. I was then taken downstairs where lunch was being served before going over to the Pierceton Road location for school. I told them I had already eaten, but they insisted I eat and gave me a bowl of soup. I was only able to eat part of it. I was ready to get sick. But, since I did not eat it all, it was put in the refrigerator and I had to eat it cold for supper. Everything that was given to us for breakfast, lunch, or supper had to be eaten at that time or we would get it for the next meal cold. There were no excuses.

I could write for days on all the stuff that happened and how things went, but that would be a book. I remember a lot of things about Hephzibah House. The cleaning and inspection of our chores was definitely white glove. Demerits we received for not being good or doing things wrong. After so many demerits, you got paddled if you could not get them down. You could not be in the hallway with any other students. You always had to yell “coming through” if you were going through the hallway or “going down” if you were going downstairs. We as well had the BM chart that others have talked about. All our calls were screened. All our visits were screened. We did not have talk lists. We could not talk to any other students. Discussions of home, location, and phone numbers were not allowed at all.

The first time I ran around the Pierceton Road location for gym, I thought I was going to die. My asthma medicine was returned home. Later that night I had an asthma attack and could not breathe. I told the staff I needed my inhaler. I was told I didn’t need it and would be fine. I could not breathe and had a hard time catching my breath.

One time I got paddled because I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth and another student said I had to go downstairs. Because I finished brushing my teeth, I got in trouble for being disobedient. The paddling was done in what they called “the blueroom”. Our upper body was held down by one staff, the feet were held by another staff, and one staff paddled. I would be safe to say the paddle was approximately one-two inches thick and about 12 inches long. I got paddled quite frequently. I remember getting paddled about 22 times one time. It hurt to sit down and I had bruises. I do not remember why I got that one or the one I got on my 16th birthday. Eventually I got the hang of the rules and life was not so bad.

We went out to a Smorgasbord place a couple of times. If you got sick, you got paddled. I never got sick, but I sure did stuff myself with the ice cream, chocolate, and junk food that we were not allowed having at all. I do remember a couple times that someone got sick and you could hear them getting paddled from the small dorm room. The blueroom was right underneath it. If your bed was in the small dorm, you could hear the students screaming.

I also remember a student finally getting taken to the hospital. She was sick for awhile. Actually, it seemed like days. If I remember correctly, they finally took her after her urine turned green. They did end up having to do exploratory surgery on her and when she was better, she came right back instead of going home.

I remember getting letters from my parents. And right before I left to go home, I found out that both my sisters had children. I was not told because neither one of them were married. The children were about 6 months old by the time I found out. The letter I was to get telling me that was held and did not pass. We had to watch everything we said in our letters, on the phone, and visits. They were always supervised. My parents had gotten me a radio/cassette player as a graduation present. I received it the day I left.

I also have to comment on the cockroaches at the School House location. It was a game. They were a dime a dozen. I guess it was because the house was built on a cockroach farm. After church, when the lights went on, we would see how many we could kill.

We worked in the garden constantly. Our work was checked to make sure all the weeds were pulled. If not, we had to redo the work, no matter how long it took. I do not remember being allowed bathroom breaks until we were done. Eventually I was put on Kagins crew. We shoveled manure-chicken and horse. We did most of the heavy labor. If I remember correctly there were 5 of us. We missed out a lot on the happenings at the house because we would get home late. Even so, we were constantly under supervision.

I also want to mention the concern of not having a period for the whole 34 months I was there even though I had a normal one before I got there and got a normal one again about a month after I left.

I remember the bath time to be 15 minutes total, from going in to coming out. I also remember every Sunday morning inspection. Your nails were checked to make sure you were not biting them and your hair was checked to make sure it was curled. I had a terrible problem of biting my nails. I remember getting paddled for it as well as demerits. I did not have to worry about my hair curling because 2 rollers always curled my hair, but I remember those girls that had straight hair and no matter what they did, their hair just would not hold a curl.

I remember every day except Sunday we were required to memorize a verse in the Bible. Each week we would have to recite what we learned back to a staff member. That got to be quite tedious after one year etc. If we did not know them, we did get demerits and sometimes paddling. I had a shoe box packed full of index cards of them.

When my parents mentioned me coming home for about 2 weeks before I went to College at a college Pastor Williams recommended, I was treated terrible. I was not able to speak to any girls or even say bye. I was separated from them. Pastor Williams did not even say goodbye. Even though I had been there 34 months, he still did not think I was ready to go home. My belongings were already packed and when my mother showed up, I was pretty much shoved out the door. Pastor Williams did not figure I would end up at College. When I did show up, two other students were there as well. They took awhile to talk to me because Pastor Williams told them I was not a good influence on them and they should stay away from me.

I always looked up to Pastor Williams and his family. Mrs. Kagin was the best. She seemed to understand us girls more than some of the other staff. I always felt a connection with Miss Emery, but you still had to watch what you said. But, I always felt since I left that I was never good enough and some of the things that have happened in my life was because of me not being good enough. I went and seen Pastor Williams when he came to a church near me to tell them about Hephzibah House. He did talk to me, but he never acknowledged me as being a former student to anyone in the congregation. It was like he was ashamed of me.

I did carry some of the repetition forward. When we washed dishes, it was cups, plates, silverware, pots and pans. They had to be dried perfectly or we got them back. Even one little drop of water was not acceptable. To this day when I wash dishes, it is cups, plates, bowls, pots and pans. I also have a “neat freak” problem. When I clean, it is just not clean enough and really gets me frustrated. I have tried to break these things, but have had no luck.

I think the hardest part of all this for me is the fact that I stayed so long, graduated, and went to the college Pastor Williams chose and still got rejected when I left. I did everything I was told to do, but because I did not stay for long after graduation and because my parents requested me home, I got humiliated and condemned. I did not have Pastor Williams blessing when I left. That disappointed me because I looked up to this godly man for so long and he did not even have time to say goodbye. He just had them pack my stuff, keep me from everyone else, and send me on my way. He also told other girls going to the same college that I probably would not show, but if I did, I would be trouble and I was not godly.

I may not be godly according to his standards, but I will say the good Lord has walked with me and helped me through all the hard times in my life. I know this because without Him and His assistance, I probably would not have survived through it. I am older now and do recognize things more, but I still believe that the good Lord has been with me all this time and when I make mistakes it does not mean I am going to Hell.