Monday, October 6, 2008

Discipline at Winona Lake school draws praise, attack 1991

The Journal-Gazette back Journal Gazette, The (Fort Wayne, IN) - September 23, 1992

Some former residents of a Winona Lake church-operated boarding school
for troubled teens say its strict discipline included spankings they
describe as frequent and violent. But at least two more-recent
residents praised Hephzibah House for turning their lives around, and
area pastors say the school has done wonders for young girls in their
congregations who had turned to alcohol and drugs. Five women who lived
at Hephzibah House in the early 1980s described their stay as lonely,
frightening and emotionally and physically painful. ``We got paddled at
night,'' said Christine, a woman who arrived at Hephzibah House in late
1980 and asked that her last name not be used. ``We had our robes and
nightgowns on. Someone would hold your legs, and somebody else would
hold your head. It hurt something awful, and it left bruises. Some girls
got paddled every night, and they had really bad bruises.'' The Rev.
Ronald E. Williams, founder and president of the Hephzibah House ,
acknowledged that girls are spanked, but said the spankings do not cause
injury and that other forms of ``correction'' are used first. ``For
severe things, such as violence or outright disobedience, yes, we use
the rod,'' Williams said. ``We correct because we want this child back
in the right. We correct for positive goals, not for vengeance. ``The
rod of correction isn't our only form of correction,'' he said.
``They're corrected verbally. The rod is reserved for really big
problems. If you don't step in, there's going to be anarchy.'' Williams
said there have been no substantial changes in the discipline
administered at the house since the early 1980s. Recent residents of
the house could not be identified and, therefore, could not be
contacted. But one recent resident _ interviewed after her father, a
friend of Williams, learned an article was being prepared and called a
reporter _ spoke highly of the care provided. ``I didn't like it at the
beginning, but after I got my life right with the Lord, I was determined
to get my world right,'' said LaDawn Davis, 19, of Middletown, Ill. ``I
was in a big snowball heading downhill, going as fast as I could. And I
really believe I would have been dead by now if it weren't for that
place.'' The school was incorporated in 1972 and granted not-for-profit
status by the state. The school is associated with the Believer's
Baptist Church, of which Williams is president. According to the
articles of incorporation filed with the Indiana secretary of state's
office, the school's purpose is: ``To lead souls to a saving knowledge
of Jesus Christ and to defeat the power of Satin (sic) in the lives of
those he has oppressed. ``To provide shelter and necessities of living
as may be required in the process of rehabilitation and evangelism of
those persons seeking the aid and assistance of the corporation.''
Hephzibah houses 20 to 22 girls ages 12 to 16 at any one time, Williams
said. Girls are referred to the house by parents. They pay $1,000 in
advance and $9 per day, Williams said. In the fiscal year ending June
30, 1991, the school received $302,383 in donations, an increase from
the $154,409 received in 1990, according to documents on file with the
Indiana secretary of state's office. More than 90 percent of Hephzibah's
income is from donations, with the remainder from interest on
investments, the documents show. The property and equipment is valued at
$335,000. A brochure describing the house lists its strict rules. In
addition to some that might be expected _ no smoking, drinking or
cursing, requirements to participate in work duties, a strict dress code
_ the rules also state: All incoming and outgoing mail is censored.
Only one telephone call is permitted per month, with a 10-minute
limit. Staff members monitor all calls. Trips to the bathroom are
banned between 9:15 p.m. and midnight. In addition, the brochure
discusses the church's doctrine and states that girls will be taught
``in a militant fundamentalist position.'' Williams makes no apologizes
for the strict limits. ``We try to limit the scope of our ministry to
families who have similar fundamental philosophies . . . so that we're
all headed in the same direction,'' he said. He said the girls that
come to the home have severe problems _ such as drug abuse, abortion,
promiscuity or involvement in the occult _ making structure necessary.
That structure can be hard on the teens because many come from
undisciplined backgrounds, he said. ``We have had complaints in the
past from the more slothful girls about picking green beans. Some of the
girls are allergic to work. They think manual labor is a Hispanic man. .
. . (The work) is nothing I wouldn't have my own children do.'' The
limited calls is part of the structure, Williams said. ``We're not
trying to keep children from their parents, but that's the reality of
our schedule.'' On Aug. 25, 1980, five days before her 16th birthday,
Karen Glover's parents woke her in the middle of the night and drove her
from a Cleveland suburb to Winona Lake. Glover said her parents found
out about Hephzibah House from the pastor of the fundamentalist church
they attended. ``The way my parents raised me, I wasn't allowed to cry
when I was hit,'' she said. ``So when they paddled me at Hephzibah
House , I stood very still and didn't cry. They took this as a sign of
rebellion. They finally told me that. They said: `Why don't you cry?
It's very rebellious that you don't cry.' And from then on, I cried.''
But the school had an effect, Glover said. ``When one other girl ran
away, I ran after her and caught her I was so brainwashed.'' she said.
``They turned me into something exactly like them, and it took me years
to get over it.'' Though they were given healthy food to eat, Glover
said she lost 78 pounds during the first eight months she lived at
Hephzibah House , which she attributed to stress and hard physical work.
And she said she never had a menstrual period during her stay. She
graduated in July 1982 and returned to her parents' home in Cleveland.
``My parents took me home and told me I needed to loosen up,'' she
recalled. ``They didn't like me the way I was. I was too straight and
narrow. I wouldn't watch TV or wear makeup. I thought my parents were
wicked. Two months later, they shipped me off to college.'' After a
semester at a Christian College in Florida, she enrolled at Bob Jones
University in Greenville, S.C., but dropped out after three semesters.
She said she then began to re-evaluate her experience at Hephzibah
House . After a stint in the U.S. Navy, Glover worked in several bars
and ended up with a serious drug problem. She said she has overcome the
drug problem, is working, and beginning to repair her troubled
relationship with her family. ``If Hephzibah House taught me anything,
it taught me that you can't impose your way of living on somebody
else,'' she said. ``The pain that's inflicted can't ever be made up.''
During their stays at Hephzibah House during the early and mid-1980s,
four women interviewed say, they were held down by staff members and hit
on the buttocks with wooden paddles for ``bad attitudes'' or for minor
infractions of the school's strict rules, such as not having their hair
curled properly. The four say they suffered painful bruises from the
paddlings. At least five women said their regular menstrual periods
mysteriously ceased when they arrived at Hephzibah, and resumed only
when they left. And one, Glover, said she tried repeatedly to persuade
Kosciusko County officials to investigate allegations. Williams said
paddling prompted an investigation in the early 1980s, and that the case
was turned over to the prosecutor's office. No action was taken, he
said. Kosciusko County Sheriff Alan Rovenstine said his department
looked into Hephzibah House along with officials from the Indiana
Department of Public Welfare in the early 1980s, but there was not
sufficient evidence to file any charges. He said his department has
received no complaints about the house in the last few years. Peggy
Shively, director of the Kosciusko County Welfare Department, declined
to say whether complaints have been lodged against Hephzibah House
because such complaints are confidential by law. In the early 1980s,
state welfare officials visited the school after a former student
complained to police about the paddling, Williams said. But when the
officials arrived to interview Williams and current students, the only
questions asked centered on menstruation. ``The man asked us, `Do you
think a woman's menstrual period is sinful?' '' Williams recalled. ``It
was ridiculous.'' The man also asked whether the girls were given green
pills to stop their cycles, Williams said. ``It was ludicrous. Of
course, we don't.'' ``The state seized upon this and said it
constituted neglect. It was turned over to the county prosecutor, but
nothing ever happened,'' he said. Hephzibah House attorney Paul Refior
said he knows of no injuries suffered by any girls. ``I do know Pastor
Williams and the staff love the girls and want the very best,'' he said.
``Even when they're engaged in any kind of discipline, they're doing it
with the purpose of having the child benefit from the discipline.''
Williams said: ``We have a policy of not going beyond certain limits in
our correction to prevent any abuse. We will only give a child seven
swats maximum to prevent any kind of damage. There could well be some
discoloration of the skin. One of my own children has very sensitive
skin, and you might see a discoloration as a result, but none of the
girls have been abused.'' Some area ministers praise the work of
Hephzibah House . The Rev. Jim McKinnies, pastor of the Willis Baptist
Church in Willis, Mich., said Hephzibah House may have saved the lives
of two teen-agers in his congregation. He said he heard about Hephzibah
House from a pastor friend, and invited Williams to talk to his
congregation. Now he is a member of the school's advisory board. ``If
it hadn't been for that ministry, I don't know what would have
happened,'' he said. ``They were having rebellious problems against
their parents and school. They were involved in immorality. One of them
said to me a short while ago that she might have been dead if she hadn't
gone to Hephzibah House .'' He said one girl is still there, and another
is attending college. ``I am aware that paddling is used,'' McKinnies
said. ``But, it is done, I know for a fact, in a very loving and caring
manner. None of my girls came back with any information about anyone
being beaten until they bleed. There's never been any abuse involved.
There always are two staff members there and they're hit on the
buttocks.'' The Rev. Herb Hutchinson, pastor of the Temple Baptist
Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., said he also referred a troubled girl to
Hephzibah House in the early 1980s. ``We had a girl a number of years
ago from our church who went down to Hephzibah House ,'' he said. ``She
didn't complete the course, but she's in my church now. She's married.
She's doing great now.'' Tracee Peterson Sloan, 23, of Lake Station,
Ind., wouldn't trade the 2 {1/2} years she spent at Hephzibah for
anything. ``I think my life is better for going there,'' she said. ``I
went there intending not to change, but I was loved there. They worked
with me. Of course, I got disciplined, but if I hadn't gone there, I
never would have amounted to anything. I probably would have become a
whore.'' An expert on child abuse argues that programs like the one at
Hephzibah may create tremendous problems for their graduates. Richmond
Calvin, a professor in the division of education at Indiana
University-South Bend, said some of the alleged practices at Hephzibah
may create tremendous problems for students years from now. Forbidding
contact with families for as long as 90 days is dangerous because it
cuts children off from their families, which can scar a child for years
afterward, he said. ``There's no empirical evidence to substantiate
that paddling changes a person's behavior,'' he said. ``What it can do
in most cases is make the child smarter about avoiding certain behavior.
But that's only temporary. Those kids are probably worse off years
later.'' ``Structure itself does not constitute abuse, but when you
take away a person's individualism and self-esteem it can create
problems later in life,'' he said. ``And religion shouldn't be
antagonistic. Your religious freedom doesn't allow you to abuse kids.''

(This article was reported by Staff Writers Julie Creek, Suzanne
McBride, Debra Noell and Pat Randle.)