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, April 1, 2009

Karen Glover: Survivor!


My name was Karen Glover. What it is now is irrelevant. For all intents and purposes here, you may all call me Karen. I was incarcerated in Hephzibah House from Aug 1980 to July 1982. Here is my story.....

I was your average teenage girl. I was 15, dealing with pubescent hormonal imbalances, defining myself as a person. I had a big brain and was never shy of vocalizing my opinions. I know my attitude was considered to be rebellious in church circles. I found the teachings of the church we attended to be small minded and narrow.

I never quite fit into the religious "right". My parents also changed the definition of "sin" to whatever suited them that month, which added to my confusion and distaste for the hypocrisy I was witnessing. My biggest "sin" was smoking cigarettes. They smoked, so I smoked. I never had voluntary sex. My grandfather molested me many times throughout my childhood but in my mind, I was a virgin. I was never arrested or had any legal problems, was never pregnant or thrown out of school. I was just your average, mouthy, questioning, attitudinal teenager.

I didn’t know I was going to a religious reform school when my parents woke me in the middle of the night. It was with great confusion that I was shuffled into the two-door car my parents borrowed from my grandfather. (as opposed to their four-door, from which I could have run) Once on the road, I was informed of my coming incarceration. Needless to say, I flipped out. I then spent the rest of the 7 hour trip in the back seat with my back to my parents. When necessary, they escorted me to the bathroom so I wouldn’t run away before getting there.

When I arrived at Hephzibah House, then at 508 School St, Winona Lake, IN, we were taken directly to the "Blue Room". I was quickly separated from my parents and taken upstairs by Mrs. Kagin. I was told to strip and bathe while she watched me. My belongings were taken from me and replaced by a uniform. I didn’t see my parents again for many months.

The first month was pure hell. I remember it was hard to keep all the new rules straight….when to stand and when to sit; when to talk and when to be silent. Communication to our families was strictly governed by the staff at HH. Phone calls were monitored and terminated if anything was spoken that they didn’t like. If this happened, we were disciplined for trying to be rebellious. Our outgoing letters were censored. If we wrote anything "unacceptable" like, "HELP! I’M BEING BEATEN TO DEATH!", we were made to re-write the letter and disciplined again. All incoming mail was read by staff and anything they didn’t want us to know was "blacked out".

Food: The food was horrid. Our breakfasts consisted of hot bran with a small bit of honey in the bottom of the bowl, and a glass of powdered milk which had a nasty taste. On weekends, we would get very eggy French toast or pancakes with sorghum syrup. For lunch we were fed egg salad sandwiches and sometimes soup. Dinner was usually a casserole of some kind, stretched with eggs. Unlimited amounts of eggs and mislabeled Campbell’s soups were donated to the "ministry" so we ate eggs and mixed cans of soup more often than anything else. After 6 months of unending eggs, many of us were belching sulfur. They decided our portion size and if we didn’t eat it all, we were given it cold for following meals until it was all gone. On the other end of the spectrum, we were taken to "all you can eat" buffets a few times a year and warned not to overeat. Having no choice over your food intake for months on end, then being given total choice over the same for the span of an hour thrice a year, made for some gluttony for sure! I remember going to the bathroom and trying to pass all the food so I wouldn’t be sick. If we got sick from eating too much, we were beaten. Talk about playing with our minds!

Menstruation: I started my period the first week I was there, which was not my scheduled time, and I never had another one for the 23 months of my incarceration. Since our bodily functions were not private, I knew the same thing happened to all the other girls who were there at that time. Charts were kept on the dorm door that marked our weight, bowel movements, menses, and bathing. I know excessive exercise and stress will cause amenorrhea (stopping of the menses). If this was the reason my periods stopped and never started again until I left HH, then how come it happened within days of my arrival? It takes months for excessive exercise and stress to effect a woman’s period.

I personally believe we were given veterinary hormones in the powdered milk. We girls were made to help with the food preparations. The one thing we were not allowed to handle was the making of the milk. At that time, it was made down in the staff quarters by one of the senior staff members. Of course, the hormone issue is speculation. My question for HH is this, if they weren’t poisoning us with hormones to stop our menses, then why didn’t they report the amenorrhea to parents or physicians? It is, after all, a severe medical condition. Especially alarming that it was happening to all of us there at that time.

Discipline: "Work Duties" were given, like demerits, for any infraction of the rules or jobs not done to their standards. When too many work duties were accumulated, penalties were given out in paddlings instead of work duties until one could work her duties down to a lower number. There was a period of two months when I was beaten almost every day because my work duty count was too high. We were assigned tasks, from cleaning to gleaning, from chipping tile to gardening, from shoveling manure to yard work. If there was a broken plant in our row of the weeding, we were beaten. If a duty was not performed to their satisfaction, we either got more work duties or beatings.

And by beatings I mean this – we were held down by female staff members at both our heads and our feet, while we were hit with a board measuring approx 2’x6"x1". Sometimes it was a female staff member holding the board. Other times it was either Ron Williams or Mr. Kagin. Mind you, Ron Willams is around 6’6" and surely weighs 285#. Silence and isolation were also used as discipline. As I noted earlier, I was smart and mouthy, a regular know-it-all. I was not allowed to speak to anyone, even if it was staff, for over 8 months. It was this complete isolation that finally broke my will.

Torture: Aside from the beatings, we were psychologically tortured in many ways. We were demeaned and ridiculed by staff, not allowed to use the bathroom when we needed to then shamed when we couldn’t hold our bowels or bladders any longer, exercised severely (I lost 80# in my first 8 months), shown fear inducing videos of what would happen to us and our souls if we didn’t convert, isolated from forming bonds with the other girls, made to keep our hair curled and beaten if it went straight during the day, given school work way below our abilities to prove we were stupid, forced to memorize gigantic amounts of bible and protestant catechisms involving hours of weekly testing, worked far too hard for the amount of calories we were given, not allowed to speak to anyone outside the "ministry", and even forced into prolonged silence (8 months worth in my case).

I believe the staff of HH used every opportunity to belittle us and degrade us to quicken the breaking of the will. All this time we were told we were sinners, useless, meaningless and unloved. How can young teens have any defense against such meanness?

Indoctrination: The amounts of scripture and catechism we had to learn were insurmountable. We were required to learn a verse a day, five days a week. This was accumulative. We had to recite them each week. So by the time a girl was there for six months, she was reciting approximately 120 verses of scripture weekly. Add to this the chapter of scripture and hymn per month we were required to learn for school and the individual verses required for each PACE we completed. These latter were not accumulative. For each error we made in recitation, we were dealt a work duty, and if our duties were too high, a beating instead.

We attended religious services raining hellfire and brimstone on us many times per week. We were periodically forced to watch hours of brutal Armageddon; rapture movies intended to scare us into conversion. We were taught scripture set to music and forced to sing them on both Ron Williams' radio show and at fundraising church events. We were forced to "sell" the man who was torturing us! This deep indoctrination left us little time to think or reason about our dilemma of imprisonment. I have forgotten more bible than most people will ever learn in the first place.

I have a very high IQ and an almost photographic memory. The school work and bible memory/catechisms were easy for me to deal with. I had great difficulty with the beatings, having to eat food that disgusted me, not being able to go to the bathroom when I needed to, and not having freedom of speech.

When I finally graduated from Hephzibah House Academy (the school branch of the "ministry"), I was allowed to go home provided my parents promised to send me to either Pensacola Christian College or Bob Jones University. Before I graduated, I was taken to a doctor’s office and vaginally inspected. I had no idea what was going on! To this day, I don’t know why they did that. I felt so violated and shamed.

My life since Hephzibah House has been a struggle at best. I attended PCC then BJU, totaling two years of college. During my time at Bob Jones University, I started seeing a therapist to work through my "attitude problems.” As I began to recover my self from the brainwashing of HH, I realized I didn’t want to follow a christian path. I didn’t want to be a part of a god that was so cruel. I left college and after a few promiscuous years I joined the military.

After the service, I worked in the sex industry and became deeply involved in the drug culture. I hated myself so much that I did everything I could, short of suicide, to destroy myself. Unfortunately, I believed what HH taught me about myself: that I was not a beautiful, unique creation, that I was a monster. I lived a very violent life for many years after I left HH. I truly feel their indoctrination and cult brainwashing techniques removed my ability to respect myself.

With a lot of work, therapy and love from friends, I have since found a spiritual path free of religion and violence. I found love for myself and for those around me through a pagan path. I used nature as my teacher. Nature taught me not to judge, to respect life and death, to see the balance in all things, to love my uniqueness, and to forgive.

I am forever grateful that I could heal past the hate into love and peace. I am forever grateful that there is not only one path to god. I have found love and have been in therapy my whole adult life to try to embrace that love, for others and for myself. I have forgiven my parents for sending me to HH. I have forgiven the church pastor who told my parents this was their only way to "save" me. I have even forgiven the staff and founder of HH for the torture through which they put me. I am still suffering from the scars and damage done by them and hope to be a part of closing Hephzibah House in the near future. I want the cult to end. I want the healing of young women to come through love and compassion, not torture and hatred.

I write all of this hoping one parent will read it and make a different decision for their daughter than mine did for me. To this day, my parents are sorry they did this to me. If they had known what was happening, they never would have left me there. Remember, the internet wasn’t around in the early 80’s for the easy gathering of information and we were not allowed to cry for help.