Hephzibah House Journal

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

Monday, April 6, 2009

Betty Doebbeling (A letter from a Mom)

I am writing this statement in support of all that has been said by others regarding the prison-like atmosphere at Hephzibah House, owned and operated by Pastor and Mrs. Ron Williams.
Although we had read all materials available to us at the time, (early 1980's so no internet) and although we had given the materials to our daughter to read and agree with before we took her there, we (her father and I) had no real idea of how the place was run.

It has been many years now, so with age, I'm sorry to say that some of my memories dim, but I do distinctly remember being told after we got to the facility that "for our daughter's own good" communications would be extremely limited and all communication would be monitored. We had no idea to what extent. I know that we were allowed Sunday phone calls during a 30 minute window. I cannot remember whether or not we were to initiate the call. We called as often as we possible could and the times we did get to speak with our daughter, there was always someone listening in. Unknown to us, she was living in mortal fear of saying something unacceptable and if she did so, a severe paddling/beating would result. Thus, our conversations were stilted and uncomfortable but we were led to believe that all was going well.

With regard to letter writing, we didn't know that our letters were tightly censored and blacked out if we said anything the staff deemed "unacceptable". It is highly unlikely that our daughter even received most of my letters as I was looked upon by the staff as a very sinful human being and a "sorry" parent. By the same token, we received very, very few letters from our daughter and the ones we got were pretty much written to make us think she was well adjusted, getting good grades, etc. but they all sounded the same.

On our first visit which was allowed several months into her "incarceration", her Dad and I were horrified to see how skeletal she appeared. She had black circles under her eyes and white spots on her teeth. Her normal build was quite "willowy" and had never been heavy, but her arms at this point were just sticks, her cheeks sunken in and face incredibly bony. Because of the spots on her teeth, which I knew could appear from self-induced vomiting, I remarked to Pastor Williams that we were really concerned about her weight loss, asked if they had noticed any excessive vomiting and then asked if they would take her to a doctor to be sure she was not ill. They assured me they would. They later contacted us and said she had been seen by a doctor and deemed well. Unknown to us, the simple concern about vomiting caused extreme distress for all of the residents/inmates as they were thereafter followed and observed by a staff member even for the most intimate personal situations. i.e., given 3 pieces of toilet paper following a bowel movement, having to announce what they were doing with same and announce when they would be done.

Of course now we live with the deepest regrets imaginable and can only be thankful our daughter has forgiven our error in judgment which resulted in a negative life-altering time for her. Her Dad and I have renewed our relationship with her and, praise be to God, we now love each other with an eternal love. We loved her then too. We just chose a horrible path for her when we thought we were going to assist her safely through some very troubled years. She shows signs of severe PTSD even now, 25 years later-as do almost all of the women who have written on the blog.


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  3. So, what have you done to prevent this from happening to other girls? Did you ever warn other parents about the abuse? Did you ever confront anyone from the church about this? Why didn't you immediately take your daughter out once you noticed how horrible of shape she was in?