Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dannetta Fisher: Survivor!

My name is Dannetta Fisher, formerly known as Dannetta Kester, and this is my story as a survivor of the cult sect Hephzibah House (May 1987 to September 1989).

I was not like a lot of the girls who came from a christian background and christian homes. I was, indeed, a typical mouthy 15 year old girl who was trying very hard to find herself in this world. My mother would threaten to take me to HH "if I didn't straighten up".

That morning my mother and I didn't have our usual hour and half long tug of war to get me out of bed and off to school. Instead she let me sleep in. Then I was told we were going shopping or something of that nature. On the way I was told that I was going to HH. I figured she was just trying to scare me and would never actually leave me there. Now she tells me repeatedly that she was coerced into sending me there and it is one of her greatest regrets.

Upon arrival I, like all the other girls, was immediately separated from my mother and made to strip down to bare nudity in front of Heather Williams and take a shower. I did not get the forced vaginal exam. I assume this is because I had gotten a physical exam not long before arriving although no vaginal exam. I was told I would be there for 15 months and then I was taken downstairs to the prison. I was a crying mess so I sat with Miss Emery and watched a bunch of "really geeky" people playing volleyball.

That first night I was served a small dinner. I ate it all but the skin from the chicken. To this day I do not like skin on my chicken. The skin was given back to me each meal for the next 5 days. I did not eat for those 5 days because I do not like skin on my chicken Sam I Am (I will not go Dr. Seuss on you). On the fifth day I was taken to the middle of the steps leading up to the Williams castle with 6'6" Ron standing at the top looking like the jolly gray giant and scaring the crap out of me saying, "Now, Dannetta, I want you to eat your food". I gagged on it but Miss Emery did take a bit of pity on me and gave me a piece of dry bread with which I made my chicken skin sandwich out of.

My sweet (I'm being sarcastic) sixteen birthday rolled around a few weeks later. During a moment of actual fun and running around outside I felt my ankle give out and followed by a very loud "POP" and intense pain rushing up my leg. My entire ankle swelled up and turned blue. I had sprained it. I was not taken to a doctor to make sure it was not fractured or otherwise. I was made to sit and bite my lip through the intense pain as pain medication was taboo. My leg was then wrapped up and I was tossed (not literally) a pair of crutches which I was told to use for the next 6 to 8 weeks. If you have ever seriously sprained something then you know how painful it is. Some ibuprofen or something would have been nice and I'm sure I wouldn't have gotten high on it.

Just before my birthday (three weeks into my imprisonment) they decided they didn't like my attitude and I needed it adjusted. This was my one and only spanking. I was taken upstairs and told to lay face down on the floor with my arms crossed over my chest. Two women then held down my top half while a third held down my legs. Ron Williams (all 6'6" of him) then took this paddle that I am sure was ten feet long and starting wailing the crap out of me. Or I should say pee since I urinated all over myself due to the intense pain. Now let me point out that I was a veteran of intense, poorly administered "spankings" and thought I was big enough to handle it. Even a veteran like myself could not handle what that man did to me. After administering at least 7 or 8 hits and leaving me black and blue and welted he then had me sit down on my wounds.

Didn't Jesus go through something like that? Salt on the wounds per se. He tried to talk to me about blah blah blah...I don't know. I just wanted to take the chair and throw it out the window behind me. I did not deserve such a beating, attitude or not. Not even men in prison get treated that badly (maybe I'm wrong). It did not break my spirit but it sure as hell scared the crap out of me and I made sure it never happened again! Now I never told anyone that I had urinated all over myself but rather changed my clothes and put them in the laundry. I was so humiliated as you can imagine should you put yourself into my shoes. They found my urinated clothes while doing laundry check to count my dirty panties and I got demerits for my embarrassment.

Eventually, I did get a phone call and, of course, told my mother that I had gotten "spanked". The phone call being monitored, I had to change the subject fast as to not have my ten minutes cut short. I only remember maybe two visits during the twenty six months that I was there. The first was the worst, of course. By the second I had learned to put a big smile on my face and lie lie lie so as not to lose any of my so called "privileges" (if you call looking at anyone you wish a privilege).

That brings me to the "talking list". When you first get there you are told that you are only allowed to talk to a handful of girls (the ones who have the privilege of talking to everyone). If you are not allowed to talk to a girl you are not allowed to look at her or remotely in her direction let alone have any contact with her. Now imagine living, eating, sleeping and working with 29 other girls and you can't talk to or look at maybe 25 of them. For many years after leaving HH I had a terrible time walking with my head up or looking people in the eyes. I can do it now but I really have to force myself and it is a taught trait.

One night not far into my imprisonment as I was sleeping on the bottom bunk I awoke to find these two giant rat like creatures standing next to my bed and staring at me (now follow me on this before you think I just went off the deep end). I was terrified but we weren't allowed to leave our beds so I rolled over, pulled the blanket over my head and forced myself back to sleep. Now the normal person would trump this up to a seriously freaky dream. However, I wrote upstairs about my dream and Patti sat me down and explained that she had dabbled in witchcraft in her past, that sometimes demons attach themselves to a person and can be passed down from family member to family member and that the lady who played Samantha on "Bewitched" was a real witch (I'm not really sure where that came from).

Now, do I believe that I had a terrible dream or do I believe I was being watched by demons as it was explained to me? What would the rational person do? If you believe in God you have to believe in the devil. If you believe in angels you have to believe in demons. This is what I learned at HH. For the longest time I thought I was crazy because I didn't know what to believe. What would you think if you were a 15 year old girl and trying to detangle such a strange mess? If I say I believe I really saw two demons standing over my bed then I am certifiably crazy by social standards. If I say I do not believe in demons then I am in essence saying I do not believe in God. These are the lovely things I learned at HH.

Should you look at my website and view my past pictures you will notice that I was rather a chubby girl while at Hephzibah House. Let me say that they fed you incredible amounts of food whether you wanted it or not but you were only allowed to eat during the three meal times (two on some days). They worked you like grown men and you were always hungry but the amount they wanted us to eat at once was ridiculous. And you ate it or you got it back for the next meal just like I did my wonderful chicken skin.

But I think the biggest fear we had was not being able to eat at all. This happens a lot. If you're sick you do not eat for a full 24 hours. If you do not pass your chores or get too many demerits you do not eat. It was the cruelest of their tactics in some ways as food was one of the very few and rare delicacies in our barely humanoid existences. We had our vision cut off from not being allowed to look at anyone. Our speech taken away by not being able to talk to but a few people. Our feelings were depleted by constant humiliation and scorning. Taste was one thing we still had for ourselves although I'm sure they tried to kill that as well with some of the monstrous concoctions they passed off as "food".

Another medical condition that comes to mind would be my hands. My hands were so bad and in so much pain. The skin was literally peeling off of me in huge pieces just like when we were kids and let glue dry on our hands and peeled it off. It looked just like that. And the tips of my fingers would split so bad that they would fillet like a piece of meat. Instead of getting me proper medical treatment the ever so astute staff of Hephzibah House had me glop Vaseline over my hands and arms which were then covered in bread bags and then socks to keep them on. This is how I slept at night. When I did not have the Vaseline on they had me use a very cheap brand of Vaseline lotion which burnt like fire due to the open wounds and the perfume in the lotion. To "cure" it they had me consume cod liver oil.

Now if you've never drank cod liver oil, I wouldn't suggest starting now. It's awful. This was done a couple times a day and did absolutely nothing to cure me. I honestly believe I am allergic to the bleach they made us use to clean everything on a daily basis. To this day if I manage to get bleach on me I break out in blisters. Even regular cleaning agents cause my skin to peel at times if used for even an hour or so. You can imagine cleaning for several hours a day, day after day. But I was a big girl and smiled and tried to never complain. That's what girls at Hephzibah House are suppose to do...grin and bear it. And bear it I did.

As you can imagine there were unending periods of silence. We were not allowed to talk during school, during church (obviously), during chores, during letter writing which consumed most of our Sunday hours, between services, at night once lights went out... and more if I stopped to think about it. This left very little time during our day for socializing or constructing friendships. It did, however, leave a lot of silent time for us to think about home, family, daydreaming of love, laughter and romance and all the "horrid" things we were forbidden to talk about. If you have ever been a single parent or a stay at home parent then you understand completely how those long, quiet days of silence can be. Lonely. Ever so lonely.

I am not exactly sure how long it was after I arrived that I quit menstruating. It was explained to me that we were not meant to be menstruating yet and that the only reason we were was because of our awful diets and terrible lifestyles we had come from. In other words, the crapola they served us and passed off as food (sometimes I pretended it was food just for a change of pace) and the wonderful world of beatings, silence, insults, manipulation and child labor were better for us and put us back on God's menstrual timetable.

Let's not forget the laundry check. This is when one of our lovely staff go through our laundry and literally count how many pairs of dirty panties we have in there. I do not know about you but I would rather keep my dirty panties to myself, thank you very much. Imagine being a timid insecure teenage girl and having your panties gone through on a regular basis. Imagine having to show your dirty feminine napkin to someone. Imagine if you will all of the things you have read in these stories. It was a nightmare.

How has this influenced me since then you ask? I'm glad you did. I have made some terrible, terrible choices. Let me say this: I did so truly want to be a good Christian. I wanted to do what God wanted. I wanted to continue in a good way. Instead of going home when I left I went to stay with a family I had never met from my church that I had never attended (that I remember, we were not church goers). I finished my high school education in that church's school and graduated third in my class. Of course there were only three in my graduating class. I wanted to go to the college there as well but was talked into going to a college I was not interested in by my preacher which I did for three semesters.

Eventually I moved out on my own to "find" myself and decide what I really wanted to do. I was robbed by my own roommate and thrown out on the street and taken in by a man who would become my husband. I had nowhere to go and he was there. I insisted we get married right away because I did not want to live in sin (this is what I learned at HH). I knew him a whole three months when we married. It was the most awful time of my life and another story in itself. Marrying him wasn't half as bad as the guilt I had divorcing him even though it was DEFINITELY the right thing to do. This guilt and the fact that I let him abuse me in more ways than one was a leftover effect of feeling I was worthless and deserved to be abused that I learned at HH.

From there what little self worth I had after leaving HH went downhill. I spanked my children although a far cry from the way we were beaten at HH. This is a regret I still feel today. I could have done things so differently. I could have hugged them more, showed them how much I loved them more often and just been a better parent had I not been brainwashed into thinking "spare the rod, spoil the child". I could go on and on about all the poor choices I made and how I can link them back to the way of thinking I learned at HH but I won't. Each of us has our own stories in this area.

There were only a handful of times we were allowed out of the confines of the prison. When I first got there they were taking girls soul winning. Only one was allowed to go at a time and this was sporadic. I was taken once that I remember although I was not saved at the time and really had no concept of what soul winning was. I just remember memorizing the verses to the Roman's Road along with all my other thousands of verses I memorized while I was there. They quit taking us girls shortly after I went. I may have even been the last one they took.

The other opportunity we had to leave was to go out to an all you can eat buffet. This didn't happen very often, I would say I got to go maybe 3 times in the two years I was there. I remember one time in particular when several of us girls got sick after wards and were taking turns throwing up. They made us go to bed for a day and a half. This meant doing nothing but laying there, eating nothing but broth for 4 meals and being told we were gluttons.

Now I want to go on record saying that to this day I can eat quite a bit when I want to and I know on that particular occasion I did not eat as much as I would normally eat now when I go to a buffet. I'm not saying I do not get gluttonous but I do know that I was not gluttonous that particular day. I remember sitting with Miss Emery during the meal and I kept waiting for her to stick up for me since she should have seen how little I had eaten but she never did. I am not saying that maybe she just wasn't paying attention but I am saying that had she been that I should never have been treated like I did something wrong when I seriously believe either there was a flu bug going around or we got food poisoning. Did I mention there were somewhere between I would say eight to ten of us who got sick? That is a lot of girls to be saying it was just gluttony.

I want to make it clear that I do not hate anyone or hold a grudge against any of the staff at Hephzibah House. I think this home started for the right reasons so many years ago but that power and greed took over. I think that the rules changed so often that delusions became secondary. I believe that some of the staff also had the wool pulled over their eyes. I think that anger became commonplace for everyone involved and that the so called submission that we were taught was one of the core reasons. The women on staff seemed so angry and resentful yet tried so hard to appear strong and looked like they had a fake smile plastered on their faces on the rare occasion they had a smile. I want to insert a comical interjection here but it's rather sad to think that these people could have been just as miserable as we were and, thus, the reasoning for tearing us down to their level.

I know I threw in a few funny lines but I do want to end this on a very serious note. Even if we cannot change the laws, even if we cannot make Hephzibah House accountable for their actions, even if we cannot get these kinds of institutions closed for good...I implore you to stop and think twice about sending your daughter(s) to this place. There may be one or two good testimonies who came from this place but I can give you a couple dozen more who didn't.

If it is your goal to intimidate, humiliate, diminish what little hope and self esteem your daughter has then by all means send her there. If it is not then please I beg of you to think again and find an alternative way of dealing with whatever you feel the issue may be. Is it really that big of an issue or have you made it that way? Have you tried talking to her? Listening??? Have you asked her how to change or resolve the issue and let her give you the answer?

Please do not throw her into this dungeon of disillusion, heartbreak and anguish.

My name is Dannetta Fisher and this is my story.