This is an official statement of the encounters I endured at Hephzibah House from September 1991 to August 1993.
My name is Tonya Perfect and I was considered a staff helper when I left HH in 1993.
I grew up with my childhood sweetheart since the age of 12. I was accepted at a small Christian college in Dunn, NC, but being from a religious background, and my boyfriend's parents believing the woman was the keeper of the home, I regretfully did not go.
My mother told me I couldn’t wait around for my Knight in Shining Armour and pretty much handed me the papers for volunteer work at HH and told me to fill them out. I was scared of my mother; I was brutally spanked for something I was not guilty of after I was 18. It took me forever to fill out why I would be an asset to the ministry and why I wanted to donate my time because I did not want to go and my mother knew it. Summer was over and the only other option on the paper was a 2 year commitment. My father was as scared of my mother as we were, so when we went into town with the letter to HH, he knew why I was crying and still mailed it.
My mother drove all night and brought me to HH in September of 1991, knowing I did not want to be there. I would call, crying, saying I hated it and wanted to come home many times during my stay there. Every time my mother would say she felt God would have me be there. I wanted to just run away, I was over 18, and still I felt like I was a girl with benefits. I was there with really no way out. If I ran, where would I go, I had nowhere. I didn’t even have a driver’s license til I was 20 after I left HH, so even on my days off I was stuck going no farther than the staff house.
Shortly after I arrived, I was given a set of keys to get in and out of different locked doors. I was never told the rules originally about not contacting girls after they left or if I left. We were sitting doing stamps and Campbell’s soup labels and other staff would talk quietly to girls about things that didn’t pertain to duties. I was talking quietly to a girl and she asked me if I would ever write a girl after she left, I said, I didn’t know, I guess it would depend on the situation. Mrs. Kagan came down at the time and went and told the Williams’ that I was talking hush hush with a girl and didn’t know if they could trust me. So they took my keys from me and said I would have to earn them back. Shortly after that I was demoted, I guess you’d say for being too nice to the girl; I was not to be a friend. They made sure they rubbed it in my face by calling me a staff helper, including in their newsletter.
Shortly after I arrived at HH, within a couple months, we were in the school room and Arnette came to me and said we were gathering all the girls, and to just go with the flow and not to ask any questions. I said why and she said it was best if I didn’t know. All of us went somewhere in Ohio I believe to a big church and throughout the night, every last girl left with their parents. I have no idea why, but I am assuming some sort of authorities were trying to investigate the home.
As with the situation I just mentioned, I was left unaware of any of the things I have recently read about, as in the physical abuse. I knew that the parents agreed to spanking, but I thought it was like we were spanked in private school. A paddle and you lean over, and get a couple swats on the butt. I had no idea about the chairs and being held down on the floor to be beat. My stay was awful, but I truly feel awful for any girls that had to endure that. That is just not even human.
There were weird things that went on while I was there. We had a cook/nurse named Jennie that had been there 8 or so years. One day her pastor called and said he needed to talk to her and no one had better pick up the phone. Within a few days or so, he was at the door saying he was there to get Jennie. Of course, as with anyone, she just disappeared and never got to say goodbye. Miss Berta Just disappeared, from what I heard she took leave, they never liked her and told her not to come back. Miss Reardon just disappeared without any goodbyes. They thought she was too worldly because she still had a desire for her makeup and jewelry.
Two girls came back as summer staff while I was there and we 3 were talking, they told us we didn’t need to be talking with no one else around. Sorry, but I thought we were staff. God forbid if their dirty little secrets come out. The one girl stayed in bed for at least 3 days I believe. I know she had been a student for a long time and had gone home for a couple months and come back. I think a lot of girls were pressured into that and can’t handle being free and being pressed to go back. Well, needless to say, she disappeared with no goodbyes also. Normally while I was there, the disappearing with no goodbyes happened when we had our Friday evenings outside around the fire.
When the Williams’ found out my boyfriend’s family was Pentecostal, which I am sure you all are aware of how they feel about people who speak in tongues, they are possessed of the devil, they had my father call off our relationship immediately, saying we would be unequally yoked. Hello, read your Bible, they were talking about saved and unsaved. Anyhow, Dad called my boyfriend and made like I didn’t want to have anything to do with him, not to call or write me anymore. Seeing as he thought this was my wishes, he didn’t contact me anymore. I was heartbroken and tried for a year to get over him. When I could not, I chose to write him and sneak a letter out. Of course I didn’t address it to him.
My mail was scrutinized, but not to the point that the girls were, as far as I’m aware anyhow. Well, when I got a letter back, it was near my birthday and I got an unusually large amount of mail in my box, so thankfully it slid through. I chose to be with him, and when my parents told HH of my endeavors, they called me upstairs and "counselled" me on my rebellion against them and my parents. I was 20 years old and determined for once in my life to make my own decision as a grown woman, and I was determined, no matter how scared I was of them or my mother, that I was going to be with my boyfriend, and I was going to get out of that hell hole one way or another. They told me there was nothing to do for me, I was of the devil and I couldn’t help rebellious girls, if I was rebellious myself.
They got me a ticket to Harper’s Ferry, WV and sent me away, making me feel like I was such an awful person. They told my parents not to help me in my endeavors. My father wasn’t even saved at the time and just went with the flow to keep Mom from going off on him. My parents left me at the train station all alone hours away from home. Ultimately my boyfriend’s Mom came and got me. But it was so scary to know your parents had disowned you. I was not allowed to talk to my brothers or sister because I might rub off on them, this went on for a year and a half. That was the hardest part. I was not a bad person, as was the case with the girls there.
It has taken years of healing and regaining trust with my family to have a close knit relationship of getting past all the hurt. My parents are now Mennonite and I would never live like that, but I must say, them getting out of that crazy religious background of whacked out beliefs to satisfy your own selfishness and profit has made them totally different people. They have learned to not judge. Because believe me, I am in no way "Perfect", yea, go ahead and laugh. I have made mistakes in life and I learn from them, but these mistakes have made me the strong independent person I am today. I don’t take anyone’s crap now. If I am happy and my children are happy and safe and taken care of, that’s all that matters to me. I will never profess to be anything I am not; I can’t stand hypocritical Christians.
Anyhow, I didn’t plan on this being so long, but as a final statement, I want anyone reading this to know that I feel for where you are coming from, I know how you feel and I know we are all survivors here. For the girls that were at HH with me, you all were special to me, and I hope that counts for something. I didn’t care if they demoted me, I was your age, and I was going to be friendly, despite what they said. I hope we can figure out a way to shut them down for good. Hopefully a brave soul can get past the scare of being stuck there punished for speaking up, so they too can be set free and any other girl that would have to endure the hell of HH. Well, you know what, the Williams’ and all their little helpers will one day have their own hell to pay, because I am sorry, you all are the ones that are awful people and will have to deal with judgment, not me or any girl that has ever had to endure HH.
THIS IS MY STATEMENT AND DEDICATION TO ALL OF YOU.
Former Staff Helper
(Student with Benefits of not being beat to death)