At 15 years old, my Mother tricked me into believing we were going on vacation to Ft Wayne, Indiana. Instead, she dropped me off at Hepzibah House on May 6, 1991. She disposed of me, bought her freedom, and married her boyfriend two weeks later. I cannot begin to express my pain and sorrow as my Mother effortlessly walked away.
I was left to the care of strangers who brutally beat me and violated me. I was “shadowed” for three months in which I wasn’t allowed to wear shoes (only socks) and was forbidden to speak with the other girls. Everything was closely monitored/controlled and if any of us stepped out of line, we’d would pay the consequences.
I can still hear the keys that jingled knowing I was being taken upstairs to be beaten. I was forced to lie on my stomach with my arms stretched out. Chairs were placed over my head, arms, and legs so I would not move. The physical beatings left dark purple bruises and welts all over my bottom. My rear end was in such pain that I had to sit on my pubic area to avoid contact with the seat.
One morning I was taken out of class and told to get a shower and put on my robe. I didn’t understand what was happening, but we weren’t allowed to question them. When fear overcame me, I quietly asked what was going on. A man, and two staff ladies came into the bedroom and made me lie down on the bed. I was forced to have a breast and vaginal exam despite my pleading to not do this. I was a virgin and noon had seen me naked, yet these three individuals violated and humiliated me. At 33 years old, I still cry when I think of this. How could anyone do this to someone and what hurts the most is that my Mother consented.
I still have a file of pictures, menus, sermons, Hephzibah House newsletters, and of course that ugly yellow receipt that forever reminds me of being brutally violated. To me, that was a form of rape. How could my Mother have agreed to this when she had been a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father? A Mother should protect her children, but she never did. I wasn’t a bad child, I was simply lonely and sought to be loved.
At 14 years old, my married 36 year old history teacher, Albert Dejoseph, gave me the attention that I was so desperately seeking. He toyed with my emotions and even kissed me on school property. He discussed having a life with me, moving to England, and having children. He made plans to have me stay with him and his wife, but my Mother caught on to his act, and stopped him in his tracks. Yet, I was removed from high school and none rescued me. Eventually, I heard that he lost his job, but what about me, the girl who was hurt by him and by so many?
I was thrown away and punished as though I was at fault. It was a convenient excuse for my Mother to send me to Hephzibah when really she just didn’t want to be bothered. I lost 30 lbs in just a few months from the small portions of food and at times lack of food. I was allowed a monthly telephone call from my Mother in which a staff lady wore a head set to listen to our conversations. I was not allowed to discuss the beatings or anything of that nature or the call would be disconnected and I’d then pay the consequences.
We were required to write weekly letters home, but could not seal them. The staff ladies read all incoming and outgoing mail. There was no privacy. As I’ve read and reread those letters today, my Mother missed so many of those phone calls. Where was she? She couldn’t be bothered to make sure that she was home for those calls?
Showers were limited to three minutes and we had to shut them off as soon as the timer rang. I remember trying to lather up without water prior to the staff ladies saying “begin” just to give me a head start. Everything was about control.
My Mother was allowed to visit every three months, but again, a staff lady remained with us to document our conversation and to make sure I kept quiet. I truly believe that even if I was able to tell my Mom what was happening, she still would not have rescued me.
Along with the other girls, I was given three chores to be completed after school. I remember scrubbing the floors on my hands and knees. It was difficult to squeeze under the triple bunk beds and clean between the large wardrobes. Staff ladies hovered over us to ensure that we would not communicate and also to inspect our work. When my work didn’t meet with their satisfaction, I was not allowed to eat dinner. Instead, I was given a clumpy flavorless protein drink while everyone else ate in front of me.
I must say that at times I preferred the protein drink opposed to what was being served. We were forced to consume everything on our plates. We then showed an empty plate to the be inspected before turning them into be cleaned. I remember taking my napkins to cover the food then balling it up into my hand. When my bowl or plate was inspected, my hand was hidden under them. I prayed so many times that I didn’t get caught. Food was old and served over and over again. We drank powdered milk and ate from the supplies that the Williams family discarded. I remember the smell of their family cooking above us. How cruel to rub it in our noses knowing they could eat anything they wanted. They were heavy set individuals while the girls below deteriorated.
We were not allowed to sleep with a doll or teddy bear. Stuffed animals, etc were strictly used as bed decorations for pictures. Sometimes, I’d hide my little bear and bring him to bed with me hoping they wouldn’t find out. I’d hold him close to my chest and cried so many nights. A couple years ago, I finally decided to let go of “Bear” and gave him away. I didn’t want to carry that pain with me anymore and unfortunately that little stuffed animal was just a reminder of those memories. I suppose it’s silly, but I was only able to give him away when I realized that my bear could bring joy to a child in need.
After 6 months at Hepzibah, something out of the ordinary took place. All the girls were hurried into different vans and were taken to various locations. My group went to Ohio where one by one, girls disappeared. I was so naive and didn’t know what was happening until it was my turn to leave. I found out later that Hephzibah House was being investigated for abuse and therefore fled from Indiana.
Fortunately for me, 6 months was all I had to endure. My heart goes out to the many girls who were forced to live there for years . There is one girl that I think of so often. Her name was Anna Berkey who I believe was from Pennsylvania. Anna was just 12 years old and hearing impaired. They treated her worse than the rest of us. I’d really like to find her. Even though we were not allowed to communicate, I knew a little sign language. Mostly we just signed “ I love you” in passing. It was a sparkle of joy in the midst of sorrow.
To this day, I have nothing to do with religion. I believe in karma and in being kind to all people. My wife and I have a home in Canada where one day we hope to have a shelter for those in need. After a life of pain and heartache, at last I am free. May all my sisters of survival have peace, joy, and healing.
In Warmest Friendship and Love Always,
Jennifer Millar (formerly Davidson)