My name is Lea Devers and I served at Hephzibah House during the summer of 1995.
I attended college with the Williams’ son. Mr. and Mrs. Williams would come down to visit him and always seemed like okay people. I knew they ran a girl’s home. I am not sure if they presented their ministry at the school or not. During the summer between my junior and senior year of college I wanted to go on a mission trip. I wrote Mrs. Williams and asked her about working at HH for the summer. She immediately answered and things went from there.
I was required to raise support. I am not sure why. Even on my days off, it was very difficult to get into town to purchase needed items. I would have to ask one of the outside (someone who was not kept in lockdown with the girls) staff members for a ride. They would sometimes very reluctantly take me to a store.
As you walked into the house, there was a huge bunch of eucalyptus hanging. Every time I smell eucalyptus I feel the oppression of feeling that nothing I did could ever be good enough. I spent a lot of time on that staircase because cleaning it was one of the chores of the work crew I was frequently assigned to.
Words cannot express what it felt like to be watched 24/7. Every word, deed, facial expression was critiqued. You never knew when something that you had done so many times before would suddenly not be good enough or be found offensive.
I had not been informed that I would have to eat and drink everything that was served to me. The first morning I was there we were served powdered milk for breakfast. It was really horrible and I did not finish it. My cup was brought back to me by Miss Saylor with the command to finish it.
I did quite a bit of kitchen duty. The food that I was required to cook was less than healthy. I would have to open cans and dump them into a pot to make “soup”. This doesn’t sound so bad until you know that the cans had no labels. You never knew what would be in there. (Fruit did not have to go into the soup.)
We were always served “pancakes” on Sunday morning. This was a heavy cake that was cooked on Saturday night. By the time Sunday morning came around, the cake was very dry. I asked if it would be okay to warm the pancakes up before serving them to the girls. I was told no!
During my daily tasks, I would pass a cupboard full of wonderful foods. I was told that these were foods that people had donated for the girls. I wonder how upset the people who donated it would have been if they knew the girls never saw any of it? This food was used by the Williams’ family.
The girls were kept to a strict three minute shower. Occasionally, I would be given the duty of sitting in the hallway and timing the girls in their shower. I would sit right outside of the bathroom door where the BM chart was located. What an embarrassing thing for the girls!
All of the mail the girls received or sent was censored. Many of their letters were covered with black marker when they received them. These girls were desperate for outside contact. When they received it, it would be marked through. Very sad.
Miss Saylor always listened to the girls’ telephone conversations with their parents. I clearly remember a time when she hung up on a girl’s parents. They must have been talking about a taboo subject. The girl was very upset.
Night time was interesting. Everything was locked down. There was an alarm that went off if someone started down the hallway. A senior staff lady would sleep outside of the bathroom door. If you had to use the bathroom, you had to wake this lady up so she would know why the alarm went off. One night I got in trouble because I had to get up twice.
We slept on mattresses that were covered in blue vinyl/plastic. Miss Saylor told me the mattresses had been donated by the AIDS ward of a local hospital.
One day I made the casual comment that I did not think Naomi liked me. (She had never shown any interest in or seemed to want to know anything about me.) That night I was called upstairs and Ron Williams proceeded to tell me how wicked I was.
I had been given a set of keys that could be used to unlock the door leading out of the basement where the girls stayed. These were taken from me as a form of punishment. I really felt like a prisoner then!!
The girls were lined up to go into church. We always went in after the service started and left before it ended. I was never able to meet any of the people outside of the HH staff.
I spent some time helping in the office. This is the place where the stamps are sorted and the soup can labels are cut up and banded together. All I remember is thinking what a mess everything was. I have always been a neat person and the piles of papers spread everywhere drove me crazy. There was a staff family who also lived there. Their housekeeping habits left A LOT to be desired!
Mrs. Williams discovered I could sew. Wenda needed new curtains so they formed a sewing party. I remember that day with horror. These ladies (Mrs. Williams and Wenda) were sitting around the table talking about certain of their family members as though they hated them. It was clear that the people they were talking about could never be good enough to be really accepted. That day just confirmed the things I had picked up on already.
I somehow caught a virus. I was very ill! I was told I could lay down for a few hours. During that time, I was never checked on or asked if I needed anything. I was still very ill the next day, but was expected to get up and do my chores. The grace of God helped me do it.
We used a lot of bleach. The walls, floors, beds, etc. were regularly washed down with bleach. I am not sure if this was a health thing or just a way to give the girls more work.
We were not supposed to ask the girls anything about their home life or where they lived. I never understood why until later. If we did not know where a girl lived, we could not contact her and ask her to share her experiences at HH. This was before the day of the web which made the world a lot smaller and information a lot easier to find.
I do remember there were certain girls who were not allowed to talk to other girls. Most of the time, the junior workers would not find out why girls were punished. We were no more trusted than the girls. I always felt very sorry for the girls who seemed to receive punishment for no or very little reason.
The girls were very sweet. A lot of them would write me notes to thank me for being there or for doing something special for them. I was told to give these notes to the Williams’ before leaving HH. I didn’t. They are in my scrapbook. Those letters were written to me and I did not think anyone had the right to take them from me.
When I look back to that summer, I can still feel the oppression. I can feel what it was like for every move and word to be watched. To know that nothing I did could ever be good enough. I would never, ever recommend anyone going to HH as a worker. I would definitely ask a parent to NEVER, EVER send their child to HH.