Hephzibah House Journal

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

Saturday, January 27, 2018


“Another condition of the promise Solomon develops in this passage is that correction must be consistent and repetitive. The verb for “beat” that he uses in this verse is not a one-time action. The verb calls for ongoing activity of beating.”

Ron Williams,   “The Correction and Salvation of Children”

I lay on my back on the thin mattress and look at the  metal springs and the sagging mattress of the bunk above me.  I am so tired,  my eyes are heavy.  My body jerks as the muscles uncoil from a day of intense labor.   My rough, calloused hands catch on the knit quilt as I pull the blanket up to my chin.  I tuck my arms in tightly to my chest,   a primordial attempt to find solace and comfort in my own embrace.  
it is 9:00 pm and the lights are out.  26 teenage girls lay  in utter stillness as the light of day fades and the shadows stretch across the crowded room.  You can cut the tension in the room.  There is not one soul sleeping.  Not one giggle,  not one snore,  not one yawn.  
The intercom crackles to life and the sound sends shivers up my spine.
“Lynn,  come to the blue room”
I catch my breath as the bed begins to shake gently.  A ghostly , bony leg dangles over the edge of the bed,  then another.  Tiny Lynn hovers for a moment as she slips the bathrobe at the end of her bed over her slight shoulders,  then slides to the floor.  Silently she pads to the doorway and heads downstairs.  In the shadows she looks ethereal. The last light of day lays a path before her on the scrubbed hardwood.  Her long gown trailing on the floor beneath her thick robe.  Her face down as always,  her shoulders slumped.    
“Hurry up Lynn”  Miss Diana chides from the bottom of the stairs.
I listen  as she descends the stairs.  She reaches the bottom and I hear a door shut.  Waiting is agony,  I carefully comb over every detail of the day trying to predict whether I would be called down next.  It was useless,  punishment at Hephzibah house was so arbitrary.   
 Several minutes pass and then I hear the blows.  powerful thuds that seem to shake the whole house.  .  
I count.  One,  two,  three, four. 
Four isn’t so bad,  I realize I was holding my breath and gritting my teeth.  Five,  six, seven.  
Poor Lynn,  she was only 12 and so frail  her  shoulders stuck out from her hunched shoulders like a little baby bird.  Her long, thick,  dark hair seemed decadent and out of place as it hung over her thin, pale face. 
 Lynn rarely did her work quick enough or perfectly enough to get dinner.  Most mornings she had wet her bed and had to strip her sheets,  get them in the wash and wash her plastic mattress and get a paddling before breakfast.  She often missed breakfast.  Lynn did not shower properly and staff would shove her back into the shower and scrub her pink while shouting how she was lazy and filthy and disgusting.  Lynn could not seem to memorize her daily Scripture passages.  These passages cumulated each day,  each week,  each month and had to be repeated back to staff every Wednesday.  It took the entire day to test every girl’s massive amount of Scripture memory.  Lynn failed every week getting more and more and more behind each week.  Lynn, of course, was paddled for that.  Lynn was also paddled every night for various other infractions.  As bad as Hephzibah house was for me,  I was fully aware that Lynn was singled out for more vengeful treatment.  I wondered what she had done to be sent here.  What could a 12 year old possibly do to deserve this horrible sentence?   I had never seen someone as thin as Lynn.  I flinched as I thought of that paddle hitting her small body as I counted more blows.    Eight,  Nine.  
Finally it stopped.  
I listened as Lynn shuffled up the stairs slowly,  I imagined her pain as she gingerly lifted each leg up those stairs,  careful to not jiggle her wounded flesh.  She moved into the now dark room and I felt the gentle sway of the bed as she climbed back into her bunk.  Soon the bed was shaking with her silent sobs.  Her breathing was labored as she tried to stifle her sorrow in her pillow.  I longed to climb up into her bed and hold her and smooth her hair away from her eyes,  to wipe her tears and tell her it would be alright.    I was so cowardly,  I did not dare move.  I longed to speak to her, to look into her eyes,  I imagined that they would be deep and soulful.  Did not suffering deepen and refine us?
The intercom cracked,  “Sara,  come to the blue room”  
From across the room Sara’s dark form rose and padded toward the door.  

The next morning,  I took a chance and looked up into Liz’s eyes as  she climbed out of bed in the morning.  Her eyes were dark and vacant.   
I shivered. 

Had she come to Hephzibah house like this or had Hephzibah house done this to her?  
A few days later Liz disappeared.  
Miss Diana took pleasure in telling us that she had been taken to a mental institute.
“That is where you are all headed if you don’t get your heart right with God.” 

Somehow that seemed perfectly plausible.

~ excerpt from Susan Grotte's journal  


  1. Susan I see your still at it - fairytale and lies - you speak with some truth with 90% lies which makes you a liar!

  2. Hello Lucinda, It has been awhile. Truth has a funny way of coming out with time. I stand by my words, the documents and other witnesses support my statements. Please know that you are loved here Lucinda, but please be kind.

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