Hephzibah House Journal

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Esther

I was barely 14 years old in July of 1998 when I was sentenced to 15 months at a “boarding school for troubled girls” called Hephzibah House.  There was no judge, no jury; it wasn’t that kind of sentence, but a sentence nonetheless.  I was found guilty and sentenced without a trial; my authoritarian parents and their pastor were the judges without me ever pleading my case or even aware that I was on trial.  I served 8 months of my sentence, but those 8 months were detrimental to my mental and physical health.  I knew then and still know now that a state run juvenile detention center would have been more kind and at least there I would have been guilty of actually doing something wrong. 
My parents are die hard conservative, Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB), they believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen –barefoot and pregnant preferred, that a woman’s highest calling is a missionary wife or pastor’s wife, and that breaking a child’s will and spirit is incredibly vital to saving her soul. I was raised where the length of my skirt determined my worth, except I was already being molested despite the length of my skirt, the lack of makeup, my hair as my “head covering”.  My mother was physically and emotionally abusive to me and several of my siblings, although she called that “spanking” and “discipline.”  After several altercations with my mother, I ran away for the night but went to the private church school we attended the next day.  I stayed at my brother’s home for a few days on another occasion, but went back home determined to get along with my mother.  I was back home about a day when she said we were headed to the zoo, so my brother and I got up early the next morning and went with our parents. I woke up in the car at a house. My parents said something about us visiting this Hephzibah House and to come in.  I had to use the bathroom so was willing.  We were ushered into a conference room of sorts and sat at the table. A man stood behind me.  A big man was talking to my parents as they were looking at papers.  I don’t remember much of that initial meeting other than the big man (Mr. R) and the demonstration of how they “spank” which included lying down on the floor with chairs over the shoulder area/ legs, and the paddle.  There were women in the room as well, although I don’t recall who.  I refused to leave the room with them and a man grabbed me and forcibly took me downstairs.  I kicked and screamed, but it was no use.  I was taken down the hall to the shower/bathroom and was told to strip and shower.  I did. I sobbed in that shower.  I couldn’t understand how my parents could do this to me, how they could just leave me there. All my clothing was taken from me and replaced with an itchy shirt and jumper: the uniform.  
Time no longer existed there, I wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone except staff, I wasn’t allowed to make eye contact with anyone except staff.  I was completely silenced.  I begged God in that triple bunk at night, crying silently to take my life or save me or something.  Even God was silent. Psychological abuse in the worst way.  In the entirety of my stay at HH, I spoke to 3 girls, but only ever in the presence of staff.
 I was forced to drink astronomical amounts of water, and even the half portion of food which I was given the first couple days was too much. I had read the rule book (required reading) and thoroughly understood what would happen if I didn’t eat my food: demerits and the food saved until the next meal where both portions would be required.   I gained over 20 pounds, and was then overweight.
Within a few days of my arrival, I was given a vaginal exam in a hall closet room across from the bathroom, the same room we would call our parents and pastor in the future for our monthly 10 minute phone call home.  I don’t recall much of that either, other than a big woman telling me to lie down and take off my underwear.  I guess I did what she said because I recall a man looking briefly at my face and without a word touching my vaginal area.  I dissociated in that moment, but the cold (real or imagined?) seeped through the back of my dress from the exam table/ bed thing.  Even there, my innermost parts weren’t protected, only they called it a “medical exam”.   To me then and now, I was raped. I only recall my period a couple times there, but I wasn’t regular before getting there.  I recall having to ask for pads and trying to make sure I didn’t ruin my underwear because staff would have made my life hell for that. I have spent my life with documented reproductive issues.
 We were allowed to go to the bathroom about 4x a day, scheduled times, and one scheduled break at night.  Holding my bladder was worse than the abusive silent treatment.   Holding my bladder was torture.  It would have been torture without the added problems from UTIs,  I was given more water and cranberry juice to cure the UTIs, a problem compounded.  I’ve spent my life battling UTIs since then.  Had I wet myself, I would have had to wear adult diapers, shamed, and shunned even more than I already was.  There was a gal who came after me that couldn’t hold her bladder.  She was forced to wear diapers, show them to staff, strip her bed daily, shamed at every turn.  She tried to hold onto her dignity but every bit of it was stripped from her, just like her underwear.
Our bowels were recorded on a chart in the hall way. All of our bowel movements.  If you didn’t mark you bowel movements, you received demerits or it was assumed you were constipated and were forced to drink Metamucil with extra water.  Of course, then you weren’t allowed to use the commode outside of the scheduled bathroom breaks.  I spent most of my stay there constipated, but there was no way I was telling them that, I lied on the chart.  Digestive issues is yet another lifelong complication.
Showers were 3 minutes, timed.  I was allowed to shower on Thursdays and Sundays due to my greasy hair, thankfully; but most girls were not allowed to shower on church days unless they were on their period.  
I went to the doctor two times if I remember correctly, and was on crutches for much of my stay there because scrubbing the brick floor on my knees caused swelling in my knees.  I was given a gardeners knee pad so I could keep scrubbing the floors, despite the pain, fluid on the knees, and necessity of crutches.
The indoctrination and propaganda was everywhere.  We read the bible, wrote the bible, listened to the bible, day and night.  Our punishment for too many demerits was writing the Bible –“sentences”. Hundreds and hundreds of bible verses written over and over and over. I became numb, regurgitating their own words, trying hard to be good enough for them and maybe even for God.  I may never recover from the spiritual abuse.
Mr. R’s granddaughter received free violin lessons from me, at the expense of my education.  They took from me anything they could, especially my talents.  I loved to write and had started a novel but they forbid me from writing.  I continued to play my violin and write after HH, but so much of my joy in it was lost.  I laid down my violin for the last time a few years ago.
I always like to see the silver lining in everything, to find the joy that no one can steal from me; but I cannot think of one good thing that came out of Hephzibah House for me. I already knew the Bible, knew that I wanted to question my parents cultish IFB doctrine, knew that women are meant for more –that no one’s genitalia defines them, had a strong work ethic, was kind and compassionate, had clear goals for my life and my education, including writing and music.  All of that was derailed by Hephzibah House.  My education suffered greatly, my self-worth was destroyed, my life was hopeless, my physical health suffered exponentially.  
Thankfully, after months of dreaming of death, I got sick and they sent me home. The nightmares never went away though.  Even after all these years, my parents still get to abandon and imprison me in my dreams.

3 comments:

  1. Words are insufficient to express the sorrow that I share with you, at your mistreatment. My heartfelt sentiment of wishing you well, probably does nothing to actually help you, but I offer it all the same.

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  2. This is heart wrenching. I am so sorry for what you went through. This is NOT God’s love. You are precious and beautiful, should never have been treated this way.

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  3. Beautiful and encouraging comments! Thank you Sherry and Julia. It is a terrifying thing for these women to put their story here with their name. They are often shunned and shamed and harassed. Thank you.

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