A handy guide to ‘tough love’ teen reform homes

A handy guide to ‘tough love’ teen reform homes January 27, 2014

I spent some of 2013 collecting information about ‘troubled teen’ reform homes. These are usually compounds surrounded by barbed wire, where at-risk teens are sent ostensibly for a godly education. They have always been surrounded by shocking allegations of abuse and torture.

Many of them use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. Those are the ones I’ve come across in the course of my other research, so they’re the ones I’m writing about here, but they are by no means the only ones. My emphasis on ACE is not meant to imply that they are the worst or that the others are less important. If anyone has information on the others or can share a survivor story, I will gladly post it here.

In meantime, here’s a compilation of my findings so far. I trust this will be a useful resource for people seeking to raise awareness about these places or to get justice for the survivors.

There is more information online about troubled teen reform homes than I thought. These repugnant centres of abuse and torture have actually received a reasonable amount of coverage. In a sense, that’s a good thing, but it’s also worrying, because this huge amount of coverage hasn’t made much difference. These places still exist, and in some US states they can do so with no meaningful regulation. Some Americans think this is a good thing, thanks to some poisonous definition of liberty which includes “the freedom to abuse children in secret”. Because of statutes of limitations, in some cases victims of these places no longer have the possibility of seeking justice. So while abusers have no regulation whatsoever, their victims are restricted by the state.

So here’s a guide to some of the main culprits: Who they are, where they are, and what they’ve been accused of doing. Be warned, the list includes all kinds of vile abuse, cruel and unusual punishment, and rape. You’ll also see they almost all use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. And why not? It’s so beautifully conducive to abuse, by simultaneously promoting total obedience to authority and unquestioning acceptance.

This is a work in progress. If you know of other homes or other allegations, please add them in the comments or by email.

Rebekah Home for Girls/ Anchor Home for Boys 

The originals, founded by Lester Roloff in Corpus Christi, Texas. Roloff was an early adopter of Accelerated Christian Education. You can see him and one of his staff talking about ACE in this documentary. They were the model for all the other schools. Fornits lists eight Roloff group homes.

From Roloff’s obituary:

Mr. Roloff’s troubles with the Texas authorities began in 1973 over three homes housing 180 girls and 100 boys. It was charged that teenagers, most of them sent away by parents, were being beaten and underfed.

Most of the accusations centered on the Rebekah Home, where, it was charged, girls were fed inadequately and punished with denial of meals, lashings and solitary confinement.

Mr. Roloff, who consistently denied most of the charges, conceded that girls had been paddled and whipped for misbehavior. He asserted that such discipline was meant to save their souls. ”My old daddy spanked me, and some of these girls have to be spanked, too,” he said.

State officials insisted that he obtain licenses for his homes and observe state standards. Mr. Roloff countered that the licenses were ”Communistic” and violated religious freedom.

After years of wrangling, Mr. Roloff lost his final appeal to the Supreme Court in 1978 and, in June 1979, state officials, armed with court orders and backed by troopers, moved in to shut the Rebekah Home.

Thousands of supporters, led by ministers from around the country, formed a barrier around the People’s Church, with 200 children inside.

The other thing all these places have in common is that they operate without state regulation – and have fought tooth and claw to keep it that way. Fornits wiki lists 31 “independent Roloff-based facilities“, which may or may not have official ties to Roloff but appear to operate on the same principles.

Allegations:

News stories:

Survivors: http://rebekahhomevictims.myfreeforum.org/

New Bethany compound

New Bethany Homes

A compound surrounded by 10-foot chain-link fences topped with barbed wire.

Founder: Mack Ford

Connection to Lester Roloff: Ford is a former employee of Roloff

Used ACE: Yes

Locations: Longstreet, Louisiana; Arcadia, Louisiana; Walterboro, South Carolina

Status: Longstreet and Walterboro closed 1981 and 1984 respectively. Arcadia reopened in 1998; some claim girls still attended until 2004.

Allegations:

  • Accusations of rape by Mack Ford over four decades
  • Horrific beatings (one girl says she received 147 licks)
  • Police report found a boy locked overnight in a cell with no bed or pillow.
  • Beatings sometimes involved a PVC pipe
  • Staff members Olin King, Robert King, and Richard Davis were charged with child neglect
  • Children were placed in handcuffs
  • Girls “forced, after lights out, to stand in the hallway on her tip toes with eggs or tomatoes under her heels. If she slipped and squished one, she’d get a whipping”

Survivor stories: There is a book of New Bethany survivor stories floating around, but I am not linking to it here out of respect for one of the contributors, who told me her first draft was included without her permission. You can read Cat Givens’ survivor story, and I will happily post others on the blog if any survivors get in touch.

News stories: 

Victory Christian Academy

Founder: Mike Palmer

Location: Ramona, California; later Jay, Florida because Palmer refused to comply with California licensing laws

Used ACE: Yes

Still operational: No, became Lighthouse, Florida

Affiliated with Roloff: Yes, Palmer “an associate”:

Michele Ulriksen, a former student at Victory Christian Academy in Ramona, Calif., said Roloff was praised as a hero there. Michael Palmer who operated Victory, kept a framed photo of Roloff at Victory and spoke of him often, she said.

Allegations:

  • Rape
  • Girl dragged around by her hair
  • Girl strapped to her bed at night
  • Five girls ordered to sit on another girl
  • Beatings
  • Writing out “hundreds of lines” from Genesis as punishment
  • All communication with the outside world censored (link is to script from 2004 WearTV/ ABC documentary)
  • New arrivals banned from speaking or looking at most other students
  • The “Get Right Room” used for solitary confinement for “hours, even weeks
  • “17-year-old Melanie Silveria said she was beaten, tied up, and ridiculed while she was there.”
  • Bellying down” (in which girls who seem to be resisting Jesus are wrestled to the ground and held there)
  • Being made to write thousands of times phrases such as “I will open my heart to Jesus.”
  • Palmer refused to allow a concerned friend to visit a student, or deliver cards and letters from well-wishing friends

Survivors: Broken Pieces of Victory

Book: Michele Ulriksen’s memoir, Reform at Victory is sadly out of print, but a Kindle version is in the works and the website is still worth checking out; it has free chapter previews and survivor stories from other students.

Hephzibah House

Description: “The backyard at this facility was completely fenced in to keep the girls contained.  In approximately 1989, a 2 foot extension was added to the top of the already 8 foot high fence.  This was done after another girl tried to run away.  In addition, when the girls were taken to school or church, the entire walk there was within the fenced in area.  There were also male staff members who “guarded” the gates and doorways when the girls were going from one building to another.

Location: Winona Lake, Indiana

Founder: Ronald E. Williams

Connection to Roloff: Pictures of Roloff at HH, according to one former detainee, and his sermons played frequently; some reports Williams is a former student and employee of Roloff.

Websitehttp://www.hephzibahhouse.org

Uses ACE: Yes

Active: Yes

Allegations: Extensive allegations on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360:

  • Student says she was restrained by staff while being spanked
  • Student says she was restrained by staff while naked, and a man in a closet violated her with a speculum; staff say this was a medical examination.
  • Force feeding or drinking
  • Being denied food
  • Being denied access to the toilet except at specific times; one student says she wet the bed every night, she was made to wear diapers, and show this to staff.
  • 28 girls forced to share 3 bedrooms
  • Don Williams’ sermons included victim blaming, accusing women of causing male lust
  • Students can never leave the grounds, make private phone calls, or send uncensored letters
  • Bowel and bladder torture.” The girls were given bran, made to drink lots of water at breakfast, and then denied bathroom access until lunchtime

Survivors: Former Hephzibah Girls

Lighthouse of NW Florida

Used ACE: Yes

Websitehttp://www.lighthouseofnwflorida.com/

Status: Closed 2013, following extensive coverage of abuse in Tampa Bay Times

Allegations:

  • alcohol exposed child
  • asphyxiation
  • beatings
  • bizarre punishment
  • bone fracture
  • bruises/welts
  • burns
  • cuts/punctures/bites
  • deadly weapon injury
  • dislocation
  • environmental hazards
  • excessive corporal punishment
  • extended solitary confinement
  • students made to hold down other students

Bethel Children’s Home

Location: Lucedale, Mississippi

Founder: Herman Fountain

Relation to Lester Roloff: Fountain is a “former protégé

Used ACE: Yes

Status: Shut down by state officials in 2005

AllegationsFrom the Houston Chronicle, 23 October 1988

  • 35 children forcibly removed from the home by the state in 1980
  • Girls pitted in boxing matches against each other
  • Principal spat in a girl’s face
  • School buildings built by forced labour of teenage boys
  • The “black room.” An unlighted storage closet in which children were locked for disobedience.
  • The “cooler.” A bare room with an uncovered light bulb in which children were held for weeks at a time and forced to listen to the continuous droning of sermons by Roloff.
  • “Pops.” The floggings administered by Fountain and his staff, leaving welts and open wounds on the legs and buttocks.
  • “Nigger piles.” Bethel’s term for the practice of having a group of boys pile on one other boy and pummel him.
  • Being forced to eat vomit 
  • Electric shocks
  • Denial of medical care
  • Whippings that “left not only bruises, but scars for life

More information: Bethel Baptist Home

Survivor stories: http://www.heal-online.org/bethel.htm

Thanks to Calvary Baptist Church and Boarding Academy 

Location: Waynesville, MO

Founder: Nathan Day

Links to Roloff: Reportedly, the school displayed a picture of Roloff

Closed: 2004, after Day was charged with four counts of felony child abuse

Used ACE: Unknown – reports do not mention curriculum

Allegations:

  • Day tied a student to an all-terrain vehicle and made him run behind it.
  • Student was hospitalised in a catatonic state after beating
  • This student “will need treatment for the rest of his life” said his attorney
  • Students put in “Bible dormitory” where lights stay on around the clock
  • Students forced to dig a hole with a teaspoon

Reclamation Ranch (boys)/ Rachel Academy for Girls

Location: Empire, Alabama

Founder: “Dr” Jack Patterson, was due to be tried for aggravated child abuse in 2010, but walked with a plea bargain (harassment) after police mishandled evidence.

Use ACE: Yes

Link to Roloff: Patterson a former employee of Roloff at Lighthouse for Boys

Status: Reclamation Ranch closed following police raid in 2008; Rachel Academy uncertain (active in March 2010)

Allegations: 

New Beginnings Girls Academy 

Roloff’s original Rebekah Home eventually morphed into NBGA, which still exists.

Location: At various times, Corpus Christi, Texas; La Russell, Missouri; Pace, Florida; Devil’s Elbow, Missouri

Founders: Wiley and Faye Cameron. Later run by Bill McNamara

Websitehttp://www.nbministriesmo.com

Active: Yes

Uses ACE: Yes

Connection to Roloff: Founded by Roloff as Rebekah Home. Camerons worked with Roloff at Rebekah, as did Bill McNamara.

Allegations: From Stop NBGA’s survivor stories page:

  • Girls called “whores” and “sluts” by staff
  • Girls made to stand with their nose touching the edge of their bunk beds, in darkness, for two hours after lights out
  • Girls who attempted to escape were sat on by other girls
  • Gay students called faggots; told they were going to hell
  • Medical neglect; students denied access to proper care when sick or injured
  • Children made to do hard labour
  • Whippings; girls restrained while being beaten
  • Forced feeding
  • Stress positions; being forced to hold arms in the air “for hours at a time”
  • Forced exercise, “squats for hours at a time”
  • Student told by principal that she “smelled like masturbation”
  • Girl told that her grandfather would die of cancer because of her

Survivor Stories:

Dear Accelerated Christian Education:

WHAT IS IT ABOUT YOUR CURRICULUM WHICH IS SO APPEALING TO CULTISTS AND CHILD ABUSERS?

WHY AREN’T YOU DOING SOMETHING ABOUT THIS?

Dear anyone who doesn’t believe these allegations…

So you think all the survivors are lying? It’s just a coincidence that the allegations overlap so much, even between students in different states and different decades? You think the fact that all these schools share their DNA with Roloff Homes and ACE is a coincidence? You think that magically survivor groups have popped up on Yahoo and Facebook for ex-detainees to discuss the abuse they experienced, and it’s all fabricated?

Even if you only accept the brute, undeniable facts (the compounds were surrounded by barbed wire, teens couldn’t leave, corporal punishment took place), you’re still left with a tale of abuse.

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