Kathryn Joyce notes: "Girls locked up inside fundamentalist religious compounds. Kandahar? No, Missouri."
When we hear the conservative outcry against public education, remember that this is what they seek to install in its place:
New Beginnings describes itself as a character-building facility for "troubled teens," and what Jeannie Marie heard in church that day was that this might be a place for her daughter to heal. While jogging earlier that year, the 17-year-old (whom I'll call Roxy) had been pulled into a vehicle and assaulted by a group of men. Since then, she had begun acting up at home, as well as sneaking out and drinking. Two weeks after seeing the girls in church, Jeannie Marie and her husband left Roxy in McNamara's care with the promise that she would receive counseling twice a week and stay at New Beginnings no longer than two months. "It sounded like a discipleship program," Jeannie Marie recalls. "A safe place where a daughter can go to have time alone to find God and her direction."
Instead, Roxy found herself on the receiving end of brutal punishments. A soft-spoken young woman, blonde and blue-eyed with a bright smile, Roxy confided to me that she found it easier to discuss her ordeal with a stranger than with the people closest to her. She told me how, in her first weeks at the academy's Missouri compound—a summer-camp setup in remote La Russell, population 145—she and other girls snuck letters to their parents between the pages of hymnals in a local church they attended, along with entreaties to congregants to mail them. When another girl snitched, Roxy said, McNamara locked some girls in makeshift isolation cells, tiled closets without furniture or windows. Roxy got "the redshirt treatment": For a solid week, 10 hours a day, she had to stand facing a wall, with breaks only for worship or twice-daily bathroom trips.
She was monitored day and night by two "buddies," girls who'd been there awhile and knew the drill. They accompanied her to the shower and toilet, and introduced her to a life of communal isolation and rigid discipline. Girls were not allowed to converse except from 6 to 9 p.m. each Friday. They were not allowed contact with their families during their first month, or with anyone else for six months. By that time, Roxy said, most girls are "broken," having been told that their families have abandoned them, and that the world outside is a sinful, dangerous place where girls who leave are murdered or raped.
The girls' behavior was micromanaged down to the number of squares of toilet paper each was allowed; potential infractions ranged from making eye contact with another girl to not finishing a meal. Roxy, who suffered from urinary tract infections and menstrual complications, told me she was frequently put on redshirt, sometimes dripping blood as she stood. She was also punished with cold showers, she said, and endless sets of calisthenics after meals.
Joyce interviewed Jeannie Marie, a mother, and Roxy, her daughter, about the family's ordeal with New Beginnings. In addition to enhanced punishment techniques, and ignoring medical needs, the organization also apparently attempted to brainwash the children.
... Jeannie Marie traveled to La Russell with a friend who'd heard about places like New Beginnings—sketchy teen homes drawn by Missouri's laissez-faire policy toward faith-based residential facilities. Authorities in the state are barred from inspecting the homes or even keeping track of them. (New Beginnings has operated under multiple names in Florida, Mississippi, and Texas.) "It's hard to understand it, but faith-based is just taboo for regulation," says Matthew Franck, an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who authored an investigative series on the state's homes in the mid-2000s. "It took decades of work to get just the most minimal standards of regulation at faith-based child-care centers," he adds. "I just knew that when certain lobbyists would stand up to say, 'We have a concern about how this affects faith-based institutions,' the bill was immediately amended—it was a very Republican legislature—or it would immediately die. That's still true." (Missouri isn't alone. In April, Montana state Rep. Christy Clark, who campaigned on a "faith and family" platform, joined 11 other Republicans in scuttling a bill that would have regulated religious teen homes; a mother of three, she cast the homes' residents as unreliable witnesses who "struggle with truthfulness.")
When Jeannie Marie arrived at New Beginnings, she had a tense conversation with the school counselor, who insisted that Roxy wanted to stay. She extracted her daughter nonetheless. The school's effects on Roxy were striking, Jeannie Marie told me. When they stopped at a restaurant on the way home, she robotically asked for permission to speak or to use the bathroom. After months of punitive mealtimes, including five-minute "force feeding" sessions for girls on redshirt, she wolfed her food. Back in Maryland, she showed signs of an eating disorder, self-destructive behavior, and severe depression. "I was only there for three months," Roxy said, "but because we weren't allowed to keep track of time, it felt like six."
Desperate for a way out, she'd attempted suicide—many of the girls did, she added nonchalantly, if only for the chance to get taken to a hospital and beg for outside help. "They take away any feeling that you are capable of doing anything outside the home," she said. "You have this sense of total isolation: There's no way out of it, you're there for the rest of your life."
(Boldface accent added)
This is what they want. This is what Republicans mean when they protect "faith based" institutions. This is why conservatives complain that states are "indoctrinating" children in public schools: Because in public schools, you cannot torture children.
This is how conservatives intend to make America healthy again.
• "They take away any feeling that you are capable of doing anything outside the home." (Roxy)
• "It was basically like in the military, where they do a 'blanket party,' throwing a blanket over your head, and your teammates beat the crap out of you to make you get back in line." (Lenee Rider, on "big sister treatment")
• Karen Glover, a Navy veteran who attended Indiana's Roloff-inspired Hephzibah House as a girl, described what she calls "the bowel and bladder torture." The girls were given bran, made to drink lots of water at breakfast, and then denied bathroom access until lunchtime. There was no apparent reason for this treatment, Glover says, save reminding the girls who was in charge.
• "Larry had a room that used to be a storage place that was six by eight, or eight by eight, that he called 'solitary confinement'." (Dee Rapier, on "revival rooms")
One man who endured a New Bethany re-education in Longstreet, Louisiana in the 1980s, recalled an administrator, Larry Rapier, punching a ten year-old boy in the mouth for the crime of wetting his pants. The man's younger brother was also sent to the school, and only after reports surfaced of chain gangs of young boys doing forced labor under the watchful eye and violent hand of guards armed with lengths of pipe did the police investigate. When the raid finally came, the younger brother was discovered stripped to his underwear, bound, and locked in a confinement cell.
"I abhorred the fact," said former sheriff's deputy Emory Rush, "that they would do children like they were doing them."
And yet, schools like this continue to reopen, because if we stepped in to stop the Christian torture of children, we would do wrong to faith-based institutions and religious freedom. Or so the argument goes.
Remember this the next time Rick Santorum tells you about the evils of preschool, or Michele Bachmann tries to convince you that public education will lead to a new Holocaust.
This is what they want instead.
Joyce, Kathryn. "Horror Stories From Tough-Love Teen Homes". Mother Jones. July/August 2011. MotherJones.com. August 17, 2011. http://motherjones.com/politics/2011...s-abuse?page=1