My name is Kirsten. I had just turned 17 when I came to the Community in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in early March 1976. As a youth I had lived a pretty wild life, and had left my parents’ home in California as a runaway four or five weeks before I came to the Community. I was a desperate, rebellious teenager looking for the answers to life. I hated my parents’ comfortable Christian religion and lifestyle. Their outlook on life seemed so shallow and dissatisfying. My mother especially was miserable, and that was proof enough for me. Anyway, I had no appeal for a dead, phony, empty religion that couldn’t tell me why. Though I had gone through a boring and frustrating year of Catechism, I still didn’t have any answers. Coming from a somewhat sheltered childhood, I was beginning to realize that there was a lot of pain in life, and I wanted some real answers.
I was bitter towards my father because I felt cheated by him. He had owned a sound company since about 1945, and it was in the late 60s and 70s when he made it “big” you could say. He and the young men who worked for him — “his boys,” as he would call them — set up the P.A. systems for a lot of the rock-and-roll groups that were just getting started at that time: Joan Baez; Peter, Paul & Mary; Simon & Garfunkel; Bob Dylan; Judy Collins; Jimmy Hendricks; Janis Joplin; The Mamas and Papas; Jefferson Airplane (before they became the Starship); the Grateful Dead; James Taylor; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; The Who, and many other groups and festivals I wasn’t aware that he did. I remember seeing in his office some big black-and-white blow-ups of the Monterey Pop Festival that he did in the early ‘70s. For a time he did the sound almost weekly for the Filmore West and Winterland in San Francisco, and quite often Filmore East and countless other places across the US, until Bill Graham, his Jewish competitor, began to take his business away for reasons of which I won’t go into right now. But during my growing-up years he was totally consumed with his business and was gone a lot of the time. Yet all along it seemed he was careful to never really let his children know too much of what his business was all about. In fact he hardly ever talked about it.
So coming into the frustrating emotional years of youth totally overwhelmed and unprepared to deal with life, I began to discover some thrilling satisfaction and release in drugs and rock-and-roll. Growing up in a permissive home, little restraint and internal control was put into me as a young child. Thus, as I grew older, I was easily taken in by peer pressure and other influences around me, and swept away with the spirit of the times, nothing holding me back from the rebellion that was in me. I was fed up with seemingly pointless and empty rules and regulations. I think my mother, seeing the reality of where her children were at, made some sort of a last-ditch attempt to bring us under control, taking it to the extreme. But when you are 12 or 13, it’s a little too late, and so her efforts only drove us further apart from her. There was no hope of understanding each other anymore. Reality was that she had lost us.
I remember hitch-hiking to San Francisco to a concert in Candlestick Park one weekend and having the revelation that this was our religion. Being there, I felt the closest to life and what it was all about; yet we all went home afterward, just as you do when you go to church. That was really hard. I remember seeing my dad’s truck there, and with a twinge of pain realized more what his business was all about.
Some of my earliest childhood memories were going to folk festivals where my father was doing the sound. These were fond memories for me, but then, as folk turned to rock-and-roll, my father began to hide his business with the music of the times. He sheltered me from this part of America’s history. I could have had a front-row seat, but he kept me and my brothers and my sister hidden away from that whole scene and what was going on in Berkeley and Haight-Ashbury at that time.
I’ll never forget standing in the sun on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley one day, with all the street merchants, filled up with the hope that something new could start, something from the heart, motivated by the desire for freedom, love, and peace. Beautiful people were everywhere. My heart full of excitement, I started talking with an old hippie about my hope and vision for life. Burnt out and tired, I remember he just looked at me with compassion and said, “Hey, babe, you’re about ten years too late.” I stood there stunned. His words devastated me. I seemed like one untimely born.
As time passed, I seemed to become aware of so many things, some of which totally overwhelmed me. I became even more resentful towards my father who I felt had taken away from me the opportunity of a lifetime of growing up in the laps of those who were my only heroes. They were my heroes because they were people who were more real than anybody else. And somehow I felt that in his heart he knew they were real. But being real many times leaves people pretty hopeless, because the reality is that there isn’t any hope in the world. That’s why Jimmy Hendricks and Janis were dead. But I would rather listen to the prophets of rock-and-roll, who really expressed what was going on in the heart of the American people, than to the shallow, superficial answers of those who have silenced their inner voice, distracted with such things as tennis and church and weekend country clubs, content to avoid the real issues of life.
How could you live with yourself if you didn’t know why you were created, where you were coming from, and where you were going? Nothing seemed to make sense to me anymore. Spellbound by the early morning sun glistening off the wet leaves like millions of diamonds, I so often had the sense that life was so precious, and yet how could it be so pointless? In my deepest depression I was often revived and comforted with the words from The Who, “We’re not gonna take it, never did, and never will!” I hated so much the pressure that I felt upon me to just give in and go to school, get a good-paying job, get married, have children, get a nice, little house in suburbia, and then you will be happy, having achieved the so-called ultimate in life. It terrified me and made me almost crazy inside. I was filled with so much anger and violence. There had to be something more! If not, I would rather be dead. Janis was right, there was nothing left to lose.
In my sixteenth year, my mother, out of sheer frustration, gave my aunt custody of me. While I was living with her, my father threw a big party in San Francisco at the Hyatt Regency for his “his boys.” My sister said she was shocked when she saw him toking on a joint that was being passed around. It was obvious that he loved “his boys” — he was having a great time. Hearing this was really hard for me. Again, I felt so cheated, so bitter, because he enjoyed what he wouldn’t let me in on. It was obvious that the life he was pretending to live and pushing on me had no satisfaction for him either. But the poor guy had no real answers either.
And so ... I liked hanging out with people who couldn’t deal with life, because I couldn’t either. The thrill of rebellion against a system my parents supported was getting me in a lot of trouble, though. I was in juvenile hall about five or six times during my 15th and 16th years. Most of the time it was for being out of control, a runaway, and once for possession of alcohol. I was glad they never caught me for the more serious things I was doing. The last time I was in was for about a month. I turned 17 while I was there.
During that time I also remember going to court with my mother — my heart was miles and miles away from hers. The verdict was that I was made a ward of the court until I was 18, and would be on probation until I was 21. When I was in jail this time I somehow felt so very tired and hopeless. I was at the point that I didn’t even want to get out anymore. Maybe it was the best place for me. People who were just like me were there — losers. At least we could relate to each other. Then I got a hold of a couple of books — One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest, and The Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test. A new surge for freedom began to fill me. My mother was the perfect picture of Nurse Rachet, and all I wanted to do was get out from under her thumb.
After many attempts of negotiating with my probation officer, I was released after finally consenting to the many rules and regulations that my mother had for me. When I was released I also understood that being a ward of the court meant that at any time my mother could call the police to have me picked up, with no explanation needed, since at that point I had been in “Juvy” so many times, was hopelessly rebellious, violent, and out of control. I think my parents were actually somewhat afraid of me. I remember my father threatening to have me put into a mental institution. Anyway, in this state I just knew I wouldn’t endure long, so I packed my bags and kept them in the basement, ready to run at any moment.
A week or two later, my mom called the police on me over a cigarette, so I made a run for it with my younger brother, Peter, who got into trouble for trying to defend me. We stayed two or three weeks in a meadow on the edge of some woods. My brother and I had always been pretty close, but here we came to know and depend on each other even more. We were both so desperate and lost that we couldn’t help but cling to one another in the cold winter rain. He was pretty shaken up after just getting back from visiting my twin sister Johanna in L.A. for a few weeks.
Johanna had left home a few months before I did, and was now living in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard with her boyfriend. She had met him when she was about 14 and he was about 24. He was her first sweetheart. She and I used to share a paper route — she did it one day and I the next — and he would come by on his motorcycle and sweep us off our feet, depending on who was doing the paper route that particular day. Neither of us had ever had a boyfriend, much less ever ridden on the back on a motorcycle before, especially hanging onto some guy like this. His skin was so brown from the hot summer sun. He was one of those really handsome guys, even without his sunglasses on. The attention he gave us was completely irresistible.
But soon it became apparent to me that Johanna was his girl. He preferred her and soon they fell madly in love with one another. I tried to act as if it didn’t affect me, but actually inside it hurt a lot, so much that I couldn’t really deal with it, and so when I was 15 I ran away to Santa Barbara, mainly to just get away from him. “Silver threats and golden needles can’t mend this heart of mine...” He often listened to Ronsted.
Anyway this man, Pat, had a great influence, not only on my sister and me, but on my brothers as well. Life was so exciting with him. He was the one who really turned us on to sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. He had a van, and sometimes we would go with him to Berkeley or San Francisco, music blasting out of the window, playing my theme song — “We’re not gonna take it, never did and never will!” He was so rebellious and defiant against the system, actually against all authority. With him you felt you could conquer the world. Anything he wanted he could get. Money wouldn’t stop him; he would just steal it. It was really a thrilling occupation. He would teach us exactly how to do it.
I remember us carving swear words in my mother’s kitchen table, and my brothers stole her silver and pawned it for drugs and other paraphernalia. My mother was almost having a nervous breakdown over everything, and just left my father and us children for about six weeks. She began to smoke again (something she hadn’t done in many years), drink, and see a psychiatrist — she was really desperate.
During this time my father had to go on tour to Philadelphia, so it left us alone for three weeks. Sky was the limit for us. We partied till late in the night, but soon the cabinets became bare. So we decided to stock up again. Pat, our hero, drove us to the grocery store in his van. We had dressed up my younger brother as a woman. We used my mother’s wig, her make-up, and her clothes. We were all shocked and very pleased — he looked just like a typical, middle-aged American woman. One of my brother’s best friends, Johnny, was going to go with him. How else could I say it except that he was really slick and about two feet shorter than my brother. (Sadly, he hung himself a few years later in prison, having 22 charges against him for armed robbery. I guess he was really finished. At that time I don’t think any of us had the slightest idea of the devastating consequences of going against our consciences over and over again.)
Anyway, on that day, Johnny was going to act as the son of this woman my brother had become. The excitement was incredible — could we get away with it? They got a shopping cart and went in. Hunger motivated them as they loaded up the cart with steaks, beer, bread, cookies, cola… When the cart was full they headed out through the aisle where there was no cash register. It was so intense — would they be noticed? My brother busily talked to Johnny in a high-pitched voice, trying to act as casual as possible. He had the option of going out the front doors into a large parking lot or making a right and going into an elevator to an upper-level parking lot. Turning right he walked towards the elevator and pushed the button. Suddenly he heard an employee yelling behind him, “Ma’am! Ma’am! Wait!” Sweat poured down his face. The two stood still. It was too late to make a run for it. The man quickly approached them and said, “Here Ma’am, let me help you with the elevator,” holding the door open for him so he could pass through. My brother cordially thanked him in his high-pitched voice, calling little Johnny into the elevator. The man smiled and walked away. The doors closed. My brother Peter and Johnny, laughing together, almost fainted with relief. It was too much...
The rest of us waited in the van, tensely watching the elevator door. Would he make it? What would happen? Suddenly, the doors opened and Peter and Johnny rolled out, the cart full to the brim. We could hardly contain our joy. What a victory it seemed, yet we were so unaware of the fact that we were setting the course of our eternal destiny, and that every man will render an account for every deed he’s done for or against his conscience.
Well, the cabinets were full again, and the music continued until late in the night. Life seemed good until one morning we woke up to the sound of walkie-talkies. Crashed out on the living-room floor, we all laid around with wine bottles and drug paraphernalia everywhere. The place was a wreck. Our friends were all gone. My head aching from a hangover, I could hear my father’s voice, “Here’s one over here, and here’s another one over there.” One by one, we were pulled to our feet and handcuffed and escorted to the police car. As I was being taken out of the house, I suddenly became aware that the other policemen in the house seemed kind of nervous. I could hear my father by the bathroom, saying, “Here! It seems he got out the window.” The policemen began running around everywhere, searching the house and the yard. I got it that they couldn’t find Peter. I was happy. At least one of us got away. The three of us were off to juvenile hall again — a large compound, heavily guarded with high security.
I was such a loser in every area, and actually so worthless about it that I took my identity in being as bad as possible. I think it was pretty much this way with all of us children. By the time my older brother was eleven, he was doing morphine, stole $200 worth of records with my other brother, and got caught for stealing a car and possession of uppers.
Anyway, it was with this man Pat that my sister went to Hollywood. He always seemed to be going through different trips. Over the past year, he was getting more and more into “drag.” He was taking a walk on the wild side with Lou Reed, getting a real thrill out of looking like a woman. He would steal very seductive, flashy-looking clothes with my sister from Frederick’s of Hollywood and other places. He let his hair grow long, and with lots of make-up on, he looked like a very “pretty” prostitute. So in Hollywood he and my sister both prostituted, but especially her. He mostly had her making the money. And when she wasn’t prostituting she worked as a dancer in a night club. Over the last years he became more and more violent. I guess he always was, but especially now, according to what my brother was telling me about his visit down there. He said my sister was getting beat up all the time and that his guy would kick her mercilessly with his steel-toed boots. He broke her finger, put her head through a plate glass window, and threw her out of the apartment late at night with no clothes on. He was really treating her bad. They were both sniffing a lot of cocaine and mainlining heroin at this time. It made my brother and me really sad.
While I was out in the meadow I reflected on a lot of things and decided to leave California for good. I wanted to get as far away as possible. Actually, I guess I was running from a lot of things. After sadly parting with my brother who decided to turn himself in, with $4.50 I started hitch-hiking up the northern coastline through Mendocino County on Highway 1. Then I crossed over through Oregon and headed to New York City. I figured this was the farthest place I could go.
Before I left I confided in a woman who lived down the street, and whom I had known for a long time. During our time in the meadow, whenever my brother and I would come to her house, she would always feed us and give me a listening ear. Even though her husband was a probation officer they never thought to turn us in. She had four children herself and seemed to have a lot of understanding and compassion. She was a friend to me, and even though she didn’t have all the answers, she was there when I needed her. Somehow I could trust her. I knew that she was for me. Anyway, when I told her about my plans to leave for New York in a few days, I could tell she was a little worried and concerned about me. She showed me a newspaper clipping with a picture of her brother and his wife, who ran a delicatessen in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She said they took people in, and if I needed a place to stay on my way to New York, I surely could stay there for a while. After she told me this, I set my heart on Tennessee as a sure resting place before continuing to New York.
After a hard four or five weeks I finally made it to Chattanooga, Tennessee. I believe it was nothing less than a miracle — I mean something to do with God and with angels — that I made it there. Besides the fact that 90% of the girls that hitchhike in the US are either murdered or raped (as a man who picked me up in Oregon told me), I got into some trouble with the police in a little town near Little Rock, Arkansas.
I remember that I ended up at a small truck stop near Little Rock. Two truckers laughing their head off threw a few dollars at me out their window for lending my female services. They scared me a little, as they seemed like the kind that had little scruples left about life. So I cooperated and made it out with my life and a few dollars for another meal. I guess that was life for a “beaver” out in the Midwest. Anyway, on my last weeks, reflecting over a cup of coffee while eating my lunch, I debated whether I should order a piece of banana cream pie. It seemed I had just enough money, but just one thing was really bothering me. Sitting several tables away from me was a very strange-looking man with evil-looking eyes. For five minutes I noticed he hadn’t stopped staring at me. I was getting really bad vibes from him, and I wondered if I should just get up and walk out. Just then the waitress came and asked if I wanted anything else. I hesitated, but then just went ahead and ordered the pie. “Ah, evil is past!”
Sitting there enjoying my pie, I looked up, and to my great alarm that same man was coming in the door, walking straight towards my table followed close behind by a police officer. “Surely they will walk past my table. They can’t be coming for me,” I thought. I didn’t do anything wrong! My mind was racing, trying to think what name I would tell them and how old I would say I was. Then what I feared happened. Their legs stopped right besides me. As I looked up at the policeman he gruffly asked very authoritatively, “What’s your name.”
“Connie,” I said.
“Connie what!?” he barked.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty two,” I said.
“Okay, look, we know you put your bags in the women’s room and we’re gonna go with you and you’re gonna get them out. And if you try to jump out the window, we’re gonna be on you like flies on a jam jar!”
It seemed this was an original southern redneck police officer. Feeling defeated and out of strength, I went and got my bags. I couldn’t believe I had made it thus far only to get caught for nothing in some Podunk town.
After talking together for a few minutes, the strange man left. He was probably some kind of bored narc who had nothing to do this afternoon. The police officer then put me in the back of his car and began to talk to me, looking at me through his rearview mirror.
“I’m going to ask you again what your name is, and if you don’t tell me what your real name is you’re gonna sit in jail until you rot.”
Later on I found out that the law is that if you didn’t do anything wrong and if they don’t have any information on you they have to let you go after three days. Leaning my head against the window, the tears began to roll down my face. It was all so pointless. I had almost made it to Chattanooga. I gave up all resistance and for almost the first time cooperated with a police officer.
I told him my real name and age and where I was from. Doing some communications on his radio, he asked how long I had been traveling. I said about five weeks. He was surprised, and after this point his heart seemed to change towards me. He asked kindly if I had had any trouble. I said no. He told me they had no jail for juveniles in this town, only an adult jail which he would have to put me in. Then he said compassionately that he was going to get me the best probation officer they had.
I couldn’t believe how nice he was. Something changed in him and I didn’t know why, yet I was pretty down because I knew when my parents found out where I was they’d never let me see the light of day for a long time. I could see myself ending up in some girl’s detention home in the backwoods of Arkansas, only to get in one trouble after the other... I was so tired.
A few minutes later I found myself standing in front of a metal grill, answering questions again. As I bent down to open my bags to be searched, the policeman who had brought me there kicked my bags across the room before I could touch them. It struck me a little strange the way he did it, not in anger, but rather underhandedly. The whole time his face remained looking at the woman on the other side of the grill. I had hash pipes in my bag and I had heard that if they really want to get you for something they can bust you for the resin and the pipes. Maybe he was trying to spare me.
Then I found myself talking to another woman — the best probation officer they had. She seemed very nice as she informed me what the law was. She said she would have to inform my parents about where I was, and if they did not respond within three days, letting her know what they wanted to do with me, they would have to let me go.
Once alone in my cell, I stared out the bare window. I couldn’t see anything, because it was gray glass, but I could get the sunlight as it shone through the jail-green walls. Well, here I was again, feeling so hopeless and at the end, knowing that it was impossible that my parents would ever release me. I began to whisper a prayer. “God, if you are real, then please, please help me, and get me out of here.” I promised to give Him my life if He would get me out of here. I earnestly prayed this over and over again for three days. I waited... On the third day my probation officer came.
“Do you want a ride out to the interstate?” she asked.
I could hardly believe it! “Did I hear right?! What?” I said, trying to contain myself.
“Well, your parents never called, so by law we have to let you go. Do you want a ride to the interstate?” she asked again with a smile.
As we drove, she warned me about no hitchhiking in Arkansas, but she said that if you just stand on the side of the highway the truckers will pick you up. I knew she was right about that one. Her only other concern seemed to be about birth control. Anyway, after talking about that subject for a few minutes, I got out of the car and thanked her, and we said good-bye.
There I was a free woman, standing on the side of the road again. Maybe I’ll get to New York after all, but first Chattanooga. My thoughts were quickly interrupted as a truck stopped to pick me up. Years later I found out that the woman had told my father five days. My mother told me that my father was so angry when he called on the fifth day to tell them what to do with me.
Next it was Kansas. All my things were stolen by truckers who took advantage of me. It was dark. I was alone. It was still winter and I was cold and tired. If I at least had my sleeping bag I could sleep somewhere off the side of the road, but it was in some truck headed east. The man had said he would wait for me while I took a shower, but he didn’t. I was stupid. Seventeen and not feeling a day wiser, I walked down the road, cars whizzing by. I saw lights from a building on the left-hand side. A sign out front read, The Church of the Nazarene. Maybe I could get some help there, I thought.
It was Wednesday night and they were having their little get-together. The room was dark because the people were watching a film strip. Jesus wore a bright white robe. His face kind of glowed and his feet seemed to hardly touch the ground. Women seemed insignificant and only able to cry. Watching for a few minutes, my liberal Californian feminism was insulted. Fortunately the projector broke. The lights went on. Now was my chance. I walked to the man fixing the tape.
“Excuse me. Do you know of anyone who could help me? Maybe a place to stay the night and something to eat?”
The man (I assumed it was the pastor) seemed unprepared for the question. He looked carefully out over his congregation. Slowly he looked over everyone from one side of the room to the other. I had caught several people’s attention by now. I saw a woman draw her children close. She seemed a little disgusted and afraid of me. Suddenly the room began to feel cold, the pews orderly and hard. The man looked back at me. “No, I’m sorry,” he stammered, “I don’t know of anyone who can help you.”
A little stunned, I turned around. Out in the cold again, I continued on down the busy road wondering why the people who claimed to know God were like that. Was God like that? If He was, I didn’t want to know Him. After another couple of blocks I saw another tall, religious building on the right-hand side. I thought I would try again. It looked more fancy, though, with a big glass door in the front. A small light was burning from somewhere inside, and the door was open. Carefully walking in, I followed the light leading me down a short hallway and into a room where a woman and two men were speaking. She was an older, orderly looking woman with short hair and black modest-heeled shoes. One of the men had a high black collar — obviously the pastor or priest. They all looked at me in surprise.
Feeling very out of place, I asked, “Do you know of anyone who could help me? I’m traveling and I would need a place for the night.”
They looked at each other and then decided, “No,” they didn’t know of anyone, but if I would go way down to the end of the street, maybe the Catholic Church could help me.
Once again, the cold night air hit my cheeks. This was too much. I couldn’t understand Christians. Actually, I had always known them to be this way — hypocrites, fake, phony, cold, orderly, dead. On I went. After a while I began to hear singing. It was coming from a rather humble, small-looking, red brick building on the left-hand side. I almost felt drawn as I walked over to it and up the stairs to the door. People seemed alive inside. A man began to speak with some passion, and the people actually responded. I had never seen this before. I walked to the front bench. Everything the pastor said made me cry. I pinched my hand so hard, trying not to, but I couldn’t stop. I felt so tired and finished. What was the purpose to my life? Why was I created? I wanted to believe him that there was a God who cared.
The congregation seemed to break up a little. Suddenly there was a young girl beside me. She seemed so sweet. Very kindly, she asked my whether I knew Jesus. Sitting there crying, I shook my head, “No.”
She said, “Do you want to know Him?”
I said, “No.”
She wasn’t offended, and her presence seemed comforting. She asked me whether I had a place to stay for the night.
I said, “No.”
She told me that the man who had been speaking was her father, and said for sure I could come home with them. She brought me to her father, who seemed warm and nice. Without hesitating, he said surely I could come home with them.
After going downstairs for about twenty minutes for a kind of strange time of cake and coffee, this girl, her parents, five other younger brothers and sisters, and I all piled into a big car and went to their house. Here they gave me a nice bed in the same room with that 19-year-old girl whose name I do not remember.
In the morning, before the girl was going to take me to the interstate, I passed through her father’s study. He stopped me and talked to me for a few minutes about Jesus. I don’t remember all that he said, but I could tell he was concerned about me.
At the end, he very seriously asked me if I wanted to know Jesus.
Afraid, I said, “No,” looking down.
He said, “Well, if you are ever in any trouble and you need help, here’s my card with my number on it. You can call me any time.”
His love touched my heart. After that, I got in their big red truck, and the girl drove me to the highway. I said good-bye and right before I got out the girl began to cry. She took a wooden cross from around her neck and put it around mine. She said she would pray for me. I believe she will be remembered in heaven.
After she drove off, I stood there and cried. I felt so confused, maybe God was real. Maybe He did care about me. I took a chance and prayed with all of my heart that if He was real that He would please reveal Himself to me.
I continued heading down the road. My last ride into Chattanooga was with a man who got stopped by the police on the interstate just before a turn-off. I didn’t know why they stopped him. They were asking him a lot of questions. I was nervous. I didn’t want to make it this far and get caught. I opened the door slowly, slipped out, and began to walk down the interstate. I jumped over the guard rail and disappeared down the embankment. I couldn’t believe I had made it out of that one. At the bottom of the hill was a big fence with barbed wire all along the top. I threw my coat and my last bag over, but couldn’t get over myself. I had to find another way out. Coming out a few blocks over, a business man in a big fancy car asked me if I needed some help. I said yes and got in. After driving around for a while, I found my bags. He kindly let me out. Somehow, I was always amazed that I still had my life after encounters like that. You never know what people’s real motives are. Maybe they are good, maybe they are bad.
Anyway, now here I was, down at the railroad yard. It was kind of a lonely place, and it was beginning to rain. I walked around and saw some shacks on the left, but kept walking past an old wooden church. I stood there looking for a moment, wondering if I could spent the night in there. It would be out of the rain, but the doors were locked shut as usual.
A car pulled up and a young black man called out to me, “Hey, whacha lookin’ for?”
I said, “Some food and a place to stay.”
He said, “Get in.”
I got in, and he drove in a circle through the mud until we got back to the first shack. He said kindly, “My mama saw you out the winda and told me to come get you.”
I could hardly believe it was true. We got out and went up some old wooden stairs. At the top stood an old black woman. She said, “Come on, honey. Get yourself in out of all that rain.” She really took care of me, giving me some dry clothes, the last two hot dogs in the pot, and a couch to sleep on. She was so kind.
That evening we sat around, talking a little bit with her daughter and her older son. She had two or three little grandchildren running around. I told her I was looking for a delicatessen that was run by a couple that took people in. She said I could use her phone and the phonebook to try to find it.
Since I didn’t have the phone number, I took a guess. The first delicatessen I called was a place named Shapiros. They told me I was looking for the Yellow Deli on Brainard Road. They gave me the number, and I called this place. They were really friendly and even said they could come and get me that night. I told them no, I would find my way in the morning. So I started to head over the next morning.
The black woman insisted on bringing me over. She told me I’d have to go through 9th Street to get there, and 9th Street, she said, was really dangerous. Someone like me wouldn’t come out the same, she said, telling me she’d take me over in a little while. I thought she was totally anxious, so when she turned her head I tried to slip out the door. She was after me in a flash, grabbing the youngest child in her arms. She said, “Come on, honey, I’ll take you over right now. You can’t walk through 9th Street!” I believe God will remember this lady in the Judgment for all her care.
At the Yellow Deli I was met by very kind people. As soon as I walked in, I felt different. “Welcome” is the only word to describe it. It was so warm and so real. The people were natural, friendly, relaxed — just normal. They had peace. The amazing thing about them was that they never went home. They were home. They lived and worked together. They had a real friendship. They related to each other in love and affection. In the days that followed I found myself falling in love with them more and more, and I was drawn to the God they knew. I wanted to have what they had, and to know their God. Actually, I was jealous because that’s what I had always desired and here I found it and what’s more it was being offered to me.
I remember after a few days of being there sitting on a park bench in the Rose Garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon after one of their gatherings. They were all starting to go back to the house, and I was sitting there pretty much alone, contemplating my life when someone came over to me despite the picture of dejection that I was. He hugged me warmly and looked me straight in the eye. With heartfelt sincerity, he told me that God really loved me. He walked away, his wonderful wife with her beautiful smile waving good-bye to me in the afternoon sun. It was the very first time in my life that I believed that God really did love me. I remembered two days before, on that lonely day in Kansas, standing on the side of the road and praying with all of my heart that if God was real that He would reveal Himself to me. Is that what was happening now? Could it be? I couldn’t hold back the tears. I sat there crying for a long, long time, overwhelmed with the feeling that I had finally come home.
In the days that passed, faith came more and more to me that this God was the very same One who created the sunrises and the sunsets, the One who created everything — even me. I finally knew the purpose for which I had been created. I was no longer an accident. I no longer wished I’d never been born. I believed He had the power to forgive me of all my deep, deep guilt. I was really guilty. I was desperate for a new start. Even though I was only 17, reality was that my sins had already piled up so high, I knew that I couldn’t pay for them anymore. I was headed on a path leading to eternal death. Desiring so much to have a clean conscience and to give my life to this God whose love I’d experienced in such a real way, who loved me so much that He provided a sacrifice that could cover my sins, I was immersed and baptized into His Son for the forgiveness of my sins. I never wanted to leave Him nor His people. This was the beginning of March 1976, and the beginning of my life as a disciple of the Son of God.
Soon I communicated to my parents the excitement of my new life, of what had happened to me. The last they knew, I was in jail in Little Rock. They seemed very happy, and right away sent a letter giving Gene and Marsha Spriggs, this couple in the Community who had befriended me, custody of me until I was 18, in case there was any trouble with the authorities. Gene was the brother of the neighbor woman in California whom I mentioned confiding in earlier. My parents were so relieved that I was safe and out of trouble, and better yet in a place that was God-orientated.
Ever since I came to the Community I couldn’t stop thinking about my twin sister. I wanted her to come and see the new life I’d found. I knew she had to be totally miserable just as I was. I felt so bad for her. Eventually I got in touch with her and begged her to come and see me. Finally it happened in June or July of that same year. It was an intense chase all the way. Her boyfriend was so possessive. She had to leave without him knowing about it, because he would never have let her go. He noticed right away that she was gone. He knew that she had called me at one point, so he called me desperately looking for her. I tried to be vague and said that I didn’t really know whether she was coming to see me or not.
Feeling uneasy about the situation, the elders of the community moved my sister and me to the private house of a friend. Pat had phoned and said he would be about three days in coming. Of course, he lied and arrived in about half the time in one of our restaurants in Georgia, where he thought she might be, looking for her frantically. He came with his big dog and that boy Johnny. He was almost insane from lack of sleep, doing speed all the way from California. He aggressively demanded that we give her to him.
In that friend’s house I talked to her incessantly. I was so happy with my new life and I wanted her to be set free from her miserable condition and have what I had — a fresh new start, a new beginning, a place to belong where love was our home, filled with real brothers and sisters that we had always wanted to be and to have — a place to receive healing from all the things we had gone through. Deep down in my heart it was everything I ever desired, and I just knew it must be her desire, too. But unfortunately, it really wasn’t. As miserable as her life was, she really loved it. It became evident to me after the first day of her visit that she was not ready to give up her life for this life. She only wanted a break, a rest from the intensity of things, and so all my talking wasn’t good news to her as it was to me. She just wanted me to go to the next Rolling Stones concert with her.
Unrelenting, I continued to talk to her, hoping she would see what I saw. Finally she decided to stay. Her suppressed conscience was awakened through the things I told her, and condemned her for the life she was living and for the things she gave herself to. So when she assented to stay, it was out of guilt from a bad conscience. And of course there was an emotional bond that’s probably especially strong between identical twins, which we are. She came into the Community on a totally different foundation than I did. However it took years until I really completely understood this. It was not because she loved the life here and hated her own life and wanted to be delivered from it. So the salvation that I had found, that transferred me from my old life into this new life in the community, had no real appeal to her.
I guess when it comes right down to it, she loved her life, and if her conscience hadn’t been reproving her for it, making her feel guilty, she wouldn’t have had a problem continuing to indulge in the things she gave herself to. Sad to say, but I think her state was that she only wanted to be delivered from the judgment of her sins, but not from her sins — the cause of judgment in the first place. But the Savior that we came to know didn’t just come to deliver us from the judgment of our sins by forgiving us, but to actually save us from these sins, resulting in a life of love and unity. He made it very clear that you have to hate your life in this world if you want to follow Him and experience His salvation.
My sister later went on to find a god according to her liking. But while she was in the Community she was, in a sense, like a slave, the desire to leave always working in her. And of course she was always free to go, but out of my emotional love for her I always talked her into staying. I honestly wanted the best for her, and I don’t know what would have become of her life had she not come to see me at that time. Now I know that you can’t talk people into doing what you know is the best for them if it’s not really in their heart to do it.
For the next year and a half I continued to write to my parents, and years later I can see that I lacked wisdom in my letters. As a teenager I really hated their comfortable Christian religion and lifestyle, and was so happy when I came to the Community and saw a real life and real love behind the words of people who professed to know God. But in writing my over-zealous, dogmatic letters, there was still an element of rebellion working in me towards them to just want to prove or point out to them just how wrong their religion and lifestyle was.
To make things worse, my sister’s communications with them probably revealed her discontentment and unhappiness. At times, my sister was very emotional with them on the phone. Unknown to me, a seed of fear about the Community began to grow in my parents. My mother got in touch with anti-cult organizations in Berkeley and throughout the Bay Area — the “Freedom Foundation,” which later became the “Cult Awareness Network,” and the “Spiritual Counterfeits Project,” etc. So this was the stage prior to my parents’ first visit to the Community in 1977.
My mother was very emotional, uneasy, and nervous when she came. My father had to leave after a few days to do business in Philadelphia, only returning for a few more days before they flew back to California. It was obvious, though, during their stay that my mother already had her mind made up about us, and the visit was only to confirm her fears. She seemed to always read something behind the lines, frantically taking notes in a suspicious, negative way on everything people said. It became clear during this first visit that their initial positive attitude toward us being here had really changed for the worse. For the next two and a half years, it seems she only became more and more convinced about us being a cult, as she continued to gather misinformation about us.
In November 1979, I called my parents and told them I was going to get married on the 25th of December to someone I had become very close to, and had known since I had arrived there. Also, my sister was going to get married five days before me. This wasn’t the original plan. Our relationships with our fiancés were in very different stages, and probably we would have naturally gotten married three or four months apart, but out of courtesy for my parents it was decided to have our weddings almost at the same time so that my parents wouldn’t have to make two flights from California only a few months apart. They seemed happy for us and said that for sure they would come.
Another thing that really played on my mother’s emotions and actually triggered her final decision to come was a letter from her sister who was staying with her husband in France where he was working on a scientific project. At the beginning of this letter she wrote, “Joyce, I had a dream, actually more of a vision, last night, and in the vision your daughter Kirsten was screaming, ‘Help me!! Help me!! Mama! Mama! Help me!! Help me!!!’ I don’t know what it means, but I thought I would tell you.”
The day I expected they would fly into Chattanooga we heard nothing from them. It seemed unusual, but I thought maybe they were just tired from the trip and would call the next day. I heard nothing for two more days. This was beginning to seem strange to me. I called my grandmother. She was surprised and said they should have arrived three days ago. She didn’t know what happened.
The lack of peace my parents had about us being here was obvious through different comments they had made over the years, and we didn’t trust their intentions. Old fears began to come to me, considering how they used to call the police on us as children before, without warning. We began to suspect the possibility of them getting in touch with Ted Patrick, a deprogrammer who was becoming sort of famous at the time. “White Lightning” was the name he had acquired, because he would swoop in like lightning and kidnap people from various so-called cults. It seemed highly possible that they had hired this man and had now spent the past three days conspiring together, planning to kidnap and deprogram us. I expressed all my fears to some of my friends. Even though our community had already experienced some deprogrammings in the recent past, it was still hard for them to imagine someone doing such an outrageous thing. Nevertheless, they advised us not to go anywhere with our family alone, or at least not without our fiancés with us.
On the third day they finally called. My mother sounded very happy and at peace. She said she was sorry for the delay, but they had wanted to rest up for a few days before coming. She assured us that she, as well as my father and my two younger brothers, couldn’t wait to see me and my sister. I hadn’t seen my brothers for almost four years. The way she said it sounded all so reasonable and I began to feel a little stupid for ever suspecting them of doing such a ridiculous thing as kidnapping us.
When they arrived at some of our houses on Vine Street they appeared very much at ease. None of them seemed at all nervous or suspicious, only happy and genuinely glad to see us. I didn’t sense any anxiety. My brothers had changed a lot. I hardly recognized them with their mustaches. They were so tall. I left them as boys and now they were young men, 18 and 19. It was a happy reunion, and I felt so awful for ever thinking they were up to something. Every fear of mine vanished in the morning sunshine, and I even felt a twinge of pain that I had thought such things. I had to laugh when I saw that they had rented a silver Mercedes. My dad only got the best.
They expressed how they had really not had time to buy something for my sister and me, and although they knew my sister’s wedding was only two hours away, they wondered if we could go with them and do a little quick shopping, as they had also really wanted to get something for us that they knew we would need and really enjoy. Of course, they didn’t want to make her late for her wedding, but there must be a mall around here somewhere. My mother was very convincing and at the same time didn’t seem under pressure. It all seemed so innocent, something almost more for her sake than ours. You almost hated to disappoint her. My sister and I told her fiancé and another friend of ours that we had obviously misjudged them. They just wanted to take us shopping for a little bit, and we’d be back shortly. Everything was all right and we didn’t need anybody to go with us. I remembered how with worried faces they let us go.
Happily, my sister and I got in the back seat with our two brothers on either side. At the mall, my father and brothers quickly disappeared. We wondered where they went. My mother said with a smile, “You know how they hate shopping.”
“Oh yes, of course,” I thought.
“They’ve probably gone to find something of interest, like the Hi-Fi and TV department, or the hardware section,” she continued.
After having gotten a pair of shoes and a jacket for me, and a leather handbag for my sister, the men finally reappeared and we were ready to go. By now time was running out and we hurried out to the car. Not noticing a particular car pulling out in front of us, as it was a large parking lot with many cars continually pulling in and out, we headed back to the Community, following behind this particular car.
My sister was past being nervous and was now depressed. Her smile was gone. There was so little time left, and she still needed to take a bath and get ready for her wedding. She noticed that we seemed to be going the wrong way and said something as about it. My dad didn’t answer. I looked at him. His face was red and I thought he was probably embarrassed because my dad never loses his way — he has an excellent sense of direction, even if he’s never been there before. He’ll find his way, I thought, not a bit afraid or suspicious as my mother rattled on cheerfully.
“Honey, show Dad your new shoes and jacket. Look Don, isn’t it nice?” She successfully distracted us. I should say me — my sister was pretty bummed out. Her smile never returned. She knew she probably wouldn’t make it on time.
Suddenly the car took a sharp right, sped up a long steep private driveway, and abruptly parked in the back of a green house that I had never seen before. In an instant, the doors flew open and my brothers, who were on either side of my sister and me, quickly got out and stood blocking the open car doors. In the same moment, my father was out of the car in a flash, and walked quickly to the back door of the house as six or seven people came out to meet him. One of them, a very overweight, older-looking man, walked directly to my father. They shook hands... It was obvious it was a business deal.
This is always a horrible moment for me to remember. All my worst fears of a few days ago suddenly became a horrifying reality. It was like a nightmare. My sister and I looked at each other in total shock and began to moan. “It’s Ted Patrick! We’re being deprogrammed!!” My mind was frantically looking for a way out, but there was no escape. It was hopeless. My brothers who were guarding the doors were almost six feet tall, young and athletic. We didn’t stand a chance. My mother slowly turned around in the front seat. She didn’t say anything. There was a tear on her cheek, yet what also seemed to me a familiar look of triumph. I felt so betrayed.
The people near the house had now come and stood around the car. We were told to get out. They surrounded us and we were escorted through the back door and into a living room. No one talked to us. They only talked quietly to each other. A few moments later, a young woman named Melinda explained to my sister and me that we were going to be deprogrammed by Ted Patrick and his team. She was someone who had disappeared from the Community about a month before. Her parents had kidnapped her and had her deprogrammed by Ted Patrick.
Having joined the deprogrammers, she was now a zealot for the cause. Sitting there with her hair cut and her face full of make-up, she so sweetly told us that after it was all over we would, of course, be free to go back. “But you probably won’t want to.” Listening to her made me sick. I could hardly believe she was such a traitor. We were told that the deprogramming would begin right away, but Ted wouldn’t be here due to circumstances until three days later. We would be forced to remain here until the deprogramming was over, which could be indefinite. My sister and I were then led into separate rooms. It was the last time I saw her until it was all over, three or four days later.
So now here I was, sitting in this room with the doors locked and people all around guarding me so that I couldn’t get away. I had to be escorted to the bathroom so that I wouldn’t jump out of the window. Lies and accusations about the Community were continuously being spoken to me. The leaders and our beliefs were constantly being torn down and slandered. False documents and pictures were presented or promised to be. It was very exasperating. No Bible or private time was given except to sleep. Any form of prayer, meditation, or singing was immediately interrupted by either many words, loud piano music, or any other means they could find. There was not really any escape from the barrage of their “mind-control” propaganda. Two or three of them would be aggressively talking to me at the same time. When one didn’t know what to say, the other one did. If you said anything contrary they constantly came back at you. It was very exasperating and exhausting.
What these deprogrammers wanted was that your mind would be open, listening, and focused on what they were saying, persistently trying to find an inroad, a crack in the wall that would undermine the supposed programming. Through Margaret Singer, a well-known psychiatrist from Berkeley, California, Ted Patrick had learned some about deprogramming because of her involvement in the deprogramming of the American refugees that were supposedly put under mind control during the Korean War. The extent of his relationship with her and how much he exactly learned from her I don’t really know. Their theory was that if a person had been programmed in the first place, he could be deprogrammed.
One of the things I have learned through all of this and am convinced about is that you cannot deprogram revelation that comes from the Holy Spirit. If you really have heard God speak to you in your heart — and this is what faith is — that can never be taken away from you, because faith is not a program. It’s something that has to do with the heart of God and with the heart of man. It goes beyond some kind of brain thing. Yet besides my own personal convictions about this, it’s even been proven that the brain-washing theory is scientifically unsound.
Anyway, this whole deprogramming thing was so ironic because their way of thinking and viewing the Community was being so violently forced upon me like nothing I had ever experienced in my whole life. I say violently not in the respect of being beaten, but in that it was such a stark violation of my will.
I found out later that my sister had tried to jump out the bathroom window. I don’t know what story she gave them, but somehow she made it to go to the bathroom herself and have the woman who was watching her wait outside the door. Once inside she quickly opened the bathroom window and climbed up the sink. She barely had pulled herself up and was getting ready to jump when the door burst open and several people, having heard some strange noises, rushed in and grabbed her by her shirt just a fraction of a second before she jumped. She might have broken her leg had she jumped, since it was a pretty high window, but she figured she could at least have hobbled away.
After that she made another attempt to get away when the UPS man came. Above the bed she slept on was a large, long window that was covered with a curtain. Outside the window were the stairs going up to the front door of the house. At one point, my sister got it that someone was outside on the stairs. Catching everyone in the room off guard, she suddenly jumped up off the bed and, throwing the curtain open, she began violently beating on the window and frantically screaming, “Help me, help me!” with all of her strength. In a moment several people were on top of her, pulling her down and covering her mouth. The UPS man was totally shaken up by the time the owner of the house came to the door a minute later. He told her, “Ma’am, I think there is a woman inside that really needs help.” He said he felt he should call the police.
She just smiled and reassured him that it was only her wild teenage daughters who were just fooling around, having a good time. She said something to the effect that they loved to play jokes and she was going to talk to them. After about five minutes of talking she managed to calm him down, but she could tell as he walked away that he was still a little uneasy. My sister said later that she was just hoping that man would call the police, but unfortunately he never did.
Somehow the room or situation I was in didn’t even give me the hope of escape. The room seemed to be always dark, even in the day. At night three or four people were sleeping in the room with me. My brother slept right in front of my bed and there were two or three others in strategic places throughout the room. With my sister, of course, it was the same. The only hope or fantasy I had was that some of my big strong brothers from the Community would miraculously find us and burst through the door at any moment and save us. My sister told me after the deprogramming that that’s what she had hoped for also.
So here they were, using mind control and force to “save” me from the alleged mind control and force which I had never experienced in the Community. Ironically, I was now being subjected to the constant hammering of the accusation that I was forced into the Community against my will. Yet it was only love that had won my heart when I decided to commit my life to the God I had come to know through the Community. I was never once forced in any way to conform to the beliefs of the Community, nor was my will ever violated. I was so attracted to the love the people there had for one another and the love they had for me, and this love is what has continued to keep me. I knew deep in my heart that this love went beyond human love, and that it was the love from God.
At the beginning of my deprogramming, I thought I would never give in, but as the days went by, they found the inroad, the weak point. It was an area I didn’t have much clarity about. That was my upcoming wedding, which supposedly should have taken place five days after this kidnapping. Although I had developed a relationship over the past two years with the man I was to marry, and although I enjoyed this friendship very much and we got along very well together, I somehow never came to have the same strong feelings for him that he had for me. Sometimes it’s just hard to know and judge what your true feelings are, and what your motivation is. I guess I was waiting for some kind of lightning flash in my emotions that would give me confidence as to whether this was the man I was to marry or not. Besides this, I honestly felt very immature and unprepared for marriage. I knew that marriage wasn’t just something you lightly step into, and how many people have ruined their lives by making the wrong decision here.
Really, I felt between a rock and hard place. Deep down in my heart I wasn’t really convinced that I loved this man like someone you would make the life-long commitment of marriage with. So on the one side I was afraid of marrying him, while on the other side I was afraid of making a mistake by not marrying him, doubting myself, since this brother had a wonderful reputation, and his sincerity and love for our God was indisputable, and so seemed his love for me.
In addition to this, certain people in the Community whom I really respected and looked up to for spiritual advice and guidance, and who also had a relationship with the both of us, were favorable towards this marriage, yet no one ever said, “You need to marry this man,” or, “It is God’s will.” I wavered a lot during this time, not really knowing what was in my heart. At one point the whole thing was even called off.
Spiritual struggles are not uncommon for disciples. It is normal for those who experience salvation to go through things. The many circumstances that you constantly encounter in the Community bring out what’s in you. That’s why we are here, to see what’s motivating us, and to be healed from every impure motive. That is what salvation is all about. If there wouldn’t be any problems, there would be no need for salvation. But somehow I concluded that the problems that I encountered in my life during the time when this relationship was called off were due to the fact that I didn’t give myself to this relationship, and that the solution to these problems was locked up in this marriage.
Convincing myself like that in my own mind of course closed me off from the objective advice that I could have received from friends in the Community, had I been totally open and honest with them as to where I was really at in this relationship. Years later I learned that this lack of openness and honesty was my downfall. I would have gone into this marriage to get out of some problems, but not because I had a love in my heart for the man I was to marry. Had I been open and honest about this relationship, most likely it might have been called off altogether, or I might have been counseled to take more time to find out what was really in me about it.
But once I expressed my heart that I wanted to marry him, it was of course believed to be my true heart, and since people were favorable towards it and no one objected, the matter was sealed. But as always, so also in my case the word of God proved to be 100% true and trustworthy. “Happy is the person who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned, because in whatever he doubts that is not from faith; and whatever a disciple does apart from faith is sin.” It will come back on you in time of testing. And the reality is that you have nothing to stand on. And it did come back on me.
Therefore all the accusations and lies spoken during the deprogramming had little effect on me because I had a conviction about these things, until it came to this one statement: “We know that you don’t love this man you were going to marry.” That’s what got me. At first, I vehemently swore that I loved him and that I was going to marry him when I got out of this mess. But after three days of hearing this over and over, I had begun to entertain the thought. Really, this statement exposed my deepest fears and doubts. Perhaps I didn’t have to marry this man after all.
Suddenly, I started laughing and laughing. I remember how worried my brother Eric was. I think he thought that now I really lost my mind. I was relieved when I realized that I actually didn’t have to marry him. Unfortunately, it had to be in this moment when it became clear to me what was in my heart for this man.
In the hours that followed, I really went through hell in my emotions. Somehow, I was so sad. I loved these people so much — surely they were from God! “But why did this happen?!! How did I come to the point that I was about to marry someone I didn’t love? I didn’t understand at the time that the problem was with me. There was so much confusion in me. I couldn’t explain anything anymore. Nothing made sense. Of course, the deprogrammers told me that for sure this happened because the Community was a cult.
After this I seemed to have little resistance against their onslaught of accusations, although I somehow knew that it was all so absurd. They had found the crack, the weak point that burst the bottle wide open. This is what they call “snapping.” I think my sister “snapped” sometime the next day.
Then Naomi Goss and Ted Patrick showed up. They wasted no time. They showed us video after video of the testimonies of other people who had been deprogrammed from different so-called “cults” — Divine Light Mission, Sun Yung Moon, Children of God, Hare Krishna, Scientology — always trying to compare them as much as possible with our community.
Ted and Naomi quickly made a video of my sister and me — our testimony of how we had been deceived into this evil cult. There was so much pressure and it all went so quickly that I hardly understood what was going on. My conscience tearing me up, my mind in total confusion, they rushed us to the radio and TV stations to speak out against the Community. This was where I met Melinda again, as she was the one who escorted us to these places along with Ted. Really it was a nightmare. They seemed in such a hurry to do this. It all went very fast.
I learned later that they do this because sometimes people start “floating.” This is a deprogramming term for a person who starts doubting the deprogrammers and what they are saying and starts missing the “cult” and desiring to return. So they rush you through this process, hoping it will strengthen your mind against the “cult” you came out of.
Afterwards I felt so terrible. If God was truly with those people, whom in my heart I still loved so much, then I had become the most treacherous person, and if He wasn’t with those people, then for me He absolutely couldn’t exist and I didn’t believe in God anymore.
After having a chance to reflect a little over the past few days, I couldn’t help but notice how Naomi was walking around in tight, flashy clothes and smoking like a chimney. Even though it was the Christmas season, it wasn’t a cover-up for her behavior. After I snapped, one of the first things she and Mary Alice, a young women who was also on the deprogramming team, asked me was, “Do you want to get your hair cut? When are you gonna cut it?” They were so eager for me to cut my hair. It was obvious that I was surrounded by strong, independent women whose life was in their own hands no matter how much they said they trusted in God.
Ted cursed all the time, especially when my mom wasn’t around. When we had gone to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo for the TV interview, I remembered how I had gone with Naomi on the train to Ted’s red velvet suite, which was in an old train that had been turned into a hotel. There was an unmade double bed with red satin sheets. Actually, the decor of the whole room was red satin, giving it kind of a sleazy atmosphere. I wondered whether he paid for all of that with my dad’s money. Just the way Ted and Naomi were with each other made me feel like there was an immoral relationship there. Maybe I was wrong, but it made me feel uneasy.
Because of the holidays there was a lot of rich food and a lot of celebrating going on, which I hadn’t been used to. The man who owned the house where the “deprogramming” happened was really hard for me to take. He had offered his house for the deprogramming. He was kind of a brawler and was half drunk most of the time. He was more than a social alcoholic. His big beer belly and crude passes totally repelled me. Actually, the shock of it all was pretty hard to take.
Honestly, I was taken aback when I first met Ted Patrick. I was expecting a somewhat educated-looking person, but instead he appeared to me more like a slick-talking street con, or even less than that — a shady, illiterate bum. The way Ted and Naomi were even seemed to bother my mother. It’s amazing what gangsters those two guys were. My mother was probably more bothered about Ted than Naomi. This was the sense that I got. I think she really lowered herself to gain what she wanted, so I guess the thing that comforted her was that the end would justify the means.
I don’t know whether it was part of Ted’s planned routine or not, but he brought this big rap about it all being a “commi plot.” He had a whole theory behind the emergence of cults in the US which really played on my mom’s interest in politics. His theory was that it all started in 1917. Supposedly, the communists proclaimed that they would take over the US without firing a single shot. They’d destroy us from within, through the media, the educational system, and the religious system. So he said that the emergence of cults was the breakdown of the religious system, as there were many thousands of young people that are being sucked into these cults every day. He spoke about this picture of several cult leaders shaking hands with some communist leader. It was one of those pictures that was promised but that was never presented. He also seemed to play on her fears, telling many horror stories of things that happened to other ex-culties, his workers backing him up with their own testimonies and always trying to relate it to our community and the “evil” workings behind it. Ted spoke about these things with a lot of passion, bringing up his first-hand experience of his son almost being taken in by one of these cults, and how he just barely made it out of there.
A few days after the interviews we went to Alabama to Naomi’s sister’s house. Her name was Sarah. She had also been involved in my deprogramming, and she was also pretty devoted to the cause. She was an overweight, strong Christian woman who was totally convinced about the evils of cults and how people need to be delivered from these places. She had short, tight, curly hair and a large front that was covered up in a man’s baseball shirt which was at least three sizes too small. She was strong and intimidating and far from having a gentle and quiet spirit.
While we were there we met two other couples who had been deprogrammed from our community a few months earlier, Larry and Ronda, and another couple whose names escape me. They were from La Grange, Georgia. I was amazed about how little they had to say about the Community, but what they did say was of course only negative, and how glad they were that they had gotten out of that. One of the couples seemed to be especially quiet. I was surprised to learn that they had just gone through a divorce. This happened after they were taken from the Community a few months before. Nobody seemed to say anything about this! But come on! What happened?! It didn’t seem like they were having such a good time since they were rescued from this “evil place.”
One of the few things we were supposed to do during our short visit in Alabama was to also speak to a Baptist preacher who actually had some of the Community’s teachings and who tried to point out where we were doctrinally off. What he had to say really didn’t mean a whole lot to me. It was hard for me to pay attention. As I recall, I felt he was totally lost with those teachings and didn’t really know what he was talking about. He rambled through this stuff and never delivered the punch. I kept thinking, “So what is he trying to tell me? That I should live like him?” Actually it just depressed me.
Meeting these people was all part of the agenda that was supposed to strengthen us. Everything was pretty rushed. We were on a tight time schedule. Last but not least, we were supposed to see a horror film about the Jim Jones tragedy in Guyana. I don’t see how this film could fail to put fear into anybody. It affected me a lot, but who knows how much of it was even true? Of course, Christians use it as absolutely documentary.
From there we went straight to a rehabilitation center in San Diego near Ted’s house. I was told that at that time there were two rehabilitation centers in the US for people who were coming out of cults: One was in San Diego, California, and one in Iowa City, Iowa. The rehabilitation center was also an essential part of the deprogramming. Ted’s daughter Ann was running the place, as it was her condo. Contrary to her father, she was a very sweet and gentle person. She really didn’t get into the whole thing and didn’t interfere much as far as talking to these ex-culties who stayed in her house. It seemed that she was pretty much living her life apart from her father’s occupation.
Anyway the minimum amount of time a person has to stay is two weeks, and the maximum time is six weeks. I guess it depends on how a person is doing psychologically, but I think the bottom line is how much money you have. It’s incredible how much money is being spent there.
Basically the purpose of the rehab is to get people totally away from the so-called cult they were involved in and to rehabilitate them into society again, with the hope that they will adjust if the deprogramming was successful. They go about this by taking you out to dinner to your favorite restaurants, whether it’s Chinese or Mexican food, whatever you desire — night clubs, discos, ice cream parlors, flea markets, movie theaters, swimming, shopping. You can pretty much do any activity you want, and if you lack initiative or ideas, someone is constantly suggesting some kind of entertainment to you. They only require that you go to Dr. Deen’s hypnotic show at some night club, just to show you the real power of hypnosis and what you were under, and suggest that you would see the horror movie about Jim Jones again. I hardly could get much from Dr. Deen’s show. I felt like I was in a typical night club in Las Vegas watching some magic show.
You always had a bodyguard assigned to you, someone who made a schedule with you, taking one day at a time, who kept tabs on you as to how you were doing emotionally and psychologically, whether you were floating and drifting back to wherever they got you out of, or making the switch and adjusting to “normal” society again. In our case, this was Naomi Goss. She would accompany us wherever we went. And of course all of this was paid for by my dad. I knew that we were really blowing his money.
Actually, it was all very mind-blowing for me. I couldn’t really enjoy it because I knew deep down that something was really wrong. In the Community I was learning that true satisfaction and fulfillment comes from denying yourself and laying your life down for your brothers and sisters. I had experienced that joy and peace that came from having a good conscience. Now everything was centered around me and my pleasure, with Naomi constantly reassuring me, “It’s ok, it’s totally normal. That’s what love is. Whoever loves you wants you to have a good time and they’ll pay for it. You can see that in the Community they didn’t really love you because they didn’t put the money out for you.”
I remember one night going to a fancy night club. We discussed on the way over that my sister and I were under age to drink alcohol. Naomi said we would just lie about it if we were asked. It’ll be ok. For sure we looked 21 anyway. It was things like this that made me feel like the rug just got pulled out from underneath my feet. I didn’t understand the morality of it all. Swearing, drinking, smoking, lying, blowing my dad’s money, being immodest and seductive — none of these things seemed to bother her or anybody else. It didn’t seem there was much of a conscience there, and that’s their business, but why were they delivering me from some “evil” cult? I didn’t get the consistency.
Sometimes I got distracted with having “fun,” sometimes I thought it was alright, but I was miserable inside. I had no peace, was totally anxious and tense, a nervous wreck. I couldn’t sort things out, churning them over and over again in my mind. I couldn’t figure out what had happened. I gained 30 pounds in three weeks. I felt bad that my parents had to spend so much money. Surely the rehab was as expensive as the deprogramming. It was outrageous. My parents must have spent a fortune on the whole thing.
After the two weeks at the rehab my parents took us to Mexico, from Tijuana on down to Ensenada. A week later, we were back in Oakland, California. My parents were really paranoid. Sometimes they had us get down in the car, thinking someone in the Community was after us. We noticed how one of them would come home from work every day at a certain time, five minutes before the mailman would come, and they would wait for the mail so they could intercept letters from the Community. One time we got to the mail before they did and we were able to receive a precious letter from a good friend, which we secretly read several times. It made me miss the Community and the relationships I had there so much.
I think my parents were filled with a lot of fear and guilt, which drove them to such extreme measures — fear because of the cult paranoia that especially the deprogrammers and cult awareness groups had put into them. Everything was a “cult” and would end up like Jim Jones if it wasn’t Baptist or Lutheran straight down the middle. And guilt, maybe, because of the lack of time they had spent brooding over us as children. I’d say my parents tried, but I think they just didn’t understand our real needs and how to meet them. Besides this, they weren’t able to compete against the peer pressure. Business and other things were many times more important, and suddenly the years were gone, and now they felt so responsible that we had ended up in a “cult.” I think deprogrammers really take advantage of parents in this state who are seeking help, telling them that love will pay any price. It’s really sad, but that’s how they get them to pay such high prices. It’s obvious what hucksters they are.
Back in Oakland we began to see Margaret Singer, a well-known psychiatrist in the Bay area whom Ted had suggested to my parents that we should see. We had one appointment with her, and after that we couldn’t get in touch with her anymore. She no longer would answer the door or her phone. We wondered what was going on. It seemed so strange. Then we found out that the Mills family, defectors from Guyana whom she had been seeing, had just been murdered. She had been receiving strange threatening phone calls during this time. It seemed too much for her. She was really afraid. There was a lot of publicity about the Mills, and I remember seeing a man on TV from Florida. He was one of the last defectors from Guyana, and he was saying, “If you find me dead somewhere and it looks like an accident, don’t believe it!! They’re killing every last one of us. I’ll probably be next.” He seemed really terrified. The whole thing was very mysterious and frightening.
The next year and eight months were extremely difficult for me. I can pretty much say that I came out of this whole thing convinced there wasn’t a God, that He didn’t exist. I just couldn’t believe that He would have allowed me to be deceived by an evil cult after I had cried out to Him with all of my heart two days before I came to the Community, begging Him that if He was real that He would please reveal Himself to me. As far as I was concerned, if the Community was a cult, then God didn’t exist, because they were the closest thing I had ever seen to God, as far as an expression of His character and what He must be like.
In the deprogramming they try to combat what the Community believes with Christian doctrines. It would have been my parents heart’s desire that I’d become a Christian, but offering me Christianity at this point was like a bad joke. It was like someone offering me a stale, dead, white wafer after eating good whole-wheat bread for four years, experiencing the warmth, love, and care of my brothers and sisters, and then saying to me, “Be warm and well fed, and find a good Bible-believing church somewhere.” Ah! It hurt too much to think about... “Good-bye happiness, hello loneliness...”
I got my driver’s license and to somehow survive, threw myself into four part-time waitressing jobs and a full load in college. I tried to go on as I saw everybody else doing — just forget pondering about the meaning of life. My father used to say, “If I have to go through life, I’d rather go through it rich. If this is all there is, you might as well be comfortable.” So here I was, leveled and reduced to the thinking that I needed a good education so I could get a good paying job, so I’d be happy in life! That’s just the way it works in the world.
This attitude left me feeling bitter and getting old real fast. Everyone around me thought I was doing well because I was making good grades and working all the time. I almost had my car paid for and was in the process of getting an apartment, having paid the first and last month’s rent. I also put a lot of money and time into the preparations of refurnishing it according to my own liking, as I thought I’d be there a long time. Though outwardly it looked like I was making it, I was miserable. What was the point in life, all my efforts doing this and that, if I didn’t know why I was created? What was the point to it all? These questions once again plagued me. “Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.”
For comfort, I started to drink again, a little here, a little there, afraid to totally let go. I basically lived of cigarettes and coffee, since for a waitress coffee is always free. For the most part, waitresses seem to be pretty unhappy people, surviving on the mentality, “another day, another dollar.” I had no desire for relationships. There seemed to be no basis for them after experiencing the deep relationships in the Community. Yet I was lonely.
My sister was doing even worse. She took it pretty hard. Right away she had gone back to Pat, her old boyfriend, and her old ways. She would go through deep depressions, even suicidal at times. I could hardly reach her. And if I did, what could I tell her, “Life’s great?!” No one knew what we were going through and no one could ever understand the confusion. Somehow, this question about God never was settled for me.
One day, half drunk, I started talking to my mother. I asked her why she had spent $20,000 putting hardwood oak floors into her house instead of taking in the homeless poor and reaching out to needy people, such as I was when I came to the Community. Isn’t that what Jesus wanted — that we would help people and offer them our life and our home, everything, like we did in the Community? She got pretty riled up. Looking me straight in my face, she said, “Why don’t you just go back there then!”
Actually, I think she was just trying to play some reverse psychology on me, trying to deal with my unthankfulness, but I’ll always be thankful for the effect her question had on me. It stunned me and caused me to really question myself as to why I didn’t go back. In this moment I realized that it wasn’t fear or confusion that was holding me back anymore, but that even though I hated my life and the mess I was in, I still loved the comforts of it, and this I told her. It was a real turning point for me.
One night, when I was working at a banquet hall in Jack London Square, I decided to do it! Even though my mind was still in confusion, I couldn’t hold back what was in my heart anymore. After work I went to the old phone booth. My hands shaking, I pulled the phone number out of my pocket and began putting the change from my tip money in. “I wonder if they’ll be really strange by now, maybe wearing all black or something.” I was nervous, thinking that maybe they couldn’t forgive me for speaking against them and I would be rejected.” That’s what the deprogrammers said to this one man who tried to go back to the place he got deprogrammed out of, implying that this would probably happen to me, too, if I decided to go back.
Suddenly, I heard a voice on the other end. To my surprise, I was warmly greeted with excitement. I was so relieved. After talking for a few minutes, I asked, “What are you guys doing now?” I’ll never forget the answer: “Well, we are still learning to love one another.” I thought it was the most wonderful thing I’d ever heard. Is there anything better that you could do with your life? I was getting ready to throw in my chips. I would rather be wrong with these people than right with my miserable life out here.
Shortly after this, I remember breaking down inside on my way to work. I decided to trust just one more time. Once again, I prayed with all my heart, “God, if You are real, please, please reveal Yourself to me. Where are You and who are You with?” Could He hear me? Did He ever hear me? Could He see me? Did He care? The answer came just a few days later.
It was a warm summer night in the end of August 1981. I was with my sister on the front porch of our parents’ house, drinking vodka and smoking our cigarettes, when I noticed a man slowly walking up the street past our house. At one point, he stopped and looked as though he was straining to recognize us. I couldn’t see him. It was dark out and I couldn’t see who it was, only his silhouette. After a moment, he continued until he was out of sight behind some trees. It was one of those rare times my sister and I spent together sharing our hearts. I continued having a good time with her.
Suddenly, I heard someone coughing from behind the trees. I knew the man had never continued. It made me a little uncomfortable and I asked my sister if she wanted to go inside. I thought that maybe it was one of her crazy boyfriends. We went to her bedroom, whose windows faced the road. After sitting there listening to Neil Young for a while, I suddenly heard a loud, piercing whistle. She leaned backwards out the window and laughed, yelling, “What do you want???”
I heard a familiar voice that seemed to be coming back through the years of time. “It’s me, Gene. If you want to see Marsha or me, we’re down at my sister’s house.”
Time seemed to stand still. My sister yelled back, “OK.” I knew that the moment of decision had finally come for me. I couldn’t run away anymore. I probably would have sat there indefinitely if it weren’t for my sister who kept telling me, “Come on, let’s go see them. Come on, let’s get ready. Fix yourself up,” leaning into the mirror as she redid her lipstick.
Two hours later I found myself walking down the street. Hope and fear filled my heart at the same time. Could I be forgiven for what I had done? Was there hope for me? Smoking my last cigarette on my way down, I gathered together enough courage to go and knock on the door. Suddenly they were right in front of me — a moment I had often imagined, wondering what it would be like. I suddenly felt so dirty and ashamed, and at least ten years older. Their smiling faces only showed forth warmth and acceptance. They were so happy to see us. They invited us in, and as we sat down in the living room, Gene’s nephew pulled up a chair as well. He probably had heard a lot about his uncle, and out of curiosity he wanted to get in on this one.
Gene told us that this was the second time he had come out to California to see us and wondered whether we had ever gotten his message to meet him at Half Moon Bay in Monterey a year before. His sister was supposed to give us the message, but for some reason she never did. Hindered to speak too much at this point, he simply asked my sister whether she wanted to see him again. She answered, “No, not really.” Then he asked me if I wanted to see him again. I said, “Yes.” So we made an appointment to see each other the following day.
The next day as we talked, he asked me if I wanted to go to Germany. There was a small community there, and he was thinking maybe I would want to go there to avoid further trouble with my parents. It took me about a week to get my passport together. I met them on Monday, and by late Friday afternoon I was on an airplane to London — but not without an intense and highly emotional family encounter right at the end.
That Friday morning I woke up very early to finish packing my things. I then wrote a note to my parents, so they wouldn’t think I had been murdered or something. I stuffed the note in the side of a brown paper bag that had some of my things in it. My mother was also up very early — 5 o’clock, as usual — to pray and study, as she was a teacher of Bible teachers. I had been telling my parents for a few days that I was moving into my apartment on Friday, so it wouldn’t seem strange to them. I then took a shower, but when I got out I sensed there was something wrong. For one thing, my dad was awake and nervously walking around, and what’s more, my brother was also. They both never got up before 8, and by that time I was always long gone.
With red eyes my father kept asking me, “Honey, where are you going?” I told him I was moving into my apartment today. A few minutes later he would oddly ask the question again. Getting frustrated, I would give him the same answer. When it was time to go I said goodbye, and relieved, went up to my car. They all stood on the porch looking at me as I tried to start my car. I turned the key but nothing happened. My heart sank. My car always starts. Now it wasn’t even making a noise. I tried many times but it wouldn’t start. It was obvious to me that they had done something.
I opened the door and yelled at them, “Fix my car!” They just stared at me with sad blank faces. Familiar fears came back. I was almost hysterical. I didn’t know what they were up to. Were the police on the way? Should I just try to make a run for it and get away with my life? I continued to yell at my brother to fix my car until my parents told me to calm down and come inside so we could talk. I didn’t know whether I should trust them or not. Finally I went with them inside.
My mother told me how she was going through my things while I was taking a shower and found the note. My mother was so intuitive, she could smell a match burning clear over in the other end of the house. My brother said I was just floating and that I didn’t really want to go back there. He said he’d give me six months and I’d be back again. I reminded them that they promised me if I wanted to come back when the deprogramming was over, I could. It had been almost two years now and I told them I was sure I wanted to go back. Anxiously I demanded that my dad would tell my brother Peter to fix my car. He then told him to do it as he had pulled some wires. I think they let me go without putting up further resistance because they felt obliged to keep their promise. Their later actions seemed to prove that they bitterly regretted their decision.
I had half a day left to tie up some things before leaving. In the end we miraculously made it to the San Francisco airport by 5 o’clock. We made it through rush-hour traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge in record time. I know angels had something to do with this, even how I made it in on a standby ticket. We came in the last minute and the room was full of people who wanted to get on. They took only ten people, and I was number 29, but somehow I ended up on the flight.
Three years later, I was living in a community in France with my husband Obadiah. I had gotten married shortly before and was pregnant with my first child. The community had left Germany and was now settling in southern France. We lived in an old Chateau, which we named “Tabitha’s Place.”
My husband and I and some others had just returned from a trip to Holland, where we had picked up some good friends at the harbor in Amsterdam. When we got home to Tabitha’s Place, people told me right away that my sister was staying in a hotel in Navarrenx, a nearby town, and had been urgently trying to get in touch with me for several days. Her visit was very unexpected. Not having seen her in about three years, I was kind of surprised about this visit, especially in France. It made me feel a little uneasy since my relationship with my parents wasn’t too good. They had never expressed that they were sorry for kidnapping me, and so it made it hard for me to trust them. As far as I knew, my sister was living with them.
I had to remember a promise that she and I had made together after our deprogramming, that if ever anyone of us wanted to go back to the Community, we wouldn’t tell on each other, and we would never hinder each other from doing what was in our heart. It was a very serious and solemn promise we made, nothing light, as no one else could ever begin to understand what we had been through.
She said she was just traveling through Europe, and since she was in France, she really wanted to come and see me. She was pretty down and out. It all sounded really convincing, but the last thing she said was, “Whatever happens, just remember that I love you.” This should have warned me, but I didn’t want to catch on because of what I was going through at the time, and her company was comforting.
Somehow these situations always seem to come upon me when I’m going through some deep things. Although I madly loved my husband, we were going through some struggles adjusting to each other, as we had gotten married in a flash. I don’t want to call it a world at war, but if I say that I came from a big city in California and he from a small town in West Germany, you may understand what I’m talking about.
Anyway, as a precaution two of my friends who had known my sister from before went to the hotel to talk with her first. While they were there they pretty much concluded that something strange was going on. When they talked to her they felt she was nervous and uneasy. They asked the woman at the desk whether my sister had come alone or with someone else. She said, “Yes, she is with those two men over there,” pointing to two men who were sitting at a small table together. As my friends passed by the table of these two men, they noticed a Hertz rental car key lying on the table. They were speaking Italian. This for sure didn’t line up with her story that she was down and out, traveling alone through Europe.
At one point they saw her disappearing into another hotel room, which also seemed strange to them. When they came back from seeing her, they warned me that she probably was not on the up and up about things. She still wanted me to come alone to the hotel and see her, but we arranged that I would meet with her in an outdoor restaurant in Navarrenx with three of my friends. When we met she had a strange story and no one had peace about it.
Over the next three days she came to our place and spent time with Obadiah and me. I think Obadiah liked meeting my sister, but he couldn’t quite get into all this kidnapping stuff, as he hadn’t grown up on American thrillers. Anyway, I had been advised not to go out of the gates alone with my sister because we didn’t know whether we could trust her motives, so we did laundry together and the three of us talked and took walks together. I found out later that many times in those three days people were hiding in the trees and in the bushes, behind dirt mounds, in corn fields, and behind walls with rope and tape, just waiting for us to get close enough so that they could jump out and grab Obadiah, tie him up, gag him, and leave him down by the river or wherever, and take off with me.
Obadiah, totally oblivious to everything, kept ruining their plans, because whenever we would start to get close enough for them to jump out and grab him, he would change his mind, choosing another direction or another time to go to a specific place my sister would suggest. And though my sister would persist, he wouldn’t go. This frustrated the kidnappers, who had to be careful that no one saw them in the vicinity. Once they had to stay out there a whole long summer day in a sweltering corn field, swatting flies with their walkie-talkies.
On the morning of the third or fourth day I got offended at Obadiah about something and took off with my sister alone down to the river. Near the river we stopped and talked, sitting down on some big stones under the shade of some trees. Suddenly I heard the sound of some walkie-talkies. Despite the uneasiness of others in the Community, I was convinced that she was not up to anything. So the sound did not alarm or frighten me even when three men came around the corner from behind some trees and headed across the field toward us, one having a rope in his hands. Not recognizing them at all, I just thought they were fishermen, as there were often lots of them in the area. Besides that, my sister very calmly made a foolish gesture and laughing, she said, “We’re coming out with our hands up.” It was so foolish, but I couldn’t help but laugh.
Stopping one foot away from me, I was totally shocked when I suddenly recognized two of them as my brothers. Everyone was still for an instant. No one knew what to expect. Thoughts raced through my mind. I remember in the last deprogramming how my resistance made them react so much more, making it much harder for me. I guess they had been in these cornfields for a while, and it seemed they were itching for action. I decided to play along with it until I had a chance to easily get away. I thought going along with it would make it easier on me, as I felt I didn’t have it spiritually or emotionally to resist them, not realizing that this decision would cause me agony in my conscience even years afterwards. I suddenly broke into a smile and said, “It’s funny, this is the only way we ever meet. I’m glad you’re here. You’re right on time. I wanted to leave anyway.” It caught them a little off guard. They looked at one another, not knowing what to really think or what to do. Then they grabbed me, and my brother said, “Come on, hurry! Let’s get her to the car!”
Holding onto me, my two brothers ran with me around the bend towards the river, then cut through the edge of a cornfield and across to another dirt road where a white car was waiting for us. They flung open the back door and threw me in, holding my body down. As they did this I realized that my mother was sitting in the front seat. They raced down the road to the main road, following close behind another car, and together they sped away from Tabitha’s Place.
In the hours to Paris, my kidnappers were quite tense and afraid. They kept close watch on me at all stops, always sending two or three with me to the toilet. We hardly ever stopped at a rest stop, but always in the fields. I remember them anxiously discussing the fact that I didn’t have a passport and what they could do about this matter. I didn’t do much talking in the car, but when I did, I lied and said things that would make them believe I wanted to leave anyway. They seemed quiet and perplexed.
When we got to Paris we went straight to an old apartment building, to a room that was on the second floor. It was an old man’s small private apartment. I found out that he had a daughter who was deprogrammed from some group in America, and out of sheer gratitude that she had been set free, he gave his apartment for this kind of business. All the doors had double locks on them.
This time it was another well-known deprogrammer, Joe Alexander, an Italian, who was doing the deprogramming, along with his colleague, a younger man named Charlie, and Mary Alice, who was also on my first deprogramming in 1979. She had been involved in many deprogrammings, “helping” other people to get out of different groups across the world. At first she had been working for Ted Patrick, but now she was with Joe Alexander. I wondered if she switched because Ted was facing charges for kidnapping at the time, and his sons for raping a girl during a deprogramming session. Mary Alice’s parents had become such “dear” friends of my parents after I had undergone my first deprogramming in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in their house.
This deprogramming, unlike the first one, was more relaxed, probably due to my lack of resistance. I remember sitting in a room with Joe and Charlie, who were talking to me in what seemed a very unprofessional way. Their accusations seemed on the edge of ridiculousness and stupidity. The only thing they had going for them were the locks on the door.
The springboard for their first accusation was an article of one of our freepapers. I happened to have read this article and it was obvious to me that they must not have read it themselves. Joe kept falling asleep while they were talking. Charlie had to keep lightly kicking him with his foot to wake him up. This happened many times over the next few hours. It was obvious that they weren’t very well prepared in knowing us, or even in knowing the Bible. It was pretty pathetic. They tried to set up their videotape, but fortunately it was broken, and so I didn’t have to listen to all that. I don’t remember very much about this deprogramming. I just remember trying to get it over with, saying as little as possible against the Community, but speaking when I had to in order to convince them.
One evening my mother brought up the subject about me being married, and she asked whether I was pregnant. I told her that I was. Then she asked, “Are you going to keep the baby?”
Her question shocked me. “Of course I am,” I said.
“Well, don’t be so hasty,” was her reply. “Maybe you should first talk to some of the women at the rehab about it, before you make a decision.”
My head felt like it would explode, “Abort my baby?” I kept thinking. I wondered how far my mother would go with that. Surely she wouldn’t try to put something in my food that would cause me to abort. I didn’t know what she was capable of. I think my mother was depressed to find out that I was married and pregnant. It all got a lot more complicated now, and she was groping to know how to deal with it. I think they believed that I loved my husband, and Mary Alice so kindly told me that she would even do a deprogramming on him for free if he’d ever show up in California. We just would have to provide the plane ticket for her.
Other than her boasting how she had just finished a deprogramming in Israel, I don’t remember her being very involved in this deprogramming, except to go on shopping sprees and to buy souvenirs in Paris. I also remember Joe coming into the living room in the evening and saying to my mom, “Hey Joyce, you got some more money for me?” Once again, I couldn’t help but feel bad about how she was being taken advantage of by these obvious crooks.
This time my dad didn’t come. I only talked to him on the phone. He said he would see me when I got home. He had stayed in California, probably just hoping that the deprogramming would work. My brothers seemed a little bored and just hung out.
After about four or five days of this, we went to get passport photos. It was either the same day or the next day that my mother went with me to the embassy. They decided that I would say that I lost my passport while traveling. They seemed nervous. I feel stupid to say it, but later I realized that this was my biggest chance for escape. All I would have had to do was tell the people at the embassy that I was being kidnapped and held against my will and the whole thing would have come to a screeching halt.
There was no problem with getting a passport, and so everyone was getting ready to fly back to the US. It must have been an expensive time to travel as school had just begun, posing another big expense on my mom. I assume that most had round-trip tickets, except myself and Mary Alice, who had just flown in from Israel on a ticket my mom provided for her, and now she needed another flight to the rehab in Iowa City with me, as she was assigned to accompany me during my rehab time.
The rehab in Iowa City was a lot more low-key than the one in San Diego. Iowa City is a Midwest university town and San Diego is a big city with lots of attractions and high life. The thing that affected me the most there were talks with a couple of women about abortions. One of them gave me her first-hand experience on it. She told me that she was so emotional during her pregnancy, she couldn’t stand it, and neither could her boyfriend because she was crying all the time. So when she was four months pregnant she got an abortion and she as well as her boyfriend were so glad that she did. I could hardly believe what she was saying. I don’t want to say that they counseled me to have an abortion, but for sure no one encouraged me to keep the baby.
The first or second day we were there, Mary Alice got a phone call that her father just had a heart attack and was dying. She was very shocked and sad about this and wanted to go back home to Chattanooga. I comforted her and told her that it would be alright to leave me; I was doing ok. I knew this was my chance. Everything was working out perfectly. The leader of the rehab and his wife had just gone on vacation before I got there to visit relatives in Philadelphia. Another worker was gone too. They wanted to assign a young man as my “watchdog,” so to speak, to go with me wherever I went. I told the woman who was talking to me about it that I really had a problem with men.
She asked me very sympathetically, “When did you start feeling this way?”
I said, “It started in high school.”
She seemed to really understand, but the problem was that no one else was there who could be with me. She thought it’d probably be ok if I’d go places alone. After that, I was allowed quite a bit of freedom. I only had to attend a few seminars on psychology and mind control.
On my third day of being there, I got to go into the city by myself. I went to the university, which was within walking distance, and took a look around. I found a little restaurant on a side street and used the pay phone. I had no phone numbers of any of our communities in America, but at least I could remember the number of Tabitha’s Place in France. They had given me $200 spending money from my father, and so I had plenty of change.
Gene happened to be the one who answered the phone. I was so happy when I heard his voice, just to have made that contact with my friends again after everything which happened. I quickly told him where I was and what had happened and then we made arrangements on how I could get away. I was to connect with Sameach, a friend from one of our places in the US. We were to meet the next day at the public library at 10 o’clock. I was very excited and could hardly wait.
The next morning I packed everything I wanted to take with me in two backpacks. I wrote a note to my father, which I put into the top drawer of the dresser in the room I was staying in. While I was eating breakfast, I talked to the woman who was substituting for the couple that normally was in charge of this rehabilitation center. She was an older woman who seemed nervous and overwhelmed with the responsibility of the job. I tried to put her at ease. I told her that I would really like to go shopping that day, and that I wanted to leave sometime after breakfast. She didn’t seem to like the idea too much, although she didn’t object, but she told me that I needed to be at a seminar at 1 o’clock. I said, “Ok,” knowing that this would make things a little tight.
I went upstairs and got one of the backpacks and came quietly downstairs. I looked at the lady who was in her office. Her back was turned towards me. She was busily working and seemed unaware of me. I quietly went through the kitchen and through the living room. Usually there were a few people hanging around, but amazingly enough no one was there. Then I was out the door, down the stairs, and up the street. At the end of the block, I threw my backpack under some trees. Totally relieved, I ran back to the house. No one noticed that I had been gone. I grabbed my last backpack. Sneaking by her one more time unnoticed, I made it outside again. Throwing the backpack with the other one, I ran back to the house. No one got it.
After I got the last things together, I went into her office and told her that I was going shopping now, and that I’d be back by 1 o’clock for the seminar. Hesitantly she let me go. She didn’t like the idea of me going alone. I was really thankful that everything seemed to be working out.
I went straight to the public library and waited there by the front door until 10. Since Iowa City is a university town, there were young people everywhere milling around little shops by the campus. As the minutes drew close, I got more excited, thinking it would soon be all over. 10 o’clock came and went. 10:15… 10:20… 10:30. No Sameach. My heart began to sink. Then the thought came to me that maybe there was another public library and I was at the wrong one. I went inside the library and asked the woman at the desk if there was another library in town. She said that there was the university library. I got directions and thanked her.
I ran as fast as I could the six blocks, dodging people all the way there. Breathlessly, I looked around. It seemed pretty empty. I was looking for Sameach’s big beard. I didn’t see him anywhere. I waited nervously for a few minutes. Then I realized that maybe he had come in this time and was now waiting at the public library. “Oh no, I don’t want him to leave,” I thought, and started running back to the public library. I arrived totally out of breath and quickly looked around for him. It was getting late. I went into the library and asked the head librarian if a man with a big beard had come in, asking for a blond girl like me.
She answered, “No,” so I went out and waited probably 10 or 15 minutes more. Maybe he’s come now and is waiting for me at the university library. I decided to check again. I raced back to the university library. I anxiously looked around. He was not there. Time was running out.
“Did you see a man with a big beard who is looking for a girl with blond hair?”
The young woman at the desk seemed extremely kind and willing to help, so I asked where she would go if she were told to meet somebody at the public library. Would she wait at the public library in the middle of town, or would she wait at the university library? She asked if I was a university student. “No.” Then she asked if the person I was looking for was a university student. “No.” “Then I would wait at the public library, if I were you.” It seemed like such simple wisdom and it brought me peace.
I took off running as fast as I could through the crowd one more time. As soon as I got back to the public library, I looked around for Sameach. He wasn’t there. I went inside and checked again with the librarian. Irritated she answered, “No, I haven’t.”
I decided to wait at the front door until 1 o’clock. That was all I could do. My anxiety was turning to fear, as it was almost 12 o’clock. It seemed it wasn’t working out like I thought it would. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice. Without a doubt, it was Sameach! His first words were, “Turn around slowly,” his voice controlled. He quickly went on to say, “Stay calm, don’t act as if you know me, and stay ten paces behind.” I wanted to scream and jump up and down and throw my arms around him, but I controlled myself.
As I turned around I was totally shocked. He had no beard! He had shaved it completely off. Only his mustache was left. He had a nice shirt on and was wearing round wire-rimmed glasses, and carried a leather briefcase in his hand. He looked like a spiffy university professor. He casually turned around and walked off. I looked down as it was hard for me to keep from smiling. Nonchalantly, I followed him, looking in shop windows as I walked behind him for several blocks down the cobblestone pedestrian zone until he turned down a side street.
Finally feeling out of danger, we began to talk. “Sameach! I’m so happy to see you. I’ve been waiting for you since 10 o’clock.”
“Hurry, get in the car. We’ve got to get out of here. How much time do we have until they notice that you are gone?”
I said, “Until 1 o’clock. They are expecting me for a seminar.” Now it was 12 o’clock, so it only gave us one hour.
I think he was handling it pretty well until I told him that we had to get my bags, which I had left under some trees one block from the rehab house. For almost one hour we looked for them, as I had lost my way. All the streets looked the same. I really wanted to get my bags, but besides that, I had also put my passport in one of them. Finally we found the right place. I grabbed my bags and we took off.
Sameach didn’t waste any time, but drove straight to Chicago. Being with Sameach was comforting. I was thankful for his love. He had a way of making the worst situations not seem so bad. As we drove he told me how he had gotten the message to get me, and everything that happened on his end.
From Chicago, we took a plane to Boston, where we spent the night in the community there. The next day, we traveled to Island Pond, Vermont, where I had lived before, to see my old friends whom I hadn’t seen since 1979. I was so happy to see them, and was also very thankful for the people there who paid for my plane ticket. They had been saving the money so that they could fix up their house, but they had given it up for me. A few days later, I flew out of New York to San Sebastian in Spain, where I was met by my husband and friends, who brought me back to Tabitha’s Place. I was so relieved that it was all over. I was home again.
I’m writing this 14 years after my last deprogramming. Often I look at my oldest son and I am so glad that he came to birth and that we have him. After my second deprogramming, I told my parents that I couldn’t trust them, and that to avoid further harm to myself and my family I would have to cut off any relationship with them until they gave me a clear assurance that they were really sorry for what they had done to me. Unfortunately, up to this day, they never did.
About seven years ago, I had a dream about my dad dying and him calling for me. This really affected me, and I felt I couldn’t ignore it. I found out later that he had almost died, but came back to life. Anyway, this caused me to open up communications with my parents again, hoping for a change of heart on their side, and also that they could see our heart. Really, it was not that we cut ourselves off from them, but they cut themselves off from us through their behavior. There just has to be a certain amount of trust that comes from respecting basic rules of conduct in order to have normal relationships.
Of course, when I became a disciple of the Son of God, I came out from underneath the authority of my parents, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have a relationship with them anymore. As a matter of fact, many of my friends in the community enjoy good relationships with their families. However, my parents never could reconcile themselves to the fact that I had found the Pearl, even though my dad always used to tell me growing up, “Honey, the world is your oyster.” I guess they didn’t like my Pearl and they didn’t think it was worth the price I paid for it.
I’m sure my sister’s input about her first-hand experience with the community didn’t help them either. I don’t know what prompted them to do the second deprogramming. I could only speculate. I know that my sister changed camps after I came back to the Community. She is blaming the Community for many things, although she probably wouldn’t even be alive had she not come to the Community when she did, the way her life was going back then. In every encounter that I had with her since the second deprogramming, either personal or on the phone, she expressed a lot of bitterness about her time in the Community. I think in her heart she knows the truth, but she is not willing to obey it. It seems to me that this is really what is behind her frantic attempts to justify her life and to find fault with the Community.
The reopening of communications with my parents led to a first visit. By that time I had moved back to the US and lived in Vermont. I found out that my brother Peter had gotten married and moved to upstate New York, where his wife was from. This was not so far from where I was living, so we arranged for a visit in his house. My parents flew out from California. Even though Peter told me that he was sorry for the kidnapping and deprogramming, and said that he never would do this again, it is clear that he doesn’t really see anything good about my life. If it was up to him, he still would want me to leave the Community.
My other brother, Eric, wasn’t in on this particular visit. We saw each other at a later time. This has been the only time we’ve met since my second deprogramming, and nothing really came out of it as far as amends in our relationship.
On that initial visit in my brother’s house, my parents expressed that sometimes people who have been in these cults get burned out after being there for 10 or 15 years. They might have had the hope that this could be happening with us, and that we were possibly looking for a way out. In this, of course, we had to disappoint them.
I think we were just checking each other out on this visit, trying to figure out where everybody is coming from. It is clear that my family never gave up this thing about brainwashing. The sad result of this is that we can’t really communicate with each other on a normal level because they automatically label everything we say as being brainwashed. Even though there have been subsequent visits after this initial one, no progress in our relationship has been made. They never acknowledged that I had a free will to seek for God the way my conscience directed me, and they never respected or accepted the choice I made. Not liking my choice made them very susceptible towards the cult scare, causing them to take in the explanation that after all it wasn’t really my choice but it was something I did under the influence of mind control. I think this is really the bottom line.
Looking back, my husband and I see that we lacked wisdom in the way we tried to reach out to them. We could have made it easier on them, yet it is also really clear that unless they give up this thing about us being under mind control or being brainwashed, there can be no real healing or restoration between us. It is sad to say, but so far only suspicion, fear, and mistrust have prevailed.
To me this whole thing that is so scary about this cult scare is that once you have labeled someone as a cult this brands them in such a negative way that anything they say or do is filtered through that prejudiced conception. Even in the name of God the masses are eventually liable to do anything — the end justifying the means — as history, especially European history has proven over and over again, the best examples probably being the Spanish inquisition and the holocaust. The mindset about the Jews even caused them to be seen less than human and justified people in their conscience to treat them accordingly. If a fly is bothering you, you don’t have a problem killing it.
The word of God promises that there will be a demonstration of His love on the earth through a people, an expression of love and unity, not forced unity such as communism, but true unity coming forth from the love of God. What’s so frightening is that you can’t even live together and love other human beings and practice hospitality according to the love that’s been poured out into your heart by your Creator, without the red flags going up, being accused of “love bombing.” People are so paranoid of loving or being loved for wrong motives so no one loves anyone anymore or shows hospitality, because they are afraid of being accused of being a “cult.” And even there might be groups that are taking advantage of the weak for their own gain, yet taking away the freedom of religion which comes in the wake of the cult scare isn’t the answer to this problem. People have a free choice, a free will and this must be respected for God has given man the inalienable right to grope for Him according to the dictates of his own conscience. To take this away from a person is truly the greater injustice and crime against mankind.