Why Don’t You Ask the Victims?

If you want to know the real story, why not ask the “victims”?

I was raised in the Twelve Tribes Community. I wasn’t born here but I came just as soon as I could, at one year old. I was four when the state of Vermont authorized a raid on our community. I was taken with 111 other children as well as our parents who insisted on accompanying us to the large gymnasium where we were to be held until a judge ruled that there was evidence of abuse. Then we would be examined by social workers, doctors, and psychiatrists, who would then decide that we were indeed abused, which would then result in us being taken forcefully from our parents and given to who knows who. Perhaps I would have been a statistic in the quote below from Princeton University.

“All children do best when they live in safe, stable, and nurturing families, yet far too many children lack this fundamental foundation. Every year, millions of children are abused or neglected—close to 300,000 so egregiously that they are removed from their homes by the state and placed in foster care. For too many of these children, foster care is no safe haven. Instead, the children drift from foster home to foster home, lingering in care while awaiting a permanent, “forever family.”

I have imagined that scenario, “drifting from foster home to foster home, lingering in care while awaiting a permanent, “forever family.” I imagined it, rather than experiencing it because in our case there was a judge who still regarded his solemn oath to uphold the United States Constitution as his public duty and moral obligation.

Oh, the horrors I have heard from those brought up in such an environment. Far too many to list, but if one really wants to know the truth it is not hard to find.

Fortunately, I stayed with my God-given parents. I say “fortunately” knowing how truly fortunate I am to have been raised in a “safe, stable, and nurturing family” I know that many are not, and I do not say it in haughtiness, just gratefulness that brings me to tears when I consider it. I can look back at my life like a movie, or like what movies used to be — a moving picture. That’s me there with the curly hair. I am holding a broom that looks as if it could topple me over with its sheer size. The handle is towering above me, my arms stretched to steady it. The pile of dirt and wood chips at my feet is impressive, arranged in a circle that is getting tighter and tighter as I sweep its perimeter. The goal is in reach and my impatient smile shows it. I am three years old and I have just learned how to sweep a floor.

The man standing behind me is my father. You can’t tell from the picture, but he has been standing, bending over me, for the past hour. I am sure his back is hurting, but I would never know it. His smile is proud and genuine as he straightens up to find the dust pan. As I swept the dirt into the waiting dust pan that was being held by my father, I knew I had learned. I would never forget how to sweep a floor. I was only three, but there was something that I knew how to do. There was something that gave me worth and dignity. No matter where I was, or who I was with, I could always make my presence welcome by cleaning the floor.

If I had been taken that day, I would not have forgotten my lesson. Would anyone have given me a broom? Would they have known what I was capable of? Would they have cared? If they saw what I could do, would they have been proud of me? If they would have been proud of me, what right could they claim to their pride? Would they wonder who had taught me?

This small example is one of thousands. I do not think I would even remember it had it not been for one day on a construction site. I was watching three workers. They were temporary workers who had been hired to clean up the site. I noticed that their activity was odd in some way. I stopped my work to watch them. I wanted to see what was so odd that I had somehow noticed without really knowing what it was. It didn’t take me long to find out.

They were each holding brooms; each was pushing his broom along the floor, but no dirt was gathering. Their efforts were really just a waste of time and money for the contractor who had hired them. At first I thought they were lazy. Surely grown men would know how to sweep. I accosted them and told them that they would be fired if they did not do a good job. The look on their faces told me everything I needed to know. They did not know how to sweep. I taught them what my father had taught me and they were happy to learn. I went back to work and started to ask myself who had taught me to sweep. Initially what came to me was, “You taught yourself.” Then, I remembered…

Here I am again, seven, I think, in this snapshot. I am smiling, and you can see the vacancy where teeth used to reside, but where now stands only a blank space, and from the picture it looks as if I am proud of this departure from my normal appearance. It is summer and my elbows and knees are adorned with the usual summer markings of scrapes and scabs that just can’t seem to heal before they are refreshed with the latest fall, crash, or general mishap.

I remember this time of my life well. It’s mostly just a whirl of memories, a happy blur of joy, seemingly only experienced by children. The hot, sticky days of summer, where one’s energy could be burned up with miles of running, swimming, and a multitude of chores that didn’t really feel like work, followed by the coolness of fall where the academic learning resumed again at full pace. Interspersed are the big memories, the ones I can never forget, and the ones that have become stories to be told again and again.

Here, I am working with my father, still only a boy of seven. It is summer and somehow he has found a way for me to tag along with him on the job that day. This is the greatest of privileges in my young world, and I would not spoil it for anything. Downtown Boston is all abuzz with the usual traffic, honking of horns, wailing of sirens, and the many people rushing to and from the grand buildings that constitute “downtown.” It is at just one of these that we are working. Twenty-five stories tall, it looks as if it is tipping over if I stand at the bottom and look straight up. I like the ride on the elevators, I will tell my brother about it later. I like the shiny walls. The office workers in the many cubicles are nice to me. They give me things that I like.

It’s mid-morning now, I may be beginning to show signs of weariness but we still have much to accomplish. We are in the hall, waiting for the elevator. We need some supplies from the hardware store. My small hand disappears into my father’s firm grasp. My other hand starts to explore my surroundings. I see what looks to me like a soap dispenser. I pull hard on the lever. Instead of sudsy liquid, a piercing alarm cuts through the air and the shocking blue-white flash of a strobe assaults my eyes. I have never heard or seen such a thing. I look to my father. His eyes go from shock to horror as he realizes that I am the cause of this startling interruption. He tries to wedge the fire alarm back into place but to no avail. What is done is done. The consequences are all that is left.

The workers funneled out one by one, taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Their computers were automatically shut down and hours of work for hundreds of workers had been lost. Evacuation was mandatory. The gravity of the situation sent me into numbness. The weight on my shoulders felt like tons of rock that I must carry. After all, it was my fault. The fire trucks started to arrive en masse, preceded by myriads of city police and followed by many ambulances. I saw the yellow ribbon stretched across three city blocks announcing that this section of downtown was closed until further notice.

I looked up to my father for reassurance. What I saw reassured me that what I had done was very serious. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to be able to wake up and tell what a terrible dream I had just had. I wanted to enjoy the sight of so many fire trucks. I felt so bad. How could I ever pay the consequences for such a terrible act? When we arrived home my mom noticed the look on his face. His answer to that overused question, “How is it going?” was, “This has been the worst day of my life.” Oh, what punishment I deserved! I thought this would be the spanking of all spankings. My parents spanked us when we did what we knew to be wrong or when we disobeyed them, but this, oh, this... I deserved whatever came my way.

I could tell, though, by the sound of my father’s voice, that I was mistaken. Lovingly and calmly, without any hint of anger or even disappointment, he said. “I am going to spank you because you need to ask before you touch things when you don’t know what they are.” I could hardly believe it. I was being punished for the act, not the consequences. I will always love and respect my father for this. Later he brought me to the owner of the building and the fire chief to apologize. With the spanking I had received and their forgiveness my guilt was absolved. I could happily go on without any shame for what I had done. I had been forgiven.

By late youth, I had learned more than most boys my age. In the summer, I was not only allowed to work, but requested, and I loved it. This day would be different, though. I had made a comment that had been very upsetting to my mother. It seemed as if my occupation was in jeopardy. I could not understand why she was so upset. All I had said was something to the effect of, “I’m not doing any woman’s work.”

I had called “helping in the kitchen” women’s work, and now my mother was fuming. She talked to my dad for a long time. Then they called me over. He asked her to speak. She said, “They call people like you male chauvinists. If this is how you view the work we do, you will mistreat your wife someday. I will not stand for it, you’re helping me today.” I am so glad she said that, and I am so glad my parents carried through with it. If they had not cared enough to train me I would have turned out just as she said. Instead, I respect my wife, I love her so much for who she is, and, I know how to cook. And I like to.

This is just some of the honor I owe to my parents for the wonderful upbringing I received. I used to take it for granted, but now I know that it is a precious gift that not many receive. I now have three children and I intend to raise them just as I was brought up. I will not hate them by ignoring their disobedience; neither will I hate them by abusing them. They were given to me by God, and the right and responsibility and privilege to raise them is mine and mine alone. Anyone who would interfere with this would be exalting himself above his Creator. Is there any greater evil?

In closing, if our community is indeed guilty of child abuse, you have just heard from one of the “victims.”

~ Shemuel

The Twelve Tribes is a confederation of twelve self-governing tribes, composed of self-governing communities. We are disciples of the Son of God whose name in Hebrew is Yahshua. We follow the pattern of the early church in Acts 2:44 and 4:32, truly believing everything that is written in the Old and New Covenants of the Bible, and sharing all things in common.

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