The Shocking Stories of How Christian Homes Treat Troubled Teens
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Rider recalled one new girl she was assigned to supervise: Angela was a firebrand who'd arrived at New Bethany straight out of a mental institution and became such a target of staff and "big sister" discipline that she twice attempted suicide. First she jumped through the glass of a second-story window. Later, she slashed her wrists. Rider found her in the bathroom, surrounded by shards of broken mirror. After a housemother bandaged Angela's arms, Rider said, she heard the girl being beaten down the hall. When Rider tried to apologize, Angela asked why she hadn't just let her die.
In 2000, Rider created a New Bethany "survivor" forum comprising as many as 400 former residents and staff. Among them was Cat Givens, an Ohio radio technician who stayed at New Bethany in 1974 and became so shell-shocked by the routine of punishment and submission—and the spectacle of runaways being returned by the police and handcuffed to their beds—that she lost her will to resist. "After a while, I was so brainwashed I didn't even want to run," she told me. "I figured this was God's plan."
Karen Glover, a Navy veteran who attended Indiana's Roloff-inspired Hephzibah House as a girl, described what she calls "the bowel and bladder torture." The girls were given bran, made to drink lots of water at breakfast, and then denied bathroom access until lunchtime. There was no apparent reason for this treatment, Glover says, save reminding the girls who was in charge. Dave Halyaman, assistant director of Hephzibah House, would not respond directly to Glover's claims. Instead, he offered to put me in touch with two pastors who had daughters there. "We have our critics, but also people who think very well of us," he said.
New Bethany founder Mack Ford proved even less talkative. I reached him at home on three occasions, and he hung up on me twice. He refused to discuss any allegations of abuse. ("I don't know anything about that," he said.) Nor would he divulge the name of his attorney or agree to have his attorney contact me.
FORD OPERATED A SEPARATE New Bethany home for boys in Longstreet, Louisiana. Clark Word, now 44, was sent there when he was about 15. On his second day, he recalls, he watched administrator Larry Rapier punch a boy of 10 or so in the mouth for wetting his pants on the bus to Sunday worship. Violence was the norm, Word says, and students were expected to enforce discipline. In one memorable 1982 incident, a student named Guy disappeared from the school after he was badly beaten with golf clubs by other students, leaving Guy's terror-stricken friends to wonder whether the staff had finished him off. (Rapier's ex-wife Dee told me she sent Guy to recover at her mother's Texas home before returning him to his parents.)
My attempts to track down Larry Rapier proved fruitless. But Dee Rapier confirmed the atmosphere of physical and psychological torment at the facility she ran with her former husband. "Larry had a room that used to be a storage place that was six by eight, or eight by eight, that he called 'solitary confinement,'" she told me. (A former staffer called them "revival rooms.") Misbehaving boys were put in isolation, given a can to pee in, and forced to listen to hours of taped sermons, Word remembers.
After Word had been there for almost seven months, his "watch" escaped. Police normally returned runaways to the home, but the severity of the boy's injuries led state officials to investigate. Rapier, who had continued running the school while free on bond in a 1981 child-abuse case (the charges were eventually dropped), sent the other boys away—some went home, some were placed at kindred facilities. School records, Dee Rapier told me, were shredded.