education, psychology, teen help

Circle of Hope Ranch: Another Missouri Christian “teen help” snake pit closes…

Good morning, everybody. I am writing today’s post on my new laptop. It’s the first laptop I have bought since July 2014, just before we moved back to Germany from Texas. I bought my first laptop because my computer had been shipped and I predicted wanting to have a computer for the times when I traveled. It seems crazy to buy a new computer for travel now… especially since my old machine still works. But since I’m not having much fun right now, I decided it was time to upgrade. I have Bill’s blessing, too!

This morning, I became aware of yet another Christian boarding school in Missouri that was just closed. The fact that this school was in Missouri is noteworthy, since Missouri is notorious for having little oversight over private boarding schools, such as the now defunct Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy. Consequently, there are a lot of “teen help” type schools in that state, especially those affiliated with independent Baptist churches. These schools are often located in tiny, rural towns and are set up on vast, remote plots of land, free from the prying eyes of neighbors and authorities, and hard for the children to escape.

The name of the school I’m writing of today is Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch and Boarding School. This place, located in Humansville, a hamlet in southwestern Missouri, was run by Christian couple Boyd and Stephanie Householder, aged 71 and 55 respectively. Boyd Householder faces 79 felony counts and one misdemeanor, which include “charges for child molestation, sodomy, sexual contact with a student and neglect of a child.” His wife, Stephanie, is charged with 22 felony counts of “abuse or neglect of a child, and endangering the welfare of a child.”

News item about Circle of Hope Ranch.

The alleged abuses took place between 2017 and 2020, although Boyd Householder opened the school in 2006. He claimed that his methods could “reform rebellious teenage girls.” His allegedly abusive brand of straightening out hundreds of girls went unabated until his own daughter, Amanda, spoke out on Tik Tok. Amanda has not spoken to her parents since 2016. The school’s official Web site is now defunct, but you can access an archived version of it here.

Having done my fair share of studying these types of boarding schools, it comes as no surprise to me that the Householders are accused of using cruel methods to control their charges. The Christian couple is accused of withholding food, restraining girls, and forcing them to do manual labor. Girls were allegedly restrained with handcuffs and zip ties, and gagged with dirty socks. It occurs to me that the Householders may have stumbled across an effective way to satisfy their needs… free labor that parents actually PAID them to force their daughters to do, and sexual kink. The fact that Householder used dirty sock gags and hard restraints on teenaged girls suggests to me that he’s likely a sexual deviant.

Besides obviously being perverted, Householder also supposedly told one of his charges how to commit suicide. He also allegedly pushed a girl down stairs. Past residents have also alleged that Householder slammed girls’ heads against walls, kept them in strict isolation, poured hot sauce in their mouths, and used duct tape and socks to prevent a girl from using her hands. Boyd Householder’s wife, Stephanie, was less of a participant in the abuse, but aided and abetted her husband in committing them.

As I write this post this morning, I’m watching the latest season of 60 Days In, a reality show that has civilians voluntarily entering jails undercover in an effort to help wardens improve security and get information about what goes on inside their facilities. As horrific, dangerous, and violent jails are, at least in the vast majority of them, inmates have basic human rights and some knowledge of when they might be released. Teenagers that are sent to the “therapeutic” or “religious” boarding schools often have no idea when they might be allowed to leave. And they have little to no contact with anyone who can or will advocate for them.

Where was the oversight? Didn’t parents or child welfare workers take note? Well, according to NBC News, legal authorities did receive numerous complaints about Circle of Hope– at least 19 reports were logged since the school was opened in 2006. But thanks to Missouri’s lax laws regarding private school oversight, no actions were ever taken. Consequently, there have been many cases of abuse and even a few deaths at religious and/or military reform schools like Circle of Hope. I mentioned Mountain Park, in Patterson, Missouri, earlier in this post. That school closed in 2004, but eight years prior to its closure, a student was murdered there by another student. There was also a death at the now defunct Thayer Learning Center, a Mormon/military based program based in Kidder, Missouri, when a student collapsed there.

I’ve been following these types of reform programs for about twenty years. Progress has been made, since a lot of the worst programs have been shut down. However, as the news about Circle of Hope suggests, there are still programs out there that operate without any oversight and employ extremely abusive methods to control teens. And a lot of the people running the schools are deviants who are looking after children who need help from trained professionals. But even some of the so called professionals are ill equipped and unsuitable for the job.

I wrote about a program that was located near where I grew up. Hopesville Christian Academy had a history of taking in troubled teens from all over the state of Virginia. Many times, the care was paid for by taxpayers. But then it turned out that the man running the school, who had inherited the job from his father-in-law who had founded it, was sexually abusing his charges.

Also, back in 2008, I became aware of a deviant social worker from Middlesex County, Virginia, the county adjacent to my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia. The social worker, Arthur Bracke, had worked with abused children for many years. But he was also abusing them himself. After he retired from his job, he was outed for being a deviant and wound up in prison, where he later died. As someone who has a MSW myself, it is shocking to me that this man got away with molesting and abusing so many children and managed to retire from his job before he was finally discovered. Before his arrest, Bracke tried to murder one of the three sons he had adopted from the foster care system by intentionally setting his rented house on fire while the 19 year old boy was sleeping in it.

Although there are some good people who work with teens, there are also a lot of bad people. And they take advantage of stressed out, desperate, frustrated parents who just want to pain to end. The kids go off to “rehab” and their parents are kept unaware of what’s going on with their child. Many times, the youngsters come out of these schools scarred by the abuse and traumatized forever. Or, in worse cases, the children end up dying from abuse, neglect, or murder.

I’m glad to read that another school has been shut down. I just wish it had never been allowed to open and operate without any oversight whatsoever. My heart breaks for the children who were forced to endure the abuses at Circle of Hope and other schools like it. Life is hard enough without having your parents send you away to a place where your life is controlled by criminals. I hope justice is served in the Householders’ case. I am all for them getting a fair trial, but I have learned that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It will be interesting to read what becomes of them as they move through the legal system… and I hope Missouri lawmakers are paying attention and take some action to stop these abusive programs. I also hope parents open their eyes and get wise to these places.

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education, mental health, psychology, religion

Getting “right” with God!

I got bored yesterday and started reading the Internet, as I often do. Before long, I was reading about a scandal at tiny Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. Having familiarized myself with Front Royal when I worked at a church camp up that way, I was interested in the story about young women who were allegedly sexually assaulted there. But, as anyone who’s ever surfed the Web knows, one thing leads to another, and before I knew it, I was reading about yet another controversial “teen help” program for girls.

Someone had written a blog post about Hephzibah House, a “school” located in Winona Lake, Indiana. I found the post because I had searched for Hyles-Anderson College, a school in Hammond, Indiana, affiliated with the Independent Baptist Church. I have written about Hyles-Anderson College before. It’s a place where young men go to become strict, fire and brimstone Baptist preachers, and young women go to learn how to be good wives and helpmeets. But when I added the word “horror” to “Hyles-Anderson College, I stumbled across this blog post about Hyles-Anderson College and its connection to Hephzibah House.

The blog entry is posted on No Eden Elsewhere, which appears to be a blog mostly dedicated to the subject of clergy abuse. The person who wrote the post happened to catch a two day expose on the Dr. Phil show about the horrors of the Hephzibah House. If I were living in America right now, I probably would have seen the show myself. It originally aired on January 13th and 14th 2020, and featured the son of the founders, Ronald E. and Patti Williams, who implored viewers NOT to send their daughters to the school.

The son of the founders describes how his parents disciplined him, as well as the girls at the school.

It appears the Hephzibah House is still operating. There is a very simple, Blogspot-esque Web site that is still available to inform parents about the school. According to that site, the girls are not spanked. However, according to the survivors on the Dr. Phil show, corporal punishment is a major ingredient in the school’s recipe for “straightening out” young girls, aged 13 to 16 years, 8 months. Why don’t they take girls older than 16 years, 8 months? Because the minimum stay is 15 months. Do the math, and you see that 16 years, 8 months is the latest a girl could attend the school and spend 15 months there before she turns 18 and can legally walk out of there.

A woman explains how she was paddled at Hephzibah House.

The above video is a harrowing description of how girls were allegedly disciplined at Hephzibah House. I can believe the woman’s account, since I have become well versed in the practices of similar schools. Corporal punishment, and abusive correction methods such as forcing girls to copy and memorize Bible verses or write sentences, are pretty common at these types of places. The description of the abuses at Hephzibah House might have been “spiced” up a bit for ratings purposes, but my guess is that it didn’t have to be spiced up too much.

Years ago, I chatted with a couple of people who attended the now defunct Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Patterson, Missouri and they had similar stories. I also read about the former Victory Christian Academy in Jay, Florida, which was later rebranded Lighthouse Christian Academy and has now closed. Below is a video about a woman who went to Victory Christian Academy– a survivor of the school, so to speak.

Similar methods… and she does mention the Hephzibah House. She also describes being “kidnapped” in the middle of the night and forcibly taken to school in 2003.

For the life of me, I don’t understand how these supposedly “Christian” people can run such obviously abusive “schools” that employ blatantly heavy-handed methods of getting their charges to obey. I was always taught that Christ was about love, tolerance, and acceptance, as well as mercy. These schools are all about pain, punishment, and humiliation. And typically, these places don’t allow any freedom of expression. In the above Dr. Phil clips, the guests talk about how they weren’t allowed to speak, unless they were asking permission to go to the bathroom or something.

And in the above clip about Victory Christian Academy, the former student, Mackenzie Millar, talks about how she wasn’t allowed to write the truth about how life at the school really was in her letters home. She speaks about the “get right room”, a room the size of a closet where girls were forced to stay for hours. The rooms were nasty and stinky, because girls would urinate on themselves. Meanwhile, they were forced to listen to Lester Roloff’s abusive fundie sermons, blasted at them. Mackenzie also talks about how the floors were equipped with sensors that would sense when girls got up. Likewise, in the Dr. Phil clips, the participants talk about how the floors had sensors and there were microphones everywhere, so the staff could hear every whisper. Creepy! Also, most of the girls at the school stopped having their periods.

I see the Hephzibah House uses the School of Tomorrow (Accelerated Christian Education) curriculum, which is a Protestant fundamentalist educational curriculum that is often used at these types of schools. Another popular curriculum is Abeka (formerly A Beka Book), which was developed at Pensacola Christian College and named after, Rebekah Horton, the wife of the school’s founder, Arlin Horton. Years ago, I used to hang out on The Student Voice, a newsletter and forum run by former PCC students, many of whom were kicked out of the school and wanted to share their stories. I also read about what it was like to work for A Beka Book at PCC.

The school administrators, of course, were very angry about the site, which used the domain http://www.pensacolachristiancollege.com. They sued to get the site’s owner to relinquish the domain, and students who were caught reading or contributing to it were expelled. Having been an active member on that site for awhile, I can attest that it was not a scandalous place. There was no swearing allowed, and the contributors, by and large, were intelligent and thoughtful people who were clearly Christians. But they rebelled against the school’s extreme teachings and policies. Here’s a blog post by a woman named Samantha Field, who attended PCC and has written about why people shouldn’t go there. At least people who are going to college generally have a choice as to whether they will attend. There is still a messageboard in existence, although it’s not all that active anymore. At one time, I was a member, but I don’t know if I still am.

They claim they were forced to eat rotten and bug infested food.

I know there are some people who believe that these kinds of schools, where brainwashing is the name of the game, are helping them “get right with God”. In fact, one of Dr. Phil’s guests supports Hephzibah House, and says it’s not a bad place to be. I’ve read accounts from other people who claim these types of schools, where students are beaten and force fed their own vomit (see Mackenzie Millar’s podcast video for that story), have “saved their lives”.

I wonder if this woman REALLY thinks that blatant abuse is the best way to help someone “get right with God”.

I am also sure that many of the parents who send their kids to these kinds of schools feel like they have no other choice. I’m sure, in many situations, parents feel like they’ve lost control. But so many of these facilities are legitimately abusive hellholes. The methods employed are abusive and damaging, and they destroy people. It’s shocking that in this day and age, in the United States, these types of schools are allowed to exist with very little oversight. Discipline methods that would merit a visit to parents from child protective services are apparently widely employed without consequence at these places. And the young people who endure them come out with lasting damage from the abuse.

More about Hephzibah House– a “haven” for troubled teen girls.

The more I hear and read about these places, a few of which have been shut down, the happier I am that not only was I not raised in a strict religion, but I am also way beyond the teen years. The kids that go to these places are treated worse than prisoners. At least in prison, religious indoctrination is a choice.

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mental health, musings

We now return you to “the arts”…

I often get reminded of things and go looking for information about subjects most people have long forgotten. That happened to me the other day, while I was killing time cruising the Internet. I went through a phase about twenty years ago during which I became kind of obsessed with learning about the “teen help” industry. In those days, there was a burgeoning industry in which affluent parents with “wayward” children would hire goons to pick up their kids in the middle of the night and haul them off to some school in the middle of nowhere.

Back in the early 00s, there were many of these schools operating in the United States and other countries. One of the biggest players in the “teen help” industry was the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools, otherwise known as WWASPS. Robert Lichfield, the man who founded WWASPS, and his younger brother, Narvin, were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormons. In 2003, when his company was still going strong, Robert Lichfield was also a big contributor to the Republican Party. Starting in 1977, Lichfield worked in the “teen help” industry, straightening out “troubled teens”. By 2003, WWASPS was raking in many millions of dollars from parents desperate to “save” their teens… or get them out of their hair. And these kids would be sent off to schools in Jamaica, Mexico, the Czech Republic, or somewhere in the United States– South Carolina, Utah, Montana, or Mississippi, among other places. They were kept in deplorable conditions and many of them left the schools with worse problems than they had when they went in.

As it happened, during the same time I was researching WWASPS a lot, Bill and I were getting acquainted. He was a Mormon when we met, having joined the faith with his ex wife. I didn’t know a lot about Mormonism when I met Bill. I had only met a few church members and read one book, a poorly received by the religion but excellently researched book called Secret Ceremonies, by the late Deborah Laake. Active church members were highly discouraged from reading Laake’s book, because Laake was an apostate who was trying to share her truth about being LDS. But even though members were discouraged from reading Secret Ceremonies, they would still dismiss its contents as lies. Bill and I later read it together and he told me that Laake’s account was very accurate. Later, I ran into one of Laake’s friends on RfM (Recovery from Mormonism), Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist and famously ex Mormon Steve Benson, whose grandfather was a “living prophet”. Benson knew Deborah Laake and confirmed that she was an excellent journalist.

I also noticed that Bill’s ex wife was using the church as a toxic parental alienation tool to separate Bill from his daughters. Although all of the Mormons I have known personally have been good people, I couldn’t ignore how the religion was being used to abuse people. I started researching it obsessively. I read RfM every day and read many books, which I documented in a thread on my original blog with links to my reviews on Epinions (sadly now defunct).

A few days ago, I remembered a riveting account of a WWASPS parental “training” event attended by Karen E. Lile and her then husband, Kendall Bean. I write “then husband”, because I have the impression that they are now divorced, since Karen Lile does not appear to be using the name “Bean” anymore. But I think they were still married years ago, when I first found their written account of attending parent training for the WWASPS program, held at a hotel in Livermore, California. The other day, I went looking for their accounts because they popped into my head. Sure enough, I found them. Here’s Karen Lile’s account, and here is Kendall Bean’s account.

In 1997, the Beans sent their daughter, Kyrsten, to Tranquility Bay, a WWASPS program in Jamaica. The Beans, like the Lichfield brothers, who had founded WWASPS, were members of the LDS church. You can read in their very lengthy accounts about what kind of people they claimed to be. Karen Lile is all over the Internet. She frequently mentions her long heritage in the San Francisco area. She appears to have many trappings of success, too. For instance, she mentions graduating with high honors from college, and working with her husband (ex?) in a high end piano buying service. Most recently, she’s listed as a contributor to an outfit called Sail Sports Talk. If you click the link, you can read all about her pedigree. She’s clearly a woman of education and means… or so it appears.

Same thing with Kendall Bean. He is reportedly a well-regarded concert pianist and co-owner of the piano restoration and brokerage.

This was a couple that appeared to have everything they could want. But apparently, they had a troubled daughter and decided to send her to Tranquility Bay in Jamaica. It sounded like an idyllic place, with a name that evoked visions of beautiful beaches, sea breezes, and blue skies. The reality was far from that image. According to Google, Tranquility Bay opened in 1997, the same year the Beans’ daughter attended. It was supposedly one of the harsher schools in the WWASPS system. Many “students” would reportedly go there and get sick, due to the lack of hygienic facilities, and they would be subjected to mental, physical, and emotional abuse. But they would not receive any treatment or sympathy. For this, their parents were paying thousands of dollars a month and, in the case of the Beans, relieving the financial burden, in part, by convincing other parents to send their children. From “Breaking the Vow of Secrecy“, the article Karen Lile wrote:

Why she initially stayed in the obviously abusive training…

When I first read these accounts of WWASPS years ago, I was shocked and horrified. I thirsted for more information, and I easily found it. Fifteen or twenty years ago, these types of schools existed all over the place. Not all were affiliated with Mormonism. Some were with the Independent Baptist Church, like Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Patterson, Missouri, and Victory Christian Academy in Jay, Florida. Some programs, like Thayer Learning Center (TLC) in Kidder, Missouri, appeared to be offshoots of the WWASP programs. The people who ran TLC were also LDS, but ran the school like a military boot camp. Here’s an account of one former student’s stay there.

And here’s a video about someone who went to Thayer Learning Center. She mentions the book Pure, which I have read and reviewed. Actually, I highly recommend listening to this video if you have any curiosity about how people can be spiritually abused, particularly in the LDS church.

Anyway… this very long build up has led to a discovery I made the other day. As I was reading about the Beans and their experiences with WWASPS training back in the late 1990s, I somehow found their daughter’s Web site. It turns out she’s a writer and musician herself. There doesn’t seem to be a lot to her site, but I did find her blog posts very interesting and illuminating. She’s writing about her experiences going to Tranquility Bay. Like a lot of people who were sent there, she was under the impression that it was a normal school. Jamaica sounded like a great place to be– probably better than home, where she was not getting along with her parents. She had no idea of what awaited her.

I think about reading her parents’ account of the disturbing training they had received. Their daughter had already been at Tranquility Bay, and they were evidently ignorant to what was happening to her there. And they were paying thousands of dollars a month for this… and convincing other parents to sign up their teens, too. I think about the young people who were subjected to that treatment and how it’s affected them today. Judging by her blog, Kyrsten Bean is still very much affected by her time in a WWASPS facility. I wonder what kind of relationship she has with her parents today… these people who, by what I’ve seen on the Internet, are highly accomplished, respectable, and educated people. If you know where to look, you can easily see beneath that facade.

I don’t like Mormonism. That has never been a secret. There was a time not long ago when I could think of very little good with the church, even as I recognized that there are many good people within it. But then Bill’s daughter told him her story of escaping her mother’s clutches and people in the church helped her. Just as the Army gave Bill a place to go once Ex was through with him, the LDS church gave his daughter a place to go once her relationship with her mother had gotten to the point that they could no longer live together. For that, I’m grateful… although I really wish she had come to Bill instead. We would have helped her. But I also understand why she felt she couldn’t.

I think it’s very sad to think about how parents betray their children by sending them to these kinds of facilities. And sadly, even though the WWASPS schools are now closed, these programs are still around under different names. It’s a very lucrative business, straightening out other people’s kids.

As I sit here writing this post, I am reminded that you just never know how you will affect people. I often think my life doesn’t matter much… but then I realize that this family in San Francisco has no idea that I’ve read so much about them and their fascinating story. I’ve read about them for years. And I can see by the people who hit this blog that there are people who are similarly interested in my story, for whatever reason. Like, for instance, one reader continually hits a post I wrote in April about how a guy on a cruise insulted me. I wonder why that post is so interesting to him… does he think it’s funny? Can he relate? Who knows?

Another person often finds me because of posts I wrote about Erin McCay George. I wonder if he’s fascinated by her so much that he needs to reread posts over and over again. But who knows? It’s hard to tell what interests people. I know I had one reader who read simply because she was returning and reporting to our former landlords… and, I suspect, hoped we’d pay for things that she and her family did in the house before we moved in. I like to think most readers are good people and not out to get me, but sometimes it’s hard to be sure. Especially when I see that Kyrsten Bean is now on YouTube– and very easily found. Apparently, she went on to have a relationship with a narcissist, something else with which we can commiserate.

I keep writing because it’s helpful for me. I’m sure that’s why Kyrsten writes, too. I have a hunch that her ex fiance isn’t the only one in her life who is a narcissistic abuser. But, of course, that’s only a hunch. I don’t actually know her… just like people who read this rag, by and large, don’t really know me. I’m just saying the signs are there, and once you’ve had anything to do with a narcissist, you can easily spot them. Unfortunately, narcissists can also spot people who will tolerate their bullshit. That’s why it’s best to express things… write about it and tell people. Don’t keep secrets. Because that is how abusive people continue to abuse. Just look at how long the abusive people running WWASPS were able to hide what they were doing as they financially ruined hundreds of parents and left their children with lingering physical, mental, and emotional problems.

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