poor judgment, psychology, teen help

Repost: How a Facebook chat convinced me to get VPN access…

Here’s a repost from my original blog. I wrote it in February 2019, about a week before I felt the need to shut down access to that blog because I was being stalked. As I sit here this morning, thinking about what I’d like to write about, I realize that this post was a pretty good one, especially in the wake of Paris Hilton’s revelations about Provo Canyon School. I like to transfer some of the better content from my original blog to this blog when I can. Despite what my stalker and her friends think about me, some of the stuff I write is useful to others. I think this post is one of the useful ones.

As I write this, my husband is probably taxiing to the gate at the Frankfurt Airport.  He’s been gone all week, and I’ve been filling my time with whatever I can.  I watched movies, including Small Sacrifices, which killed about three hours, The Ryan White StoryRight to Kill, and Catherine: An Anorexic’s Tale.  I also watched the premiere episode of Glee, which aired when we lived in Germany the first time.

I was able to watch Glee and The Ryan White Story because I decided to purchase access to a VPN, and that gave me access to American Netflix.  I decided to get the VPN because I’m tired of dealing with geographical restrictions on news stories.  I like to keep up with what’s going on at home.  Unfortunately, the paper I grew up reading, Daily Press, is behind in complying with the privacy laws of Europe.  Consequently, whenever I want to read something on their Web site, I get a message that the content isn’t available in my location.

I used to have a VPN account.  I got it when we first moved back to Stuttgart in 2014, mainly so I could watch Netflix.  But then Netflix started cracking down on VPNs and German Netflix was offering some pretty good shows, anyway.  I cancelled the VPN and mostly didn’t miss it.  What prompted me to get a new account with a different company was a conversation I had on Facebook.

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about all of the made for TV movies I’ve been watching this week.  One movie I watched was called Without Consent.  It starred a young Jennie Garth, and was about a privately owned psychiatric hospital for teenagers that basically abused them for insurance money.  I mentioned in my post that this was a big issue in the late 1980s and early 90s.  Psych care for “troubled teens” was a very big business in those days.  It probably still is, but I will admit that I don’t follow that issue as much as I used to.

One of my friends mentioned that she had spent time in one of those facilities.  I got the impression that maybe my description of the movie, Without Consent, had offended her.  I had intended the post to be kind of silly and fun, but you never know how you’ll come across, particularly to people who are sensitive to an issue.

Anyway, as we were chatting, I mentioned Charter Colonial Institute, which was a private psychiatric hospital in Newport News, Virginia.  I grew up not far from Newport News, and I knew of a few of my peers who went there.  It always had kind of a mystique about it.  Sometimes, when I worked at Busch Gardens in James City County, Virginia, I’d take a route to work that caused me to pass that hospital.  I knew its tree lined campus was secure, located very close to Warwick Boulevard and the river.  Charter was such a ubiquitous company in those days; young people would simply speak of “going to Charter” and people would know what they were talking about.

A vintage ad for one of Charter’s many private psychiatric hospitals.  Charter Colonial Institute aired similar ones in my area back in the 80s.

Several years later, Charter’s burgeoning business began to falter.  The hospital changed hands and it was known as Colonial Hospital for a few years.  Then Colonial Hospital went away… and for the past few years, that same “secure” building has been known as Newport News Behavioral Health Center, which is a privately run facility.  I was curious to learn more about what was going on there, so I started searching.  I ran across a couple of news articles from the Daily Press.  Of course, they were blocked in Germany, so I used the cell access on my iPad to start reading, which makes it look like I’m in New York.  But then I ran out of free articles…

I found some news about a young woman named Raven Nichole Keffer.  She was seventeen years old last June, when she arrived in Newport News for treatment for an addiction to heroin.  Born in Montgomery County, Virginia back in 2001, and in the custody of rural Giles County, she had recently spent time in Arlington, Virginia getting treatment for her drug problems before she was sent to Newport News.  For at least a week, she’d complained of feeling sick, but the staff evidently ignored her symptoms and complaints.  Keffer had trouble walking, breathing, and eating.  She even vomited blood at one point.  Still, for some reason, the staff at the center did nothing for her, and she apparently languished for just over a week before someone finally did something.  It came out later that some staff members felt Raven was drug seeking, and that’s why they didn’t call for help.  

On June 29th, 2018, Keffer collapsed at Newport News Behavioral Health Center.  An ambulance was called, and Keffer was taken to Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News.  It was there that she died a few hours later, officially at 10:33pm.  A staff member at the center mentioned to one of the first responders who had picked up Raven that she’d been sick all week and nothing had been done for her.

After I read about Raven in the Daily Press, I found a more detailed account on WAVY TV 10’s Web site.  That site was also blocked for me in Europe, but thanks to the VPN, I was able to hear her family members speak on video about what had happened.  To add insult to injury, Raven’s body was cremated about ten days after she’d died.  Her family was notified after the fact.

In October of 2018, investigators determined that staff members at Newport News Behavioral Health Center violated 13 state regulations in Raven Keffer’s case.  From the beginning, it appears that her even being at the center was inappropriate.  Raven Keffer had been recently hospitalized before she was admitted to the Newport News Behavioral Health Center and, according to its own admissions guidelines, Keffer should not have been admitted there.  The center’s admissions policy states that it doesn’t “accept patients who are addicted to drugs and need medical care for detoxing”.

Officially, Raven Keffer died of natural causes stemming from complications from lymphocytic adrenalitis, an auto-immune disorder that affects glands that produce adrenaline.  But she also had a serious heroin addiction that had required her to seek hospital care just prior to her admission to the center in Newport News.  Discharge instructions from the hospital where she’d been on June 13th indicated that she would need a follow up visit and perhaps surgery.  However, it’s clear that no one in Newport News did anything to arrange follow up care for Raven.  Her initial admissions paperwork was never even completed; there were several items left blank.

Video surveillance footage shows Raven being helped to see a nurse practitioner.  She had a registered nurse and a fellow patient supporting her, since she couldn’t walk unaided.  Once they reached the nurse practitioner’s office, the nurse walked away, leaving Raven to lean on the patient.  The nurse later left the unit and the other patient was shown on video dragging Raven across the room on a comforter.

In the wake of this fiasco, there’s been re-training at the center.  The nurse who abandoned Raven has been fired.  However, in November of 2018, the Newport News Behavioral Health Center was in the news again.  This time, it was because Child Protective Services in Newport News reported that a juvenile male at the facility was assaulted by a staff member.  The employee allegedly “punched the patient about the face, pushed him, and grabbed him”.  Other staff members tried to intervene and the patient was treated for injuries.  CPS noted that he had bruises on his face and marks on his neck and on an arm.

According to the news articles I’ve read, Paul Kirkham is the CEO of Newport News Behavioral Health Center.  I’m sure that his job isn’t easy, as teenagers in trouble are not an easy population.  However, if I were him, I’d be sweating bullets.  It really appears that extreme negligence is a problem at his facility.

Managed care is one reason why private psychiatric hospitals have gone down the tubes.  In the 80s, psychiatric medications were not as good as they are today.  Nowadays, many people who would have been hospitalized years ago can be treated outpatient.  You have to be pretty sick to wind up in a hospital, for any reason.  Managed care also pays less for fewer days.  But Charter’s woes also came about due to a public relations situation.  In 1999, an unflattering news report was aired regarding Charter’s business practices.  Terrance Johnson had a master’s degree in social work, but he took a job as a mental health technician.  While he was on the job, he wore a tiny camera, which recorded everything going on as he worked at his $8.35 per hour position.  People were paying thousands of dollars a day for “treatment”, but they were being watched over by “big guys”.  Really, being “big” was the number one qualification for the job.  Johnson’s size was more of a prerequisite for being a mental health technician than his MSW was.

I’m not sure if what Terrance Johnson encountered at a Charter hospital is still how these kinds of facilities are run.  I have read a few horror stories.  But it does sound like at least at one former Charter hospital, it’s business as usual.  My heart goes out to Raven Keffer’s family and anyone else who has suffered at one of these places.  And now that I have a VPN, I can read all about it.

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healthcare, history, politics, tragedies

No… this era is not like the Holocaust… yet, anyway.

Someone in the Duggar Family News group posted about Dawn Wooten’s complaints about Irwin County Detention Center, the ICE facility in Georgia where precautions against COVID-19 are being ignored and women are supposedly being forced into having hysterectomies. I wrote about that situation myself yesterday.

Many people in the Duggar group were in disbelief about Wooten’s claims. Quite a few dismissed them outright as “bullshit”. They couldn’t conceive of something so horrible happening in the United States, particularly in this day and age. Apparently, they had never heard of the shameful eugenics programs that were quietly administered in the United States for decades, as recently as in the late 20th century. As I mentioned yesterday, my home state of Virginia had such a program until as late as 1979. In fact, as of 1924, Virginia even had a law on the books that served as a model for other states’ eugenics programs.

The Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924 was upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional. From 1924 until 1979, 7325 people were forcibly sterilized for being “mentally deficient” or “mentally ill”. Approximately 22 percent of the people who were sterilized were Black. Many people were sterilized for having chronic illnesses such as epilepsy, for being impoverished, or for being “feeble-minded”, “an idiot”, “an imbecile” or “afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent”. Although involuntary sterilization does occur today, it is now supposed to be done strictly for non-eugenic purposes on people who are “unable to give informed consent, in need of contraception, unable to use any other form of contraception, and permanently unable to raise a child”.

In 2001, the Virginia General Assembly passed a joint resolution apologizing for the misuse of “a respectable, ‘scientific’ veneer to cover activities of those who held blatantly racist views.” But it wasn’t until 2015 that Virginia agreed to financially compensate people who were sterilized under the Act. Given that the sterilization program ended in 1979, a lot of the people who might have been compensated are long gone. Although other states had similar programs allowing for sterilization of certain people without their consent, Virginia’s program ran longer than other states’ programs did.

Even though Virginia and other states did have laws on the books that allowed for sterilizing certain people, it’s clearly not something that people talk about much today. I don’t remember where I first heard about eugenics, but I don’t think it was in school. I probably learned about it in college, when I took courses in Women’s Literature and African American Literature.

Or it might have been through my own study of the Holocaust, which started when we lived in Germany the first time. I started reading a lot of books by Holocaust survivors, marveling at that time in history and how horrible it was… and how many of the places affected I had already been to visit. Since moving back to Germany in 2014, I’ve been to even more of them. It’s also likely that I ran across a magazine or news article about the history of eugenics.

All I know is that we didn’t talk about this in a classroom I was ever in, even though I did learn about concepts such as the “one drop rule“, which held that anyone with a drop of Black blood would be considered Black. Naturally, it would be very difficult to quantify such a thing. Practically speaking, it meant that anyone with known African ancestry was considered Black, in spite of how he or she appeared.

In any case, as I was reading the comments in the Duggar Family News group, it became pretty obvious to me that a lot of Americans simply never learned about this shameful chapter of the past. So when they saw the news articles about a doctor in Georgia forcibly sterilizing female detainees in an ICE facility in Georgia, they immediately assumed it was bullshit. The idea of that sounded outrageous to them, even though it went on in the United States for many years and, at that time, it was deemed completely legal.

Ever since Trump became president, there have been a lot of comments about how much he is like Adolf Hitler. Even here in Germany, where people have an acute sensitivity to all things Nazi related, people have said Trump reminds them of Hitler. I figure if anyone should know about that, it would be Germans. To their credit, most Germans are extremely remorseful and ashamed of their past. They are determined to learn from history and not repeat it.

Reading and hearing about doctors in Georgia who are removing the reproductive parts of detainees sounds very much like something that could (and did) go on during the Holocaust. However… as horrifying as that news was yesterday and as frighteningly “Nazi-ish” as forced hysterectomies are, I can’t quite say that we’ve quite reached the horrors of the Holocaust. I know some people believe we have, but I can’t bring myself to do that yet. Personally, I think that to definitively compare today’s situation to what happened in Europe in the 1940s is disrespectful to those who were directly affected by the Holocaust. I think the Holocaust was much worse than Trump’s America is, at least at this point in time. We’re not yet talking about actual genocide, like Hitler and his cronies were carrying out in the 1940s. I have not heard about mass murders of millions of people yet, only that people are being rounded up and put in detention centers– which is certainly horrible enough, but does not equate to murder.

However… if things don’t change soon, I fear that we could absolutely find ourselves repeating history, and I can see why many people think Trump’s era is similar to the Holocaust era. If people continue to get away with doing horrible things like sterilizing women in ICE detention facilities, there could be a slippery slope into normalizing increasingly horrific practices such as rounding up people, putting them on packed trains, shipping them to prison camps, and sending them straight to the gas chambers or working them until they die of disease or exhaustion without a second thought or a moment of remorse. But I don’t think we’re there yet, or at least I fervently HOPE we aren’t. So that’s why I say that what was reported yesterday, if it’s true, brings us closer to Nazi territory.

As inhumane and terrible as what is going on is right now, in my opinion, it doesn’t quite compare to the horrors of what happened to Jews, homosexuals, communists, rabble rousers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or any of the other groups Hitler hated. And thanks to the advances in technology, it’s a lot harder for people to be completely blinded to what’s going on around them. In the 1940s, there was no constant stream of news like we have today. There was no way to communicate quickly and efficiently like we can today. It was a lot easier to build secret camps and prisons and talk decent people in turning a blind eye than it is today.

But then… an awful lot of people I love and have historically respected are supportive of Trump and his despicable policies and inhumane attitudes toward people who aren’t like him (which thankfully, is just about everyone). The people who support him simply haven’t realized that he doesn’t care about them. They think he’s just a normal person with a big mouth, and he’s not.

I would like to hope that if there is, in fact, an OB-GYN in Georgia who is performing unnecessary hysterectomies on migrant women who come to him for medical help, he’s acting alone. I would hope he hasn’t been officially recruited to do these surgeries as a way to stop certain “undesirables” from breeding. I would hope that it’s his own twisted idea, and that he’s not only stopped from practicing medicine, but is prosecuted and locked up. Sadly, I don’t think I’d be surprised if I heard of other doctors doing similarly barbaric things to helpless and desperate migrants who need medical care. Some of them probably think they’re doing good for the country by stopping “illegals”. They have crossed the line that makes them forget that these are human beings they’re dealing with, not pests that need to be exterminated or “fixed”. They have forgotten that they took a sacred oath to do no harm.

For those who haven’t yet seen it, here is a link to the complaint that was submitted to the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security. I truly hope this claim is thoroughly investigated and people are brought to justice. Edited to add: This article from NBC news identifies the doctor in question. Below is an excerpt:

The doctor, who three lawyers identified as Dr. Mahendra Amin, practicing in Douglas, Georgia, has continued to see women from the Irwin County Detention Center for the past several years despite complaints from his patients.

Amin was the subject of a Justice Department investigation in 2015 for making false claims to Medicaid and Medicare. As a result, he and other doctors involved paid $525,000 in a civil settlement, according to the Justice Department.

Other women who have been to see Dr. Amin say he is “rough”, and a couple of them left his office with bruising.

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family

Happy 100th Birthday, Granny… Sep 11 ’06 (Updated Jul 24 ’07)

I wrote this piece for Epinions years ago. It was saved to Ancestry.com without my knowledge or permission. I recently got access to it, so I am preserving it for myself and other interested relatives. Ancestry.com has no right to charge people for the right to read something I wrote to be read for free. Especially ME! Granny died in July 2007. She was six weeks from her 101st birthday.

I may add a photo at a later date… like tomorrow. (ETA: The featured photo is of Granny in August 1972. She was holding me. I was born two months earlier.)

The Bottom Line 100 years on Earth is a great reason to have a big party!

Although today is the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on America, my thoughts are somewhere else this morning. In just two days, my grandmother, Elizabeth Brownlee Barger Tolley, will be 100 years old. Everyone, even people who are not related to her, calls my grandmother Granny or Mama. This weekend, most of my family will gather in Natural Bridge, Virginia for a birthday party to end all birthday parties. It will, of course, be more than just a birthday party. It will be a celebration of a great woman’s 100 years on the planet.

My grandmother was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia on September 13, 1906. She is one of ten children, and the last one still living. Having graduated as valedictorian of her high school class of fourteen students, Granny went on to marry my grandfather, Lloyd Tolley, otherwise known as Pappy, in 1925. The following year, she became a mother when my late aunt Jeanne was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. Jeanne got to be an only child for a few years, until Granny and Pappy moved back to Natural Bridge, Virginia. My dad was the next child, born on February 9, 1933 in Natural Bridge, Virginia. Granny went on to have a total of nine children, five sons and four daughters, eight of whom survived to be adults. My aunt Susan, who was born with Down Syndrome in 1948, died of a brain abscess when she was fourteen years old. She was Granny’s last child.

Although the Tolleys were a relatively poor family, every single one of Granny’s kids graduated high school. Most of Granny’s kids also graduated from college and most of the men served some time in the military. My father made a career out of military service, having spent almost twenty-two years as an officer in the Air Force. His brothers served stints of varying lengths in either the Air Force or the Army.

Though Pappy died in 1974, Granny still lives in the house my grandfather bought many years ago. She’s lived with my Uncle Brownlee and his wife, Gayle, for as long as I can remember. Although Granny’s house now officially belongs to my Uncle Brownlee and his wife, I will always think of the place as her house. The place is very special to me. It sits right off Route 130 in Natural Bridge, on a country lane that was named after my grandfather. A creek runs in front of the house, flowing under a stone bridge that Brownlee built with his own two hands. Another creek runs perpendicular to the property, meets the creek that runs in front of the house and flows down the holler’. At one time, my grandfather owned the property that makes up the holler’, but the land has since been sold several times. Weather permitting, whenever I spend the night at Granny’s house, I crack open the window and listen to the creek trickle past. I don’t remember ever not sleeping well at my grandmother’s house.

Granny’s house. It’s been in the family since the 1930s, and the road that runs in front of it is named for my grandfather, who owned a small store on it.

Granny is still very sharp and, though she seems tired these days, she’s remarkably healthy for being 100 years old. Every day, she reads the newspaper from start to finish. She always has, for as long as I can remember. It keeps her mind sharp. I can always count on Granny to have opinions about everything in the world. She watches CNN and plays freecell on a battered computer that’s useless for any other purpose. She bakes a mean loaf of bread and most years, she remembers my birthday with a card. Considering the fact that Granny has 22 grandchildren and at least 22 great grandchildren, I consider that to be quite a feat!

Five years ago, my Aunt Gayle’s brother, Ralph, took Granny, then 95 years old, for a spin on the back of his motorcycle. He drove her 15 miles, from Natural Bridge to Lexington, Virginia, where they enjoyed lunch at a little restaurant. Ralph took pictures of Granny on the bike and sent them to his favorite motorcycle magazine. They got published, along with a great article! At the time, I was studying social work at the University of South Carolina. I took great pleasure in telling one of my classes about my 95 year old motorcycle riding Granny, especially since my professor was a gerontologist.

Just a week before the 9/11 attacks, Granny met my husband Bill for the first time. She met him even before my parents did. It was Granny who told me in no uncertain terms that I should marry Bill. She liked him from the get go. On September 11, 2001, Bill was in the Pentagon in the wedge that got hit by the airplane. Luckily, he survived intact. It wasn’t long before we were engaged. I probably would have married Bill even if Granny hadn’t so overwhelmingly approved of him. It still makes me feel good that he vetted well with a woman whose opinion I so highly value. And it was Granny who paid for our marriage license with her wedding present of $100 cash.

It’s mostly because of Granny that I know my aunts, uncles, and cousins so well. Every Thanksgiving, for as long as I can remember, our family has gathered from far flung places to celebrate Thanksgiving together. Each year, aunts, uncles, and cousins drive to Natural Bridge, Virginia and spend the Thanksgiving holiday talking, eating, laughing, dancing, singing, playing cards, watching football, and hanging out. I have always looked forward to those gatherings, although Bill and I haven’t been able to attend since 2003 because of other commitments. It’s a wonderful tradition. Everyone is welcome. In fact, in 2001, when Bill and I were still dating, he brought his mother to our Thanksgiving party. I can’t help but think that letting Bill’s mom hang out with my family helped score me some points!

Over the years, Granny has rescued small children who have locked themselves in bathrooms and killed snakes with hatchets. She’s served as the long arm of the law in her house, catching and punishing my uncles when, as young men, they used to sneak behind the barn to smoke. She’s comforted the injured and sad, cooked many meals from scratch for her family, and worked hard to support her loved ones. She always tells the truth, too, even when the truth hurts. I don’t always appreciate hearing Granny’s truths, but I know that she’s usually right.

My grandmother is a grand lady and my family is very proud of her. I don’t know how many years she has left. Although her mind is still very clear, Granny has had a slow growing form of leukemia for some time. I sense that she’s very tired, especially since she lost her younger sister, Estelle, on Halloween 2002. Estelle was a hilarious chain smoking, trash talking, diminutive woman who never failed to make me laugh. Like Granny, she was blessed with an amazing constitution and lived to be 90 years old. I can’t help but wonder how long she would have lived had she not smoked so much. Her voice was like steel wool, harsh and abrasive. One of my fondest memories of Granny and Estelle was when they visited us in England, where my dad was finishing up his time in the military. I remember Estelle holding me up to a mirror and saying, “Who is that monkey in the mirror?” Estelle was, in many ways, Granny’s polar opposite, although every once in awhile, Granny can surprise people with a dirty joke or two. I think I take after Estelle more than Granny, though.

I look forward to seeing Granny this weekend at her birthday party. I hope it’s not the last time, though something tells me it probably will be. I imagine that this shindig will be very well attended, not just by people from the family, but by people in the community who have known Granny for years. I pray that she feels the tremendous love that others feel for her. I feel very blessed to have such a special, classy lady in my family tree.

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teen help, true crime

Repost: Creepy Christian caregivers from my hometown…

Yesterday, I read a news report out of the Salt Lake Tribune about the “teen help” industry, and how it’s burgeoning in Utah. One controversial facility that regularly comes up in Provo Canyon School, which Paris Hilton recently said she attended in the 1990s. I am currently reading a book by Cameron Douglas, son of actor, Michael Douglas, who also had experience with the school. Many “troubled kids” from around the country are sent to Utah to get “straightened out” by abusive schools, sometimes with disastrous results.

As I was reading, I was reminded of a “teen help” facility located very close to where I grew up. Many “troubled children” from around Virginia were sent there, and some suffered horrific abuse. I’m reposting my comments about that today, as/is. This post was originally composed October 26, 2017.

I’ve spent the past couple of hours digging up old news about churches in the county where I grew up.  Gloucester, Virginia was a pretty low key, rural kind of place back in the day, but there was the occasional scandal.  Today’s story has a long history that came to a head in the 1990s.  It’s a bit juicy and convoluted.

I moved to Gloucester County in June 1980.  I was eight years old.  That was the same year Hopesville Boys Ranch was closed, because new therapeutic methods were allowing families to keep their troubled kids at home instead of sending them to “homes” to live. 

Hopesville Boys Ranch was opened in 1967 by the late Reverend Frank Seal and his wife, Ruth.  Reverend Seal was a Methodist minister who had worked in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia for years before he and his wife purchased 30 acres of land in Dutton, right on the border between Gloucester and Mathews counties.  When the ranch closed in 1980, it was later reopened as a Christian school, Hopesville Christian Academy. 

About thirty years ago, when I was about 14 or 15, I went through a brief phase when I rode my bike from Gloucester to Mathews just for kicks.  I’d go twenty or thirty miles just because I felt like it, which seems especially weird, since I had a horse at the time and probably should have been at the barn.  I remember riding through the small, rural community of Dutton and saw the signs for Hopesville Christian Academy.

I remember wondering what went on at the school.  I knew it was really tiny.  Even back in those days, religion kind of gave me the creeps.  I knew very little about the Christian school, only that it sat kind of eerily on the side of the road.  I didn’t know anyone who went there, though, and in time forgot about it.  The school closed at the end of the 1988-89 school year.  Other Christian schools had opened in the area, diminishing the need for Hopesville Christian Academy.  I graduated from Gloucester High School in 1990 and spent the next nine years moving back and forth to Gloucester. I went to college, served in the Peace Corps, and finally, in 1999, left for graduate school.  I have not lived in Gloucester since 1999 and have not visited since 2010.

Many years after I rode past it on my bike, I suddenly remembered that Christian school and home.  I didn’t remember the name of the place, but I remembered what it looked like and where it was.  I started obsessively digging and finally found some news reports about it reopening as a children’s home back in the early 1990s.  A 1994 news article reported that the facility had been reopened as a home for abused, abandoned, and neglected boys and girls. 

Frank Seal and his wife still ran Hopesville, although they also had help from two daughters, Joyce Clarke and Sheila Boettcher, and Boettcher’s husband, Gerald.  Gerald Boettcher had been in the Coast Guard and, I gather, had ties to nearby Milford Haven, a tiny Coast Guard station in Mathews, Virginia.  In all my years living in Gloucester, I don’t think I ever visited Milford Haven.  I doubt there was much to see there, anyway.

The facility, renamed Hopesville Ministries Children’s Home, was granted an initial permit that allowed them to accept six children.  Later, they were licensed for up to 36 children, and had community support in renovating the facilities to include two cottages, a gymnasium, and an office.  Sheila Boettcher had said that residents would be referred from across the state by the Division of Social Services and privately by parents and grandparents of children in dysfunctional home environments.  Eventually, there were also plans to reopen the Christian school, although the first residents would be attending Gloucester County public schools and getting therapy from local practitioners.  It all sounded so… “hopeful”.

Just five years later, in June of 1999, the director of the home, 46 year old Gerald Boettcher, was in the news.  Mr. Boettcher, who had left the Coast Guard and was also working as a contract driver delivering mail, had attempted suicide. 

Boettcher had been accused of committing sex crimes against two girls who had been living at the home between June 1, 1995 and June of 1999.  Aware that he was being investigated, Boettcher threatened to kill himself by placing a gun in his mouth. 

Boettcher was taken to Riverside Walter Reed Hospital in Gloucester, where he was later arrested.  For some reason, he was later taken to Central State Hospital, the state run psychiatric hospital in Petersburg, which is south of Richmond.  I would have expected him to go to Eastern State Hospital, in Williamsburg.  Williamsburg is closer to Gloucester than Petersburg is, but perhaps the state divides these cases by region.  I know Gloucester is often lumped in with Richmond, even though Richmond is not closer as the crow flies.

Boettcher was accused of forcible sodomy, sexual penetration and indecent liberties with both girls and, it seemed, more charges were likely.  At the time of Boettcher’s arrest, the victims were 16 and 17 years old.  The Division of Social Services took the six children who were at the home and sent them back to their parents and/or relatives.  None of the children were from Gloucester; apparently, the local social services agency had never referred anyone to that facility. 

Interestingly enough, I was living in Gloucester at that time, but I don’t remember this story in the news.  Back then, I read the newspaper every day.

In December of 1999, Boettcher pleaded guilty to five sex charges, bringing his grand total of guilty pleas to eight.  His mother-in-law, Ruth Seal, and the rest of his family and friends reportedly “seemed stunned and angry” at the outcome of the trial.  They repeatedly said that he didn’t do it.  Ruth Seal was upset that she didn’t get to testify.  Boettcher’s wife, Sheila Boettcher, told the mother of one of the victims that she hoped she “rotted in Hell.” 

Despite his family’s outrage and horror, it does appear that the evidence against Boettcher was overwhelming.  Boettcher admitted to both a Gloucester County Sheriff’s Office investigator and a hospital crisis worker that he had been having sexual contact with the girls.  Additionally, a computer forensics analyst had hacked into Boettcher’s computer and found documents for the “Golden Hearts Club”.  One of the victims, then sixteen, also testified that Boettcher had her stand naked and recite vows to enter the Golden Hearts Club.  He had evidently told her that she “had qualities he hadn’t seen in anybody in a long time.”  The victim said she had moved to Hopesville when she was fourteen and Boettcher had started having sexual intercourse with her two months later.  The offenses took place at the home, in Boettcher’s vehicles, and at a construction site where Boettcher and his wife were building a home.

Boettcher was finally caught when another resident saw him kissing the girl intimately.  The resident told a housemother, who then contacted social services.  At that point, local law enforcement became involved.

Boettcher faced up to 45 years in prison for his crimes.  In Mach 2000, he was sentenced to 19 years, with ten suspended.  I see Boettcher was defended by Michael Soberick.  I remember in the late 1980s, Mr. Soberick ran for public office in Gloucester.  I only remember that because I was taking a high school journalism course at the time and, as part of that course, attended a question and answer session he gave.  I remember it being boring, except that there was a guy in my class there upon whom I had a massive crush.  My dad had taken me to the session, which was held at Rappahannock Community College.  My dad said my crush looked like a “wimp”.  Good thing I ended up with Bill, who did meet with my dad’s approval.     

I see Boettcher is now listed as a registered sex offender and apparently lives in Dutton.  His neighbors evidently aren’t too pleased, although he has apparently not caused any problems since he got out of prison.  I also found the Hopesville property listed for sale, although there appears to be a discrepancy in the years reported when the buildings were erected.  Frank Seal, who founded Hopesville in its many incarnations, died in 2003.

It’s amazing what a long memory, a little morbid curiosity, and a lot of nosey proclivities will get you.  Incidentally, this is certainly not the first time a trusted man from the area where I grew up turned out to be a pervert.  In 2008, there was a huge scandal in nearby Middlesex County when it turned out that the recently retired social worker, Arthur Bracke, had been molesting boys in his care for years.  I have written about Mr. Bracke, now mercifully deceased, several times.  Although I would be the first to say that men are often unfairly accused of being monsters, the evidence is clear that sometimes the ones we trust the most turn out to be total creeps.  It also drives home the fact that kids who go to foster care sometimes wind up in situations as bad or worse than the ones they’ve escaped.

I don’t know much about the late Reverend Frank Seal, but it does sound like he was probably a good man who had good intentions when he started his boys’ home and Christian school.  I’m sure this whole catastrophe was awful for him and his family.  In more than one article about his school/home, he is quoted as saying “It has been my life…  Jesus said, `Suffer the little children to come unto me.’ I’ve tried to live up to that.”  

There were even some people testifying in favor of Mr. Boettcher, who, like many sex offenders, wasn’t a complete monster.  Of course, they almost never are “complete monsters”.  If they were monsters, they would have a much harder time getting access to their victims.  But anyway, I do remember Hopesville Christian Academy and how creepy it seemed as I passed it on my bike thirty years ago.  I guess my intuition was dead on again. 

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nostalgia, religion

Repost: When religious television isn’t that wholesome…

Every once in awhile, I like to repost content from my original blog that means something significant to me, even if my readers aren’t all that interested. After I wrote about Jerry Falwell Jr. yesterday, I was reminded of a religious cult in Virginia that I blogged about in June 2018. I’m going to repost that content today as/is, just so it’s easily available for the future.

Yesterday, I was perusing RfM and noticed a thread about a church in Virginia that encourages members to shun their children.  Since I’m originally from Virginia, I opened the thread and found a Washington Post article about Calvary Temple, a Sterling based Pentecostal church led by Star R. Scott.  I immediately, recognized the pastor’s name, and not just because it’s unusual.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about WYAH, an independent Christian television channel that was owned by Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network, and operated in southeastern Virginia.  WYAH no longer exists today, but it thrived in the era of over the air and basic cable television.  I grew up in the 80s and watched too much TV.  I often watched WYAH, not because of its wholesome and/or sanitized programs, many of which were religious, but because despite being a religious channel, they did air some funny sitcoms.  I remember WYAH played shows like Diff’rent StrokesWKRP in CincinnatiBensonThe Jeffersons, and my personal favorite, The Brady Bunch.  They also aired some of my favorite cartoons in the afternoons. When I wasn’t riding my horse, I’d tune in.  The censors would dutifully blank out any swear words.  Can’t be listening to any cussing if you’re a good Christian, right?

Another thing that WYAH had plenty of were religious ads.  In my last post about the network, I included some clips of ads that aired regularly on WYAH.  The videos I shared included some folks I had completely forgotten about, including Star R. Scott.  His ad for Calvary Temple and the weekly television show that used to air on WYAH on Sunday nights at 11:00pm had a memorable musical track that stuck in my head.


This is the show that aired on WYAH.  This particular episode is from 1986.  Check out Star R. Scott’s hair.


Skip to 4:26 and you can see the ad for Star R. Scott’s show, “Sword of the Spirit”.  It uses a vital, energetic soundtrack.  The music suggests the show will change your life for the positive.  The graphics suggest space… the future…  Listen to this message and your future will be vital and powerful.

In 1989, WYAH was sold and the programming turned secular.  The call letters are now WGNT and the channel no longer bears any resemblance to what it was during my childhood.  I’m actually kind of sad about that.  I like independently run TV channels.  They’re more interesting than channels that are part of a huge conglomerate and show the same programming.
I read the article in the Washington Post about Star R. Scott’s church, Calvary Temple, which was regularly advertised on WYAH.  To be honest, although I didn’t know about weird religions when I was a kid and wasn’t raised in a weird religion myself, I always kind of got creepy vibes from some the religious shows WYAH broadcasted.  Sometimes I used to watch The Rock Church Proclaims, which aired at about 10:00pm every Saturday night.  The church was kind of local, since it was based in Virginia Beach and run by Anne and the late John Gimenez.  The pastors used to sing and dance behind the pulpit to the music, which included a lot electric instruments… nothing like the organ and piano used at my very conservative Presbyterian church.  For some reason, it gave me the willies.

A clip of a service at the Rock Church from 1990, which is kind of like what WYAH used to air.  Lots of speaking in tongues, swaying to music, and dancing.  I’ve never heard anything bad about the Rock Church.

According to the Washington Post’s article about Calvary Temple, Star R. Scott’s church is quite abusive.  The story, written by journalist Britt Peterson, follows the experiences of several former members of Calvary Temple.  Ex churchgoers report that they were expected to shun anyone in their family, including children, who left the church.  In one case, a mother was ordered to send her 15 year old non-believing daughter away from the home because church leaders feared she would influence her 13 year old sister.  In another case, a mother decided to leave the church and four of her five children shunned her.

Scott is also accused of other kinds of abuses.  Former members report that they were required to send their children to Calvary Temple’s privately run school.  Although corporal punishment in public schools was banned in Virginia back in 1989, it is apparently still alive and well at Calvary Temple’s school.  Cynthia Azat, whose mother shipped her off to live with her grandmother at the behest of church leaders, reports that when she was attending the school in the 1990s, she would be paddled regularly.  At one point, she’d be paddled as often as daily.  Sometimes, she didn’t even know why she was being punished.  The paddlings were painful and humiliating; if a student moved during the strikes, he or she would get more.  Moreover, parents were expected to sign legal paperwork that would allow church leaders to discipline their children whenever they wanted to.

Here’s a Washington Post article about Calvary Temple from 2008 with more detail about Scott’s leadership.  Ten years ago, people were calling him toxic and dictatorial.  Below is a snippet from the 2008 article, detailing more abuses by Calvary Temple leaders.

About 400 members remain and are at the church most days for services or activities including fellowship breakfasts and student basketball games, former members said. Families are expected to send their children to Calvary’s school, which has classes from kindergarten through high school.

…others who attended the school say punishments ranged from spankings with a thick wooden paddle to spending the day outside digging, filling and redigging holes.

Charm Kern, a nursing student and mother, says she was traumatized by Calvary teachers telling her in her early adolescence that she was too overweight to be on the cheerleading squad. As punishment for being a “glutton,” said Kern, who is 20, she was tied by a rope to faster children and pulled during runs. She and her brother, who was also overweight, would be required to run while other children ate lunch, she said. By ninth grade, she was rebelling against her teachers, and pastors tried to place her and her brother with another family. Her parents pulled the family out of Calvary.

And further, from the same 2008 article,

Michelle Freeman, 48, left in December 2007 after church leaders and other members urged her to reject her son and her husband, who was not a member. Her son, Channing, had left Calvary as a high school sophomore, setting off heated debates between his parents, leading to their separation.

Channing, 18, wrote an essay this year at his public school describing terrifying dreams about God and Satan he had while in the church. Calvary, he wrote, has “stolen so much of my life. For eleven years I’ve been devoid of a real life. I don’t know what it’s like to live.”

Now, Michelle Freeman is among more than two dozen former members who gather for support. At a Loudoun Starbucks recently, Freeman cried as those around her talked about their wounded families.

In 2002, Star R. Scott’s wife, Janet, was dying.  Rather than mourn for his partner, Scott remarried two weeks after her death.  His new bride was a 20 year old woman named Greer Parker.  Scott was 55 years old and had told his congregation that the book of Leviticus forbade “high priests” to mourn; instead, they were to “take a wife in her virginity.”  He brought Parker up from the congregation after he finished delivering his sermon.

Six years later, there was another scandal within the church, when Scott’s son, Star R. Scott, Jr., and his then-wife sent an email to Scott Sr. accusing him of molesting his two nieces.  The email was circulated among church members.  Other allegations of Scott’s sexual proclivities toward young girls came out, although there were never any criminal charges brought against him.  Although Scott has claimed that the email was full of inaccuracies and “gossip”, he never expressly denied the accusations.

Star Scott is also not above wringing money out of his congregants.  Not only are they expected to tithe ten percent, they are also expected to give money to other projects, some of which never materialized, even when they’re barely able to scrape by.  Meanwhile, Scott owns several expensive cars and motorcycles, which he shows off regularly.  According to Peterson,

Scott started a race car ministry that, to this day, holds shows to display his collection of expensive cars and motorcycles. Around the same time, he led the church leadership to vote for independence from Assemblies of God, which had required that pastors tithe to the umbrella organization. Scott then rewrote the Calvary constitution to eliminate the traditional voting process and end financial transparency, according to several former members.

I could go on about what was in the Post’s article, but I think it’s best for people to read it for themselves.  I did find a few interesting YouTube videos about the church, including one posted by someone who is mentioned in Britt Peterson’s article.  Below, you’ll hear Pastor Scott preaching, sounding very belligerent as he refers to Mormonism as a cult…


“Okay, we’re a cult.  Now go on with your life.  What’s your problem?  What is your problem?  Go grab a Mormon and hassle him!”  

Pot… meet kettle!  Although to Scott’s credit, he does admit that his church is a cult.  Then he says that Christianity is a cult.  

I find cults fascinating.  There’s always a charismatic leader who convinces people to submit to strict rules and makes high demands of the cult members.  Those demands keep the members busy and prevent them from thinking about what they’re doing and how they’re being sucked dry and abused.  

This is an excellent video about cults.  I highly recommend taking the time to watch it because it very clearly illustrates what cults are and how they damage people. 

I guess the hinky feelings I used to get while watching WYAH were genuine.  For all of their sanitizing of sex and profanity from their programming, they were actually encouraging abusive cult leaders like Star R. Scott.  But since that channel was owned by Pat Robertson, I guess I can’t be too surprised.  Robertson himself is a bit of a nut.

You might get AIDS in Kenya…

And demons can attach themselves to clothes… This man once ran for president… I suppose he’s no worse than the man who is in the White House now.

Anyway, I’m grateful that I survived a childhood watching Channel 27 without being sucked into a cult.  But then, I did marry a man who was sucked into Mormonism, so there you go…


Another video about Star R. Scott and how his church has damaged families…  Be careful about the church you join.  It might be a cult.

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