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Reformatory CP - March 1982

Corpun file 22057


The New York Times, 5 March 1982

Home's Ex-Inmates Tell of Beatings

Mississippi Girls' Facility, in a 'Christian' Network, Sued to Free All Residents

By Reginald Stuart
Special to The New York Times


Click to enlarge

MONTGOMERY, Ala., March 4 -- Former residents of a "Christian Home" for troubled girls have asserted in a lawsuit here that they were beaten, denied adequate meals and "brainwashed."

The charges were made in affidavits and testimony in Federal District Court today, in a suit seeking the release of all the residents of the Bethesda Home for Girls Inc. of Hattiesburg, Miss. The facility is affiliated with a network of "Christian homes" in which Lester Roloff, a Texas evangelist, plays a supporting role.

Disciplinary methods used in Mr. Roloff's homes for wayward girls in Texas stirred concern several years ago before many of the practices were stopped. Another Roloff-affiliate home in Georgia is under attack by parents of children there and by some Georgia lawmakers. Last month a hearing was held on charges, similar to those lodged in the Mississippi case, against Ruth's Home of Compassion in Rome, Ga.

Officials of Bethesda Home have refused to discuss the girls' charges of mistreatment, which included assertions of attempts to "brainwash" them. In a recent interview in The Montgomery Advertiser, Bobby Ray Wills, a principal operator of the home, challenged those reports. He acknowledged that the girls had to listen to certain religious tapes but said, "It's a washing, but it's called bloodwashing and heartwashing."

Officials Due to Testify

Mr. Wills is expected to testify with other officials named in the lawsuit, being heard by Judge Myron Thompson.

The testimony today of a 16-year-old Arkansas girl, identified in court as Donna M., echoed what was said in affidavits and testimony by other girls recently released from the home. The girls' full names are not being used in the court case to protect their identities because they are minors.

Under questioning, Donna M. said she tried to run away in November but was caught. She was grabbed by the hair, she told the court, and disciplined by Linda Williams, an employee of the home. Donna said she was struck 19 times with a wooden board and "put in a tub of hot water" to disguise scars and bruises.

School officials produced a half-inch-thick piece of wood, about 18 inches long and 3 inches wide, that they said was used for discipline. Dionna testified that another piece of wood, a split baseball bat with holes in it, was also used at the school. Another witness testified that a longer and thicker board was used.

Willing to Take a Risk

David C. Gibbs Jr., a Cleveland lawyer, is representing the school, Mr Wills and Miss Williams in the case.


Today's court hearing resulted from a complaint filed with the court last month by relatives of a 19-year-old unwed Hayneville, Ala., woman, who was about five months pregnant at the time and had been sent to the home on the recommendation of a minister of a church here. [...]

In an affidavit filed with the court, Candy [...] said:

[...] "Pam Hurd, a pregnant girl who has been at the Bethesda Home for Girls for two months, was beaten a week ago by Linda Williams in her office with a wooden board. Pam Hurd returned from Mrs. Williams's office crying and in great pain. Pam Hurd sat in her desk and continued to cry. Pam is five months pregnant.

"Veronica, a helper at Bethesda Home for Girls, threatened Pam with additional beatings if she did not stop crying. Pam responded, 'I just can't help it, because it hurts.'"


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