Our Founder’s Testimony
Let me tell you where my experience with these kinds of places begins. It’s a twisted tail of abuse and trauma so warning, if you have been harmed by a program in your teens or abused as a child this content may be triggering. Remember to take breaks from reading it if you feel it is overwhelming. Writing this has certainly been very overwhelming. Even editing it has been challenging at times.
When I was thirteen my dad and mom told me, I was going to a counseling session. The idea was for us to all get on the same page and stop fighting so much, or so that is what I was led to believe. We loaded up in the car and I remember feeling a strange feeling as we left; a feeling like something really bad was about to happen. It was like this deep pit opened up in my stomach. I shook it off and got in the car anyway. What choice did I have?
We drove into town. We lived on forty acres about twenty minutes outside of Prineville, OR. When we arrived, I felt that same bad feeling creeping up on me, and a tingle went down my spine as we opened the doors to my dad’s work. Something was up! I could feel it! But what?! My pulse raced! My dad was a parole and probation officer for the state of Oregon. It was a Saturday so the offices were closed but my dad was able to use his key to host our meeting at a conference room at his work.
Now before this my father and I weren’t getting along. We were constantly shouting at each other. I had lost all respect for the man and some of that wasn’t without good reason. After several failed attempts to bring me to a pastor and then a youth pastor and label them as “counselors”, this trip to my dad’s office outside of work hours was the third such attempt to manipulate me into accepting “counseling” that was little more than an arm of the church telling me to obey whatever my parents say and that they are always right and I was always wrong.
We walked into the room and met Tim Smith, who I was led to believe was a “counselor”. I noticed something wasn’t right away when Tim would constantly take my parent’s side on every issue. I could tell he was definitely on their payroll but I felt like there was something even more disturbing about the situation. Long story short I was completely correct. This wasn’t like all the other times. This was worse!
When the “counseling session” ended we all walked outside and I was told to get in Tim’s truck. I was told my mom had packed me a bag with some of my stuff and I was going to go live with Tim in a program for troubled teen boys like me. That program was called West Coast Academy and it is no longer open. They closed after a lot of abuse reports surfaced and Tim fled to Mexico where I hear he continued to work with troubled teens and abuse them. At least, that’s the rumor. For all I know that guy could be somewhere here in the states.
It’s impossible to really describe the hopeless sinking feeling in my stomach and the weight that crushed my heart and soul at that moment. I felt like I was just being tossed off to be someone else’s problem; like I was garbage and utterly dispensable. Obviously, nothing I had said mattered to Tim or my parents and they had no interest in any sort of compromise or anything I had to say. I was to shipped off to a boy’s home like a dog to obedience school with no warning at all. I was forced to think and act exactly like they wanted me to and they erased my identity and personality. I was so scared I was shaking from head to toe and felt like I could throw up as I climbed into Tim’s raised pickup truck. Chills coursed down my spine and I had goosebumps. Every hair stood on end. I was as afraid as I had ever been.
What would happen next? Would I spend the rest of my childhood away from my family and my parents? What would it be like there? Did anyone really care about me or was I just “too much to handle”.? What about me feelings? What about my emotional needs? What about me?
I felt thrown away like I was a piece of garbage. Those feelings have stuck with me for decades and a part of me doubts I’ll ever be free of them. Even after years of therapy and many thousands of hours of meditation they echo in the back of my mind from time to time. They effect my relationships even till this day. Till this day I worry about being thrown away by anyone and everyone I care for and love. I constantly feel like I’m not good enough or that I’ll just be abandoned, again, like I have time and time again in the past. It has had a long-lasting effect on my mental health.
Tim did his best to ensure me that everything was going to be OK but I could tell he was lying to me. I cried so hard as we drove off, I felt like my eyes could swim out of their sockets! I loved my parents. I really, truly did. In spite of all our fighting and inability to properly communicate; despite our differences and the things we had done top each other that hurt each other, the things we said, despite all that they were all I knew and had. Even though we didn’t get along all I really wanted was for them to listen, to be there, and now they were gone and couldn’t. Why?! Why couldn’t they understand?! Why did they have to ship me off?!Was I just property to them?! Did I ever really matter?!
We arrived at the home Tim, his wife, and four other “troubled boys” shared. When we first arrived, I took my bags from the truck and was shown around the house. I was introduced to the other children and Tim’s wife. I was again assured I’d be fine and that I’d actually grow to like it there. Nothing could be further from truth of course. My gut impulse was to run but I figured I wouldn’t get far; especially since the boy’s home was still in Prineville and my dad was a parole and probation officer there. He could easily mobilize the town’s entire police force to come find me. In fact, he had when I had run away once before. It had only taken him about an hour to have the entire police force of Prineville OR after me.
Almost as soon as we had arrived, we were told we needed to do a dump run. There was a ton of rusty metal in the back of another pickup truck that we had to haul to the dump and unload by hand. I didn’t dare tell them how incredibly shook up I was or that I needed a moment to adjust. I just got in and helped two other boys, the older ones, unload the truck. Chad and Barrett, the two other boys tasked with helping us unload the metal were 17 and let’s just say they weren’t exactly the nicest people in the world. They were your typical bully types. They saw me as fresh meat to push around and get their kicks from.
Within moments of us being there unloading this scrap metal that really shouldn’t have been handled by kids without gloves or at all, Barrett pushed me from behind. “Initiation day!” He laughed. “Get used to it! Today’s going to be a lot of fun!” I fell and scraped my arm on a rusty piece of metal that put a sizable gash on the inside of my left elbow. In fact, I still have a scar I can show people. I was too scared to speak so I just kept unloading the truck. I felt like telling on Barret would only make the situation worse and boy was I right!
A few minutes went by until Tim noticed that I was bleeding. He asked how it happened and I just said I fell. He gave me a dirty shirt from the car to tie around it to soak up the blood and then barked at us all to keep unloading the truck. I knew then I was in big trouble. This guy didn’t care about me! He didn’t pause for an any length of time to check out the wound. He didn’t clean it or give me anything to clean it with. He only cared about getting the work at hand done; work that was really his to do and not ours. I knew right then I was just a source of cheap labor to him. A tool he could use to accomplish things faster while spending less money than he would if he hired help. It would be a reoccurring theme I’d experience again and again in the years to come as I suffered at the hands of people in the corrupt troubled teen industry. Kids are used as free labor quite often and it sometimes leads to them suffering with life-long chronic pain or illnesses.
We returned and I was told the rules. The older kids in the program were to watch over the other three kids at all times that Tim and his wife and two hired helpers weren’t around. It seemed like the two hired helpers were almost never around, and Tim and his wife were gone a lot so Chad and Barret were “in charge” often. Anything they told us was to be followed as if Tim and/or his wife had told us to do it themselves. This wasn’t good. I could just imagine right off the bat how these two bullies would treat us and the terrible things they would make us do when nobody was around to watch us. The hired staff were bullies too. They weren’t much nicer or much more mature than Chad or Barrett. In fact, in some ways, they seemed worse. They were at least adults in their mid-twenties but here they were acting about as immature as Chad and Barrett and they let them get away with all kind of stuff.
That first night I went to bed feeling more than hopeless. I was truly terrified. I pondered suicide for the first time in my life. Should I grab a kitchen knife and slit my wrists? Would that do the trick I thought. In the middle of the night, I tried to sneak into the kitchen, determined to end it all before anyone woke up. I opened the knife drawer. Fortunately, one good thing Barrett did was catch me before I could attempt anything.
He snuck up on me and grabbed my arm as I grabbed a sharp knife from the drawer and after he got the knife from me by squeezing a pressure point on my wrist, he punched me hard square in the jaw. It was a solid punch.
“What the fuck are you doing kid?!” He yelled. “Back to bed! Stupid fucking kid! Did you think you could end it all?! Huh! Wuss! Did you think you could just take the easy way out?!” I went back to bed terrified of him but still wanting to just die and get it over with. Could I sneak past him sometime? Was there something else I could kill myself with? Many thoughts ran through my head and lots of thoughts luckily never came to fruition. If they had I wouldn’t be here speaking with all of you today. To all of you out there feeling suicidal there is hope. Don’t give up. Don’t choose the easy way out.
The following day I was introduced to their collection of strange animals and the chores that all of us would share. I’m not sure how they got an exotic animal license, but that seems to be a theme among abusive Christian institutions, crazy animals and the need to have students who can care for and clean up after them. They had two horses, two monkeys, a wallaby, a black bear cub, and two blind dogs. Yes, I said a black bear cub and will get to that in a minute. The blind dogs were sweet for the most part, but the other animals were mostly terrifying to me. I hadn’t had a lot of experience around animals, let alone dangerous ones with razor sharp claws and teeth. Our job was to feed and clean up after these animals and I was pretty sure they’d kill me in the process.
The monkeys were insane and when feeding them they would often hop on your back and claw you. Depending on how fast you moved or how much you startled them they might actually start to attack you. One of the boys showed me scars in his back. He was the one that regularly fed the monkeys. I guess over the course of him being there for a couple of years they had attacked him over a dozen or so times. Nobody else wanted to feed and care for the monkeys. Maybe that was why. The scars were pretty brutal and ran down most of his back.
One time I’ll never forget they got out and got into a pack of razor blades. When we discovered them, they were not happy we were interrupting their little discovery and decided to start throwing these razor blades at us like ninja stars. They were surprisingly good at it too. Took us a long time to get them and put them back in their cage because they climbed up on the roof and brought the box of razor blades with them, screeching and throwing razor blades at anyone who got close. It took us several hours and four people to get them off the roof. Ninja monkeys with razor blade ninja stars on roof tops for the win!
My first night there I was tasked with feeding the black bear cub they had in a cage away from the house. I was terrified. I was told it would be OK, they opened the door then shoved me in with the food in hand locking the door behind me. I freaked out! I did not want to be locked in with a black bear cub three times my size. I mean…to be fair…who would?! Barrett and Chad told me this is what they did to every new kid and that it was just part of my initiation to “the club” as they called it.
The bear seemed to sense my fear at first. He roared and came closer to me, pinning me against the cage. I put my arm up as Chad and Barrett walked away laughing. I thought, “This is it! Just make it quick please!” But then the bear cub just started suckling on my arm. I could hear Barrett laughing as he walked away. Then he warned me, shouting in the distance, “Don’t pull your arm away too fast! He will think you want to play and will tare you to pieces. See you in the morning!”
I’m not really sure how long I was there frozen, the bear suckling on my art and occasionally biting softy down; but soft by a bear’s perspective it still hurt and actually made me bleed in several places. Finally, the bear seemed bored and retreated to his hut, a dog house like shelter they had built him to sleep in with blankets and pillows. I proceeded to take his food and put it in his trough.
I was exhausted so I decided to curl up in a corner using my jacket as a blanket and a rock as a sort of pillow. I was convinced I would have to spend all night with this bear and tried to sleep but was constantly waking up nerves on edge because the bear would make noise.
“Ok. It’s going to be fine. The other kids went through this, too, right?” I told myself over and over again but it did little to comfort my racing mind. Eventually a kid by the name of Cody, older than us two youngest, I think he was sixteen but I can’t be sure it’s been so long, came out and unlocked the cage. He told me it was all a cruel joke, that Chad and Barrett are bullies and that they did this to him when he arrived to. He explained I could now come in and have dinner.
During my stay there I soon found out that fighting and pain would be a big part of my life going forward. Chad and Barrett loved playing this game where they would sit around corners with boxing gloves on waiting for us to pass while doing chores or something and they’d clock us in the head as hard as they could. If we fell sometimes, they would just keep swinging on our faces while telling us, “Get up you pussy!” Fun stuff. Really enjoyed that game.
Chad was really into boxing. Sometimes he would make Cody and I and the other kids at the school box for their entertainment. Whoever won then got the privileged of getting beat up by either Chad or Barrett who wouldn’t stop even when you were bloody and blue on the ground out of breath. They were brutal on us younger kids. Any chores they were given were or course ours to do and we were made to do them fast and early so the hired staff could load us up into the Suburban and we could cruise the city.
Chad and Barrett treated us younger kids like we were being initiated into a gang. They beat on us to toughen us up and would take us out on “errands” as they called them. Whenever the two hired staff would drop us off at the park, they’d tell us to do stuff that we knew was wrong. We beat up kids in the park and sometimes we were told to rob them or else. Sometimes we took their pants so they would have to wander around in the park their boxers. This one time we tied a kid up to a tree in the park naked. Knocked him out and left him there for someone to find him. The hired staff just left us there in the park without supervision and none of us dared to say anything to them or the Smiths for fear of what retribution Chad or Barret might take out on us.
At first, I really didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I hated it! I didn’t want to do these things! It was against everything I had been taught. I was a lover not a fighter; kind of a pussy honestly but that was fine with me. To this day I abhor violence except to protect yourself or those you love. But over time I grew to hate my life and began to enjoy beating up on people or destroying property. It became my outlet. It was my way of saying fuck the world and everyone who has hurt me! To this day I regret some of the things I did even the things I had no choice but to do.
The punishments for not doing what Mr. or Mrs. Smith said, or disobeying Chad or Barret were pretty severe. Everyone was pretty careful not to get caught doing something that would provoke the staff or Chad and Barret to tell the staff something they had done. I remember some of the punishments. This one-time Tim told Chad to deal with me because he was doing something and I can’t remember what I said that had pissed him off but I had mouthed off. Chad told me to “shut up or he would put my head through a wall”. I told him, “Whatever! You wouldn’t do that!” Chad responded by doing just that. We were at this apartment they rented as a base of operations in town. He grabbed the back of my neck and slammed my head so hard into the wall of the apartment that my head went fully through the wall and my nose gushed with blood. Everyone laughed. I was told I would have to work extra hard to pay for the damaged wall. Not Chad. I would have to.
I seem to remember being body slammed a few times on that apartment’s floor so hard everything turned white and I couldn’t hear, see, and couldn’t taste anything but blood in the back of my mouth. This was Chad and Barret’s idea of “fun”. Beating up on the younger kids. Occasionally Tim and his staff got in on the fun as well. I’m almost certain this is a big part of how my back began to break being slammed on my head and shoulders repeatedly and having my head stuck in a wall once.
This one time I was chained to a large tire and was made to drag it up a very steep gravel road a mile and a half to the house in the dead of winter in about two or three feet of snow. The task seemed impossible. When it took me longer than they expected they sent the two hired staff down with the Suburban.
They decided the best way to get me to go faster was to terrify me into thinking they would actually run me over so they hovered behind me revving the engine and occasionally bumped me with the SUV. Terrified I did move faster. Every time they hit me with the car, I could feel it in my spine. Bump! Bump! “Run faster pussy!” Bump! It was Hell.
I think the worst parts of West Coast Academy was the sex abuse. At thirteen I was heavily sheltered and I really didn’t understand sex and had never even kissed a girl. I awoke one afternoon from a nap to the other kids gone and Tim’s wife on my bed trying to unbutton my pants while massaging my cock on the outside of my pants to get me hard. To this day I have no recollection where the other boys were, why I was alone with her in the house and so tired but I can tell you with certainty it happened and when it did, I freaked out! I felt drugged but still I managed to kick her off me, run off and hide under the back porch. She ran around the house yelling and screaming for me saying I was “dead” when she found me or if I said anything, she’d “kill me herself”. Lucky for me her husband and some of the boys soon returned from a project they had been on and she said nothing of the incident. She hated me forever after that though. She would snarl at me whenever we would pass and constantly made-up stories about me to her husband saying I was a perv and was checking her out. It got me in a lot of trouble. That was my first experience with sexual abuse but it wouldn’t be my last. In fact, it wouldn’t even be my last there at that house and in that program.
As I mentioned before they had two horses. One male horse and one female horse that they apparently wanted to breed in order to sell the offspring and make some money. I was charged many times with cleaning up their poop. I shoveled those stalls often with Chad or Barrett coming to check on my progress.
If they felt I wasn’t moving fast enough or just especially cruel they would shove me face down into the manure. The taste of horse poop is one you don’t forget. It’s absolutely terrible. I puked quite a few times. One time they made me believe they were going to force me to jack the horse off and when I refused, they’d shove my face in the horse dung. This went on for what seemed like forever until one of the other boys saw what was going on and called out to Chad and Barrett for them to stop.
I’ll never be able to get that image out of my mind of the horse hard and them both trying to force me to touch it. It has to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to talk about! It’s hard to talk about stuff like that but I need you to understand just how horrible these places can be! I need you to understand the story in its entirety! The abuse endured by teens in these places isn’t just abuse by staff and adults its abuse by their peers!
It isn’t easy reliving that abuse and coming out with it especially since there is such a stigma around men coming forward when they are abused in today’s society, especially if they are abused sexually or by a woman. Men are supposed to be strong and able to take care of themselves without much help or sympathy from anyone else, or at least that’s what society would have you believe. We are supposed to be “grateful” if an older female approaches us for sex or tries to molest us as a kid. That is seen by some a badge of honor.
The world would have you believe that we men don’t ever need to talk about things or that we don’t get into horrible situations that are way over our head that we are unable to control, such as this one, but we do! We get assaulted, raped, hurt just like anyone else! We just are slow to talk about it for fear we will be seen as weak, a sad sob, a beta male; worthless and frail or simply not believed at all. In the case of Tim’s wife trying to molest me my parents never did believe me. Nobody listened to me. She got away with it.
So instead of reaching out to anyone I began to internalize everything and started to get physical with my bullies at school. I got into a little bit of some trouble but nothing too major. They didn’t really bother me too much after that. I went from being bullied to being the bully or, at least, someone people feared and didn’t mess with.
Needless to say, me coming to school with black and blue patches on my face and becoming more and more violent and angry was a huge warning sign to my teachers, especially since it was a “Christian school”. They began to suspect that something was very wrong. I had always been such a good student and was a gentle and kind soul but now I was the complete opposite! Now I was angry, defensive, and violent! My math teacher Mrs. Mapes was especially concerned. I struggled with Math so she had made it a point to be extra nice to me and try to help me after school, which I appreciated. However, when this started happening, I stopped going to her class after school to work on Math and my grades slipped even further.
She was awesome. She pulled me aside after class one day and whispered in my ear, “It’s OK. You know you can tell me if something is wrong at home. I’m concerned. You look like you aren’t getting any rest and why are you getting into fights?! You were always such a good kid. Is there anything we need to talk about?” I caved. I told her with tears in my eyes everything which she later related to the principle and my parents who didn’t believe me despite my dad coming to a few basketball practices and him seeing me with black eyes, bruises, etc.
Eventually my dad got word that the boy’s home had snuck me into an R rated movie, my first, House on Haunted Hill. He was furious! He decided that was it and that he needed to pull me from that place. Admitting he made a mistake he promised to never send me away like that again. I found out pretty quick that he was full of shit. I was thirteen and had just finished the 8th grade. I was starting to become more aware of my parents lies and when people were lying to me in general and was growing less naïve by the day. You could say my eyes were beginning to open to how fucked up this world really can be! I was starting to develop social anxiety and after being pulled from that boy’s home I went into a state of shock that lasted the rest of my 8th grade year. The change in environment messed with me and I struggled to re-adjust back to the home environment I had been removed from just six or so months prior.
Most people I tell this story to dismiss Tim and his wife as “not real Christians”. I would like to say that that is a lie and a pitiful excuse! They were Christians just like any other Christians you meet. They went to church, forced us to go to church and youth group, beat us when we did things they considered “unchristian” or wrong, and made us memorize scripture, etc.
They tried to instill Christian morals and values upon us and quoted scripture to back up their warped view of the world. I think Christians and other groups love to try and distance themselves from the bad apples in their group instead of standing up to them and purging them from their ranks. It’s disgusting and easy to see through. I don’t tolerate bullshit too terribly well, nor do I accept hypocrisy. If you are going to preach it then be it!
This concludes my experience with West Coast Acadamy. I have heard that Tim Smith was later investigated for child abuse and fled to Mexico where he became involved in or started another program for troubled teens in a place with laxer laws. That is what a lot of these abusers do so I am not surprised. Hopefully one day Tim and his wife will get the karma they deserve. Hopefully they aren’t still abusing children, but people like that rarely change.
Agape Boarding School
This brings us to the boarding school I was sent to for nearly four years, Agape Boarding School. I’d like to start by identifying a group of religious radicals that believe that child abuse is OK if it instills the fear of God into their children. It’s important to keep in mind that these people are not the only type of religious zealot that is prone to abuse children and there are many other sects of Christianity and other religions that also do the same. However, the Independent Fundamental Baptists or IFB are the worst.
Please also keep in mind, they will deny such abuse. Child abusers always do. They will make excuses like, “Well this isn’t what I’d consider child abuse.” Don’t be fooled. They know in their heart that what they are doing is wrong but they continue out of a religious fervor that directs them to do extreme things to further the reach of their parishes and gain power within their churches and church run organizations.
The people that founded and run Agape belong to a group of Baptists called Independent Fundamental Baptists. The IFB or Independent Fundamental Baptists are about as right wing and extreme as Christians get. If you want to know where a lot of the “Christian Terrorists” come from this is where you need to look. They consider themselves to be the purest form of Christianity and will often even tear down other denominations and sects of the Christian faith call them false or abominations. They have a long history of abusing children in abusive boarding schools, group homes, at home and in churches. They believe in extremely strict discipline, corporal punishment, and don’t believe the government has any right to tell them what to do with the kids in their care. They believe god’s law supersedes the laws of the land and that they are called to lead and serve in these places and abuse children. The believe in a warped concept called “tough love”.
In between West Coast Academy and Agape Boarding School my dad and I had several talks where I told him, again, what had happened at the boy’s home. He pretended to care. He pretended to be concerned. He promised he would never send me to another place like that again. That was a lie. Not long after returning I overheard him talking to an agent with Agape or an ed consultant. I packed a bag and ran into the woods. My adopted dad Bill chased me. Finally catching up with me he apologized and promised to never send me away like that again. Not even two weeks later I was on my way to Agape.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I came home from school with my dad driving me home in his little red Nissan from the 80’s only to see my mom in the Suburban driving the other way. She appeared to be crying uncontrollably and seemed to have a hard time driving because of it. I knew something was wrong but when I asked, my dad just said she was just being emotional and that she was headed to go get movies and pizza for us to enjoy later.
When we arrived home, I noticed that the screen door and front door were open. Very odd as we lived in the country about 45 min out of town and my mom would never leave the house unlocked and unattended let alone the doors wide open. As soon as I entered the house, I knew something was terribly wrong. Two men came out of my bathroom and flashed badges that reached from their shoulder down to their knees and told me they were transport agents here to take me to a boarding school. My heart pounded. I looked around the room. What do I do? Should I run? Should I fight? What could I do?
I realized then that my dad’s promise to never send me away again was a complete lie. He was sending me away again! That mother fucker lied to me! Rage and adrenaline filled my veins! He was sending me to a boarding school far from home; away from my friends, school, and anyone or anything I knew! He hadn’t learned anything! My mind flashed backed to my mom driving and her face as she wept. This is why mom had been crying and struggling to drive. This is the bad feeling I had entered the house! I was right! Panic overcame me and I froze.
A feeling of hopelessness swept over me. It was all happening again! I would be sent off, abused and used as cheap labor somewhere and when and if I ever got to tell my parents they would just deny it as they did previously at the boy’s home when I told them about the abuse there. I knew I wasn’t able to run away with my dad right behind me and two transport agents in front of me. This was it! I was going to boarding school whether I liked it or not!
I was told to go get dressed into something comfortable. I thought about breaking out the back window in my room and running but I knew they’d catch me. They were standing at the door too my room which didn’t have an actual door on the frame. Knowing my dad, he most likely would have the police out and after me in no time given his job as a parole and probation officer. So, I got dressed did what they said. I came out and seeing the cuffs outstretched my arms for them to be placed around my wrists. I figured it would be easier if I didn’t struggle. I was later assured I was right as they reminded me repeatedly that, “we can do this the easy way or the hard way!”
After they handcuffed me and put a leg brace on me, like I was some sort of maximum-security escape convict that they had to make sure wouldn’t run away, they loaded me into the family van and my dad drove us to the airport. On the way they explained they were going to un-cuff me because they couldn’t bring me on the airplane in cuffs. They told me to just “make it easier on myself” and not fight them so we could take a plane and not a bus. I didn’t feel as if I had a choice. The only other option, they said, was to hand cuff and shackle me and toss me in a van and drive me cross country to the boarding school. That sounded terrible! So, I did my best to comply with their demands. They left the leg brace on and when someone at checkout asked, they claimed it was because I had hurt my leg. My dad signed over his parental rights to them which allowed them to transport me. Again, I felt as if I had been thrown away or ownership of me had transferred which is exactly how the transport agents described it later on our trip.
I had never flown on an airplane before, at least not that I can remember. I was super nervous. Not only was I getting on a plane for the first time that I could remember but I was getting on it with two people who had basically just kidnapped me and were bringing me to some unknown place of my parent’s choosing! Not a good first flight to say the least. The nerves of being plucked from home combined with not knowing where we were going and being that high in the air for the first-time flying was enough to make anyone sick to their stomach and make their head swirl.
When we landed in Denver, I puked a little in the bathroom. The transport agents did their best to convince me that the school I was going to was a wondrous paradise where I would be able to have a normal high school experience with both boys and girls and that if I didn’t like it after six months my dad had told them I could come home. Of course, this was all lies. Agape Boarding School was boys only and there was nothing normal or paradise like about it! After lunch one of the transport agents took me outside the secure area to smoke. He even offered me a smoke to which I replied, “I don’t smoke.” He seemed shocked and asked I don’t tell my dad about him offering me a cig. I could have cared less at that point so I just nodded my head to assure him I wouldn’t.
We landed at the Kansas City Airport sometime in the afternoon and they loaded me into a van. From there they drove me too Agape. The drive seemed like it took forever! During it they explained to me that other students they had brought here loved it and continued to talk to the place up and lie. There was something off about their claims but I wished for the best regardless, lacking the energy to conceptualize anything less.
When I first arrived at Agape Boarding School I was taken directly to the owner, Jim Clemenson’s office. It was a huge, luxurious office with a giant bronze statue of an eagle about 8’ tall and the wingspan was at least five or six feet. I remember thinking, “that must be expensive!” It looked like a lot of money had gone into decorating his office; money from parents and church folk convinced the school would have to close if it didn’t get more funding soon no doubt! They were always fundraising for more and more money!
His desk was lavish. He sat behind it with a cold, shit eating smirk on his face; his eyes a cold steel that matched his hair. It was if he lacked any remorse. I would later discover those cold, dead eyes were a window into his icy heart. The transport agents said goodbye and there I was face to face with the man running Agape Boarding School, Jim Clemenson. He proceeded to tell me that I was a bad kid and went over all the complaints that my parents had raised about me. He made me feel so small and insignificant. He was good at that!
In the room with him was a tall, built man with a harsh face, one that you could tell had seen battle and a number of hard times. Mr. Vanderkooi was an ex-Marine and one of the school’s main disciplinary figures; the Dean of Students. He ran the boot camp for new students. He was strict, cruel; verbally, mentally, and physically abusive. Out of all the abusive people I encountered at Agape Vanderkooi was one of the worst!
Mr. Vanderkooi poured out my belongings onto Mr. Clemenson’s desk like one empty’s one trash bag into another. The two of them grabbed a trash bag and they kept throwing items in it, smirking as they did. “Can’t have that. Can’t have that. Can’t have that yet. You won’t be needing that. It’ll be a while before you see one of these again,” Vanderkooi chuckled as he threw item after item my mom had packed for me into a garbage bag. I thought they were throwing my stuff away and so I raised my voice and said, “You can’t do that!” That’s all I remember saying before being slammed to the ground. Before I could even finish what, I was saying I felt a smack across the face that took my breath away and sent me crashing to the floor so fast I had vertigo trying to get back up. Vanderkooi had backhanded me to the ground using only the back of his hand. My nose was bloody. I was given tissues.
“You ungrateful punk! You don’t get to talk like that in front of the owner!” He spoke! Obviously trying to impress Mr. Clemenson.
“It’s alright. Let him up.” Mr. Clemenson said. “Have you learned your lesson young man?” Jim asked me, that shit eating smirk still on his face was now growing wider as if he knew they had made their point that if I was going to mouth off it was going to be a very long and terrible stay at their school. So, with frustration but fear I answered his question, “Yes. I understand.”
“Good.” Mr. Clemenson said, in a voice sounding like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars, evil, dark, twisted, and dripping with toxic hate.
“Mr. Vanderkooi! Please take this boy to be fitted”, he said motioning for Vanderkooi to leave the room. Vanderkooi directed me to a closet where I was ordered to strip, spread my cheeks, was strip searched and then dressed in a bright orange shirt and jeans far too tight for me. All of my possessions were confiscated including my clothes. Unannounced to me my parents had sent a “care package” with a New King James Bible and some Christian books. They were also confiscated as the only book other than text books allowed, we’re the King James Bible. Any other version of the Bible was considered heresy. So not even Christian stuff was allowed in. I felt completely stripped of my identity and that was the point.
From there I was taken to have my head shaved in the typical military buzz cut fashion, the only real haircut you were allowed to have while attending the school. I was assigned a “buddy”, which was a guy I had to stay three feet in front of at all times who was tasked with teaching me the rules and if I broke them giving me push-ups or reporting me to one of the staff for harsher punishments, if they saw fit. If I had a question for my buddy, I was to raise my hand. If I talked without raising my hand, I had to do push-ups. Sometimes my buddy would make me do sit-ups and push-ups. Sometimes I was required to do leg lifts then keep my legs raised in the air until I simply couldn’t anymore and sometimes me not being able to keep my legs raised while laying on my back or being able to stay in push-up position resulted in yet even more exercises. It really depended on how cruel that staff and your buddy wanted to be to you. If they wanted to be you would be living in a Hell all day every day so it was best to keep a low profile and not piss people off.
I’ll never forget when I first sat down, after my hair cut, on that first day, in the dining hall. I was sitting next to another orange shirt for a little bit, well, his buddy was in between us because two new kids can’t sit side by side; it’s the rules. He didn’t look well. He was feverish and shaking and would sneeze and cough. I raised my hand and asked my buddy what was wrong with him and he replied, “Heroine withdrawal.” I had no idea what that even was. I had never heard drug names other than marijuana. Sure, I had heard things like “drugs are bad” and my dad constantly warned me not to be a “dirt-bag” like the ones he worked with that had thrown away their life for drugs, but this was my first experience seeing someone come down off a drug. It scared me. Little did I know I’d learn a lot more about drugs at that school and would see a lot more kids coming down off of various substances.
I was placed in boot camp, which is like military boot camp for but adapted for their program. You go around working all day, picking up trash and doing military style physical training or P.T. exercises until you puke or drop. Some students passed out from dehydration. The staff were incredibly physically, mentally and verbally abusive during this time; more so than any other time in your stay. They try to beat you into submission during this time from all the angles; verbally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. The goal, make you crack and submit and until they thought that happened, they wouldn’t let you graduate the program, but the truth was you were there as long as they could keep you there.
Every day before boot camp all the students would line up in the dining hall for what they called “morning work crew”. During this work crew over a hundred students were supervised as we carried large rocks, chunks of concrete and placed them in foundations being laid for staff housing, school facilities, and projects like the indoor lap pool Mr. Clemenson claimed he needed for his cancer.
For one hour in the morning, every morning, sometimes for several hours, we would carry very heavy logs and branches and clear areas for construction and lay these giant rocks in the foundation so other students could later pour concrete around it and build on top of it. We did work contractors should have been doing with equipment. We worked like tons of little ants walking back and forth in neat little lines. Occasionally a kid would find a copper head snake or a scorpion and the staff would pretend like it wasn’t a safety risk and encouraged us to just “get back to work!”.
A lot of the work, especially the rocks we hauled, should have been done with equipment and by grown adults or professionals but Agape didn’t want to pay for labor so they just had us do it all. Whenever I’d complain about my back hurting, I’d get in trouble. I’d either get yelled at and told to work harder or push-ups or both. I tried to be honest with them about my back pain but they didn’t want to hear it. They just saw me as weak, a wimp, and less of a man. They would make me do more wok or work extra-long sometimes because I spoke up about it.
The way they had us pile up rocks, logs and branches in our arms was insane! No child under the age of 18 should be carrying that much weight, especially children with back issues or prone to back issues! If we didn’t carry these insane amounts, we were called lazy and they made us do push-ups or work on additional work crews. Sometimes they even stuck us on a wall when we got back inside instead of letting us have free time. If you asked for water, you got push-ups or had to work longer. Sometimes it even meant we all had to work longer. They fed us water out of a dirty hose when they felt like it. Not often. Kids passed out from dehydration.
Free time wasn’t free. You weren’t allowed to talk to each other. You weren’t allowed to have friends and if they thought you were getting too close to someone, they would order you to separate. You weren’t allowed to work with another student on homework or play games unless under close supervision. We weren’t allowed to read the news, watch TV except an occasional football game the staff wanted to watch, minus the commercials. You weren’t allowed to play basketball, football, soccer or do anything outside unless a group was going out and staff was there to watch and a there had to be a certain number of staff to watch or you couldn’t go outside at all. Sometimes the staff just didn’t want to go outside and we wouldn’t have any crews play outside for weeks at a time especially in the Fall and Winter months.
Sometimes afternoon work crews were called and students were taken from their studies to work outside in the hot Missouri sun or freezing cold sometimes for four hours at a time! If you so much as complained about the back breaking work you were punished and made to do push-ups, sit-ups, leg-lifts or put on a wall when you returned. I am absolutely positive from the accounts of other students with back issues that this school caused my sciatica which has made finding and keeping work almost impossible and has left me in pain for over a decade. I am grateful that after many years of fighting I have finally won SSD but I am unsure how long they will keep me on it or if my back will ever improve enough for me to hold regular employment. People just assume that young people, especially young men, can pick themselves up by their own bootstraps and just carry on. Some of us can’t! Spinal conditions like a fissured disc and sciatica are serious conditions and very painful! You would hope people would realize this and cut a young person some slack but they don’t. They say things like, “Oh you’re too young to have back problems!” I know! That’s the problem! Believe me! I didn’t ask for these issues and I shouldn’t have to have had two back surgeries at the age of thirty-six.
Boot-camp was the worst. After everyone else had gone to the dorm and began to prepare for school us boot-campers were lined up and taken out to collect all the trash and recycling from all the staff houses that were sprawled around the campus. While the other students were working on school the boot campers roam the campus doing odd jobs all day. Carrying all that garbage for miles until we reached the garbage bins was a challenge. Occasionally they’d have us move really large objects like telephone poles, tree trunks, or large garbage.
Anytime someone stepped out of line or didn’t hear their name called or mouthed off they were told to do push-ups and sometimes they had to do those on the hot white gravel or cement. I still have some scars on my hands from the hot sun cooking our flesh as we were forced to remain in push-up position while they yelled at us.
Sometimes they would punish us as a group for one person being dumb. You know, just to make sure we knew who was in charge and that people stepping out of line were made an example of. They yelled at us and made us dig trenches. We built and rebuilt that school from the ground up mostly without contractors or outside help for free. It was just work crew but all the time. We worked 8-10 hour back-breaking days for two weeks. Some people would be in boot camp for a month or month and a half. The faster you submitted the quicker you were out. The more you fought the longer you stayed in there.
I still have scars on my hand from a time when a kid mouthed off and we were made to stay in push-up position on the hot white concrete for almost a half hour. It completely blistered both of my hands. Several times we were left in push-up position on hot, white, concrete by the pool and a pond where it was extremely humid. The pond had sharp rocks and broken glass and debris in it. They called it The Vander pit. Vanderkooi would have us remain in push-up position with our heads facing downhill and our legs above us so all the blood would rush to our heads and we’d struggle not to fall while he screamed and threatened to throw us into the disgusting, garbage filled pond below. It was rough. Sometimes we’d do PT in “the sandpit” which was the volleyball court. They seemed to love to do that when it was super scorching hot out so the sand would burn us.
The rocks would cut our hands and the sand would sting as we completed our exercises running in place, doing push-ups, sit-ups and leg lifts whenever a number was called. The numbers were assigned to different exercises. If one or more of the boot-campers got the exercise wrong our PT time was extended. It was regularly extended! Sometimes a third session of PT was ordered for around the middle of the day. I remember Scott Dumar kicking me in the ribs, yelling at me to get up because my arms failed me when I was doing push-ups in the volleyball court sand. I remember eating a mouth full of sand and having the wind kicked out of me and him calling me a “wimp”.
Tired and worn out, soaked in sweat and not allowed to change we were brought in to sit with the other students for meals. Meals at Agape were interesting. Most of the time the meals were descent meals but sometimes they were a bit lacking. They definitely fed us cheap food!
We lined up by dorms and were called in a certain order to come up and get our meals. That order rotated. We were only sometimes allowed seconds, not often. Portions were reasonable but not over the top. Dessert would sometimes be provided other times it was left out, but they were rarely all that great. We weren’t allowed to have any candy with sugar in it other than the desserts at dinner nor were we allowed any coffee or caffeine.
Once out of boot-camp I opted to work in the kitchen whenever I could. I tried to tell Agape I was suffering back pain and that I thought the work crews were making it worse but they ignored me. They refused to take me to a doctor. I was even punished for speaking about it a few times.
Lucky for me my buddy had worked in the kitchen a lot and had connects so he introduced me to Blake, the staff member in charge of the kitchen, and some of the other kitchen staff. Thankfully working in the kitchen sometimes helped me avoid carrying large rocks and logs but meant that I was to clean dishes for all the students and sometimes prep food which meant a lot of bending and twisting that also seemed to provoke pain. I sometimes got in trouble in the kitchen for “not working fast/hard enough”. In truth I was working as fast and as hard as I could in the amount of pain I was in and trying to conceal.
I honestly didn’t mind kitchen duty that much. It beat working outside all the time! I liked Blake, the leader of the school choir/ensemble and kitchen. He often let us bend rules just a bit and talk to him and discuss stuff among students in front of him that other staff would never have allowed. He seemed more real and down to Earth than the other staff. Although I appreciate these qualities in Blake, he was still aware of abuse he should have reported and participated in abusive behaviors. No staff at Agape were innocent. All knew about the abuse going on there and none did anything to stop it!
Working in the kitchen was hard work but I took pride in it and eventually I was promoted to grill master. My job as grill master was to make sure the grills were clean and take charge over two other students who were there to help me clean the large grill and small grill plus all the vents and stove tops. It was really hard work and still hurt my back pretty bad but it was better, I felt, on my back, then being out there in the field hauling rocks and logs all the time (which still happened just not as much). Since Agape wouldn’t allow me to get an MRI or get my back imaged and checked out thoroughly and didn’t believe me about my back pain, this was the best I could hope for.
The one time I tried to mention my back pain, them not allowing me to see anyone for it and report child abuse to Dr. Smock at the Stockton, Missouri clinic he told me to “shut up if I know what’s good for me.” Later I found out that he married off two of his daughters to Clemenson boys; the Clemenson’s being the owners of Agape Baptist Church and Boarding School. Dr. He is a member of the Clemenson family by marriage and perhaps for this very reason Smock did all our physicals. When I told them he creeped me out and I wanted a different doctor I was told that was my only option and to be grateful they brought me to a doctor at all!
On kitchen duty you had to work sometimes when others weren’t working, so in a way it sort of canceled out not having to work outside. You had to work when others had free time or time for their studies or were in the dorms because things would need to be cleaned or prep cooked. Since you had to work longer you were rewarded with coupons you could save and put towards a burger and shake. It took forever to get enough points but it was a nice perk that some people got for working extra kitchen duties and watching the door, being a section leader, or for other positions of trust or responsibility.
One day they had me training a student on how to scrape the grill. Everything was going fine until this student accidentally cut my right index finger to the bone with one of the grill scrappers. It cut so fast and so clean at first, I didn’t realize how bad the cut really was. I tried to put a paper towel around it but it just kept gushing blood so I ran to the sink. I screamed to the staff sitting in for Blake, Engleman, someone but everyone, including the two kitchen bosses, thought I was just exaggerating about how bad I had been hurt and said so.
While I was at Agape they had no on-site doctor, just a nurse that most likely didn’t have his nursing license. He was just some guy that had dropped out of medical school that was playing nurse. At the time I cut my hand open he didn’t even have an infirmary or office. I filled an entire deep, industrial sized kitchen sink full of blood before someone said they better get me to the hospital and got me a bandage. I still have the scar today. 7 stitches later my right index finger was stitched up and I was kicked off kitchen duty until it healed, which was stupid because that meant I had to go outside in the dirt and grime and pick up giant rocks and branches again which was way worse for my healing finger. It got infected more than once. I’m surprised I still have a finger to be honest. I could have easily gotten an infected enough to lose it.
I remember the first night I arrived at Agape and me crying in my bunk. I cried and cried and demanded that they let me call my mom and dad while the other students jeered and made fun of me for crying. I insisted that even people in jail get a phone call! A staff member in charge of heading up our dorm told me, “Kids don’t have any rights. You’ll learn that! You don’t have any rights here. You do what you are told! Now shut up!” They were right. Kids don’t have rights. They still don’t despite the best efforts of hundreds of survivors and activists over many years!
There were a number of punishments they used on us but one really cruel punishment they inflicted upon us was the wall. If you got in trouble enough, they sent you to the wall. There you had to stand perfectly still with your hands at your side and stare at wall paper for hours on end. Your “free time” was revoked. You weren’t allowed to even do homework. You could only stare standing at the wall. Sometimes if they were nice, they would let you sit or read your Bible but if they caught you looking off the wall or doing something else, they would take your chair immediately and make an example out of you! I remember this one staff member made me stay in the squat position for an hour plus because he caught me looking off the wall at the clock. It was if I had a chair but I didn’t and I had to keep that position the entire time. I failed a few times which resulted in him laughing and making me do push-ups.
Some people could handle the punishments there, some could not. A lot of it bordered on torture. Some of their methods seemed to be even militant at times. I’ll never forget some of the more horrendous things I saw there like kids struggling to sit down, blood bleeding through their pants after swats or when a kid would end up hurt from being restrained by too many staff at the same time and in dangerous positions no teen should ever be placed in! I doubt I’ll ever be able to flush some of those images from my mind. They are seared into the walls of my mind forever!
One day I was sitting on the wall when this guy next to me just lost it. He started beating his head as hard as he could into the sharp edge of the wooden window sill. None of the staff caught it so he just kept doing it harder and harder until he cracked his skull and blood sprayed over my lap from his head. It looked like I could see through his skull and see a part of his brain as he flopped on the floor in pain and anguish for about a minute before a couple staff members scooped him up and brought him up to Mr. Clemenson’s office. I never saw that student again.
Later we received a post card from a mental institution where he was apparently being held. It seemed oddly suspicious to me that they wanted everyone to know about this card and read it out loud. It said that he was fine and that he didn’t fault the boarding school for his injuries. My guess is it was a fake. It was really creepy and disturbed a lot of us students. We joked when staff couldn’t hear us that he was “disappeared” and that if we weren’t careful, we were next.
One time a kid broke his collar bone trying to break a horse. Why they thought students breaking horses was safe I don’t know. They hauled him back quite roughly and I could hear them saying, “He’s just faking it!” for a half hour before they finally took him to the doctor only to find out he wasn’t faking it and that he had fractured his collarbone in three places. Once all bandaged up, he still had to participate in work crew by using his “good arm”.
If you talked too much or to too many people or got too close to someone else you were put on red wrist band status. This status was sometimes referred to as being “on silence status”. You weren’t allowed to talk to anyone but staff and often only when spoken too. If you were caught talking on no talking status you were in a lot of trouble. Often people who refused to remain silent on no talking status ended up back in an orange shirt and back in boot camp with a buddy and had to reclimb the ranks.
A section leader was defined as a student who rose through the ranks of kissing ass and not getting in trouble to lord over a dorm of students and tell them when to get out of bed make sure they only used 3 minutes at the sink and 2 minutes when going number 2 and one minute when pissing stuff like that. He reported to the dorm supervisor who was a full-fledged staff member that slept in a private section at the end of the long row of metal bunk beds and 3ft by 10ft sections where we slept and spent a little time each night memorizing scripture or working on our school work. When I say little, I mean like maybe a half hour to an hour. We were not there often. When we were we were usually busy making sure our beds were made at a 45-degree angle, sections were clean, and clothes folded.
This one time a section leader, our section leader for our dorm, one of 5, started complaining about not feeling well and a sharp pain in his gut. They didn’t treat him any better than anyone else with a medical problem. They simply thought he was sick and denied his request to see a doctor. It wasn’t until his appendix burst and he started to turn yellow that they rushed him to the doctor. Man was he in pain! They set a staff member to watch over him in the dorms for a few days. It took him at least a week as I recall to be able to function even half-way effectively. I’m honestly surprised he didn’t die!
One of the first nights there I was jumped by kids with pillow cases with soap in them. Blanket party is what they call it. I was pretty beat up in the morning with bruises all over. When asked what happened I said I fell out of my bunk. If I said anything else I would surely be beaten up even worse. Another time I went to go pee at night, which was allowed, only to be followed by another student who was much older and stronger than I was. He made me keep my pants down and pulled his pants down sticking his cock up to my face he said, “Suck it bitch!” That’s all I remember of that moment. To be honest it almost feels like a glitch in my memory. The kid scrambled to get back to his bunk because the rule was only one person in the bathroom at a time and he started to hear someone walking down the hall. The section leader accused me of using the bathroom without permission because the other kid said he asked and the bathroom guy said he only let one person in and I was the newer student. I tried to tell him what really happened but he wouldn’t even allow me to speak. I thought about telling staff but figured they wouldn’t believe me or worse I’d get in trouble.
I never knew what gangs even were until the boarding school but I found learned pretty quick! Occasionally kids claiming to be Crips or Bloods would get into fights and a couple of times they made shanks that they stabbed each other with. These fights were broken up quickly in most cases but sometimes staff didn’t act quick enough and several kids were severely injured during my stay. One time a kid tried to strangle me with a coat hanger. That was great. His reasoning? It was a red coat hanger so I must be a Blood! Apparently, he had been a Crip before coming to Agape.
As I mentioned previously, we weren’t allowed things like coffee, hot cocoa, TV, newspapers or magazines; anything that could be a connection to the outside world or make us feel more at home. They made us watch old war reals from WWI and WWII and occasionally would put on Fox News. I actually watched the coverage of when the twin towers fell as it happened. It was one of the few things they let us watch. They were very selective. They obviously wanted to brainwash us to think like them.
It was pretty obvious they wanted to encourage us to go into the military. They would talk about it all the time. They even allowed recruiters to come and meet with some of the students who weren’t even ready to graduate. We had military personnel come and talk before the student body on multiple occasions and it seemed all some staff could talk about was their service in the military and how everyone should serve. They made it sound so great! They would even bring back old staff and students who had been in the military to prove it was the best option for a lot of us.
One of the staff I guess got in trouble for shooting horse tranquilizers and molesting a boy. Apparently, he was getting students high for a while before anyone noticed. I know he offered me a “special trip” and said to “let’s have some fun” and I’m glad didn’t. I feel like I dodged a bullet there! There have apparently been a few staff that have done this with horse tranquilizers and drugs on campus with the boys and I’ve heard of multiple rumors of them touching the boys inappropriately while they were both high. The time I encountered a staff doing this wasn’t the first or the last time it would happen at the school. In fact, several staff got in trouble for it while I was there and I heard of a staff getting in trouble for it before I was there. Later I heard of a staff getting caught doing it after I left. It would appear this is a common way staff get high at Agape.
The school fed our parents with constant lies telling them they needed more funding or they were going to have to shut down the school or that we needed the money for the students! In truth students on various work crews built half a million-to-million-dollar homes for the staff. They hung drywall, sheetrock, laid shingles, the foundation. Everything was done by students! All of the money they raised seem to benefit the staff the most!
We put chandeliers worth thousands into some of the homes. We built a personal, luxurious lap pool for the owner after he discovered he had cancer. His wife who we all called Ma’am drove a brand-new Ford Mustang. The statues in Jim’s office were literally larger than life. It’s obvious to anyone who looks around Agape’s campus in Stockton, Missouri. You can just see where the money was spent and it wasn’t on the kids!
The staff mostly drove nice cars and you could tell there was a lot of money floating around. Most of the staff weren’t paid that much but some were given nice houses, nice cars, nice things to compensate. Apparently, the staff were paid less than minimum wage and not allowed to work or have their spouses work off campus. They were controlled a lot like people are controlled in sex trafficking rings.
With the cost of attending the school over $1,200 a month my parents blew through a good portion of my inheritance from my deceased mother and grandfather. Essentially, they used my own money to have me abused and mistreated and I’m still living with the damage today! Meanwhile, my adopted dad, Bill Harper, started a business transporting teens to Agape and other facilities using my story as a “sucess story”. He told everyone I had “changed so much” and that Agape was a “great program that was helping his son so much!” In reality that was all a ruse to get parents to part with their hard-earned money and send their kid to Agape where my dad got kickbacks and money off my tuition. He struck a deal with Agape for a number of years and would recommend their program in exchange for them recommending his services to transport teens to their program and others. He even transported teens while I was there, which, if you can imagine, made me very popular with some of the guys. So, Bill Harper, in short, built his business on my back with my story.
Often when students would get out of line and physical force was needed, they were restrained with pressure points that inflict pain and if that wasn’t enough, they were brought to Mr. Clemenson’s office where they used a large paddle. When they couldn’t control a student and couldn’t avoid bruising him up, they just played it off as the student’s fault for being out of control they would claim it was a sport’s injury or that the student forced their hand. They even told us that bruises didn’t matter because nobody would believe us that it was anything other than a sports injury.
Out of all the many Hells I survived there, perhaps one of the worst was an F4 tornado. We didn’t have a proper shelter as they do now. We were extremely lucky that nobody died. When the tornado warning came in, we all thought it was just another drill. We soon figured out it wasn’t.
I remember sitting in the back of the school against a wall that was built against a concrete wall and into the side of a hill but still feeling wind coming through the walls. It ripped the roof off of several buildings, sent toy trucks through trees (literally have a picture of a toy truck stuck in a tree that they gave us on a disc).
I’ll never forget Mr. Cleveland rushing inside and the door sucking itself closed with a thud! It was a big metal door and very heavy. He yelled, “Here she comes boys! Start praying!” When the storm hit, we prayed and I had to have a paper bag because I started hyperventilating. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more scared in my entire life and I’ve lived through some very scary situations. I honestly thought I was going to die that night.
I remember we went up dorm by dorm to get our stuff from the dining hall after the tornado had passed. The roof was ripped open. Patches of it were just hanging there ready to fall. Water pouring down from the gaps in the ceiling. Staff yelling for us to hurry up and get our stuff off the table and save what we could. I saw my school stuff and grabbed as much of it as I could, even the soaked stuff hoping it would dry out and I wouldn’t have to do it all over again, but I did have to redo it all.
I saw my guitar floating on top of the water in its case and snagged it just in time. The roof started to cave in. Huge chunks came falling from the ceiling. Me and this other kid I played games with named Dave had to jump over a few tables with all of our stuff in our hands to get to safety and just as we did, they told kids to leave whatever was left and get away as a bunch of the roof caved in all over. I still have that, my first ever guitar that was gifted to me, in my closet and will keep that forever as a keep’s sake to remind me of what I survived.
The whole school flooded. We had to boil water. We had to work all the time; day and night. We literally had to rebuild most of the school and facilities after that which meant everyone was on 8 hours work crews and school was shoved to the wayside for a good long time period. We removed insulation with our bare hands at times, no ventilators, no masks. Lots of hazardous waste was removed without proper safety gear, training or experience, and kids got hurt frequently. I still have a scar on my left hand from when I student shoved me in the back and I fell forward and stuck my hands out to catch myself and my left palm had a nail go straight through it. Was extremely painful. Very lucky it didn’t sever a muscle or tendon.
I’m lucky to have kept my head low for the most part while there and I graduated a year early so I could leave just after my 18th birthday. The education at Agape Boarding School is horrible. Almost none of the teachers have any real teaching experience or background let alone a degree in teaching or the field they are supposed to be teaching in.
My first principal, Mr. Burton, was the pastor and guy who gave you the paddle if you were severely out of line. He was like a giant angry bullfrog that belched angrily at you all the time. He never knew the answer to anything unless he had the answer key in front of him. He wasn’t qualified to teach a middle school class let alone run the entire school as principle and president. My next principle’s name was Ronald McDonald. He only ever got his GED if I’m not mistaken. He used to joke about how dumb he was 24/7. He could be a complete jerk or he could be one of the more tolerable staff. It really depended on his mood at the time. I think he may have had some sort of mood disorder he was not treating. After I got out, people teased me asking me, “Did he believe in magic and wear big red shoes too?” I guess having Ronald McDonald as a principle and the signature on your diploma is kind of funny!
There were hardly any computers there and nothing in the way of learning on them except the most basic of word processing and their cheesy Christian math games played on floppy discs. We never typed up and printed essays. We just wrote them. The rest of the world was getting into computers but we were stuck in the dark ages!
But that’s the story of schools and programs like Agape. They don’t hire licensed medical staff, psychiatrists, teachers, principals, therapists, trainers, workers, builders, contractors, etc. because they rely on people who come from other churches who feel called and free labor from the students. In fact, the only qualification for someone to work at Agape is they must feel called and Agape needs someone. Agape never did any background checks or looked into their history of employment. They even bragged they didn’t need to because “god will lead them”. They hired plenty of people that turned out to be horrible staff, a few who turned out to be pedophiles. Students have been sexually and physically assaulted by staff at Agape on many occasions over the years. The staff come and go quickly. Many leaving after incidents where abuse occurs and is covered up.
Whenever Agape could it would recruit students and turn them into staff. This meant they were usually already brainwashed and perfectly broken down so they would do whatever asked for practically no pay at all in exchange for a place to stay and not having to go out and face the real world. They were so insidious that at times they would tell the student and parents the student wasn’t ready for the outside world yet and that they should stay there for a while on staff or as a grey shirt, which was a student who was eighteen, not staff, but was given slightly more privileges because they could just leave.
They groomed students by telling them they were too good for their peers and encouraging them to separate themselves from everyone else. They tried to convince to me to stay. They would loosely make it sound like a staff daughter might like you or that God would bless you if you stayed. They made it sound so much less scary than the outside world. So warm and welcoming.
Several students have gone on to marry staff member’s daughters. One staff daughter, a woman there at Agape, has actually been married to two former students. She cheated on her first husband, a former student, with another student who had just turned 18 and graduated. Now if that isn’t pedophilic grooming, I don’t know what is!
This type of hiring from within and marrying within makes Agape and places like it is very cultish. These boys often have no idea what they are in for when they join the staff even after being at Agape for so long. Their brains are literally brainwashed and their fear of an outside world they have been cut off from for so many years overtakes them. It seems easier to stick with the routine and what they know and they really instill a feeling that you need to make up for your past sins and that staying on as a staff member is a great way to do that! Now they even have Wings of Faith, a girl’s school next door, run by some of the same people with the same morals and rules and I’ve heard rumors they encourage girls that want to be on staff and boys who want to be on staff to mingle and perhaps marry in time; essentially breeding workers.
Later I found some YouTube videos advertising the school and thought it important to post some links about Lester Roloff and the history of Agape and how they had been shut down in Washington and California for child abuse before moving to Missouri where the laws are laxer. My dad, who transport kids to these schools under the business name Touchdown Transports Inc. and several of the staff there pressured me to take those comments down. I refused stating it was my testimony and people needed to hear it. They insisted the school has changed and offered to explain to my work I needed to fly out there, reimburse me for those hours, put me in a nice motel with my dad and show me around while treating me like “royalty”. They basically offered me a lump sum of hush money, about three thousand dollars, as well just to keep me quiet. I refused. My family pressured me to take down the comments as they put my dad’s business of transporting children to facilities like this in an awkward spot. I refused and still refuse to this day to change my testimony, lie, or keep quiet! I think it’s shameful that they transported children to Agape and affiliated schools after their son was abused there and told them about the abuse and I will not dim my light to shield them from it!
Bill has continued to transport kids to Agape and other abusive schools and institutions; that is, until now. In 2019 I approached Senate Majority Whip Sen Sara Gelser Blouin in an email. I told her about what I had been through, the physical and mental pains I suffer from it still, to this very day, and I asked her to help me come up with a legislative solution we could pass that would essentially shutdown my dad’s and any other abusive transport businesses in Oregon and prevent Oregon based transport companies from operating with third party agents outside of the state. The goal is to prevent teens from experiencing what I had to experience. I want to prevent them from having the night terrors associated with being taken in the middle of the night, hand cuffed, and hauled off to an abusive program! I want to help ensure that parents and authorities have to take children to facilities themselves and see first-hand where they are placing these children! Fortunately, with the help of other survivors of the troubled teen industry, Paris Hilton, Sen Gelser Blouin, and supporters we passed bills to regulate the ed consultant and transport industries that feed the troubled teen industry. Currently lawmakers from various states are observing the law and considering ways to pass their own versions. If they, do it could have the potential to starve these abusive programs; denying them access to the vulnerable teens they prey on and need to stay alive.
Bill, my adopted dad, Chris, my adopted mom/aunt and I no longer talk. I’m completely estranged from the family. I am their enemy as they are unable to take any responsibility for their actions or how their business may have played a key role in abusing children. I have spent countless hours on the phone, writing them emails, sending them links and videos. They refuse to look at it. Each and every time they come up with some pathetic new excuse but the real reason is clear, they refuse to accept responsibility for the places they sent me. They always deflect and claim, “we didn’t have a choice” or “you made us do this”! I think somewhere in their hardened, cold little hearts they know but they lack the ability to care. They don’t love me unconditionally and never did. To them I was property they had to watch until I turned 18 and if they could pay someone else to do it then obviously that was to their fancy!
They are both dead to me. They have both been given ample opportunity to admit that they made mistakes in sending me where they sent me; in meeting me at least halfway in my healing process. I’ve done my time for any crimes I’ve committed. I’ve apologized for my mistakes many millions of times over. They have been given ample evidence of the abuse at not only Agape but other institutions they transport teens to, but they refuse to spend even a moment looking into these places! They know what they are doing and don’t see it as wrong at all or perhaps they just don’t care! They are toxic narcissists who don’t care how their actions affect others as long as they are happy and as long as they benefit from it. Therefore, they have no place in my life and never will! I suggest all grown adults who have survived the troubled teen industry or abusive parents and still struggle with their parents not understanding years later just cut ties with them. If the relationship is a drain on your mental health just do it! I did and it has done wonders for my mental health! I no longer stress about what my parents will think or say or introducing a lover to them! I no longer care about their opinions! It’s great!
Agape Boarding School remains open despite all our efforts to close it. Despite staff members being charged with felony child abuse and their long-time doctor Dr. Smock being charged with pedophilic crimes. Despite that Dr.’s long history spanning multiple states. Despite Agape Boarding Schools long history of being sued by former students and concerned parents, despite them being in newspaper after newspaper starting with the Kansas City Star to the Associate Press, and despite numerous suicides by alumni who can’t face the nightmares and the memories after they leave; despite all that Agape remains open. Why? I’ll tell you why! Corruption!
The Kansas City Star has helped us publish quite a few stories and without them I doubt any progress would be made in Missouri that has been made. The politicians in Missouri are crooked. They are corrupt. Corruption runs deep in Missouri, especially any type of corruption that can use religion as a cover story. In the Bible Belt, in Missouri, and the surrounding areas, if you are a church, or a pastor or something like that you can get away with just about anything. The townsfolk will support you in the name of Christianity. They will turn a blind eye to your crimes. They will even help you cover some of them up.
In Cedar County the Cedar County Sheriff’s Department is a prime example of this corruption. Three staff members on the payroll of the Cedar County Sheriff’s Department are staff on the payroll at Agape. Some of the staff are also related to the Sheriff “Jim Bob”. Robert Graves is one of these staff members and his daughter worked dispatch at one point. Whenever we would call in abuse or find students leaving Agape and convince them to report abuse Cedar County Sheriff’s office buried it. For years we were unable to raise local authorities and were unsure why they seemed to not be concerned. We thought it was just religious brainwashing until we discovered the overlap in staff and the family relationships that are clear and obvious conflicts of interest!
Cedar County Sheriff’s Department put out a statement that if there ever was an investigation into abuse claims at Agape and there was a conflict of interest, they would turn that investigation over to another investigative body. Then they sat on it for about a month hoping it would dissipate and no longer be in the local papers, but we didn’t give them any such satisfaction. The Kansas City Star put out story after story with us describing the abuse we had endured and the ways they cover things up and how the local authorities weren’t doing anything and every time we called Children’s Services, they blamed Social Services and vice versa. We, with the help of these brave and attentive reporters, and the local news, raised literal Hell, to the point where an investigation simply had to occur and there was no way Cedar County Sheriff would be able to do it themselves because they would essentially be investigating themselves. So, they turned it over to the Missouri Highway Patrol.
The Missouri Highway Patrol sent in officers almost immediately. From what I’ve gathered they’ve been reporting runaways and returning them to facilities like Agape who aren’t even on state maps for years and had raised concerns about the treatment of students in these facilities. However, whenever they would raise concerns about students in these facilities, they were told they had no jurisdiction and that they must return the student no matter what! Even if there are clear signs this youth is being abused! They had to take them back like a stray dog or something.
As you can imagine that didn’t sit too well with the Missouri Highway Patrol. So, when the opportunity arose to investigate Agape, they leapt on it. Unfortunately, they interviewed the boys on campus and not off campus as most investigators will recommend so it is difficult to say how accurate their testimony really was. It most likely was very inaccurate and likely left out a lot of abuse. Still, quite a bit of evidence of child abuse and foul play was turned over the Missouri Attorney General’s office. Eric Schmidt then recommended 60 charges for 23 separate individuals. He sent this recommendation to a local prosecutor named Ty Gaither, who claimed, due to state law he was the only person able to prosecute the case. Ty decided to only charge 5 individuals with 7 crimes, all low-level felonies that could be pleaded out into misdemeanors so those getting charged could pass the felony background now required by the state by all childcare facilities, public or private. Ty later refused to prosecute Dr. Smock saying he got a flu shot from him earlier that year. The glaring double standard and unequal application of the law is not lost on survivors and activists working to put an end to Agape Boarding School and its over thirty years of child abuse. We see the corruption and are doing all we can to raise the issue but it appears to be falling on deaf ears! For now, we can only hope that some civil lawsuits, continued media and social media awareness campaigns, and these criminal charges will be what brings down the giant. We will not give up until Agape is no more! We will continue to fight until the last kid is sent home!
From Spare The Rod by Brett Harper