Saturday, April 23, 2011

Humiliation at Hephzibah House: Restriction and Control over Restroom Breaks

 If you need a little toe-tapping levity about potty training, hit the play button on the video below.  (Otherwise, just forgo it.  It's just a silly video for kids.)
But you may need a little levity a little later.   

This is the kind of thing that pops into my mind when I think of the word "potty" or the so-named "potty dance."  It involves little plastic seats that sit in the bathroom or ones that mount on to the commode for kids in training.  

I like the images that this little video sends to children, making the experience of learning this new task fun, light, and universal.  There are all sorts of adults in the video, dancing in order to help their kids feel more confident so that they can grow and mature without making too much of the shame of embarrassment that can sometimes come along with potty training.

Sadly, this image of the "potty dance" holds a different meaning for the young women at Hephzibah House.  It was a dance of degradation and physical pain for those who endured there.  Some still suffer the lasting consequences of this experience through urinary tract infections, problems with continence, and the memories of shame they experienced.

A few hours ago, Jocelyn Andersen and I were able to ask Susan Grotte, a 29 month resident of Hephzibah House about some of the things she endured through and witnessed there. Susan believed that she would only be at the private boarding house for “troubled girls” for about 15 months where she was promised specific counseling for some very painful childhood experiences. I suspect that Ron and Patti Williams believed that all the counsel that the girls needed came through the “rod of reproof and restraint.”

Time constraints prevented a more comprehensive discussion of all of the aspects of the topic on Blog Talk Radio today. Previous episodes briefly mentioned how the staff taught “restraint” to the young women there through limited, monitored, and scheduled use of the restroom. Establishing control over every single area of life on such a personal level adds to the demise of a person's sense of self through humiliation and makes a person more “pliable” in social situations. I find the use of the term "potty breaks" to be more fitting for 2 year olds and not something age-appropriate for young teenage women.  I think that the terminology used sends an ironic message about how the Hephzibah girls were humiliated every single day.  After the interview, Susan sent this to me, and I thought it added more to the discussion for those who have not had a chance to learn more about the many abuses at Hephzibah House.

Some may deem this type of discussion to be inappropriate, and if you suspect from the following subheading that it will cause you offense, please exercise your own discretion. I believe that these details provide readers with a tiny window into the world that the girls who were residents at Hephzibah House lived night and day while they were incarcerated there. For those of us who read on, we only have to see into this world for a few minutes and can go back to our comforts. The Former Hephzibah Girls lived with these experiences without hope of comfort, facing these situations and far more, constantly, for months and months on end. They lived this reality multiple times a day.

"Potty Breaks"  Susan Grotte: Memories of HH

Painful cramps rock my lower back.  I stare at the shoes.  Opening my eyes wide to stop the tears.  Twenty six pair of plain brown loafers,  scuffed and worn.  All facing forward,  all showing agitation.  Twisting,  stomping quietly.  Legs pressed tightly together as 26 girls dance in quiet agony.  The familiar potty dance.  Large and severe Miss Diana stands at the beginning of the line. her legs are like  tree trunks as she stands in her sensible black warden shoes,  scowling.   No one dared whimper.  The lined moved with intentional sluggishness. 

A slight girl in the childish blue polyester uniform and red knee highs steps out of the bathroom.  She steps up to Miss Diana and holds up her hands. 

Miss Diana sniffs, “I don’t smell soap”  

I washed Miss Diana,  I did!”  The desperate girl pleads for clemency.

That is a work duty for arguing.  Do you want to make it a paddling for lying?”  

The door had been ajar.  We had all heard and seen the girl wash her hands.  This was simply a power play.

No ma'am.”  The girls frail shoulders sag visibly.  She steps back into the bathroom leaving the door ajar while she carefully re-washes her hands.  She again walks up to Miss Diana holding her hands up.

OK.”  Miss Diana  gestures with exaggerated boredom for the girl to pass and the first girl in the waiting line steps up to Miss Diana who holds out a roll of rough industrial toilet paper.

  We were to indicate how many sheets of toilet paper we needed based on what business we had to accomplish.  Three sheets for pee and five for a bowel movement.  

I may need some extra Miss Diana.”  The blond girl blushed so deeply her scalp shone pink beneath her thin hair.  Miss Diana smirked and handed her three extra sheets.

Just full of it today, aren’t you Tina”  

Tina laughed,  a forced tight laugh while the corded muscles in her neck betrayed her urgent need.  She stepped into the bathroom,  careful to leave the door several inches ajar.   The sounds of explosive diarrhea filled the narrow hallway.  

I clench my fists,  I curl my toes,  I squeeze my thighs together for all I am worth.  
I bite my lip and look up the line,  fifteen girls still ahead of me.
Please God, please.  

Just then a girl cries out in anguish.  A dark stain slowly spreads out on the concrete floor beneath her.  There is a nervous shuffle then eerie stillness as Diana’s eyes settle on the puddle. 

Miss Diana bellows out for the other main staff lady, “Sharon!”  

Thin and pointed Sharon’s face peered around the corner.  Her thick bushy eyebrows raised.  Her long hair piled precariously on her head.  

We have a wetter!” 

Disgust drips from Diana’s  voice as she grabs little Lynn roughly and herds her down the hallway.  As she and Sharon leave dragging Lynn between them,  Diana commands the new young summer staff lady, Christie,  to take over the potty line.  Soon muffled cries and sharp whacks are heard as  tiny Lynn is paddled for her crime.  

Christie grabs the roll of toilet paper and with sympathy and compassion she quickly moves us all through the line.  Nothing felt so sweet as to finally sit on that toilet.  I looked at my scrawny  legs.  My knees were now the largest part of my legs.  I had to grab the sides of the toilet to keep from falling in.  I had lost 40 pounds in just 4 months and my 5’9 frame was down to just 88 pounds.  Little more than a skeleton,I looked at  my panties puddled on the floor around my ankles.  Several strands of short curly  hair caught in the plain white cotton. My body hair had been falling out as steadily as the hair on my head.  I hoped no one would notice the faint odor of urine as I pulled up my damp panties and washed my hands.  I had leaked a bit after all.  

I held my hands up to Christie to smell as I came out of the bathroom.  She rolled her eyes slightly,  embarrassed as I was at the infantile ritual, and waved me on.  

Walking down the hall I see Lynn,  now crouched over a bucket scrubbing the concrete floor while Miss Diana berates and ridicules her.  Her dark hair spills out onto the concrete obscuring her face but I see her boney shoulders shudder as she sobs silently.  She has been changed into fresh clothes and paddled but her humiliation will not stop here.  

She is now diapered,  a point of which Miss Diana makes sure we are all very aware.  I had been so close to being the girl who wet herself.   Once again saved by a child who was weaker and smaller than myself.  Lynn was only 12. I felt sick.  I hung my head in shame and walked by poor little Lynn slinking back to my seat in the cold makeshift basement classroom.   

On the podcasts produced by Jeri Massi which detail the experiences of the girls at Hephzibah House, a young woman talks about how she was forced to smell the soiled sheets of someone who was likely dreaming about the daily nightmare of waiting for the "potty break."  Girls were humiliated, and the other girls were humiliated for them.  If you read through the many accounts on the various websites hosted by survivors, you will find references to these common problems among the girls.

Another former resident recalls her experience:

Hi everyone, I am an HH survivor. Susan asked me to take a look at this thread and I was amazed at the data that was compiled here. I was a prisoner at Hephzibah House in 1992, over a decade after Susan. The beatings had lessened to a degree, in that they were not given out on a daily basis.

However, starvation, isolation/group isolation, public humiliation in the name of God was rampant.  I was denied food when I arrived, because I refused to make a profession of faith. I was given a shake instead, one that is given for weight lifters, but instead of mixing it with milk they mixed it with water. I was so hungry all the time... or I was so full, I was struggling not to throw up.
I had to go to bathroom all the time, but was only allowed to go during 3-4 bathroom breaks a day. I would cross my legs in an effort to hold it... the pain was unbearable and to this day I have very little bladder control. I also wet the bed one time while I was there. The made me clean it up, and when I didn't get it done fast enough, my meals were taken away. I was put in diaper. The things said to me... I have never forgotten. I was filthy and lazy for wetting the bed. I was dreaming that I was standing in the bathroom line. I had to go so bad and I barely made it in time. I woke up and panicked when I found my bed wet.  I really do not have much else to say about that. The memory is painful. 

Please listen to all of the Jocelyn Andersen's Blog Talk Radio episodes about Hephzibah House

To learn more about Hephzibah House, please link to these additional resources: