Dreaming of a Way Out: Mina’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Mina” is a pseudonym.

Lucky for me, I attended a parochial school from 1st through fifth grade. I loved it. I loved my friends, learning, the teachers—everything about school thrilled me.

However, at the age of ten, after my parents had fallen under the spell of a religious group associated with the Branch Davidians, and they moved my sister and I out of the state and into a single-wide trailer in a very rural area of the country.

We were isolated. And we were homeschooled for the rest of our education, save for one year when a number of the “cult parents” banded together to pay a fellow-follower to teach seven of the children in a spare bedroom.

We were a true homeschooling Christian family. We wore long skirts. We didn’t cut our hair. The men wore beards. It was a miserable existence.

However, I always found hope in the idea that I would turn 18 and could leave.

I longed for a real education, and since I had gone to a normal school for the first five years, I knew what the real world was like.

But the longer we were involved in the movement, the more socially awkward I became during the limited social interaction we had with “the worldly people” we encountered at church, in stores, etc.

As I recall, around age 16, my mother mostly gave up homeschooling.

My mom went into a severe depression, and I don’t recall any sort of structure related to my education. Somehow though, I figured out I needed a GED, and I somehow got a GED study book and figured out where I needed to go to take the tests. I spent long hours in the night studying for my GED. I had no one to teach me and no guidance, so it’s kind of amazing that I figured out what I needed to do to pass it.

My father was a very controlling man and did not believe girls needed education, so my parents were of no help in the GED process. Mostly I studied in secret so as not to anger my very controlling father.

Once I had completed my GED (around age 17) I wasn’t sure what the next step should be.

I had heard one of the other followers talking about her niece who was going to a proprietary technical school. It sounded like a way out, and I asked her for the address of the school. I secretly wrote the school and managed to intercept all the mail addressed to me from the school. You can imagine my parents surprise when two individuals from the school showed up at our doorstep to sign me up.

I think my parents were so dumbfounded that a month after I turned 18, I left home to attend the proprietary school.

I had written a church in the area seeking a place to stay and ended up living in the home of another religious family. But it was less religious, and I could finally breathe. But that’s when the trouble started with my parents – constant calls and letters. Guilt. It was a loss of control for them, so the pressure to return was enormous.

I led a double life. None of the girls in the technical school knew my background. Thinking back, I think most of the girls came from rough backgrounds (they weren’t university material so they ended up in technical school), so my oddness didn’t seem so odd to them. They all had troubles of their own. But for me, who had no idea about the differences between a technical school or a private university, it was an amazing (albeit very expensive) year of “college.”

While it was a technical school, it was VERY hard for me. I would go to school early in the morning to practice things like typing (which everyone else knew), then go to my PT job before coming back to school.

Keeping up was hard – I had no context for the things I was being taught, and I really struggled.

The computers were out of my league and very challenging, since I had never been exposed to a computer.

At graduation (it was a year-long program), my parents put a great deal of pressure on me to return home. They told me the Lord had told them I needed to return, and it became unbearable. While I had no interest in returning home, the guilt was too much, and I did return home and found a job. Once again, I had to lead a double life – behaving one way at work and another way at home. After about nine months, I couldn’t stand it. My parent’s had become very controlling, and I knew I had to escape.

I had met a person who was going to a religious college in TN. I had no way of knowing about other colleges so I determined, once again, to secretly apply. I applied and was accepted. It was a four year religious university. I was beyond thrilled and looking forward to moving away and having a new life.

But my parents disagreed, and in a shocking act of violence (that led to the arrest and conviction of my father), they prevented me from moving.

More shockingly, I had the strength to get the police involved, and this ended up opening a few doors for me. I learned about community college and enrolled. But I was lost. I went to the guidance counselors, but they seemed out of their depth in dealing with someone who had no frame of reference for education. I muddled my way through one year before I quit and went to work full time as a secretary, all the while taking an occasional community college class here or there.

But secretly, I had a dream to become a lawyer. I had never met a lawyer, nor did I have any idea how to get to law school. But that little secret dream kept driving me. And I figured out how to apply to state universities. As I recall, since I had no grade or SATs, the university took me on as a special case. But there was so much I didn’t know, and the first two years were miserable. I felt so dumb.

I just didn’t know the basics that most people learn in high school.

Like math. I simply had no math education, and the college sent me to special high school classes to take math. I had no idea what anyone was talking about most of those first two years of university and, I made no friends. It was a foreign world – from the literature that was read to the science classes. I have no idea how I made it through – but I did. And I managed to graduate with a degree in journalism.

I eventually did find my way to law school.

And while I was older and not as socially awkward, it was still incredibly difficult for me. While other people seemed to know the basics of the constitution and how to research, I had no such skills, and I had to spend extra money hiring tutors to help me. But what I lacked in book skills, I made up for in zealous representation. I knew first-hand what it meant to be the underdog, and I knew how to fight for these people.

I’m now a partner in a large firm, and no one has any idea about my background. When other partners scoff at community college or state universities as being such bad schools, it stings, especially when I recall how difficult it was for me.

Homeschooling gave me no skills. It left me without a framework from which to understand the world’s social cues or even how to learn.


• Experiences with socialization: When you stepped foot onto your college campus, did you realize you were (as many parents argue) well-socialized already? Or did you realize that you were not (and that those many parents misunderstood the meaning of socialization)? What sorts of difficulties (if you did experience difficulties) regarding social interactions and interpersonal communication did you have to deal with?

During the first year of college, I attended a technical school. Because it wasn’t a true college in the ordinary sense of the word, and the demographic that attended tended to be those who came from lower socio-economic backgrounds or who had not done well in school and couldn’t get accepted into a traditional university, I was able to bond fairly quickly with these people. Because they came from situations of poverty and often, domestic violence, we all seemed to have a common understanding that we were the “misfits” and this understanding created the basis for strong friendships.

However, following the year of technical school, I attended a state community college and then a state university, and finding friends and interacting with other students did not go well for me in these educational settings. My peers were often from (at least it seemed to me) affluent backgrounds. They knew things and had experiences I knew nothing about. I was scared so much of the time and made very few friends. I recall a group singing the tune for the game show “Jeopardy.” I hadn’t been exposed to TV, so I didn’t know what they were singing. When I asked, one of the students sighed and asked whether I had grown up under a rock? Indeed, that’s how I felt – I had grown up under a rock, completely devoid of normal social interaction. I had been taught to fear “worldly people,” and figuring out how to talk with “sinners” left me puzzled.

Interestingly, of the friends I did make during my university years, almost all were Asian immigrants, and even today, many of my closest friends are immigrants. I think my homeschooling and religious background was similar to the experience of immigrants who come to America. None of us were familiar with the traditional American culture. In a sense, I, like the immigrants, had grown up eating food, wearing clothing, and holding a cultural belief system that was not part of the traditional US culture – a culture that was as foreign to the immigrants as it was to me.

Experiences with diversity: If college was the first time you had significant interaction with people of diverse backgrounds (atheist, non-Christian, Buddhist, gay, lesbian, trans*, people from different cultures or ethnicities than you, etc.), what was that like? Did you have any stereotypes in your mind about those people that were deconstructed?

Interestingly, while college really was the first time I was exposed to individuals who were different than me, I was surprisingly very accepting of these people. Because my life had been so sheltered in terms of interacting with “worldly people,” I had no frame of reference. And because my parents avoided all sexual conversations, we never discussed lesbians or homosexuals and I don’t know that I even knew anything about diversity in terms of sexual orientation. Lucky for me, my first ten years of life were spent in a fairly normal way, and in a state that was very diverse, so my experience with racial diversity had been positive and I think actually helped me gravitate to the immigrants who attended school.

• Experiences with academics: If you went to a secular college or a “liberal” Christian college, did you go thinking it would be a battleground for your soul? Was it? Were they any surprises you faced about how the college and its other students treated you?

While I initially had internal conflicts about giving up my religious beliefs (or at least the beliefs I had been forced to pretend to accept) it was actually (and surprisingly) quite easy for me to walk away from Christianity. I immediately began wearing makeup and jewelry (forbidden in my religious home). I did not have any real wrestling in terms of the direction of my soul or whether I needed to convert others. I don’t know how I escaped all that – I think I was just old enough (10) when my parents got into the cult that I already had a strong enough sense of self to see the ridiculousness of my parent’s new found beliefs.

• Experience with studies: Were there any topic matters that you excelled at, that you didn’t think you would? Did you realize your homeschooling education was actually pretty well-rounded, or did you realize it was severely lacking in certain areas?

My homeschooling was severely lacking and I struggled throughout college in every subject save psychology. Psychology came easy. Math, economics, literature, science – none of it was relatable. I had such a poor education, I didn’t know the basics. I didn’t know geography. I knew nothing and I literally had to fake my knowledge. And study very hard-which was tough because I hadn’t ever really been taught to study either. I hadn’t been exposed to world events. I hadn’t been exposed to books except religious books. I knew nothing about the world around me.
It was tough. I remember the professors seemed at a loss as to what to do with me – I tried so hard, but so often my grades were so poor. Somehow I muddled though – figuring out the answers but never really understanding the context because I didn’t understand the world in which I was living.

• Experiences with your parents: Did your parents support your enrollment in college? Did you have to fight with them to be able to go? Were they eager to help you get financial aid? Or did they withhold necessary documents?

My parents hated the idea of college. They saw no reason for a woman to go to school and they provided no support whatsoever – they had controlled my every movement before I went to college and the loss of control was very hard for them. They sent me long letters filled with scripture and prayers for my soul.

My parents had some strange beliefs about the government and hence had not applied for a social security card for me. When I knew I was going to go to college, I got a job at a farm picking strawberries. The employer wanted to know my social security number – which of course, I didn’t have. Somehow I managed to apply for the card and the resulting fury from my parents (specifically my father) was terrible and very frightening. Their fury (when I decided to go to college) actually led to their acting in a significantly violent manner that resulted in the police being involved.

Homeschooled in New Zealand: TheLemur’s Story, Part Two

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chris Preen.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “TheLemur” is a pseudonym.


In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


While still quite young, my maternal grandparents health went into decline, and fate decreed mum was the one who had to consistently deal with that, year after year. She cumulatively became vastly more stressed, and thus, I believe, subject to a more emotional application of the already strict ‘rules’ in place. Let me deal with how her preoccupation, super imposed on the extant regime impacted on me – first in what she failed to realize and do (socialization), and secondly in what she did do (authoritarian parenting).

Mum brought wholeheartedly into the homeschool talking point the family alone was the ideal unit of socialization.

Not a base vehicle, mind you, for a broader socialization with the world, but a self-sufficient social ecosystem.

Although Mum was forty when she had me, her first child, she had two mischarges out of three more pregnancies. Such attempts are related to the supposedly ‘Biblical’ role of a woman to have large families and to be ‘keepers at home like it says in Titus 2!’ (a rather wanting interpretation of the context). She was a gender essentialist zealot, appropriating all the ‘Godly’ hang-ups. Women should only wear skirts. Modesty is essential. Dating is wrong. Oral sex is wrong (even in marriage). Women should not be educated like men, and mum wondered out loud sometimes if they should be allowed to vote (curiously in the country that first universalized the franchise). With beliefs like that, it’s no surprise she swallowed the relatively more modest claims of family-centric socialization. I remember overhearing dad say to her at one point, ‘don’t you think the boys should be with people their own age group more?’ Mum definitively responded, ‘NO, because once that happens…[insert all the ‘evils’ of peer pressure]. So it was just my brother and I, 95% of the time. He was four years my junior, which proved the ideal gap for squabbles. We were old enough to be interested in the same things but sufficiently temporally removed to grate on each other’s differing abilities. I often behaved like a bit of a beast toward him, exploiting my greater development to torment him. But when you’re constantly around someone to the exclusion of all others similar to your own age, you view the person like a chronic annoyance. Stripped of positive associations, they become easy to treat poorly. But I was still castigated for not ‘being my brother’s keeper.’ (Fortunately, the older we both got, the better we related to each other).

Although it would be a distortion of the truth to say I saw no friends ever, for the vast majority of the time, I dealt with a rising sense of isolation.

Because I could adequately converse with adults, mum deemed I was on track socially.

The problem, of course, with this little gem of homeschool counter think, is much of our social development comes through interaction with our equals in authority and ability. A child-adult interaction will always incorporate a measure of formalism. You don’t exactly grow as a person respectfully answering Mrs Smith’s generic inquiries about your education. Indeed, it wasn’t until university I made a friend with whom I could openly discuss personal matters.

I remember I became very upset when my parents wanted to drag me up to Auckland to see some show involving aging stars like Diana Rigg read extracts of English literature. My younger brother got to stay the day with a friend who lived down the road. At ten years old, I envied his dumb luck no end. Missing the rare chance of socializing for an ‘educational opportunity’ burnished the event onto my mind. It exemplifies the narrow definition of development some homeschoolers appropriate. The strange thing is you come to defend your peer abstraction; to say otherwise would mean you had succumbed to the great evil of ‘peer dependency’.

In my reality, my social interactions suffered. I feared school children. They were ‘the other’, a horde of confident, yelling, heathens. Mum used to take us for ‘nature walks’ in the local park, which boarded a number of classrooms of the local school. I cannot describe how uncomfortable I felt walking with my mother in my home made clothes under the scrutiny of what felt like a thousand eyes.

Paranoid about being dobbed into the ERO, mum would mutter ‘you are being watched’, which only served to make my feel like the Powers that Be could be making detailed notes on why I should be removed from the family.

That, of course, would be a disaster. She let us know the storm troopers of the state were always ready to snatch away children and herd them together with all the other juvenile fuck-ups.

My parents confessional progression since the American Baptist fiasco had domiciled then within a doctrinal persuasion that stressed grace, rather than law. Unfortunately, the doctrinal fealty to grace did not translate into mum’s everyday attitude. What’s more, the adherents of the sect were few in number. The reprieve of Sunday socialization would not be available to me. A lot of ‘services’ I attended were informal Bible studies that ran for an interminable three hours. There was no youth group, and my parents didn’t believe in them either. We split off from the group after a while and started our own group in a church building near us. When I say ‘group’, I mean my family, and at most, two other families. Mum’s first concern was to inform me I would be sitting still and listening with the family, and I would NOT be allowed to sit with my friend from the other family.

Most weeks, my social life was limited to twenty to thirty minutes after church.

My friend from that time is one of only two homeschoolers I still know today. Every now and then, the other family would take themselves off to a larger homeschooling church for greater social contact. They would have to drive past where our group met in order to do so. I would get to watch my slim social life literally drive away.

I also began to notice how mum sabotaged her relationships within the homeschool network. She acted in a catty way toward the mother of my friend because her parenting style did not exactly conform to mum’s view of the ‘good.’ See, mum would become massively enthused with a particular family or group for a while. They would be held up as the Ideal, Godly Standard. Then she would get bored of deifying them, or they did something to upset her (an easy task); and she would cut ties. The constant grandparents saga also ensured her preoccupation and stress, two traits not conducive to social attractiveness. A homeschooled child is entirely dependent on the network parents foster for social connections. But thanks to the anti-peer ideology, she had no qualms about wrecking her own relationships, and thus breaking off mine.

My Church Tarnished Homeschooling: Leigh’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, James Lee.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Leigh” is a pseudonym.

My home schooling education started in high school, but even before that I was raised in a church that believed it was the best form of education. All of my close friends were home schooled; my pastor regularly preached on the subject.

About how good it was to home school, how the government was using the school to warp our minds.  My home was like any conservative Christian home: God came first. Democrats were bad, gays were bad, and anything that was not agreeing with the Bible was wrong.

Anything to do with traditional white America was good.

When it came to homeschooling itself it first started online, which made me happy. I could do the work how I wanted to- history first, and the rest later. Then my mother was handed used books from my closest friend’s mother. Instead of learning about the Civil War, or World War 2, everything related to the Bible.

I truthfully wasn’t upset; I planned on going to my church’s Bible school, which considering I was the daughter of a single mother I would have gone to for free.

I lost myself in it. I stopped speaking to the few non church-going friends I had.

I regularly stated I would court instead of date. For the only boyfriend I had ever had, it upset him. He himself was a conservative Christian, but he began to state that I was no longer myself. I only wanted to be a good Christian wife and mother. It upset him to the point until I left the church, we stopped speaking. His last conversation before me leaving the church was, “he wanted his future wife to be more than a wife, more than a mother, he wanted a equal, and I wanted to be less.” The friend’s mother who was teaching me stated this was for the best. That boy is not good. And she muttered something in relation to his Spanish heritage.

As I look back, I don’t know how I could have been that person.

I was raised in Florida, not some odd Midwestern state. I wore jeans, boots, and these things did not change.

My mother was a high school dropout, while my teacher was a military wife. A college-educated woman. When I would question why she made that statement, she said “because I don’t want you to make the mistakes I did.” And when this former nurse saw and was told the mental health problems I was having, I was given vitamins, and told that I needed to ask God to take it away.

I went to what can simply be called fundamentalist Pentecostal church. We believed in healing, and crying and laughter in the spirit.

I don’t know how much was real, and how much was fake.

I am isolated from my family because of what I now believe. I am still a Christian, but I still question things. I want to still learn about science. I don’t believe our president is a Muslim, nor do I feel the world is ending. Something that my former church holds onto firmly.

Homeschooling, and what it could have been, was tarnished for me because of my former church. The isolation, not getting my formative years, other opinions. I was raised to believe “hate the sin not the sinner,” but when it is someone who is gay, or another religion, or anything the church rejects, it’s “hate the sinner not the sin.”

We went out soul winning, as it was called, many times instead of school work.

My church was called a cult by many from the town I am from.

Before I woke up, I wondered how someone could be a member of Jim Jones’s church. The fact is, what many don’t understand, when you are a part of a controlling church you don’t see what it could be.

You see the healings, the hope, and even the love of God. I was the frog put in the pot and then someone started to boil the water. If I would have been put in at the end I would have ran, but like many I was given time to get used to it. Healing a woman, a man claiming that he, after being prayed for, finally feels the love of God?

What would be so wrong about that? Nothing, but when the same pastor states he has a witch in his church? Would that cause many on their first day to run? I would have.

He has talked about farms, K through 12 schools, and even building apartments.

The only reason I think I am out is because a former friend told me about a school involving horses. Because while I didn’t end up staying, it gave me some time to see there was a world out there. Where I could be anything I wanted to be.

An Isolated Victim In A Red Dress: Alyssa’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

Alyssa Murphy blogs at Hurricane Girl Strikes Again.

In hindsight, the problem was timing.

By autumn 2008, my life was in freefall. A year previously, my family had switched from a homeschool co-op we’d been in for six years and liked to a closer one because my mother wasn’t allowed to drive at that point courtesy of a needlessly paranoid and perfectionistic neurologist. The new co-op was decidedly more conservative and populated by, for the most part, people I’d known since I was a little bug and never gotten on with.

Still not that scary compared to some of the stories I’ve seen since then, but there were a few new rules, the main one being that I was not allowed to discuss what I was reading with anyone.

Ever. Under any circumstances known to humankind.

I’d taught myself to read when I was three. For most of my childhood this was the established reason that myself and my two younger siblings were homeschooled – because gifted programs are nonexistent in southeast Indiana, and my parents, both of whom have advanced degrees in the sciences, thought they could do better. And, for the most part, this arrangement worked. I was more interested in books than people, and I’m sure most of the people we interacted with when I was smaller thought I was a little odd, but I was at least harmless. I liked history books and other things that even the worst of the homeschool mothers couldn’t have too many kittens about, and I was quiet. Odd, but harmless.

This changed when I was ten or eleven and stumbled across the wonderful world of the teen section at the library. My tastes leaned decidedly towards sci-fi and fantasy, but I picked up a particular “realistic” book that had a vague sex scene early on and my mother flipped out. Instead of her usual passive-aggressive way of dealing with anything that might ruin her public image, she drew the line.

Anything I brought home from the library had to be approved by her, and she had a gift for finding the worst scene in anything that looked interesting and making me feel like it was my fault for accidentally picking that stuff up.

This went on for a few years and made absolutely no one happy, but it eased her victim complex so we continued.

Then autumn 2007 happened. As mentioned above, we switched co-ops. And in a fantastic bit of bad timing, that was the exact same time my mother finally decided that I read too fast for her to keep up with. (I had a lot of free time on my hands, no social activities or friends, and one of the libraries we went to didn’t have a limit on how many books you could check out. It was an absolutely perfect storm.) So, suddenly stuck in an environment I already didn’t belong in, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted… so long as I didn’t tell anyone at co-op about it, because my mother’s public image would suffer if I did.

Unfortunately for me – and by extension everyone who had to deal with me during that era – this all happened at the same time that YA dystopias were just beginning to become a trendy thing. The teen section at the main library we went to (which did have an item limit, but we went weekly and I read fast) was a wonderland for a lost girl in need of reassurance that she was not alone, and I stumbled across several of the early trilogies of that genre and found a certain resonance.

I also had the luck of finding one of those “if you liked this, read that” lists for that subcategory. Because this was just slightly before publishers realized they could make a lot of money off of stories of teenage girls in very bad situations, a lot of the books on the list were older both in publication date and age of characters. As desperate as I was for relatable role models, I was interested enough to not care, and I read the classics. Orwell’s 1984 was good but not quite my interest level. I read Huxley’s Brave New World a little later in this project and to this day am unsure why that one is considered a classic. And then I found it, the holy grail of post-apocs and realistic nightmare fuel – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

I read somewhere a few years later that the true test of whether a dystopian novel is good is how much it scares you. In general, I’m not scared of much, and there’s very little in fiction that can bother me.

The Handmaid’s Tale bothered me because the future it describes – one of religious totalitarianism and the full repression of women – sounded an awful lot like the world most of the people I knew wanted to live in.

I wasn’t a particularly rebellious kid. I knew how to follow the rules of the world I existed, or at least say the right things to not get attention. But I didn’t belong there. Maybe I never did, I don’t know, but it took the right “outside” book at the right time to make me wake up.

That world is still my worst nightmare (or at least an even tie with being buried alive), but I knew too many people who would’ve wanted it or something like it, and seven years later, I’m still feeling the aftershocks.

I guess that’s when I started fighting back – because I was one of the lucky ones. I woke up early. I did not want to exist in that hell.

I still have a voice, and I don’t want to be an isolated victim in a red dress.

Story of a Homeschooler

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Tori Wright.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Laurie Works’ blog Laurie Works. It was originally published on May 25, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

I grew up a homeschooler.

The news this week has made it more salient than ever, even though it’s something I’ve been slowly processing the past couple of months. I’ve been reading a ton of posts on Homeschoolers Anonymous, as well as chatting with a blogger and real life friend who was homeschooled. The resources I’ve found have resonated so deeply with me. I’ve wanted to share now for a while, but writing out what it’s like to be a homeschooler is really not easy. Especially when you have 12 school years full of it.

That’s right. I wasn’t just –a– homeschooler. I was one of –those– homeschoolers. Schooled at home the whole way through.

People ask me all the time if I like it, and I’m close to honest. I say I liked it until high school, and then I was miserable. But the truth is I had moments of misery the whole time.

Being homeschooled especially sucks when you hate being at home.

There’s no way out.

I hated being in 2nd grade for 3 years after my youngest sister was born because my mom was “too tired” to keep us going on our schoolwork. I hated how the neighborhood kids made fun of us for it.

I hated in high school how I had no friends but my sisters. See, along with being homeschooled, our home church was 2 hours away in the small mountain town of Granby, CO. So we really had little access to friends. And then when we did, the church kids thought we were weird and tended to avoid us.

I tried my damndest to not be one of the socially awkward homeschool kids, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re restricted to an apartment all day long.

Oh yeah. We lived in a 900 sq. ft. apartment in Denver, CO. With a family of 6. 3 bedrooms. I shared a room until I was 19.

I got sick of my sisters. I got sick of us getting lumped into the same group all the time at church events. I didn’t hate them, but when you’re with someone so much, it’s hard to want to be with them more. That in itself was annoying, but I dealt. What really sucked about being at home was my dad.

What I saw growing up was not the even more extreme dysfunction I see now. I didn’t realize that his obsession with God giving us 1.7 billion dollars was actually a problem. Nope, what I was focused on in my teen years was his abuse.

My dad was verbally abusive to us from the time I was 5 years old.

I remember little of when it started, but I know it was bad enough my mom wanted to take us to her mom’s house in Nebraska. I’m not sure why she decided to stay. The abuse continued, though, and some of it echoes in my ears. My dad threatening to leave. My dad screaming “I’M THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSE!” My mom reading books on submission and slowly fading into silence.

Or the subtle abuse of his anger when we didn’t speak up during our nightly “discussions.” Though these are a typical facet of fundamentalist homeschooling (nightly “devotions”), ours were different. These discussions were reiterations of my dad’s belief that God would give us this astronomical amount of money. He would talk about the “coincidences” of the day and how they were signs pointing to God’s will for us. If we didn’t have any input or anything to share, my dad would get angry. However, if we tried to talk too much, my dad would get angry. And when I say angry, I mean yelling. Sharp remarks. Heavy sighs. Looks of annoyance. Sometimes stomping out of the room.

If we spoke, he was angry. If we were quiet, he was angry.

We couldn’t win.

It was a radically strange combination of fundamentalist teachings such as submission (my dad LOVED John Bevere and his teachings on spiritual authority) and my dad’s delusional beliefs. I have friends who say that my dad created a cult with us, his family. We were forced to buy into his belief about this money: I clearly remember my dad working very hard to convince my twin sister to “just have faith” that this money would appear. He eventually cowed her into “believing” it. If we didn’t buy in, he pleaded with us in this fashion, or got extremely angry and verbally abusive, even threatening to leave us. On top of that, we were isolated from the outside world due to the fact that we were homeschooled with a church so far away. I wasn’t allowed to go out for sports as a teenager or to get a job.

There was only 1 person that I know of outside the family that knew about this money business, and that was our trustee.

Yep, we had a trustee. And 4 empty trusts (one for each of us girls) connected to an umbrella company that my dad formed to be a funnel for “the money” when it came. You can still look it up as a Colorado business: Oversyte Investment Company, LLC. Because of the trusts my dad found us a trustee. He was the only one that heard about my dad’s ideas. I have to wonder now what he thought of the whole thing. But the trustee was young at the time, only 22-23 years old. A kid. He was probably enamored of the whole thing. My dad was good at casting a spell (read: charismatic).

What was honestly weird though was that my dad spent more time asking our trustee about his life than he ever spent asking us about ours.

My dad talked incessantly about “the family” and how important “the family” was. Yet he never really knew any of us. And “the family” really just meant that we fell into line behind him and became part of his missionary force to the rich people of the world.

I never told anyone the dollar amount of my dad’s delusions until I told my ex-husband. I was probably 19-20. After that I didn’t mention it to anyone else until I was 22, and I told my therapist. She was shocked. Her reaction woke me up. Maybe this whole thing really wasn’t normal.

The amount of secrecy I felt I had to hold really rings true to me with this crazy Josh Duggar situation.

I understand family secrets, far far too well.

I clearly remember my dad telling us, “Don’t tell anyone about this money stuff. They’ll think we are crazy.” I kept that pact for somewhere around 10-12 years. A decade.

All this amounts to one thing. I grew up in a fishbowl. A small, small fishbowl nowhere close to the ocean.

I was trapped in an environment where I was abused and ridiculed if I stepped out of line or had my own opinions.

Or, I was ignored. Either/or. I was literally stuck in a small apartment from 1997-2007 – 900 square feet for 3 teenagers and a girl under 10 years old. Mentally and emotionally stuck in a dream world of my dad’s which included weekly trips to the corporate airport, trips so frequent I can still name off dozens of types of corporate jets.

Family secrets have an incredible hold. My dad’s own sister didn’t know any of this until last year (!!) when I finally broke the silence. I’d been terrified to disclose anything to his family before; I don’t know what I was afraid of, other than finally disclosing a “secret.” But when I told her she was remorseful and regretful, saying she would have done something if she’d only known.
I’m telling this story to add it to the other voices now speaking up about homeschooling. I’m telling this story because I think it’s important.

I’m telling this story so maybe someday soon the government or SOMEONE can hold homeschool parents accountable.

Why? Because in a fishbowl, isolated from the ocean, it’s far too easy to keep things secret. Things like 1.7 billion dollar delusions. Or, in the Duggar family, molesting 5 young girls. Accountability is needed.

I’m telling this, too, because it’s time. Because holding this in for so long has hurt, and I’m ready for all of you to know. And honestly, this is just the beginning.

Breaking Free: Sheldon’s Story



HA note: Sheldon blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. This is an original piece that Sheldon wrote for Homeschoolers Anonymous.

In December 2013, I cut my abusive parents out of my life once and for all.

It took quite a bit of emotional strength to do it, but when I finally did, I felt worn out, but I realized that all feelings for my parents that once had were no longer there, they felt dead to me, they were living human beings of course, but I no longer felt any love or affection for them anymore, still don’t.

What led to this point? Well, that’s a lot of details to that, and hopefully I can explain it without writing a book. There was plenty of abuse in my childhood, but besides the effects of the isolation from homeschooling which still cause issues for me to this day at 25 years old, what really got me was how I was treated as a young adult by them.

It started when I tried to attend Southwest Baptist University as a Political Science major. I just couldn’t adjust to being 250 miles from home, going from isolation as a homeschooler to an actual classroom experience, dealing with people on a regular basis, and actually being able to make decisions for myself on a regular basis, from the mundane to the major.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was dealing with depression, and panic attacks started with a vengeance, I lost count after a while of how many I had, but in a 10 month period, I probably had around 15-20 major attacks, with many smaller ones, and that combined with extreme fatigue and hopelessness from the depression, I could no longer function.

Everything came crashing down around me, all my hopes and dreams that led me to become a political science major. I ended up having to face the reality that I could no longer continue attending Southwest Baptist, and was brought home after the end of the freshman year.

Most parents would would do their best to help out their child at a time like this, console them, help them to put their life back together, and emotionally support them. Not mine. My father understood what had happened, but he wasn’t the one who ran our household, my mother was, and to her, the depression was the result of “sin” and “not having a right relationship with god”. Her idea was to punish me for what she saw as recklessness and misbehavior.

I was forced off of medication for depression that I had started upon coming back home (after realizing what the depression actually was), and was treated like a rebellious teen.

I was controlled and emotionally abused to the point that when I tried in desperation to leave with enough of what I owned to fit in my vehicle and a few hundred dollars in my bank accounts, I was convinced that I had to leave, or it would end up leading me to end my life. She personally barricaded the doorway to stop me from leaving, threatening violence, and telling me that if she did attack me, I would deserve it.

I kept fighting, and just saw this as a temporary setback, I worked, saved up money, and finally a bought a house. She did help me rebuild the house, along with my father, but her dark side was showing up again, her controlling and hostile ways. I finally had enough, and told her no longer wanted any help on the house if she was going to act that way. She called me an “ungrateful brat”, I didn’t care anymore, her guilt trips did nothing to me by this point, I told her never to show up at the house again, and I would bring back dad’s tools to them.

I knew, based on the past, that something drastic could happen, so I went out, and bought new locks, and was in the process of installing them that night, when she showed up, I knew it couldn’t go well, I shoved the door shut quickly, with the lock in it half done, it was a fortunate occurrence that the lock jammed because it wouldn’t been properly installed yet, because when closed, it wouldn’t allow the door to open.

I could hear screaming, and her pushing and shoving the door, and futilely trying to open it, she was trying to force her way into the house.

I had enough, I called my town’s police department, and when the officer finally showed up, I went out the back door to talk with the officer, and my mother started the victim act, lying to the officer, claiming that this was all because I didn’t “want to help them work on the house”. My own father, who used to run interference  to protect me and my sister as children tried to punch me in front of a cop.

His betrayal that day (along with his increasing habit of trying to cover for her and make excuses for her in the year leading up to that time), is really what got to me the worst, my mother is who she is, and I doubt she will ever change in her lifetime, but for him to turn into a carbon copy of her was shocking.

It’s been severals months now since that day, and it’s been hard, I’ve had to give up the social circles that I had, since most involved the church I was in, along with my parents (it was bound to happen eventually anyway, I couldn’t keep my change in beliefs a secret much longer), and I had to stand my ground with the manipulative pastor of that church who tried to guilt me into accepting my parents back in my life, despite me personally telling him what they had done, both then and in my past.

Enough of that, I’m tired of being forced to be someone I’m not, to please people who won’t accept me anyway. I’ve had a lot of new experiences, I’ve learned what’s it’s like to have the simple freedom of walking around in public with a Pink Floyd or Sons of Anarchy shirt, and not give a care in the world.

I’ve learned how to work on my house myself, I’ve started coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really feel masculine or feminine emotionally on the inside (I recently changed the gender status on Facebook to “non binary”). I’ve found a great Unitarian Universalist congregation where I can be me, and be accepted as one of the group anyway.

Life now can be challenging, but it’s worth it, there’s no going back.

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Mentor High School Threat from Teenager

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.


Mentor High School Threat from Teenager

In September 2013, a 17-year-old teenager made an online threat of violence against Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio.

In September 2013, a 17-year-old homeschooled teenager made an online threat of violence against Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio.
In September 2013, a 17-year-old homeschooled teenager made an online threat of violence against Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio.

The teenager had posted a Facebook status on September 12, talking about killing “a lot of people at Mentor High today.” He was homeschooled and not a student at the high school. A Facebook friend of his saw the status update and immediately told her mom. Her mom reported the threat.

Mentor Police immediately launched an investigation. The teenager was taken into custody for questioning. The boy’s defense attorney, Mark Ziccarelli, said that the boy made the threat as a cry for help. Ziccarelli argued for the boy’s defense in Juvenile Court, saying that, “Part of his problem was socialization,” laying blame on how the boy was homeschooled without sufficient social outlets. Ziccarelli pointed out that, since the boy had been in juvenile detention, he had “learned socialization skills just by being around kids his age.”

The teenager was originally charged with two counts of inducing panic. This was changed to a felony count of making false alarms. It was recommended that he stay in juvenile detention indefinitely to take advantage of a rehabilitation program.

View the case index here.

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Son of Marilyn and Charles Long

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.


Son of Marilyn and Charles Long

After building an imaginative city in a sandpit near his home, a 12-year-old boy from Colorado went on a shocking killing rampage in his home.

A young boy from Burlington, Colorado was 12 years old in 2011 when he murdered his parents, Marilyn and Charles Long (pictured), as well as wounded 2 of his siblings.
A young boy from Burlington, Colorado was 12 years old in 2011 when he murdered his parents, Marilyn and Charles Long (pictured), as well as wounded 2 of his siblings.

The young boy from Burlington, Colorado was 12 years old in 2011 when he murdered his parents, Marilyn and Charles Long, as well as wounded his 9-year-old brother Ethan and 5-year-old sister Sarah with a knife. (The boy’s name has never been released to the public.) The Long family was reported to be “a large, loving and deeply religious clan.” They attended two churches, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The father Charles was part of a Seventh-Day Adventist prayer group and confessed love for both the Bible and Ted Nugent. The mother Marilyn ran the children’s ministry at Evangelical Free Church. They had 7 children, 4 of whom were already adults and 3 of whom were being homeschooled.

The boy himself loved building projects with toy trucks and other wooden objects in a nearby sandpit. He helped with cleaning at church and used money from cleaning to buy Legos. His grandmother described him as “loving and caring,” and said his parents raised him and his siblings to be “God fearing, responsible children.” The boy, however, was said to be lonely and isolated, with his main social activities outside of homeschooling revolving “around the church to which his folks were so devoted.”

In March 2011, the boy was charged with two counts of murder and two counts of first-degree assault. The following September, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 7 years in juvenile detention. After the sentencing, his oldest brother Jacob said, “He is dead to me.” The young siblings that the boy attacked have recovered and were adopted by their aunt and uncle.

View the case index here.

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Erin Caffey

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.


Erin Caffey

Erin Caffey was 16 years old when she made plans for her boyfriend and two of his friends to kill her family.

Erin Caffey (far right) was 16 years old when she made plans for her boyfriend and two of his friends to kill her family.
Erin Caffey (far right) was 16 years old when she made plans for her boyfriend and two of his friends to kill her family.

Erin came from a conservative and protective family. Her family began homeschooling her when she was 13 after her family moved from Alba, Texas, to Celeste, Texas, to be closer to Miracle Faith, a conservative Baptist church where her parents worked as ministers. Erin initially started the eighth grade at public school, but her parents were horrified when a girl at school tried to kiss Erin. The Caffeys reacted by “abruptly pulled their children out of school a month into the academic year, and Penny began teaching them a Bible-based curriculum at home.”

Bisexuality was a serious threat in the minds of the Caffeys. Erin’s father Terry said his family was “shocked by a culture of bisexuality,” blaming that bisexual culture for confusing his daughter “before she finally veered off into the premarital relationship that turned deadly.”

For Erin, homeschooling resulted in “an isolated existence for an otherwise social girl whose life was largely circumscribed to Miracle Faith and her parents’ house, six miles from town.” Erin reportedly “didn’t have many friends.” This isolation apparently took its toll. When Erin turned 16, in July 2007, she was allowed to work at the local Sonic. One of her co-workers observed that, “She was so sheltered. It was like she was seeing the world for the first time.”

Erin met her soon-to-be-boyfriend (and later murder partner) Charlie at Sonic. A high school senior, Charlie was known as hotheaded, but he had never been arrested previously and had no serious discipline problems at school. Erin’s parents, however, did not approve of Charlie. After Erin and Charlie dated for a few months, Charlie presented Erin with his grandmother’s engagement ring. It was not a formal proposal, but he was nonetheless making clear his desire.

The semi-proposal infuriated Terry and Penny. From then on, the Caffeys limited Erin’s time with Charlie to “once a week, in their home, under their watch.” Erin became furious and planned to run away. In February, after Penny grounded Erin for talking to Charlie without permission and took away Erin’s keys and phone, Erin decided — and told Charlie — that “killing her parents…was their best option.”

And so they tried to.

On March 1, 2008, Erin, Charlie, and two of Charlie’s friends drove to Erin’s family’s house. Erin waited in the car with one friend while her boyfriend and the other friend went on a shooting and stabbing spree, following which they set fire to the house. During the attack, “Penny Caffey, 37, and her sons Mathew, 13, and Tyler, 8, died.” Terry Caffey, 41, however, “was shot five times but escaped.” Terry survived.

In January of 2009, Erin was charged with “capital murder for her role in the deaths of her mother and two young brothers.” In 2012, Erin’s father told “Nightline” that he has “learned to accept the death of his family, and has even reconnected with his daughter, Erin, who orchestrated the massacre.” Erin will not be eligible for parole until she is 59, but her father visits her every few months in prison.

New York Times bestseller Keith Elliot Greenberg wrote a book in 2011 about the murder titled Love Hurts: The True Story of a Teen Romance, a Vicious Plot, and a Family Murdered.

View the case index here.

Coming Out About My Unbelief to My Sister

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sheldon, who blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. It was originally published on November 27, 2013.

As I’ve said before, I’m really growing weary of the charade I have to keep up in order to remain in the atheist closet. I had been talking to my fellow ex-fundamentalist bloggers on Twitter about whether I should come out to my sister, who has always been there for me throughout my life (she even helped to raise me as a young boy, long story there I won’t get into right now.

On Sunday, I was debating whether or not I should come out, but then lost my courage at the last minute. Well, finally, Tuesday night, I finally worked up the courage to finally come out to her.

My sister, in recent years, has gone from the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult to what would be considered more mainstream beliefs in the fundamentalist/evangelical world (beliefs more along the lines of the Southern Baptist denomination).

I’m glad she’s out of the IFB. She fell into that group because of the influence of the IFB ran “school” I went to in my elementary years. She was there too — though, because of the age gap between us, she was in her high school years at the time, and fell prey to them pushing Hyles-Anderson College as a great place to go.

Still, I wish she would give up fundamentalism altogether, especially for the sake of her kids. Right now, she is homeschooling her kids with ACE.

That’s the same awful curriculum I grew up with.

I talk to my nephew and two nieces on the phone, and when I’m visiting her in northern Indiana. It kinds of breaks my heart to see how they just seem more childlike, than other children their age.

They do get to spend time with other children at their church, and with some young neighbors, but still, the isolation inherent in fundamentalist homeschooling is taking its toll. She doesn’t even realize it. She doesn’t realize the effects of that because she wasn’t home schooled herself.

I’m wondering that if in 10-15 years, I’m going to be getting that coming out call from one of her kids. She means well, and isn’t hostile or abusive towards her kids by any means, like our mother was. She just doesn’t know the difference. Really, it’s unfortunate. I wonder how many young fundamentalist mothers like her are out there.

I called her, and I just spilled it to her. I didn’t use the dreaded “A word” (Atheism). I didn’t know if that would distract from the whole conversation. She was surprised as I expected, and she said that it would have “blown her socks off if she was wearing them”.

I started from the beginning, from the nervous breakdown, being told that my depression was “guilt” and not having a “right relationship with god”, the unfortunate falling for that cruel lie, doubling down on Christianity, soaking up as much as I could about the Bible again, studying it and the works of various theologians, and eventually coming to realization that I couldn’t believe in it anymore.

It worried her to some extent, she seems to think that it’s just a time of questioning, despite me repeatedly telling her that it’s been 4 years now since I came to the conclusion that I can no longer believe. She told me to be sure before I eventually have to approach my mom and dad about this, and warned me about how that she is likely going to throw all she has been doing recently for me in my face.

She knows what my mom is like.

My sister had the worst end of the abuse growing up, because she was the only one willing to stand up to my mom.

I just tried to survive as best I could, staying out of her way, avoiding anything I knew would trigger her anger. Though it didn’t often work. She would invent any excuse necessary to take out her anger on us.

My sister doesn’t seem to understand what it going on, that this is not something I came to lightly. But the important thing is, she’s standing behind me. She has made it clear that she will stand behind me, even after this, and won’t let her beliefs get in the way of family.

In some ways, she can see how I reached this point. She said at times that he has questioned everything. She says at times she doesn’t feel as close to God as she used to feel, but she always ended up coming back.

I had told her, looking at it now, when I’m “undercover” in the church  I am in, (the one I am a member of still, and have attended since I was 12), that I hear what people are saying around me, and I can’t understand how I possibly believed it in the first place. She said it was because that was all I ever knew from birth, had I been raised in another nation, the predominant faith there would have been all I knew.

In some ways she gets it, and in some ways she doesn’t. I hope that the more open I become with her, that it will help her gain more of an understanding of why I came to this point, and that it’s who I am now. I told her that I’m growing weary of all this, I can’t keep hiding who I am now, and that I’m not looking forward to dealing with my mom.

It really will show my mom’s character (or more than likely, lack thereof), when I finally come out to her. I could lose the financial help and help with rebuilding my house, and taking care of my dog that she is currently doing, which would be hard to deal with. But I can learn to cope, the rough road ahead will be worth it.

I want to finally be able to live openly — and if that means losing the relationship with my mother, or being forced to cut her out of my life for my own sanity, then that is worth it.

In fact, it sounds horrible, but that’s probably the best outcome in the end, the one that will help me to heal over time.

I wish my mom could be more like my sister, willing to accept me for who I am, even if she doesn’t understand it. In fact, I wish more families, and parents especially, would follow her example.

You don’t have to agree with your family members in order to love them, and if you are putting your faith, your dogma, over love for your family, it’s showing that your religion (or more than likely, your interpretation of it), is more important to you than the people you are supposed to love.

It reveals to me, especially if you are a parent, that you are using your faith as means to control and manipulate people, and that if your children/family members are rejecting that, then they are worthless to you as a human being.

If someone feels this way, then they are not someone I want in my life, and I have no respect for them at all.