A free-spirited gypsy musician is no stranger to wild experiences. On her journey to establish a creative career, my dear friend and fellow musician W recently found herself in a cult. Here is her story:
As I type this, I’m on a Greyhound bus fleeing a Hebrew Israelite Cult in Jonesboro, Georgia who purport themselves as being Gullah-Geechie farmers. The cult leader “Ben” owns 90 acres in Georgia, and 23 of those acres produce food year-round. My friend of 7 years who had already been working the land for years, told me that they were in need of interns who could gain permanent employment after 90 days.
My team and I were already planning to move to Georgia to work on music, so this seemed like an excellent opportunity for me to establish myself in the city. Upon arriving at the property I was shown to my room, which was freezing cold and filled with cobwebs and boxes . I decided that I wanted this opportunity bad enough, so I cleaned up what I could and settled in.
The same night, while I was looking around the 8 acre land for “Ri” to ask why there was no shower facility, I was stopped and publicly humiliated by “Ben” whom I had just met, in front of about 8 men I’d never seen. As they stood staring at me, “Ben” barked loudly that I was wearing worldly clothes, and showing “sexiness “, and if I wanted my job I would put on a skirt and not dress like a harlot or not come back tomorrow. I ran out crying , finally finding “Ri”, who comforted me and assured me that all was well, that he would talk to “Ben” on my behalf, and that he’d be by my side every step of the way for the duration of my internship.
Later that night, “Ben” apologized for his harshness, then turned it into a biblical lecture explaining to me that everyone around him are perfect keepers of the Commandments, and that my parents didn’t raise me correctly because I was raised in America, and he would teach me to be a better human. He then called another “elder” on the phone, and recorded a conversation where the elder asked me about my upbringing, and told me I’d need to forget everything I know, including music, and listen to whatever “Ben” says because it’s coming directly from Yah (God).
There were stringent rules such as no outside contact with family or social media, waking at 5 am to read the Bible, not speaking when men spoke, or to ANY married man, and women wearing skirts and covering their heads and bodies at all times. Sleep was not allowed until the work was done, the food was strictly regulated, women could not eat until the men were ready to eat, and the women could not go anywhere without “Ben”‘s permission.
During our long days of hard physical labor on the farm, my strong connection with “Ri” blossomed into love. However, he seemed scared to tell “Ben” about our attraction, and said to follow his lead and we would wait. One morning, “Ben” caught on to us after going through my cell phone that I had left on the kitchen counter. He immediately confiscated “Ri’s” vehicle, sent him away from the farm and embarrassed me in front of their “council “ telling me that everyone knew that I’m a fornicate, that he, “Ben”, was my “covering “, and that what “Ri” and I had wasn’t based on anything real. He said that I hadn’t been groomed to be a wife yet and when I am, a husband will be chosen for me and he will have to pay my father for me, the way that “Ben” paid for his multiple wives. “Ben” also told me that because of our sin, “Ri” is subject to very harsh punishment by his “elders” because their approval wasn’t requested for us to be together, and he violated their brotherhood.
I was then isolated from ”Ri”. “Ben” moved on to the property where I slept, after which my credit cards and phone chargers went missing. I was denied access to the remote shower facilities where I had been traveling to in order to wash myself. I was also too embarrassed to give up and ask for help. I began to suffer panic attacks during which “Ben” watched me hyperventilate and called me unstable and emotionally drunk.
Upon speaking with my sister and mother about what was happening around me, they demanded that I flee. While “Ben” was out, I escaped without notice to be with my sister in Austin Texas. I left behind the majority of my belongings but I still have my life, which I am grateful for because now “Ri” is in fear for his own. However, I have nothing to show for my labor because I was not paid. I am now finding a job in Texas in order to save up so I can get back to Georgia and continue fighting for my music.
Photo by Wikitravel user Roger McLassus [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]