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History of Violence: Christian boarding schools and the March 10 trial of Jack Patterson

Dr. Jack Patterson, founder of the Christian boarding school, Reclamation Ranch, goes on trial for aggravated child abuse March 10 in Blount County Alabama. The trial comes two years after a 17-year-old male resident came forward with charges of severe abuse, torture and beating.

"The search by law enforcement and the questioning of involved minors yielded corroboration of the original allegations and evidence of other instances of mistreatment,” said Blount County District Attorney Tommy Rountree, in a Birmingham News article. One report said investigators seized handcuffs and shackles from the facility, and as the clip mentions handguns and rifles were also present.

Ultimately, eleven juvenile boys were sent home from Reclamation Ranch pending the outcome of the investigation. Jack Patterson was at the courthouse in November 2008 when Alabama Circuit Court Judge Steve King made the ruling. He wasn’t alone – about 200 of his supporters came out that day. A handful of those gathered, according to the Birmingham News, blew Dr. Jack kisses as he looked down from a second story window.

Patterson offered no comment except to say, “God bless you.”

Dr. Jack Patterson is not a doctor. He received an honorary title from the Pacific Garden Mission Institute. (All I was able to find is Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago’s South Loop.) Patterson holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Religious Education from Hyles Anderson College – an Evangelical Christian college that spurns regulation or accreditation – in Indiana. Essentially, a degree from Hyles isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

According to Patterson’s biography posted on Reclamation Ranch’s web page, he grew up in the projects of Detroit. After being embroiled in a life of crime and drugs, Jack found Jesus in Pensacola, Florida. From there, he entered Bible college and became a devout follower of a rather notorious Texas evangelist named Lester Roloff. It is important to know who Lester Roloff is, the history of his Roloff Homes, and why Patterson’s stalwart allegiance to him is significant, when considering these recent claims child abuse.

"Better a pink bottom than a black soul" – Lester Roloff

Lester Roloff was the founder of “The Roloff Homes” a collection of children’s reformatories that uses God and a fundamentalist form of the Baptist religion as justification for corporal punishment. He is held up today by some as a savior. But to others, he will forever be an opportunistic zealot who used his “schools” to institutionalize child abuse and warp people’s ideas about what God requires of His faithful.

Roloff got his start in Texas called to preach the good word in 1932. Roloff was just 18, living on his family’s farm when he struck out pastoring at small town Baptist Churches. He caused a stir; people began to take notice. Looking for bigger and better audiences, Roloff moved to Corpus Christi and struck out in radio. His program "Family Altar" aired during World War II. As more and more listeners tuned in and "Family Altar" was picked up by KWBU – a station owned by The Baptist General Convention of Texas – Roloff decided to take his show on the road. He toured in his "gospel van" using loudspeakers to blast sermons along the way. He traveled around Texas pitching his tent, raising crowd upon crowd to come listen to his special brand of preaching. This was the beginning of Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises.

Roloff, hip to his solo worth and wanting to break free from what he perceived the more liberal wing of his religion, began criticizing mainstream Baptist counterparts on air, claiming he was the only one preaching the "true Gospel". His relationship with the mainstream by comparison Texas Baptist Convention ended in 1956, but his audience of followers grew and grew.
Brother Roloff was nothing if not a savvy entrepreneur. He realized there was a ton of money to be made in the business of preaching. In an effort to grow his burgeoning empire, he founded The Roloff Homes, actively fundraising from his followers, calling on them to dig deep so he could do God’s work.

In 1973, Roloff’s the Rebekah Home was in investigated by authorities for suspected abuse after a visiting couple saw a young girl being whipped. When welfare workers showed up to inspect the home, Roloff refused them entry, saying it infringed on the separation of church and state. Fortunately, Texas Attorney General John Hill didn’t share that view and filed suit against Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises.

Eventually, 16 girls would come forward and tell of whippings, imprisonment, and being handcuffed to drainpipes at the hands of Rebekah Home staff. Lester Roloff defended these methods as solidly rooted in scripture. Of the charges pending against his abusive methods, Roloff said, "Better a pink bottom than a black soul." Attorney General Hill said it wasn’t pink bottoms he objected to but ones that were black, blue and bloody. (Texas Monthly)

In the end, the Rebekah House closed, not because of a conviction Roloff or his staff for repeated abuses. Facing more legal battles with the state of Texas over the newly adopted Child Care Licensing Act, Roloff, in what became known as "The Christian Alamo," shut the place down. Roloff didn’t care for the notion of Christian’s needing the Government to give them the seal of approval saying, "I have no right to go by the Welfare Department’s little brown book so long as I have the big black Book."

This position of resisting governmental oversight is held to this day by many fundamentalist Christian educational organizations, schools and colleges. Among the colleges that scoff at official licensing is Hyles Anderson College – where Jack Patterson received his degree. Reclamation Ranch is not subject to state supervision in Alabama. Neither is the school accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) or an alternative credentialing entity called the Alabama Independent School Association.

The Lighthouse Academy, another Roloff Home, was unlicensed as well. That is where Jack Patterson came to work for Lester Roloff for three years.

On Reclamation Ranch’s webpage Patterson essentially credits Roloff with helping set his personal course:

While attending Bible college in 1972, Dr. Patterson heard of a man working with troubled youth named Evangelist Lester Roloff. Dr. Patterson drove 100 miles to hear Bro. Roloff preach one night, and that night Dr. Patterson gave his life to do the same type of work.

The video posted here shows Dr. Jack, shocked and outraged at Blount County Sheriff’s Department, indignant over the child abuse charges looming. Upon review of the video, a particular couple of lines jumped out at me. Patterson, shuffling papers, a legal pad and an open Bible around his desk, told the reporter, "….[I] choose not to spank" and "we’ve chosen not to whip here.”

Twice he used the derivatives of the word choose. Is it possible that Patterson willfully deviated from the abusive lesson plan laid out by his former employee and role model Lester Roloff? I left a voice message for Dr. Patterson and followed up with an email asking him that very question. I haven’t heard back from him at the time of this writing.

Patterson maintains a personal website in addition to the official school one. This “court situation” update was offered up there:

February Update: Our court situation: I am considering taking a very, very low plea bargain, of "verbal harassment" and a $500 fine.. This is a class "C" misdemeanor and involves no child endangerment or any nature of child abuse. We are praying about this so we can move on with the work of God while there is still time to reach those who need to be reached for the Lord Jesus Christ. We will keep you posted. – Bro. Jack

I called the Blount County District Attorney’s office and spoke with Teresa Freda, a victim’s services officer about the claim Brother Jack mad on his website of a plea bargain. She said that since the case is set for trial, they cannot comment at this time. I can tell you she seemed a bit surprised and asked me twice where I had heard about the possibility of a plea agreement for Mr. Patterson.

Like Jack Patterson, Olen King and Mack Ford are former employees and passionate followers of Lester Roloff. The New Bethany Home for Boys and Girls was a product of the Roloff legacy and it has a long history of abuse and run-ins with state and local officials. There are scores of reports of torture and abuse coming out of New Bethany, which is now officially closed. Olen King and Mack Ford were the Director and founder of New Bethany School, respectfully.

Teresa Frye, now a 42-year-old mother of four is a survivor of the New Bethany Home in Arcadia, Louisiana. "It took me 20 years to start talking [about New Bethany] and when I found the message board, I realized what I had been remembering was real.”

The survivor websites – Theresa’s "message board" – are posted to regularly by former residents of New Bethany and practically every account reads the same: memories of torture, abuse and demoralization at the hands of Mack Ford, Olen King and other New Bethany staff. There are harrowing stories of kids that managed to run away from New Bethany like the one by James, escaping through a Louisiana swamp, and the horrifying account a young man named Guy beaten with a golf club so badly he ended up in a wheelchair.

Teresa was raised in what she refers to as a strict, fundamentalist Baptist church, with red-faced preachers, hellfire and brimstone, but Teresa says New Bethany was one-hundred times worse .

Before she was sent to New Bethany she remembers Mack Ford and his girls choir performed at her family church. "They were a choir of angels to me, the girls’ testimony was so uplifting, I don’t know how to describe it," said Frye of her first encounter with Mack Ford, years before she would become a resident at his New Bethany School. A traveling girls choir is nothing new in the Fundamentalist arsenal. Lester Roloff devised the handpicked and disciplined girls’ choir as a fundraising and recruiting tool for his original homes.

In addition to singing, the girls gave often coached testimonies of salvation for the hard sell. "They were once drug users and bad kids and going wrong – but they said New Bethany and Mack Ford saved them, we all believed them." Teresa told me this, trying to help me understand how parents could possibly have been fooled and why her parents had no idea what they were sending her into. “Everything looked so good on the outside.” Teresa and her friends talk on the message board about their “who had the reddest and blackest butt” contests back in the day.

Cathy "Cat" Givens, another New Bethany survivor, shares her experience in an email to me. Cat was at New Bethany from March through December of 1974 during which time she experienced and witnessed her fair share of abuse. She had her mouth stuffed with soap, accused of lying by Brother Mack Ford, to the point of vomiting. Sick to her stomach, she was then forced to eat dinner – she did so, she says for fear of what may happen if she didn’t. Cathy, her gut and mouth still full of soap couldn’t help but throw up her meal. For this offense, she was switched on the calves as punishment. This is just one of several humiliations Ms. Givens endured and observed during her time at the home.

After being forced out of Louisiana by state officials demanding New Bethany allow an inspection and get licensed, it relocated to Walterboro, South Carolina. That is where it fell apart. Olen King reopened the school and shortly after, stories of abuse began to trickle out.

This from three New York Times articles in 1984:

May 30: Olin [Olen] King 40…..wa[s] charged with unlawful neglect of a child and conspiracy to commit unlawful neglect as well as kidnapping, authorities said. The child neglect warrants alleged that the defendants allowed a student to be handcuffed to his bed and beaten with a plastic pipe. “There were six or seven boys we found evidence of corporal punishment being inflicted on them”.

May 31: Accounts of hunger, isolation and beatings with plastic pipes and wooden sticks emerged today in the investigation of a fundamentalist boarding school who’s operators have been charged with kidnapping and neglect.

June 2: “They [King/New Bethany] said if they did something wrong, they might spank the boys, but not beat them,” said one mother, Patricia Sexton of Chicago. “They shouldn’t treat people like animals. You don’t take kids and lock them up in a jail cell.”

Olen King, has moved again and is reportedly operating an unlicensed, unregulated "Ranch" in North Carolina. The King Family Ministries boarding school is located in Danbury, North Carolina and is nicknamed the Second Chance Boys Ranch. Second Chance Boys Ranch is currently one of The Houston Road Baptist Church in Troutman, NC missions it supports through parishioners donations.

Jack Patterson has no known history with The New Bethany School in either Louisiana or in South Carolina, so they are isolated incidents in that sense. However, they share a common ancestor, employer and teacher they revered, Lester Roloff.

In 1997, then Texas Governor George W. Bush invited Lester Roloff back with open arms and money from his newly founded "Charitable Choice" program, a state level test drive for what would become President Bush’s nationalized Faith Based Initiative. Roloff relocated Rebekah House – after the Christian Alamo – to Missouri to escape any further child abuse investigations or state regulation (Jack Patterson has moved Reclamation Ranch, in one incarnation or another from Indiana to Washington and finally Alabama). The director of Roloff homes convinced Governor Bush’s newly established Faith-Based Task Force to recommend changes in state regulation of faith-based children’s homes and child care facilities.

The FBO Task Force was already populated with Roloff sympathizers, representatives of faith-based chemical dependency facilities who were publicly vocal in their opposition to state licensing. As a result, an alternative credentialing program called the Texas Association of Christian Child-Care Agencies (TACCCA) was born. The TACCCA was a case of the inmates running the asylum. Among its board members was the director of Teen Challenge of South Texas, an organization that was already facing reprimand for non-compliance with state health and fire codes (The Roundtable).

According to an in-depth case study on the FBO initiative in Texas, by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts:

"The first agency accredited under the alternative credentialing program was the Roloff Homes. Prior to this, in a suit brought by Roloff Homes, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Homes must either be licensed by the state or shut down. Rather than submitting to state licensing requirements, in 1985 the Roloff Homes relocated to Missouri. In 1997, after the Alternative Credentialing pill passed, and at Governor Bush’s invitation to return to Texas and take advantage of the new changes in state law, Roloff Homes returned to the state. TACCCA re-accredited the Homes, which came to operate five facilities in the state. In spring 2000, the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (TDPRS) received complaints of physical abuse at several of the Roloff Homes facilities and pursued criminal charges. In June 2001, administrators of the Roloff Homes were found guilty of juvenile abuse in a criminal trial. By that time, the Roloff Homes had moved again to another state."

Currently, Dr. Jack Patterson and Reclamation Ranch rely on donations to stay up and running. Feel free to donate via the Pay Pal link on their website. Additionally, Reclamation Ranch is supported by Berean Baptist Church, Ron "Ronnie" Baity, Pastor. Berean also sends money to Mack Ford.

Ron Baity is a whole other ball of wax, but a few points about his ministry are relevant here. Baity runs a NFP called Return America, founded in 2006. The mission of Return America is described in Return America’s 501c3 filing educating, motivating and mobilizing citizens in a united effort in promoting Judeo-Christian values; advocating cultural and legislative changes in keeping with the Judeo-Christian principles. This manifested in a anti-gay marriage rally in Raleigh North Carolina in 2009.

David Gibbs III was one of the featured speakers. David Gibbs III, as it turns out, was Lester Roloff and Roloff Evangelistic Enterprises’ lawyer for over 25 years. Gibbs was also a witness for Bush’s 1997 FBO push before the Texas House Human Services Committee, a testimony in which he didn’t disclose his longstanding relationship with Roloff. Fellow Texan, RNC employee, and Christian history revisionist, David Barton also spoke at Ron. Baity’s 2009 rally.

Whether or not Jack Patterson has broken away from the long and continuing history of the abusive Roloff Homes and subsequent Roloff-like offshoots remains to be seen. And, if Mr. Patterson is guilty of aggravated child abuse is a matter for the Blount County court to decide. What is apparent is that homes like Mack Ford and Olen King’s New Bethany Home and Lester Roloff’s Rebekah Home still exist throughout the country today. A :30 second Google search will yield scores of survivor’s boards, informational sites and organizations dedicated to exposing the world of people who beat kids in the name of God to turn a handsome profit.

Please visit my website for souces, articles, comments from "survivors" and information on current homes operating today.

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