Sunday, September 26, 2010

If It Walks Like a Duck

Last Sunday, there was a massive "manhunt" in southern California for thirteen people (five adults and eight children) who had gone missing with a leader of a religious sect named Reyna Chicas. Two husbands feared they were planning a mass suicide and authorities were alerted.

Good for the authorities that they took the husbands' concerns seriously. One husband brought them his wife's purse which contained identifications, deeds to property, cell phone and letters indicating they were waiting for the end of the world. The Sheriff spokesman said the letters "read like a last will and testament, like goodbye letters."

Six months earlier, Chicas, a Salvadoran divorcee and mother of two, had planned to take followers out to the desert to await an earthquake or another apocalyptic event. One of the followers forewarned family members and the trip was aborted. That follower was subsequently ostracized.

When authorities finally found Chicas and her followers twenty-two hours after their disappearance, they were "comfortably gathered at a Palmdale area park" - adults were praying, children were playing on swings.

But when Chicas was brought in for questioning, they found her rambling and disorganized, giving a false name and stating she had no children. Her two children, a son, 15 and a daughter, 12, were taken into protective custody. Chicas was placed in 72 hour mandatory hold in a mental hospital, deemed unable to care for herself or others.

I'm trying to piece this story together. Chicas was described by a former friend as "simple - a doting mother who always had her children in tow." Friends said she was "not professional, not prepared," as if all cult leaders had to be slick snake oil salesmen. Not your typical cult leader, if there is one. Fifth grade education, four years divorced, increasingly religious, delusional and disorganized. Psychotic perhaps. Perhaps?!? She denied her own children. Prayed for God to take them to see their deceased relatives. Now THAT sounds like a cult leader.

Of course, one worries about the children and the letters they wrote, convinced that their mother was speaking for God and she was right. Are they with Daddy now? Or is Daddy the devil? Perhaps they're with well-meaning strangers who will try to convince them that Mama was crackers and they deserve to live a full life, that God, in fact, WANTS them to live a full life here on earth and do His work here until He decides to call them back home.

Wherever they are, and the other six children, from ages three to seventeen, my heart goes out to them. I'm glad the State caught up with Chicas, whom I think I can rightly dub a cult leader. She was a suicidal fanatic as well. But how are you going to convince the children of that? The children who love her and call her Mama. On the surface, everything looks harmless enough- playing in the park and praying. But anyone who's been in a cult knows that surfaces lie.

Still, I have hope for these children, as long as knowledgeable professionals are involved. They must be aware of Parental Alienation Syndrome in which one parent (ie a fanatical cultist) brainwashes the child against a noncustodial parent. Children can be brainwashed to be convinced that the whole society is evil and against them. Whole religions brainwash their children of this, but I'm getting off the point.

All I want to say is that I hope the lawyers and doctors and social workers and ministers, and especially the father, if he's still around, will continue to take these signs seriously. I hope that they will NOT FORGET the farewell letters these children wrote, even when they say they were "only kidding." If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Predators Prey

V.P. Weirwille was a predator. I never fully realized the impact of this until the other day when I received an e-mail from a former member of The Way whose friend had obviously been a victim of "the Doctor's" sexual abuse.

She had been a vivacious and totally committed believer. She sincerely followed VP's teachings and was a shining example to her brothers and sisters. She worshipped "The Doctor", lit up in his presence and enthusiastically obeyed everything he said.

Then, one day, everything changed. She announced to her spiritual family that she had to leave, giving no explanation. She and her husband met with VP and she couldn't even look him in the eye. Her light was gone. She gave no reason for her sudden escape - just that she had to go. VP told her to work on her marriage, just as he had told me to do. She left instead, never to be heard of again.

What happened? I can only extrapolate from what was said to me but I think I know. I remember being that intrepid, vivacious believer until The Doctor got his hands on me. Then he twisted my sincerity into slavery and forced me to do things to him I would never do, much less imagine. He locked me in his lockbox and I was helpless to escape.
This woman fled and it's haunted her ever since, ruined her life, I'd say. Now she is a recluse, with no connections to family or friends or her past.

It could all be in my imagination. But I know the signs. And the story awakened my memory to a darker time in my life when I had nowhere to turn. I was one of the fortunate ones. I escaped. Some were not so lucky. The Way is strewn with casualties of women who were prey to Wierwille, Martindale and other "men of God." Some killed themselves, some disappeared. There but for the grace of God, go I.

I was always taught that predators preyed on the weak. But after hearing this story, I realize that's not true. Men like Wierwille prey on the strong - on the most sincere and devoted of followers because these are the most easy to manipulate. We are the most vulnerable because we loved most freely. Yes, we were young and we were naive but that does not mean we were weak. One has to be strong to keep a lockbox, even when it becomes a prison.

This sad story reminded me of the evil of such men as Weirwille. I know of other believers who still don't believe him capable of such abuse. They don't believe him capable of rape or cold-hearted manipulation. VP will always be their "man of God." Let the detractors believe what they will. For myself, I know what I experienced and I know what is true.

Thankfully it is all in the past, but every so often, something happens that reminds me of what I lived through. Of being a victim. Then I must pick myself up out of the despair and anger and remind myself of my strength. I am not weak, I wasn't then either. A beautiful flower is only plucked in its prime. I and other survivors like me need remember that it was our beauty and vulnerability that caused us to be "picked." I am trying to recapture some of that beauty, allowing it to shine with the strength that underlies it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Grandparent Adventure

So there we were, on our way to see our new granddaughter, born the day before by C-Section. We had gotten our Google directions and followed them to the letter to this hospital on the other side of the state. We haven't gotten around to purchasing a GPS and now would have been a good time to own one. After an hour's drive, following the directions to a T, we landed in a back alley behind the hospital. We weren't even sure we had the correct hospital because the name was different. This was Midstate Medical Center. We were looking for General Hospital.

We parked our car in a free spot in front of a mental health counseling center down the street from two dumpsters. The brick building loomed before us, surrounded by tall chain link fences and dead-ends. But we spied a door on the loading dock which instinct told me would be open. I dragged my skeptical husband up the stairs and sure enough, the door swung open. I strode in, arms waving confidently, and followed the corridor past more grungy dumpsters and piled-up crates. We swept through the halls beyond the time clocks and encountered a man with what looked like a gurney covered with a sheet..

"We must be near the morgue," my husband said.

"Let's go," I said and we entered the first elevator we saw. The door closed, we pushed the button. Nothing happened. Pushed it again. Still nothing. I pushed the "door open" button but accidently pressed the alarm. A voice boomed over the loud speaker. "If you're going to Family Birthing come up the way you went out."

Okay, we said, and went searching for the route to Family birthing where our son and daughter-in-law and new baby would be. My husband found a stairwell and we bounded two stories up the stairs. We stopped at a door and on the other side of it, a sign which said "Family birthing Center." But, of course, the door was locked. I knocked and knocked until the door flew open. Two uniformed policemen with stern surprised looks on their faces opened the door.

"Where did you come from? How did you get in here?" The taller one asked.

"The loading dock. We're here to see our new granddaughter."

"You came in through the loading dock? How is that possible?" They eyed me suspiciously.

"It was open. And our Google maps directed us there. We couldn't find the front door."

They were not amused. "You can't be here," said the other officer as he shuttled us through the halls. "I'll have to take you downstairs so you can repark your car in the correct lot and come back up here."

"You can't be serious," I said. "She's right down the hall. Can't we have a peek?"

"Sorry ma'am. All the security systems have been down today and you've identified another breach. This is serious, I'll escort you down."

The first officer turned his back and talked into his walkie talkie. He frowned as we walked by, as though we were grandparent terrorists set on stealing babies from the maternity ward.

We finally reparked our car and found our way back upstairs to our children and new grandbaby. She was, of course, extraordinarily beautiful. The kids looked relaxed and happy, just like you'd want new parents to look. We told them of our adventure.

"Oh, that's why the door must have kept locking all day and nurses would rush to all the exits on a moments' notice," said our son. "It's been happening all day. At one point they came in and checked the tracking device on the baby's foot."

"People steal babies?!" I said naively.

"Evidently all the time," said our son. "But we're protected. She's in here with us."

And my mind flew back to my time with my newborns when they stayed in the maternity ward and were rolled back into my room from time to time. No talk of kidnappers then. It was a more innocent and safer time.

Some say they want to build a cell tower in our small town of 1800 people and for what? To someday place GPS systems and microchips in our brains? What is this brave new world we're facing? Having GPS that night wouldn't have been so bad but at what price? I wonder what perils this generation will face.

Looking into the face of that infant, I know danger is all around us, as it has always been. But we face new dangers now, the loss of freedom, the loss of security. There have always been treacherous acts of God which threatened lives. Now we have Man-Caused Disasters. May baby Quinn be protected from these and may she know the safety that comes form having two loving parents. That's the most any of us can hope for. She has what no electronic device can replace - a human brain, a human heart and a human soul.