Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sex Education

When I was in eleventh grade, our high school hosted an all-school assembly. It wasn't sponsored by the school, and the topic of the assembly was not publicized. We were just informed that there was an assembly and we walked with our classes to the auditorium.

The program was produced by a community group, and several students from Oregon City High School, who were members of the group, put on the assembly for us. It was well-rehearsed, engaging, and funny. And, it was about sex. This was twenty-one years ago, and I still clearly remember the skit where boys and girls were paired together to demonstrate how to properly put on a condom. The girls had giant life-sized condoms that they put over their partners' entire bodies, making sure to leave extra room at the head. I rather enjoyed the production.

When I stepped off the school bus that afternoon, I saw my mom waiting in the doorway of our house. Oh, great, I thought. I wonder what I'm in trouble for now. It didn't occur to me that she would've heard of the assembly. But she had. Apparently, several of my Follower classmates had reported the mandatory assembly to their parents, who had activated the frantic calling of all the parents, and dozens of complaints to our school.

Followers are not allowed to participate in sex education classes or class content. It's on our "yellow cards" along with the exemption from having inoculations and medical treatment. No sex ed.

The stigma started in fifth grade when the schools show the students videos about menstruation and puberty. We were to be sent to the library during these videos. Ug. My mom let me stay home from school that day. Good thing, because I would've died of embarassment. And, I wanted to see that video!

In eighth grade, we got an extra elective class while our classmates took sex ed. Same deal in high school. The extra elective was nice, but I wanted some facts. The idea was that if we knew about sex, we would be tempted to have sex.

So, the policy of the Followers was to marry kids off in the late teens, still virgins. The "sex talk" would happen a week or so before the wedding. They thought we wouldn't figure anything out before then. But I'm a rebel, and being told I couldn't/shouldn't know something just made me want to know even more. I heard about "rubbers" from school kids in junior high, so I asked one of my wiser Follower friends what a rubber was, and she told me it was a piece of rubber that you rub on yourself to keep from getting pregnant.

The same year that we were "forced" to watch that infamous assembly, I had a science class with only worldly people. It was the only class I took in high school where I was the only Follower. The teacher seemed pretty obsessed with our church too. He always made a point to come over and talk to us in the cafeteria. So, one day he announced in front of the class that he was going to talk about sex, and that there was a group of kids who were members of the "Followers of Christ" church that were to be excused from this portion of the class. What? Dude, he knew that I was the only one and he had to single me out. I was not going to stand up and say, "Oh, you mean me? OK." In hindsight, I wish I would've had the guts to do it, but I didn't. I was a teenager and a) wanted to know the facts and b) didn't want to be singled out. Sheesh.

So, maybe you're wondering if all this lack of knowledge worked? In my opinion, it wasn't the lack of knowledge that kept most of us from having sex. It was the fear and consequences attached to the sex act. If we had sex before marriage we faced: shunning in this life and Hell in the next, but perhaps more pressing than those consequences was the loss of a church wedding.

Church weddings were only for virgins and included huge rewards - the wedding services were free (though things like dresses and flowers were paid for by the bride's parents), beautiful, attended by all, lots of fun - including a dance with a live band. The bride received housewares and a new wardrobe for her shower, the groom received money (enough to pay his church membership) for his "bachelor party" (which was attended by men--and I'm told--very tame). For the wedding, the couple typically received all the furniture for their new home (living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom - everything), and enough money to pay for the honeymoon and then some. It was a prize worth waiting for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Control Measures

Up to this point, I have not addressed the “c” word in association with the Followers. You know the word that outsiders generally label organizations that seek to control their members with fear, threats (social ostracization to the person and their family), and the expectation of compliance. I will not address the “c” word in this blog (that is, whether or not I believe the FOC is a cult).
What I will address are some measures certain members have begun attempting to exert on me to convince me to stop writing about the church.

Self-Doubt and “Yo-Mama” Insults

This is a comment I received this week from an anonymous source:

“Susanne, I don't know where you are getting all your knowledge, because you aren't old enough to know any this first hand! and your parrents are a good source of info because they are not all that bright, I know that!

Dear Anonymous:

Are you suggesting that, at age 38, I am too young to understand anything of the religion I was raised in? I attended the FOC church twice a week (in addition to all the mandatory social functions) for twenty-one years. After I left, I returned and attended church while being shunned by the majority for another five years. Under this “logic” nobody under the age of 50 knows anything about this religion because they were not around when Walter was in charge? How do you justify imposing your religion on your children and grandchildren if they can’t know anything about it? And how about the pair of twenty-six-year-olds rotting in prison for practicing it?

Second, I have never claimed to have experienced anything that I am too young to have experienced. I heard the elders' teachings until I was in middle school. When I talk about anything that happened before I was born, I pre-empt it with, “from what I’ve been told.”

As to the comments about my parents: I have approved your comment under my blog post, “Signs of the True Believer,” so there can be no accusations that I have inserted your misspelled words and poor grammar. Someone who cannot even spell my name (though it’s in the URL of this blog), or the word “parents” is not the best judge of intellect. My dad’s response to your comment was this, “We were stupid to stay as long as we did. The smartest thing we have ever done was leaving.”

I have no doubt that my parents are intelligent. My mom was in college studying to become a nurse, when a family tragedy brought her to Oregon City and into the FOC. My dad had a burgeoning career as a Naval Officer when he was recruited by Walter White to move to Oregon City and settle into a work-a-day life of blue collar mediocrity. Despite the ways the FOC interrupted their aspirations, my parents are well-read, well-informed, free thinkers who have the strength of character to admit to their children and the world their mistake (of raising their family in the FOC).

I also think it's interesting that you claim that my "parents ARE a good source of information because they not all that bright." I agree that my parents are a good source of information - though they are far from being my only sources.

Liar-Liar Pants On Fire!

Here’s another brave attack from an anonymous source (possibly the same as the above author):

“I think if you are going to post for all to read, I think you should get your stories straight, and tell the TRUTH. you don't even know most of this for a fact because you are not old enough. you weren't even there. it's not hard to figure out that your not even getting your information from a reliable source.

And yet another anonymous attempt to undermine:

“You need to make sure your so called facts are true,or call this book fiction.

Dear Anonymous:

If you are going to call me a liar, please have the guts to use your name, and the credibility to specify exactly what you are accusing me of getting wrong. I do not misrepresent my age – I am 38. Like I posted above, it’s pretty sad to imply that anyone so “young” couldn’t possibly know anything.

I would be happy to post any credible and specific information you would like to clarify your position.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Inside Coffee Creek

I am a taking a small detour from life inside the Followers of Christ church, to life inside Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. CCCF is Oregon’s only women’s prison, and is also the intake location for all male prisoners. Shannon and Dale Hickman arrived for intake last week. For this entry, I travelled up to Wilsonville and interviewed a prisoner from Coffee Creek.

As soon as a sentence is entered, the prisoner is taken to a county jail. The female prisoners are in a big room. They are ordered to take off their clothes and stand naked while being inspected. The prisoner is told to lift her hair, arms, feet, and then bend over and cough twice. If she is wearing a tampon, she must remove it for inspection. She is then given a white jumpsuit to wear, her ankles are shackled, and handcuffs secured by a black box. The prisoners are loaded on a van to be taken to the prison.
The van pulls into the facility at Coffee Creek and drives to the intake center. The gates shut and lock before the prisoners get out of the van. They are taken in through a door and left in a holding cell with a sack lunch. The lunch might consist of: bread, a bag of chips, a piece of fruit, lunch meat, peanut butter and jelly packets, and mayonnaise and mustard packets. All of the women are in this large room together – there is a commode in one corner with a low wall blocking the toilet, though you can see the person sitting on it. The women stay in there for hours waiting to be called.
When she is called out, she is issued her “intake clothes.” These consist of: blue scrub pants, blue scrub shirts, navy blue t-shirts, underwear, socks, and sports bras. She is also given a pair of orange flip flops for showering. Then she is taken to the showers and shown the street clothes she was wearing so she can verify that her personal belongings are there. These items are sealed, boxed up, and mailed to the prisoner’s family.
In the showers, a strip search is performed again, then she is told to take a shower and put on her scrubs. She then goes into a room for fingerprinting, a DNA sample is taken, and a picture for her prison ID. She is now taken to a different holding tank, with the other processed prisoners. A nurse takes her into a private room and takes down her medical history, notes tattoos, and scars, and then she returns again to the same holding area.

When everyone is processed, the prisoners are given manila pocket folders containing the following items: a small tube of toothpaste, a tiny toothbrush, a pocket comb, a razor, a small deodorant, a little bar of soap, a small bendy pen, five envelopes, ten sheets of newsprint paper, and any paperwork she came in with that she’s allowed to keep, and a yellow lanyard to the K-Unit (this is the unit where intake prisoners will spend their first few weeks) with her ID card. She also receives her bedroll containing: two blankets, two sheets, a pillowcase, and two towels.
Now she is taken down a “big, scary” hallway where is shown where things are and taken to her unit. She arrives in the K-Unit. It is an open unit with 108 beds – bunk-beds. She will be here for about thirty days. While she is here, she will not be allowed to participate in any activities such as religious services, salon, visiting, etc. She will have two hours every day to spend in the day room or out in the yard. The rest of her time she is to sit on her bunk. At the end of her time here, an intake counselor will meet with her to talk about her Corrections Plan. This plan will explain her custody level (medium security for prisoners with more than four years’ time), expectations, etc.
The inmate I interviewed has been serving for nearly eight years now. She does not want to remember the time she came in because, like Shannon Hickman, she was accused of causing the death of a child. She told me in vague terms about that time, but my questions seemed to bother her. She said that the other inmates were not accepting. They called her a “baby killer” and told her to just kill herself. They wouldn’t allow her to sit with them for meals. She says she was “shunned” by the women.

I remember when Shannon was born – just a few months before my niece, Miranda. I can’t help feeling badly for her. She was powerless to decide how she was raised. She was powerless in her marriage. She was powerless in saving her child. And, for the next six years, she will be completely powerless in raising her surviving children.