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NPR Story on Mack Ford, Sexual Abuse, and New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, Louisiana

mack ford new bethany home for girls
Mack Ford, Bethany Home for Girls, a Lester Roloff disciple and ritual child abuser. He is now rotting in the grave.

What follows is an NPR Morning Edition story titled Finding Strength In Shared Stories Of Childhood Sexual Abuse, featuring my friends Jo Wright and Tara Cummings:

New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, La., opened in the early 1970s as a religious reform school for, as its founder said, “the incorrigible, unwanted rejects” who “haven’t been loved and haven’t had a chance in life.”

Over the next three decades, law enforcement officials repeatedly investigated claims of physical and psychological child abuse at the school.

Joanna Wright was 16 years old when she first arrived at New Bethany in the 1970s. She says she had been sexually abused as a child and hoped the school would be a refuge. But she says when she got there, she was raped by the man in charge of the school.

“I thought something was really wrong with me, that I must be a really bad person because this keeps happening to me in life,” Joanna told Tara Cummings, who came to New Bethany when she was 12, in a StoryCorps interview. “I started to think, ‘How could I dismember my body and spread the pieces around so that God couldn’t find me and put me back together to punish me?’ “

The two spoke in 2016 at Joanna’s home in Cypress, Texas.

“I used to wish that I would come back as a cotton ball or a Coke can, completely inanimate so I could feel nothing,” Tara said.

The women attended the school at different times, but they crossed paths when women began speaking up about the abuse they say they endured at New Bethany.

Several women who attended the school have come forward in recent years alleging abuse — including sexual, physical and psychological — by the same man.

Joanna, now 58, and Tara, now 47, were part of a group of women who in 2014 testified in front of a grand jury that the man who ran the school abused them. In January 2015, the grand jury did not indict him, The Times-Picayune reported at the time. He died the following month. NPR is not naming him because he cannot respond to the accusations. While he was alive, he repeatedly denied any kind of abuse at the school.

The school closed in 2001. Over the years, Joanna told people of the abuse, the first being her father. He made her take a lie detector test, she says.

I always wondered, ‘What do people see in me that makes them think it’s OK to abuse me?’ And that was something that I carried even into adulthood,” Joanna said.

“It put a fear in me that I’ve never shaken. I don’t know that I ever will. You know, I always thought, ‘There has to be other girls, I can’t be the only one.’ And so I’ve always blabbed about it,” she says.

Tara, on the other hand, kept quiet about the abuse.

“I was a really good liar. Always being the preacher’s kid and putting on a perfect front. I think I was trying to move on. But to get out of the hiding was a game changer for me,” she said.

Tara says Joanna helped her learn how to stop hiding.

“I know you don’t believe in divine path,” she told Joanna, “but I was at a fork in the road. And knowing you has changed my life.”


Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Jennifer THompson will provide maiden if needed

    I survived 1 year in new Bethany school for girls. For a year. I want to be heard. I refuse to sing hymns or participate in a “conventional” form of an organized religious community. I have my own relationship with God. It is exclusive.
    My experience has scarred my life. I don’t have the verbiage At this moment.
    I can’t remember dates , Duran Duran had been out for a few years, after Police released Synchronicity, awhile before I went in. Depeche Mode people are people was popular. Poison was the first cassette that I bought. Sorry music, was a lifeline
    how do I sign up for lawsuit?

  2. Avatar

    My name is Nichole. I resided at New Bethany 1985 – 1987.

    It was an actual house of horrors. We were beaten within an inch of our lives and tortured in the name of Jesus.

    I once received what was known as a “mama whippin’.” It was when they had no established number of how many “licks” you were about to get. They would say, “mamas don’t count, mamas just love,” and then four or five of the “trusted” girls seized your wrists and ankles and held you down on the bed. At New Bethany, this was the “sister treatment” where staff would have some of the girls assist in executing a punishment. That night I received fifty-six “licks” from the housemother Mrs. Shipman.

    She struck me with an oak paddle that had holes drilled all through the body. She raised the paddle out behind her as far as she could and slammed it down on me with ALL of her might — fifty-six times.

    My lower back, bottom, and back of my thighs were black and blue and green and purple. It was all one uninterrupted bruise. The beating left welts and blood blisters in the shape of the little holes pierced in the paddle. They grew until they burst and bled. I couldn’t even stand when it was over; my abusers carried back to my bed.

    People knew what was happening in this so-called children’s home— people in authority who should have stopped it. We tried to tell people what was happening at New Bethany; there was no action taken against our tormentors. Our stories were dismissed as fiction and marginalized.
    There was no internet, no social media, no way to get our story out to the world.

    We were children.

    We were innocent.

    We are survivors of a world you cannot begin to fathom.

    We need to be heard. The story I just told is just a small piece of what happened while I was at New Bethany.

  3. Avatar
    Janna Miles

    I unluckily was placed at New Bethany in 1986. I wish I could say I survived. I got out but the memories will stay within my head forever. I was not rapped or beaten but the mental abuse was far more harmful in my eyes. I hope Mac Ford and all the people involved in that Hell on Earth burn for eternity in Hell. It wouldn’t be bear the punishment they deserve.

  4. Avatar
    Jennifer Peterson

    I was there 1989/90. Right before the the 91 raid. It was when everything with miss Shannon started to come out. I remember the Trip Girls trip when brother Ford threatened to kill her. I remember being denied medical care and the years of recovery I had to go through. I remember watching girls having to choose the branch they were to be beaten with. Being beaten with your underwear down with bruises up and down your back all the way down to my legs. What a nightmare. Why would anyone want to relive this. I have great gratitude I survived. I know so many that did not mentally survive.

  5. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Jennifer Peterson, thank-you for having the courage to share your experience. It is only through the bravery of people like you that others are able to drop their blinders and see what horror is done under the protection of religion/God. The authorities harbor much fear of religions and allow them to abuse, turning away and abandoning the weak and those in pain. What a hateful bunch of Bible-thimping creeps you endured. These people are barbaric, sick, twisted. You are a light in the darkness.

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Bruce Gerencser