Escape From New Bethany A short story by: James Leteff
As an adult now, I can’t help but feel a little proud of the plan. In our minds, our plan was right up there with something out of a McGuiver show. For days, we looked about suspiciously, whispered with caution and did our best to keep the secrete and play it cool. All the while, we were stealing food and planning our great escape. Our original plan was to break out a window but a few days before, the fire martial had made an inspection on the facility and forced the staff to remove the chains from doors. We decided to use the doors, what we thought was the easier escape route.
The three of us stood at the door. My heart was pounding … fear, adrenalin … I’m not sure which it was but I remember not only feeling my beating heart but hearing it too. “Go !” One of us said and we hit the cold metal bar that stood between us and the monsters inside. The door flew open, just as we had planned but something made us immediately freeze. The sound that I had heard so many times before, now sounded different somehow. I knew that there was a possibility that the alarms would sound and I thought I was prepared for it, I was wrong. After a few seconds, I gathered my senses and did my best to encourage the other two to run. “Lets go! Let go!” I was telling them as I lunged forward. “You comin’ or not?” Neither answered. They stood there frozen by the deafening sound of the bell.
There wasn’t time to consider anything. I was as well prepared as a 14 year old boy could be. I remembered the plan and stuck to it. Rule #1: Stay away from the lights, Rule #2: don’t run on the tracks … everyone that took the tracks got caught, and the most important rule of all was Rule #3: Never look back, never stop running, keep your mind focused on what they have done and what they will do if they catch you … just RUN!
I don’t remember if the bells sounded as if they had been turned off or if I had gotten so far away that I just couldn’t hear them anymore. I do remember that the deafening sound of the bells had now been replace by the deafening sound of the swamp. I stopped briefly to listen and yes, the bells were gone … and so were my comrades. They had so desperately wanted to escape the place that the rest of the world simply referred to as, “New Bethany”.
Inside the dilapidated, musty building, that had once served as a school, there lived monsters of every shape and size. No matter how hard you tried to follow the rules, you were always at risk of being attacked by one. There was no T.V., no radio, no contact with the outside world. If you were lucky enough to have a parent or family member that would call you from time to time, the calls were monitored by someone standing over you and telling you, by the look in their eyes, “Don’t you dare tell or you will certainly regret it”. Not many did tell but the ones that tried, did regret it. I never had to worry about that. No one called me. Our preacher, the monster of all monsters, L.D., made it a point to remind me just how alone I was in one of his sermons. He preached to the whole congregation of boys about how I was abandoned as a baby by my very own parents and family and that, how the Christian man and woman that eventually took me in didn’t even want me anymore, “If it wasn’t for New Bethany, where would he be? What would happen to this boy if New Bethany were to shut down”? L.D. asked as he preached to the boys. I don’t know why he chose me to use in his sermon. Maybe somehow, deep inside he feared me as he feared any one of us who seemed strong enough to ever defy his rule. L.D. would use whatever means necessary, beatings, humiliation, and physiological games and torture, to keep you under control. For those he truly feared, were sent to the laundry room where you were forced to stay behind lock and key in nothing more than your under ware. You were given a coffee can to relieve yourself in and forced to listen to audio tapes of L.D.’s fierce and mentally debilitating sermons. I was fortunate enough to have never been placed in the “dungeon” but not all of the boys were as lucky as me. For the rest of us, it was our torture to have to listen to the screams of the condemned.
I don’t ever remember the swamps being as dark as they were that night. I had spent a lot of time in the swamps growing up, hunting and fishing by myself. I don’t remember ever being afraid. But tonight, I was more than scared, I was terrified. If there was a moon that night it didn’t offer any light through the trees. The sound of the frogs were a God send. As I ran, as fast as one can run in waist deep water, my fear turned into terror as I felt something cut into the flesh on my leg. As fast as the thoughts of the sharp teeth from an alligator ripping into me entered my mind, the disorienting songs from the reptiles would penetrate my ears to such a degree that my thoughts could no longer get through. The frogs stayed with me throughout the night as if protecting me from my own mind.
As I look back now, I am reminded of how desperate I was to have planed my escape route through what could have been certain death but, my escape wasn’t for myself. L.D. was right. No one wanted me. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I did however have a friend and his name was Guy. A few days prior to my escape, Guy had been taken to the gym and, at the order of L.D., he was beaten by 3 boys, 2 of which were L.D.’s own sons. The same boys that assaulted Guy brought him back to the room and laid him on his bed. I went to Guy and tried to talk to him but he was unable to respond. His face was almost unrecognizable. The lacerations were so severe, I originally thought he had been cut with a knife. His eyes were swollen shut and bleeding and his once tan skin was now a multitude of greens, reds and blues. The next day, Guy was taken away. I feared that something even worse than the beating was going to happen to him. These crazy monsters were going to kill him, if they hadn’t already! I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing. The only thing I had to loose in the whole world was my friend and I didn’t intend on loosing him that easily.
Throughout the night the frog’s songs would allowed me moments of lucidity. These usually occurred when I would injure my self on cypress knees and what ever else lied on the mucky floor of the Louisiana swamp or when I would stop just long enough to rid myself of the leaches that had hitched a ride on my exhausted and battered body. Frequently, I would feel fear, terror, and pity for myself, however, I never did regret being in the situation I was in. I never once considered turning back or giving up. I couldn’t fight the monsters alone and save Guy but I knew that there were others on the outside that could and I was determined to find them.
My body was cold and exhausted. Had there been somewhere to lay down and sleep, I probably would have but there wasn’t. There was only water and trees and stumps and the other things, I don’t know what they were but they were there. How badly I wanted to sleep, if just for a few moments. Somewhere I have a mother, somewhere I have a father. I thought about how comfortable their beds must have felt to them that night. They had no idea what their son was going through while they slept peacefully and I knew that they didn’t care. And then there was Norman and his wife Pat. They had adopted me only a year before I came to be at New Bethany. I was a good boy for them, never giving them much trouble. Although I could tell that Pat didn’t care much for me, I loved being a part of a family, that was something I had never had and had always yearned for. Now, I had a mom and a dad and a little brother and lived in a beautiful home. I would have done nothing to jeopardize my new life and my new family. I would go with Norman to visit other churches and boys homes. I had even began to preach on my own and decided that it was my calling. I loved preaching and sharing the word of God. One day, our church bus had loaded up and went to visit a place in Arcadia for a revival. It was the New Bethany home for girls. At the end of our visit, everyone began to load back onto the bus. As I stepped up for my turn to get on, Norman stopped me and told me that I wouldn’t be going back with them. I was just a kid and I didn’t understand what was happening. Was I being left behind? Norman’s nephew and I had became good friends and when he realized what was happening, he began to rebel. He screamed and cried for them not to leave me behind but his cries were without merit, the bus drove away, without me. All I could do is cry and ask why. Norman had promised to come and visit me and to call me often but, he never did. I knew that he too wouldn’t care if he knew of my plight. He too was laying comfortably somewhere while I was waist deep in swamp water in the middle of the night, running for my life and the life of a friend.
At one point the sounds in the swamp began to change. The frogs seemed to quiet one by one and the chirps and whistles of birds began to pick up where the frogs left off. From where I was there was still nothing but darkness. I knew the sun was struggling to penetrate into the swamps. That seemed like it took longer to happen than the passing of the night as a whole. Eventually she began to succeed. Magnificent rays of light began to shoot through the trees. One by one they came and I was as excited by the next one as much as the last. At last I could see the world around me. I had to stop for a minute. Not from exhaustion but because it wasn’t often that I got to see anything other than the inside of New Bethany. The site of something other than the walls of hell was overwhelming and beautiful. For a moment, I felt myself smile.
My mind was brought back and I became aware once again of my mission by a sound that I not only recognized but delighted in hearing. Did I make it? Did I really make it? I was paralyzed. Afraid that my still ringing ears were playing tricks on me. I was cold, I was exhausted and my body was stinging all over. I didn’t dare accept that sound for the truth. “Just stand still and listen”, I told myself. Just as I had accepted the fact that I was wrong and began to take a step … the sound. There was no denying it. The sound was definitely a passing car! I was overcome with a burst of energy that sent me rushing through the water.
I stood at the edge of the swamp looking at the road. This is what I had searched for all night. I endured injury after agonizing injury and terrifying thought after terrifying thought. I had spent the whole night talking to God and most of my conversation with him were spent begging Him to lead me to the road. In the dark, I had made many promises to God, if he would just show me the way to the road, I would be a good boy for the rest of my life. Now, Here I was. My prayers answered. Then why was I more terrified looking at that road then I was in the darkness of the swamps? I felt myself wanting to step back into the shadows and hide but the thought of Guy forced me to press forward.
I wasn’t sure which way to go so I just started walking. As I walked, I became aware that I was wet and my body began to sting. I looked down at my arm and saw that I was covered with mosquitoes. I began franticly raking them off of my body. When I finished ridding myself of the stinging insects, I looked as if I had been washed in my own blood.
It was only moments after I had reached the road when a police car pulled up behind me. It was as if God was walking with me, making things happen for me. The officer got out of his car and approached me. What a sight I must have been. My clothing was wet and tattered and my shoes, that I had spent the whole night fighting the swamp for, made a squish, squish sound when I walked. My socks had managed to work their way down and had hidden themselves in the toes of my shoes. And the blood … the parts of my body that weren’t covered in the blood from the mosquitoes was covered in blood from the cuts and scrapes. “Are you alright, son”? The officer questioned as he looked at me with concern in his eyes. “I’m just hungry. I’m just real hungry, sir”, I said.
We didn’t talk much on the ride to the police station. He spent most of the time on his radio. I was looking out the window and thinking about the two boys that were left behind. I wondered if either of them ran after I disappeared into the dark or, did they both just stand there? God, I hope they ran. My mind began to imagine what they were going through at the hands of the monsters. What kind of torture did they endure all night? Any pity I felt for myself subsided as I realized that I would spend a hundred nights alone in the swamp before I would choose to spend one night at the mercy of L.D. and his band of monsters.
L.D. was the type of person that demanded your attention and, if you didn’t give it, he would find a way to take it. The boys were made to sit in the front few rows when ever we listened to L.D. give a sermon. If you dozed, looked like you were daydreaming, or just appeared to be looking through him, he had a special way of getting at you. One day, while listening to L.D. spew forth his bile, I was fighting hard the desire to nod off. The next thing I knew, my nose was being split open by the powerful thud of a yellow tennis ball, which I never saw coming. Blood spewed all over me and the boys sitting on either side of me. Although my throat ached to cry out in pain and humiliation, I didn’t dare make a sound. I knew that if I did, what would be to come would be worse than the tennis ball could ever be. I pulled my shirt up over my face to catch the now pouring blood and sat up straight in my seat. I remember watching many a boy take a ball to the face. L.D. would grit his teeth, draw back and chunk that ball like his life depended on it and 9 times out of 10, he would hit his mark.
The patrol car came to a stop at a light and looking at me in his rearview mirror, the officer ask, “You doing alright back there, boy”? “Yes sir, I’m O.K.”, was my reply. Little did I know at that time, I wasn’t O.K. That young boy’s spirit had been weakened and walls had been subconsciously built that would effect me for the rest of my life. As the patrol car sat and idled at the light, I looked down and saw a candy wrapper laying beside the curb. It reminded me of the trips we would take. The New Bethany boys would get to take a bus ride to visit the New Bethany girls home. On one of the rides there, I saw a candy wrapper laying beside the curb. I will never forget, it was a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrapper. Oh, how I wanted one so badly. I craved the luxurious candy for weeks. There were times that we would stop to fuel up the bus on our trips. L.D.’s boys would be allowed to get candy and then eat it at the front of the bus in front of us all. We would pretend that it didn’t bother us but, it did.
The police officers puttered busily around me. I was weak and feeling dizzy from not eating anything and running all night. They were all digging around looking for something to feed me. One of them approached me with a sandwich that he had taken out of his own lunch box. I didn’t even peek in between the bread to see what it was made of. When you are as hungry as I was, it didn’t matter, it was food. I ate it quickly and to this day, I still couldn’t tell you what was between the bread. Shortly after that, a breakfast of toast, eggs and grits arrived and I eagerly and gratefully ate it too. It seemed at that point, that the officers didn’t care about anything other than feeding the pitiful looking boy.
Once they felt I was feeling better, the officers began to question me. I told them of every abuse I could remember ever seeing and hearing at New Bethany and, of course, I told them of Guy. As I rambled on, more and more officers moved in closer and listen intently. I could tell in some of their eyes that they wondered if this haggard looking boy was telling tales. But most of them listened intently and one was writing as quickly as he could. Periodically, one would stop me and ask me to back up and re-explain what I had just said or ask me to repeat names slowly. The story I told them of Guy seemed to touch and anger them. I could see it in their eyes, as if they wanted to go, right then, and find the boy I was telling them about. Once I had finished telling my story, the officer that had been taking notes said that they would have to contact New Bethany and tell them that I was there. “Please no” ! I begged, “Please don’t call them. Don’t you understand? If you send me back, they will beat me or worse”? For the next hour, I begged the officers not to call. They assured me that they would take care of things and that everything would be alright. I knew they were wrong, I knew the truth and I knew that I was going back and I knew what my fate was. I was left to sit alone for awhile and my exhausted mind and body slipped off to sleep for a moment. I was awakened by the officers voice, “I’m sorry, son, but they have all the right paperwork, you will have to go with them”.
I don’t recall much of the ride back to New Bethany. I only know that it wasn’t long enough. The thought to escape from the vehicle crossed my mind for a moment and went away as quickly as it came. I knew they would only catch me again and the punishment would only be worse if I tried. Besides, I had accomplished what I ran for. I made it to the outside world and told the only people I knew to tell about Guy. Now all I could do is thank God for getting me through it and pray that my mission was a success.
When I arrived back at New Bethany, I found that the other boys had already received the first part of their punishment. They had been beaten severely and were now in phase 2. They were both sobbing as they held, to the best of their ability, a half push up position while they read verses from bibles that had been placed on the ground beneath their heads. Standing over them was one of LD’s cronies. A short stumpy fellow that would wake us up every morning by singing the “Teddy Bear Song”.
If you go out in the woods today You better not go alone Cause if you go out in the woods today It’s safer to stay at home
Cause every bear that ever there was Will gather there today because Today’s the day The teddy bears have their picnic
Today he wasn’t singing the Teddy Bear Song. When one of the boys would drop to the ground, he would kick them in the side and scream, “Get up … keep reading” ! Neither one of my comrades looked up to see me as I was led past them into my dungeon of doom. I wanted so badly to help them but, I didn’t, I couldn’t. The only thing that eased my guilt was knowing that I would be down there by their side as soon as the monsters had finished beating me.
What was left of my stomach dropped when I walked into the room and saw LD, himself standing there along with his wife, Dee. I don’t know who I feared the most. LD was notorious for his lethal beatings and I had received my share of those. His wife could slap a full grown man to the ground and if her slap didn’t bring you down, she would grab you by the hair and rip it out by the handfuls and literally separate your scalp from the skull until she managed to bring you down.
LD didn’t start out slowly like all the times before. Usually, he would start with a sermon and tell you what a sinner you were and how you were going to burn in hell. He would build himself up to a point to where he felt he had made enough justification, mostly for himself, and then he would beat you. His beatings were the crippling kind. The kind that made your legs so weak that they would shake making it almost impossible to walk away. This time, there was no sermon, the only thing the monsters wanted from me was information, specifically what I had told the police. By the time I joined my comrades on the floor above a bible, I had lost a significant amount of my hair, my face was red, swollen and bloody from being repeatedly hit and slapped. My shaking legs were the result of the beating and it made it hard to hold the half push up position. I tried my best to read the bible verses through the tears. Although I was tired, beaten and humiliated I was proud of myself. LD and his wife were unable to break me. I never did divulge what I had told the police that day. They knew … about Guy, about it all. I knew in my heart that they would come, for me, for Guy and for all the other boys that were suffering inside the walls of hell, and come they did.
Before the police could get to us, we were all scattered to the wind. The boys, like me, that didn’t have homes to go to were sent home with other boys. I was sent home with a boy from Oklahoma. I was able to sneak to a phone and call my grandmother. She had taken me in for short periods several times throughout my life. By this time the police had made their raid and New Bethany had been shut down. The story was all over the news and in the papers. My grandmother called my dad, who sent me a plane ticket to go live with him in Florida. That didn’t last long and I ended up living with friends from school until I was old enough to get a job. I managed to support myself and graduate high school.
Although I had many rough years after high school, I eventually met my wife. She stood by me through thick and thin, something that no one in my life had ever done before. She taught me what it was to love and be loved. No matter what kind of hell I put her through, her love for me never wavered. I am now the father of 6, well adjusted and happy children … one of which is named “Guy”.
You definitely have a talent when it comes to using words to describe things.
Reading your words just opened a flood gate of memories that even our phone calls to one another haven't been able to breech yet.
How loyal of you to name one of your sons Guy. Speaking of loyalty, you know I think true loyalty is the one good trait that some of us came away from NB with. I have been loyal to the point that I took the rap for someone else's crime later in life. I don't think that was a bad thing, I just did it for the wrong person. They would never have done the same for me.
Yes I can say New Bethany taught me loyalty. The Rapiers thought they had it. All they had was submission gained through fear, big difference. It's like you said on the phone, we all had our small groups that hung out because we were to scared to trust more than a few. The "gestapo" was always around, always watching, always listening, and ready to strike without notice. And yes there were some, if trusted, would have thwarted your escape and I probably would have been bringing you some of your meals as you were locked up in one of the 2 cells in the laundry room. I'll never forget having to do that when I worked in the kitchen. I never did get over the stench from the coffee cans. I could smell it before we could open the door. I just remember thinking Dear God, please don't let me ever do anything to deserve being put in here. Today I know that none of us did anything to deserve being put in there. But oh to hear the Rapiers tell it that place was reserved for the demonic ones among us. That was the reason for the audio tapes, to drive the demons out of the one who was locked up, remember? It was their own special little form of exorcism.
OMG I actually just smelled that stench in my mind, it had a little bit of a chemical smell, shit, it was Pine Sol. That's what they put in those damn cans , you could smell it 10 ft away from the doors. It's weird I had forgot about that smell and damn it's clear as yesterday in my mind right now. No wonder I don't ever buy or use the stuff. I always have 5 diffferent types of cleaners under the kitchen sink but you won't find a single bottle of Pine Sol there. I can't stand the stuff.
I copied and pasted this reply to Dee's message here. I gotta remember to start coming HERE instead of the MSN board. Peace.
I think Dee was a little off on her info. I called that number. Spoke with a very nice man named Pastor Jeff. He has no idea what New Bethany is. I referred him to this message board and told him to brace himself. The former pastor of Grace Baptist Church was Stephen BELL, not Bill. He was in the Philadelphia area the last time Pastor Jeff checked, and no longer a minister. I hope this helps. FIND GUY!
Well, now that we have found Guy, his story WILL get out, as we get the story out about all these homes. The ones operating today MUST close down, or there will be more Guys to live and die this way. R. I. P. Guy.
are any of you still on here? I am new to this but I would really like to reconnect. I was there in 85 and 86 so I remember some of these people and reading this is bringing back lots of memories. contact me if you wish. my name is jason handrich and my email is email@example.com. peace, love, and healing to you all.
The story is real. The place was real. James was an incredible boy, now grown into a phenomenal man. His love for and loyalty to his friend Guy led him to acts of bravery that liberated not only Guy but many other boys. I only wish we could have found Guy sooner so he could have known the wonderful man that James grew up to be.
Hey all.. I'm Sherry, survivor from 75-76; I don't think there was a boys home then, if there was, it sure wasn't talked about. Oh my gosh!! James, I am so sorry to read all this, had I of known then, I sure would have taken you in, in a heartbeat!! I truly had no idea of the severity. My best friend and I, when at NB had to scrub out a mobile home for a new staff member that was to arrive. Terry and I stood looking out the back door, all there was, was woods, mangled trees and we were told daily of wild dogs. Terry and I just spoke of what it would be like if we were to run. We wouldn't, we didn't, shoot we were too scared. Apparently, someone was listening and snitched that we were gonna run, we were called to Thelma Ford. OMG, Terry and I were had to watch each get beat with a 2+4 by Ms. Ford. Niether of us could sit for a week, our parents couldn't visit, and we had to lie as to why. Granted, James, that is not near anything you endured. Geez, how did things get so outa control in just a couple years? I would love to see some pictures if anybody has any of this LD, to see if I had seen him before. Where is he and his boys now? (Hopefully convicted).. Also, is anybody on facebook? If so, please friend me, Sherry Lea Scarlett... I was Sherry Lea Fisher at NB and graduated class of 1976, I was on the hallway wall. Along with my bestfriend Terry Day, who went back to NB, I believe as staff?? I have been looking for her desperately and can't find her!! Your friend Guy, did he pass from the effects of NB?
hi, Sherry. I could suggest that, if you are looking for someone in particular, go to the beginning of this blog (see the link below) and put out a BOL or APB for your friend you are trying to find. Many have found who they are looking for this way.
Sister treatment, pots and pans, isolation, floor walkers, being on watch, put on silence... words I haven't thought of in a while. I was there 85-86. For some reason I googled "New Bethany" a few days ago, didn't know you all were out there. I don't do FB and honestly don't know yet if I want to "reconnect". I was drawn to this story because I to got over that fence. I had all the same fears it really took me back. I know it was Jan 10th 86 not sure how long I was running I think I saw night twice. When you don't sleep it's hard to keep track of time. The sheriff took me back to NB they had to. I was never a trip girl or one that got privileges but that's ok I'm not whining I learned many lessons at NB that I have used throughout my life, like during childbirth (the pain won't last forever, just get through it and you will be ok). My daughter is now 15 the same age I was when I risked my life to get out of that place. My kids and husband dont even know about me being there. I usually prefer to fly under the radar but I just wanted to say to my NB brothers and sisters I'm proud of you.