Woman `wasted’ 21 years of life

Source: Boston Herald, Sep. 5, 2001

Former hippie Joellen Griffin left her home in the Midwest in 1975 for a booze and drug addled road trip with friends, but ended up taking a 21 year detour into the bizarre and dangerous world of Elbert Eugene Spriggs and his Twelve Tribes cult, she said. “I would do anything to put some of these people in jail,” Griffin, who fled the insular sect about six years ago with her family, she said. “I hate all the time I wasted. You’re in it and you really believe. You overlook things that bother you and you accept things you wouldn’t normally accept.”

Griffin’s ill-fated road trip to visit pals in Florida 26 years ago was abruptly halted when they stopped in Chattanooga, Tenn., to visit a friend’s sister who had joined the Vine Street Church, a progressive religious movement led by Spriggs. Griffin, 47, met her husband, Roger, in the group – now called the Twelve Tribes -and they raised a family behind the walls of the secretive cult, immersing themselves in their practices of child abuse and child labor. “We have a lot of regrets about (the abuse). It was horrible what those kids went through,” she said. “You just carry a rod with you and you use it. You have this warped perception that it’s going to work.”

Parents are required to discipline their children by striking them with a thin balloon rod dipped in resin to make it sturdy, or a bamboo stick. Children are also locked in basements and rooms, sometimes for weeks. Griffin says she often beat her own and other member’ children for various violations of the group’s strict mantra. The group doesn’t allow children to pretend or fantasize and bans magazines, books, TV, music and toys. Children are home schooled and put to work in the group’s factories and shops by age 14, ex members say.

Her son, Israel, suffered a severe cut on his hand working a band saw in a New York woodshop when he was 15, she said. “You accept your children being mistreated by other people,” she said, adding that her kids needed years of counseling to recover from the mental and physical abuse. “And when you question it, you get put in the spotlight. You don’t feel like you’re adequate enough to raise your kids alone.”

The group practices its own herbal medicine and faith healing and Griffin says she knew of members who endured lengthy illnesses and some who died because of a lack of proper medical care. “If you went to a doctor, you weren’t having faith,” she said. “Sometimes, in emergencies, they do go to doctors, but there are other cases where people have died because they didn’t.”

Griffin suffered from severe arthritis and a thyroid condition but was told she was stricken because she and her husband were “sinners.” Rather than take her to see a physician, the group held meetings, during which they scrutinized the couple’s life, searching for a reason why she was afflicted with the painful ailment. Ultimately, it was decided that she got sick because Roger worked too much and was neglecting the family, she said. “You’re so close to them that you don’t realize what they’re asking you to do is bizarre,” she said. After spending several days in and out of consciousness in bed, she was finally brought to a hospital where she was given thyroid medication and made a full recovery.

Shortly after leaving the group, their son, Israel, died in a car accident. The cult used the teen’s death as a scare tactic to potential defectors and as a tool to try and lure them back. “They all felt it was God’s hand of mercy. They thought it was better for him to die than live out here in the real world,” she said. “We got a phone call from the group saying, ‘now that God’s hand has dealt you this blow, are you ready to come back?”

The Griffins stayed away and are now part of an underground network of safe houses for those who flee the high control group. They lived in Taunton for a while but recently relocated to Georgia. “For them to continue on, claiming to know God and hurting the children, I really get nauseated,” she said. “I look at them as deranged. What’s going on there needs to stop.”

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