HAVING SPENT THE BETTER part of two decades immersed in extreme religion, I always welcome the opportunity to familiarize myself with stories of other survivors of this particular set of abuses. Recently I had the pleasure of reading Michele Ulriksen's memoir Reform At Victory. (Pizan Media, 2008)
At 16, Michele is like most teenagers, pacing her looming adulthood by progressively distancing herself from her parents and their rigid lifestyle and rules of conduct. One night, while slinking back into her bedroom after hours of drinking, her parents catch her in the act. Next thing she knows, chain link barricades her dejected spirit as the family car speeds off in a trail of dust. A year at the fundamentalist, Baptist, all-girl, locked-down, Victory Christian Academy will get Michele right with God.
As you can imagine, Michele is both devastated and traumatized. She feels intensely rejected by her parents and intensely angry at the abusive staff who waste no time confiscating her personal freedoms in an effort to expedite conformity.
Ms. Ulriksen does a stellar job of describing the gamut of feelings and reactions to what she describes as "prison life." While sequestered in the dark closet of the "Get Right" room, with Christian music and then the voice of Jerry Falwell blaring just outside the door, she contemplates suicide. Instead she bites her nails down until they bleed.
Her disdain for Brother Patrick is palpable. Although she alters the physical characteristics of the players, the reader still gets the fact that Brother P is not an attractive person in any way. He believes he's doing God's work and apparently has no qualms about referring to the girls in his charge as "whoremongers" "drug addicts" and "brats."
As the months drag on and Michele has very limited contact with her family, she begins to soften somewhat. She makes friends and climbs the ranks to the status of trusted and coveted Helper. However, although Michele conforms for appearances, she can't or won't adopt the mindset of the people who have imprisoned her. What she does do, however, is successfully parse religion from God. Her disgust for organized religion fuels her passion to understand God.
Still, the isolation takes its toll. Once her tenure is over, she admits,
I find myself judging people by their bumper stickers and the way they look. I hadn't done this before going to Victory. In a way, judging people is what we were taught to do. In every sermon, Brother P would put people down who were different from him... He said they were all lost.
Understandably, despite Michele's release from Victory, she's not happy. It takes several more miles down the bumpy road of life before she comes to a place of healing. Her purpose for writing the book is to alert parents of what really goes on behind the gates of such facilities--commendable indeed.
My only complaint about Reform at Victory is that it could have used more editing. Although for a self published book it flows well and the writing is good, a grammarian could have polished the scattering of smudges.
After posting the above blog entry, I went online to find Ms. Ulriksen to let her know I posted a review of her book. I discovered that she died in February of this year of an apparent overdose. I'm in shock.