Jesus Land: A Memoir

If you want to know what hell on earth is like, just read the incredibly haunting story by Julia Scheeres called Jesus Land: A Memoir. The novel is her personal memoir of growing up in a very strict religious home with unloving (“She has never told me she loves me, or drawn me to her in an embrace. Never touched me with tenderness whatsoever.”) and unforgiving parents who put God, Jesus, religion and missionary work above anything and anyone else.

The first part is entitled IN GOD WE TRUST where Julia Scheeres writes about her upbringing and her MOTHER who only looks forward to the day they all leave home so that all she has left is God, her FATHER who beats her black adopted brothers with a belt and brakes the younger brother’s arm, her OLDER BROTHER (Jerome) who repeatedly forces himself on her because “you’re not really my sister” and even sets her up so that his friends can attempt to rape her one afternoon (luckily, they failed). And then there’s her other adopted black brother (David) who is the novel’s other main character and Julia’s best friend in the world (they’re practically soul mates).

Growing up in that kind of house and with that kind of family it seems only natural that the kids rebel. Act out. Do everything that is forbidden.

If Mother could only see me now: naked, drunk, listening to rock music and reading Glamour magazine. For shame! she’d say, and the thought of her pinched face makes me laugh.

The first part of the novel deals with many themes such as racism, anger, abuse and religion.

The second part is entitled TRUST NO ONE. After reaching a burning point with their parents, both Julia and David are sent to a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. David goes first (after acting out against his mother, after taking a beating from his dad with a 2×4 that breaks his arm and after trying to cut his wrists to commit suicide).

“David cut himself,” I say over the TV report, gripping the counter with both hands; the words are hard to say.

(…) “Tell him to put a Band-Aid on it,” she (the MOTHER) says.

(…) “He cut his wrist!” I yell, cupping my hands around my mouth as if she were half a mile away. She exhales exasperated. “Why can’t I just have one day of peace?”

And then later…

“Well, are you taking him to the hospital?” I ask.

She (the MOTHER) snorts and jerks the salt shaker over the skillet. “They’re just surface cuts,” she says. “If you want to kill yourself, you slice down, not sideways.” (…)

“But doesn’t he need…”

“He’s just trying to get attention. Ignore him.”

David leaves after New Year’s and things start taking a turn for the worse for Julia. She leaves home, moves in with her other brother and finds a part time job. Then her mother calls, sobbing because their dog died (“I loved that dog,” my mother wailed on the phone. “And you killed her.”)…

It was my mother – who had never in my seventeen years told me that she loved me – getting all lathered up over the dog.

A few hours later, I was arrested.

The police send Julia home, but she chooses to go to jail to avoid her dad’s violence. When she goes in front of a judge, she is told that she can either declare herself as an emancipated minor (one that is unable to take care of herself) or go to the reform school in the Dominican Republic where her brother already is.

“I said, I’ll go. I’ll go to the Dominican Republic.”

I will go to David and be family to him. I can’t live with my parents. I don’t love Scott (her “boyfriend”). I can’t support myself.

The second part was what really “attracted” me to the novel. I came across a documentary some time ago called Kidnapped for Christ about these kids who’d been sent by their parents to a reform school where they were living in hell on earth … all in the name of God and Jesus Christ. I’m not very religious, but it caught my attention because I live in the Dominican Republic. I’ve been to Jarabacoa in the mountains where the school is located…I’ve probably driven right by it or nearby it without even knowing or realizing what horrors went on there behind closed iron gates and barb-wired walls. Scary.

The second part of the novel describes David and Julia’s life in Escuela Caribe, which is too horrible for me to describe in details. You have to read it to believe it and also see the documentary. It’s just too hard to swallow and too incredible…and not in any good way.

My pulse quickens. I’m on Hispaniola, Treasure Island – the book I read three times in fifth grade. Maybe there are adventures to be had here, maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

She’s right…it’s not so bad … it’s much, much worse!

“No lights?” I ask.

“Nope,” Debbie says. “No electricity. We’re pretty much isolated out here. Pretty much alone.

(…) Sometime in the dark, the deadbolt slid shut on the door, locking me in. Where could I have run?

The students at Escuela Caribe live by a rank system…

The student will begin The Program on Level 0 and work his way up to Level 5.

Level 0

Must be watched at all times

Must ask to move

Must ask to sit

Must ask to stand

Must ask to eat

Must not communicate with members of the opposite sex or other zero-rankers

Level 0 carries no privileges – no makeup, jewelry or house pops.

(…)

Requirements for Level 1.

Memorize Matt. 5:1-1

Memorize Isaiah 53:1-6

Memorize Titus 2:11-14

Memorize names of New Testament Books

3 minutes of leg lifts

15 sit-ups

15 push-ups

15 suicides (squat thrusts)

(…)

“You earn points for attitude, academics, and good old hard work.”

Luckily, there is a happy ending to the story and their hellish stay in the Dominican Republic (a place that most other people believe is PARADISE on earth) ends and they spend a day on the beach before going back to the United States again (but not home). The happy ending is, however, shattered and the novel ends with a sad epilogue and an interview with Julia Scheeres that wraps it all up.

It’s definitely an eye opening novel, one that makes you shake your head many, many times in shock and disbelief. I’ll definitely recommend reading it once … that should be enough because it’s the kind of story that’s likely to stick with you (and haunt you) for quite some time.

By clicking on the image below, you can view to novel on http://www.amazon.com

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