Check out this website. It looks great huh? A perfect Christian place to send your teen.
Well, it’s not. Please see my story on Victory under Jeneen Miller and Heather Tierney. It’s the same place. It was rebranded to continue business and abuse. Thanks to Alexandra Zayas, it finally closed down. Please see articles. Thank you.
This is only one of many stories of Victory Christian Academy which is equivalent to Lighthouse in Jay, Florida.
My name is Candice Aiston. I attended Victory Christian Academy in Jay, Florida from June 19, 1992 to June 4, 1995. Before I attended VCA, I was not overtly religious, although my parents baptized and raised me in the Catholic faith. I was sent to VCA because my parents felt that they were desperate for help. I had been expelled from two private schools, had been arrested for shoplifting, and had used illegal drugs on a few occasions. I had severe emotional problems and depression due to the death of my biological mother and my subsequent adoption, and was seeing a psychiatrist.
My parents were worried that I was on a downhill path and turned to Mike Palmer for help on the recommendation of a friend whose daughter was in the school. Speaking with Mike Palmer increased my parents’ fears, leading them to believe that if they did not send me to VCA, I would probably die. In fact, he told them stories about girls who died after their parents decided against sending them to his school. My parents were so desperate to get me to this school that they tricked me into getting on the plane by telling me that we were going to look at boarding schools in California and Florida (which I was willing to consider), and that we were also going to visit Disney World.
My First Experiences at VCA
June 19, 1992 was the worst day of my life. When we got to VCA, we went into Mike Palmer’s office. He asked me right in front of my parents whether I was a druggie and a slut. I felt violated, but responded that I had tried drugs and that I had been raped a few months earlier. I don’t know why I decided to have a tell-all right then. I hadn’t told my parents or anyone. He said that with the crowd I had been hanging out with, he wasn’t surprised, as though it was my fault. He knew nothing about the crowd I hung out with. Then he informed me that my parents had enrolled me in the school. With that, I was taken by two “helpers,” age 15 and 17 to take a shower. When I was in the shower, they took my clothes and gave me horrible thrift-store rags to wear. None of the clothing I had brought was acceptable under VCA rules. I had mostly jeans and T-shirts. They told me that it was a sin for women to wear pants or anything above the knee. They took all of my jewelry because friends had given them to me. They told me to forget about my friends at home. I would not be allowed to talk to them at all, or even be allowed to talk about them. I never saw my best friend ever again. I never got to say goodbye. It still brings tears to my eyes as I write this. She moved away a few months after I left Hawaii. Palmer told my parents to throw away anything relating to old friends, so when I finally got home, there was no way to find her.
This place was so foreign to me, with all its rules and people my own age telling me what to do. Right away, I was told a series of rules, mostly words I wasn’t allowed to say, including: yeah, pants and cool. We were not allowed to talk about our problems, which was exactly what I needed to do at that time in my life. We were not allowed to talk about anyone outside the school besides our immediate family. We weren’t even allowed to talk about famous people. There were also rules that said I couldn’t talk to or look at certain girls. There were only two people in a dorm of about twenty to whom I could speak. I cried the whole first weekend I was there, and was given no sympathy by the staff. Some girls that I wasn’t allowed to talk to would look at me with pity, but the girls I was allowed to talk to just sort of brushed me off.
I had been a vegetarian for a few years, and was forced to eat meat my first day. I either had to eat what was in front of me or let it sit in the refrigerator until I ate it all. I ate the same gross meat for three days, which is probably a health code violation. A few times that I was there, a new girl would be forced to eat such a large amount of food that she would throw up. I’ve seen Palmer catch a girl’s vomit and shove it into her face.
Church was the most shocking part of my first few days. There was a lot of yelling and Palmer would bang his Bible on the pulpit. He would single girls out that he thought were “wolves” (as opposed to “sheep”) and humiliate them. He would call certain girls whores and tell personal stories about them, such as instances in which a girl was raped. He would make it clear that she was to blame for what happened to her. He would ask a girl if she had a boyfriend and if she said yes, he would say that her boyfriend didn’t love her and that he was only using her for sex. He would keep saying it even if she cried, and he would make fun of her for crying. I’ve seen Palmer throw hymn books at girls and hit girls over the head with his Bible. I’ve seen him yell in a girl’s face so that he was spitting on her. I’ve seen him sit girls up in the front of chapel facing the congregation and humiliate her. Palmer is a horrible man. He gets a thrill out of power-trips and hurting people. I’d read the Bible, and I could see no correlation between Jesus’ principles and Palmer’s principles.
Most of each day revolved around the Bible. Here is the schedule for Monday through Thursday as I remember:
6:00am Wake up/pray
6:05-6:30 Brush teeth/get ready
6:30-6:45 Read Bible
6:45-7:00 Devotion (Bible lesson by another student)
7:00-7:15 Share “blessings,” then form group circle: sing Christian song, recite Bible verse, pray
7:30-8:30 Clean up/free time (ALLOWED TO TALK)
1:00-1:25 Prepare lunch/free time (ALLOWED TO TALK)
1:25-1:30 Share blessings/circle: sing song, recite Bible verse, pray
1:45-3:00 Chores/free time (ALLOWED TO TALK)
3:00-4:00 Bible Memo (Bible lesson by staff)
4:00-4:30 Read Bible
4:30-5:00 Quiet free time
5:00-5:50 Free time/chores (ALLOWED TO TALK)
5:50-6:00 Share blessings/circle: sing song, recite Bible verse, pray
6:15-7:00 Free time/chores (ALLOWED TO TALK)
7:00-9:00+ Chapel – TBA Bedtime
The total time each day for Bible-related activities is at least 330 minutes, unless you count “school” in which we “learned” from the Accelerated Christian Education program, then Bible time is at least 430 minutes per day. Sometimes, evening chapel lasted well beyond 9:00 p.m., until as late as midnight. On those days, there would be over 600 minutes spent on Bible indoctrination. Meanwhile, girls were afforded only a maximum of 255 minutes of time in which speaking was allowed. However, most girls had jobs to perform during the times in which speaking was allowed, so some girls were afforded no speaking time at all.
Friday, we had quiet time the entire day. Then at 5 p.m. we started our Friday night. We didn’t have to go to chapel. We usually had a pretty good meal and candy. Then we usually watched a movie. The only movies we were allowed to watch were Disney movies and movies about Jesus. We watched a movie once about another school like ours. I think it was about one of the Straight programs. I think it was supposed to teach us that we weren’t so bad off after all, but it seemed exactly the same, except we had a fundamental Baptist theme.
Saturday was a day of chores. There were chores every day, but all of Saturday was spent doing chores. We didn’t have dinner on Saturday. Then we had chapel in the evening. Sunday was a full day of quiet time. It was the only day we got to drink real milk instead of powdered milk. It was church day. We went twice. In between, we had lunch and a four-hour period in which we had to stay on our beds. Sunday night was when there would be “rap” sessions, in which the staff and helpers would criticize different girls for everything from being annoying to being a phony Christian.
The Accelerated Christian Education program is a useless go-at-your-own-pace learning system. There are 12 paces for each subject for each year. So ideally, a student finishes 60 paces each year. Each pace is about 20-40 pages long, and consists of a few paragraphs of information followed by a few questions about the information, then more paragraphs and questions, and so on. The answers to the questions are found verbatim in the preceding paragraph. In each pace, the student is required to memorize a Bible verse. There is also a cartoon throughout each pace in which Ace, the main character throughout the PACE series, and his friends learn a lesson about Bible values.
At the end of each pace is a three-page “test.” The “teacher” (I use that term loosely, since they are not licensed or even college graduates) tapes the pace together except for the test portion so you can’t look at the information inside the book. Honestly, if someone needed to look back to pass the test, they probably have some sort of learning disability that should be addressed. The questions on the test are the exact same questions from the problems in the pace. Nothing is taught in any subject which may contradict the Bible. Since the program was so easy, I was able to graduate when I was sixteen-and-a-half, then had to stay and take extra courses until just after my 17th birthday. I was valedictorian, which, for all practical purposes, is unimpressive. Extracurricular activities at VCA include: nothing. I was into track, cross-country, and soccer before VCA.
My biggest complaint about VCA is the emotional abuse. Examples:
- I was told my parents were going to go to hell since they are Catholic and that it was my job to make sure they “got saved.”
- I was forced to watch videos about “the rapture,” in which non-Christians and non-fundamentals were portrayed as evil Satan-worshippers and were ultimately sent to burn in hell after all the Christians were taken to heaven. Even people who thought they were saved had been wrong and were left behind. It made me seriously question whether I was saved or not. I tried to get re-saved almost every single day I was at VCA and for months after I left. I had nightmares about hell every night.
- I was forced to listen to “fire-and-brimstone” preaching. I was called a whore and a druggie. I was repeatedly told that I was a bad person. I was criticized for being too smart.
- I was not allowed to speak for weeks at a time.
- I was forced to eat meat when I was a vegetarian.
- I was forced to eat large portions of food, or risk being force-fed.
- For punishment, I was deprived of food and made to sit and watch others eat.
- I was given lines to write for violating rules that didn’t exist or were unknown to me. For example, I was given 1000 lines to write for accidentally throwing away an elastic cord that was there to hold a trash bag in the trash can. I didn’t know the cord was there. I just lifted the trash bag, and the cord went in with the trash. By the way, 1000 lines are nearly impossible to write in the allotted 24-hour period. If you don’t finish them on time, they double. This happened to me. My lines doubled and doubled until they reached about 10,000 and I was placed in “detention.” When you are in detention, all you do all day is sit and write your lines. You are not allowed to talk, your food portion is cut in half, and you don’t get dessert. They take away any stuffed animals and pictures of your family. You are also not allowed to participate in Friday night activities. Instead of watching a movie and eating a good meal, you have to sit with the other people in detention, or people who got more than 14 demerits that week, and you write lines. I was in detention a month that time.
If I didn’t behave in conformance with the staff’s expectations, I was ridiculed in front of the entire school. Every week, we would have a “rap,” in which girls were encouraged to say bad things about the other girls in front of everyone. Staff would bring up that they thought a girl smelled bad or something embarrassing in front of everyone. Preachers would also single girls out in chapel to harass and intimidate. Girls were ridiculed for having a bad attitude or crying. Some had personal stories told about them in front of everyone, such as how they had been raped because of their own fault. Frequently, Palmer would have a girl bring her chair up to the front of the chapel and sit facing the crowd while he humiliated her. He would yell at her while standing no more than an inch from her face, sometimes pointing his finger into her face so that he was actually poking her. Sometimes if a girl seemed to not be paying attention, he would throw a hymn book at her or hit her over the head with a Bible.
I had no access to a telephone. I also had limited access to communication with my parents, period. The staff read all incoming and outgoing mail. If a girl tried to tell her parents about something going on in the school, the staff would either throw the letter away of black out parts they didn’t want the parent to see. The staff also blacked out things from our parents that they didn’t want us to read. We were not allowed to write letters to friends or other unapproved family members. My parents told me that the staff would write notes in the margins if I tried to report instances of abuse or bizarre rituals. They would write that I was lying and trying to manipulate them. My parents feel that they were coached into thinking I was lying about everything. They believed the staff so much that every time the staff said I wasn’t ready to come home, my parents made me stay longer. I stayed three years in all.
When I left, the staff tried to convince my parents to make me stay for even longer. They said I wasn’t ready to go home yet. I thought I would never leave. I told my parents I would kill myself if I had to stay any longer. I was completely serious. There was a picture board at the school that showed how long each girl had been there. They saw that I had been there about two years longer than everyone else there and finally decided to take me home.
Sometimes, when a girl complained in a letter to her parents, Palmer would bring the letter to chapel and read it to everyone. Then the girl would be ridiculed, and other girls were encouraged to participate in humiliating her. Girls who did not accept the Palmer’s form of Christianity were denied privileges until they caved in and either succumbed to the brainwashing or faked it for the sake of survival.
If girls in the school became best friends, they were put on “separation” in which they were not allowed to talk to one another, look at one another, or even talk about one another. I was put on separation from approximately ten girls in my three-year stay for no other reason than being best friends with a girl. You can imagine how adept my social skills were after I left VCA.
We were not allowed to touch in any way, except while holding hands in a prayer circle. No tapping a shoulder, no hugging a sad friend, no friendly pat on the back. If you accidentally touched someone, you would be given a demerit – 500 lines that would say, “I will not touch girls,” or a Bible verse relating to homosexuality. I still flinch a bit when someone so much as taps me on the shoulder. After all, it was three years that I lived with this rule. Some girls were sent to the school to be “cured” of homosexuality. These girls would be called “queers” and “dikes” by Palmer in chapel. He would preach about how they were an abomination to the Lord. It was extremely cruel.
Racist language was used all the time. I’ve heard the following in chapel: nigger, beaner, chink, jap, towel-head, and sand-nigger. We had girls at the school who were Black, Mexican, Asian, Indian, Persian, Hawaiian, and others. Some staff let their beliefs be known that God did not approve of interracial relationships even though we had girls there who were biracial.
When I had been at VCA for two years (I was 15), I had a relationship with a girl who was 18 and a staff member (she had been a student before turning 18 and was sent to the school by her parents to cure her of homosexuality). I wasn’t a homosexual, but I think I needed some sort of affection after going so long without it. A girl in the school found out about it and told Mrs. Palmer. The staff member was fired, but was rehired after I graduated. The staff never told my parents, and I believe the reason they didn’t was because of liability issues. They made me feel like they were doing me a favor by not telling my parents, and that my parents would be completely disgusted with me if they found out. I never told anyone what happened until just a few months ago. The staff member no longer works at VCA. Her parents now run the school – the Cookstons.