Religious Alchemy: Changing Wolves into Sheep
I think we need to talk about something serious. Something that a lot of people have no idea about, not due to ignorance, but more from being deceived. I am going to use my own personal experience to explain, and hopefully change some minds about one of the largest charity organization in the Country. The Salvation Army.
First lets examine the origin of this organization. From this point forward I will refer to the Salvation Army as ‘SA’. The SA was founded by a Mr. William Booth in London England. “William Booth embarked upon his ministerial career in 1852, desiring to win the lost multitudes of England to Christ. He walked the streets of London to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute.” states the SA official website. This in itself is a shock to a lot of people who don’t realize the SA is in fact a ‘CHURCH’. In 1865 Booth, had adopted the persona less of a traveling Evangelist, and more a minister of the word of god and as the SA website states. “Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards were among Booth’s first converts to Christianity. To congregations who were desperately poor, he preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead people to Christ and link them to a church for further spiritual guidance.”
This lead to an uproar among local existing Churches, as many of the congregations looked down on these people. Seeing them as cursed by god, and beyond help. Booth, seeing this discrimination decides to teach these downtrodden people to preach Booth’s Spiritual diatribe to others like themselves. Soon these people were leaders in the Church, preaching and singing in the streets as living testimony to the power of God.
By 1874 Booth had more than 1000 volunteers, and 42 Evangelists, when Booth assumed the Title of General Superintendent. The followers referred to him as ‘General’, and the followers referred to themselves as the ‘Hallelujah Army’ In 1878, The group was referred to finally as the Salvation Army, a group of volunteer soldiers fighting to spread the word of Christianity, and to help the poor and downtrodden souls.
This is the Actual beginnings of the ‘Salvationist’ Church. At a first glance, it seems a good and kind organization, doing the right thing for society’s throwaways. In the British Isles, between 1881 and 1885, 250,000 people were converted under the ministry of the SA. The SA first came to the United States in around 1880, and has been going strong since.
BLOOD AND FIRE this is the motto of the SA. The ACTUAL motto, they have since adopted a far more cozy and lovable tag line for the general public ‘Doing the Most Good’. Sounds nice huh? Really makes you feel good about donating money into those red kettles, with the smiling bell ringers, and you think nothing of donating your old clothes, and furniture, electronics, cars, boats, etc. to them as well.
“”The Salvation Army is NOT a charity, its a Salvationist CHURCH!”
they also don’t want you to know… where the money comes from to pay for the “officers” (the folks you see in uniform) housing, health care, dental insurance, vision insurance, vehicles, gas, heating, electric bill, phone, cell phones, internet, cable, uniforms, daycare, food, retirement, cash salaries and how much that means they make each year. You got it…red kettle donations!” A very large portion of the money donated during the 6 week ‘Church Fundraiser’ pays to expand their denomination (overhead). The Salvation Army’s U.S. real estate holdings came to about $4 billion as late as 2008 — and that’s only about a third of its real estate assets scattered around the globe.
Now I know what you are saying, The SA does good for people, and I will admit this, they do have some good programs, but beware the wolves. The money that gets spent on these ‘good’ outreach problems is mostly from government funds and grants . Last year’s grants and government funds are estimated to total more than eight hundred million dollars. Keep this total in mind.
I suppose you are wondering what all this is about?
I want to relay to you, MY experience INSIDE this organization. In doing so I will reveal a bit more about WHO I am, and Where I have come from.
Starting in late 2008, after a long battle with some health problems, I found myself without a job, and no means to pay my rent. I spent a couple months sleeping on couches, and accepting the charity of others. Over time these opportunities grew less and less, and I found myself in a really bad spot. At this time I had no choice but to swallow my pride and began sleeping at a Homeless shelter in New Bedford. It was a terrible place, with some less than wonderful people, not to say they were all bad, some were just in an unfortunate place in life, like myself. After spending December through March sleeping there, around Mid March, rumor had it that the shelter was closing, due to lack of funding. Sometimes rumors are true.
The last week of March I got dropped off at the shelter at about 10pm, it was a Thursday night, I walked up to the door and I pulled the handle and the door was locked. So i walked around back to check that door, locked. I was freaking out. I officially had no roof over my head and it was not even April. A friend of mine had given me a card for the Worcester ARC (adult rehabilitation center). I called, and was told by the woman who was in charge of intakes to be there at 10am the next morning. And I was.
I got to the building and pulled up to the entry door of the building, I had one bag with some clothes, and that was It. I entered through the outer doors into a enclosed area where I had to state my name and business and be buzzed in. Upon which time I was handed a packet of paperwork to fill out. A standard type thing up until there was, staring me in the face asking me about how I felt about the bible, and Jesus. This was troubling, but i was willing to deal with it if it was what was going to get my life pointed in the right direction. I was entering into a ‘6 month’ program of what they describe as work rehabilitation, and responsible clean living. wait… Clean living? Not an addict? That’s OK too. You just need to have a Percoset or smoke a bowl to make sure you pee dirty, otherwise you cant get in. Oh, and if you have any physical limitations, that they would have to make accommodation for while in the course of ‘work therapy’, you CAN’T get in. Upon successful failure of your drug test, they promptly search your belongings, and document each piece of clothing. and personal items, including cell phones, or any other means you may have of communication outside the building, aside from consumable items (soap, toothpaste). Then you get your clothing list. The clothing list is pretty much 4 Days of work clothes, same for casual clothes, a Suit and ties, multiple shirts. 3 pair of shoes. Bed clothes etc. Sounds pretty OK, here is the thing, you don’t OWN this stuff. We will get the major repercussions of this fact in a bit. At this point I was lead to my new ‘home’ , basically a room with 3 other guys. On the way there Rob, my guide, asks ‘do you snore?’ I was like… ‘Oh yeah I do’. He says to me… ‘change of plans’… and I was lead to a large room with 11 beds in it, that they affectionately called the ‘Sawmill’. At which time I was left to get settled and find my way to lunch, and ‘shop’ for clothes in the thrift store.
At noon time I found my way to the dining hall, and had a decent lunch, met some of the other ‘Beneficiaries’. Yeah, that’s what they called us. It seemed like a fairly diverse crowd of people, and so far everyone was very friendly and cool, after my lunch I made my way to the store to get my clothes together to fill out my voucher. All of these items were then documented, as to color, condition, size, etc. and put in my inventory file. I then had the rest of the afternoon to do as I please. Once ‘Work Therapy’ let out in the warehouse I got a chance to meet more of my new ‘housemates’ and was feeling like I had made a good choice. Right up until my first experience at Chapel. Let me run down a typical day.
- 5:30am First Wake up call on loudspeaker.
- 6:00am Second call
- 6:30am Breakfast
- 7:00am Present to work therapy assignment, ready to work.
- 9:00am Coffee Break (donated day old muffins, donuts)
- 11:30am Lunch (Sandwiches, soup, hamburger etc. very school lunch)
- 3:45pm End of work therapy.
- 4:00pm Group Process (various classes, on anger management, coping skills)
- 5:15pm Vespers (yeah church every evening, this was an opportunity to reprimand publicly)
- 5:45pm Dinner (dinner was never horrible, but until the end of my stay never so great either.)
- 6:30pm Classes, Bible Study, and NA meetings. Yes NA meetings even for non addicts.
- 10:00pm In room for bed check (11:00 on weekends)
Now check this out, for Vespers, and Dinner, you have to wear dress pants and a collared shirt. Men were allowed NO CONTACT with the women, not even friendly discussion. The first 2 weeks of being there you get no telephone privileges, no outside privileges, and no visitors. On Sunday your day begins at 7am with breakfast, to which you have to wear a suit, and tie, as well as attending a 2 hour church service at the chapel, then you are required to attend a mass at either the local Salvation Army church, or a catholic church of your choosing. All of this has to be documented, and you have to provide a church program for the current week for your outside church.
Work therapy went like this, you reported to the warehouse at 6:45 and prepared to get down to work, the ‘beneficiaries’ were broken into groups, some worked on the dock, unloading incoming truckloads of donations, others worked in Bric-a-brac, sorting the items and boxing them up for distribution to other SA Thrift stores. The remainder worked in hanging and sorting clothing donations. Which is where I found myself for the first 2 months I was there. Working in hanging sorting and counting clothing was a big deal, we were watched over, literally, by a man named Mark in what can be described no other way than a guard tower, as well as 3 ‘supervisors’. These 3 were ‘beneficiaries’, all close to being completely through the program and graduating. Now these people were there for 2 reasons, First to make sure you were producing the numbers they would like to see, as to keep the stores adequately stocked, and also there was no pilfering of goods, as donation bags were opened and sorted through. Now keep in mind a couple things. We were expected to hang between 1000 and 1200 pieces a day, This never changes, and it was always a press. So suffice it to say this stuff is selling like crazy in the thrift stores. So, in going through all these garments the sorters would have to go through the pockets, and purses, handbags, wallets donated. We all know of the old friend of the family who didn’t believe in banks etc. and hid their money? Well those stories are true, not to mention the jewelry, credit cards, etc. These supervisory staff kept a very close eye on such things and whenever it was found, it was whisked away to the ‘office’. Along with that, anytime designer clothing would come through the sorting tables it was culled from the counting area, to areas unknown, I can assure you it wasn’t in the Thrift Stores. Same with any sold Silver flatware, platters, goblets, etc. Now i can understand if you are saying to yourself right now, surely an entire warehouse full of addicts, recent prison parolees, etc. can manage to make off with this stuff. Some did, but for the most part you couldn’t. For one simple reason, remember the clothing inventory? Personal Belongings? These people reserved the right to toss your room at any time and finding any items in your locker/nightstand that match the list, was enough for them to remove you from the program immediately. This happened frequently.
So lets look at some numbers. You have an Organization, operating under the guise of a charity, when it is actually a church, it runs a six week campaign each holiday season, for which it hires only part time seasonal help to work. They are granted 800 million a year by the feds, plus on top of that they run thrift stores, staffed by minimum wage, part time employees. Now in these ARC warehouses, at least the one I worked in you would have 10 to 15 people racking clothes, at 1200 pieces each, 5 days a week, no item sold for less than 2 dollars, and all were donated. The people doing the work of sorting and hanging, received monetary compensation of 5 to 20 dollars a WEEK, depending on your progress through the program. Not to mention all the items from Furniture, electronics, home decor, etc. This adds up to an awful lot of money. Most of which is made in the name of HELPING the POOR, and the DOWNTRODDEN.
People like me, addicts who have turned to them because they offer so much in the surface, people placed there straight out of Prison. People who have lived desperate lives, and know what real hardship is. Wolves. Absolute predators, not in a bad or malicious way, but in a sense that once you have struggled you know how valuable some things in life are, and are willing to go to drastic means to get, and keep them. The entire mission of the SA is to take these people and ‘reform’ them. To use religion to persuade them into a false sense of security, ‘god will provide’ was a popular sentiment. Bullshit, the one certainty there was you would be worked to the bone, force fed a pack of lies, and forced to follow rules that even well meaning people couldn’t follow all the time. This was no accident. For each infraction, you lost a week of the program, for any day you were sick and unable to work, you lost a week of the program, talk to a female beneficiary? Week lost. Miss a Class? An outside NA meeting? Church service? All good for a week lost. This assured a steady long term supply of cheap labor, that had no other outlet or place to go in many cases.
I was lucky enough(at the time) to escape the horrors of the warehouse, and ended up working in the kitchen, and here is where I really got to see and hear a lot of what went on(and still does) there. I quickly became friendly with my supervisor Dave , who while now a full time employee of the SA, was a former ‘beneficiary’ he would relay information about the who what and where in the course of conversation, also we were exposed to a lot of the staff from the office, and heard all the gossip about who and what.
My entire reason for fighting so hard to get on kitchen duty was twofold, first I needed to escape the warehouse, with its constant oversight, the being talked to like an animal, having to ask permission to use the bathroom, and constant barrage of Christian Praise music being blared at us over the loudspeakers. Secondly to try and help the dining situation for everyone. The food was terrible, because the people preparing the food were unskilled, and frankly didn’t care. I’m a fat kid. I like good food, so I weaseled my way in there, and after a couple of days there was a definite improvement in overall attitude. These people who have been getting worked so hard were suddenly being fed well, with good tasting nutritious foods. I felt great about it, and as far as I knew Everyone right on up to the top was thrilled with the quick turnaround and change. They just had never had anyone capable of preparing food for 120 people, that was delicious, and good for them. It’s true an army marches on its Stomach.
Over time while being there I saw a lot of people come and go, some would fail their random drug screenings, others would miss curfew, or neglect to sign in and out of the building correctly, which was considered AWOL, and cause for immediate removal from the program, some would ‘blow numbers’, a common term used to describe failing the breathalyzer test each and every one of us had to take any time wee left the front foyer of the building. Others would fall victim to the random room search, and have an item found that wasn’t on their inventory. Still others would just be gone, and no one REALLY knew why.
I made some great friends there, and I was really on track to getting my life in order, despite having to bend to the foolishness this place required. See when you are desperate for help, you will try anything you can to make it right. I did my best, I sat through NA meetings I didn’t need, took anger management and coping skills classes I could have done without, and spent COUNTLESS hours in Church, and Bible Study, learning about this, in my eyes, Bullshit Religion. I took umbrage with this one fact, I questioned the things we were being told, not in a confrontational way, I just wanted these claims substantiated. The having to go to church services every day of the week along with the bullshit dress codes drove me bonkers. But I stuck it out.
One afternoon, i was called into my weekly ‘counseling’ session with Rick, my counselor. During this session and the next several, I was asked if I had decided to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord, and Savior. Each time telling them no, for the simple reason that I did not believe that the Bible is the word of God, nor did I believe that Jesus was the son of god. I explained my ideological position, and told them that if I were to change how I felt about my own spirituality to fit someone else’s mold, I would be betraying myself, and all that I had come to believe was right and true about MY OWN faith. Always met with a disapproving shake of the head, and an ‘I appreciate your candor on the subject Mike’. I felt it was the one battle i could fight with people of God, and if not win, at least be respected for my tenacity.
Boy was I wrong.
After Four and a Half months in this place, and doing my best to follow the rules, and do a good honest days work for a measly pay. I was called to the Resident Directors Office one morning not long after I had started working in the kitchen for the evening meal. I headed in, and was faced with Rick, David, the Director, and Mrs and Mr Copeland the ‘Majors’ (remember this place is run by an ARMY OF GOD and the people in the top positions follow a military Hierarchy). I was presented with some ‘Facts’ apparently there were items not on my inventory list in my possession and and they turned up in a random search of my room, my bed wasn’t made ‘Correctly’, and my refusal to accept Jesus as my lord and savior was apparently disruptive to the process of helping the others. In other words, I had questioned the ‘Facts’ too many times, and I wasn’t going to break, or for that matter even bend to the whim of this Cult. I was told I was no longer welcome in the program and I had to leave right then. (this was a standard practice)I was then taken to my room, where I was told to collect MY personal belongings, and make my way to the lobby, and I was told I was not to be let into the building again. (This was to make sure I didn’t tell any of the other beneficiaries about my dismissal.)
So here I was 4 months plus into a program, to help me get back on my feet. I had just been thrown to the Lions. I was once again, without a home, without money, and now to compound matters 50 miles from anyone I knew that could help me. These SO CALLED people of god, preaching the word of Jesus, and his everlasting unconditional love had thrown yet another charlatan in the ring. The Hypocrisy of the situation still to this day astounds me. I sat in that Lobby for 7 hours, until someone could come get me. I checked myself into a Mental Heath unit that night, as I was unsure of what I was going to do. I just figured it was the safest place for me. This was august of 2009. I still haven’t managed to get myself fully on track. The recession and my own health problems have been a huge obstacle. Yet I still battle on.
With all this being said, I beg of you all. Do NOT donate to these people. They are taking advantage of the public, and pulling the wool over your eyes. Every time you see one of those SA ‘Officers’ in a uniform, remember, the money you put in the red kettle, or made on sales of your donated goods, pays for them to live. The Highest ranking officer in Massachusetts lives in a 900,000 dollar home in Needham, he drives a new car every 2 years, his health and dental is fully paid for, as are utilities, cell phones, gas, and a petty cash account. Along with 17,000 a year stipend. The Majors, Copeland from the Worcester ARC where I was live in a 350,000 dollar house, with all the same benefits. This goes for countless others across the board in the SA. So much for being humble people of God. Make sure you ask them all about their European Vacations 3 times a year. Paid for by YOU GUESSED IT.
Its a Big FUCKING SCAM. Don’t let them fool you.
These people have a notion that you can take a desperate person, down on their luck, and asking, pleading for help, and by the word of GOD reform them by working them in a slave like way to learn humility, and responsibility. The only responsibility being demonstrated there was the lining of the SA’s pockets. You cannot change Wolves into Sheep. Not without getting bitten. It’s time we started biting back.