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Escaping the Amish
July 16, 2008 4:46 AM   Subscribe

"I hadn’t gotten beaten by my mom that day, and we hadn’t had any significant arguments over anything. I thought that if I died, I wanted to die without being mad at my mom. So I thought, I might as well take the opportunity to do so before I got back to the house—at which point who knows whether there would be another fight or a beating." Escaping the Amish.
posted by jbickers (98 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, that's a heck of a story.
posted by pjern at 5:26 AM on July 16, 2008


Harrowing article. However, I was under the impression that Amish communities could differ to a fair degree, in that they could each govern themselves according to what rules they saw fit. Also, the article states that teens are not given a choice about practicing the religion... but what about rumspringa? I also believe that you aren't a member of the church until baptized as an adult, thus introducing some sort of choice on the part of the teen (though leaving an Amish life would be very difficult).

I'm far from an expert on the Amish though, but perhaps we ought take this with a grain of salt?
posted by boubelium at 5:26 AM on July 16, 2008


Okay... what about part 2?
posted by k8t at 5:26 AM on July 16, 2008


Kind of a tease to post this when part 2 isn't available yet, but still very interesting.
posted by JanetLand at 5:27 AM on July 16, 2008


1 data point is interesting, but I'm quite sure that there are a wide variety of experiences, Amish people, ways to raise children, etc.


Devil's Playground is a very good documentary on Amish young people, BTW.
posted by k8t at 5:29 AM on July 16, 2008


We require part 2.
posted by smackwich at 5:37 AM on July 16, 2008


I would have much preferred it if you'd waited until part 2 was up before posting.
posted by Malor at 5:38 AM on July 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


This is her?
posted by pracowity at 5:44 AM on July 16, 2008


Yup, and interestingly, her blog is completely empty.
posted by jbickers at 5:47 AM on July 16, 2008


boubelium, I think you're right. My dad is close friends with an Old Order Amish man and his extended family in Lancaster county and their lives are much more open than this girl's experience. Moses has several children who did not join the church, and he and his wife have refused to shun them. So far, the elders have made noise about it but no one has tried to enforce the rules and it's been nearly 10 years for the oldest unbaptized son. Perhaps living in larger, more public communities (like in Lancaster or the Amish in Ohio) is not as restrictive?

I'm glad this poor girl got away from her situation, though. Looking forward to reading Part 2.
posted by chihiro at 5:48 AM on July 16, 2008


I hate the Amish with the white hot passion of a thousand stars. I also hate, with perhaps more intensity, former Amish poseurs who claim to have learned English as a second language and proudly proclaim that they've won a national hand modeling contract.

In ten years, the Amish will have cell phones and internet. Like their milk production barns, they will justify it for work or something. Then, in twenty years, the Amish will be no more. Quote me on that.
posted by billysumday at 5:50 AM on July 16, 2008


Part two would have been a good addition to this.

Like others, I wasn't going to jump right to the conclusion that this one story was a global truth about the Amish, I was a bit curious and decided to google Amish+Child Abuse...and happened on this article...and found a quote about a young man whose father used a rocking chair in response to stuttering...

""When I was 12 years old, I took beatings that were beyond human," Yoder said. He stuttered as a child, and that angered his father, who told Yoder to put his big toe under the rocking chair."

Strange... must be a small world out there in Amish land, or is this a common response to stuttering? I wish I had time (at work today) to check this out further, there's a slight wiff of not quite right.
posted by HuronBob at 5:51 AM on July 16, 2008


I have a friend who was raised Amish and who is now a liberal Mennonite (essentially a mainstream Christian). She's still very close to her family. There are so, so many factions of Amish and Mennonite and although Torah's experience isn't an isolated case, it isn't universal for all Amish young people who leave their church.

Here in Ontario where we have a large population of Amish and Mennonite in the communities north of Kitchener-Waterloo, it's more typical for 3 or 4 of the 8 Amish children in a family to become Mennonite as adults, and to maintain close ties with their birth family.
posted by orange swan at 5:57 AM on July 16, 2008


I wasn't going to jump right to the conclusion that this one story was a global truth about the Amish,

The only global truth seems to be that Amish families aren't so different than a lot of other families. Tolstoy's unhappy family is a myth.

I hate the Amish with the white hot passion of a thousand stars.

And another global truth: no matter who you are, someone hates you.
posted by three blind mice at 6:11 AM on July 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


Here's an article from Legal Affairs about incest in the Amish community.

And yeah, I would have waited for Par 2 to show up. Can I just say how irritating it is, the "Wait for Part II tomorrow! And Part III sometime after that!" when each part is only about 500-1000 words each?
posted by availablelight at 6:22 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


"and proudly proclaim that they've won a national hand modeling contract."

For the record, I am going into seclusion today in order to try to talk myself out of writing a lengthy and possibly libellous fantasy post about an attractive ex-Amish woman who is a national hand job champion.

Doesn't mean I won't think about it, though.
posted by Mike D at 6:32 AM on July 16, 2008


billysumday: "In ten years, the Amish will have cell phones and internet. Like their milk production barns, they will justify it for work or something. Then, in twenty years, the Amish will be no more. Quote me on that."

The Amish have survived for a long time, I don't think that cell phones are going to do them in.
posted by octothorpe at 6:32 AM on July 16, 2008


I hate the Amish with the white hot passion of a thousand stars.

Did your girlfriend run away with an Amish guy or something? Sheesh.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:33 AM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Part two would have been a good addition to this.

My guess is that Part Two will be Ferriss' extrapolation of the story to his "escape the cubicle" beat. This, to me, was the interesting part.
posted by jbickers at 6:36 AM on July 16, 2008


Billysunday, Look Who's Talking.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:39 AM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


The reason we think of Amish as "peaceful gentle folk" is mostly because they don't sue everyone and try to recruit celebrities.
posted by BrianBoyko at 6:40 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh jesus. From the bottom of the Legal Affairs article:

[Anna is an Amish 11 year old who complained to CYS--Children and Youth Services--about being raped by her older brothers while her mother, Fannie, refused to intervene]

When Fannie found out about the CYS visit, she and Anna went with 13 other kids to the home of John Yoder, an Amish dentist who lived an hour and a half away in the town of Punxsutawney. Yoder's living room had a recliner with a tin pan and some needles next to it. Anna watched as the other kids each had one or two bad teeth pulled. When it was her turn, Yoder shot some novocaine into her upper gum. She shook her head and told him that two of her lower teeth had cavities. He shot the lower gum, and asked Fannie which teeth should go. Anna's mother answered, "Take them all," and Yoder pulled—along the upper gum, along the lower gum, until every tooth was gone. "After he had pulled the last tooth," Anna remembered, "my mom looked at me and said, 'I guess you won't be talking anymore.' "...Neither Anna's parents nor John Yoder were ever charged with abuse.
posted by availablelight at 6:57 AM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Amish take the Bible verse “spare the rod and spoil the child” in a literal sense.

According to this article, there's only been a Bible in the Amish language for about 12 years. Which might explains why she thinks this is a Bible verse. It's not. (Granted, you can find similar sentiments in the book of Proverbs.)
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:06 AM on July 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Woah. That Legal Affairs article is much more interesting than the link in the FPP. Heartbreaking.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:08 AM on July 16, 2008


In ten years, the Amish will have cell phones


Dude, they use cell phones now and have been for at least ten years. At least many of the Amish I spoke to in Lancaster do. No wires, you see.

Here's a nearly decade old Wired article about it.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:19 AM on July 16, 2008


See? People are like, "dude, why you hating on the Amish?" and then four comments later someone posts a link describing a small girl getting raped by her brothers. I guess I hate the Amish with the white hot passion of a thousand stars because they exist largely outside of the law, and outside the educational system, and their culture has some serious problems with sexual abuse and discrimination and a variety of genetic abnormalities resulting from inbreeding and so on and so forth and when you point that out people are like, "but their noodles are so delicious and Amish-y!"
posted by billysumday at 7:19 AM on July 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Dude, they use cell phones now and have been for at least ten years. At least many of the Amish I spoke to in Lancaster do. No wires, you see.

Here's a nearly decade old Wired article about it.


Excellent! Now we need to get them hooked on the internet, where they will be drawn to criticism of their religion and culture and they will read all these bad things I'm saying about them, and their entire society will collapse! Down with the Amish!
posted by billysumday at 7:21 AM on July 16, 2008


No wires, you see.

Hmmm, how do they feel about solar energy? Would maintenance be too difficult and require too much reliance on outsiders?
posted by chillmost at 7:26 AM on July 16, 2008


billysunday: You cannot read about the worst reported cases of abuse in the Amish community and assume that's the cultural norm any more than you can read about Jeffery Dahmer and assume all "English" are rapists and cannibals.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:28 AM on July 16, 2008


MegoSteve: I know enough about the Amish to know that it's a reprehensible culture. When you were 16, did your parents say, "Okay, go out there and sow your wild oats, and then come back and live with us forever and adopt our religion and relinquish all your old friends and all those things you like and don't go get any more schoolin' and also, you need to marry another Amish woman, and if you don't do all of those things, we will never speak to you again for as long as we live." I doubt it.
posted by billysumday at 7:32 AM on July 16, 2008


Just Google amish solar energy, chillmost. They're all about it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:34 AM on July 16, 2008


I hate the Amish with the white hot passion of a thousand stars. I also hate, with perhaps more intensity, former Amish poseurs who claim to have learned English as a second language and proudly proclaim that they've won a national hand modeling contract.
posted by billysumday


OK, seriously, you gotta expand on this. Why are you so against the Amish. And, given that you are, why the hell would you be so against someone who left the Amish because she had a terrible experience being Amish.

And is it so amazing that she'd consider English as a Second Language? I know a guy who was born as an American to American-born parents who lived in a Ukrainian community in Chicago that didn't try to isolate itself from the wider community. His first language was Ukrainian, although if you didn't know that, the only evidence you might get of that was his tendency to occasionally drop article from his speech.

Or is my sarcasm / irony / snark detector on the fritz?
posted by Reverend John at 7:38 AM on July 16, 2008


Billysumday: "When you were 16, did your parents say, "Okay, go out there and sow your wild oats, and then come back and live with us forever and adopt our religion and relinquish all your old friends and all those things you like and don't go get any more schoolin' and also, you need to marry another Amish woman, and if you don't do all of those things, we will never speak to you again for as long as we live." I doubt it."

No, but my Dad still thinks I should go to law school...
posted by BrianBoyko at 7:45 AM on July 16, 2008


Good things about the Amish (despite billysumday's comments).

1.They aren't evangelical.
2. Some sit on prime land and won't sell for any price, ever - which is delightful.
3. They fascinate us all - generally for positive reasons.

Bad things about the Amish.
1. Exactly what billysumday says, when the culture is used as a cover for secretively monstrous behavior.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:45 AM on July 16, 2008


Why are you so against the Amish.

I'm half serious and half joking. On the one hand, it's funny to be angry at the Amish, because what are they gonna do? Forgive me? But on the other hand, the Amish really are awful. I have no problem with Mennonites - even conservative Mennonites - but any culture that forces their children to adopt every facet of their religion/culture or else they will cut off contact with them forever is seriously effed up. Additionally, because Amish keep to themselves, and are essentially non-problematic in the larger community, law enforcement doesn't or can't enforce civil laws among the Amish. Also, truancy officers don't really mind if Amish kids don't go to school, etc. They live outside the law, largely, and I think that's a problem because there is no protection for children who may get raped by family members or other members of the community. Obviously it's a problem in the population at large but it's even more of a problem in the Amish community.

And the woman featured in the article is just playing up her Amish background to appear more exotic, so that annoys me a little bit. Amish speak English and they converse with other people in the community, so for her to say that English is her second language, or that it was difficult for her to learn it, seems really self-aggrandizing. To me. Also, most people who have fled their Amish background are really scarred by it, as they have had to cut off contact with the entire support group they grew up with, whereas this girl seems to think it's really interesting that she was raised Amish and hey, isn't that really cool? I'm sure she's a lovely woman and a genuinely interesting person, but I'm not going to give her pass - touting the fact that she is a hand modeling champion is, frankly, just too serious a sin to forgive.
posted by billysumday at 7:52 AM on July 16, 2008


I also want to reiterate another point I made above, which is that I think the rigidity of the Amish community will slowly erode due to the adoption of cell phones and the internet. I imagine that there will still be conservative Mennonites, but genuine Amish will find it more difficult to keep their community together.
posted by billysumday at 8:01 AM on July 16, 2008


Exactly what billysumday says, when the culture is used as a cover for secretively monstrous behavior.

All culture is a cover for secretively monstrous behavior. Particularly the nuclear family.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:05 AM on July 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


All culture is a cover for secretively monstrous behavior. Particularly the nuclear family.

Oh snap, culture!
posted by billysumday at 8:06 AM on July 16, 2008


Great post. I am eagerly awaiting the publication of part 2.
posted by caddis at 8:20 AM on July 16, 2008


Part 2 will be interesting for sure. Torah must have some contact with her family though, as she knows about the four of her siblings who were born after she escaped.
posted by orange swan at 8:30 AM on July 16, 2008


-The Amish put all their income in the same pot, like a communist or socialist banking system (False)

My brother lives in Amish country in central Pennsylvania. He owns a fish hatchery. Aggressive manure spreading by a few of his neighbors polluted the water and killed the fish. He sued two neighbors, but all of the community elders showed up in court. When he prodused his evidence, chemical anaylsis of water samples taken over several years, extensive aerial photography, expert testimony from the Fish and Wildlife Commission, they settled. The $300,000 was paid from some mysterious community fund.

Dude, they use cell phones now and have been for at least ten years.

They've been using regular phones, like, forever. The phone just can't be on their property. If a non-amish neighbor allows them a phone booth just over the property line, they and all their friends use that. Otherwise they'll knock on your door and borrow yours when they really need it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:39 AM on July 16, 2008


Am I the only one here cynical enough to wonder that this is all some weird marketing ploy? The first link in that blog entry (on a notorious self-promoter's website) takes us to "TKB Ventures," a newly-formed "Opportunity Agency" whose sole resource seems to be that the founder 'escaped from the Amish.' I have nothing against Ms. Bontrager, nor do I have any reason to disbelieve her story. The whole thing just seems a bit too well scripted...
posted by googly at 8:41 AM on July 16, 2008


They've been using regular phones, like, forever. The phone just can't be on their property. If a non-amish neighbor allows them a phone booth just over the property line, they and all their friends use that. Otherwise they'll knock on your door and borrow yours when they really need it.

They also don't drive cars (obviously - buggies) but will bum a ride whenever possible. Total mooches.
posted by billysumday at 8:42 AM on July 16, 2008


Oh and also, from my own experience, be careful when strolling around the hills near one of these phone booths. They also apparently use them when they need a little, umm, personal privacy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:42 AM on July 16, 2008


Am I the only one here cynical enough to wonder that this is all some weird marketing ploy?

I'd be willing to wager a hundo that Ms. Bontrager has a screenplay. She also, obviously, has beautiful hands.
posted by billysumday at 8:44 AM on July 16, 2008


All culture is a cover for secretively monstrous behavior. Particularly the nuclear family.

I'm hoping cell phones and the Internet will take care of that one for us, too.
posted by enn at 9:00 AM on July 16, 2008


or else they will cut off contact with them forever is seriously effed up

I can't think of the culture where you can't get shunned for violating norms. The Amish are just much more strict.


I have nothing against Ms. Bontrager, nor do I have any reason to disbelieve her story.


Well, after seeing stuff on her website like:

TKB Ventures, an opportunity agency, was founded by Torah Bontrager in 2007. Built upon 12 years of smart networking, Torah and her partners put individuals, businesses and organizations together when they have the potential to mutually benefit each other. She sees connections across all industries and entities that others typically don't and subsequently helps clients work together to fulfill each other's needs.

Would you or your business benefit from more connections, to potential clients, partners, funders, investors, brilliant hires, media or opportunity in general? Contact TKB Ventures with a brief description of what you do and what your strategic goals are, and if we know of any valuable connections for you, we will be in touch.


and the bio she has, I have something against her and reason to disbelieve her story. I've seen exactly this style of bullshit self-promotion and overblown bullshit enterpreneurialism from people in my personal life, and they've all turned out to not live up to their own hype, often completely untrustworthy liars, and people I'd rather not know.

For example, here, if we subtract "12 years of smart networking" from her being 27, we find that she's apparently been a mover and shaker since the moment she left the Amish at 15. At least, not having an office, she got a PO Box instead of her apartment becoming "Suite 4A" like it was in an office building.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:03 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


They also don't drive cars (obviously - buggies) but will bum a ride whenever possible. Total mooches.

I really don't want to have to defend the Amish, because I'm not big on religion in general or clannish modern-reality-denying sects in particular (hiya Hassids!), and I get that you are going to be stubbornly over the top on this, but you can't really attack them for being too rigid and also not rigid enough.
Plus, when those ten little Amish girls were shot in Lancaster by the nutcase who took over their school, some of the parents didn't make it to the hospital in time to see their daughters before they died because of their religious proscriptions on modern travel. Not all of them are ride bumming mooches.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:10 AM on July 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


So, Billysumday, you don't like her because she isn't damaged from having left her community. She had the gumption and bravery to leave everything she knew because she thought there might be a better way to live and you think she should be suffering for it.

Also, I can imagine growing up speaking a different language at home even if you speak some of another language as you interact with other people in the community.

And if she has written a screenplay that makes her what...?

But maybe I'm on her side since I too have lovely hands though I have not won any contests. That plus she got away from her crummy, oppressive community, educated herself and wants to help others in similar circumstances.
posted by shoesietart at 9:12 AM on July 16, 2008


Gee, people who don't believe in education can be violent, short sighted, narrow minded, and disinclined to respect the rights of women and children.

Go figure.
posted by ewkpates at 9:12 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


shoesietart: I don't dislike her because of her being Amish or formerly Amish - I dislike her because she seems like a shameless self-promoter, to the extreme point of highlighting the awards she has won in hand-modeling competitions. I just can't see myself being friends with or respecting someone who is proud of winning hand-modeling competitions. So, to sum: I dislike the Amish for reasons A, B, and C. I dislike this Bontrager lady for reasons D, E, and F. It's a matter of separate but equal disdain.
posted by billysumday at 9:33 AM on July 16, 2008


I guess I hate the Amish with the white hot passion of a thousand stars because they exist largely outside of the law, and outside the educational system, and their culture has some serious problems with sexual abuse and discrimination and a variety of genetic abnormalities resulting from inbreeding and so on and so forth

you must really hate Appalachia...
posted by quonsar at 9:39 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I dislike the Amish for reasons A, B, and C

Come on dude, don't back down now. "Dislike?" Weak. Some Amish parents abused their kids - they're all guilty! The police and child support ignore complaints - the Amish are all awful! We've got to hate them all. And not just any hate, either. We've got to hate them all with the white hot passion of a thousand stars.
posted by bepe at 9:45 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


you must really hate Appalachia...

DON'T GET ME STARTED!!!

bepe: You're right! I let down my guard! The Amish must perish from this earth. I will spend the rest of my waking days to ensure exactly that.
posted by billysumday at 9:48 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


They also don't drive cars (obviously - buggies) but will bum a ride whenever possible.

My brother likes to complain about the mooching of rides, and using of phones. But when the stream bank collapsed and his backhoe fell into the crick, there was never any question that they would hook up a team of horses to pull it out.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:51 AM on July 16, 2008


billysumday was totally dumped by an Amish girl.
posted by goo at 9:52 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


billysumday was totally dumped by an Amish girl.

That's not technically true. I pined for her from afar, but whenever I got too close and tried to speak to her, she couldn't understand me, because she only spoke Amish. Apparently, she learned English later in life, after getting accepted to Columbia. OMIGOD, I was in love with Torah Bontrager!
posted by billysumday at 9:57 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just can't see myself being friends with or respecting someone who is proud of winning hand-modeling competitions.


Billysumday,
Actually - hand modeling is a legitimate basis for some pride.

This isn't really the quote I was looking for - I recall a hand model explaining once - with fetching embarrassment - that hand modeling involved feats of finger muscle control that never occurred to civilians, and the necessity of keeping your hands covered 24/7.

But the "climax" of the piece I couldn't find was the model revealing her ungloved hands - as the one in this rather purple NY Times paragraph does - and the writer admitting with genuine amazement that her hands were practically sculpted works of art in the flesh...



Turning toward me on the park bench, she loosened the fingertips on one glove and then the other. She checked to be sure I understood that this was a great intimacy for her, that her hands were not just protected but a forbidden sight, especially outside in the sun. She pulled the gloves off and raised her hands aloft in professional display. They were beautiful and pale, the fingers surprisingly long. And of course, they matched the rest of her — her long neck and arms, torso and legs. She rotated her hands in space, as if each held an invisible fruit. These were ethereal fingers that touched only luxuries: diamonds, gold, watches, the smooth skin of sports cars that cost more than houses. Her nails were clean and perfect. These were hands that no longer grabbed or pinched or scratched; they suggested immortality and perfection.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:59 AM on July 16, 2008


What these guys need is some TV so that they have something better to do than diddle their kids.
posted by caddis at 10:02 AM on July 16, 2008


My brother likes to complain about the mooching of rides, and using of phones. But when the stream bank collapsed and his backhoe fell into the crick, there was never any question that they would hook up a team of horses to pull it out.

Yes, that's their culture. Very communal. They'll be quick to ask you for any help you can give them because that's the norm in their community, and just as quick to give you any help you ask of them.

A conservative Mennonite friend of mine told me about one incident in an Amish community. The Amish custom is that when someone dies, the funeral is always held in the person's home, and all the neighbours show up and clean the house and make the food for the funeral. When one family had one of its members die, they didn't tell anyone until they had cleaned their own house and made the funeral refreshments themselves. The community took some offense to this and there was much talk about it.
posted by orange swan at 10:03 AM on July 16, 2008


You cannot read about the worst reported cases of abuse in the Amish community and assume that's the cultural norm any more than you can read about Jeffery Dahmer and assume all "English" are rapists and cannibals.

Dude, Dahmer was American.
posted by imperium at 10:07 AM on July 16, 2008


Some Amish parents abused their kids - they're all guilty!

Putting aside sexual and physical abuse - they kind of all do abuse their kids, if your definition includes not letting kids go past the eighth grade, encouraging teen marriage, encouraging young teenagers to go absolutely nuts with drinking and drugs on the (usually successful) theory that they'll get so burnt out and disgusted with that false idea of "english life" that they'll come running back to you. It's complicated - I share the bemused delight that most of you are showing that such people exist - but I also agree with billysumday that it's not exactly all roses.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:07 AM on July 16, 2008


Actually - hand modeling is a legitimate basis for some pride.

The handmodelling contest she's hyping was a promotional contest on a nail polish website, nothing professional. (subscription/library needed for full article, unfortunately.)
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:15 AM on July 16, 2008


not letting kids go past the eighth grade, encouraging teen marriage, encouraging young teenagers to go absolutely nuts with drinking and drugs on the (usually successful) theory that they'll get so burnt out and disgusted with that false idea of "english life" that they'll come running back to you

As a former teenager, I hereby declare this parenting style to be awesome.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:28 AM on July 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


>you can read about Jeffery Dahmer and assume all "English" are rapists and cannibals.

Dude, Dahmer was American.


The Amish call all non-Amish English. I think that's what imperium was referring to.
posted by elfgirl at 10:29 AM on July 16, 2008


Why did the Amish woman divorce her husband?

He was driving her buggy!
posted by Arch_Stanton at 10:57 AM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm with TheOnlyCoolTim on calling bullshit. Her story seems inflated and surreal, especially with what she's accomplished from escaping the Amish at 15. What kind of connections could she have made in 3 years to get a pilot's license, travel the world, graduate from Columbia, and everything else she describes on her website?
I'm eager to read part 2, and hopefully it'll answer a lot of questions that I have to the validity of it.
posted by czechmate at 11:02 AM on July 16, 2008


According to this, she worked as a pilot, then went to Columbia's School of General Studies (GS). GS has virtually no grant financial aid available, unlike Columbia College, so it's pretty much pay-to-play, admission-wise.

And I'm a cynical bastard, but a part of me thinks that "having married well" might be a part of her story of worldly success, unless she had benevolent relatives on the "outside."

For a much more controversial story about someone leaving a tiny religious community, check out the interesting (but poorly written) cover story of this week's New York Magazine. The comments section has been on online trainwreck, with many Orthodox and Hassidic Jews weighing in, sometimes in the clumsy written English common to folks who speak Yiddish as their first language and haven't completed formal schooling past the eighth grade. A fascinating look at an insular, Old World community right on the East Coast.
posted by availablelight at 11:14 AM on July 16, 2008


""When I was 12 years old, I took beatings that were beyond human," Yoder said. He stuttered as a child, and that angered his father, who told Yoder to put his big toe under the rocking chair."

Strange... must be a small world out there in Amish land, or is this a common response to stuttering? I wish I had time (at work today) to check this out further, there's a slight wiff of not quite right.



Perhaps she stole (consciously or unconsciously) this information and repurposed it for her story.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:40 AM on July 16, 2008


Yeah, the Amish are jerks but have they ever punched somebody in the dick for ordering coffee wrong? I rest my case.
posted by littlerobothead at 12:00 PM on July 16, 2008


The handmodelling contest she's hyping was a promotional contest on a nail polish website, nothing professional.

Ugh, yes, some self-aggrandizing going on there for sure. And of course when anyone is describing their experiences in such an overblown way, it makes you question everything they have to say. It'll be interesting to see what happens when more info appears and the MeFi sleuth force have more to get their teeth into. That company of hers sounds like a crock. They make connections for companies? Whatever.

I so dislike this braggart dishonesty in anyone. For God's sake tell the truth and stop wasting everyone's time. The truth is usually more interesting than anything you can invent anyway, and it'll get you more respect.
posted by orange swan at 12:27 PM on July 16, 2008


Hmm. I had a look at Torah Bontrager's Facebook friends list. There are 30 other people with the surname Bontrager on it, and they are almost all university students or alumnae. Maybe she's just automatically friending everyone else who has the name Bontrager, but one of the other possibilities is that she had lots of non-Amish extended family members who could have helped her after she left her parents' home.
posted by orange swan at 12:43 PM on July 16, 2008


If you follow the links around to a Wired article about their use of cellphones, I was struck by at least one good thing- They question deeply all assimilation of new technology in a way that is foreign to most of us. I have to admit that I probably talk to much fewer people less often face-to-face since the internet exploded, than prior to that. Also less exercise and whatnot. Things that should be considered.

All things in moderation and no innovation without some kind of cost I guess.

The apparent epidemic of incest and rape just has to stop, however.
posted by Lectrick at 12:53 PM on July 16, 2008


This expose on the Amish community is actually very interesting and educational. And I appreciate those of you with stalking detective skills that have further researched Ms. Bontrager.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:04 PM on July 16, 2008


You don't have to be a religious fundamentalist to question various technologies and practices, and refuse those you judge harmful. You only need the fundamentalism to force your choices on others.
posted by rusty at 1:56 PM on July 16, 2008



This is true about many cultlike religions: within them are families who are "in the cult" and who abuse power and are full of incest and physical abuse and families who are no more dysfunctional than anyone else and who aren't "in the cult" although they practice the religion.

This is why some religions are both cults and not-cults. I believe this is true of some of the Amish, some of the Mormon fundamentalists, some of the Hasidic Jews. And some of them are cults, period.

Being in a cult is a relationship to power-- if you surrender to it and surrender your kids to it and follow all of its practices that cut you off from outsiders and outside influence, you are vulnerable to all the abuses of power that absolute power of the leadership creates. This will inevitably generate abuse over time.

If you are only "half in," however, you may practice the religion and believe the beliefs, but not be at the mercy of the leadership in the same way as the others. Or there may be periods when the leadership is essentially benevolent.

Either way, the organization can have cultlike qualities but function simultaneously as a cult that engages in undue influence and as a religion that is not doing that. Which makes it very complicated and difficult to deal with legally.

I have to say I am somewhat skeptical of this person: Rumspringa for example, clearly exists amongst some Amish and is not a myth so she's wrong about it, even if it doesn't exist in her group.
posted by Maias at 2:19 PM on July 16, 2008


Are we far enough downthread that I can trot out my favorite Amish story as a digression?

My brother is having his annual pig roast, to which the neighboring Amish are invited, and usually attend. The young children arrive in Sunday-Best costumes with handmade lace trim. There are, of course, no zippers. But there are no buttons either. The girls are sewn into their dresses.

One boy, maybe 6 or 7, enters the front door. There is a stereo speaker on the floor of the living room blaring Blue Oyster Cult. The boy points at the speaker and says, "what's that?"

A party guest, thinking that he's refering to a big poster of a trout on the far wall, in line with his pointing, says, "that's a fish." (Now, remember, my brother runs a fish farm, so the kids are all familiar with the raceways boiling with live fish.)

Later that evening the boy is heard telling his sister, "He puts fish in boxes, and they make noise."
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:04 PM on July 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'm curious just how hot a thousand stars is. Because when I'm out at night, I generally don't feel the heat that much.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:51 PM on July 16, 2008


It's burny hot.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:15 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's because their heat is being siphoned off to fuel billysumday's hate.

His hate has been the only thing keeping us from being burned into ash for some time now. The global warming phenomenon that everyone's been discussing in recent years is the direct result of that one time where he decided to smoke a bowl and maybe not be so hateful a couple of years back.

Hopefully, this article will get his hate levels back where they should be.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:15 PM on July 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


In ten years, the Amish will have cell phones and internet. Like their milk production barns, they will justify it for work or something. Then, in twenty years, the Amish will be no more.

I think it just as likely that in 20 years there won't be any more cell phones and the Amish will be one of the few groups still eating properly.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:07 PM on July 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


I hate the Amish

Replace "the Amish" in billysumday's screed with women, jews, Mexicans, Indians, gays, muslims, blacks, asians, what-have-you, and the sentiment would likely have been flagged.
posted by ornate insect at 6:24 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


In ten years, the Amish will have cell phones and internet.

Some of them have cell phones now. One of my brothers works for a chicken packing plant, and they deal with Amish suppliers. One of the women who work in the office and coordinate things will call a supplier and he'll pick up his cell phone while heading down the highway in his buggy.
posted by orange swan at 6:32 PM on July 16, 2008


I always thought it was cool to be Amish until I did some reading about it. Now I don't have an opinion, because I really don't know. I do, however, have some Roman Catholic relatives near Lancaster, and when I first met my cousin he was around 20 years old, had a nice fast car (a convertible Mustang back then), and since he had grown up around the Amish, he had never had alcohol. I made him a fuzzy navel (remember, this is the 80's), he liked it, and I think I ruined him forever :-)
posted by WaterSprite at 7:16 PM on July 16, 2008


I don't get why people hate the Texas polygamists and accuse them of having a lifestyle that promotes sexual abuse, but just think the Amish are cute and quaint. Their lifestyle promotes abuse just as much.
posted by melissam at 8:24 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm genuinely fascinated by this woman's story, but her website gives me a mild-to-moderate case of the Aleksey Vayners.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:56 PM on July 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


re: her Facebook. She also befriended lots of people with the first name Torah. I'd guess she did the same with her last name.
posted by k8t at 10:35 PM on July 16, 2008


This is a 3 year old article about her.
posted by pieoverdone at 10:56 AM on July 17, 2008


re: her Facebook. A couple of those aforementioned Bontragers happen to be in my alma mater's network and are in the Facebook groups "I have amish family!" and "I want to be Amish...wait! I AM Amish!". There's also a group "Happiness is Being a Bontrager" with 170 members and a couple wall posts about family members being former Amish. That leads me to believe that orangeswan is right and she had family outside the fold to turn to.

I love facebook stalking and I won't deny it.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 11:35 AM on July 17, 2008


For those still interested, part 2 is now up.
posted by jbickers at 12:25 PM on July 17, 2008


Yes, it turns out she did have ready and generous help from non-Amish family members.
posted by orange swan at 6:55 PM on July 17, 2008


I've just read part two. I call shenanigans on this entire story.

My bullshit meter went off in part one when she said her gun was "cold steel", "just after finishing target practice". That could only be written by someone who romanticizes, but does not actually fire weapons.

Secondly, I can't imagine any judge, anywhere, granting emancipation to a runaway from another state. Montana, where she said she went, has a residency requirement. Even if her parents didn't report her as a runaway, when the Montana court looked into where she came from, the Michigan statues about runaways would kick in, and she'd be more than likely returned to MI. If indeed the Michigan part is true.

In the PRNewswire about winning the hand contest, she listed her home as Whitehall, WI.

In the article, she says she grabbed her birth certificate, social security card, and vaccination records. (Does anyone actually put vaccine records in the safe? Really?) But that aside; the Amish are exempt from Social Security. Have been since the Kennedy administration. Do they still have to have a card? I dunno, but the whole thing scenario of sneaking in and grabbing a convenient packet of papers is just too pat.

The whole thing reads like a poorly written novella. Maybe I'm just a cynic, but I think there is more fiction than truth to this portrayal of Escape from the Ams.
posted by dejah420 at 7:32 PM on July 17, 2008


Oh...and photo on the second page? Not Amish. The Amish don't use buttons.
posted by dejah420 at 7:40 PM on July 17, 2008


I like the Amish. I'm happy there are people around who keep low-tech ways within current knowledge. Nice people, who will help their neighbors, even if they're "English". This could prove far more useful (to make an understatement) than I'd like to think. But I'm a tad biased, as my ancestors were Mennonite (I've no idea how far back).

People commit acts of abuse on their families. Maybe it's better hidden amongst the Amish, maybe not. But I'd suppose they'd deal with such things amongst themselves, as that's their way. But I do know, abuse doesn't lead to prosperity and success, Amish or not. So they can't all be a bunch of abusers, same as the rest of us.
posted by Goofyy at 6:50 AM on July 18, 2008


As my conservative Mennonite friend says, the Amish and old order Mennonites have a PR problem. Practicing Amish and old order Mennonites don't give interviews to the media, so the only coverage comes from outsiders who often don't know what they're talking about, or ex-Amish and ex-Mennonites, who are obviously going to have a negative view and experience of the culture.

It would be interesting to know what the actual statistics are in terms of child abuse among the Amish vs. mainstream society. Of course there isn't any data on this anywhere, but my guess would be that it's at comparable levels in both cultures — but that intervention is less likely, so the abuse is allowed to proceed to an extreme. And then these are the stories we hear, so we get the idea that the Amish community is a hotbed of sexual and physical abuse rather than seeing it as a community with what is probably generally the same spectrum of human behaviour we'd see anywhere else.
posted by orange swan at 7:18 AM on July 18, 2008


This smelled like a self-promotional exercise from the start, and now she's constantly hawking her "book" in the follow-up comments for part 2. The whole thing stinks.
posted by anazgnos at 10:48 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


A commenter on the second post suggests, pretty convincingly, that Bontrager is making up some aspects of her story, and omitting information, including the fact that her family are no longer Amish. Her claim that this last fact was due to be revealed in a third installment in the comments of a post described as the 'final' post in a two-part series seems a bit off.

The traditional procedure is to get your misery memoir published, make untold millions, appear on Oprah, &c. before your story is outed as fiction. I'm not surre the scheme will work too well the other way around.
posted by jack_mo at 12:48 PM on July 22, 2008


Bontrager's convoluted and amateurish semantic counter arguments in the comments are not only unconvincing but make her sound like an ass. I won't be reading her book. She probably does have an unusual background and a somewhat interesting story to tell, but she doesn't have the writing skills, honesty, intellectual maturity and self-awareness to turn her story into a readable book length manuscript.
posted by orange swan at 9:23 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


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