Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Empire of Bishop Luke Edwards

 

Two folding chairs, a card table, and the passive endorsement of the nation’s largest retailer are all it takes to fund an empire. It may sound far-fetched, but Bishop Luke Edwards is at the helm of just such an organization and for the past thirty-three years he has prospered through a complex amalgamation of uncompensated labor, charitable donations, and questionable business deals.
Edwards’ empire operates under many monikers such as Reach Inc, The Holyland, and Christ Temple Church. Since its humble beginnings as a Mississippi-anchored congregation, the organization has amassed some enviable assets including airplanes, truck stops, shopping centers, and restaurants that by 2000 had inflated the Holyland’s net worth to just over $11 million.
These accomplishments are all the more impressive considering that in 1977 the organization consisted of just a modest congregation, the majority of which sustained themselves on government assistance. Bishop Edwards believed then, as he does now, that “most churches collect and never do anything for parishioners,” a financial model that he was determined not to imitate. He began collecting and pooling member’s food stamps and in turn, provided them with groceries. This gradually began generating enough revenue for the church to make preliminary investments in businesses which in turn generated more revenue for the church.
Eventually, the church began providing food, shelter, and even clothing to members who agreed to work at these church-operated ventures. This was done in lieu of a paycheck and provided a steady stream of monetarily uncompensated employees to staff the growing collection of business ventures. Eventually, the church constructed a commune in Sumter County, Alabama, which was for the hundreds of parishioners that were dependant on the church for their basic needs, thus The Holyland was born.  
By any objective standards, Sumter County is an economically depressed area. In 2000, over 38% of its 14,000 residents lived below the poverty level and the median family income just barely cracked $23,000 a year. Sumter County’s true claim to fame is housing the largest hazardous waste landfill in the United States which resides in the tiny town of Emelle, AL where The Holyland also holds property. It is not difficult to imagine that Edward’s message of self-reliance and freedom from poverty was embraced with open arms.
On the surface, all this reads like an awe-inspiring journey of one minister leading his flock out of a government subsidized existence and into a self-sustaining collective, but the reality is far more complicated. In the late 70’s the church formed a charitable arm called Citizens for Research, Education and Community Hope Inc. (more commonly known by its acronym R.E.A.C.H. Inc) which began soliciting for donations outside popular retailers such as Wal-Mart. Members were instructed to obtain the donations under the banner of “child abuse” as it easily loosens the purse strings of store patrons.
As part of their contribution, some commune members were required to participate in this child-abuse fundraising circuit, known internally as “The Route”, sometimes being shuffled hundreds of miles from home. In an interview with The Birmingham News, former member of seventeen years, Gail Walker, recalled how she spent six days a week on “The Route” for an entire year and was not even given leave to attend her own mother’s funeral.
“We were getting beau-coups of money,” Ms. Walker said in an interview. Gail claims that in one year she personally collected $65,000 in donations for abused children and it was not unusual to clear $5,000 a week. The money would be deposited in various bank accounts that would flow back into the organization’s coffers.
Tax Structure
Where does all of this money collected on “The Route” go? In 2000, REACH, INC claimed that they only received $8,515.53 in contributions and declared $7,589.10 in expenses such as bank fees and supplies. In 2001, the organization’s declared donations fell to $5,053.41 and their expenses dropped by almost 60%. Even more unusual is that an organization that collects less than $10,000 a year claims assets in excess of $230,000 and lists a president, vice-president, treasurer, and board member, none of whom receive salaries on paper. These figures paint a much different financial picture than that claimed by ex-members such as Walker.
 This is possible because the majority of the Edward’s organization operates as an “Apostolic Association” filing under IRC 501(d). There are numerous perks for this type of structure:
·         It is a federal tax designation specifically for communal religious communities whose primary activity is farming or manufacturing.
·         All income can be placed in a community treasury and distributed by the organization with minimum oversight from outsiders since this designation is not required to file a Form 990 or other public documents disclosing the money’s use.
·         501(d) organizations are tax exempt as long as they have a common treasury, even though they engage in business for the common benefit of the members.
·         The organization simply reports each member’s “share” of the pie instead of any individual income.
The real question is why would Bishop Edward’s organization bother to create a 501(c)(3) in the first place? Certainly they are entitled to an inordinate amount of both fiscal privacy and tax freedom under the 501(d) structure. Why would they open themselves up to outside scrutiny? Again there are several reasons:
·         Contributions to a 501(d) are not tax deductible.
·         A 501(c)(3) is necessary to become eligible for a large number of government grants including several for farming and agriculture.
·         It allows them to solicit outside large retailers like Wal-Mart who require this designation.
The beauty of this arrangement is that the group can solicit cash donations under REACH, Inc. and deposit the proceeds into the community treasury to be utilized for expenses. Within this structure, the leaders of the organization determine what income they will choose to report as charitable donations to REACH, Inc and what will go into the communal pot. The result is a complex shell game that allows maximum tax advantages with minimum public disclosure.
 It seems unbelievable, but one of the components that make such an operation possible is the solicitation policy of large retailers like Wal-Mart and SAM’s Club. Because there is no official chain-wide solicitation policy dictated from a corporate level, each store’s policy is created and enforced by the manager and local outreach liaison. Some locations allow no solicitations at all, but most will allow anyone who can produce written documentation of 501(c)(3) status. For instance, my local store has hosted Reach, Inc several times and other than a stipulation that Wal-Mart has the right to dictate their physical location, time slot, and frequency, the parameters are surprisingly lax.
Controversies
·         In 1990, the organization was cited for more than one-hundred child labor violations.
·         In 1991, a former church secretary won a $650,000 judgment against Bishop Edwards for “sexual misconduct” and “mind control.”
·         In 1993, a Holyland runaway triggered a state child-abuse investigation
·         In 1998, four children died in a fire that ripped through one of the girl’s dormitories.
·         In 1999, the boys dormitory burned (no one was killed).
·         In 2000, a Holyland deacon was acquitted of assaulting a teenager that once lived in the commune.
The group has made its share of enemies over the years. In the 1980’s, one of the group’s businesses purchased a 322-acre hog farm from Hattiesburg, Mississippi resident Tommy Graham for $650,000. The business later defaulted on the payments and Tommy got a court judgment for the money he was owed. The group responded by having that particular business file for bankruptcy and then Reach, Inc was able to re-acquire the land for the commune at less than half the original price.
 Not all of the criticism comes from the outside. Phillip Williams, Reach, Inc’s first president, left after concluding that the organization was a “racket” and that the money was not trickling down to the individuals. A lengthy court battle ensued and Williams was eventually granted custody of his then 13-year old son, who testified that while in the commune he rarely got to see his mother and was often denied food for up to four days at a time for misbehavior.
 Lakisha Davis Herr grew up inside Edward’s organization and remembers frequent whippings as a child. Other Holyland children confirm Herr’s recollections, with several claiming that they were whipped with horse straps during their residency.
Several former members have contacted me via this very blog to express their solidarity with those who felt betrayed by the organization. Former member, Kimberly Landingham, who is Gail Walker’s cousin, admitted that she felt “abused in every sense of the word” by the commune. Another anonymous reader who claims to have escaped from the group posted:
“We would be gone for 2 or 3 months at a time, away from our children. We were supposed to receive prorated shares of the non-profit 501(d) upon leaving the organization. This information was reported to the IRS as if we received it. I left the organization 3 years ago, with 53.00 in my pocket and a bus ticket from a friend. We worked for nothing... No pay...nothing.”
Surprisingly, some of the most scathing criticism comes from Edward’s own children. Brenda Garris, Edward’s eldest child, admitted that “My father is a mastermind. He’s always been a hustler.” Even more alarming is how she handled comparisons between her father and other infamous commune figureheads such as, Jim Jones and David Koresh, “Jim Jones had nothing on Luke Edwards” she insisted.
So how does Bishop Edwards respond to such criticism? He believes that much of the negative publicity is generated by prejudiced whites and jealous blacks. This excerpt from an interview with Robin Demonia of the Birmingham News is quite revealing:
"You ain't ever seen a black man do what I do," said Edwards, a staunch Republican with a fourth-grade education. "I've been a challenger all my life. . . . They say I can't run a business, and I say I can. They say, 'I'm not going to finance you.' I say, 'I'll finance it myself.' I would not let being poorly educated and black stop me."
The Future
The group has succeeding in keeping a much lower profile in the past decade. In fact, it was the lack of public information on the group that led me to investigate them in the first place. The strategy seems to have paid off, as most of the people whom I spoke to, were surprised to learn that they were still actively soliciting under the Reach, Inc banner.  Especially given that my location in West Tennessee is almost 250 miles away from the group’s headquarters. The “charity” shows no sign of slowing down, even having recently created a Facebook page to proliferate their cause.
For the bishop’s newest venture, he has teamed up with Dr. Donald R. Evans, Sr. to construct a private school for disadvantaged children in Sumter County called Greentown USA. Dr. Evans, who holds an honorary doctorate from the unaccredited Saint Stephens Educational Bible College in Los Angeles, is serving as “Director of the National Public Relations & Fund Raising” for the project. Edward’s role is officially listed a “spiritual guidance.”
 According to the school’s “admissions office” students will not apply, but rather be referred by the legal system, churches, or parents on a case by case basis. Despite the fact that the project has not even broken ground yet, the school is accepting donations via the website. The school plans to be operational by the fall of 2012.
It is unclear why the school is even necessary considering that Edward’s group continues to maintain the Christ Temple Academy, an educational institution that the bishop created in the late 70’s. The school utilizes the Accelerated Christian Education (A.C.E.) methodology that allows the students to learn at their own pace and according to the schools webpage is designed “to produce children that are capable of running businesses.” The school has no oversight from state officials and one child who was removed from the commune after five years at the school was judged “borderline illiterate.”
Given Edward’s advanced age it is unclear what the next decade will hold for Reach, Inc and The Holyland, but whatever the future brings I have no doubt that your donations will be gladly accepted.
*Special thanks to Robin Demonia of Birmingham News. Her brilliant 2000 expose on the group was invaluable to this piece and the best resource I have discovered. Also thanks to Jay Reeves of the AP for his help and direction.




The Tax Guidelines for a 501(d) Apostolic Organization can be found here:

The official website for Reach, Inc. and the Christian Temple Academy can be found here:

The official website for the Greentown USA project can be found here:



33 comments:

  1. Great Post! This group is just the "tip of the isceburg" when it comes to utilization of tax shelters & manipulation of gov. funds. Of course there is also the ease of getting money from the common person - since few of us take the time and effort to check organizations we give our resources to. Thanks

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  2. I am estatic to hear this...several years ago my family and I was affiliated with similiar commune involving the same setup!

    This opperation was ran by James Bevel in Chicago Illinois.

    Not only did they have a Church School and farm, but they practiced similiar things.

    In this place the children were being fundeled and the mothers were kept away from their children as well.

    My prayers is that someone shut this orgnization down. They are mis leading children, endangering and destroying their future lives and brain washing people. This needs to be reported

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    1. man that is bullshit i knew revel bevel personally.....REACH ON THE OTHER HAND IS A TOATALLY DIFFERENT STORY. AND NO MATTER HOW IT IS TOLD KNOW ONE WOULD FULLY UNDERSTAND WHAT WE WENT THROUGHT

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    2. yeah, I agree with you there, but just like others say Reach is a great place,because of what they seen when they visted..We to need to opened minded to the fact they we didn't have to live under Revel Bevel. so all we know is what we saw when we saw him.. I love him dearly but you sometimes you have to look at a situation from anothers point of view.

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  3. This organization - and others like it - scream one question WHY???? Why do the people involved allow it to continue??? Why are they not coming together to shut it down? Why do they allow someone else to dictate to them when and how often they can have contact with their children?
    Its no wonder these types of places are able to proliferate, there are far too many droolers in this country lazy and stupid enough to allow someone else control of their lives....kinda like the rest of the citizens of this country allowing government to tell them what we can and can't do.....droolers and they're breeding...

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  4. My Husband and I were part of this organization for a few years.We found the people lovely and hard working and Bishop Luke Edwards to be the real thing. By far, the people in the organization were very happy and very well provided for. All things common is a very powerful lifestyle with many benefits that far out way the disadvantages.

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  5. My Wife and I work with Bishop Luke Edwards and Im going to tell you the truth.That was the only place on earth where I had known all things common. The black people there were hard workers but what they were building they didnt understand really what they were doing there. Some of they complainted because they thought that this mission was to be light a worldly life style but it wasn't at all, it was to be separate from the world and order to sustain this wealth for the group each person had to pay the price. And the price is suffering until you reach the goal of self sustaining. this was not a easy task cause people that join the movement really didn't have it in there heart only to start trouble. I never saw Bishop Doing anything with women but praying and treating they like ladies. God set his approval on the work and it will never go down unless the men up under him fail God. This is truly a blessing and Im proud of him. Bishop This is Elder Lewis that was save under Elder John R Hemmingway .You are my older brother and I am you younger brother both of us have one thing in common both was brought to Jesus by the same man Elder John Rufus Hemmingway SR Im now 50 years old I still work in the Middle East my number is +97455129712 pls if you can you can email me anthony.lewis6@us.army.mil I will always love you. Thanks For helping people. May God richly bless you. Elder Anthony lewis

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  6. what is you all point for posting up this...if its God's will we will never be stopped...

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    1. I totally agree. I have been beaten down and abandoned by the government. This is what Acts chapter 4 is all about. Anyone trying to condemn Bishop Edwards read Acts 4:23 to the end of the chapter.

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    2. whoever the fuck you are you sound so dump. WHAT THEM PEOPLE DO IS NOT RIGHT. THE BISHOP SLEEP WITH ALMOST EVERY WOMAN UP THERE HE HAS 76CHILDREN SO FAR

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  7. why are you all blocking my face...if you all bold enough to post all this stuff up. stop being losers and unblock my face so i can see how pretty i am...

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  8. Exceptional MediocrityJune 4, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    Let me address these concerns individually:

    My point for posting this is to gather information concerning an organization whose motives I consider questionable. I also find it telling that you phrased it "if" it is God's will. I would love to find out more on the organization so feel free to send me you contact info so I can get your side of the story.

    As for blocking your face, the individuals in the photo were not important (as the faces tend to change anyway) I was simply wishing to show the mechanism itself. Plus, I wished to be clear I was not singling out any individual participant. I would also point out that your anonymity appears to be more important than you let on since you chose not to comment under your own name.

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  9. WHY NOT YOU GIVE ME OUT YOUR NAME...SIR OR MA'AM! YOU ARE DISGUISING YOURSELF...YOU DIDN'T GET NO PERMISSION TO POST MY PHOTO UP...

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  10. AND YOUR POINT IS VAGUED...IF YOU ARE WOMAN OR MAN ENOUGH WHY NOT YOU COME IN AND VISIT SO YOU CAN HAVE A TRUE POINT OF OUR ORGANIZATION SIR OR MA'AM...AND I BELEIVE ITS GOD'S WILL BECAUSE WE WERE ESTABLISHED SINCE 1977. YOU GET IT! 2011 AND THE 21 CENTURY...AIN'T NO STOPPING US NOW...BUDDY!

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    1. that will be over soon. I DO NOT KNOW WHEN THE LAST TIME YOU CHECKED BUT YOU ALL HAVE BUSINESS LEFT. AND TRUE BE TOLD WE NEVER REALLY OWNED THEM.

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  11. Exceptional MediocrityJune 16, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    First of all, my name is Brian and I would love to get your point of view so please e-mail me. My address is mcstankle@gmail.com and I look forward to hearing from you.

    Secondly, am I to understand that you were originally angry that I blocked your face so that no one could see it and now you are angry that I posted it without your permission? So which is it?

    Please let me know how to contact you as I have several questions.

    Thanks!

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  12. AND YOU ARE BRIAN WHO? YES, I AM UPSET ABOUT BOTH OF THE QUESTIONS...SIR. YOU'RE NOT SLOW MR. BRIAN...

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  13. I POST AS JIHAD TENDOLPH MUHAMMAD AND I RESERVE MY OPINIONS UNTIL I HAVE FACTS TO VERIFY MY CONTENTIONS. I PROMOTE BISHOP LUKE, AS A MAN WHO MET WITH MY LEADER IMAM WARITH DEEN MOHAMMED, THE SON OF THE HONORABLE ELIJAH MOHAMMED, TO DISCUSS COLLABORATION AND PLANS TO PURSUE MUTUAL SUCCESS. I ALSO PROMOTE BISHOP LUKE BECAUSE I UNDERSTAND COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS,COMMUNITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND THE SPIRITUALITY THAT MUST BE AT THEIR FOUNDATION. I ALSO PROMOTE BISHOP LUKE AMONG PEOPLE WHO DESIRE TO LEARN OF A WAY THAT HAS WORKED AND IS WORKING AND DESPITE POSSIBLE SHORTCOMINGS AND ALLEGATIONS I UNDERSTAND THAT OUR HUMANITY HAS SPOTS AND BLEMISHES - SO WHAT? I ALSO UNDERSTAND THE ENEMY - SATAN - AND/OR SHAITAN, AS WE MUSLIMS SAY,WHO WILL WORK TO DETRACT AND/OR MINIMIZE THE RIGHTEOUS EFFORTS OF "BLACK" FOLKS WHEREVER OR WHENEVER THEY CAN. I DON'T KNOW YET QUITE WHERE YOU FIT, HOWEVER, I AM WATCHING.

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  14. Exceptional MediocrityNovember 1, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    Jihad,

    I take no issue with anyone, of any race, pursuing righteousness. I know Bishop Edwards only by those who claim to represent his organization in my area. They do so by soliciting donations to help child abuse but offer no assistance for local abused children. I have also been contacted by several who claim to have spent time in his organization and confirm many of the allegations. I hope that your faith in Edwards is well placed. Also, check your CAPS Lock key.....

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  15. I Was actually apart of this orginiazation at a young age... not old enough to remeber much but know that I rarely got a chance to see my parents because they were always on the road.. they had the children seperated in boys and girls dorms... The memories that I have of this place are not plesant.. Fires, beating, being abused at a young age.. certain things that people shouldn't have to go through...

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  16. I tell you what me and my family lived on the holyland lets just say the place was far from holy it was hellland. Bishop Luke Edwards should feel great guilt and shame for all he has done he is a liar a fake and a great disapointment the reason he lives this long of age is not because he was a great man of God but because God knows the wrong he has done the lies he has told the lives he has destroyed and the families he has broken so God wants him to live for as long as possible in his sick decieving nasty perverted world he has created. Luke Edwards deserves everything that come towards him.

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  17. I WAS BORN AND RAISED THERE. WONNA KNOW SOMETHING CONTACT ME. BY EMAIL OR PHONE (205)496-3347 karmelitawalker@ymail.com

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  18. I have met Luke Edwards and talked with him personnally and I think he is a fantastic and wonderfull individual......I took a picture with him too

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    1. that don't mean shit because you took a picture with him, you met him, you didn't live there of course they will make you think its great its their job. a lot of us went without food, was sexually bother with. travel to different states taking doation for abuse children out in the cold, snow, rain, and heat when it actually was for bill and land. we were beat, puuled out of school, and a whole lot of more shit...so don't come on here trying to defend Bishop..it hurful you have no ideal the hurt and pain we had to indure, while you were out in ejoying your life, we were at home waiting to we turned 17 or 18 so we can enjoy ours.

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    2. Wow reading that you made me realized how hard it actually was up there. I cried many night wishing I could die. all I want was a normal life.Yes it truely hurts to read someone trying to stand up for something they have no ideal about. I went through living hell growing up.

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    3. Dey r so rite..dey greated every1 wt open arm lik dis was da best place 4 kids wth behavior problems..but most of da teens der didn't hav a behavior problem..sum of us were der 2 b taught a lesson..we would hav still been der if I would'nt have slip an wrote a family member an tld them were we was..I was der in 87 r 89..I hav only meet 1 person dat left dat place..

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  19. I use 2 live there me an my sister we was put der in our early teen..it was a horrible place..they treated us like slave..we were able 2 get away from there..but we never talked about it 2 no1..yes it was a cult...we would go days wthout eatin for punishments..we had 2 wrk n da resturants r da clothin store..we had 2 wrk..we couldn't stay der for free..I thought dat I would ever talk about dis place ever again..

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    1. I lived there for 13 years of my life and it was not all good. And in life its not all going to be all good, but some of that stuff was totally uncalled for. Bishop had a great vision with people that followed him he put in charge that didn't believe in what he was doing. Also the abuse that took place there was not at all right and its left lasting scars for those that have lived there to have to bare alot of times alone. Sometimes telling your story will help bring some closure of shed some light on the fact or issue that people go around far too much doing things in the name of God or Religion and their hearts are full of evil. How much more could have been done if the people of God were treated right. This is a recent post about my book that coming out about my life there on the Holyland.
      Well...My book is about to be released and my manuscript has been submitted...Im getting alll kinds of inbox messages and calls and comments from people. First I want to say to those who want to know why that I'm doing it because its my story and I want to tell it. Second there are people in it that may be upset about what they read ...but its all the truth accept it and don't be mad at the messenger. I've took so long publishing because of what others feel and that's no longer an issue now. Its something I need to do for me and I hope that everyone that reads it understands that its for no other reason than to bring light to the fact that you can not in the name of God do things and on go with your life thinking that the people you've affected good or bad are dealing with it the same way you are. With no care or consideration for human life. Again its something I need to do for me....I'm not saying I'm sorry but I'm saying if you read something thats about someone you love and care for don't be shocked or surprised and dont second guess if its the truth ...it is..... and FYI if you had any impression on or in my life you are mentioned in my book, its too many to name but to find out you ll have to read it....Take Care and I Love You All ...... You can see more about the book on my blog at http://www.readbehindcloseddoors1.blogspot.com/
      I would like to add that I do still have respect for Bishop and what his vision was, in many instances it was the people he put in charge that did a lot of the damage to adults as well as children.

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  21. Is it possibly to get a copy of the 501(d) the organization filed requesting exemption in 1992

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    1. Exceptional MediocrityMay 3, 2015 at 8:58 PM

      Click the link that says "Read More About the Group Here" and then scroll to the the bottom of that article and there is a link to download the full PDF. It is large (a little over 80 MB)

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  23. I lived at reach too it was a horrible place I never want to go back I don't wish that on anyone people were abused children didn't eat it was anything but holy it was full of lies and manipulation it was just a horrible place to live we were not allowed to see our families or whenever our mothers will call to check on us to see doing they was given limited information they could not see us someone posted while they was there they could not wait to turn eighteen well I was that person too when I turn eighteen I left immediately and never went back there was a lot of mental abuse on behalf of the children neglect the children basic needs wasn't provided for they didn't learn how to a part of a family how to nurture how to love it was just a lot of psychological abuse horrible place to live I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy and I lived there.

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