Skip to main content Accessibility

Candy H. v. Redemption Ranch, Inc., et al.

Case Number

Civ. A. No. 81-100-N

Unmarried and pregnant, 19-year old Candy H. was seeking help in 1982 when she agreed to go to the Bethesda Home for Girls near Hattiesburg, Miss. She didn't know once she arrived she would not be allowed to leave for a year or have contact with family or friends for three months. She didn't know she would be paddled if she broke a rule or spoke badly about the facility or its operators.

She didn't know her letters would be censored and her conversations monitored, or that she would be forced to study the Bible for long hours. And she didn't expect to see girls paddled until they were bruised or bleeding, or subjected to the kind of mind control tactics one expert said were typical of religious cults and Nazi concentration camps.

Fortunately for Candy H., she managed to send a coded message to her mother, who sought the Southern Poverty Law Center's help in getting her daughter released from the facility. Once she was free, the Center filed a class action on behalf of Candy and the other girls held at the home.

After the lawsuit was filed, more than half of the 70 residents left. Bob Wills, a fundamentalist Baptist minister, and his wife Betty, who owned and operated the facility, claimed they only wanted the girls to seek salvation. But the testimony of Candy and others girls revealed they were held against their will under 24-hour lockdown, paddled until some turned black and blue from bruising, and forced to accept religious teachings without question. They were also forbidden to talk to each or anyone else about their ordeal.

The lawsuit was settled in 1987 after Wills and his wife agreed to stop paddling pregnant girls, give no more than eight "licks" to others in a five day period, and modify some of their rigid rules. Meanwhile, Mississippi welfare authorities conducted their own investigations and eventually closed the place down.