|As you read Heather's account
of her family's contact with
the CPS, ask yourself:
Five Days in Foster Care Prison
Eley, age 15
It was Sunday evening, about 8:00. We children were all upstairs, except the two littlest ones were with Mom downstairs. Joshua was with Dad in California, on a trucking trip. We heard a scream, and Elijah went downstairs to look. Then I heard him saying, "Something's wrong with Mom!" I came down and she was just lying there on the floor in the kitchen. Her eyes were partly closed and her glasses were sideways. I went down on the floor beside her and put my hand on her forehead. It felt a little cold. Elijah called the ambulance, then he called Grandpa Eley. I stayed on the floor and held Mom's head in my lap. We were praying, "Please, God, help Mom get well again."
The ambulance came, and they sent all the children into another room. One of the men asked me what happened. I talked to him, and Elijah helped to tell the story. I didn't know yet that Mom had died. Grandpa and Grandma Eley and Grandpa and Grandma Cox all came to the house. Grandpa Cox took us children, except Elijah and Benji, to their house. Grandpa Eley stayed at home with the boys.
Later on in the evening two police officers came to Grandpa Cox' house. They took me in a room by myself and told everyone else to stay out. The police asked me questions and wrote it down on papers. They wanted every detail, like what time we went upstairs and how soon we called the ambulance. And they told me to question Josiah about what happened, because he wouldn't answer them. He's really shy. First he said Mommy was getting water at the sink when she fell, then he just said he didn't know.
The next day Daddy called home like he does every day when he's on the road. Elijah answered the phone, and he told Daddy what happened. The rest of us were still at Grandpa Cox' house. Daddy called the Coxes and told them he wanted the children home. We went back to our house. Grandpa and Grandma Eley and Aunt Diane stayed with us. On Monday Daddy came home by plane. He left his truck in California.
The funeral was on Friday. Afterward we all came back to the house. We took naps, then we got up and packed our clothes to go to Grandpa Eleys, because Daddy had to go back to California to bring his truck home. Suddenly police cars came in the drive. Daddy went out to talk to them. I thought they were just talking to Daddy for some business reason. They talked a long time, then Daddy came back into the house with four policemen. Daddy said, "These men are going to take you away for a few days." I didn't know what was happening. I wanted to ask Daddy what was going on, but those four men were just standing there. Daddy said, "Go along with them. You just have to trust the Lord." He helped us take our bags that were already packed for going to Grandpa Eleys. The little boys were crying. We got to hug Daddy, and kiss him goodbye.
We got into three different cars. They took us to the jail in Winchester. All of us children met in a big room by the welfare office. The room didn't have any windows. The welfare workers started calling foster homes, but no one would take all of us. They told us they can't find a home for nine children. I said. "We want to stay together." Jessica said, "I want to go home." I said I wanted to go home too. "Why can't we just go with Grandpa Eley?" I asked. They asked me, "How old are Grandpa and Grandma Eleys?" I told them they're in their early seventies. "That's too old," they said. "They're too old to take care of this many children." Finally they found three homes that would take each three of us. We girls said goodbye to the six boys. I was crying, and Jessica was crying. Fortunately, they let the baby stay with Jessica and me.
Two women--Rhonda Bowman and Joy Woolf--took us in their car. By the time we got to the foster home it was really late--about 10:00. We sat down on the couch. Rhonda and Joy stayed for a little while. They said they would call us every now and then. "When am I going to see my brothers?" I asked them. They said they couldn't tell me. "Can I see my dad? Can I talk to my brothers on the phone?" I asked. "No," they said. "Why?" I asked. "We don't allow contact with family in the fostering system," one of them said. I asked them if I could please call to my home. "The funeral flowers are in the living room and they'll wilt there," I said. "And the chickens need to be fed." They said Grandpa Eley can take care of that, and they didn't let me call.
We went to our bedroom. We were all together in the same room--Jessica, Rebecca and me. We cried and cried, we just cried so hard, we just prayed and prayed. The next day was Saturday. We got up in the morning, and I asked the foster mother if I could help clean the house. She let me do it. The house was really dirty. There were two big dogs living in the house, and dog hair was everywhere. It was filthy, like it hadn't been cleaned for a long time. The people smoked, and there was loud rock music.
Rhonda Bowman called. I asked her when we can see our brothers again. I told her we always have church services together. "Can we come together on Sunday for church services?" I asked her. I asked when we can go home, but she said she didn't know. On Sunday all nine of us children got together at the jail. We were in the same room again, the one with no windows. We had a little church service for all the children. Rhonda and Joy and two deputy sheriffs--a lady and a man--stayed in the room. We sang songs we knew by heart, like ‘Amazing Grace' and ‘Higher Ground.' We prayed to go home. I cried while we prayed.
Afterward they took us to a recreation room, and we played ‘till 11:30. Then they told us we had to go to our foster homes for lunch. I wanted to talk to Elijah and the other boys. But there was no privacy. We could hardly talk to each other at all, with four people watching us. The big boys said they had a clean foster home. But Jacob said their house was dirty. Samuel said, ‘We don't want to go back to that house.' Josiah was crying. It was really, really sad. We had to leave and go to our foster homes.
On Monday we didn't see each other at all. On Tuesday they took us all to the welfare office again. The foster parents drove us there, and the welfare workers, Joy and Rhonda, put us in separate rooms. "Why can't we be together?" I asked. They said it's not allowed.
Then Joy and Rhonda and another lady named Kathy took me in a little room all by myself and closed the door. And the first thing Rhonda Bowman said was, "Heather, I know you've been telling us lies." I said, "Lies about what? No, ma'am, I've been telling you the truth." Rhonda said, "We know you're lying because Samuel told us Daddy was home when Mom died." I said, "Samuel's only four, he must be confused. Daddy wasn't home."
Then they told me Daddy abused Mommy and the children each and every day, and Mommy would take beatings to protect the children from getting beaten. I told them that wasn't true, but they said it is true. "Good Christian people told us," they said. "You wrote about it in your journal. We know there was domestic violence in your home, you're just not telling us. Jessica has bruises on her waist and arms. How did she get those? You tell us." I told them I didn't know, but she wrestles with the boys sometimes. "Maybe her belt was too tight. I don't know."
One of them said, "You do know! Now tell us more about those bruises. Heather, you know Daddy beat mother, and you know he beat the children. You know; you're just not telling us!" I was telling the truth; they just wouldn't believe me. Rhonda Bowman pounded on the table and yelled; she also used cuss words. Finally I laid my head on the table and cried. They all left the room and closed the door. I just kept my head there on the table and cried and prayed.
In about ten minutes Rhonda put her head in the door and said, "Are you okay?" I said yes, and they all came back in. Kathy said, "Tell me where your journal is." "I really don't want to tell you," I said. "Tell us!" she shouted. I started to cry again. I didn't want to tell them. But I went ahead anyway and told them it was in the school room. We were probably in the room for about an hour. Then they let me go back out with the other children. But they wouldn't let us be together.
The foster parents came to take us again. As we came out of the welfare office, I saw people on the sidewalk holding signs. They were doing it for us. I saw Daddy and Aunt Diane. It was so wonderful to get a glimpse of Daddy. We went back to the foster home. It was late, and I felt so tired. But I couldn't get to sleep until 4:30 the next morning.
On Wednesday afternoon our foster parents took us to court, which was near the welfare office and the jail. They put all nine of us together in a little room with three windows. We were on the third floor. We looked out the window, and down below on the sidewalk we saw people demonstrating for us. It made me feel so good. I can't even describe how wonderful it was to see them. God knew we were there, and God knew we wanted to go home. The people down there had signs with all our names, like ‘Free Heather,' and ‘Free Elijah.' Then we saw the Cox family was there too, with yellow signs that had different messages on them. One of them said, "We couldn't save Pam, save the children."
Suddenly we noticed Uncle Scott had seen us in the window, and we started waving. The Cox family came to wave, too, but we didn't wave at them. There were news reporters there, and they saw what happened--that we didn't wave for the Coxes. A lady named Julie got mad we weren't waving for them, and told the cops. Pretty soon a deputy came to the room where we were and said, "Get away from the windows, kids."
day was Thursday, and the court hearing was still going on. We went back
to the same little room, all nine of us, just outside the courtroom. We
saw our supporters again, from the window. We waited all day. Late in the
afternoon one of Dad's attorneys came in and said, "All right, they've
decided you guys can go home." I said a prayer of thankfulness right
away. We were just real, real happy. We couldn't see Daddy right away because
we had to speak to the grand jury first. They called us one at a time,
and we each took our turns to go to the grand jury and speak. I was the
last one, so I was the last to see Daddy. He and the others were waiting
in a room. We hugged each other. We were so happy we could all go home
|Heather Eley, age 15, lives in Winchester, Indiana, with her father, David Eley, and eight siblings. The above story was told by Heather, six weeks after her mother, Pam Eley, died unexpectedly at home. An important backdrop to the story is the long-standing animosity from Pam's side of the family (Cox), who do not approve of the Eley family's strict religious practices, such as home schooling and wearing modest clothing.|
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