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by Rosanne Henry


Rosanne Henry and her husband joined a New Age / Eastern style cult, known as "Kashi Ranch." Rosanne was convinced by the group to give her newborn child to the leader, and then later Rosanne left the group. She writes about the pain of losing her daughter --and the joy of going back to reclaim custody of her. Rosanne is now completing her masters degree in counseling.

Harry and I had been married three years. Because of various confusions and tensions in our lives, we decided to try therapy. To save money, we went through the Free University and signed up with" Art Therapists" (who turned out to have journalism degrees). After six months of therapy, they referred us to "Joya," their new spiritual teacher.

Within two weeks of the referral, Harry took emergency leave from his medical residency and flew two thousand miles to meet "Joya." She was perceptive, shrewd, and charismatic. She immediately began breaking Harry down and indoctrinating him. Concerned about Harry's welfare and our marriage, I followed him to "The Ranch" (where Joya and her followers lived). Because of the vulnerable state we were in, it took only a few months of concentrated dissonance to push us into our contrived cult personalities.

The ashram moved from Colorado to Florida. Harry found a job with a health maintenance organization, while I began developing a business to serve as the economic base for the Ranch. Within a year Macho Products was in operation, manufacturing and distributing protective equipment for the martial arts.

Joya, whose name was now Joyce Cho, was trying to have a child. She had recently married a Taekwondo master. Joyce had two grown children and a teenager from her first marriage, but at age 40 wanted more. For months we heard about her miscarriages and relentless desire to get pregnant. Then she devised a plan: Whoever was pregnant on the Ranch at this time became a target. We were all approached to give our babies to "Ma" (Joyce's spiritual name). Eventually we were convinced that these children were hand-picked to be Ma's successor. All this was handled discreetly through "the girls," a group of women who took personal care of Joyce and handled her dirty work.

When I was six months pregnant with our first child, I was approached. They worked on Harry first and had him work on me. After two months of hell I finally agreed to the plan. I remember the moment when I flipped the switch to disconnect: "There was nothing greater that I could give my child than the divine mother. " Four of us gave our first child to this woman. She raised them as twins--like two matched sets of dolls.

Joyce had assured me that I would be very involved in my daughter's care. As it turned out, I got to watch all the children sleep a few hours a night, four nights a week. Near the end of the first year , I was thrown out of the nursery after an argument with Joyce's teenage (tyrant) daughter. Shortly after, I left Kashi Ranch and joined Harry who had left five months earlier. I did not take my daughter with me, though I desperately wanted to. I had just begun to see another very dark side of Joyce, but I couldn't give her up--she was still my guru, my god! I had to truly believe this to leave my daughter with her .

Harry and I moved back to Colorado and started a new life. Six months later I got pregnant. When I gave birth to our first son, I learned how it felt to actually keep the child that I brought into the world. It was such a healing experience to love and nurture him, yet so disturbing to think about my daughter. How could I have done this? Two years passed; trying desperately to replace my daughter, I became pregnant with our second son. For years I sat stuck in the deepest grief known to a woman: a mother longing for her child. Then I finally got up the courage to visit the Ranch and see my daughter .

My little girl was 6 years old on my first trip back. Ganga was so beautiful and full of life. We connected right away, but I had to be careful because she thought "Ma" was her mommy. Seeing her was relief, and at the same time torture. I wanted her back in my daily life, but I didn't want to move back to the Ranch and have to surrender to "Ma" again. For four months Joyce and her cohorts worked on us to move back. Finally, I hit my limit-­something snapped. I was breaking through the cult mind-set: I didn't have to accept Joyce's reality anymore. But what in hell was I going to do about Ganga?

I knew that I desperately needed good professional help. After a referral from a trusted friend, I started therapy with a Jungian psychotherapist. After four months of intense work, my therapist suggested that I might want to go and get Ganga someday. My reply was total surprise, "You mean I can?"

From that moment on, Harry and I worked to get our daughter back. We assembled a team of lawyers, cult specialists, therapists, and private investigators. On the appointed day, four months later, I went to Kashi Ranch with my father, a private investigator, and the local SW AT team. I demanded my daughter back! With the impeccable cooperation of the local criminal justice system, I had secured the necessary court order. Our daughter was reluctantly released to the police and had to wait in a foster home until the judge awarded us custody. Two weeks later Ganga was on the airplane with her "real " family, flying to her new home in Colorado.

This is what she wrote at the age of 9:

A cult is a person that uses mind control

and can make you gullible and you don't even know it.

But you start to love her because she makes you feel special.

A cult can hurt you very bad.

She can even make you think she's god!

A cult is bad.


Even though it is easier to express what is evil and wrong with Kashi Ranch, we try to keep it in perspective and let her express what was good about her cult experience. There were some positive things that helped mold her to become the wonderful person she is today.

I feel very lucky. I got a second chance--a chance to be whole and live a full life with all of my children. Having my daughter back is a dream come true. Yet, I struggle not only with the loss of those precious six years, but also with the sting of the wound I inflicted on my daughter. Every day I search for forgiveness; the healthier Ganga gets, the easier it becomes. Accepting one's humanity is a very hard and humbling experience; yet, it is easier than sitting in the pain of "not knowing" and feeling stuck in an overwhelming grief.

Adjustment Difficulties of Children Leaving Cults

Unresolved grief. A child growing up in a cult, even without physical trauma, suffers many losses. Leaving the cult, sometimes without fam­ily, friends, and relatives, can produce feelings of isolation and desolation. As an adult looking back over the cult years, a person may feel a tremendous sadness for the childhood that might have been. This is experienced as a loss of self. The gaps in experience, in developmental stages, and in the development of normal trust and self-esteem, as well as a lack of common history with mainstream society, may severely affect a person's basic sense of identity.

Children usually exit cults when their parents decide to leave. In some instances, the children are taken from the cult as a result of a custody suit between divorcing parents, one in the cult and the other out. In others, they are removed from the group by a government agency, due to com­plaints of child abuse or neglect. As discussed previously, how a person leaves a cult may influence recovery: Was there an exit counseling? Did the group disperse upon the death or abandonment of the leader? Did the young adult walk away on his or her own? Was the whole family excommunicated from the group?

Major adjustment problems encountered by children leaving cults center on issues related to their need for acculturation, lack of self-control, little experience with independent decision making, boredom living in a "normal" family, distrust of others, conflicting loyalties, developmental arrest, lagging social development, and lack of self-esteem.

Rosanne Henry's story in Part Three, "Blinded by the Light," is a poignant example of two parents who reclaimed their daughter after leaving her in the care of their cult leader. "Ganga" was six when she was rescued by her parents. In the section below Rosanne describes the challenges faced by Ganga and the family.

Adjusting to a new family and to life outside the cult environment has not been easy for her. Here are some of the issues that she and we have struggled with over the last four years.

1. Ganga grew up in such a controlled environment that she was out of touch with our culture in many ways. Her primary activity had been traveling around Florida in a Winnebago with teenagers as her nannies. She had never gone to Disney World, though she lived only 60 miles away. We took her to amusement parks and zoos, on train rides and picnics in the mountains. It was as though she had lived in a foreign country all of her life.

She had a hatred for dolls that soon melted away, and we kept her supplied with Barbies, water babies, and even Madame Alexander's. Most of this acculturation was welcomed by her because it allowed her to see much more of the world and to be a 7-year-old little girl. We let her explore many things and choose what activities she wanted. Art, gymnastics, and swimming quickly moved to the top of her list.

2. The cult environment had exerted strong external control, allowing little opportunity for her to develop any internal controls. Cults typically legislate members' morality; thus, Ganga was not encouraged to develop her own set of moral values. Fortunately, we got her back young enough to begin this process. Her development was delayed, but did occur a year or two behind other "normal " children.

3. In the beginning, our nuclear family of just five members was boring and tedious for her. She had lived in a home with close to thirty people and an ashram of almost one hundred. With fewer caretakers and only one set of rules, it was more difficult for her to manipulate what she wanted. I think she was relieved, however, to have the structure and support provided by the family. And for the first time in her life, she got her own room.

4. Ganga was lied to about who her parents and siblings were and even when her birthday was. From the beginning she was cast as a character in "Ma's" fantasy. How could she learn to trust after being lied to and deceived so completely? Trust is an issue we will struggle with for a long time. We had to start from the beginning and are building it step by step. It has taken a lot of team work to be consistent, dependable, and especially honest with her at all times.

One of the first things we did was to find our daughter a safe place to talk about her cult experience. We searched for therapists who work with children and have some knowledge of cults. After interviewing a few, we made a choice and started her in therapy as soon as we got custody. She saw this therapist for two years and a school counselor for a year and a half concurrently. Her damaged sense of trust is slowly healing.

5. When we got custody, Ganga was functioning emotionally as a younger child. She had been deprived of developing a full range of emotions. Overall she was not allowed to express negative emotions. We allowed her to express her feelings and tried to honor her pain. It took months before she let herself cry and feel her intense grief at losing her first family. The emotion she had the least experience with, however, was anger. We encouraged and allowed her to express anger in appropriate ways. Her younger brothers' fights showed her one way; we suggested others. She experimented and came up with journaling as an effective outlet for years of repressed anger.

6. Ganga continues to struggle with loyalty issues--loyalty to her first cult family and loyalty to her biological "real " family. Four years after she joined us she confided that her nightmare is to have to choose between the two. The best way we could help her to bridge these two worlds was to let her occasionally see a few "safe" ex-members of the group.

I vividly remember the day she was able to tell her best friend about her past. Fortunately this child was very healthy; she was curious and compassionate, not judgmental.

Sharing the cult secret helped Ganga unload a heavy burden and begin to integrate her two worlds.

7. There were definite lags in her cognitive development. At first we thought she had a reading disability, but just spending time reading with her brought her up to her grade level within two years. She has probably stayed in the concrete operations level of cognitive development a year or two longer than "normal" children, but now seems to be moving ahead conceptually with her peers.

8. Ganga's social development was also a year or two behind her peers at the time we brought her home. In the beginning she looked like a teenager and acted like a toddler--two very confusing roles. Eventually she learned appropriate behavior from experience, gentle coaching, and most especially natural consequences. When other children threatened to beat her up because she was loud mouthing them on the bus, we stayed out of it; or when she forgot to hand in a critical paper at school, she suffered the consequences of a lower grade. Especially for a child who was so protected, it has been important to let her learn how the real world works. How else will she learn to master it?

9. Her self-esteem was very low. Most cult members suffer from low self-esteem, making them more easily programmed by their leaders. Growing up in this developmental environment is devastating for children. One psychologist who evaluated Ganga stated, " She seems to have been persuaded that she must try harder to be good in a way that ignores her own basic needs of nurturance." We have helped to rebuild her self-esteem by creating the safety of trust, nonjudgment, being cherished, owning feelings, empathy, and unique growing. Along with this came empowerment and belief in her, respect and the expectation of success. My daughter's disconnection from and dislike for herself will take years to change, but we are on the way to wholeness. Today she is more self-reliant than most of her peers; she has lots of friends and is doing well in school.

10. In a gradual, informal way we have educated her about mind control and the dynamics of influence. We have shown her articles about other cults, discussing how this related to Kashi Ranch. Sometimes we were too direct and she would get defensive. Because she was the guru's "daughter," however, she saw a lot of what goes on behind the scenes in these groups and, in some ways, understood more clearly than many adults.

Two more areas that we haven't explored but which might be effective are dream work and support groups. Our daughter seems to process her cult experience in a cyclical or wave pattern. The peak of the wave is the anxious and pensive time when she tends to have vivid dreams about the Ranch. Working with a reputable therapist in interpreting these dreams might be very helpful. Support groups of other children who have been in cults. Ganga has requested this, but we have been unable to locate other children in our area.

Margaret Singer and others, in addressing the needs of those born and raised in cults, stress the need for the following:

  1. Immediate medical and dental examinations with appropriate vaccinations against childhood diseases.
  2. Instant instruction to show that some of the attitudes and behaviors learned in the cult do not go over well in the outside world.
  3. Exposure to educational and social experiences that will help the youngsters relate and adapt to the larger society, including its value systems .
  4. Training in conflict-resolution techniques to learn how to mediate differences and to learn the art of compromise.

In addition, there are some specific concerns:

  1. Children who identified with the cult leader may need therapy with behavioral management.
  2. Children may need help with trust and safety issues.
  3. Teenagers especially tend to rebel once out of the cult and are at high risk for acting-out behaviors and substance abuse.
  4. Parents may need help in reestablishing their own leadership roles within the family structure.
  5. Parents are advised to take an active role in working within the school system and in discussing the role of the cult in their child's life with teachers and administrators.(I7)

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