Julia Scheeres,
Jesus Land: A Memoir
(Counterpoint, 2005)

One couldn't dream up the strangeness, the hypocrisy and the wrong done in the name of religion that pervaded Julia Scheeres' childhood. In 1970, when Julia was 3, the Scheeres family adopted a black 3-year-old named David in order to save his soul, to save him from his blackness. Julia loved David as a brother and she had trouble understanding the racist insults the pair received in town and in school, as well as the fact that she got scolded for any of their misadventures while he got abused in the basement. When the two are just children frolicking with a red wagon, a concerned neighbor calls Ms. Scheeres to report that her daughter has run off with the maid's son.

In the name of holiness and soul-saving, first David and then Julia are shipped off to a brutal Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. Having basic privileges like freedom of movement, freedom to talk and bathroom privacy removed is part of the process of breaking down these troubled children and building them back up as Christians. Julia, who has tasted Southern Comfort by the age of 14, has to admit to being an "alcoholic and a fornicator" at therapy sessions. She works tirelessly to earn the privilege just to talk to her brother David.

There is another brother in the Scheeres household, another black boy who needs to be saved. While David responded to the turbulence around him with calmness and resolve (always hoping that someday the Scheeres would love him like a son), his brother Jerome responded with anger and violence, leaving the house as a teenager for a life of crime. Jerome exacted his revenge on the Scheeres by sneaking into Julia's room and violating her at night for years. Oh, but it was her "fornication" with her high school boyfriend that got her sent off to reform school.

This is not an angry or bitter book. Julia tells it like it is. Jesus Land is truly a tribute to her brother David. She wrote it to tell his story and her website has supporting documentation from his journal and their reform school report cards. A quick search of the web reveals that reform school Escuela Caribe, part of the New Horizons Youth Ministries, is alive and well in the Dominican Republic, with complaints being lodged against them well into the 1990s and 2000s.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
29 July 2006

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