Innocence lost during life in sect
OnlineAthens/July 26, 2003
By Joe Johnson
Orlando, Fla. -- A spaceship from another universe would be arriving to save her from the coming apocalyptic destruction of life on Earth.
The price for this 11-year-old girl's ticket to safety was nothing less than the theft of her childhood, innocence and faith.
They were allegedly stolen by Dwight ''Malachi'' York, leader of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, a religious sect to which the girl, her mother and younger sister belonged. Membership for the girl meant years of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of York and a Spartan existence at the sect's Putnam County compound, devoid of the normal pleasures of childhood.
She can never regain what has been stolen from her, but the now-18-year-old woman is seeking at least $1 billion in damages from York in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Athens. The lawsuit alleges York molested her from the time she was 11 until she was 17, on properties York owns in both Athens and near the Putnam County town of Eatonton.
Known by York's followers simply as ''The Land,'' the 476-acre Putnam County compound was not only where Nuwaubians lived, it served as headquarters for a large business enterprise. The compound resembles an Egyptian theme park, with large pyramids and an entrance gate covered with hieroglyphics.
From the compound, Nuwaubians sold various books - including York's version of the Bible, ''The Holy Tablets.'' at $300 per copy - along with incense, coloring books, audio tapes, pens and pencils and even a lifelike Malachi York doll.
The woman who filed suit against York is one of several victims who assisted investigations which led to York's arrest on state and federal child molestation charges. As a result, she said she fears retribution from York's still-stalwart legion of supporters. As a condition of her interview with the Athens Banner-Herald she requested she be identified as ''Stacey,'' not her real name.
She now holds in contempt the man she once revered and said her time spent at the Putnam County compound is a nightmare she would like to forget.
Inside the compound
Life at the Putnam County compound as described by Stacey was highly regimented and seemed to be more of a combination boot camp and sweat shop than a religious retreat.
Children, boys and girls alike, were made to look the same by having close-cropped Afro-style haircuts and wearing white United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors T-shirts. They were awakened early in the morning to do chores and were led into the woods for calisthenics. They were called to prayer three times a day and made to memorize York's quasi-religious writings.
Children at the compound were separated from their parents, and Stacey said the only time she saw her mother was when they encountered each other in York's business office. The Nuwaubians were segregated at the compound by age and gender. Stacey lived in one of eight houses there with other girls her age.
''I hated everything about it - it was like being in a prison without gates,'' Stacey said. ''At times you'd be lucky to make a plate because so many people would be eating and there was so little food. And you got tired of eating the same nasty stuff every day. If you got meat, you were lucky.''
Even the adults were tightly controlled, according to Stacey, who said that upon joining the Nuwaubians they turned over their worldly possessions to York, including cars, titles to homes and bank accounts. He dictated where they lived and when they could leave and re-enter the compound. The men could not have relations with, or even talk to, the women without York's permission.
There were more than 20 people living in each house, with double bunkbeds placed in nearly every room, including the dining rooms and living rooms, Stacey said.
Because Stacey was one of York's chosen few, her chores involved working exclusively in the Nuwaubian leader's residence, which she cleaned daily. York's office was also in his residence, and Stacey was put to work there learning computer skills to assist in York's business enterprise. ''I didn't get to play with the other kids,'' Stacey said. ''I had to stay in his house all day. I hated it. But if I said I wanted to leave, where was I going to go? There's nothing but miles of trees and woods with animals, and I don't know Georgia.''
Like York, Stacey originally came from New York City. She, her mother and a younger sister were among hundreds of Nuwaubians who moved to the compound when York bought the Putnam County property in 1993.
Stacey said after working in York's house for a period of time, and after she turned 11, an adult member of the Nuwaubian leader's ''inner circle'' informed her ''something wonderful'' was going to happen that would have ''deep significance for her spiritual development.''
After eating a meal prepared specially for her at York's home one evening, Stacey was instructed by the woman to go upstairs to take a bath that had been drawn for her.
''So I bathed,'' Stacey said. ''Then I heard (York's) voice say, 'Come in,' and so I followed the voice into his bedroom and then it happened.
''He told me not to be scared, that it's going to hurt a little, but it hurt a whole damn lot.''
Stacey said York eventually told her the reason she had been summoned to his bed.
''The first time he didn't explain,'' she said. ''I mean, it was late and I was kind of scared - I mean I was really scared because I didn't know what was going on. But after awhile he explained the religion, that I had a purpose there and all this crappy stuff,'' Stacey said. ''He told me not to tell anyone, that it was a secret. At first I thought it was a privilege because it was such a big secret, but when I saw he was doing the same thing with other girls, so what makes it such a privilege? After a while I just felt like I was a prisoner in that place and couldn't get out.''
What sustained her during the years of sexual abuse was a form of dissociation.
''It's like you're somewhere, but you're not really there, you know?'' Stacey said. ''You're just there for the moment, doing whatever, because that's what you have to do.''
Stacey said while she was at the compound there were at least five other girls York favored, and they were all told that before the apocalypse came, they would be among the 144,000 believers who would be spirited away to safety by the mother ship from the planet Rizq from the galaxy Illyuwn.
''I've never seen an alien, but they drill it into you so much that you actually start believing in them,'' Stacey said.
In addition to the Putnam County property, York in 1998 bought a $528,000 mansion on Mansfield Drive in Athens, where Stacey said she was sometimes taken for more sexual abuse.
It was at about that time she began to rebel against York's authority, coming to see that York expected her to act like an adult in his bedroom, yet he treated her like a child the remainder of the time.
''You're told that you have to do certain things, and so you feel if you do the same things they do, why can't I do everything that they do?'' Stacey said.
It was while in Athens that Stacey began planning her break from the Nuwaubians, despite the fear tactics York used to keep her there, including a prediction she would be raped and murdered if she left.
''They would take me out to the stores in Athens, and I'd see all the college kids and stuff, so I'm like, 'Damn, I want to do that one day,' '' Stacey said. ''I mean, I don't always want to walk around bald and looking like a freak.''
Upon being sent back to the Putnam County compound in 1999, Stacey called her father in New York and asked him to get her. He did, but it wasn't until the next year that Stacey confided in a sister about the sexual abuse she had endured. When the sister told their father, he in turn contacted authorities.
York was arrested in May 2002 on state and federal charges. He has since pleaded guilty to 74 state counts of child molestation, and as part of a plea agreement pleaded guilty to a single federal count of transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes. The plea bargain was rejected by a U.S. District Court judge earlier this month, and a trial on the federal charges is scheduled to begin Aug. 4.
Sentencing on the state charges is on hold because the sentence is to run concurrent with any federal sentence that is imposed.
Trying to survive
Stacey, who now lives with family in Florida, graduated from high school in May and hopes to one day attend law school. She said she became interested in law while doing legal research for York when Putnam County officials began conducting inspections of the Nuwaubian compound.
In the meantime, she said, it is a daily struggle to get her life on an even keel - socially, emotionally and spiritually.
''I find it hard to believe in anything because I just think everything is bull-- now - excuse my French,'' Stacey said. ''You come from where you see people make up stuff, so it makes you wonder, 'Does everybody else do it?' It's hard for me to be religious. I don't know where my faith actually lies.''
She said she continues to have ''problems'' with her family, because ''we just don't really know each other.''
Stacey has also had problems maintaining a relationship with a boyfriend because her Nuwaubian experience left her with trust issues, and she found herself asking, ''What's he in it for - what does he want from me?''
In short, Stacey is trying to adjust to living the life of a normal young adult.
''There's a lot of catching up I've got to do,'' she said. ''So right now, I'm just doing what I have to do to try to survive. Things are a little rough, but I'm trying to make it.''
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