I can’t quite remember the flight from Toronto to LAX but I remember the time leading up to it. I was 19 and I had recently returned from a commune in East Texas, my post high school dreams included escaping my abusive home life and possibly becoming a stage actress, maybe I could find some way to kill two birds.
I was working at a summer camp and an old friend who had just spent a year with an LA based cult group that toured around the US performing inspired me to go. I didn’t have the funds to return to the missionary group in texas that required you to raise all the funds needed for mission trips, the LA based group paid a stipend and I’d be performing – it sounded too good to be true.
my post high school dreams included escaping my abusive home life and possibly becoming a stage actress
We started our adventure in Van Nuys where we’d work on our craft, watch the masters perform, give covenant and be placed in our touring groups. We were a large group and I was increasingly aware as days went by that this was a cult. I didn’t want to return home, my parents were constantly fighting and the violence was often projected toward me.
I’d had to commit my mother to the mental ward the previous time I was home on a break and it had taken it’s toll on me. I felt trapped and choice-less and I was dangerously naive.
The leader of our group, Chuck Tanner was larger than life. He was ex-military and apparently before his conversion to christianity was a big shot in Hollywood. He wrote every single play the group performed and he was worshipped like a god. He was demanding, he ran the organization like the military, there were even medals in it for you along with rank if you managed to please him, which was nearly impossible – I remember him openly scolding one of his devotees for blowing her nose too loudly during a play.
I’d made a few friends during that week and for the most part they were the reason i stood in front of the entire North American arm of the organization and took my covenant to stay with the group no matter what, and i received my coveted necklace made out of nails (a miniaturized version of the kind used to nail christ to the cross). I’d also met a charismatic guy, T Jacques Gann.
He oozed southern charm and had managed to become a favourite in the organization despite his self admitted criminal record the length of his 6 foot 2 inch frame and his penchant for sexually assaulting the girls in the organization, which was ignored.
I was assigned to a group of three, our leader Julie was from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, she had a permed mullet and a beautiful singing voice, me and T Jacques Gann. We were going to South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina in a black 1979 Dodge van. I’d had to learn to drive a commercial van and I remember the out of body experience of driving that van on the LA freeway to prove that I could handle driving it from LA to South Carolina.
As we left LA, T Jacques Gann began his grooming process with me. I don’t know if I just smelled of vulnerability but it was like he could tell I was ripe.
In order to complete our mission, we were required to drive around and find churches or groups that would allow us to perform, put us up for the night and take up an offering for us so we could continue our mission. Most of the money we collected was sent back to HQ in LA – they sent us our weekly stipend along with letters from friends on missions in other parts of North America through the mail.
Our leader had received word that I had impressed some of the higher ups with my performances during our week in LA and I was to be watched and developed, I was flattered.
It didn’t take long for T Jacques Gann to start making comments about my body, weight and looks. He thought I needed to lose weight and he was going to help me by motivating me. We would walk for hours every night, him as the coach telling me when my pace was too slow and giving me positive reinforcement at first, then it turned to shaming my body for being too fat. He would supervise my food intake and i desperately wanted his approval.
After a while, he didn’t even have to come out with me anymore I went out every night, no matter where we were, how dangerous the neighbourhood or unfamiliar and walked fast just like T Jacques Gann told me to. After the weight came off and I was more to his liking the tone of our relationship took a sharp turn.
He began by making sexual comments, flashing me, jumping on top of me, pinning me down but then using the insecurity I still felt around my body to assure me that he couldn’t ever be attracted enough to me to want me “that way”.
I was humiliated. I felt like I was in love with him, but I also hated him. I didn’t really understand why I cared so much and why he hated me so much.
He would openly ridicule me in any meeting we had with church leaders, just like Chuck had when that girl blew her nose. It didn’t matter what i did or how hard I tried.
Occasionally at night he would include me in is activities where he would sneak out after our hosts had gone to bed, sometimes helping himself to their car to get where he wanted to go. We’d go to clubs and dance, he’d get drunk and or do drugs while i was oblivious and in awe of him.
Anytime I struggled to learn a play that we had to perform that week T Jacques Gann would stay up all night with me and “help” me, he’d tear me down only to build me up. He helped me realize that I needed to rehearse my lines with my blocking, so we’d perform together run lines and move through the motions we were meant to perform when we were on stage. I’d felt a breakthrough in my craft, I had memorized a huge repertoire of plays and I had him to thank, he reminded me daily that without him I wouldn’t be the rising star I was.
As time went on I fell into a depression, I wasn’t able to put my finger on it but something wasn’t right. We were staying with a pastor and his family, Julie, Jacques and I were alone in the pastor’s home when we began arguing. I was laying on the couch with my head in Julie’s lap, she was playing with my hair and Jacques was pacing the floor. I can’t remember what we argued about.
I remember him reeling back and slapping me across the head with his full force. I immediately looked at Julie, our leader for something, anything. She smiled, did nothing.
I stood up and walked out of the house. I don’t know where I was going, but I just started walking. Eventually I spotted the black van coming down the road behind me. I assumed he was going to apologize. When he caught up with me, he swung the passenger door open and told me to get in. I kept walking, without saying a word, his tone escalated as i continued walking. He was worried the pastor was coming home soon and would find out what had happened. I continued to refuse to get in the van.
He put the van in park, got out and came running after me, I ran as fast as I could until he caught up with me, grabbed me by my hair and tried to drag me to the van. I fought free and ran again. After this went on for a while we noticed the police had arrived at the pastor’s home, someone had witnessed the scene thinking I was being kidnapped.
Jacques begged me to drive the van back and cover for him, he had a suspended licence and wasn’t supposed to be driving at all. I managed to convince the police that everything was fine and that I had been driving, all was well. I wrote to HQ to report what had happened and request that T Jacques Gann be removed from my tour group.
I was reprimanded for my rebellious, jezebel spirit that had tempted him and caused this entire situation. I knew from that moment on that I was on my own.
I had reached out to my home pastor, my leader from the east Texas commune and anyone else I could think of that could help and every one of them admonished me to fulfill the covenant I’d made before god. T Jacques Gann had even convinced my Mother that I had sexually propositioned him when she came to visit me, she left me there with him to fulfill my covenant.
From then on out I didn’t stay in the same host homes with him and we barely spoke when we had to be in the same room together. He took every opportunity to continue his campaign of degradation on my soul, I was broken and I was beginning to crack.
I had spinning thoughts, crying bouts and I’d sit for hours reciting scripture in attempts to comfort myself.
I was losing myself and I didn’t know what to do. In my mother’s visit she had offered me a glimmer of hope, she’d brought a suitor with her, someone from my home church who had expressed interest in marrying me after hearing me speak at church. He was 15 years my senior and looked just like jesus. I began contemplating his offer, we began writing each other. T Jacques Gann ended up raping a pastor’s daughter a few weeks after the incident with me, he wasn’t found out until she started showing. In the meantime I began to hatch my escape.
I’d found a small closet in the garage of the house Julie and I were staying in, I got up before everyone packed all of my luggage and hid.
I waited until they were all gone and i couldn’t hear them driving around yelling my name looking for me. When the closet opened, i was so scared, the lady we were staying with found me. I explained to her that I just wanted to go home. She took me to her church to talk to her pastor who admonished me to keep my covenant.
I begged him to please drive me to the nearest greyhound station, he relented but assured me that god would bring me back through this lesson again, you cannot break a covenant.
After the pregnancy was discovered and several other young women in the group came forward with tales of sexual assault T Jacques Gann was kicked out of the LA based cult – that is still operating to this day, but not before he married some poor girl from that group. Years later I found a report online of his arrest record and prison terms.
He was in jail for a long list of crimes many of which included sexual assault.
Part of me still felt sad, I could still hear his smooth North Carolina accent and see the pockmarks on his cheeks from drug abuse, charming and maniacal – some part of me still loved him in some way.