Ashley’s Story: The Potters Field Ministries Case
The following report is true to the best of my ability to verify. I believe the people I spoke to spoke truthfully. The report is presented without malice and is a work of journalism.
My name is Ashley. I met Pamela and Michael Rozell when I was about 12 years old in Southern California. I was introduced by family of mine who had been close to them at that time. When I was 13 years old, I went on tour with them traveling from California to Montana to help in the pottery studio, subsequently traveling to various churches until we reached Boston. However, it was in Montana that I first experienced Michael’s need for power and control.
Being from California at the time it was common place for a 13 year old adolescent to call others “dude” or exclaim this in surprise or awe. On the final evening at the studio in Whitefish, we were loading the truck up with pottery. Upon finishing this we were standing in a circle talking about the trip to come. Michael was charismatically chatting, when for a reason unbeknownst to me he came up to me and lifted my 13 year old, forward facing body up by my arm pits and lifted me onto the truck bed. Certainly I was surprised and incredibly uncomfortable and exclaimed “Duuude!”. From there he was angered and demanded I go into the studio with him a few feet away. Inside he berated me until I was in tears, demanding I call him “Pastor Mike”. He made a point to tell me I may also never call him “Mike” because he is a pastor (although he never actually went through formal pastoral training or seminary I later learned). I was horrified and too ashamed and humiliated to come out of the studio to face every one who had been there. So I cried and sanded down unfinished pottery. Tour came and went and I spent majority of my time helping sell pottery and stayed with his long time assistants at the time.
Less than a couple of years later, I learned that Michael and his ministry were opening up a program for “troubled girls” called “On Track”…never in a million years could have I have foreseen that I would be one of those girls. At the age of 15, after an invasion of privacy, I was sent to that program for having minor sexual relations with my first boyfriend. At 15 of course, this is pretty normal. Yes, it was sinful and against my faith and I felt the guilt of that even putting an end to that the same night I would later be told I’d be going to Montana to “take a break”. Keep in mind, I had never drank alcohol, smoked a cigarette, done drugs, snuck out, or cut my skin, which were the common reasons for other girls being in the program. I was a well performing student at a private Christian school who loved Tennis and studying French. I was so excited about my plans to become a social worker I had even began sending off for information packets from potential colleges. After arriving very late due to flight delays, I awoke the next day with the assistants to go to Michael and Pam’s home to work a full day. The first day I dug a giant flower bed out front and then weeded the flower beds surrounding the home, pouring sweat in the summer sun. The following couple of unpaid work days were spent working in the studio and cleaning out pottery equipment (without a mask, which I later learned in a college ceramics class is very important for health reasons). I received a call from home informing me that I would be going to On Track. I dropped the phone and started running down the road. Unfortunately for me, I was caught and spent fourth of July with the On Track Girls of Potters Field “Ministry”. From there I spent my days doing nothing but listening to music and journaling as the other girls did their home schooling. I had occasional “counseling” sessions, until the “counselor” got fed up with me and said I could just come if I ever wanted to which would of course I would never want to. These “counseling” sessions were aimed at finding the deep meaning behind my sin, which of course I could never find. Although I drove myself into a sad little hole trying to find the reason and meaning so I could get out of there.
I spent a total of four months there. I was supposed to leave after two months, but when I asked a few days before those two months expired, I was told by the “counselor” of the program (who I do not believe was ever trained in formal counseling or even licensed by a board of any sort), that I was not leaving. I dropped my half-peeled orange on the deck and ran inside up to the dorm rooms at Potters Field that housed both female adult discipleship students and On Track adolescence. For some reason in an effort to calm and self-soothe I suppose, I began washing my hands under ice cold water until I began to scream, throwing water all over the mirrors. At some point, others came and someone restrained me as I began scratching my neck as hard as I could in the midst of my first panic attack. I couldn’t breathe, hence the scratching at my neck. When asked later by students about my neck I lied and said I had a nightmare, resulting in the scratches leading down my neck.
During my time there we were forced to fast along with discipleship students two times despite our protests. It wasn’t a true fast but the food was minimal and the fast of course had no spiritual purpose when it wasn’t even determined by our free will. Michael came to the school here and there. However, when he would come it was expected to applaud, hoot and holler at the sign of his arrival through the doors as though he was God himself. Things got really bad for me when Michael sat down with me on a couple of his visits. He once told me that he didn’t want me to become my mother (a chronic alcoholic and felon) and told me, “You don’t love your grandmother, or else you would not have done what you did”. I was disgusted and dared to protest against this as best I could, as a shy 15 year old girl, but he spoke over me and insisted this to be the truth despite anything I would say. After this, each day, I would stare in the mirror at myself wishing to drain my mother’s blood from my veins. To somehow clear the filth. I was so filled with shame. I was filthy, impure and disgusting. Maybe I should even die. I began cutting during my time there, as learned by hearing stories of another On Track girl using cutting as an escape prior to her arrival. To this day, few people know of my cutting because I hid it and only cut on my upper thighs with the metal clip piece broken off of a skinny sharpie.
After the program I turned to kitchen knives and became so depressed I began stowing away any and all pills for my future suicide. I obsessed about this and had a list of at least 15 different ways I could kill myself should I “need” to do that. I once considered jumping out of the car going down the highway, but it didn’t seem like a sure bet. I came out of the experience with a destroyed relationship with my family and felt worthless. At one point, I began taking the pills in a crisis. I was desperately depressed and hopeless. Between anti-depressants and my first job the depression lifted enough that I got rid of the bag of pills. However, the years to follow were filled with decisions of self-destruction and low self-esteem. I did anything and everything I could to self-destruct. I also abandoned my faith and denied God following my release from the program. Not His existence but my decision to follow Him in any capacity believing He had abandoned and betrayed me. The program ended after my peers and I left. Although I cannot say for certain, another On Track peer purported they decided to close the program because they thought we would all “kill ourselves” if we stayed there over the holiday season.
Who knows for certain, well I’m sure there are those that know, but what I do know is that I experienced Spiritual Abuse, as many others who have crossed the paths of Potters Field Ministry have. Although at the age of 19, I processed these events and the remaining feelings in therapy, I continue to struggle with my faith and trust in leaders of the church. I observe new pastors very carefully, surveying their every word and possible intentions, scanning for lies, deceptions or simply my own icky gut feelings which I’ve learned to trust fully. I’ve decided to write my story in hopes that no one else experiences the deception and spiritual abuse that is so common within this “ministry”. Perhaps it was a true ministry at its conception, but it has not been a Christian ministry for many years now.