My life

by wasone 10 Replies latest jw friends

  • wasone

    In 1968 Merle Haggard released a country song with the lyrics " and I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole. No one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried." The following year I too turned twenty-one and found myself in prison but not for the reasons Haggard sang about. It was the Vietnam Era and I was one of Jehovah's Witnesses. So I began my adult life with thirty other young Witness men in a Federal prison camp at Eglin Air Force Base Florida for selective service violation. Little did I know that a few years later I would be at The Lord's House with one of these young men as a room mate.

    In 1971 I was released after serving seventeen months of my three year sentence, the remainder I would finish on parole. After a few years of working and pioneering 1975 was fast approaching. And what better place for a Witness to be at than The Lord's House, I thought. I was , as they use to say unencumbered, so I applied for Bethel service and was accepted.

    My first job at Bethel was in a construction crew in the subbasement , that's even lower than the basement, of the newly acquired Towers Hotel. We were to demo. two mammoth oil burning boilers used for heating the hotel. They were to be replaced by smaller more efficient ones by an outside company.In otherwords we got to do the dirty preparation grunt work. Hey, we were just happy to be there at The Lord's House.

    There wasn't as much said back in the 70s about safety as there is today. Probably that young brother who had to craw into that old oil storage tank to clean the gunk out would have violated OSHA Confined Space Rules of today. And removing that asbestos that insulated the boilers and piping had to conflict with modern OSH Rules. I guess the Lord would protect us was our naive thinking back then. Asbestosis sometimes takes years to show up. A thought that I find worrisome to this day.

  • Pete Zahut
    Pete Zahut
    I was in Bethel at that time (76) stuck in the Bindery and never got to see what others were doing. I love hearing how the other half lived...I've got my popcorn ready....please continue your story !
  • Sail Away
    Sail Away
    wasone and Pete Zahut, my husband was at Bethel in 1974/75. He worked in the carpentry shop and was known for distributing health food snacks in little yellow bags for $1. He gave up his little business venture when he had more IOUs than dollar bills in his money box. Sound familiar? 😃
  • wasone

    We finished that project in the Towers and I was given the choice to work with a brother in concrete finishing or continue under Fred Barns as a plumber in his seven man Towers crew. I stayed with Fred who I would learn later had gotten in trouble with a couple of other brothers named Frew a few years earlier for sticking up for the younger Bethelites. We worked on fuel transfer piping and maintenance in the Towers for a while. I didn't like the thought of drinking water from the Towers tap though after we found dead pigeons floating in the rooftop domestic water tank. Little did I know this would begin a life long career as a plumber for me.

    When an opening in the Home Repair Shop at 124 Columbia Heights building became available I was sent over by Fred to Walter Turpin, Home Repair shop overseer. Fred said I was to be his eyes and ears in the home.Even though I was a new boy I got the sense that Fred must of been in some sort of punishment, banished to the Tower's dungeon. Though I did not know at the time of the trouble caused by the three Freds earlier.

    Life at the Home Repair Shop was much easier and cleaner. Mostly doing plumbing repair jobs in the different residence buildings. I pretty much got to see what was going on through out the home. Once when changing the toilet seat in Knorr's suite I peeped in one of his closets and it was filled with all different kinds of liquor. At that time we only got a few dollars monthly allowance maybe fourteen or so plus a few more for travel allowance if we requested it. .At any rate I remember thinking how nice it must be to live in this luxury compared to the dinky poorly furnished Towers room that me and my former prison mate shared. Some are just more equal at Bethel than others I was beginning to learn. Take the shower in Sec. Treasurer Grant Suiter's suite for example. Why did he need so many shower heads that completely surrounded the shower like a car wash? I don't know to each his own I guess. Suiter's wife once got onto the family at morning worship about using too much toilet paper. What! We were basically working for room and board and now they were wanting us not to use so much toilet paper. In hindsight we should of used the magazines instead I guess. There was an elderly brother who worked a little in the repair shop. He had been at Bethel most of his life with no living family, he was trapped at Bethel. I once asked him if he had it to do over would he have made Bethel a career? He hung his head and sadly said no.

    By this time 1975 had come and gone without any evidence that the new system was any closer. People at Bethel were not all that happy either. Seem to me that quite a few were cracking under the pressure of the hectic schedule of work, meetings, and congregation activity. People were wanting to leave the Lord's House. I remember going to a repair job of one of the brothers who worked in the Service Department. I thought it was the usual plumbing type problem but instead the guy's wife wanted me to plug up all the holes and cracks I could find to keep the bugs from entering their room. She had become paranoid or ocd about bugs. Was that caused by mental pressure? I don't know. Something wasn't right.Then there was that little newly married hispanic sister who after awhile stayed confined to her room. In hushed whispers it was said she had mental problems. And the electrician brother who was found wondering the street near Bethel in a stupor trying to find his way to the factory in the wee morning hours. People seemed to me to be cracking because of disappointment possibly.

  • wasone
    Sail Away I don't remember the snacks so don't know who you are talking about. However my room mate worked in the the carpentry shop at that same time. So it's possible that I knew your husband.
  • under the radar
    under the radar
    You're a great storyteller. Keep 'em coming...
  • wasone

    I think Knorr believed that the way god blessed us was by giving us more work to do.One day I found myself on the elevator with him in the 124 building, The only thing the man ever said to me was, are you staying busy, do you have enough to do? Of course I told him I did. Just didn't seem to be the right time to mention that sometimes I got caught up with my work and would spend time hiding in a supply room reading up on plumbing code. May be he was just out of touch. It was at this time when the family was so discontent that he added fuel to the fire by telling the family that as long as he had anything to do with it the four year commitment arrangement would never be done away with. But apparently someone with more empathy seen what was going on and a change was made. In 1976 we were told that if any at Bethel were not happy there we could leave without any repercussions. It was about this time that a Bethel Elder from my Flatbush Congregation approached me about being appointed as an elder in the congregation. I told him that I appreciated the recommendation but I really didn't know how I would be able to help since I was leaving Bethel as soon as possible. A gruff Bethel Overseer Ray Rose , who held the master plumbing license for the society,told me I should reconsider and stay so that I could become tough like him and withstand any future tribulation. If he only knew it was tough company men like him that made Bethel so unappealing to me. And the fear of becoming trapped there with nothing, like the old brother in the repair shop and so many others there,There had to be more to life than what Bethel had to offer.

    My room mate ended up leaving Bethel and marring a girl from his Bronx Congregation. I think they moved back to his home in Florida, Despite me telling Ray Rose that I didn't want to stay and become like him he gave me a good referral letter to use to get an outside job.

    I took that letter with me back to the Chattanooga Tn. area where I was from and used it to get an entry level job in a plumbing shop. I applied myself to the trade, got licenses and eventually got into the local plumbing union. Worked hard, got married, walked away from the religion in the 80s and raised a family. In 2010 I retired after working over thirty years at the trade. What did I learn from that Bethel experience that happened now some forty years ago? Well in my humble opinion I learned that Bethel is not the Lord's House. Never seen any evidence of God dwelling there. I learned that the Watchtower is just a cooperation and that Jehovah's Witnesses are just another religion. They are in business to do what all religions do. They sell hope.

    Sometimes I wonder about those who stayed at Bethel. I have a home a family and a retirement. Sadly from stories we are hearing I don't think those career people who are being forced to leave now are that lucky. And at this point in my story I will say what Forrest Gump said" and that is all I have to say about that."

  • Giordano
    Well told........ good account of Bethel life.
  • steve2

    Decades in Bethel, they cannot help but see so many others put out to pasture. But when it finally happens to them, they react like stunned mullets: "Why me? After all these years of fzithful service, this is my reward?!"

    There are none so blind as those who refuse to see. I cannot feel sad for long time Bethelites sent packing - not when I know they have observed it happen to so many before them.

  • Sail Away
    Sail Away
    Wasone, wow! I think you must know my husband. He was a MS and assigned to the Flatbush congregation while at Bethel. Leaving Bethel before your four-year contract was up was called 'leaving on the Mayflower', hence my husband's username over on Reddit-- Bethel Mayflower. I sent you a private message.

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