I'm a former member of JPUSA. Actually, I suppose that I was never was really considered a full-fledged member of the community, since I was one of the "adopted" children that leaders there probably consider a "failure." But how do you expect a child to turn out normal and well-adjusted if they're taken away from their parent(s) and then given to someone they don't know who starts immediately imposing a strange and alien set of rules on them?
I am referring to rules like:
No allowance or opportunities to earn, save and learn about money, etc. No friends, especially of the opposite sex and/or children outside the community. No TV, radio, records, tapes, except for those approved by the pastors. No leaving the house except under direct adult supervision, not even to play in the yard. And the list of rules went on and on. However, you'd be surprised how many of these rules have now been changed.
I don't know how kids were supposed to grow up healthy on a steady diet of instant mashed potatoes, noodles and rice, cooked until almost all the nutritional value had been drained. And I still can't forget the soggy canned vegetables, stale white bread, powdered milk complete with lumps (as we used to say,"powdered milk: if you don't like it, you can lump it"). There was an alternative though, fried eggs or instant ramen noodles. But typically we had no meat or fresh veggies, just heavy, starchy gravies ladled onto potatoes, pasta, rice or bread.
My wife recently has influenced me to eat a little better, but sometimes I have a taste for mushroom gravy on rice with lots of fresh garlic & onions. These were two forbidden fruits at JPUSA, probably because of our close living conditions.
My escape at first was through befriending visitors of different nationalities who came to see the place. They often heard about us through "Resurrection Band" concerts, in Europe and the South Pacific. Through my interaction with them I was able to see things that took place at JPUSA through an outsider's eyes.
I also signed up for some mission trips overseas, to kind of get a taste of life in other parts of the world. I tried to escape in this way, but ultimately failed to get away from the stranglehold leadership had on everyone there. It was like trying to escape that tractor beam in Star Wars.
All through the '90s I would leave JPUSA only to be drawn back again. I really had nowhere else to go, since I was forced at an early age to abandon all family ties outside the community.
Once I asked why the JPUSA band "Rez" never played in Asia. Its lead vocalist Wendi Kaiser responded, "Well, that's a long way from home!"
One time in the '80s my biological sister called me on the phone. But I was only permitted to speak to her with my "adopted" mother listening in on an extension. I retreated to my bedroom. This was a bunk in a room I shared with four other children, all from different families with a bathroom. That bathroom was also used by a married couple. I felt shame and embarrassment when my "adopted" mother suddenly started yelling through the phone at my sister for no reason. That incident prevented my sister from having the courage to ever call me again.
It seems that now JPUSA has relaxed some of their rules, such as rules about money. But when I was growing up there it was hard to just get change for a can of soda. Today it seems they are willing at times to pay for DVD players, cell phones, coffee at Starbucks and shopping trips to IKEA. Though this is most often for the privileged few.
I remember how every few days we had another "Bake sale." Baked goods usually consisting of Pad Thai, which resembled real Thai food as much as Chef Boyardee does Italian. And there was iced coffee, if you could call it that. The proceeds would go, goodness-knows-where. None of us kids really knew for sure.
Now it appears young people at JPUSA, who are in their teens, are allowed to associate with members of the opposite sex and listen to modern music on the radio. Plus they're allowed to work at the "Gut Level" store on the lobby level to earn an allowance, which they can spend as they like.
Internet access though is often strictly controlled and certain websites, that might possibly contain subversive content (such as this one, perhaps), may be filtered out through a firewall. And anyone attempting to access such sites risks being pounced upon by the "Thought Police." They might then be stripped of their right to access the Internet.
Likewise, it seems the use of an outside e-mail account, such as Hotmail, Yahoo!, etc., is frowned upon. There is an approved community server, which is authorized for sending and receiving e-mail. But if they have passwords, they could potentially break into any account and read the e-mail whenever they want.
When I lived at JPUSA my regular mail was opened and read before being passed on to me. Just a few years ago, when I was visiting JPUSA Glenn Kaiser lectured me on the dangers of e-mail.
I don't know if things at JPUSA will really get better. It seems like the place is going through a melt-down, like some sort of communal religious Enron, Taliban or something [sic].