Amish hair-cutters adjust to life after prison

The Columbus Dispatch/July 28, 2014

By Kim Palmer

Bergholz, Ohio -- Amish farmer Raymond Miller developed a taste for Mountain Dew soda, got his GED and wonders if he should get a pool table after learning to play in prison.

His wife, Kathryn, who had never ridden a public bus before boarding one last year to go to prison for forcibly cutting the hair of her relatives, was introduced to yoga and step classes while behind bars.

The Millers, members of an Amish breakaway sect from eastern Ohio at the center of 2011 hair-cutting attacks on other Amish followers, are trying to settle back into life at home after being exposed in prison to a world their religion is focused on locking out.

The Amish shun modern technology and regard beards for adult men and uncut hair for married women as sacred. In Bergholz, where the Millers live, they are Old Order, which means no electricity or telephone lines into the house — unless, like Mr. Miller, 29, you are on probation and must make daily phone calls to a probation officer and wear an electronic ankle monitor while harvesting hay.

Recently released after spending nearly a year in prison, the Millers were part of a group of 16 Amish from Bergholz who were convicted in late 2012 of hate crimes for the hair-cutting attacks. The victims included Mr. Miller’s parents.

Prosecutors said the attacks were intended to humiliate and were carried out in retaliation for personal and spiritual disagreements that Bergholz’s bishop and leader, Sam Mullet, had with Amish in other groups. Mullet is serving 15 years as mastermind of the attacks.

His followers were sentenced to one to seven years each. Defense lawyers did not deny the hair-cutting took place but said that hate-crime charges were over-reaching.

One thing both of the Millers had to get accustomed to in prison was the concept of free time, something the Amish do not have a lot of at home.

“I read, played softball and played pool. I liked pool, and I was pretty good at it,” Mr. Miller said.

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