11 Nov 2010

Amazing survival story of woman who escaped Tony Alamo cult as a teen

Texarkana Gazette - November 16, 2009

‘Little girl’ determined not to be Alamo ‘wife’

By Lynn LaRowe

‘I didn’t know what freedom was until I left Tony’s house’

When Nikki Farr ran away from Tony Alamo’s house in Fouke, Ark., she was just 15 and was the first to escape on her own steam.

“I knew when Tony got back I was really going to get it,” Farr said, referring to one day about 11 years ago when she’d been caught a second time making an unauthorized phone call. “There was no way I was going to get beat again. It was fight or flight, and there was no fighting.”

Farr, now 26, has no doubt she was being groomed to become a wife.

After being sent to visit Alamo in federal prison during a stint he did for tax evasion from 1994 to 1998, Farr said she was directed to move in with the “sisters in the house,” a term loyalists use to describe Alamo’s plural spouses.

“I fled for hours,” Farr said of her impromptu trek through the unfamiliar woods she traversed in Fouke. “I crossed barbed-wire fences and two little rivers … I knew I could never go back but I’d decided that if this was heaven, I’d rather have hell.”

Farr said she could never “wrap my head around” the idea of becoming an Alamo bride even though many considered it “their way into heaven.”

“I had two ulcers by age 14,” Farr said. “I fit the profile. I looked like a little girl.”

Farr was not listed in Tony Alamo’s indictment but testified against him at trial. She said July 24, 2009, was the “happiest day” of her life.

“To sit there next to (the Jane Does) and know that I was on the right side,” Farr said. “I finally belonged.”

Farr wasn’t given the opportunity to give victim impact testimony at Alamo’s sentencing because she wasn’t named in his indictment.

“I would have said, not to him but for all that could hear, ‘I wonder who I would have been,’” Farr considered. “I don’t want to use the word robbed … but I feel I could have made such a difference had I been able to find out who I was and what I was good at.

“I didn’t get to appreciate what it was to be an American,” she said. “I was born in the United States of America but I didn’t know what freedom was until I left Tony’s house.”

Farr said she spent her years in Alamo’s house getting in trouble so she wouldn’t be worthy of an Alamo-led wedding ceremony in his bedroom that ended with a forced consummation. The first time she’d been caught using a phone without Alamo’s blessing, she said he shoved her and banged her head into a bookcase. Other floggings she’d suffered were much worse, Farr said.

Farr said she watched video feed in the house from an outside camera until she saw Alamo approaching, knowing one of his wives was about to “report” her for her second phone infraction. That’s when she slipped through a window and into the unknown.

“I had to go. I was thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll die. Maybe I’ll go to hell. Where do I go? I go to the woods,’” Farr said.

After about five hours of running, Farr said, she came upon a house.

“That’s a long story in itself,” she said.

As she recalled the day she began the end of her life in Alamo Ministries, Farr’s breathing increased, her body stiffened and her face flushed.

“A family helped me. I got from Texarkana to L.A. on a Greyhound bus,” she said. “I was convinced that if Tony found out I was still in Fouke he would’ve gotten me back. He had them out searching for me.”

Farr described the days between her escape and debarkation in Los Angeles as “surreal.”

“There was some old guy with a bottle of whiskey on the bus and he kept trying to offer me some,” Farr said. “We passed through Indian towns and weird places.”

On the trip, Farr listened to the “Titanic” movie soundtrack on a Walkman she’d quickly stashed in a leather backpack that carried a change of underwear and a few other personal items.

“It was the first secular music I’d ever heard,” Farr said. “I’d snuck it in.”

Farr, born and raised in the “cult,” had never been alone in the outside world.

“You’re leery of men. You’ve never been allowed to be around them before,” she said. “All the people you should be able to go to for help, police, you are taught to fear. They’re all out to get you.”

Farr’s journey to L.A., melodied by “beautiful music,” ended in a bus station on the east side of the city. Farr, attractive and petite, said she waited for “a few hours” before her mother arrived and took her to ministry property in California.

“She had a couple of banana boxes that had ‘Nikki’s stuff’ written on them,” Farr said.

She was told Alamo was kicking her out of the group and that she could not stay with her mother.

“I was told I could go to juvenile detention or find somewhere to go,” Farr said. “I was given $50.”

Farr said her family had once lived in Chicago, so she chose that as her destination. The isolated life she’d lived left her with little understanding of society and a fear of those among whom she now existed.

“At 15, I had to support myself. I was working two jobs, going to school four hours a day, sleeping two hours a night, it was crazy,” she recalled.

While in Alamo’s house Farr said she had become accustomed to laboring long hours with little sleep and virtually no opportunities for relaxation or entertainment.

“I had to be 30 at 15, but in so many ways I was like a little child,” Farr said.

Farr remembered one day when she was 17, working for a communications business in Chicago, as she stood outside on a smoke break.

“I don’t smoke anymore, but I did then,” she said.

Down the street, Farr said, she could hear a school bell ring and watched as teenaged children walked from the campus with their backpacks and friends.

“Why couldn’t that be me?” she asked. “The older I get the more I realize how much had been taken away from me. I look back and think, ‘Holy crap.’”

Farr said others in Chicago considered her wise beyond her years because of her self-sufficiency. But Farr said she knew she didn’t have a basic understanding of the culture in which she now functioned.

“When I first got out, I loved ’80s music,” Farr said of her taste in 1999. “I didn’t know I was behind.”

When her peers spoke of the television shows and historical events—which her cohorts used as life markers—Farr was at a loss.

“I’d try to cover it up,” she said. “Now, I realize how stupid some of the stuff I said must’ve sounded.”

Farr said she still lives with a hyper-vigilance that makes her appear “jumpy.” She inhaled deeply as she explained how she still feels at times like she’s in water that reaches just below her nose. Her dream is to help children at risk of becoming victims of abuse.

“If you can save them before something happens, then you’ve truly saved them,” Farr said.

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