Former students share harrowing stories of life inside Alabama’s worst religious private school
Posted June 30, 2016
Update March 7, 2019
Isolation rooms at Solid Rock Ministries on Spring Hill Ave. and Ann Street in Mobile, Ala. are shown in this March 2015 file photo. Pastor John David Young, instructor WIlliam Knott and counselor Aleshia Moffett were arrested on multiple counts of child abuse stemming from an investigation into a religious boot-camp-style school for troubled teens that operated first in Prichard, and later in Mobile.
Their trial is scheduled for October 2016. The Mobile Press-Register photographed the Restoration Youth Academy in Prichard in 2012 and the Saving Youth Foundation/Solid Rock Ministries in 2015. (Sharon Steinmannemail@example.com)
Lucas Greenfield was prepared to scale the razor-wire topped fence surrounding Restoration Youth Academy if it meant his freedom. While an instructor was busy, Greenfield seized his chance. He was nearly out the door when another student ratted him out.
His punishment for the attempted escape was “isolation,” an empty 8×8 room lit by a lone bulb that burned overhead day and night. He was clad only in his underwear. That was the rule. Instructors let him out, briefly, twice a day to use the bathroom. Sometimes he got to take a shower. Mostly he just sat or slept.
Greenfield, then 14, spent two months in isolation.
“When you’re inside a tiny room where all you can see is four walls,” he said, “you start – I won’t say hallucinating, but you start going crazy.”
His thoughts ran in dark circles: “What’s the best way to kill myself? Is there any way out of this? This is ridiculous. I hope I die.”
Restoration Youth Academy was a Christian bootcamp-style residential school for troubled youth, squatting in one of the grittiest neighborhoods in Prichard, the worn-down working-class city on Mobile’s north side. Owner and Pastor John David Young and instructor William Knott tightly controlled how the “cadets” – boys and girls ages 10-17 – ate, slept, learned and exercised.
Despite multiple investigations by the Mobile County district attorney’s office and the Alabama Department of Human Resources, and despite complaints of abuse from some students – vehemently denied by Knott and Young – it took officials five years to close down the school.
“This kind of program should not be allowed to exist,” said Greenfield, who finally made it out when police showed up in 2015. “All because you put a cross on top of a building and call it a Christian program, we’re supposed to overlook all that happens in those places?”
Young shuttered the Prichard school in 2012, after being ordered to pay $27,000. in back rent to the city.
Within weeks he reopened in Mobile, renaming the school Saving Youth Foundation and Solid Rock Ministries.
Police raided that school in March 2015, and the Alabama Department of Human Resources removed 36 children following allegations of child abuse and deplorable living conditions.
Five months later, Knott and Young, along with school counselor Aleshia Moffett, were arrested on multiple counts of aggravated child abuse. They’ll be tried together beginning Oct. 17, 2016.