Shepherd’s Hill Farm is a hell-hole

Got problem kids? Man, when they hit those teenage years they all get rebellious and willful, and start thinking independently, and often start doing things their parents would rather they didn’t. This is one of the tough responsibilities of being a parent — you have to be willing to let your children grow into independent human beings.

But let’s say you never got that memo, and you think your job is to raise children who are just like you: insecure, a little bit angry, shackled tightly into a fearful belief system that says all human beings are evil. Independent thinking is the last thing you want in your obedient little repressed child-slave! Well, there’s help for you: Shepherd’s Hill Farm, an accredited Christian boot camp that will stomp his wild soul right back down into the mud of conformity and obedience.

It’s way out in the middle of nowhere, so there will be no place for the wayward teen to escape to…and no one to hear them scream.

Shepherd’s Hill Farm is a counseling center, so they will also take care of the mental health of your child. Trace Embry, the director, knows absolutely nothing about mental health and even gives dangerous advice against all the evidence, but you don’t have to worry — he’s a very vocal Christian. God will forgive him.

We have testimonials from inmates residents of the camp about the other benefits of attending. Does your child have special medical needs, like seizures? They will take his medicine away, but their staff is well-trained in being able to simultaneously wrestle a child to the ground and pray for him. Is your child a bit on the hefty side? He will get ‘special meals’ — a can of beans, a bit of vegetable, and a piece of bread — until they reach that ascetic ideal. Your child will be ‘brainwashed in the blood of the lamb,’ so it’s all OK — even the beatings serve to transfigure hooligans into robots for Jesus.

Don’t worry that your child might fall behind in his classes. They teach science at Shepherd’s Hill Farm!

In their “science” classes we were indoctrinated with the christian story. We were forced to watch Kent Hovind videos, as if he and all his “theorys” have not already been debunked.

He won’t fall behind: he’ll be propelled backwards, as if they’d strapped a rocket to his ass and aimed him right at the dark ages.

For all of this — the cans of beans, the non-existent medical care, the anti-education, the beatings — what do you think you should pay? Nothing? They should pay you? Wrong! You will cough up almost $60,000 a year for the privilege of tossing your child into the hands of a dumb redneck psychopath with a farm in the wilderness. It’s a Christian wilderness, though. That’s the added value you’re paying for, and I’m sure it’s worth every penny…if you’re one of those parents who can’t abide children with personalities or ideas of their own.


  1. Eileen says

    I’m lovin the (rather ironic) link on the Shepherd’s Hill page – If there’s anyone who should be tested before providing basic childcare, it’s a religious fundamentalist.

  2. Aquaria says

    The Missouri Synod Lutheran school I attended is looking downright permissive–maybe even a hotbed of atheism.

    I remember the pastor exchanging some of those complicated handshakes with kids as we left the required weekly indoctrination meetings–er, “chapel.” I’ve no idea why he bothered with trying to understand us, rather than backhanding us with a Bible. What was he thinking?

  3. robertdw says

    The absolute worst part of this, to me at least, is that the parents who send their kids there really do care about their children and are trying to do what they think is right.

    The fact that anyone can think that putting your children through that sort of abuse is the right thing to do is just terrifying. But it is a logical extension of a belief in a temporary life followed by eternal salvation or damnation. An excellent example how religious beliefs can distort the most positive of emotions into something foul.

  4. MikeMa says

    A belief system that requires beatings and vile mistreatment to gain or maintain adherents. What a petty little god they have.

  5. Walton says

    This is truly awful.

    Just more reason why we should fight the pernicious notion that parents “own” their children and have some sort of “right” to control, dominate and abuse them, or send them to abusive places like this. Children are not property; they are free individuals, and their rights and choices ought to be respected and defended – where necessary, by the courts.

  6. jennyxyzzy says

    Good grief!

    Now, I know Shepherd’s Hill Farm is a relatively fringe example, but I can’t help wishing that some of those Christians that no doubt dismiss the owner of the Farm as not being a True Christian, would picket the Farm to protect the children, instead of, oh, I don’t know, picketing abortion clinics, for example!

  7. Rawnaeris says

    Damn, this place makes the Jesus Camps I went to for one week every summer look like an absolute vacation.

    Brainwashing is a favorite of xtain groups though. Took me three years to realize I’d been brainwashed at one of those camps. That’s when I became an atheist.

  8. Noni Mausa says

    $60,000 a year? Doesn’t that rather limit their client base? That rules out the lowest three quintiles, maybe four, unless people can somehow get a bank loan, or sell their house… or use up the kid’s college savings.

    But the $60k isn’t all.

    “How much does it cost to send my child to SHF? $58,900 per resident/per year (plus the varying costs of medical and special psychological services). This includes all lodging, education, food, entertainment, and hands-on therapeutic discipleship for one full year. SHF currently employs nearly two staff members for each student on campus. This is to adequately minister to the student needs of each student with the highest degree of efficiency.”

    Wait a minute, hold on … the “varying costs of medical and special psychological services?” As administered by who? will your family insurance cover it? and is there any limit to those costs? Yikes.

    I bet they want to be paid upfront too.


  9. Noni Mausa says

    PS I had a look at the farmsite, and must say it doesn’t look like a “hell hole.” It looks like Dick and Jane and Susan’s grandparent’s farm, frankly. And only 85 miles to Atlanta, easy walking distance.


  10. Aquaria says

    That rules out the lowest three quintiles, maybe four, unless people can somehow get a bank loan, or sell their house… or use up the kid’s college savings.

    The kid quoted near the end of PZ’s post said that his dad borrowed against a life insurance policy. He did’ his family was left with next to nothing.

  11. Aquaria says

    Died, even, not did.


    If you read the actual testimonials, the parts shown to the public, in person and online do not represent where the children live. The children are forced to build huts for themselves with axes and handsaws. The homes are tucked into the back of the property.

    If you’d followed any of the other links, you’d know that.

  12. Pacal says

    No. 12:

    only 85 miles to Atlanta, easy walking distance.

    Walk 50 miles and tell me it’s “easy walking distance”

  13. Noni Mausa says

    Pacal, I guess I needed to include a /sarcasm notation after this.

    Having said that, an 85 mile walk in the mild climate of Georgia is a toddle, when facing the alternative. With such motivation, I could do 30 miles the first day, and I am a confirmed net-potato.

    Less, of course, if I felt I needed to travel by night.


  14. Legion says

    This. From the web site:

    Because we believe Holy Scripture to be the final authority for truth, life, and family living, our philosophy is to heed God’s mandate and principles for child-rearing revealed within.

    Plus this…

    …no staff member will force-feed his or her faith on any resident. And, nobody at SHF will discriminate against a resident who chooses not to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

    = contradiction.

  15. raven says

    A matter of time until one or more of the kids end up dead. These xian camps for “troubled” kids routinely end up killing them.

    Some of the kids who end up in these camps are “troubled” whatever that means. Some of them are just too intelligent, gay, or have realized that their parents and their parent’s toxic religious cult are seriously screwed up.

    The Mormons are famous for their network of camps for their wayward kids. They call it the Mormon Gulag.

    Protecting the Rights of TeensThere is a network of experts and families forming around the GULAG that is … Children at the camp were afraid to tell the police how the staff tortured and … Those who don’t will end up dead like Nicholas Contreraz, or imprisoned like … In search of a Mormon School for “Troubled Teenagers” I found a lot of …

  16. PenguinFactory says

    This place’s name is a combination of “Silent Hill” and “Shepherd’s Glen”, so anyone who plays survival horror games will know it’s bad news.

  17. raven says

    BOOT CAMP FOR KIDS: Torturing Teens for Fun and Profit — Cruelty …House Passes Legislation to Stop Child Abuse in Teen Boot Camps and other Residential …. Christian discipline? 2 arrested in alleged dragging of girl behind van at boot camp, ….. Tightening up on the stranglers–142 youths dead in one decade … The slow, painful, pointless death of Nicholaus Contreraz, age 16, …

    One source says 142 kids have died in these camps in a decade.

  18. ckitching says

    Sounds like the perfect place to work if you’re a sadistic sociopath who likes to brutalize the weak and powerless. I’m sure they claim they can beat, um, cure “The Gay” out of children, too.

    It’s a wonder that Trace hasn’t been killed by one of his ‘students’ by now if even half of those stories are true.

  19. Draken says

    [Trace Embry] would also say “Besides who would believe you, a troubled drug addict teen or me, an owner of a successful program and an ex cop and preacher?”

    I’d go for the drug addict anytime.

  20. onethird-man says


    Our ability to think and reason is rooted in the spiritual nature of our being. As teens understand the spiritual origins of our nation and the world, they are challenged to choose and think for themselves about the reality of the inevitable issues of life such as origin, meaning, morality, and destiny, in light of truth as it relates to facts, and not just theory. As the teens acknowledge the validity of being created with a purpose, in the image of an almighty and loving God, as opposed to a happenstance evolution from a lower life form, expectations for themselves can only increase.

    …from the last part of the wilderness program. The gist? “We know they are thinking for themselves when they totally agree with us and do not argue.”

  21. vertalio says

    Makes me hanker for a little place in the woods, oh about a half-mile from Shepherd’s Hill, with a nice garden and a Maypole and a still.
    Think I’d get visitors?
    Talk about souls ripe for the FSM’s harvest…

  22. tnkrbl says

    I do have a child with a severe and persistent mental illness. Wilderness camps and “scared straight” programs are not an effective form of treatment. It’s a model that simply does not work. At best, kids will learn how to function in an institution. When they get home, they generally fall apart again. Kids need their families and families need their kids. That being said, I do understand the desperation that comes with enduring years of intense stress and turmoil. The mental healthcare system is notoriously difficult to navigate and parents need better access to resources.

  23. Jordan says

    I’m sure the girls that have to endure the Hephzibah House would find Shepherd Hills quite a treat.

  24. RickR says

    This includes all lodging, education, food, entertainment, and hands-on therapeutic discipleship

    I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

  25. Haruhiist says

    I’m sorry, but WTF?

    Does your child have special medical needs, like seizures? They will take his medicine away, but their staff is well-trained in being able to simultaneously wrestle a child to the ground and pray for him.

    Ok, so why aren’t there complaints about this with the government? Or, if there are, why is the government not doing anything? Wouldn’t this fall under medical neglect or something?

    Combined with all the other stuff, why are institutions like this legal? It boggles the mind almost as much as the thought that parents would willingly send their child there…

  26. Athena says

    It sounds like Christ’s concentration camp (CCC). What is really maddening is that fundies haven’t a clue as to the normal developmental stages of children. I also wonder about their pathological need for control.

  27. raven says

    Ok, so why aren’t there complaints about this with the government? Or, if there are, why is the government not doing anything? Wouldn’t this fall under medical neglect or something?

    That is silly. The government is waiting for a few kids to get killed. It is inevitable. There seems to be something in the bible about not learning from history until you have repeated the mistakes a few hundred times.

  28. timrowledge says

    Well we all know what shepherds do, right? Raise a herd of dumb animals in order to make a profit when they are sent to slaughter.
    Really, could you think of a worse metaphor to use as an image of your god?

  29. Molly, NYC says

    I keep seeing ads for these places in rather tony shelter mags. (Sunset used to have quite a lot of them.) Took me years to figure out why.

    It’s that the kind of control-freak parents who really mind that their kids don’t go with their parent’s chosen life-styles read these magazines. For those parents’ purposes, these kids are banished because for reasons akin to banishing an old sofa because it doesn’t go with the curtains.

  30. immichaelyoung says

    A little internet sleuthing reveals that Sheperd’s Hill Farm is located in Franklin County, Georgia. Franklin County has a branch office of the state Division of Family and Children Services, which is the agency which investigates claims of child abuse.

    I point this out so that if someone has direct particular evidence of abuse, they can urge an investigation to the agency with the power to conduct one.

  31. Brownian, OM says

    My folks considered sending me to a private religious school with corporal punishment (but with snowshoeing! Yay.) when I stopped doing homework (meh!) and stole a bottle of potassium permanganate from the school (stupid and bad!) in Grade 8.

    Good thing for me my folks were kind of cheap and virtue ain’t free.

  32. emote_control says

    If Dan Savage’s Youth Pastor Watch is any indication, there’s probably some sexual abuse going on there too. Sex offenders flock to youth ministries like moths to lamp posts.

  33. Keanus says

    “Schools” like this are apparently ubiquitous, with the common thread being some form of fundamentalist Christianity. I Googled Embry and came up with any number of critical (and that’s being nice about them) testimonials about SHF’s practices. One site, whose veracity I can’t vouch for, but which appears credible, at least on this, lists dozens of such “schools” or “camps”. If all valid, they do indeed form a gulag comparable to anything the Soviets ran.

  34. says

    Up here in Canada, specifically Winnipeg Manitoba, we seem to be starting our own little patch of hell, minus the rural setting.

    A mendacious christian organization has bamboozled two levels of government into putting public funding into a rec centre that will be used for spreading jebus’s word to at-risk First Nations children. It is quite reprehensible, but not to the standards set by the SHF christian gulag.

  35. Knockgoats says

    Well we all know what shepherds do, right? Raise a herd of dumb animals in order to make a profit when they are sent to slaughter. – timrowledge

    But, to be fair, they usually fleece them repeatedly before slaughter!

  36. SmartLX says

    Old news, but related: in Australia, Gloria Jean’s Coffee has very quietly withdrawn its financial support of Mercy Ministries, the exorcism camp for “wayward” (including lesbian) teenage girls. MM hasn’t shut down, but it’s practically underground now.

    So my reason for boycotting GJ isn’t there anymore, but I still try to avoid them because they continue to support anti-condom missionaries in Africa.

  37. DLC says

    Some kids do need some tough love.
    A bit of discipline, some structure.
    Of course, I don’t mean this lunacy.
    Even if reported by kids with sour grapes, this shepherd’s hill facility seems like a disaster waiting to happen.

  38. Rorschach says

    Everytime I think I’ve heard about every bit of madness out of the USA by now, PZ comes up with something else that makes my mouth go agape.

    How can this Guantanamo for kids even be legal ? Withholding medical treatment ? Is there no overseeing authority in that state that regulates who gets to play “teacher” with children ? I find this all very unbelievable.
    Try this anywhere in the first world, you be shut down after a day, and off to jail you go.

  39. Gyeong Hwa Pak, Pikachu para lang sa iyo. says

    This place’s name is a combination of “Silent Hill” and “Shepherd’s Glen”, so anyone who plays survival horror games will know it’s bad news.

    Silent Hill was founded by a religious cult that fused Christianity with a pagan religion. (Most Christian sects nowadays have pagan elements in them.) According to SH4, children were punished for not adhering to the cult rule. (Say, there was a baby that died because of that.) In SH5, people were “recruited” through torture and children were sacrificed to their God. SH6 is not about a cult, but one can draw a comparison of how God is an idealization of a person imagination and need of a savior in much of the same Harry was to Cheryl.

    /horror nerd

  40. bulletproofcourier says

    Hope this issue gains momentum and the cult camp is closed and criminal charges follow.

    The parents of child victims should be held accountable too. They knew exactly what would happen to the kids they pawned off.

  41. DLC says

    Rorschach # 43:
    yeah, and nobody could keep their daughter locked in a secret dungeon under their home and father several children with her, either.
    Sorry, but bad things get done all the time and go undetected.

  42. Rorschach says

    Sorry, but bad things get done all the time and go undetected.

    Your analogy needs a crutch.
    How is paying 60000.- a year for someone to “educate” your child in any way shape or form similar to Incest ?

  43. Jadehawk, OM says

    yeah, and nobody could keep their daughter locked in a secret dungeon under their home and father several children with her, either.

    dude, no.

    Unless Fritzl was advertising what he was doing, and his children were allowed to leave, told their story, but STILL nothing were done about it, THEN this comparison might work.

  44. mick.long says

    So the only way you can sell Hovind’s lunatic ideas is to imprison the young and vulnerable and subject them to gitmo – style torture and brainwashing, figures!

  45. Miki Z says

    Under “Who is the shepherd?” they are very clear:

    The sheep on the shoulders of his master is a wayward sheep. This is a sheep that not only wonders from the flock into dangerous territories; but, it wonders habitually.

    Emphasis mine, spelling theirs.

  46. krypton says

    Okay, I understand that my position on this is extreme and possibly inappropriate, but I feel that Trace Embry is the most qualified candidate for the death penalty that I’ve heard of in years. Honestly, I’ve not been so infuriated by a blog post in a long time.

    Truly, if Evil should be punished, it should be punished without impunity. Trace Embry fits the definition of Evil quite nicely. If nothing else, I would very much like to see Mr. Embry rot in prison for all eternity. He’s lucky I’ve no power whatsoever. If it were up to me, his fate would be most unpleasant. He should thank his lucky stars that I have no political or legal influence in this world. If so, I would make it my mission to see him destroyed. No apologies. I am his enemy in every respect.

    May the weight of this world crush you to powder, Mr. Embry. You deserve nothing less, you evil, petty jackass.

  47. Q.E.D says

    The root cause of this problem is US deference torReligious and for-profit institutions (usually corporations).

    1) Because this is a Private school it is being permitted to do things to children that would never be countenanced in a public school. The US allows private and public for-profit institutions (usually corporations) to get away with behaviour that would otherwise be investigated and prosecuted.

    2) Because this is a Religious Institution – same as above.

    In the US if you want to do serious financial crime and/or abuse children, set up a ministry and incorporate!

  48. Miki Z says

    Part of the registration for the school is also to sign a power-of-attorney when you drop off your kid. Possibly, you can see this before you pay your money, but I could not find a copy nor do they offer one as part of the enrollment packet — it says specifically that it will be available (and a notary there) at dropoff.

  49. anon says

    I am the ex student who helped bring the truth about SHF to light. Great article and thanks for helping to save innocent kidse. It’s hard to think about and deal with these things, but I feel it must be done in order for it to be stopped.

  50. anon2 says

    I am a former employee of the Stephen’s County Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS). This farm is located on the border of Franklin and Stephens County. Stephen’s county DFCS is the office in charge of investigating this institution.

    Because of privacy rights I can’t share too much about the nature of the allegations of child abuse occurring there. Yet, I can say that as long as I worked at DFCS not one allegation was substantiated, even after rigorous inquiries by some of it’s best investigators.

    I say this not to dismiss some of the reasonable frustrations that people might have with an institution such as this. I simply wanted to enlighten this blog w/ factual information concerning how the state has dealt with the allegations from people who don’t like or agree with the farm’s methods. Furthermore, I think a good thing for all of us to remember is that in all situations it is dangerous to rush to judgement… even with “seemingly” fundamentalist christians. Every story that includes conflict has more than one side to it.

  51. S P says

    Interesting that this “Science Blog” does not seem to make an effort to evaluate the validity of the one-sided story (he quotes another blog from a former resident (“inmate”). Nowhere in the article was there an indication that a trip was made to see the facility, that anyone from the school was contacted, or that any other former students who have successfully graduated were contacted. Not very scientific, or journalistic…of couse the word Blog by nature means it is widely variable in content, so I get it.
    I am a parent of a current student at SHF. I am Christian. My son is not. ‘Making’ him a Christian is not my goal, rather helping him control his anger and multiple other issues is the goal. Every two weeks we have a phone call or a visit. We just returned from a 3 day visit/conference. He still hates it there, and I understand that, but it has nothing to do with the allegations raised in the blog. We had unmonitored private time on multiple occasions, and he has not expressed that there is anything unseemly, illegal or immoral going on. He can separate that from what he disagrees with and does not like, which I respect. He has had ‘special meals’ multiple times, and has been paddled. This is a kid who would tell us instantly if he thought it was torture or being administered wrongly. He has not. We get off-campus visits and also have home visits as the end of the program nears, to facilitate a return home. I never thought we would reach a point where I would have to hand my son off to someone else to get him the skills he needs to cope with life, but I am there. I would never have sent him without doing the research on the facility, visiting it, and interviewing the staff. I would pull him out in a heartbeat if I suspected there was danger or abusive behavior (or brainwashing) going on. This is a Georgia accredited school, with a Christian counseling aspect that we like – what controls or belief-systems are in place at a non-Christian military or boot camp type school that are better, that help control the environment? If my son does not come out as a Christian, that is his decision, and it is not our goal. Our goal is to have a family that can function together and a safe environment at home where he can live with us until he is 18 and makes his own decisions (legally). Wasn’t going to happen the way things were going.
    For those quick to jump to conclusions based on the blogs you have read, I’d encourage you to look at the whole story.

  52. Gyeong Hwa Pak, Scholar of Shen Zhou says

    Not very scientific, or journalistic…of couse the word Blog by nature means it is widely variable in content, so I get it

    For all those who accuse this blog of having no science content (like SP up there), did you actually look at the front page? There were 4 post relating directly to science.

  53. stevieinthecity#9dac9 says

    SP ignores the fact there’s no evidence that the “camp” has any ability to get anyone the skills they need to cope.

    They are not educators or trained therapists.

    They are christian bullies. Paddle that anger out of him.


  54. S P says

    Stevieinthecity has not checked into the staff, apparently, as you would see that there are two trained therapists on staff now. The head of education is a retired school administrator with nearly 40 years of experience. I don’t know what the place was like in the beginning, so I can’t speak to the staff then, nor to the content of their education, but I am more qualified to speak to it than any person who has only read this blog as a source of information, then pulled their ideas from it.
    To Gyeong Hwa Pak, I was actually speaking only specifically about the blog regarding Shepherd’s Hill Farm, not the overall site. Certainly Mr. Myers has a science background and may write other articles pertaining to science, and he is welcome to an opinion about anything he likes, but this specific article has gone to no apparent length to investigate any claim by former students/residents. I contribute to this discussion because I think an informed opinion beats one formed from looking at a single side. If you are slanted against anything labeled ‘Christian’, or ‘religious’, you are very narrow in your view as well.

  55. Twentyfathoms says

    I was raised in a “Christian” community, baptist fundamentalists. What I discovered through my journey is that my parents did what they thought was right based on biblical beliefs. The problem with those beliefs is it leaves no room for reason. I witnessed abuse on other kids by “good christian” adults and pastors of the community. There was verbal, psychological and physical abuse on a regular basis that was sanctioned by the “administration”. No one has the right to abuse a child, be it in the name of God or any other name. I walked away from that life when I was 20 years old and have never returned, I am now 44 years old. I have raised my children to be good, kind, considerate people. To SP with the angry child, my heart goes out to you, I have one myself. The only thing you can provide is love, understanding and guidance. I have 4 children, only one has been a problem, but he is my problem. The biggest problem with “child experts’ and homes for “wayward children” is that there is no vested interested in your child, it comes down to the almighty dollar. I am not slanted against Christianity or religion as long it is kept in it’s place, as a part of your life not your entire life. SP I wish you luck with your child and hope his homecoming is joyful one.