Pastor's Testimony Before the House Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support

Date: 2003-11-06

House Committee on Ways and Means

Statement of Reverend Harry L. Thomas, Jr., Senior Pastor, Come Alive New Testament Church, Medford, New Jersey

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support
of the House Committee on Ways and Means

November 06, 2003

Good Morning.  My name is Rev. Harry L. Thomas, Jr.  I am the senior pastor for the Come Alive New Testament Church located in Medford, NJ.  Ray and Vanessa Jackson are long time members of my congregation.

I want to thank this committee for the invitation to appear here today.  In America a person is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.  That is not what has happened to Ray and Vanessa Jackson.  They have been charged, tried and convicted in the media.

It has been less than two weeks since their arrest yet even the language used by this committee assumes they are guilty.  Let me quote from the Committee’s advisory, “This hearing seeks to expose how these children’s abuse went unnoticed so that we can work to prevent other children from enduring such horrible abuse.”

I respectfully would like to suggest the reason that no abuse was noticed was because there was no abuse going on. This committee instead might want to consider the following questions.

1.)   Why would anybody want to be a social worker if they can be summarily dismissed?

2.)   Why would anybody want to adopt fetal alcohol syndrome, crack and/or sexually abused children and take the significant legal risk of being accused of neglect?

My own experience with this family is much different then what has been portrayed. Ray and Vanessa Jackson have a real love for children.  Their children were always clean, happy and well dressed when ever I saw them.  It is clear that Ray and Vanessa have made education a real priority and all the kids read well.   Unlike what has been reported, Ray and Vanessa treated their adopted and foster children the same as their own children.  For example, even when they went to Disney World they took along their foster kids.  This trip included Bruce the troubled nineteen years old who has made numerous false statements.

DYFS had a knack in my opinion of taking advantage of this family.  DYFS would contact the Jacksons and ask them to provide emergency housing for just the weekend.  Invariably the children would have to stay much longer and some of these children were eventually adopted by the Jacksons.   These children were also some of the most difficult kids in the system. It is my understanding that the three younger boys have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  The oldest, Bruce, had developed an eating disorder at the age of three. He also had been hospitalized because of abuse at the hands of his birth father.

On the first day he arrived in the Jackson home he proceeded to urinate on the floor.  Apparently he had been living in the street and this was what he was used to.  Bruce has a very unusual psychological eating disorder in that he voluntarily brings his food back up from his stomach to his mouth very much like a cow chewing its cud. 

Yesterday as we were preparing for this hearing we stumbled on a very interesting medical article about a disorder called Rumination.  This article was written by Dr. Cynthia R. Ellis, MD and was posted on the Internet at http://www.emedicine.com/ped/topic2652.htm.  It certainly sounds like the condition that Bruce has. 

Here are a few quotes from this paper.  This article states that Rumination is the voluntary or involuntary regurgitation and rechewing of partially digested food that is either reswallowed or expelled. This regurgitation appears effortless, may be preceded by a belching sensation, and typically does not involve retching or nausea.

Rumination may cause the following:

*        Halitosis
*        Malnutrition
*        Weight loss
*        Growth failure
*        Electrolyte imbalance
*        Dehydration
*        Gastric disorders
*        Upper respiratory distress
*        Dental problems
*        Aspiration
*        Choking
*        Pneumonia
*        Death

Rumination is more common in individuals with severe and profound mental retardation than in those with mild or moderate mental retardation. Prevalence rates of 6-10% have been reported among the institutionalized population of individuals with mental retardation.

Rumination is estimated to be the primary cause of death in 5-10% of individuals who ruminate. Mortality rates of 12-50% have been reported for institutionalized  infants and older individuals.

I am not a doctor but I would like to suggest that perhaps Bruce is suffering from this condition.  One question that I think needs to be answered is this.  Did DYFS know about this condition before placing the child in the Jackson home?  If so, did it explain the serious nature of this illness and provide the necessary support structures and resources to cope with it?  Should Bruce perhaps be institutionalized?  

The family has numerous stories about Bruce’s bizarre eating habits.  For example Bruce used to eat his lunch on the way to school and then tell his teachers that his mom had not packed a lunch.  The teacher and Vanessa came up with a system involving a notebook that had to be signed and returned home to insure that he in fact was eating lunch at the right time.

Before Bruce even arrived at the Jackson home it was discovered that he had gotten into a litter box and eaten the cat feces.   Bruce to say the least was a very difficult child for the Jacksons to handle.  The Jackson family tried their very best to keep him from eating drywall.  There was a spot near their couch where he used to peel away at the drywall to eat.  The family had to repeatedly spackle this area.  Bruce also got into the dog food in the basement and even hid a stash in a secret place for later use. 

Bruce apparently was kicked out of several schools.  The Pennsauken School System could not cope with his behavior and so they kicked him out.

At Central school he was stealing lunches, eating them and then throwing up in the kid’s lunch bag.

At the Roosevelt school he was there only one day and then was asked to leave because the teachers could not handle him.

At Carson School there was more eating and throwing up.  The final straw was when he stole food and then threw up on a teacher.

This is the reason that the Jacksons started home schooling Bruce.  The police theory though is that they are using home schooling as a way to avoid detection of their abuse of these children.  This is silly.  All the boys have been taught to read and can even do addition and multiplication.

Ray Jackson was asked one time why in the world did he choose to adopt somebody like Bruce after having him as a foster child for a number of years. Ray said that he and Vanessa had discussed it and decided that if they didn’t adopt him that nobody else would.

How many of us in this room would have taken on a project like Bruce?  I don’t have the exact number but I think that you would get $7,000 annually to feed, clothe, house and educate him.  The police theory is that this was a money making scam.  Ridiculous!   In fact, when you convert from fostering a child to adopting a child, there is no guarantee that your benefits will continue.  In fact, this is what happened to one of the Jackson kids.  After the adoption they lost their income for this child.

As I was sitting down to write this statement my office received a call from a person who is heavily involved with DYFS and does not want their identity known for fear of being fired.  Here are some of her quotes:

“DYFS is out of control!  They think they are God.  Every day I am faced with foster parents asking me, “How can I get rid of my kid,” when faced with difficult problems or health issues.  Crack addict moms who put their babies in trashcans to rot will not be punished but a very real effort will be made to reunite the baby with mother.   They then will wrap support around the mother in order to keep the family together.  Adopted and Foster parents just get thrown to the wind!”

That is what we have with the Jackson Family.  Even though they have provided a loving supportive family for some very difficult children, their only thanks has been to be thrown in jail.

In my opinion, this is a case of jumping to conclusions.  A very real rush to judgment.

Thanks for listening,

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Please find below a random list of quotes and comments that tend to support the Jackson Family.

1.) A man called to say that the Jackson family watched his two children six days a week for over five years from 1997 to 2001. They even potty trained his son. All the kids sat together to eat. He and his wife would often show up at unexpected hours and never saw anything weird. This information has been verified as correct.

2.) A key employee of a prominent mental health and retardation facility says that the family would regularly perform as the entire family for the benefit of the patients and medical personnel.  The person though did not want me to mention the name of this facility for obvious reasons.

3.) Bruce, the 19 year old, was clearly the most afflicted. He has made statements that are clearly not true.

  1. He says he has never eaten in a restaurant but there are many photos that show Bruce eating in restaurants beside his family.
  2. He said he was not allowed to attend church yet the church attendance records show that he attended church 67 times in 2 years.
  3. He claims that he was not allowed to watch TV but was forced to sit in front of a black screen as punishment. Another newspaper article though quotes Bruce as saying that he wanted to go to “Chili’s Restaurant because he saw their ad on TV. The article also stated that apparently Bruce did watch a lot of TV in the Jackson household. Another reasonable explanation is that the TV was off because the electric had been off for a period of months.
  4. Bruce apparently says that he ate nothing but uncooked pancake batter, peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches and drywall. People have come forward and are willing to testify that this is totally false and have had meals with the family and saw Bruce eat what everybody else did. Also, please take a rational look at the allegation. People actually get good nutrition from Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches. This allegation looks like one of those IQ questions that ask you to find the word that does not belong.

4.) We received a phone call from a specialist in pre-natal addictions and fetal alcohol syndrome from a NJ hospital. She said nothing she has read about the children was inconsistent with these conditions. She was upset that the prosecutor apparently had not consulted a specialist in this field before rendering a judgment.

5.) A Jewish holocaust survivor has come forward. She was on board the famous “Kinder” train from Germany to Britain. In Britain she suffered from low food rations and knows what hunger is all about. She is willing to testify that the entire Jackson Family including Bruce came to a picnic that she was sponsoring. The whole family, Bruce included.  It is my understanding that she has known the family for 11 years

6.) Ray’s boss called. He was enraged and said something to the effect that the Ray he has read about is not the Ray that he has known and worked with for many years . This certainly runs counter to the low-life welfare hustler image that many have tried to paint.

7.) When I was interviewed by the prosecutor’s office, one of the interviewers whispered to me when they were alone that he had interviewed the children after they were taken from the home. He said that they were the best mannered and pleasant children he had ever interviewed.

8.) There were no locks on the refrigerator, cabinets or even the door.  There was though an alarm that was only turned on at night. According to the family this was done to prevent Bruce from sneaking down at night and raiding the food and vomiting it up. This is much different than what has been portrayed by leaks.

9.) Three of Jackson family siblings were individually interviewed by the investigators. The children claim that they were held for three hours under very intimidating conditions. They say they were yelled at and called liars. They say they remained calm and told the investigators, “What do you want us to say, we are telling you the truth already. Anything else would be a lie!” The siblings also stated that one line of the questioning seemed to suggest the investigators thought that the Come Alive New Testament Church might be a cult that had something against doctors.

10.) Does it make any sense that the family would starve their children but also teach them to read at a high level? Even the new foster families have reportedly commented on the fact that the boys apparently read well and are quite happy. The three younger boys apparently are getting along fabulously if news reports are to be believed. If the boys were starved to within an inch of their lives how could they have recovered so quickly? It certainly flies against common sense. Why has Bruce done so poorly? Is it possible the hospital is experiencing the same chronic problems that the parents claim have been misdiagnosed as starvation?

11.) All the family photos and videos that were at the Jackson house have been confiscated by the prosecutor’s office. These photos and videos are needed immediately by the family to show that the prosecutor’s theory is not correct.

12.) There was no lock on the refrigerator, the cabinets or even the door leading into the kitchen.  There was though an alarm that was turned on at night that would be triggered if somebody went into the kitchen.  Bruce had a history of gorging on huge amounts of food and needed to be deterred.

13.)  All the boys can read, write, multiply and spell.  The police claim that the home school was a sham and that there were no books.  The books are there but were overlooked by the police in their search.  There are also photos and videos to back this up.

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