A Mother's Shameful Past
An Encounter that Changed Her Life Forever
In 1988, Raylynn was a young, single mother when she met Curly Thornton, who she says left her spellbound. This meeting was the beginning of what she calls her shameful secret; one she would carry for decades.
"Curly was a very charismatic person, just like my father. I was drawn to his personality right away," Raylynn recalls.
"I was about 8 years old when we met Curly Thornton," says Sunny, Raylynn's daughter, now 32. "He had this smile that everybody around the room wanted to look at, was drawn to him. My mom thought he was the bee's knees. From the moment that he shook my hand, I felt, like, my stomach flipped, and something just made the hair on my arms stand up."
Curly told Raylynn that he was running for governor and asked her to be his campaign manager. "When I got to the meeting that I thought was going to be a campaign meeting, it was actually a time that he was preaching. I really liked what he was saying. This was a time in my life that I was searching," she recalls.
Raylynn says she became so wrapped up in Curly’s teachings, she gave up
everything, including her car, her home and her job. She says she and Sunny even moved into Curly’s home and that
shortly after, he changed from an inspirational leader to a fear-driven, mind-controlling abuser.
"Being part of Curly’s religious group, I felt that I was one of the chosen people," Raylynn reveals. "In the beginning, meetings were based on putting someone on the 'hot seat.' Then, everyone in the room would tell that person something negative about them. The purpose of the 'hot seat' was to tear us down, and it was extremely painful. I felt like a nothing. I felt like a piece of garbage."
Raylynn says that as time went on, Curly became more physically abusive. "The abuse started first with the men. They would go out and play football and at times, he would line them up, have them put their hands behind their back and then he would punch them, or he would have them kneeling down and hit them with a bat, and I was having a tough time understanding why. He explained that this was necessary discipline; this was the discipline of the Lord, because we were being trained for the army of God," she explains. "After a while, it wasn’t just the men who were beaten; it was also some of the women, and I was one of them."
"Several times, my mom would come home with black eyes and then I would see other women who were in the cult with the same thing: black eyes, really big bruises," Sunny recalls, noting that she didn’t believe that Curly was Jesus, but she would smile and pretend to believe to keep her mom safe.
"He had control over every part of our lives — where we went, what we did, what we had to eat in our house. Any money that any of us got had to go straight to the ministry," Raylynn says. "I have blocked out so much of what happened over those years. I lived in such terror. Curly would represent himself as a spokesperson for God. As time went on, Curly said that he was Jesus. At the time that Curly told us he was Jesus, it was an exciting thing, because then it made sense for all of the bad things that we had gone through.
"At times, I felt like a caged animal, yet the bars weren’t visible; they were imposed there by his fear, by his intimidation, by his abuse."
A Traumatic Experience
Sunny was 14 years old when she was pulled out of school to travel with the religious group for six months. That’s when she says Curly began to pay attention to her for all the wrong reasons.
Still under Curly's Control?"Curly still haunts my mother in ways that I can’t even understand. I want my mom to let Curly die," says Sunny. "My mom has been trapped in the guilt from what happened. She’s never moved beyond that guilt, and I can only say, ‘I forgive you,’ so many times. I really want her to stop apologizing because I don’t look at my mother and think, you horrible person. I look at her and I see a beautiful woman who just needs to not be stuck in the choices she made."
Raylynn says she still holds on to a box of memories from her time with Curly. "I took all of Curly’s teachings and my belief in who he was, and I put it in its own little box, and I stuffed it away, because I didn’t know what to do with it, but I was too afraid not to continue to believe. That ‘what if’ would always go through my head — what if, and if I don’t continue to believe, then I’m on my way to hell and so is my family," she says, fighting back tears. "There are logs of every meeting, of every painful thing, and it’s, like, why? Why do I think that I can’t get rid of this? I don’t know."
"I have no idea why she’s hung on to those things, unless it’s that she’s afraid to let him die," Sunny says. "I think that box of things should have been burned a long time ago."
Freeing Herself from the Past
Raylynn says she wants to move forward and release herself from Curly's hold. Curly’s son, who has never spoken about his father publicly and doesn’t want to be identified, joins the show via phone. Will what he says help Raylynn? And, in a dramatic gesture, Raylynn rids herself of Curly for good.