A few months before he took a toxic mix of drugs and died on a stranger’s couch, Nicklaus Ellison wrote a letter to his little sister.

He asked for Jolly Ranchers, Starburst and Silly Bandz bracelets, some of the treats permitted at the substance abuse program he attended in Florida. Then, almost as an aside, Mr. Ellison wrote about how the Christian-run program that was supposed to cure his drug and alcohol problem had instead “de-gayed” him…

After breaking his probation sentence for drunken driving and crashing into four parked cars, Mr. Ellison faced a year in jail. As an alternative, the prosecutor in the case agreed to Mr. Ellison’s enrolling in Teen Challenge, a program that teaches participants to overcome addiction by studying the Bible and becoming more “Christ-like.”

Teen Challenge was highlighted by President George W. Bush as a successful faith-based program that deserved federal funding…

His yearlong program in Pensacola, Fla., consisted of doing manual labor for many hours a day. Local landscaping companies, carwashes and a fish market employed the men, former participants and their families said. Teen Challenge said money from the “work assignments” helped cover some expenses and the men were not entitled to compensation, according to a participant consent form.

“This wasn’t treatment, this was free labor,” said Angie Helms, whose son Tyler attended Teen Challenge with Mr. Ellison.

Teen Challenge explained that working was a way for the men in the program to overcome their addiction. Work is “one of the central purposes for human existence,” according to the consent forms…

Centuries later, Paul’s writings inspired a group of lawyers in Los Angeles to develop the practice of Christian conciliation. The group’s work ultimately gave rise to Peacemaker Ministries, a nonprofit that devised a legal process that draws on the Bible.

The peacemaker method is used by private schools, Christian lawyers and others. Clauses requiring Americans to use Christian arbitration instead of civil court now appear in thousands of agreements like the one Mr. Ellison signed with Teen Challenge…

Ms. Spivey had to pay a $5,000 retainer and a $750 fee to Peacemaker Ministries, her lawyer said in court papers…

His family said they thought it was hypocritical that Teen Challenge was willing to collect food stamp subsidies to feed participants in the program, but insisted on the separation of church and state when it came to their legal case…

2 thoughts on “Thinking of you, Nicklaus Ellison

  1. I know there are good and bad sides to every program and agree many are f’d up- but the teen challenge my brother attended completely saved his life. He had ended up on the streets after years and years of addiction- it was devastating. He got himself there and he got clean- he’s a grown man capable of making his own decisions on life and religion. The main point for us was that he was ok. He unexpectedly passed last year because of our messed up medical system- that could not save him, but I will always be so proud of him for how he turned his life around all those years ago. Shout out to my bro💜

    Liked by 1 person

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