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Michael was abused with a sewing machine

In a perfect world, a child should be able to trust an adult. Children are dependent on adults for healthy food, medical attention, an education, and a safe environment. Children should be able to expect their parents to love them and protect them from any harm.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. For my guest today, Michael, he and his siblings lived in a small home in Tampa, Florida. They desperately needed protection from harm.

But the harm was coming from their parents.

It was mostly his mother, Jamie Hicks. And because they were all home schooled, the abuse went undetected.

Jamie holding Michael
Jamie holding Michael
Jamie Hicks and Vernon Lowell mugshots
Jamie Hicks and Vernon Lowell mugshots

In our conversation, Michael described some of the things he and the other children experienced from their abusive mother. And their father who did almost nothing to stop it from happening.

the house where it happened
the house where it happened

There was a time when Child Protective Services was called out and investigated the family, but they weren’t able to put the pieces together enough to figure out what was going on in that house.

So Michael and the other older children decided to come up with a plan to escape.

Michael today, with his wife
Michael today, with his wife

Warning: this episode contains graphic descriptions of violence against children. Listener discretion is advised.

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Episode transcript (download transcript PDF)

This episode contains graphic descriptions of violence against children. Listener discretion is advised.

 

In a perfect world, a child should be able to trust an adult. Children are dependent on adults for healthy food, medical attention, an education, and a safe environment. Children should be able to expect their parents to love them and protect them from any harm.

 

But we don’t live in a perfect world. For my guest today, Michael, he and his siblings lived in a small home in Tampa, Florida. They desperately needed protection from harm. But the harm was coming from their parents. It was mostly his mother, Jamie Hicks. And because they were all home schooled, the abuse went undetected.

 

In our conversation, Michael described some of the things he and the other children experienced from their abusive mother. And their father who did almost nothing to stop it from happening.

 

There was a time when Child Protective Services was called out and investigated the family, but they weren’t able to put the pieces together enough to figure out what was going on in that house.

 

So Michael and the other older children decided to come up with a plan to escape.

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Scott

How many kids were in your family?

 

Michael

Living at the house there were 8 of us, including myself.

 

Scott

It was mostly boys right?

 

Michael

Yeah we were actually all boys. The oldest 7 of us were boys and  the youngest one was a girl. That’s because Jamie felt like she was supposed to have a daughter, so she kept having kids until she had a daughter. I guess it just took a long time.

 

Scott

You were the oldest?

 

Michael

Yeah I was the oldest, so I got to experience most of it.

 

Scott

You were a twin and there was just one set of twins in the family?

 

Michael

Yeah, there’s only one set of twins living there at the house with the family. I was older than the other twin by about 11 minutes, if that makes any difference in life.

 

Scott

How old are you now?

 

Michael

I’m 23 now. I’m getting kind of old.

 

Scott

What’s your earliest memory of your mother?

 

Michael

The earliest memory of Jamie, I had to be about 4 years old, maybe 3. It was a state supervised visit to see her at a McDonald’s playground. We were sitting outside, she was sitting at a bench talking to us. We were eating some meals and then we played on  the slide a little bit, and at the moment I didn’t truly know who she was. I knew that she was my mother but I didn’t know what a mom was. This was the first time I actually saw her, so I didn’t truly know who she was I just knew to call her mom and that’s about it.

 

Scott

She was your biological mother, but why were you meeting at a McDonald’s? What had happened that happened to precipitate that?

 

Michael

We were born in 1998 to Jamie and my biological father in Colorado Springs. They actually moved out to Florida in the year 2000 and got divorced. Because of neglect and drug use- she was a heavy drug user at that time- and I believe for financial reasons, she lost custody of us. Mostly due to neglect. I was about 2.5 years old at the time. So she didn’t have custody of us for a few years, until I was 4.

 

Scott

So she got custody back again, but your dad was still in Colorado?

 

Michael

No, he was also down in Florida as well. He didn’t have custody of us either, although we did have unsupervised visits with him. Now I don’t think they were supposed to be unsupervised visits. However, the foster mother who watched over us, we grew up calling her ‘Grandma DD,’ she was very good friends with my father. So if they were supposed to be supervised visits that wasn’t really kept up to standard. We would often go to the airport and just watch the planes take off in his car. Those are some of the first memories I have of him.

 

Scott

I understand that your biological father was actually also a pedophile.

 

Michael

Yeah he has a history of that. As far as I know, I recently got into contact with his mother and his family, and it seems like that’s just something he’s had trouble with for a very long time since a young age. I’m not sure of the reason why. I believe it has something to do with his biological father who wasn’t a nice guy as far as I know. He actually lost custody to some other kids, much older than me, that I didn’t know about until a year ago, because of these reasons. Then he also had trouble with this when I was a kid as well. So it led to some personal experiences with that.

 

Scott

Did he abuse his own kids that way?

 

Michael

Yeah. It wasn’t physical abuse, not in the sense of beatings, but more sexual abuse. I guess there’s a better way to explain this. One day I woke up, it was Saturday on our weekend visit with him. I woke up and I went on the computer to play Cartoon Network games or whatever young kids did, and I remember a file was open and I saw a picture of myself and my younger brother. We were naked together in the bed, but we were sleeping. This really confused me because I would never do that. My father saw that and I got physically upset with him. He kept joking saying, “Oh you guys fell asleep like that.” I was very upset because I was like, “No, I would never do that.” I guess at that age, I was around 8 years old, I don’t know, it just didn’t click in my head. I just took his word for it, and I was embarrassed about it.

 

Then when I was around 10 years old, I woke up in the middle of the night to go get some water. I walked into the bedroom. The way the house was laid out, you had to walk through the bedroom to get to the kitchen. I walked into the bedroom and he was naked over my brother, who was sleeping. I remember he yelled, “Get the fuck out of here!” He was very upset and that scared me. I ran into the living room actually and just hid under a blanket on the couch. After a few minutes he asked me what I wanted, I lied and said, “I had a nightmare and so I just wanted to come be next to you.” So he said, “Ok  you can come lay next to me.” So I was in his bed and laying next to him. It was really hard to fall asleep. I didn’t know what to make of what I just saw and now I was in the same bed. So, yeah, that’s some personal experience with that.

 

Scott

When Jamie got custody of you again, there was an incident with Child Protective Services in 2013. What happened there?

 

Michael

Yes. If you read any news articles it might even bring that up. They say for unknown reasons it was closed. Well, I know the reason, I was there when everything happened. One of the younger brothers got MRSA on his hand. It’s a pretty serious infection if you don’t get it treated. Jamie didn’t want to take any of us to the hospital because they would see the state we were in, they would see bruises, scars and that we were malnourished. So she decided to try to treat this at home. She believed that butter and baking soda could cure almost anything, so that’s what she tended to use. Well the infection got pretty bad. I remember the day we went to the hospital, my younger brother just had this big black open wound on his hand. It looked horrible. It got so bad that the doctors thought they were going to have to take off a portion of skin. Thankfully it didn’t come to that, but it was very bad. It was something scary to see as a kid.

 

Anyways, we had to go to the hospital for this. The nurses did the right thing, they knew it was neglect, my brother’s hand was so bad it had to have been that way for a few weeks. They contacted CPS. After my brother had surgery to fix his hand, I remember I was in the hospital on this bed and talking to him because I was curious what it was like to have surgery. I’m a curious person. Jamie quickly walked into the hospital room and said, “Go to your bed. Read a book. No dessert.” I was so confused about what she meant by that. At the time I thought she meant if I didn’t get off his bed I was going to be in trouble, so I got off his bed. Then I saw 2 young females come in, they had to be around my current age, maybe 24. They had to be young.

 

Scott

Those were the Child Protective Services people?

 

Michael

Yeah. They identified themselves to us and I immediately knew why Jamie came in and told us that stuff. They had us sit down on the couch in the hospital room where my younger brother was, and they wanted to ask us some questions. The whole time, Jamie was behind them nodding her head. First they asked us if we knew what a lie was. They asked us, “Is the sky blue? Are you a girl?” Obviously I’m a boy so that’s how they identified the truth and a lie with us. They asked us, “If you ever get in trouble what does your mom do?” I immediately knew why she told us that. I said, “We either go to our bedroom and read a book or get no dessert.” They said, “Ok, ok, and does your mom ever hurt you?” The whole time Jamie was behind them nodding her head at me. I said, “No! No!” They asked, “What’s the most severe punishment you’ve ever received?” I said, “Maybe stand in the corner for a few minutes.”

 

They seemed happy with these results, so they told Jamie that they would come by the house that night to check on the food situation and see if the house was clean. Jamie contacted her husband, or significant other, Vernon Lovell. They immediately bought all the groceries to fill the house that day and made a nice dinner that night. We immediately went home and scrubbed that house down, Jamie made us. That was the cleanest that house had been in a long time. Of course when they came everything looked wonderful to them. The refrigerator and cabinets were full of food. I don’t know how they didn’t notice that the food had all been bought that day, but it looked good enough to them. Everything was spotless and clean. We were all sitting on the couch nice and neat. They asked us all the same questions but this time all of us were together, but Jamie was still in the background so there was no privacy at all. Then I guess they saw everything was fit and that was the end of that. That was in 2013.

 

Scott

That just sounds like complete incompetence, how they handled that whole thing.

 

Michael

It really did make me upset. I remember when I went to foster care and the foster people found out that story they felt really bad. They said that was really poor training and they don’t understand how that got past them. You know, I’m not holding them accountable but there were just a lot of red flags. Even as a kid I knew that and I didn’t have any training. Even I knew that they should’ve picked up on something. I’m not saying it was necessarily their fault. Maybe it was a lack of training, I don’t know. It just wasn’t cool.

 

Scott

But they should do the questioning with her not there.

 

Michael

Yeah.

 

Scott

That seems logical.

 

Michael

Yeah, so actually in 2014 they almost made that same mistake. It was 2 different CPS women and they wanted to question us in the dining room while Jamie was in the kitchen. It was a small house so the kitchen and dining room were combined. They wanted to question us in front of Jamie but it was actually one of my brothers who said, “Oh actually can we go outside.” They said, “Yeah sure.” I remember seeing Jamie’s face and that made her visibly upset. We couldn’t let them make that same mistake again.

 

Scott

So you actually went to a regular school until you were in 6th grade. What happened when you were in 6th grade?

 

Michael

In 6th grade, my biological father passed away. Jamie always wanted to put us in homeschool, but anytime she thought of putting us in homeschool my biological father Michael, said that if she put us in homeschool he would get more custody of us and he would have us spend more time over there. The whole reason we were having 5 day weeks with her was so we could go to school. So when he passed away on February 8th of a heart attack, she didn’t hesitate at all. At the end of the school year she put us in homeschool. I don’t think she did that properly either. The next year the school called her because they thought we were skipping school since we didn’t show up to class. So that was the first time the school found out we were going in to homeschool. After that, she had all of us in homeschool.

 

Scott

Just the term homeschool indicates that she was teaching you at home. How did that work? Was there any education going on at all?

 

Michael

Yeah, I guess the only education we got there was how to massage her back with something, because that’s what we did half the time. No, there was no education going on whatsoever. The older three kids, myself included, we were the only ones who actually went to any public school at any point. The younger 5 kids, they never went to school, not even kindergarten or preschool. They were only ever in “homeschool”.There was no education going on there whatsoever. Mostly we would sit down and do whatever she would want us to do.

 

There were some textbooks that she did have, but she wasn’t teaching us. We didn’t have online classes or anything like that, it was mostly us teaching ourselves. Then she would test us on these tests and if we got below a 60% then she would beat us until we got above a 60% or 70% and that usually just came by brute force. You know if I got a 59% I knew I needed to answer this differently, but it’s not like you’re actually studying you’re just getting hit on the back of the head or back with a pan. So there wasn’t any studying going on. It shows today. Some of my younger brothers, when they got put into foster care and back into public school, some of them had none of the basic knowledge. Kindergarten to 5th grade is a very important time to go to school, you know?

 

Scott

So they had a lot of catching up to do?

 

Michael

Extreme catching up yeah, all of us.

 

Scott

I want to have you talk about, or tell about, some of the examples of abuse. Just in what I’ve already heard and what you’ve written, it’s just horrific what she did to all of you kids.

 

Michael

Yeah, there was the one with the sewing machine. She liked to sew, even though she didn’t do it often but she did like to teach herself. So we had a sewing machine in the house. I guess one day she decided that it would be a good punishment. The first one to get that punishment was my younger brother. She put his hand into the sewing machine, there was no thread or anything like that, but she put it into the sewing machine. The first time she only had the needle go down once into his finger. After that it started getting more severe as most punishments did. So she would have the sewing machine keep going up his hand. It’s very painful of course. One time she got mad at me and she put the needle through my nail. I don’t know if you’ve ever had something go through your nail and through your finger, but it really hurts a lot. It’s an excruciating pain.

 

Looking back, I probably could’ve fought back but the punishment would’ve been worse if I did. It was really painful and really scary. If you knew it was coming up to your turn you’d be crying saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” She would say, “I know you are.” Even though there was nothing to be sorry about. Then she would slide our hand or fingers under the sewing machine, whatever she’d decide to do, and then she would have the needle do its work. So, that was that.

 

I remember when I was 8 years old, it was 2006 Easter Sunday. I remember because we were all getting ready for church and Easter service. So we took these multivitamins that she gave us because they were supposed to be healthy and everything. My younger brother forgot to get his. I don’t know how he forgot to get his but he did. This made Jamie very upset, so she grabbed her cup of orange juice and tried to shove the pills down his throat because she was angry at him. Of course, orange juice went all over the floor and this made her even angrier. She started banging the back of his head on the corner of the wall in the kitchen. Just yelling and going nonstop. She had no restraint with this. All of the sudden he just fell to the ground, almost lifeless. It was really scary. That was the first time I actually cried watching one of my brothers get beat. You could see the terror in her eyes. This was one of the few times I’d actually seen Jaime afraid.

 

She just started looking at him and yelling at him and started slapping him in the face. I don’t know if she thought that would wake him up but whatever. Then she actually brought him into her bedroom and closed the door behind us and she was yelling, “Breathe! Breathe!” That scared me, I was worried he wasn’t breathing or something. After a while she came out and she only had a bra and underwear on. I don’t know if she was trying to heat up his body or something like that, but she went in there fully clothed and came out in only bra and underwear. I’m not sure what happened there, the door was closed. My brother was just standing there and he was shaking. I asked him, “Are you ok?” He just looked at me and he was shaking. I asked him, “Do you know what happened?” He said, “No, I don’t know what happened.” I said, “Do you know where you are?” He just looked at me and shook and cried. Probably a few minutes later after Jamie was done with him, I asked him if he knew what happened. He said he just remembers standing up but he didn’t remember before that he was just in a lot of pain. I wanted to make sure he knew who we were. He said he knew who we were and he knew where he was.

 

To this day he has no memory of that. Sometimes I ask him about it and he still doesn’t know. Before that day he doesn’t have a lot of memories either. It really messed him up mentally, honestly. I shouldn’t say he’s mentally ill. He’s a good kid and you can have a good conversation with him and he can keep a job, but he’s a little bit slow. His mentality, as the doctor said, will never be passed that of a 7th grader. I link it to that case. He was perfectly normal before that and after that, I don’t know it just really messed him up.

 

She would hold our head under the water all the time. That was one of the first things she would do to us as a punishment. I remember the first time she did that to us was when I was about 5 years old. It was very shortly after she got custody of us, it could not have been more than a few months. The first time I remember we were taking a bath and she was angry at us because we were dirty. It was just after church and we got dirty, we spilled chocolate milk or something on ourselves and she got angry. She just shoved my head under water. I remember freaking out and then she would yank my head back up and then shove it back under. This made me very afraid of the bathroom when I was near her. I was petrified of it. She thought I was afraid of the shower or something like that, but no, I was just afraid of her putting my head under water.

 

After that she never really did stop. Sometimes if there were dirty dishes she would fill up the sink and then shove our heads under water. This would be for a while. For the first few seconds we wouldn’t fight back, hoping she would bring our heads back. If you fought back you could get in a lot of trouble, especially if you accidentally touched her. Sometimes she would keep our heads under there way too long, like I literally could not breathe. So you would fight back. I’m talking like your hands on the sink and your feet on the cabinet just trying to push yourself back. But being a small boy and her being a big woman, you couldn’t really push her away, it was tough. So that was really scary.

 

I think the scariest part of being underwater was when I was 9. We were in the bathroom and she put the shower curtains around me and threw me in the tub of water. When you’re in the tub of water, if you ever put a plastic bag over your hand and put it under water it confines to your hand because of the weight of the water. Well water was coming into the shower curtain and I could not move. I was freaking out and yelling at her to help me. I was just yelling for her. Finally she dragged me out of the water and beat me. She did that to all of us. It was a very common punishment if there was water around.

 

This was mostly for us little people when we were younger, when we got older not as much because we got too big for boxes. The younger kids this would still be an issue. She would put us in these blue tupperwares, like those moving boxes. I’m not sure how many gallons they were but she would put us inside of them and put the lid on and sit on top of it. It was extremely cramped because it was a small plastic box. I remember freaking out. It would get so hot so fast and I would start to have a hard time breathing. I would freak out and try to push her but she was a heavy woman and I was a small weak child so I couldn’t do anything. I would be yelling for her, “Please! Please! I don’t want to do this, I’m sorry!” She would just laugh. She did that a lot. Once I started getting taller she wouldn’t do that because I couldn’t fit in the box, but she would still do that to the younger kids. It was a traumatic experience that makes me claustrophobic to this day.

 

My first memory of Jamie abusing us was before kindergarten. She first got custody of us just a few months before kindergarten. I remember going back to school and getting a backpack and everything, so it was very soon before kindergarten. We were in the bathroom and I don’t know what caused this but she was very angry. She had us sit in the bathtub and then she had our younger brother who was still an infant at the time, and she shoved his soiled diaper in our face and she had us eat it. I doubt you really care, but the best way to describe the taste was if you ever put a 9 volt battery on your tongue and you get that electrified taste, like battery acid. That’s what it tasted like, it was really horrible. She did that many more times. We got a dog eventually and she would get the dog crap instead sometimes.

 

There was puke that we had to eat too. One of my younger brothers stole a can of raisins once because he was hungry. So then Jamie made him eat the whole thing, but very fast like shoving it down his throat until it made him puke. He puked a lot. She made him puke into a bowl and then made him drink all of it. If he puked it back up he could not stop until he drank all of it and kept it down. It was disgusting. There was also moldy food and everything, it was a never ending cuisine with her I guess.

 

Scott

It’s so incredible that when you mention moldy food, it’s like, “wow that’s nothing.”

 

Michael

Yeah. It tasted bad but it was better than eating crap I guess.

 

Scott

Did I read correctly that there was one time when one of your siblings was tied to a bed for a whole week?

 

Michael

Mhm. Yeah and it wasn’t the only time it happened to him. When I went on the weekend to my father’s, Jamie took the brunt of the force on just one of the kids. One of my younger siblings. She would beat him a lot, very hard. I’m talking about like, he’s a lucky kid that he doesn’t have lasting damage, at least not mentally. So she would beat us and if we got too badly injured or couldn’t move our arms or legs or if we looked like we just got out of a car crash, she would tie us to the bed to ‘take care’ of us I guess you could say. It wasn’t really taking care of us but it was the best way she knew how. She would put butter on our bruises because she thought that would go to the bruising.

 

Then she would feed us too. It’s not like we were on bed rest, we were just tied onto the bed, and blindfolded in some cases. So she would feed us, in this case him, but she would slap him in the face or punch him with a closed palm everytime she gave him a bite. The way I see it was she did that because she wanted to let him know, I’m only doing this because I have to not because I want to. So she just kept beating him, and he was blindfolded. She would position the bed so that Vernon wouldn’t walk into the house and see that, because we had doors on our bedrooms. I remember I came home on Sunday and I saw him on the bed. That wasn’t something new, but I whispered to him, “Hey are you ok?” He said no he wasn’t ok and he was crying. He was naked too, we were usually tied to the bed naked. Jamie was just really upset and she just started beating him hard, so he had to stay on the bed longer. It was like every time she saw him she just got angrier and kept beating him. He was on the bed for so long, it was from one Friday to the next Monday. I remember going back to my father’s and he was still on the bed.

 

This probably makes people wonder why I didn’t tell my father. Fear just really gets the best of you. I was always told growing up that if we told anybody they would just laugh at us because it’s embarrassing that she had to punish us this way. I guess when you’re told that most of your life you believe it. So I just want to put that out there.

 

Scott

Was any of her abuse against any of you in a sexual nature at all?

 

Michael

Yeah, she sexually abused us a lot. I don’t think it was for her own sexual pleasure I think it was just as a power thing and made us feel embarrassed. The most common thing that she did was she would just have us stand naked in front of her. She would be on the computer playing games and she would just have us come in and tell us to strip. When she said that we would take off our clothes and then we would just stand there and we couldn’t move until she said so. So that was embarrassing and we would be there sometimes very long. The longest I can remember one time was from the early morning when the sun was rising, until around 1 a.m. Vernon would sometimes see us and he would just kind of laugh and ask Jamie, “Why are they naked? Boys, go put on some clothes.” So we would go put on some clothes, but as soon as he was gone, because he worked a lot, Jamie would tell us to come back and strip. I don’t know why she did that.

 

In terms of sexual abuse, that was easy I guess. What she would do is she would sometimes have us lift up our penis and she would get a switch. A rubber switch or just a stick, and just hit us on the testicles. It was very painful as you can imagine, being a guy yourself. She one time had my younger brother touch my other younger brother’s genitals. Or sometimes she would grab us really hard around the testicles and just squeeze really hard. So like I said, I don’t think she did it for her own sexual pleasure, I think it was just an embarassing power thing.

 

Scott

If there was ever a definition of a monster, that’s her. You mentioned Vernon. He lived in this house, was he unaware of any of this or did he just look the other way?

 

Michael

No he was aware of it. He definitely knew what was happening. I got progressively worse and worse with Jamie. I remember first he would tell Jamie never to hit us in the face, because he was a pretty strict man so he did believe in spanking and everything. Even though I wouldn’t classify these as spankings, he believed in them. As Jamie got worse he would just turn more and more of a blind eye to things that he used to not be ok with. Before he used to say, “Never hit them in the face.” Then Jamie would hit us in the face and he just kind of ignored it.

 

In the first house we were living with Jamie in, it was a pretty run down apartment in Southern Tampa. She was beating my younger brother very hard, at this time he was only 4 years old, so a very young boy. She was just beating him nonstop, I don’t know how much more of that he could’ve taken. Vernon got angry at her and grabbed him and put him next to him and he would not let Jamie come near him. He had him sit next to him for a while because he felt like he had to protect him. However as things went on he just didn’t do that anymore so I guess he just turned a blind eye.

 

There were sometimes after something extremely bad where Jamie would have to put make up on us to cover up the scratches and bruises. Vernon told her not to put makeup on us because it just makes it seem more obvious. If he saw us with makeup on he would come up and wipe my face and say, “Boy, did your mother put makeup on you?” I would say, “Yes sir.” He would get upset at Jamie at first, but eventually he didn’t care too much about that. One time he even threatened to call 911 on her but she grabbed his phone and sat on it and would not move. That was the last time I saw him actually try. I think he knew what was going to happen though. I think the last day before everything happened and she got arrested, he was holding the youngest daughter and he told Jamie that it was over and they were going to have some hard times.

 

Scott

Well let’s talk about when you started to plan to get away. How did you start to plan that?

 

Michael

Yeah so it was in December of 2013. The older 4 of us – eventually older 5 because we talked to our little brother about it and he agreed to go with us- we decided we wanted to run away. We said, “We’re done with this. We can’t just wait until 18 to move away because we aren’t going to live to 18.” Things were just getting progressively worse; Jaime was getting progressively dangerous. So what we would do is we would sneak out of the house and see how far we could get within a certain time period. There was a timer for cooking that Jaime had and we used that to see how far we could get in 10 minutes or 15 minutes. We were just scoping the area out as we went. Eventually we found some train tracks a few blocks away from Jaime’s place and that’s where we decided we would go. We would go to the train tracks and go northbound.

 

Being someone who didn’t have a lot of information made this a very dangerous plan. We didn’t plan ahead, it was just a heat of the moment thing. At the time I didn’t think of that, I didn’t grow up in the most knowledgeable place. So we decided that we would go with packs and backpacks with some money and food that we had taken out of the cabinets. We got a knife for defense, as silly as that sounds, that’s just how we thought back then. We didn’t have anything planned, we just decided that we were going to do this. We hid the 3 backpacks. Two of us were going to go first, that way the 5 of us wouldn’t go missing at once, so Jaime wouldn’t be suspicious.

 

We decided that me and my twin would stay behind because we were the ones she called the most to do something for her. The plan was that they would go to the train tracks and run up a few blocks and wait for us. We told them it could take up to 40 minutes if she made us do something, but to just wait for us, but if we didn’t show up then just keep going and we would catch up. We planned the route and figured that if we followed the train tracks there’s no way we could get lost. I’m glad we got caught because that’s a dangerous strategy but we just didn’t think that far ahead.

 

Scott

You had to take a risk though yeah. You left some notes all around the house as well right? What was that for?

 

Michael

Yeah it was actually my brother’s idea to do that and I decided to help him. We left notes on the VCR, on my younger brother’s pillow, on the computer in the study room, and one in the kitchen on top of the refrigerator. The notes basically said, “I’m sorry mommy, I’m running away because I don’t like it when you kick and choke me.” We tried our best to write it in our younger brother’s handwriting. She eventually found out it was us because we wrote it in pen and I hate using pencils, so I was the only one who used pen to write. So she found out it was me, but oh well.

 

The hope was that when she called the cops- which you have to do eventually if your kids go missing- that the cops would see those notes. So we had the 2 younger brothers run. Then really fast, Jaime wanted all of us in the study room right that minute. So I was like, “Oh crap this isn’t good.” The study room pointed towards that street that the younger brothers had to run past. We told them when they got to that street they had to sprint so she wouldn’t see them. Sure enough when we went to the study room I saw them going down the street, but Jaime was looking at the computer so it was ok. She got addicted to gaming her past few years so she was staring at the computer.

 

So we lined up and she said, “Where are the other 2?” I said, “Oh one of them is using the restroom and the other one (who was her favorite child) is watching TV.” She was usually totally ok with that because like I said he was her favorite child, but she wasn’t that time, she wanted them. Then finally after a few minutes she was like, “Where are they?” I said, “I don’t know, I can’t find them right now.” Then she freaked out and said, “What do you mean you can’t find them?” She got up and started looking for them. She freaked out and she went out the back door and yelled their names at the top of her lungs. At this point they were too far gone for them to hear her, so I thought, “Hopefully they get away and she doesn’t catch them, because if she catches them we are in some major shit.”

 

She called Vernon immediately and he got off work to come look for them. She called the police probably about 2 hours after they went missing. The police took their time coming out, probably about 2 hours after she called. She told the police, “Oh I think they might just be hiding because they probably think I’m angry at them or something but I just want to make sure that they’re safe. I don’t care if they play.” Obviously that was a lie but she wanted to seem like a kind woman at first. The police then couldn’t find them either. They had walked pretty far, to the county line.

 

Scott

How far was that in distance, do you know?

 

Michael

Well we were living in southern Tampa, so all the way up to the northern Hillsborough line. It was many miles for sure, I’m not sure on the exact number but it was a long distance.

 

Scott

Quite a distance for a couple of little kids to go on their own.

 

Michael

Yeah. They had fun though. I talked to them about it and they said they saw some cows and pet a cow and enjoyed their walk. They got some McDonald’s too. So they enjoyed their outing.

 

So the cops wanted to look at the house for clues. One female cop talked to Jaime outside, and then 2 male cops came to look inside. I was thinking, “These notes were left where they would be noticeable.” They didn’t quite get them though, they wanted to walk around the outside of the home. So we brought up to them that we remember seeing our younger brother writing a note. So they said, “Ok if you see this note, give it to us.” Then they were walking around the home and I was kind of freaking out thinking, “They can’t leave now!” My twin grabbed one of the notes and said, “Oh look, I found it!” Jaime was still outside so she had no idea what was happening. The officer looked at this note and his eyes got big and he was nodding his head and he said, “Thank you, thank you guys,” then he went outside. I’m surprised Jaime let us be alone in the house with those guys but I guess she was too busy talking to the other cop.

 

So he showed it to the other cops and the female cop showed Jaime that letter and asked, “What is this note about?” Jaime said, “I have no idea! I would never hurt them.” We were sitting in the minivan at the time because Jaime wanted to drive to the church and pray with the pastors. I’m not sure if they knew about the abuse, but whatever. So she came up to the minivan and looked at us and she was very vividly angry. She said in a low tone, “Why the hell would you guys give that to them? Why didn’t you give it to me? I would have shredded it up and threw it in the trash can.” The female officer heard that and said, “Excuse me, what was that?” Jaime said, “Oh nothing.” I remember thinking, “This is too good to be true.”

 

Eventually they found the younger brothers and they got us all home. They knew there were some red flags. There were 4 or 5 cops in the house and they talked to us each one on one outside away from Jaime, on the front porch. They wanted us to just be truthful with them.

 

Scott

So your plan actually worked.

 

Michael

Yeah not in the way we intended it to, but it worked nevertheless. We failed successfully.

 

Scott

Yeah. So where were you taken from there? Some of you must have had visible injuries at that point.

 

 

Michael

Yeah. The night that the cops came was actually not the night we were taken away, that was 2 days later. The next day CPS came and then the day after that we went to a nonprofit home where physicians looked at us. I remember one of the first things they said when they saw me in the room was, “Wow you look really skinny. Those pants are pretty big on aren’t they?” I shrugged it off. I didn’t not know how skinny I looked. Looking back at the pictures they took at me back then…I have a hard time looking at those pictures. I did not know I looked like that. I knew I was skinny but I didn’t know. I looked like a mummified skeleton to be honest.

 

Scott

How old were you at that time? 16?

 

Michael

I was 16.

 

Scott

What was your weight?

 

Michael

I was 84 pounds, so, really light.

 

Scott

You just literally weren’t being fed sufficiently.

 

Michael

Yeah, I just wasn’t being fed. There are times in my life I can remember going weeks without food. Some people might think that’s an exaggeration but I’m not joking; I went weeks without it. It was not because I chose not to feed myself, I couldn’t. Jamie tried to use the excuse that we just wouldn’t eat. If you gave me food of course I’m going to eat, I would be hungry.

 

Scott

So they determined that you were not in good health. Did you go to the hospital?

 

Michael

Yeah. The cops were driving us there and I asked them, “Are we going back to Jamie’s place?” They said, “No you’re not going to go back there for a long time. You may never go back.” I was happy.

 

Breaking News Story 

Female reporter

Right now in Tampa a couple is behind bars tonight, accused of starving a pair of teenagers so badly they’re in the hospital. Investigators here are comparing the case to be almost like an onion. They say the more and more they peel back the layers the more chilling and disturbing the abuse gets. This all reportedly happened at an east Tampa home. The children range in age from 2 on up to 16 years old. Police say they were tipped off about this when 2 of those children ran away earlier this week, they were trying to protect themselves. Two of the other siblings, 16 year old twin boys, are now in the hospital. Both we’re told weigh less than 100 pounds. Doctors who examined them say they should have at least weighed 135. Their mother, Jamie Hicks and their step father Vernon Lavelle, are now behind bars.

 

They had been slapped. They had been choked to the point where they couldn’t breathe. They had been kicked, punched in the stomach, their head held underwater. They were forced to eat old moldy food when they would throw it up the mother would then make them eat their vomit. Police say this abuse likely went unnoticed because all of those children were homeschooled and they were rarely allowed outside.

 

Michael

The cop said, “Hey, do you want some Panda Express?” I didn’t know what that was, but they gave some to me. Then this black woman took us into this black car with tinted windows and I said, “Where are we going?” She said, “We’re going to the hospital, you guys aren’t doing too well.” I just remember looking out the window, we were in downtown Tampa at that point, and I was thinking I couldn’t believe it was truly happening. We were taken to Tampa General Hospital. That’s where we stayed for the next 2 weeks. We were supposed to stay there for 2 months, but we convinced the doctors that we were doing well enough to leave. I missed my brothers and I wanted to go live with them you know?

 

Scott

That was kind of your first taste of freedom.

 

Michael

Yeah. I honestly sometimes think that this is the best memory of my life, maybe even better than my wedding. I could really experience everything, so I was a little over stimulated too. I remember going to the hospital and they brought us menus. They put us on a strict diet so the first day it was 400 calories then 600, 800, 1000, all the way up to 3500 calories. We would have 2 breakfast, 2 lunch and 2 dinner meals. We ate whatever we wanted. I ate a lot of chocolate cake, I’ll tell you that.

 

Scott

(laughter)

 

Michael

I remember being in the hospital and I turned on the TV and was watching this channel with music videos. I saw Bulletproof, What Does the Fox Say, and some other songs. I love these songs to this day because they bring back good memories. I remember looking outside of the hospital window, we were up on the 14th or 15th floor, and I would look out over Tampa Bay. I was so happy. I was saying, “Wow, we actually did it.” I went to bed so much easier than I thought I would, I fell asleep really fast.

 

Scott

Yeah you had to be exhausted.

 

Michael

Yeah, emotionally and physically it was very exhausting. I remember waking up and I thought I was on the top bunk in my bedroom at Jamie’s place. I almost cried, I thought it was all a dream. Then I looked and saw I was in the hospital still. My brother was still sleeping but I got up and looked out the window, and I woke up my brother saying ,”Can you believe it?” He got really excited.

 

Eventually I got really bored being in the hospital because you can’t go out without a nurse watching you. I wanted to get out. I would call my brothers all the time and they were having so much fun going bike riding and going to the beach. They were enjoying school and meeting new people. I thought, “Shoot, I want some of that.” The doctor was against it at first but we convinced him we were doing well enough and getting better. He eventually agreed but told us if we stopped getting better we would have to come back to the hospital.

 

Scott

So the next thing is what happened legally with Jaime and Vernon. What happened when they were arrested?

 

Michael

A lot of things happened when they were arrested. We had to talk to a lot of people because they had a lot of legal questions. The day that they were arrested they were booked into Hillsborough county jail. They were innocent until proven guilty, but they were without bail at first. Eventually their bail was set, but Jamie’s bail was so high it couldn’t be paid. I remember seeing a video of Jamie getting arrested and she was in a small conference room crying, just nonstop crying with tears falling down her face. They could barely get any words out of her because she wouldn’t stop. So they made her stand up and they put handcuffs behind her back and escorted her out of the room. I saw that through  a live feed camera.

 

Jamie was very hysterical and almost delusional, from their perspective. She was just non stop crying. They decided that she had to be put in a mental hospital until she could calm herself. They felt that she didn’t even know why she was in trouble so she wasn’t ready to stand trial. They put her in a mental hospital and she was there for a while, even after all the parental rights were taken away. That was a long process though. Her lawyers kept trying to say that she didn’t understand and that her meds aren’t working correctly. Finally, many months later, at the end of the year we went back to Florida, they had taken us somewhere else for a while. We went back to Florida to go to the parental rights case together as a family.

 

The first step before we could do anything was we had to get parental rights taken away. We couldn’t really move on with our lives without that because they legally still had some say in things. They could still object to things. So that was a week long case. I was the first one on the stand to give my testimony, so because of that I got to watch all my other brothers give their testimony. Jamie wasn’t there in person, she was there via Skype from the jail. She was transported from the mental hospital to the jail for the hearing.

 

Since I was the first one I got to see Jamie, she was very quiet and her eyes were looking down at the table the whole time. When I was done giving my testimony in court, the prosecutor wanted to make sure that she understood everything that was happening and that she heard me. She replied, “I heard enough.” The judge said, “What do you mean you heard enough? You have to hear everything, it’s your child.” She said, “I heard enough to know that this boy isn’t a good boy.” I know that got some reactions in the court, but that did not affect me at all. I knew what was going to happen and that her fate was already decided. Originally the judge said that after the case she would probably have a verdict a week after we were done. After the first day of our testimony she said she was not going to reach the end of the case. At that point we knew she had made up her mind. The evidence was damning against her.

 

Two of the biggest things that stick out to me from that case, were Jamie’s defense lawyer giving her defense as to why she shouldn’t lose parent rights. He walked out in front of the judge and said, “My client is sick. Sick in the brain. She’s not a monster, she’s just sick, she doesn’t know any better. She needs more help.” I remember I really had to try my best not to laugh at that. I thought, “Things aren’t looking good for her if this is the best defense she has.” I remember seeing some people who were interested come to see the hearing, and one of them even laughed a little bit. She may be sick, but she’s also a monster too.

 

So they lost parenting rights after that. I remember that night we were sitting at the hotel, and it was a really nice hotel they paid for, and we were in the hot tub and the pool and we were so excited. She was no longer legally our parent. When she got arrested I no longer called her ‘mom’ I called her ‘Jamie” because I don’t have to call her ‘mom’ anymore. She couldn’t hurt us anymore and now I could say that she is legally not our mom anymore, so it was very refreshing.

 

Scott

The end result of the family  court case is that she lost custody of all the children. What about when she was criminally charged?

 

Michael

The criminal court case took a lot longer. That didn’t come until years later in 2017. I didn’t know they were going on to be honest. I was getting ready to start a semester at university and just kind of finding myself. I didn’t know the case was going on because I would’ve wanted to be there. I remember the night before the verdict my brother called me and said, “Hey did you find out that Jaime may only get a few years in prison?” I said, “What are you talking about?!” I was very upset about that. So I called the prosecutor and almost yelled at her a few times. I was so angry at her. She said, “I’ll be honest, some of your stories don’t match up.” I said, “What stories don’t match up?” She said, “Your younger sister’s story did not match up so I don’t know if we can push these charges.” I was so angry, I said, “My youngest sister was only 2 years old at the time, of course her story isn’t going to match up. I don’t even think she remembers it.” That made me so upset.

 

There was this person we knew that we called our sister, she was dating a lawyer at that time. He said it was the most asinine thing he ever heard. He called the prosecutor as well- he’s a really good lawyer- he said, “You could easily get way more than that!” She got offended that all of us called the night before. I guess it was probably late at night, but she came to an agreement that she would try to ask the judge for another sentence. She asked me what the biggest thing I wanted from this was. I told her, “I don’t want her to have any contact with any of the siblings, at least until the youngest is 18.” She agreed to that and the judge agreed to that. So Jamie got 6 years in prison, with 3 years already served because she had been in jail and the mental hospital for 3 years so that counted towards her sentence. When she was released from prison she was on probation and couldn’t leave Florida, and at the time it was 13 years she could not ask about us or talk to us or her family. She was not allowed to do anything that would let her find out information about us. Even as simple as asking somebody how we were doing and if we were ok is not allowed. Otherwise she would get another 15 years in prison.

 

Scott

So she can’t contact any of you for another 9 years from now?

 

Michael

Yeah.

 

Scott

And if she tries to its automatically, no negotiation, she’s back in for another 15 years.

 

Michael

Yeah. So I’m actually in contact with my cousin and she is very upset at Jamie. She felt betrayed because she wanted to ask Jamie about her kids and how they were doing. She contacted Jamie to talk to her when they were visiting Florida and Jamie wouldn’t talk much but Vernon did. At one point Jamie’s cousin brought up that, “Hey the kids are doing so much better without you. What you did was horrible.” Jamie immediately said, “You know we can’t talk about them.” I told my aunt it was ok if she talked about us, just as long as she doesn’t say anything about the younger siblings. So she contacted Jamie and said how she was really disappointed in her and how we are doing so much better without her and that our lives are better.

 

Scott

When she lost custody of all the kids, you guys were all sent together to live somewhere else right?

 

Michael

Yes, so when she lost custody we were all sent together to live with a nice family. This family had actually adopted Jamie’s older kids from before I was born. So we were separated long lost siblings and we all ended up in the same place anyways.

 

Scott

Those were siblings you didn’t know about?

 

Michael

I knew the oldest one but I didn’t know anything about him. I remember seeing a letter from him and Jamie calling him her most prized son and that he was supposed to bring fortune to the family and be above us all. I had no idea what happened to him. I remember thinking, “She talks so highly about this older brother, how come I’ve never seen him? I haven’t even seen a picture of him.” So it was interesting meeting him for the first time.

 

Scott

I understand you also were able to contact some sisters who didn’t know about your biological dad or about you. How did you find them?

 

Michael

It was actually somebody who recognized my name because I’m named after my father. My last name isn’t a common name so I found out that I had some long lost siblings. My father Michael would never say anything about his family. He said he would tell us one day but he passed away before we could. I almost gave up hope. I thought, “If they find me they find me, if they don’t, they don’t.” I found out they were living in the same state as I was so I knew I was close. Eventually I found one of Michael’s ex-wives and she told me the siblings’ birthdays but she didn’t know their names. After a lot of research I found out that Michael was married to 2 women at the same time and they lived all together. He wasn’t a polygamist, it was just something they did.

I got in contact with my adoptive uncles and then they gave me more information after a while. I contacted my sister and said, “Hey, I think you’re my sister.” I explained who our father was but she didn’t know him, she had only seen letters from him because her family wouldn’t talk about him. So I found my sister and she helped me find another sister and another brother. It was ironic that we all ended up in the same state.

 

Scott

That’s incredible you’ve got a whole new family.

 

Michael

Yeah, a lot.

 

Scott

Would you ever contact Jamie again?

 

Michael

I do have her number. I doubt that she’ll ever hear this podcast, but if she does then oh well. I do have her number but I have not contacted her and I don’t know if I will. I’m really conflicted because I want to confront her. I talked with my twin about it because he’s the only other one who has her number. He said he doesn’t think he would ever contact her because he thinks that in her mind she really does believe that we deserved it. I agree with him. I think she had lied to herself so much that she truly believes those lies that what she did wasn’t wrong. Sometimes I wonder if I did try to confront her if I would get anything from it or would it just make me angry and bring her back into my life. The last thing I want is for her to think I would contact her because I miss her. By no means do I miss her. I don’t ever want her in my life. It brings me happiness to know that she will never have kids in her life again. Maybe one day I will but I just don’t know when.

 

Scott

Have you forgiven her?

 

Michael

When I first left Jamie, I was so overwhelmed with happiness that I thought I didn forgive her. I remember telling the cops, “I forgive her and I don’t want any ill to come to her but I just don’t want to be with her again.” Now that I’m older, especially during my final year of high school I really started to find myself. Some might wonder what that means, I really started maturing and understanding things much more clearly. I started having more social interaction and started learning more and that started to make me angrier when I would think of her. I realized that I just cannot forgive her for what she did, especially to my brothers. The toughest memories I have of living at Jamie’s is not what she did to me but what she did to my brothers. It makes me so angry and heated. There’s times I have to tell myself to calm down because it will make me really irrational, it just makes me so angry. I can’t forgive her.

 

I remember I was talking to Jamie’s parents because I have a relatively good relationship with them, and the first time I talked to them I told them I did forgive Jamie. I just couldn’t live with that. A few months ago I called them and said, “Look, I don’t forgive Jamie. I know she’s your daughter, but I almost hate her. I can’t forgive her for what she did. What she did was horrible” I don’t know how you could do that, mental illness or not. How can you look at your kid who’s only a year old and say, “Get this thing off of me” and then throw them against the bookshelf. I don’t know how you can keep doing that after your kid begs you not to do that and says, “I’m sorry mommy.” I just can’t forgive that. I’m at peace with that. I will forgive her when she dies. I don’t want someone to murder her, but when she passes away I think I’ll be able to forgive her. Whatever happens to her after that, that’s not up to me.

 

Scott

How’s your life today?

 

Michael

My life is very good today. I’m married now, to a very beautiful young woman. I really got to explore the country. I’ve worked a lot of jobs because I’m not sure exactly what I want to do, I have an idea but we’ll see. Everyday I wake up and I’m pretty excited. I have very good friends and I’m very close with my brothers and sister, including the long lost ones. Jamie is more of just a bad memory at this point. It doesn’t affect my life too much anymore.

 

Scott

Do you have any lingering trauma or PTSD, like in certain situations?

 

Michael

Yeah. I have PTSD and it used to be very bad. If someone came to give me a high five or even if they would put their hand on my lap I would flinch in fear. There were times I would wake up in the middle of the night and yell, “Yes ma’am!” That’s something we had to say to her. Or I would have very bad dreams. When we first left the dream would be of her being a monster in a haunted house and she would try to lure us inside while beating us. That was what my dreams used to be. Now when I have bad dreams of her it’s of her getting custody of my younger siblings and pretending to be nice. I always tell her in these dreams, “I’m going to watch you 24/7. I’m going to get these kids taken away from you because you do not deserve them. I know you are bad.” My PTSD is so much better now than it used to be though.

 

Scott

Is that because of therapy?

 

Michael

Yeah therapy and also time heals you know? Eventually you learn to live a normal life and things get better.

 

Scott

I understand you are possibly considering writing a book about your childhood.

 

Michael

Yeah I want to write a book. I’ve had a few people actually offer to help me write it. I would love to but quite frankly, what is happening in my brain doesn’t really translate well to paper. I get carried away and I’m not the best writer. I’ve had people want to ghost write for me and I think I’ll take them up on that one day. I don’t know if right now is the time but one day I want to do it.

 

Scott

If you do, let me know and I’ll let my audience know. I know after hearing your story they would love to read anything that you would write and hear that you’re doing better. Well Michael, I’m really sorry that you had to go through all of that. No child, or human, should ever go through any of that. I appreciate you coming on here and sharing your story.

 

Michael

Thanks for having me. I like to share my story, I want people to learn.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

After hearing Michael’s story, and how that horrific situation went on for so long without anyone noticing anything, I think it’s a good opportunity to say this. If you observe any kind of situation that seems suspicious, and you suspect that a child is being abused or is in danger, contact the authorities. Here in the Florida, it’s the Department of Children and Families. The agency may have a different name in other states, and hopefully listeners outside the US also have a way to report a dangerous situation. You might just save a child’s life.

 

You know what I love to do? I love to talk with you. You’re a listener of this podcast, and that means we have something big in common. You and I both love to hear a heartfelt, true, first-hand story. It might be a really difficult one, like Michael’s story that we heard today. Or it could be a happy one. But whether it’s a story of tragedy or joy, hearing someone relate that first-hand experience is something I never get tired of. And I know you’re the same way. That’s why I love talking with, and engaging with, the listeners of this podcast.

 

The easiest way I’ve found to do that is through our podcast Facebook group. In that group we have roughly 1500 people. And yes, the one big thing that brings us all together is this podcast – but you should see some of the discussions we have in there. We have a lot more in common than just this show. If you’d like to join us over there, just go to WhatWasThatLike.com/facebook. The conversations there are fun and intelligent, so you’ll be in good company.

 

And I also post on Instagram a few times a week. I’m always coming across weird things or something that’s just amazing, and that’s where I put it. My account there has over 10k followers, and I invite you to do that as well. And here’s a little heads up – anyone who follows me on Instagram gets a message from me, asking if you have any crazy stories that would be a good fit for the podcast. Because I’m always looking for new guests and new stories. My Instagram handle is WhatWasThatLike.

 

I’m also working on a couple of bonus episodes. These would be episodes that are in a different format, not really the interview style that I do every other Friday. So hopefully I’ll be able to get those out in the next few months.

 

And if you’ve made it this far, almost to the end of the show, thank you! I appreciate you and the fact that you listen to the podcast. And if you really like it, you’re invited to support the show. That means you get ad-free episodes, and some bling from me, and you get access to all the bonus Raw Audio episodes that are only available to supporters for $5 a month. You can sign up for this at WhatWasThatLike.com/support.

 

If you want to contact me, you can do that through the website, or by regular mail at PO Box 5, Safety Harbor Florida, 34695.

 

And now here is this week’s Listener Story. Stay safe, and I’ll see you next time.

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Caller

So about 20 years ago I was working as a security guard in the mall. Funny thing is I wasn’t even supposed to work that night, I was covering for someone. I got a call over the radio saying that a female fainted in the restroom. I ran towards the restroom down the corridor. When I opened the restroom door I didn’t see anybody but I heard someone crying. I walked in and looked under the stalls and I saw somebody sitting on the floor of the handicapped stall. I introduced myself and knocked on the door and told her I was going to come in and that I was security. The door was locked so I had to crawl under the door to unlock it.

 

When I stood up we were both facing each other and I stood up to her pointing a gun at my forehead. She was just crying. My radio kept going off. I kept telling her that I could help her. It must have been a minute but it felt like a lifetime. She just kept crying and the last thing I said to her was, “I can help you.” She just said, “You can’t help me.” She took the gun, pointed it at the side of her head and shot herself. She fell back and landed between the crack between the toilet and the wall. Half of her head was missing. She was still gasping for air. I was a 20 year old kid that had no idea what to do. I ran out of the restroom freaking out. One of my good friends was also working there at the time. He ran to me and I just held him and told him not to go in.

 

Long story short, this lady was a 24 year old female who had just lost custody of her kids and decided to end it all. I was trying to get into law enforcement at the time but after that I couldn’t do it. I still see her struggling and breathing for air. I just figured I couldn’t help her. I was pretty lost after that and really took a different career path. That’s my story.

Past episodes

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