Tampa Bay Times
By Alexandra Zayas, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Sunday, October 28, 2012
They shaved him bald that first morning in 2008, put him in an orange jumpsuit and made him exercise past dark.
Through the night, as he slept on the floor, they forced him awake for more.
The sun had not yet risen over the Christian military home when Samson Lehman collapsed for the sixth time. Still, he said, they made him run.
The screaming, the endless exercise, it was all in the name of God, a necessary step at the Gateway Christian Military Academy on the path to righteousness.
So when Samson vomited, they threw him a rag. When his urine turned red, they said that was normal.
By Day 3, the 15-year-old was on the verge of death, his dehydrated organs shutting down.
Slumped against a wall, cold and immobile, Lehman recalls men who recited Scripture calling him a wimp. And he thought: Maybe, if I die here, someone will shut this place down.
Not in Florida.
In this state, unlicensed religious homes can abuse children and go on operating for years. Almost 30 years ago, Florida legislators passed a law eliminating state oversight of children’s homes that claim government rules hamper their religious practices.
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