A Drunkard's Prayer

Will this couch go with my salvation? A South Florida operation moves furniture and damp souls.

"It sounds like a cult to me," the son says.

Faith Farm is a cult, in some ways: Six days a week, the students rise before dawn and get an hour of religion, followed by another hour of philosophical indoctrination, followed by nine hours of strenuous labor. They earn prison wages. They eat canned vegetables and watery soup. Their quarters are threadbare. They sleep packed into rooms, one atop another, bedbug prey in stagnant air.

Their salvation is just a baby step up from life on the streets.

Dean Webb makes sure Faith Farm stays disciplined. He also manages the annual $12 million budget.
C. Stiles
Dean Webb makes sure Faith Farm stays disciplined. He also manages the annual $12 million budget.
As director of the Fort Lauderdale campus, Richard Rosendo is part father, part pastor, part prison warden.
C. Stiles
As director of the Fort Lauderdale campus, Richard Rosendo is part father, part pastor, part prison warden.

Faith Farm began in 1951, when God came in a dream to Garland "Pappy" Eastham. God told Pappy to donate six acres of prime real estate on what is now Powerline Road to treat the addicted. It started as a three-day dry-out place and quickly grew into an extensive, live-in program, borrowing methods from the military, from prisons, and from poor houses. Today, there are three Faith Farm locations: the original Fort Lauderdale grounds, where Murphy works at the furniture store; an 80-acre spread in Boynton Beach; and a 1,500-acre working farm in Okeechobee.

Faith Farm has endured in a part of the country that is chock-full of opulent rehab programs with gourmet food and seaside relaxation therapies. Such places promise a combination of pharmacology and fine living. Challenges, for example, is a local, live-in "relapse prevention" center that offers "luxurious apartment residences" as well as Prometa, Suboxone, Vivitrol, and Campral treatments. In this company, Faith Farm is an anomaly. It offers no doctors on its premises, no psychologists, no dietitians or chemical dependency counselors. "We use the age-old approach: lots of discipline and lots of Jesus," says Dean Webb, Faith Farm's superintendent.

It's a frugal outfit, Webb says proudly, that struggles to break even. Most of the 150 men at the Fort Lauderdale compound sleep in open-bay, military-style barracks, in donated bunks. They eat the least expensive food that Faith Farm can get.

Webb had no history with the rehab industry before he took over Faith Farm and no personal experience with addiction. The son of a minister from Oklahoma, he served in the Navy, rising to the rank of commander, and then worked in evangelical broadcasting in Georgia. His goal now is to maintain a rehab program that's free to anyone who needs it and is willing to work for it. Faith Farm is financed entirely by the revenue from selling used and donated furniture and other household items and new furniture that the program purchases at below-wholesale prices.

Zero tolerance is Webb's universal policy. Get caught using drugs or alcohol in the program, even just once, just a tiny bit? You're gone. Get caught stealing or fighting or being dishonest in any way? Gone, gone, gone. Don't want to work? Don't want to follow the pack? Gone and gone. And if you've sinned and repented, just a slip, a toke or sip, you're truly sorry, never happen again, swear?

"We forgive him, and we love him," Webb says. "But he has to go."

Faith Farm's Boynton Beach location has a small women's program, separate from the men. Recently, Webb got a call in the middle of the night saying a woman was being rushed to the hospital. In a moment of desperation, the woman had noticed the high alcohol content and downed half a tub of hand sanitizer. She lived through it, but doctors said it easily could have gone the other way. "Can you believe that?" Webb says. "How much do you want to get drunk when you drink that stuff? I would've never thought about that."

Webb sent a staff member to the hospital to inform the woman she was no longer welcome on the farm.

When students are kicked out or leave — they are free to walk out at any point — they must wait at least a month if they want to reenter the program. Webb says most are never heard from again.

Webb tells students that each month they live at Faith Farm and eat Faith Farm's food, they are costing him about $3,000. The program is designed to grow a new man in about nine months. "If you get out of here and you start drinking again," he tells the students, "it's like you're throwing 30 grand down the drain. I could do a lot of good with $30,000."

The annual budget for the three Faith Farm locations is about $12 million. The money goes to food and living expenses and to the salaries of the staff and employees, most of whom are alumni. Faith Farm, which gets no government grants or assistance, squeezes every dime. They'll sell anything they can, from a torn, beaten couch for 50 bucks to a rusted toaster for 50 cents. When someone donates a washing machine that can't be fixed by Faith Farm's handymen, a group of students breaks it down to sell the small amounts of precious metals from the innards, the porcelain from the wash basin, and the copper from the power cord. It's a waste-not, want-not mentality: For two days after a farmer donated a truckful of eggplant to the Boynton Beach location, at every meal at all three locations, residents ate incarnations of eggplant.

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