I escaped from the Yellow Deli

The Chattanoogan
June 1, 2006

My name is Karen Draper and I currently reside in Utah. In my youth, I lived with the “Yellow Deli” commune for several weeks before making my “escape.”

Recently, one of my friends in Chickamauga, Ga., informed me that the Yellow Deli [currently called the Twelve Tribes] returned to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Ironically, she owns an audio tape in which I recount my experience with the Yellow Deli. I remember as if it was yesterday, and I am really concerned that they decided to return to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Yellow Deli members use biblical passages to justify their child rearing practices. Their history shocked me. For the few weeks that I lived in the commune, I witnessed a mother hovering over her secured and seated child with a “stick” in her hand. Apparently, the child’s oatmeal was too hot to eat and every time he put his hand out to touch the food she smacked the outstretched hand with the stick.

When I intervened, they abruptly told me that I wasn’t a member long enough to correct anyone concerning their practices. They informed me that the children did not belong to the parents but to God. The parents followed a schedule for child rearing but lacked input on where and with whom their child spent time.

Upon joining the commune, I had to give everything I owned to them so I turned over my old bashed up car. Secretly, I kept $70 for myself because I didn’t have anything else.

They believed that the “outside” world represented evil. When I joined the Yellow Deli, they drove me to Chattanooga State where I attended so I could withdraw from college. When I told my counselor of my plans he just shook his head. I told him I found Jesus and these people [Yellow Deli] loved and would care for my needs.

When I met the Yellow Deli people I was situationally vulnerable because at the age of 21 I left a three year abusive relationship. I rented a room in a house in St. Elmo and found myself directionless with no loving family support.. At the time, commune members told me what I needed to hear - that they and God loved me. Immediately, they invited me to move in with them. When they convinced me, two members moved me out of my little room at 3 a.m. and drove me to their commune in Dalton, Ga.

I was familiar with the Yellow Deli as I frequented their restaurant and loved the food. I thought of them as pot smoking hippies that loved each other and lived communally. When I arrived at the commune in Dalton, Ga., I found that they neither smoked pot nor ate that wonderful food they served all the sinners. That was my first “red flag.” Why did the children of God [Yellow Deli people] eat crappy food while the sinners dined like kings and queens? We also could not eat food outside the commune.

One night I was so hungry for some protein I made a pact with some women commune members that I would buy them something to eat at the local Wendy’s restaurant. Suffering with severe paranoia, the women feared that they would get into trouble. We told those in charge that we needed to purchase material for the women’s “head coverings.” Thank God they believed our deceptive “white lie.” I promised the women that we would hide all the evidence so no one would get into trouble. As far as I know [the hierarchy] never found out about our sneaky escapade!

Their paranoia seemed valid as they related the story of a young man who lived in the commune. I can’t remember his name, but he was academically slow and received a monthly check from Social Security Disability. Commune leaders found out he drank a coca cola and in response they used his Dr. Scholl’s shoe to spank him in front of the congregation. Despite this man’s brutal and humiliating treatment, these brave women risked eating burgers, fries and coca colas. My goodness, what major sinners!

Anyways, I can describe more stories about the Yellow Deli. Hopefully they have changed but I honestly doubt this. I believe a big difference exists between swatting the bottom of a youngster who runs into the street and a child who does what comes natural to them. Yellow Deli members thrash their children under the guise of “discipline” and employ the Word of God to justify their sadistic behavior. I sincerely hope the Yellow Deli people once again find that they can’t “save” Chattanooga and leave the beautiful city alone. They prey on the discarded and lost and they found me in this way. Fortunately, I had friends and enough knowledge of God’s mercy and love to know something was terribly wrong.

After my escape from the Yellow Deli, I returned to Chattanooga State. The administrative office failed to process my paperwork so I only fell two weeks behind in my academic work. I finished college and received an A.S. in social workers assistance program.

If anyone would like to hear more please feel free to send me an email. When I lived at the Dalton, Ga., commune I boldly told Elbert Eugene Spriggs, the leader, that his followers lacked vitamin B, they suffered from dull and lifeless hair, their skin was broken out in acne and they worked too many hours and experienced sleep deprivation. Does anyone remember little Rachel Tuttle? Elbert presumptuously told her parents that God would heal their child thus negating the need to take the child to the emergency room within walking distance to the commune. When they finally listened to their God given intuition and took their daughter to the hospital she suffered from a very serious pneumonia infection. If they listened to the “Apostle” their child would have died without the aid of medical intervention.

Return to Vermont and leave Chattanooga alone!

Karen Brown Draper