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Life as an Outcast

Updated on June 30, 2016

Book trailer for Brenda Thornlow's latest novel Life, As Is!

A few days ago I was walking my dog around my neighborhood when, walking toward me, was a group of familiar looking faces dressed in suits and modest length skirts, carrying what looked like book bags. As the pup and I began passing them, one of the men made a point of glaring at me while one of the women whispered to the other next to her, furtively glancing at me. Wow! I thought to myself. The group looked somewhat familiar to me (then again, I live in a small neighborhood so that’s not unusual) but these people definitely knew who I was and were none too happy to see me! As walked up the steps to my building it finally occurred to me who these people were and I did know them at one time.

I was raised a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness. It was almost eighteen years ago, this year, that I was disfellowshipped; their term for excommunicated. This means that anyone that was also a Witness who was friendly with me or related to me was no longer allowed to associate or even speak to me. Anyone who associates with a disfellowshipped person runs the risk of being disfellowshipped, as well. It took several years for me to adjust to this since, as I mentioned, I was raised in this religion and Jehovah’s Witness children are not raised the same way other children are raised. Anyone who has spent most of their life in this religion is faced with some enormous challenges when leaving. When I was disfellowshipped, this fact was hard to understand for friends I made who had no experience with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Meeting (or service) at a Kingdom Hall
Meeting (or service) at a Kingdom Hall

Growing Up a Jehovah's Witness

Most people know that Witnesses do not celebrate holidays including Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Independence Day and even New Years. Many may not realize that they are also banned from celebrating birthdays as the celebration of birthdays, along with holidays, are believed to have pagan origins. Whether or not this is the case, Witnesses believe it is wrong to celebrate any of these occasions. They are also not allowed to salute the flag as they are taught that it is showing allegiance to a country and your total and complete allegiance should be to God. This also means that they are not to get involved in politics by voting or running for public office or joining the military.

The holiday and birthday rule is difficult for a child being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. Children are not comfortable around those who are seen as “different.” As this religion is not a very large one in comparison to others the Witness child will, most of the time, be the only member in his or her class, grade, or even school if they are attending a small school. The schools I attended while growing up were fairly large but I was definitely in the minority. Elementary school was not difficult for me, although it did have its moments, for instance in fifth grade when I was bullied by a boy in class for not saluting the flag. The difficulties started in junior high school when I started to become interested in after school activities.

Aside from what has been listed above as to what is banned, Witnesses are also discouraged from having friends outside the faith. Witnesses are taught that God (Jehovah) has plans to destroy the earth as it is and create a paradise or utopia and only people of their faith will survive. God will destroy everyone else. Therefore, it is fine to associate with a non-believer in an attempt to convert them, however if this person has no interest in joining the faith, you must not befriend them. It does not matter how good a heart that person may have, if they are not a Witness or have no interest in becoming one you should not befriend them. Also, they believe that there is always a chance a non-Witness may influence you to commit a sin. A popular Bible verse they use to support this belief that you should not make friends of different faiths is the well-known verse in Corinthians, “bad association spoils useful habits.”

This rule applies to children as well. Any after school activities, school dances, pep rallies; these involve associating with all types of people, most of them non-believers therefore it is not allowed. Even if a classmate invites you to their home or to a party, if they are a non-believer, same rule applies. Needless to say, dating a non-Witness is completely out of the question. This is what made things difficult for me as I approached my teen years. I had no interest in getting involved with things that would get me in trouble at school or with the authorities, and at school I made a few friends that weren’t Witnesses that were of the same mindset as me. If one of my friends invited me to her house or to an after school activity I was not allowed to go. It didn’t matter how nice my friend was, because she was not a Witness she may try to influence me to drink, smoke a cigarette, experiment with drugs; none of which I had any interest in doing, anyway. I simply wanted to be a "normal" kid and do "normal" kid things with people at school who were not trouble, but because they did not believe the same way, they were "bad association." So for my childhood, and the childhood of most Witness children, life consists of going to school, going home, going to church (or Kingdom Hall as they refer to it) three times a week and serving in the door-to-door ministry on weekends, something for which this group is most known. Although they are allowed to associate and make friends with other children in their church, what if a child does not have as much in common with others in the same church?

Social media has made it easier to make friends with those whom you have similar interests, but this was not the case in the 1980’s. Each church or Kingdom Hall has more than one congregation which the members are assigned to according to where they live. All members are required to attend the congregation services or “meetings” to which they are assigned. If you do not follow this, you will be reprimanded by the elders, although special circumstances may allow you to attend a different one from time to time. Through mutual friends and family members, I made friends with kids from different congregations from mine, however, if I wanted to spend time with them, this was looked down upon since they were not part ours. Meanwhile, I didn't dislike the kids that attended the same congregation as me, I just didn't have much in common with them and I felt awkward.

Jehovah's Witnesses and Children

Starting a New Life After the Witnesses

Needless to say, since Witness children are so sheltered by their families and this group, it is very difficult to assimilate to the outside world. It is especially difficult when you are disfellowshipped and ostracized by those around you who have known you for years or are even related to you. A person can be disfellowshipped for many reasons; it primarily happens when you commit a sin and the elders find out about it. The elders will meet with you, you are required to give them the details of your sin, tell them whether or not you are repentant and they then decide whether or not you are sincere in your repentance. I personally cannot tell you how they come to this decision, all I know is they claim the Holy Spirit guides them. My sin was that I wanted to leave an abusive husband. According to the Witnesses divorce is only allowed if adultery has taken place and the adulterer is unrepentant.

So, when I was disfellowshipped and split from my husband, I also was laid off from my job; obviously a bit of a stressful time for me! Keep in mind I had no college degree (going to college is strongly discouraged by the Witnesses) so it took a couple of months to find a permanent job along with an apartment of my own. Prior to finding a permanent job I kept busy with temp work and even though it was tight, I was able to make ends meet. It was difficult for me to find a roommate because I lost all of my Witness friends and of course did not have any non-Witness friends, so I moved into a small studio apartment by myself. This also my first time living on my own, without my parents or a husband.

Slowly, I began to make new friends, people who are still in my life almost eighteen years later. It was not an easy transition, though. When a former Witness losses all that was familiar to them, especially one who has grown up in that sheltered environment being taught that the outside world is no place for them, they are almost a stranger in a strange land. When trying to make new friends, your “picker” may be off because you are not sure who to trust and who not to trust. Add to this, everyone you are meeting and attempting to get to know has an extremely different background and don’t understand that you are embarking, almost literally, on a whole new world.

I do have the option of going back to the Witnesses, provided I repent for divorcing my abusive ex-husband. But not only is that not going to happen; after much research and soul searching, I have since come to the conclusion that the Jehovah’s Witness religion is not for me. I have my own beliefs which work for me and make me very happy. I have since remarried and although I do speak to my parents from time-to-time, (parents have the option of continuing the relationship with their disfellowshipped children if they wish) I have many other relatives that live in my same neighborhood who refuse to speak to me and I have come to terms with that.

For me, all of this took place prior to social media taking over the world. Today, someone experiencing these same challenges have online tools to help them cope and meet others in the same boat. There are many groups online such as Jehovahswitnessrecovery.com, Freeminds.org and ex-jw.com to name just a few and many groups on sites such as Facebook such as Watchtower Uncensored. There are many books written by others with similar experiences such as Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz, I Was Raised a Jehovah's Witness by Joe Hewitt and many more. So if you are reading this and in the same situation as I once was, I encourage you to search for groups and books such as these as they can be a tremendous help. If you know someone in this same predicament, please be patient with them as they are trying to find their way in this world.


(c) 2014 Brenda Thornlow

Brenda Thornlow was voted one of the 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading for 2015. She is the author of the new fiction series My Life as I Knew It; The Revolving Door; A Godless Love and her memoir, My Short-Lived Life at Being Perfect. Available at Amazon. (Link below)

© 2014 Brenda Thornlow

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    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      Hi Bk42author,

      Firstly, I hope you and your family are well today.

      A really interesting and brave Hub article to write of, exposing the falseness behind this so-called religion.

      As far as I understand, ' Jehovah's Witnesses ' are a NON-CHRISTIAN CULT, because ( amongst other dodgy doctrines ), they deny the deity of Christ, Jesus's resurrection from the dead by God Almighty, and of salvation by grace through faith.

      Unfortunately, there a lot of decent people still stuck in these kind of subversive cults, and some are fortunate indeed to come out of them, and I understand how difficult it can be to start again - that seemingly respectable folk, knowingly or unwittingly have indoctrinated and inculcated whole families with such poison, leaving them with a bad press about God.

      Furthermore, they are shown to be false witnesses, breaking the Ten Commandments, and are also identified in Exodus 23: 1-2, and Proverbs 6: 16-19, as well as other passages.

      Thanks for publishing.

      With Kind Regards,

      R.Q.

    • Bk42author profile image
      Author

      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Hi Romeos. Hope you are well, too!

      Yes, that's true. They believe that Jesus was created by God and separate from Him. They believe salvation is through their organization rather than through grace. It's all about works and if you're not doing enough (preaching enough, going to every single meeting) you can possibly lose favor with God. It's all based in fear and very sad. I agree, it does leave a bad taste in your mouth about who God really is and takes a long time to get over.

      Thanks so much for your comment. Have a great week!

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      That false prophet Charles Taze Russell has a lot to answer for.

      Just found out that between 1917 and 1928, they changed their doctrines no less than one-hundred and forty-eight times! Talk about being built on shifting sands.

      Thanks again and enjoy a pleasant week.

      Sincerely,

      R.Q.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      What an interesting story bk42. I am glad that at least your parents chose to still speak with you. I have known of people who have left or become 'disfellowshipped' who have been shunned by their whole family. It would have been a terribly difficult situation for you to go through. A few years ago i remember their was an enquiry into abuse within the JW institution. Aparently all reported cases were dealt with internally by elders and not reported to police. I guess that is similar what the catholic church did as well. It would be hard for any of us to imagine how difficult it must have been for you assimilating to the 'real' world after leaving your husband, but I'm glad everything is ok in your life now. Thank you for sharing.

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you both for your comments!

      @Romeos - "Pastor" Russell, as he was known, and everyone after him have so much to answer for! To this day their teachings & rules keep changing.

      @Jodah - Yes, there have been many cases regarding abuse being covered up, fortunately it's starting to come to public's attention a little more each day so hopefully, soon, there will be something done about it. Thank you, again, for your comments!

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      You're welcome Bk42author.

      I'm certainly more than aware that he claimed to be a ' pastor ', however, he made prophecies which never came to pass, most notably the 1914A.D. failed watchtower prophecy being " the final end " of this system of things. ( See 2Thessalonians 2:1-2 for encouragement ).

      He was a false teacher and false prophet because he failed the true biblical tests of being a true prophet sent by God. Viz;

      The Bible lists six identifying marks of false prophets, any one of which is sufficient for identification: (1) through signs and wonders they lead astray after false gods (Dt. 13:1-4); (2) their prophecies don't come to pass (Dt. 18:20-22); (3) they contradict God's Word (Isa. 8:20); (4) they bear bad fruit (Mt. 7:18-20); (5) men speak well of them (Lk. 6:26); and (6) they deny that Jesus, the one and only Christ, has come once and for all in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:3), thereby denying His sufficiency in all matters of life and godliness (2 Pe. 1:3).

      Their policy seems to be to blame their own followers rather than to apologize for their own errors and ineptitude - spiritual pride.

      Take Care,

      R.Q.

    • Bk42author profile image
      Author

      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thanks, Romeos! Yes, they do blame their followers. In regards to the 1975 mess when, in plain black & white, their publications claimed the end was coming that year, they turned around and said their followers took things too literally when the end obviously didn't come. All of a sudden it was never said. People sold homes, businesses, quit their jobs because "the end was coming." After all that, the organization still, to this day refuses to take responsibility for what they clearly wrote and told everone. Horrible!

      Thanks so much for your input!

    • oldiesmusic profile image

      oldiesmusic 3 years ago from United States

      I've heard of Jehovah's Witness but I didn't know this in depth until I read your article. I can't believe that it's quite perverse. Parents have the "option" to speak to their disfelloweshipped children?!? But I'm glad your parents still choose to have communication with you.

      I believe you did the right thing, I'm glad you separated from your abusive husband even and you didn't choose to repent him even though you have the option to go back to that "cult". I don't have the right to say "I understand how you feel", because I didn't experience the same fate as yours... But I'm happy you're free... I believe your "outcast" phase will be over very soon and wish you lasting happiness. :)

      Very interesting hub. :)

    • Romeos Quill profile image

      Romeos Quill 3 years ago from Lincolnshire, England

      Well, I sure hope you find some comfort and healing through the truth Bk42author, for these kind of people prey upon human weakness and capture through the fear they wield in lies.No love, no point :)

      Have a lovely evening;

      Best Wishes,

      R.Q.

    • Bk42author profile image
      Author

      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you so much, oldiesmusic! It is insane the hold that cults can have over people.

      Thank you again for your comment! :)

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Have a great evening as well, Romeos!

    • Anthony Moreau profile image

      Richard de Mey 3 years ago from Scottsdale, Arizona

      WOW! This is an interesting read. My grandmother who lived with us when I was a child was also a Jehovas Witness but I never knew much about the religion. I do remember she was not allowed to gamble or celebrate any holidays. She used to always talk about the devil and how he was everywhere. All my rock and roll records were evil and she kept warning me to throw them away. This religion sounds almost as bad as the mormon way of life. I respect everyones choice to worship God to their understanding but when they use scare tactics to control their followers and keep them in line it's nothing more than a cult.

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      I remember having to get rid of a lot of my record albums as well! Yes, they do us a lot of scare tactics to keep their members in line. They believe demons have a lot more power than they should be given credit for and I used to hear a lot of hair-raising urban legends about them. A lot of sleepless night as a child!

      Thank you for commenting!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Such a great read , what shines through is your strength and I congratulate you for finding the strength to leave .I also left my abusive alcoholic of a husband back in 2002 after 26 years of marriage; the best thing I ever did. He has now crumbled into a pathetic heap. Lots of love to you my dear friend and sending you happy days from Wales.

      Eddy.

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you so much Eiddwen! Congratulations to you, too! It takes a lot of strength and determination to pull yourself out of a situation like that. Lots of love to you as well! :)

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      ShamontielLVaughn 3 years ago

      This was fascinating to read. I will not throw shade to the religion because I can see just as many aggressive politics in other types of religions that I do in Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't agree with any religion thinking it's the trump card of another, especially when I have a Christian deacon as a father, a Jehovah's Witness as an aunt and countless Christian relatives. I am, however, agnostic, even after growing up in a Baptist church with a grandmother I loved to pieces. I believe you can be a positive and moral person without religion but don't knock those that do. My bone to pick is only the "we're better than you" or "we can't associated with you" mantra that you wrote about in this entry. That doesn't make me angry so much as it's disappointing. I have a bone to pick with people who feel the need to "convert" another person. Just let them be them. I must admit that I'm glad you walked away from such constricting policies.

      My parents recently invited my aunt to my grandfather's 90th birthday. I knew it was a waste of time and that she wouldn't come, but it seemed rude not to invite her anyway. In retrospect, it probably was ruder TO INVITE her because it may have put her in an uncomfortable situation. How often does one's father turn 90? I do recall her coming to my high school graduation and a Thanksgiving dinner, but I cringed when she was told to hold hands while people prayed. I think she did what I did. Just stood there holding hands until it was all said and done.

      I don't knock religion but I do think it has a habit of creating an unnecessary divide. Anyway, great piece. I didn't know all of these other rules. It made me smile because I remembered a cute little boy who used to always draw photos of me in second and third grade. He was a Jehovah's Witness and would always stay seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. But he was never bullied for it. The rest of the kids in our class were trying to figure out how we could be down so we didn't have to stand for either. LOL Guess we weren't very patriotic either.

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you for your post Shamontiel! It is very dissapointing what a big divide religion create when it could solve so many problems by spreading a message of love. Thank so much for your input & have a great day!

    • profile image

      Steve 3 years ago

      Nice post.

      One thing I want to clear up though, is that their position on going to college has not changed! It is still very strongly discouraged

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Good to know. Thanks for your input! Have a great weekend!

    • profile image

      Alyse 3 years ago

      You are strong and courageous, optimistic and kind. You are beautiful and who you are supposed to be. I admire and love you! xox

    • Bk42author profile image
      Author

      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you beautiful mama! I love you too! Xoxox

    • promisem profile image

      Scott Bateman 3 years ago

      We rise above adversity or we fall beneath it. It's inspiring to hear that you have risen above it. I can clearly see that you are a stronger and wiser person as a result of your experience.

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you promisem! I appreciate your kind words. :)

    • kerlund74 profile image

      kerlund74 3 years ago from Sweden

      I recognize your story, a child in my school was a Witness, and I knew her pretty well, in school. She no longer is a witness, by her own choice, not easy. Your story is touching and you have been through really hard times. I hope your life now is what you want it to be:)

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you so much, Kerlund74! Have a great weekend! :)

    • UndercoverAgent19 profile image

      Jen Corrigan 3 years ago

      I admire your strength and courage. I can't imagine what it would feel like being in that situation. I think it is very important that you are sharing your story with the world.

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you, UndercoverAgent19! It took a long for me to come to terms with everything. I'm hoping my story can help others going thru similar situations gain the courage to live the lives they are meant to live. :)

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Wow Wow talking about having courage. You got it girl! many thanks for sharing your story, I was not aware that it was so (verkrampt) Afrikaans word. voted Awesome

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you, Nadine! Have a wonderful night! :)

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 3 years ago

      You have an incredible amount of courage my newest friend ! And I cannot even imagine the pain that this all caused you as a woman and as a young adult . I read above that someone called this a cult , while right or wrong in agreeing , Jahovas' Witness' is one of the most socially altering religions in America . I have known a few members and have never been impressed by the hypocrisy that they exude ! Good for you for growing beyond the pain that they caused you ! .....Ed

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you so much for your kind words, ahorseback! I agree, the hypocrisy still never ceases to amaze me. Have a wonderful night!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      This was such an interesting article to read. I know so little about the inner world of Witnesses--you are a woman of great courage!

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you, Audrey! :)

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Such an interesting story when it comes from a personal experience! I had a best friend growing up who was a Jehovah. From Kindergarten up to the 10th grade, I watched how she struggled to fit in with others; however, I never gave her religion a second glance. I was always just her friend. Looking back, I'm surprised I was allowed to be her friend! She was pulled out of high school after 10th grade, probably because she was beginning to rebel. She married immediately after turning 18 and stayed married for 11 years. I recently got in touch with her about 3 years ago, and just this past summer she told me of her divorce, and like you described, she is pretty much shunned from her family. It is sad to see. She has kids and they are affected as well. She is quite courageous though and is actually getting re-married this summer (to a non-Jehovah). Thank you for sharing your story!!

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 3 years ago from New York

      Hi Vandynegl! It's that she had a good friend like you to turn to while growing up. When you're living in a situation like that you never forget the people who were nice to you and didn't treat you any differently from anyone else. It's a shame about her family but once you get through the initial heartache, it's all worth it in the end.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :)

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      In some ways, my childhood was the same. I grew up as a Seventh Day Adventist; they too have a lot of rules. I was not as isolated from the community, so I took part in numerous activities, but felt guilty doing so. I was also exposed to a lot of negativity and violence; being sent to an SDA school from 8th grade to graduation saved me from those, but the price I paid was a restricted lifestyle - no movies, hard rock music, dancing, etc.

      I don't condemn the SDA church, because it taught me a lot of positive values and virtually saved my life (I'm from Oakland, CA; 'nuff said). However, it seems to me a truly good religion teaches you how to best live in your community, rather than isolate you from it and restrict interacting with those who think differently from you. If they don't want you to interact with those who are different, apparently they're hiding something. This also promotes bigotry, which ultimately is the basis of all wars.

    • profile image

      Michael Sinkolongo 2 years ago

      A very touching story with which I can identify with. I was also raised in a Witness family and was very interested in the Bible. I used to put in a lot of hours, defending the so-called 'truth'. But eventually, I discovered that I had to twist scriptures to defend our teachings. That is when I decided to do a thorough study of the Bible without the publications of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

      By the time I was done with the Bible study, I was totally transformed. I discovered the true gospel of Christ and tried to get help from the Organization but I was ostracised and decided to leave.

      I was shunned and called an apostate. But my faith in Christ has kept me going all this while.

      I know how hard it is to be shunned. I still feel the effects now especially when there is a family event such as a Wedding and I am not invited; and therefore, I am so glad to see someone like myself finding comfort and growing a true family of friends outside the organization.

      Way to go Brenda! You are not the only one out there and stories like yours strengthen a whole lot of people like me. Keep it up!

      By the way, you can read my story here: http://www.michael-sinkolongo.com/why-I-left-the-k...

    • Bk42author profile image
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      Brenda Thornlow 2 years ago from New York

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your experience, Michael! I'll definitely check out your work. I believe the more attention that's brought to this group and how they operate and manipulate people, the better! Have a great day and thanks again! :)

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