LAKEVILLE — When Attleboro religious sect member Michelle Mingo was set free last week, she left court wearing the familiar jumper dress worn by sect women and resumed life in the sect home on Knight Avenue.
But Karen Robidoux, who was convicted Feb. 3 of assault and battery in the starvation death of her son, remains at Meadow Haven, where she is continuing exit counseling after severing herself from the insular sect known as “The Body.”
“As you can imagine, it’s a huge adjustment,” Pardon said. “It’s the first time she had had the opportunity to establish her own identity. She was 14 or 15 when she went into the group.”
A jury cleared Robidoux of second-degree murder, but convicted her of assault and battery in the starvation death of her 1-year-old son, Samuel.
The child’s starvation was the eventual outcome of a sect prophecy pronounced by Mingo.
Psychological experts at Robidoux’s trial testified that she suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression.
She broke down several times during the trial when witnesses testified about events that led to Samuel’s death.
Meadow Haven is nestled in Lakeville, where Pardon also operates the New England Institute of Religious Research.
Robidoux, 28, who broke off from The Body while at Taunton State Hospital after her arrest in November 2000, was not available for an interview.
She and others at Meadow Haven will stay between six and eight months while they readjust to life outside the environment that controlled their lives and took away their identities, Pardon said.
The first portion of the treatment allows former cult members to rest and feel safe, to then deal with spiritual confusion and issues of self-esteem, Pardon said.
“We realize there is spiritual confusion going on because many of these groups are Bible-based,” said Pardon, who has studied the Attleboro sect and was the guardian who represented the children taken away from the sect in 1999.
After developing an individualized recovery plan, Pardon said, he and other counselors help former cult members deal with their past by understanding cult belief systems and helping members set boundaries.
“In a group, you leave your identity,” Pardon said.
In cults, members are taught what to think, and how to feel. In order to function in society again, a person has to learn how to develop and deal with interpersonal relationships, Pardon said.
“Boundaries allow you to be an individual,” said Pardon’s wife and associate, Judith.
Before they leave the rehabilitative facility, former cult members learn life skills and develop goals for their future and how to function in society, Robert Pardon said.
Often described as a cult deprogrammer, Pardon says he does not like the term’s negative connotations. No one ever sets out to join a cult.
“We’re more like a rehabilitation center. We help people put their lives back together again,” Pardon said.
“Part of what we do,” Judith Pardon added, ” is to help them realize that they’re not damaged. That it could happen to anybody.”