Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The disturbing truths revealed in “Why I Left the Amish” December 13, 2011

ANY ILLUSION I’VE HELD of the Amish living Utopian existences has been shattered into a million shards after reading Why I Left the Amish: A Memoir.

Written by Saloma Miller Furlong, a woman raised in an Amish community in Ohio, this rates as one of the most disturbing books I’ve read given my preconceived notions about an idyllic Amish world.

Certainly, all Amish should not be pigeonholed by this single book.

Yet, the truths shared by Furlong cannot be ignored. The Amish, like none of us, live pastoral, simple, uncomplicated lives.

In Furlong’s situation, she lived a living hell. I can think of no other way to describe the horrific stories of abuse within her family shared in her memoir.

As I read her book, I began to understand how living within the confines of rigid rules and beliefs within a closed community can allow such abuse to continue without intervention.

According to Furlong:

Individuality is squelched in the name of “community.”

Women/girls are to be subservient to men/boys.

Obedience is demanded.

Rules rule.

Humbleness of spirit prevails and not always in a positive way.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not condemning the Amish or their chosen beliefs or lifestyle. But I have, through Furlong’s memoir, come to understand how ideologies can keep the issues of abuse hidden and ignored deep within the community.

In Furlong’s case, she writes of the shame heaped upon her family by the Amish community aware of dysfunction within her family. Her father was mentally ill, her mother unwilling to protect her daughters, her brother abusive.

Her words hurt your heart. Simple as that.

Furlong writes:

“Our fear of Datt’s violence kept us trapped so that we could not even imagine freedom.”

Eventually that fear of violence also gave Furlong the courage to plan her escape and flee in 1977 at the age of 20.

But can you imagine how difficult that decision must have been, knowing this:

“It is a belief system that a child inherits, in which one believes one is damned if one leaves the Amish.”

FURLONG IS CURRENTLY co-writing a sequel, When We Were Young and She Was Amish, with her husband, David. After that initial escape, where Why I Left the Amish ends, Furlong was tracked by her family and the bishop and returned to her Amish community. Later she would flee for a second, and final, time.

Why I Left the Amish was published in 2011 by Michigan State University Press.

This is a must-read book, even if you’re not interested in the Amish. Furlong’s memoir addresses abuse and we can all learn from it, no matter our beliefs.

© Review text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling