An Arkansas woman has revealed how she escaped her controlling pastor husband and the fundamentalist Baptist community she grew up in seven years ago and built a life of her own in New York City.
Detra shared her incredible story on the popular social media account Humans of New York last week. In a series of 15 posts, she opened up about her strict upbringing and how she was expected to be submissive wife.
‘We were Fundamental Baptists. Southern Baptists are the ones you see on the news for being so conservative, but Fundamental Baptists are much more conservative than that,’ she explained.
A woman named Detra opened up about she left her Baptist pastor husband and built a life of her own in a series of posts shared by Humans of New York
She was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist family and wasn’t allowed to watch TV or even dance when she was growing up
Detra read romance novels as an escape, and she fantasized about meeting a man who would look at her the way the men on the covers gazed at their paramours
Growing up, her family didn’t have a TV in their home, and they only had two records that weren’t church music. She wasn’t allowed to dance, and she recalled putting on Nat King Cole when she vacuumed just so she ‘could move to music.’
Detra read romance novels as an escape, and she fantasized about meeting someone who would look at her the same way the men on the covers gazed at their paramours. She was in college when she met her husband in the school ensemble.
‘He wasn’t exactly a character from a romance novel, but he had a ventriloquist puppet named Clovis. Clovis was black. And to be honest I fell in love with Clovis before my husband,’ she admitted.
‘My husband was meek. It was Clovis that told me I was beautiful. It was Clovis that called me on the phone. And one evening when we were eating supper with my family, it was Clovis that got down on one knee.’
A month before Detra got married, her husband noted that she was a ‘strong woman’ and asked if she planned on ‘being a submissive wife.’
Detra was raised to believe that wives needed to be submissive to their husbands
When Detra met her husband in college, he had a ventriloquist puppet named Clovis that he used to woo her. She said it was Clovis who got down on one knee and proposed to her
A month before Detra got married, her husband noted that she was a ‘strong woman’ and asked if she planned on ‘being a submissive wife.’ She told him she would try her best
‘I told him that I certainly would try my best. And he said: “Well if I can’t conquer you, God will,”‘ she recalled.
Detra was confronted with her husband’s controlling nature the day after they got home from their honeymoon. While he was at work, she moved her things into his apartment and decorated it with their wedding gifts.
‘I couldn’t wait until he got home to see it. But he wasn’t smiling when he walked in the door,’ she explained. ‘He said: “You touched my things.” He made me put everything back. For the next 34 years of my life, I never felt like I had my own space.’
Detra, who was the pianist for her husband’s church, said her ‘only escape was music.’ Her seven children inherited her talent, and they formed a family band called ‘Heart for Home,’
They spent eight years touring as a traveling ministry, with her singing and her husband preaching sermons. They stopped when her oldest son, Lucas, joined the Marines, and she fell into a depression after they returned home to Arkansas.
After their honeymoon, she excitedly moved her things into her husband’s apartment and decorated, but he made her change everything back to the way it was
Detra left her husband of 34 years after they met with a ‘church mediator’ who accused her of ‘usurping’ his authority. When he told her she needed to get back on his side, she ‘snapped’
Detra said she called him a ‘son of a b***h’ and left him on Interstate 40 after being picked up by a good Samaritan who took her too a nearby Holiday Inn Express
‘I couldn’t lift a finger without a man’s permission,’ she explained. ‘When I finally met with a therapist, she asked me the crucial question. She said: “Would you leave your husband if he was beating you? Because what he’s doing is worse than beating you.”‘
Detra stayed with her husband for another 18 months until they met with a ‘church mediator’ who accused her of ‘usurping [her] husband’s authority.’
On the drive home that night, her husband told her that she needed to get back on his side. She ‘snapped’ and called him a ‘son of a b***h.’
‘He pulled over to the side of the road. He got right in my face with his finger, and said: “Satan! Don’t speak through my wife anymore!” For the first time I didn’t cower. I didn’t grovel. I grabbed my purse, opened the door, and stepped out onto the side of Interstate 40,’ she said. ‘I knew I was crossing a line of no return.’
A female doctor from the Choctaw Indian Nation had her daughter pull over to pick up Detra, and they drove away before her husband could stop them. She was taken to a nearby Holiday Inn Express where she called her sons Lucas and Garrison.
Detra called her sons Lucas and Garrison, and the former came to get her
Lucas, who was the first of her children to leave home, drove her 14 hours back to his apartment that he shared with his wife, Margaret, in New York City
Detra went back to Arkansas one last time to pick up her things and place them in a storage unit. Some of her children sent her angry texts claiming she ‘abandoned God’ and their family
Lucas, who was the first of her children to leave home and question his Baptist upbringing, picked her up and drove her 14 hours back to his apartment that he shared with his wife, Margaret, in New York City.
However, some of her other children sent her angry texts claiming she had ‘abandoned God’ and their family.
‘I couldn’t blame them,’ she said. ‘It’s exactly what I’d taught them all these years.’
Detra’s first friends in the city were the drug addicts and prostitutes she met in the plaza near her son’s apartment. Living in New York City was an adjustment for the mom, who was afraid to defend herself and didn’t know how.
She credited her son Lucas with teaching her ‘how to live in a world that’ gritty and real.’ She only expected to stay with him for a few weeks, but she couldn’t find any room she could afford to rent.
Detra said she couldn’t blame her children for thinking the way they did because that is what she taught them when they were growing up
Detra had the support of her sons Lucas and Garrison, but her other five children asked to meet her in a Target parking lot and told her they didn’t want anything to do with her
Detra got a job at Starbucks, and she drank her first glass of wine to celebrate that night. The brand was called Cannonball and the label showed a child jumping into water
Detra went back to Arkansas one last time to pick up her things, including her Nancy Drew mysteries and the 14-foot sectional she bought with the money she made working at Dress Barn.
Her son Garrison had rented a U-Haul to help her move everything, but her youngest daughter was furious she took the couch because she was hosting her graduation party in the house the next day.
Lucas and Garrison were her only children who supported her decision to leave. The others asked her to meet in a Target parking lot and told her they didn’t want anything to do with her.
‘Before I went back to New York, I dropped all my stuff at the Total Mini-Storage,’ she said. ‘As the metal door came down on the unit, I said a little prayer: “God, help me find a home of my own one day. And let it be big enough to fit a 14-foot sectional.”‘
Detra auditioned for a world-famous choir in Brooklyn early on in her move and made the cut. But just when she felt she could ‘finally worship freely,’ she was told she had to meet with the ‘church counselor’ before officially joining the choir.
Detra liked to eat at Hill Country Barbecue and watch the band The Three Gentlemen (pictured) play after her Sunday shifts at Starbucks
One day, she was invited on stage to sing with them. After her impressive rendition of ‘Make You Feel My Love’ by Adele, she was invited to sing with the band every Sunday
Detra went on to create a one-woman show called ‘One Woman’s Journey to Love’ that was a compilation of love songs with ‘little pieces’ of her story in between
Detra estimated that about 35 to 40 people came to see their performance at Hill Country Barbeque, many of which were her Starbucks customers and bosses
‘He asked how I could stand before the throne of God, having run away from a pastor husband. Then he asked for my husband’s phone number,’ she recalled. ‘I think I made it downstairs before I started sobbing.’
Detra was applying for a job at Starbucks at the time that would require her to work on Sundays. She only missed church a few times growing up, but she said: ‘God, use this job to let me know if you want me to keep going to church.’
When she got the job, her son and daughter-in-law cooked her a celebratory dinner with wine. She had resisted drinking until that point, but she decided she wanted to try it and took her first sip.
‘It was the worst thing I’d ever tasted,’ she said. ‘So I took another. And another.’
Detra liked to eat at Hill Country Barbecue and watch the band The Three Gentlemen play after her Sunday shifts at Starbucks. She soon became a regular, and one day she was invited on stage with The Three Gentleman to sing a song.
When Lucas and his wife moved out of state, she made the decision to stay in New York City and relocated to a homeless shelter
Detra had to have her picture taken for an ID, and she recalled having to sign a paper saying she was homeless
After her impressive rendition of ‘Make You Feel My Love’ by Adele, she was invited to sing with the band every Sunday. However, her son felt she was still holding back and encouraged her to ‘let go of all the rules’ and own what she was singing.
Lucas’s words inspired her to write a one-woman show called ‘One Woman’s Journey to Love’ that was a compilation of love songs with ‘little pieces’ of her story in between.
She put together a five-piece band, including two of The Three Gentleman and her son Lucas on the bass. She could only afford to pay the musicians $200 each, but she served them chicken enchilada soup and her ‘signature peanut butter cookies’ at rehearsal.
‘We started running through my list of songs, but I had the hardest time giving direction,’ she explained. ‘Because I’d never told a man what to do before. Our drummer said: “Detra, this is your band. You have to give us direction.”‘
When she made suggestions, the band listened and played the way she had asked them to without push-back or complaint.
While she was staying at the shelter, she came across a boxing gym offering a $40 lesson. She had one session with the trainer, Martin, who helped teach her how to defend herself
Martin continued to train her for free while she was in the shelter. He taught her that whenever someone messes with her or tries to make her ‘feel less than’ she has to say: ‘F**k that s**t’
Detra was still in a shelter for Christmas, so her son Garrison flew to New York to be with her. He gifted her a charm bracelet with a single charm featuring the New York City skyline
‘These five men did something nobody else had ever done for me before,’ she said. ‘They didn’t hold me down, they carried me.’
Detra estimated that about 35 to 40 people came to see their performance at Hill Country Barbeque, many of which were her Starbucks customers and bosses.
‘The lights came up. And for the first time in my life, I stepped out on a stage meant for me: my band, my show, my songs,’ she said. ‘I took a deep breath, the band gave me my one note, and I released my voice into New York City. The first song I sang was “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole. And I owned it.’
Detra had been living in her son’s apartment for just over a year at that point, and while he never treated her like a burden, she felt like one.
When her daughter-in-law took a job out of state, she was invited to move with them, but she made the decision to stay in New York by herself.
Garrison told her it was her ‘new life bracelet’ and promised to get her a new charm for every new accomplishment she had
One of her favorite customers at Starbucks was a man named Eric, and he helped her get a job as a human resources assistant at his consulting company
Detra was hired with a starting pay of $50,000 and benefits. She immediately hired a real estate broker to help her find her own apartment
She was admitted into a private shelter in Chinatown where there were thirty women in a room with just fifteen bunk beds. She had to have her picture taken for an ID, and she recalled having to sign a paper saying she was homeless.
‘It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,’ she said.
While she was staying at the shelter, she came across a boxing gym that had opened and was offering trial lessons for $40.
‘The owner’s name was Martin. And one thing about Martin, is that he’s always saying “kid.” He took one look at me when I walked in the door, and said: “What’s your greatest fear kid?”‘ she said. ‘I told him I had a fear of defending myself. Because as a child I’d been abused by men in our church, over and over. And if I raised my arms to defend myself — they abused me worse.’
Martin had her hop in the ring, telling her he was ‘about to change [her] life.’ He taught her how to do a ‘jab, jab, cross,’ and she enjoyed herself.
But when he asked if she was coming back, she explained that she couldn’t because she didn’t have the money. He told her it didn’t matter and had the person running the desk sign her up.’
Detra she wanted to find a place that would fit her 14-foot sectional that was in storage, but she was told she wouldn’t find that at her price point in New York
However, the next day her broker called her to say he had found a one-bedroom in Harlem. She knew it was home as soon as she measured it and realized her sectional would fit
Garrison then bought her a second charm for her bracelet, a house that had ‘Home Sweet Home’ written on it
Detra said Martin trained her for free the entire time she was in the shelter, recalling one instance in which she showed up upset after receiving an email from her husband saying she was ‘outside the will of God.’
‘It had really shaken me. But when I told Martin what happened, all he said was: “F**k that s**t.” He told me to get in the ring. And as he wrapped my hands, he said: “We’re going to do things a little different today. Every time you throw a cross, you’re going to say: “F**k that s**t.”‘
Detra insisted she didn’t talk like that, but Martin pushed her to do it. He had her yelling until she was screaming.
‘At first those words were just about my husband, and the email he had sent,’ she explained. ‘But as I kept hitting the pads, those words became something else. It became my way of giving voice to everything that was done to me in the name of God. The psychological abuse in the marriage. The sexual abuse as a child. All the guilt I’d been made to feel, all the shame. F**k. That. S**t.
‘It was wrong. I’ve known it was wrong my whole life. But I never defended myself. Or if I tried, it was: “Get back in your place.” But now I was doing something. I was fighting back.’
Lucas drove all of her things that were still in a storage unit in Arkansas to New York to move into her new apartment, including the oriental rug her children had bought her
She decorated her home with a hurricane lamp with a cardinal that her daughter bought her
Detra had her collection of antique Nancy Drew mysteries displayed on a shelf
Martin told her at the end of the day that whenever someone messes with her or tries to make her ‘feel less than’ she has to say: ‘F**k that s**t.’
Detra was still in a shelter for Christmas, so her son Garrison flew to New York from Arkansas to be with her. Before he left, he gifted her a charm bracelet with a single charm featuring the New York City skyline.
Garrison told her it was her ‘new life bracelet’ and promised to get her a new charm for every new accomplishment she had.
Detra said she was friendly with her customers at Starbucks, and one of her favorites was a man named Eric who would sometimes come in with his husband.
She didn’t know what he did for work, but at the time, she was telling all of her favorite customers to keep her in mind if they knew anybody looking for a receptionist.
Her rooster plates, rooster platter, rooster lamp from Cracker Barrel were also displayed
Detra took the apartment she had rented and turned it into a beautiful home
‘When it all came together, it was beautiful. Maybe I hadn’t been given many choices in life. But I always knew what beauty was. And even in the ugly, I created beauty,’ she said
Eric, who was the CEO of a consulting company, had her put together a resume for her interview, but she admitted there wasn’t much on it because she had only done church work.
When she arrived for her interview, she was told the office printer wasn’t working. The interviewer encouraged her to share her story instead of focusing on her resume.
They created a position for her as a human relations assistant with a starting pay of $50,000 and benefits.
Detra immediately hired a real estate broker after she got her first paycheck, saying she wanted to find a place that would fit her 14-foot sectional that was in storage.
She was told she wouldn’t find that at her price point in New York, but the next day he called her to say he had found a one-bedroom in Harlem right around the corner from a cigar shop.
Detra took up smoking cigars, and many of the photos of her that were taken by Humans of New York founder Brandon Stanton show her posing with one in her hand
She also started dating after joining an app for seniors and has been out with 70 different guys. She has had four marriage proposals, but she is enjoying being single now
‘My bracelet is so full of charms that Garrison had to buy me another,’ she said
Detra said she knew she was home after she pulled out her measuring tape and confirmed that the living room was ‘just big enough for [her] sectional.’ Garrison bought her a second charm for her bracelet, a house that had ‘Home Sweet Home’ written on it.
Lucas drove all of her things that were still in a storage unit in Arkansas to New York to move into her new apartment, including the oriental rug and the hurricane lamp with a cardinal that were gifts from her children.
Detra took up smoking cigars, and many of the photos of her that were taken by Humans of New York founder Brandon Stanton show her posing with one in her hand.
‘I used to smoke sweet tips, because I thought they were feminine. But I’ve learned I like heavier cigars,’ she said. ‘I’ve learned a lot about myself these past few years. I was put in charge of hiring for our entire company. I’ve produced my own play. My bracelet is so full of charms that Garrison had to buy me another.’
Detra also shared that she started dating again after downloading OurTime, a dating app for senior citizens.
Stanton shared a video of Detra singing in her Harlem apartment the day after her story was posted along with a message of gratitude from her
He also started a GoFundMe page with a goal of $600,000 to help Detra with her future retirement, and it has already raised more than $597,000
‘I just wanted to see what was out there,’ she explained. ‘And let me tell you, there’s a lot out there. I’ve tried all the flavors: Bangladesh, Egyptian, Hispanic, African. The whole smorgasbord.’
‘I’ve dated about seventy men. And I’ve had four marriage proposals, because what I bring to the table is rich. But right now I’m on a little bit of a break from romance. I’m taking time with myself. But that’s a romance too.’
Stanton started a GoFundMe page with a goal of $600,000 to help Detra with her future retirement, and it has already raised more than $597,000.
He also shared a video of her singing in her Harlem apartment the day after her story was posted along with a message of gratitude from her.
‘Was yesterday real? Was my voice and story received, validated, and then cheered by millions from all over the world? It’s been an arduous seven-year journey. But in the end it’s been a victorious one,’ she wrote.
‘To everyone who commented on the story: thank you for reading, crying, laughing, and cheering for me. I have drank up every word. To everyone who gave to the fundraiser: your financial gifts have let me know I will be okay, and I will be able to do more with words, original songs, shows, and encouraging others.’