LENOX — Painter and author Betsy Dovydenas will discuss her just-published book, “In Case You Want to Know How I Got Brainwashed” this Saturday at Shakespeare & Company’s New Spruce Theater.
Dovydenas was involved with The Bible Speaks cult, based from 1978 to 1987 at the former Lenox School for Boys — the home of Shakespeare & Company since 1999.
The free 4:30 p.m. event at 70 Kemble St. is co-hosted by the theater company and The Bookstore. Dovydenas will talk about the book, sign copies and answer questions. Outdoor social distancing will be observed. There will be a wine and cheese reception.
In more than 200 monoprints with narrative text, the longtime resident tells the story of being tricked, sweet-talked, coaxed, manipulated, conned, coerced and exploited. “I was brainwashed. This book shows how it happened,” she wrote.
The Rev. Carl Henry Stevens Jr., founder of the church, and later of the Greater Grace World Outreach in Baltimore, died in June 2008.
After a $5.5 million lawsuit prompted Stevens to leave The Bible Speaks’ sprawling campus following his declaration of bankruptcy, he formed Greater Grace in Baltimore, which at the time had more than 25 affiliated churches nationwide, including one in Lee.
Stevens’ ministry was marked by controversy, with former members alleging that the church practiced mind control, sexual misconduct, child molestation, fraud and extortion, The Eagle and other news media reported.
In 1987, a federal bankruptcy court ordered the pastor to repay Dovydenas $6.5 million that he had coerced her to donate to his ministry. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge James Queenan’s ruling found Stevens guilty of “an astonishing saga of deceit, avarice and subjugation.” The amount of the award was reduced to $5.5 million on appeal.
Queenan agreed to liquidate the church’s assets and property to repay Dovydenas, the Washington Post reported. The money gained through the liquidation would remain in an interest-gathering trust fund until the church’s appeals had been settled, he ruled.
At a bankruptcy auction, the 63-acre property was bought by Dovydenas and her husband, Jonas, for $3.2 million, according to The New York Times.
In 1993, the ill-fated National Music Foundation acquired the property in a complex transaction in which it received the land as a donation from Dovydenas and bought the buildings on the site — including the 1,200-seat Berkshire Performing Arts Theater and about two dozen dormitories — for $2.1 million.
In October 1999, the state auditor issued a report stating that the foundation, which had proclaimed its ambition to build a $30 million shrine to American music, was a “boondoggle” that wasted $3.6 million in state funds at the expense of taxpayers, the Associated Press reported.
Auditor Joe DeNucci said the foundation, which assembled a “Who’s Who” of music on its board and letterhead, including Johnny Cash, Smokey Robinson, Jessye Norman and Dick Clark, misled public officials and misused government grant money. He accused the nonprofit group of spending on “extravagant expenses that had no apparent business purpose.”
DeNucci did the review at the prompting of Lenox town police, lawmakers, and other critics of the foundation.