Desiree Kolbek, born and raised inside the church of Tony Alamo, was 8 years old when she was pulled aside to be one of Alamo’s six “wives,” she said in an interview with The Signal.
She and the six other “wives” filed a lawsuit in August 2010 against Alamo and his church — the 21st Century Holiness Tabernacle Church of the Tony Alamo Church Ministries.
She and the other plaintiffs alleged in their lawsuit that, when they were members of the church, they were forced to become “spiritual wives” of Tony Alamo.
They alleged they were “married” to Tony Alamo and moved into his home when they were minors. Kolbek was 8.
Court papers explaining the judgments awarded the victims said they “each left or escaped” the church on separate occasions between 1999 and 2010.
In July 2009, Tony Alamo was convicted of sexual abuse crimes against five of the plaintiffs in this case. In addition to a sentence of 175 years imprisonment, Alamo was ordered to pay restitution.
In 2013, the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Arkansas issued two judgments in favor of the “wives” in response to two civil lawsuits — one filed against Alamo and the other against the insurance company representing the church.
Each lawsuit was for personal damages claiming physical and sexual abuse and false imprisionment. The judgments for each lawsuit was in excess of $500 million, one of the largest judgments in Arkansas history.
Money paid to the victims from the forfeiture of church property has helped Kolbek break from her horrific past and keep her on a difficult path of recovery and personal growth.
“It’s almost like it’s another life,” she said. “It’s like a whole other life and I can’t believe it happened. I’ve had a hard time confronting this.”
“It’s something I’m actually working through. There are a lot of things I’ve learned to confront,” she added.
Kolbek was 16 years old when Alamo was arrested by the FBI in 2008.
She married after being freed from the church, but divorced last year, leaving her to raise a daughter, 8, and two sons, 7 and 4.
The court judgments issued in her favor have helped, she said.
“It’s tough,” she said. “But, I’m at peace with a lot of the issues. It’s part of the growing process.
“The people who do know what I went through are my biggest supporters; they are my support system.”
Sharing details of her experience with her children “is kind of complicated,” she adds. “They (kids) see everyone else with grandparents and aunts and uncles.”
“My mom is still part of that (21st Century Holiness Tabernacle) Church,” she said.
“I see it as a cult,” Kolbek said. “There’s still a lot of open wounds. And, (my mother) needs to step out of the denial box.
“There’s no relationship there.”
Kolbek began questioning her faith when the sexual abuse began.
“When I was 8, (Alamo) used me as a pawn,” she said, describing Alamo threatening to “take her” if one of his other wives didn’t comply with his desires.
“He did take me in with her to his bedroom,” she said, noting Alamo put his hands inside her shirt and her pants.
“That was monumental. That was when I believe my faith in God really diminished.”
“I cried to make this (abuse) stop. I cried to make it stop but it continued on from there and for a long time. I cried, asking, ‘What did I do, God?’”
Whenever she fought back, she was beaten, she said.
“I was starved for nine days. On the 11th day, I ended up in the hospital. When I was in the hospital, Tony was there with two other wives.
“I was told not to say anything. I was too terrified to say anything.”
She ran away from the church once, when she was 13, but was returned to the church when she was found.
“I was very angry,” Kolbek said.
She found a small degree of solace in keeping a diary. When her diary was found, she was beaten again, she said. “I was dragged around by the hair.”
Her life began to change, she said, the day Alamo was arrested.
Recovery has proved challenging.
“I wasn’t going to let it (past) drag me down,” she said. “I’m going to do something with my life. I’ve learned I have a purpose.”
Kolbek works from home in a small town.
“To say I’ve come a long way is true. I always brushed everything off. I’ve seen many changes,” she said. “I know where I want to go.”