CALDWELL, New Jersey –
Learning to read is one of the greatest milestones in a child’s early development. For the family of 7-year-old Peter Hall, what started off as a blessing quickly turned into a curse.
Peter was reading by the age of 2, with the help of the popular Hooked on Phonics series of informational workbooks and DVDs, but now the youngster refuses to learn or do anything else.
“His grandmother bought him the first set of books,” says Peter’s mother, Monica Hall. “Thank God she’s dead and gone so she doesn’t have to see the monster she created,” she says. “I know she meant well, but I thank the Lord above that she’s in a place where she can’t see the hell she’s put us through. I lost my job, my husband, and I ‘bout near lost my mind!”
“We started off by following the directions,” Monica continued. “They said to do the lessons for 20 minutes a day, 2 to 3 times a week, which seemed fine and was good for our schedule.”
Peter instantly took to the workbooks, cards and DVDs, begging for more when the end of one learning segment was reached. Temper tantrums and hunger strikes resulted if the books were taken away.
“At the end of the first week, I kept hearing these scratching noises in the middle of the night,” said Monica. “I’d go into Pete’s room and there he’d be with a flashlight under his covers, reading another book, turning another page, skipping ahead to another lesson – if we tried taking the book away from him, he’d holler and scream like we were stickin’ pins in him! Eventually we just let him keep going. Now I see we made a huge mistake.”
“He won’t eat, won’t sleep – we were advised by a doctor to hook him up to an intravenous so that he won’t dehydrate, and we had to install a feeding tube in him last month so he wouldn’t starve to death,” Monica explained through sobs. Even the child welfare officer threw her hands up and … and she walked out.”
“It was a living hell on Earth,” says Peter’s father and Monica’s estranged husband, Bill. “I moved out 8 months ago. I couldn’t take it no more – the books, the lessons, the DVDs, the sound of pages turnin’ – I quit drinkin’ 20 years ago, but I fell off the wagon by the time Petey started askin’ for biographies. That was the limit! Books were like crack cocaine to him, or even maybe meth – it was that bad. I’ve been around addicts, but I never seen anything like this before!”
“The commercial says more than 3 million families have used the program and are happy with it,” says Monica. “Well, what about us?” They don’t show people like us in those commercials. They don’t show the people whose lives have been ruined by this evil! It’s not fair! It’s just not fair!” She burst into tears.
Monica’s cries eventually subsided; the only sounds the can be heard when there’s no other noise in the house always come from Peter’s room; the turning of pages and the constant click and whirr of the feeding tube mechanism advancing a steady stream of mashed nutrients into the child’s abdomen.
“It’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t even talk anymore. He just gets up, plugs in another bag of mush, loads up the machine and starts another book. I want to die. Dear Lord, how I pray each night for death’s sweet embrace. Why me, oh heavenly Father, why me?”
Hooked on Phonics representatives were unable to explain the extreme circumstances surrounding the Hall’s plight.
“They’ve been in touch with us,” said Monica. “All they said is, they can keep sending us more books and cards and DVDs with their prayers and good wishes. They said they were working overtime just to keep up. I know just how they feel. Lord only knows, I know just how they feel.”