BERGHOLZ Ohio (Reuters) - Amish farmer Raymond Miller developed a taste for Mountain Dew soda, got his GED, and wonders if he should get a pool table after learning to play in prison.
His wife, Kathryn, who had never ridden a public bus before boarding one last year to go to prison for forcibly cutting the hair of her relatives, was introduced to yoga and step classes while behind bars.
The Millers, members of an Amish breakaway sect from eastern Ohio at the center of shocking 2011 hair-cutting attacks on other Amish followers, are trying to settle back into life at home after being exposed in prison to a world their religion is focused on locking out.
The Amish shun modern technology and regard beards for adult men and uncut hair for married women as sacred. In Bergholz, where the Millers live, they are Old Order, which means no electricity or telephone lines into the house.
Unless, like Raymond Miller, 29, you are on probation and must make daily phone calls to a probation officer and wear an electronic ankle monitor while harvesting hay.
“I’m ready to get rid of it,” Raymond said of the telephone installed in his home. “We get salesman calls about electric bills and they don’t believe that we don’t have an electric bill.”
Recently released after spending nearly a year in prison, the Millers were part of a group of 16 Amish from Bergholz who were convicted in late 2012 of hate crimes for the hair-cutting attacks. The victims included Raymond Miller’s parents.
Prosecutors said the attacks were intended to humiliate and were carried out in retaliation for personal and spiritual disagreements that Bergholz’s bishop and leader Sam Mullet had with Amish in other groups. Mullet, who was portrayed as extremely authoritarian, is serving 15 years as mastermind of the attacks.
His followers were sentenced to one to seven years each. Defense lawyers did not deny the hair-cutting took place but said that hate crime charges were over-reaching.
One thing both of the Millers had to get accustomed to in prison was the concept of free time, something the Amish do not have a lot of at home.
“I read, played softball and played pool. I liked pool and I was pretty good at it,” Raymond said.
“I think we could get a pool table at Sam’s,” he said, referring to Mullet’s home, which has a large meeting room for church services. “I think it would be alright.”
Kathryn, 25, who also learned the game, shook her head ‘no’ in the background.
“I like to play pool but we are not allowed to play pool here,” Kathryn said. “The girls in prison gave me a hard time that I was gambling.”
Raymond lost weight in prison because he did not like the food but says he did develop a liking for Mountain Dew.
Kathryn tends to a strawberry patch and the three young children she had to leave in the care of her mother while she was in prison.
Her now nearly 3-year-old daughter sometimes calls Kathryn’s mother “mom” even though Kathryn has been home two months. “She still asks for my mom a lot,” she said.
Kathryn said she wore a smaller head covering than her typical Amish bonnet while in prison, along with long brown dresses. She uses prison slang and referred to fellow prisoners as “cellies” and “bunkies” and talked about the SHU, or solitary housing unit.
“I didn’t feel like I was Amish,” she said.
Knowing that she would be returning soon to her family kept Kathryn going. She also discovered yoga and step classes.
The Millers said they do not regret going to trial but do not believe it was fair and are appealing their convictions.
“We really didn’t have a jury of our peers,” Raymond said. “They don’t know about the Amish, the lifestyle.”
Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by David Bailey, Jill Serjeant and Bill Trott