Laura and Debby are sticking with first names for this story.
They’re the hosts and creators of the Pittsburgh-based podcast I Got the Hell Out, which recounts Debby’s 10 years living as a member of an “Old Testament, polygamous, doomsday cult.” She got the hell out in October 2003 and has no interest in being found or going back, hence the first-name basis. Still, it’s a story she thinks is worth telling.
The podcast debuted last December. Debby had been cleaning for Laura for seven years, and eventually the women forged a friendship and spent a good amount of their time together just sitting around and “bullshitting.” Last year, Debby had an idea for a podcast about her professional experiences (“The Cleaning Lady Chronicles”), which Laura said was too similar to other shows already in existence.
“Well, you remember I was in a cult, right? Is that worth anything?” Debby responded.
The episodes, recorded in Laura’s home office over drinks (alcoholic “Kool-Aid,” fittingly), cover both the micro and macro aspects of cult life. The early shows cover the basics of Debby’s story, but the show is at its best when she talks about daily life inside the cult. A personal favorite covers the rules about clothing; other episodes are titled “Satan Is a Woman” and “The Sabbath Is a Pain in the Ass.” It may sound heavy topic-wise, but IGTHO works so well because it’s like eavesdropping on a couple friends getting tipsy while they tell fascinating stories.
Debby is forthcoming, funny and occasionally brash; Laura works as a proxy for the audience, for whom stories about animal sacrifice, gas masks and polygamy require some elaboration.
While the cult is never named and Debby keeps some details at arm’s length, she says it’s possible to discover which it is if you pay attention to clues included in the show. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend the better part of an afternoon last week researching cults that fit her description, and I’m pretty sure I found it.
The show is focused exclusively on Debby’s story, but in the future, they hope to use IGTHO as a platform to provide resources for other people who want to “get out” of a situation, whether cults, religions or abusive relationships. But for now, there’s plenty of doomsday polygamy to sift through.
Episode 12 debuts Sun., March 18, and includes an interview between Laura and one of Debby’s children, who recently left the cult.