As young girls, Amy Eddy and her best friend, Pebbles Rodriguez, did not have any control of their lives. Both members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, they were forced to follow countless rules and required permission to go outside.
They were even told who they were going to marry: the 62-year-old leader of their apocalyptic group.
Amy was 14. Pebbles was 12.
The girls grew up in Fouke, Arkansas, where they lived on a compound of the eponymous religious organization created in the late 1960s by Tony Alamo and his wife, Susan.
The couple first grew a following in Hollywood, preaching peace and salvation. But after Susan died in 1982, Alamo’s behavior turned more deviant as he extolled the righteousness of polygamy and marrying young girls.
For about a decade, beginning in the mid-1990s, Amy and Pebbles lived as child brides of Alamo and were regularly starved, beaten and raped.
“I was terrified that if I didn’t do what I was supposed to do when he told me to do it — no matter what it was — I’m going to hell,” Amy tells PEOPLE, recalling her childhood in the cult.
Says Randall Harris, a retired FBI agent who investigated the case: “The world revolved around Tony Alamo.”
Amy and Pebbles were finally freed from their torture in 2008 when Alamo was arrested and charged with 10 counts of interstate transportation of minors for illicit sexual purposes.
Convicted a year later, he died in federal prison in 2017 at 82.
Both women still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, where seemingly normal activities can sometimes trigger panic attacks and feelings of fear and loneliness.
“Every day is a milestone,” Amy says. “Some days are easier than others.”
Pebbles agrees: “I don’t think it will ever be easy. There are things that are out of my control, like recurring nightmares. There is nothing I can do to make it go away, but I try my hardest.”
While they live states apart — Pebbles, a stay-at-home mom who is in the process of getting a divorce, is in the Phoenix area with her two young sons; and Amy is studying to get into college in Oklahoma City, where she is also raising two boys with her boyfriend — they are forever linked and speak with each other daily.
“I have a right to be angry,” says Pebbles. “But no. We’re free! Let’s make the most of it.”
This article originally appeared on People.com
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