Out in the Open

How R.E.M.'s biggest hit inspired one man to escape from his life as cult member

Perry Bulwer was a member of a religious cult for nineteen years. He escaped, but he is still haunted by his experiences.
"December 1975 in the Philippines, 20 years old, Obil was my alias, cult members took Bible names and did not know each other's real names, the pendant around my neck is a yoke signify servitude to God, chained to God's will" (Courtesy of Perry Bulwer)
Listen5:11

Perry Bulwer left high school in 1972 to join a religious cult called The Children of God (later called The Family International). He moved around world from commune to commune. He had no money of his own. His access to newspapers, TV or radio was completely controlled by the cult. 

Perry lived this way for years, but he started to see abuse within the cult and began having doubts.

While living at a commune in Japan, Perry eventually gained access to a radio, and was soon hit by a song that "rocked his world" — "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.

"The lyrics seemed to speak directly to me. It was like for the first time in my life I realized that it would be possible to lose my religion — to give it up. And although I didn't do that right away, I did start to make secret plans to escape the cult."

It took two years to squirrel away enough money to buy a plane ticket home--to physically get out.

But escaping mentally would prove harder than he could have imagined. It's a journey he's still on today.

This story originally aired on January 14, 2018.  It appears in the Out in the Open episode "After Escape".