Singer/songwriter Susan Justice was raised in the Family of Love cult. This is the same group I have written about before, as the early childhood religion of River Phoenix and Rose McGowan, after changing its name from Children of God but before changing it to The Family International. Susan Justice, born Susan Cagle, was the second oldest of ten children, and they grew up on the move.
They traveled around Europe and the United States as missionaries for the cult, crashing on benches and in parked cars. “Sometimes we would stay for a few months, but most of the time, it was a new town every few days.” This seemingly bohemian lifestyle was paired with a strict religion full of rules.
Secular music was not Family approved, so as a teenager Susan listened in secret to all the music she could find, from Tracey Chapman and Alanis Morisette to Nirvana and Whitney Houston. Susan felt stifled. “Any time you have this sort of group-think mentality, where it’s like ‘us vs. them,’ it’s very dangerous. [The Family] is Christian but they think that they’re fighting against the established Christianity of the day.”
In 2001, Susan left her family and the cult, running away to the United States, to New York City. She began singing and playing her guitar in subway stations, and living off the tips. Sher invested those earnings into recording her first album, ‘The Subway Recordings’. A year later the drummer from The Spin Doctors recognized her talent, and through that contact she met her producer, Toby Gad. Joking about their positive working relationship, Susan says “When I think about where I’m at today — I thank Gad!”
With the new record deal, Susan Cagle adopted a new name, becoming Susan Justice. Changing your name after leaving a cult is a not uncommon way of reclaiming a sense of self determination. Her first album under that name, ‘Eat Dirt’ is autobiographical and explores her thoughts and feelings about being a cult survivor, and moving on. If you are a cult survivor, I highly recommend this album for empowering catharsis.
You can start with her title track, “Eat Dirt” on the benefits of rebellion.