Always a First: Fallout from a Difficult Childhood.
Tonight was a first for me.
As I thought back over the years, I have been to many courtrooms, lawyers’ offices, police stations and so forth, but I have never been to a jail to visit an inmate.
I walked in and checked in with the officer behind the glass. For once I was early, which doesn’t happen often. I received my badge and sat in the waiting area. He said that they will call when they are ready to take us back. There was no one there besides him and I.
There were 10 blue chairs, with a glass partition separating the waiting area and the metal detector that would need to be walked through shortly.
As I watched the minutes slowly tick away similar to watching sand drop down through a timer, a few more people would trickle through the door. A grandmother and a grandson around 6 years old walked in, a young woman carrying a child and an 8-year-old girl walking along her side. Several others shuffled their way in to check in.
Then at once the officer said, “You can go up now.” I had no idea what that meant. I had never done this before, but I could tell everyone around me had. So I decided to follow the crowd, something I don’t do that often.
After going through the metal detector, we turned right down a very long hallway. At the end of the hallway was an elevator. We all shuffled our way in. One child hit the 2M button, and the door shut and up we went.
When the elevator jolted to a stop and the door opened, people filed out. This was another long hallway with windows on one side and doors along the right side. Each of the doors had a number on them. I realized that the badge I was wearing aligned with the numbers on the doors. I watched as people opened doors and walked into their designated visiting closet.
That is what it looked like inside, a chair and counter on both sides of the glass. No phones, just a part of the wall that had holes on both sides.
I continued down to 2D4 and opened the door. I was early, so I sat and waited. I could see inmates walking by, some sitting on their bunks — a small view into their world.
Then my brother walked in. He looked better than he recently had. We discussed the project that will be released next week, memories of our childhood — something that we haven’t ever talked about on the phone, let alone face to face. There are many more things to discuss. Today was the beginning.
Many years ago, I wrote him a letter while he was incarcerated at Walla Walla. He remembers one line — “You haven’t been a part of our lives.” He says that drives him, that makes him want to do better, be better, and change the outcome of his future.
There is a hatred deep in his heart — of both the abuse and the abuser. Being stripped of his clothes and being beaten until he urinated blood. This type of occurrence happening over and over again. And these beating sessions are only one example of the abuse he suffered.
Imagine this occurring in a 1900 square feet rambler home, with no levels to hide. By someone so calculated, so manipulative, so violent that none of the three people under the same roof knew about the abuse of the others. As I told him today, we were the best actor and actress on a stage anywhere in the world. There isn’t anyone in the outside world who would have ever imagined.
As I looked through the glass at my thin, tattooed, shaved-head brother, my heart ached. He drives me crazy, says some terrible things to me, and can be difficult to talk to and be around, but no one will ever convince me that the goings-on in our childhood didn’t impact his life in such a way that will forever be difficult to come back from.
A father — military-educated officer — taking advantage of his position as a parent, physically, sexually and emotionally destroying his young male son. This would impact the life of any man for many years.
Why write these words? Why share the hard stuff? Because, as Glennon Doyle Melton says, “We know what the world wants from us. We know we must decide whether to stay small, quiet, and uncomplicated, or allow ourselves to grow as big, loud, and complex as we were made to be.”
Being quiet and hidden is no longer an option.
Pennie Saum is a survivor of a childhood of rape and abuse. Her abuser was a US Army officer, her father. She is candid and open regarding her abuse, and is actively involved in advocacy and changing laws to assure rights for other survivors of childhood sexual abuse. She is passionate about helping other victims cross the line into being a survivor with a voice.