Episode 14: Terry’s Story, Part 1 – From the Gray Area into the Black
In this episode, survivor Terry Koontz tells the story of the abuse he experienced as a child and how he was taken advantage of by a child pornographer. Terry explains how the ripple effects of the abuse he suffered later influenced his struggles with addiction and crime. Terry Koontz is the author of two books soon to be released including his inspirational autobiography, “Haunted Dreams”.
Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast
Episode #14: Terry’s Story, Part 1 – From the Gray Area into the Black
Transcribed by Adam Soisson
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>> Lori: Thank you for joining us. In this podcast, we are real people, talking about real things. Child abuse and neglect: a topic that is all too often left in the shadows of silence, leaving survivors alone, fearful, and oftentimes without a voice. We’re having conversations to become louder than silence. It is here, where we will invite you to join us and be the change needed to end child abuse and neglect.
>> Lori: Hello everybody welcome to the Louder Than Silence podcast for the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. My name is Lori Poland and I am the Executive Director of EndCAN and I cannot even begin to tell you how thrilled I am about today’s podcast recording, so much so that we’ve set aside three different recordings because there’s so much content and so much of value in this guest’s story and experience and journey. I just am honored and thrilled to have him with us today. I hope you all have the same experience that I’ve had in hearing his voice and sharing his strength in the beginning, the middle and the end and how there’s true possibility in each segment of those. We’re going to break this podcast up into three segments, the first being the history so without further ado I’d like to introduce all of you, our listeners, our supporters, our friends and our community, to Terry Koontz for being here with us. Terry thanks so much for joining me today.
>> Terry: Thanks for having me. It’s an honor and a pleasure and anything that I can ever do to support you at EndCAN you know I’m all in.
>> Lori: Well that feeling is mutual. I have a feeling there will be a lot of over-love in all these podcasts because Terry and I have such an admiration for one another since we met a couple years ago. I’m going to give a quick background of how we met, Terry, but this first podcast is about real people having real conversations and I would love for our listeners to hear where you come from and how you got to this point. However, I received a letter in December of 2018. I was on The Today Show in September of 2018 and it was several months later. Actually it was Dick who got the letter. It wasn’t even addressed to me. Dick got the letter and said, “I don’t know what to do with this.” I opened it and there was a handwritten letter from Terry describing his experience, where he’d come from, where he was and how grateful he was to have seen Dick and I on The Today Show. I sat on it for a couple of days just thinking and praying about how I would respond. What could I possibly say to support this person and help them? Then I just responded. I was sitting in the post office parking lot, I grabbed my pen and notebook and just wrote. I literally walked it inside right then and mailed it to you. Terry and I became pen pals which genuinely scared a lot of people in my world. You’ll hear and understand a little bit why. I knew there was nothing to fear because when we have an understanding of one another’s heart, I know innately that all of us have good. Without question I felt, saw, and read Terry’s good in his letter and I’m really honored that we’re friends. So Terry I’d love for you to fill in all the details. I’ve done a lot of cliffhangers there so fill in all the details and tell us where you’ve been.
>> Terry: You know how much I admire you and love you. Anyway I guess I should start at the beginning. I grew up in the Midwest and I had a normal home where I had a mother and father in the home, I was blessed with that. My mother adored me, my father was incredibly hardworking. He would leave in the morning sometimes at 3:30 and come back at 5:00 at night. When I look back on my life, I see myself as kind of needy as a boy. But what happened is that I cherished my mother but I idolized my father. I have memories to this today of walking into the living room and seeing a picture of my father in his military uniform. He was a World War II hero. I said to myself, “boy I want to be just like him.” So I decided that’s what I was going to do. The problem was my father was a very unemotional person. Never once in my life was he able to tell me he loved me. I wondered and struggled with that, what the issues were. I would learn years later that my father had been abandoned as an infant by his mother who was fifteen and his father who he never met was 40 years old. As soon as he found out she was pregnant he took off so my father never met him. There was a form of abuse at the very beginning in our family tree. My father was raised by his uncle who ironically been a war hero in World War I but he was also a raging alcoholic who, when he was angry, was terribly abusive and used to beat my father which he would do with a razor strap. He would bleed so bad that it would bleed through his clothes. I learned this years later. He was looking for a way to escape and on Pearl Harbor Day, it gave him a way to escape. December 7, 1941 when they were attacked, the next day he went in and enlisted. He lied about his age, he was 16 years old. At that time they just wanted people. So he went from an abusive situation where he was abandoned, they put a rifle in his hand and sent him to Europe at 16 to kill. My father was never able to express love because he never knew love. He never understood. That was a struggle for me. I didn’t know his circumstances until years later. When I was eight we moved, my father and mother bought another house and we moved to another area. So I started a new school, didn’t know anyone. I was already lonely and I noticed there was another little boy in my class and ironically his name was Terry just like mine. He was ostracized. He would sit over in the corner and no one would talk to him so we became great friends. The reason none of the other kids would deal with him was because they had heard rumors about his father, that he was an alcoholic and heard rumors about other things. So we became great friends though and at eight years old it’s easy to become enamored because we were amazed, we thought it was sort of miraculous that his father was named Henry, the same as my father. I started going over to his house and what I noticed right away was his father was very affectionate. Always would hug my friend, tell him how much he loved him and how proud he was of him. Soon he began to do the same thing to me. I know today, as a survivor of abuse, that he was grooming me. He had a plan and the reality was he was a child pornographer. It started very simply at eight if we wanted to learn how to become men. At eight years old as a little boy who was already yearning to get my father’s attention, I thought maybe he would love me if I became a man. That’s the way it started and it began by photographs, videos. He made us make a promise that we became our own little family of three people. We could never tell anyone, he made me promise I could never tell my parents. I was so enamored with this man and thinking that somehow this might help me with my relationship with my father that I became actively involved and it got worse and worse and worse. Incredibly, we would meet on Friday nights. He called them his Friday night parties. Eventually it got worse and he brought in a woman, two men, because he was selling these photos and videos through this market he had in Chicago and it was very lucrative. One night, believe it or not, four years later, there was something – let me backtrack real quickly. He used to give us what he called his special chocolate shakes and what I would learn years later they were chocolate shakes laced with valium so he when you start to give valium to an eight year old, nine year old, ten year old, obviously our inhibitions kind of pass away. Sometimes we were half asleep. But one night these two men came in and they had been drinking, I’d seen them use cocaine a lot and they got into an argument. Something I said irritated them and I had the worst night of my life. I was tied to a bed and raped repeatedly, literally tortured and my friend had to watch. It changed us both forever. Afterwards I was hurt so badly they knew they had to take me to the hospital and so Henry concocted a story that I could not tell and he said if I told what happened that I would be killed and my parents would be killed. I understand today that’s very common, that’s what they do. So I believed him, especially because of what had just happened to me. There was this story about me falling though a glass tabletop and they took me to the hospital. This was in 1969. I’m 64 years old today. In 1969 things were much different than they are now. Immediately they knew something was wrong and they suspected and they asked me, ‘Did someone hurt you?’ and I said no. I became a very good little actor. “No, no, I had fallen into this table” and they knew it. I knew they knew it. Today, people would have gone to jail. Back then, they just went on. I was eventually diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I had issues for years with irritation of the colon, I had diarrhea, I bled constantly and it went on for years. During this time, I went to high school and the only person I ever told was Terry. We were still inseparable through high school but we both had such anger, we responded in different ways. Terry was constantly getting in fights. I had my fair share too but he was expelled and I became an achiever, actually did very, very well and graduated but that anger did something to us and we had no way to release it. Eventually we went our own ways but something happened to me, Lori, and I decided that I was damaged goods, that I was unlovable. I was ashamed. I didn’t know, was I homosexual? I didn’t think I was. I didn’t know, as a young boy you don’t know.
>> Lori: I think as a survivor that’s so many people’s story, right? That’s so many people’s identification and struggle in early adulthood when they autonomize from their families of origin and when they’re released from their traumatic experiences and their abusive relationship there are oftentimes those kind of questions and beliefs.
>> Terry: Exactly. So what I discovered was: the only thing that made me feel good was making money. When I made money, it made me feel clean. I wasn’t dirty any longer. I became very successful and became a millionaire, legitimately, but it was never enough. I wanted money to give – I gave money to churches and charitable organizations because I needed that acceptance. I needed that feeling that I was loved, and I needed that worthiness. Eventually, I think my business went to the gray area and I began making choices and decisions I shouldn’t. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted and I needed that money. I began to struggle with alcoholism, drugs. I got married, had two lovely kids, lived an incredible life but there was a secret life and it got worse and worse. I eventually went from the gray area, Lori, to the black and I began incredibly to launder money for the Russian mafia. That’s not a good thing. Millions of dollars just rolled in then the inevitable happened. One day the FBI knocked on my door and ironically I was shocked. Why, I don’t know. You don’t think straight, you’re not rational when you’re living in an irrational world. I eventually went through a long process and as you know Lori I did 18 years in federal prison.
>> Lori: You know I want to just chime in real quick here Terry before we wrap up this segment of your experience where you’ve been. I think it was so profound how thematic your story is, not in any way to dilute but instead to normalize it because so many people – addicts, compulsive people who believe in that invincibility and how we create the illusion. I have for sure and I know thousands and thousands of people who have. We find this way of coping with our shame. The shame that we take on when we have this experience of, specifically for you and I, sexual abuse. There are millions of people with physical abuse stories and emotional abuse stories and I know that both of those are woven into our experiences as well. So it’s hard to tell which thread is which when we’re looking at the whole blanket. We find ways to cope by managing by way of control like you described. For you, what worked was becoming controlling in terms of success and things. Even that was, I guess, scary because it was ultimately out of and beyond your control so you would cope with that anxiety and fear by using and putting yourself in an altered state of mind because when we carry these secrets it’s kind of like putting a bunch of fish in a back room and closing the door and pretending as though they’re not there. Eventually that stuff is going to stink. No matter how hard we try eventually it’s going to smell. I think that’s what so many people are struggling with right now because we’ve moved into a day and age where it is acceptable, okay, encouraged, welcomed, in fact, influenced that we talk about our experiences and we no longer allow that back bedroom to stink and say, ‘pay no attention to the back bedroom.” Or like the Wizard of Oz – don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain. That man behind the curtain creates the illusion of power and control and management. So I want to, as we wrap up this section, I want to say thank you Terry for telling us your story. Not everybody has the capacity, the willingness, the ability, the interest, whatever it Is to verbally share; and there’s no requirement to verbally share. There’s no requirement for any of us to do any of this the right way because there really genuinely is no right way. The biggest piece is understanding we’re not alone. And you my friend are not alone in your story. Just last week I watched this movie called The Tale with Laura Dern. It was probably one of the hardest movies I’ve ever watched and ideally EndCAN will be hosting a screening of it. That story is millions and millions of people’s story, just like your story is millions and millions of people’s story. People who are incarcerated, people who are dead from addiction, people who are actively addicts, people who are successful and stable. People who are married, people who are divorced, people who are gay, people who are straight because child abuse and neglect is nondiscriminatory. It doesn’t matter what race, age, color, gender, religion, monetary status. It doesn’t matter. It affects all of us. Terry Koontz, thank you for being here in Louder Than Silence and genuinely making your voice Louder Than Silence. I’m so grateful. We’re going to wrap up this segment about where Terry’s come from. Stay tuned for the next segment on what his middle journey looked like and how he and his dear friend Terry went on different paths and what led him to this point right here with us now. I’m Lori Poland and I’m the Executive Director at EndCAN. Today’s guest is my dear friend Terry Koontz.
[Inspirational theme music plays.]
>>Lori: I want to thank each of you again for joining us today and listening in. If you or someone you know is being abused, please call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. To learn more about EndCAN, visit www.endcan.org or find us on all social media platforms. Join us in being Louder than Silence and being a part of the change. Please leave a comment, like our podcast, or share with your friends. The more the word spreads, the more of a collective impact we can have. If you have a question or you know someone who would want to be a guest on our podcast, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again, and have a great day.