Episode 15: Terry’s Story, Part 2 – The Power of Being Seen
At 44 years old, Terry entered the prison system after being convicted of laundering money. While in prison, he tutored fellow inmates and ultimately helped 163 men get their GEDs. Terry discusses how he began to acknowledge the abuse he experienced as a child in order to address the PTSD and depression that plagued him as a result. This episode is Part 2 of survivor Terry Koontz’s story.
Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast
Episode #15: Terry’s Story, Part 2 – The Power of Being Seen
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 and welcome to the Louder Than Silence podcast where real people are having real conversations. My name is Lori Poland and I’m the Executive Director of the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. Today’s remarkable guest is my dear friend Terry Koontz. If you haven’t listened to the first podcast with Terry about where he’s come from and where he’s been, pause real quick and head back over there to listen in. We’ll also give you a quick recap to bring you up to speed about where Terry has been. Today is part two of that, the middle part of Terry’s story. I think there’s no part of Terry’s experience just like the rest of us that is any less valuable than the other parts. There’s no more “goodness” in the “end” than there is in the “beginning” because without the beginning, there is no middle or the now. It’s hard to even know what we would be or where we would be. You know even in my own experience I find that I have gratitude for my trauma and my abuse experience which angers a lot of people especially my family members for saying that. However, without it I would not be here and I know that. I would probably be in banking or business or some sort. While I did try that and was very successful it was so boring [laughs]. This work is life-changing for me and hopefully for millions of others around me. Terry gets to be a part of that and I’m honored to know you Terry. Thanks for being here.
>> Terry: Thank you Lori, again. It’s indeed an honor. My involvement with you has been life-changing. Just as a quick recap I went through a situation during my life as a little boy where I was seeking the love for my father that unfortunately he was unable to provide because he had been a victim of abuse himself. I was a needy child and ended up getting involved, through a friend’s father, in a relationship where his father was a child pornographer and we became involved where photos and videos were taken. This went on for a number of years until I was raped, tortured, went through a horrific time which ended it but created in me physical issues, problems, struggles, and far more than physical, mental and emotional problems. I was scarred because I had never told anyone and lived with this secret for 30 years. I began making horrible choices. Money became my god, that’s how I felt good about myself. I had always in my mind described myself as being damaged goods. I wasn’t capable of being loved. I was unlovable in my mind. Anyone that had what happened to me, as a man, I thought I’d never tell anyone and I would take this secret to my grave. It led to me wanting to feel better about myself. I went through drugs and alcohol and sexual addiction. You name it. If it had an “addiction” after it, it was me. That’s how I coped with the secret. I lived for years having nightmares where I’d wake up in the middle of the night screaming, this started shortly afterwards. My mother asked me what’s wrong and I kept the secret to myself. This continued into adulthood and I eventually learned later in life, once I’d gone through counseling, that I was a victim of PTSD. So through this process, eventually I made some horrible choices and ended up in federal prison which is basically where we are today on this second segment. I had never been in jail a day of my life, I had no idea about that. I was 44 years old, older than Lori is now by four years I think. I walked into a world that I never dreamed of. I’d seen things on television but it was such a lengthy sentence I was in a relatively high security level because of the sentence and the amount of money involved and such. I walked into a world that I didn’t know existed. When I first got there I went through incredible depression because I looked at how long the sentence was and when you find people getting stabbed around the rec yard and seeing fights and gang issues, I didn’t fit in that world. I was a 44 year old man and had been a multimillionaire. I had done so many things, Lori’s aware. I had a film studio. I had all these things that made me feel better and I thought made me look better in other people’s minds. Now I have to figure out how to survive. I quickly learned that if you’re intimidated and if you cower you’re on the way to be a continued abuse victim. I have seen things in prison that are horrific. What happened, at one point, I asked myself, ‘what am I going to do with all these years? Am I going to take a sheet and hang myself?’ I couldn’t do it. At times I wanted to, I really did at the beginning but I had two sons. My wife, understandably, divorced me but I had two boys so I couldn’t do that and I didn’t want to do that because I knew that I was reasonably intelligent and I had value that I could still provide to society in some way. So I’m thinking about what I can do. You have to have a prison job. I walked into the education department and I said I needed a job. They asked what my educational background is and I explained to them that I’d done very well and was reasonably educated. They said, ‘would you consider tutoring men so they could get their GED?’ I first thought, GED? I thought I was going to teach college classes. I was still at that point in my life where my ego was a little larger than it could have been. With everything I’d gone through I thought, ‘you want me to help someone do sixth grade math?’ But I finally realized, no one needs it more than these guys do. Something I began to learn was that some of these really tough guys were hurting. What I can tell you is the number of people in prison and in jail that have been abused or neglected – either sexually abused, physically abused – is astronomical. This is something society doesn’t understand
>> Lori: Or acknowledge.
>> Terry: Exactly. They think that because you committed a crime and it was horrific, you should be locked up for the rest of your life. So many, especially among men, we don’t talk about it. We keep it to ourselves. What happened to me is what happens to so many. Anger and frustration builds up. Believe me, I tell everyone, what happened to me in no way caused me to commit my crimes. There are people just like you Lori who go through horrific things and become an achiever. What happened to me didn’t cause me to commit my crimes but what happened to me caused me to look at my life differently. It caused me to make different choices. It caused me to feel I was entitled. I looked back on my life as I was going through this in prison and I saw it was part of when I was seeking all this money. I rationalized in my mind. I was raped and tortured as a little boy, tied to a bed, I was entitled to money. There are weird things that go through our minds. When we begin to think irrationally, you do irrational things. Which led to where I was in prison. So I decided at this point I needed to do something important. I decided I won’t teach calculus, give me sixth grade math. Something began to happen to me, it was part of my healing. I didn’t know it at the time but I’m looking at some of these men – tough, violent, been through a lot of things – and became so thrilled because they got 90% on a sixth grade math test.
>> Lori: That’s a major achievement.
>> Terry: Exactly. There are so many people helping them to read and write and I kept saying there is value in these people and what they have going on. It began to stir in me and I began to say, ‘okay this is how I’m going to do my time in prison. I’m going to do something to feel like when I walk out it made a difference when I finally leave prison.’ One of the greatest accomplishments I feel I have, I helped 163 men in prison get their GED.
>> Lori: Wow. Congratulations Terry that is a major accomplishment.
>> Terry: Thank you, I’m very proud of that. I’ve still got contact with a lot of men that got out and got jobs who still thank me because, you need a college education in reality but if you don’t have a GED, if you don’t have a high school diploma you can’t even work at McDonald’s.
>> Lori: And you can’t go to college
>> Terry: Exactly. That’s what began to happen. I should mention, right before I went to prison I was in marriage counseling for a time. Our marriage counselor and, as I always was, wouldn’t open up or talk about anything. One day he asked to speak to me alone. I made an appointment and he asked me if I was ever sexually abused or physically abused. Of course I denied it. I had been denying it for thirty-some years, suffering from nightmares from it. He said, ‘you’re getting ready to go to prison. Your life is going to change dramatically. You need to heal.’ Somehow he knew. ‘I know you were sexually abused, I can tell even though you’ve denied it over and over again.’ That was a breakthrough because I finally admitted it and I cried like a baby and that started it for me. When I went to prison I was very blessed in that, this doesn’t always happen, but I had some loving, care psychologists that looked at my history because it all came out at my sentencing. I had doctors there at my behalf who said, ‘you have to take into consideration what this man has gone through his entire life.’ It didn’t really help but it started this process where I was open and continued, and I needed that healing. I needed that in prison.
>> Lori: Well I think if I can interrupt here as we wrap up this second segment, I think that the theme I’m hearing is the power of being seen. It sounds to me like somebody saw you, this therapist you’re describing, and that permitted you to be seen by others therefore you reached out and sought support in your sentencing. Even then when you went into prison, instead of hiding in the aggression and violence and carrying forward that same shame cycle that so many people do, specifically perpetrators. We feel shameful so we hurt others. Hurt people hurt others and we know that the majority of people who were once abused do not grow up to become abusers but the majority of abusers were abused. What we don’t know is the difference. I’m wondering about my theory, and what you’ve described here today also, possibly supports that theory is that when people feel seen we have the ability to find compassion and change direction. One of my favorite things that somebody said in the last couple years is somebody said something along the lines of, ‘if you’re going to New York City by plane and you change your direction by one degree, you end up in DC.” To me I thought that was so profound. It’s not about the present moment, but it’s about that subtle, slight change that changes our end destination. What I hear from 163 men that you helped get your GED and the thousands of men I know that you have talked with and shared your experience, strength and hope with, helped through sobriety and through your sharing of your story and so on and so forth. I don’t want to say I know but I would guess that the therapist seeing you, whether he was a fellow survivor or an educated professional, it doesn’t matter. He saw you and being seen allows us to feel alive again.
>> Terry: Because you feel bad yourself.
>> Lori: Truly. When you’re living under the household of secret it’s so hard to be alive because you’re trying in every way you can to maintain this façade and the façade is only as good as the acting and we always need new props to help keep the act up. Hence why we become addicts or we get mental illness or we get diseases or we get chronic issues or we long for control in any areas because we’re needing more props to keep up this act. So the power of being seen, the power of having a voice, the power of coming out of the dark and into the light, being Louder Than Silence. Terry you are truly an example of that. We’re going to stop here with the second segment of our interview with Terry Koontz, a dear friend of mine. We’ll be back for our third and last segment shortly so please check it out at the Louder Than Silence podcast. I’m Lori Poland, I’m the Executive Director of the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect and our fabulous guest is Terry Koontz. Thank you all for being here.
[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.