Episode 16: Terry’s Story, Part 3 – Embracing Empathy
Terry explains how developing his capacity to empathize with others enabled him to heal more fully as a survivor of child abuse. He and Lori discuss how important it is for survivors to realize they are not alone and that healing from childhood trauma is possible. This episode is Part 3 of survivor Terry Koontz’s story.
Transcript of the Louder than Silence Podcast
Episode #16: Terry’s Story, Part 3 – Embracing Empathy
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 my name is Lori Poland and I am the Executive Director for the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect. You’re joining our podcast, Louder Than Silence. We’re real people having real conversations. I am so honored in this segment, this is our third section of one survivor’s story and that survivor’s name is Terry Koontz who has become a dear friend of mine in the last few years because of my work at EndCAN. Terry comes to us with a story of how he was groomed and abused by a friend’s father as a small boy longing and searching for connection and truly wanting to matter which every single human is guilty of doing because every single human innately just wants to matter. For so many of us we’ll do whatever it takes. It’s unfortunate there are so many other people at times who take advantage of that with vulnerable populations like our children and that is Terry’s story. He and his best friend Terry were abused by Terry’s father and then Terry went on to find ways of managing his pain and hiding it. We described in the last segment keeping up the act by keeping the story secret. When we have these secret stories we have to put on this image and so many millions and millions and millions of people find ways to do that, whether that’s something that society considers good or society considers bad, it doesn’t matter. It’s not good for us, it’s not good for the survivor. Some of us do that by becoming super successful, some of us do that by making millions and millions of dollars as Terry’s described but no matter what there’s still this emptiness within us. We’re here at the third segment of Terry’s story where he talked about being an influence in 163 men’s lives by helping them get their GED while he was in federal prison after money laundering. That’s where we’re at in our story so I’ll stop talking because I could go on for years so Terry I’d love for our audience to hear more from you. Thanks for being here.
>> Terry: Thank you Lori. As I’d mentioned before at this time I’m beginning to recover while I’m in federal prison. I’d been in several years and again was blessed to have many loving, caring people in the psychology department that helped me. As Lori mentioned I’m doing tutoring. I began to speak in different chapels in the different prisons I’d been in those long 18 years. I began to lead support groups for men that had been abused. There was a group I led called Houses of Healing. So I was making progress but during this progress, as you begin to heal and begin to become a survivor, I used what I called the Big “E” Word and that’s when you know you’re making progress– empathy. I began to feel for others. Through all these years and all this pain and feeling like what happened to me was unfair, I began to see and feel what it was like to walk in someone else’s shoes so I’m doing this but during this process something hit me. I never knew what happened to my friend Terry. We’d gone our separate ways, he’d been through horrific abuse by his own father. He witnessed my being raped and tortured and I decided I needed to find out. I had some help from people within prison, which you’re really not allowed to do [laughs], to help locate him and I’m in the middle of federal prison. At the time this was 2009. My friend and mentor, a psychologist brought me in one and day and said we found him. He said, ‘ you need to understand this is going to be difficult.” What had happened, this same little boy that was abused and went through everything just like I had, had also gone to prison. He was in prison at the same time I was, what I found out is he went to prison for murder in the early 2000s. In 2007, my friend Terry who went through everything with me, was executed for murder. So now I had this whole other set of feelings and emotions and I’m thinking how all the things I’d gone through, how horrible it was and that “E” word, empathy, I began to think about how this was his only father. This was the person that had brought me into this household. What guilt he must have had to witness something like that and that changed me. I decided I had to find a way to help others and I needed to continue to do this in some way. One of the things through the years, Lori, I had written a lot of letters to pastors or other organizations I’d given millions of dollars to and never, one time, had I received a letter back. That was pretty discouraging. One day I’m sitting in the television room and I’m watching a show and I’m looking up sitting in this plastic chair in the television room. There’s this young lady and a doctor being interviewed by Megan Kelly and that young lady was Lori Poland. I saw something in you, Lori, that I hadn’t seen in anyone else and that was real in you. I heard your story and what you went through and the incredible thing of starting and doing EndCAN with Dr. Krugman and I decided I’m going to write another letter. I thought it was useless but I’d written for so many years and I decided to do it one more time. I never expected anything, I’d long since gotten over that. Then one day I walked into the mail room and there it was. It was a response by Lori and it changed my life because I knew there are people that do it. There are people that understand and have empathy and realize that what we’ve done in our life doesn’t define us. The pain we have in our life doesn’t define us. We still have an opportunity and we began a friendship. We became pen pals as Lori explained in the first episode. I began to see in this incredible young woman that she truly got it and she wanted to help. Eventually I got out of prison and I’m going to tell you something that’s amazing about Lori Poland. I’m sure you’re also fans of her. After I got out of prison she got on a plane and flew to see a man that did 18 years in prison and she came alone. She had no one with her. She doesn’t have any clue what that did to me because I knew she truly believed in me. She trusted me and since that time she’s been an inspiration. I began in prison writing my autobiography, the story of my life. It’s a project that, Lori has her own book and we have different things that we’re working on together but also during that time I figured out I could write. I never knew I could before. I wrote a fictional story called a dream deferred and incredibly within the next two weeks it will be on Barnes and Noble. There has been interest in it from several different groups, it’s been sent to Netflix. It’s the story about a young girl who crosses the border as a three year old being brought by her parents. Again, completely fictional but it was based upon, in certain ways, stories I’d heard in prison by people that did cross the border. I’ve been shocked by everybody that’s looked at it seems to think it’s good. I’m at a point in my life where I realize this is what I’m supposed to do. I need to tell my story, this is something Lori’s been saying over and over again. Anyone that’s listening to this, and if you go to EndCAN you can see. I can tell you if you haven’t done it yet, it is the greatest feeling you’re ever going to have because you help gain back power over what happened to me. I am no longer a victim of sexual abuse. I am no longer just a man that went to prison for years and years. I’m a man that has a story to tell and that’s what I intend to do and I owe this to you, my dear. You’ve changed my life in a way that I could never imagine.
>> Lori: Terry thank you
>> Terry: If you don’t know Lori Poland, you need to get to know Lori Poland. She is an amazing young woman, very gifted and very talented but she has a heart. Sometimes her heart is too big I think [laughs] and she probably spreads herself a little thin but she unquestionably is doing great work and you’re never going to find a bigger supporter of EndCAN and Lori Poland and what they’re doing than myself and I thank you very much for the opportunity.
>> Lori: Thank you. First of all I’m so grateful and I promise all the listeners we did not pay Terry to say these things [laughs].
>> Terry: Not at all. I’m an unpaid spokesperson.
>> Lori: I do feel humbled by it and I don’t know what it is in me. I cannot tell you how many people in my life were truly questioning me and I know you and I talked about this when I met you in person in Florida. People were genuinely questioning my intelligence and whatever to get on a plane and go meet a person that I’d never met in person and only talked on the phone with a couple times and a convicted felon. Somebody that had just gotten out of federal prison. They said ‘what are you thinking Lori?’ I don’t try to be irresponsible at all and I wasn’t irresponsible. We met in a public place and whatever but at the same time sometimes I just believe we have to put the gloves down. The other part is – and we talked about this at the end of the last segment – but there’s so much power in being seen. I think for me, Terry, one of my biggest struggles in life is no matter how many thousands of people I’m speaking in front of or talking to, I have felt so alone the majority of my existence. Then I’ve been shamed for feeling alone. I’ve been shamed for not being grateful for those who’ve been in my mind and having my own feelings about my life and having my own memories about my life. Whether they’re real memories or not they’re mine and I know what it’s like to feel unseen and I know what it’s like to feel alone. I’ve watched so many other issues like the LGBTQ movement and teen pregnancy and suicide and even breast cancer and heart disease and smoking, you know. I’ve watched so many of these other issues in my lifetime change from things that were shunned and ridiculed and judged and put down upon, come into a place of cultural acceptance and forgiveness and understanding and rights and fairness and justice and healing and support. I know, I’ve never met anybody who’s been against ending child abuse and neglect. Not a single soul. If I ever come across one I’d love to have lunch with them because I need to understand. So my reaching out to you Terry and what you’ve described me as is truly selfish. I reached out to you because selfishly I know what it felt and feels like to feel unseen and to feel unheard and unimportant. I don’t want anybody in my world to ever feel that way so selfishly I did that and gratefully you responded. I know the power of numbers and I know the power of community and I am not asking every survivor to come out and share their story as Terry has but I am asking everybody who this impacts, which is everybody, I am asking them to join us in standing together because can end child abuse and neglect. We will end child abuse and neglect and my children will be gifted with the same gift I was given in watching all those other issues that I’ve just described improve in my lifetime. My children will see that and they are in it with me and I want nothing more for them than to have their children, my grandchildren grow up in a society where we don’t feel shame. We don’t hurt kids. We love them, we support them, we empower them, we believe in them, we protect them and we see them. So this wraps up our third and final segment with Terry Koontz but that does not mean this is the last we’ll hear from Terry and certainly not from me. We’re in it to win it and there’s no stopping us so Terry, thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being the president of the Lori Poland fan club [laughs] of which created. Every single text and email, Terry wraps up with that title and it just warms my heart at all hours of the day that we’re corresponding. This is the Louder Than Silence podcast of real people having real conversations. I’m Lori Poland here with my honored guest. I am honored myself, Terry Koontz. We are Louder Than Silence and I thank you all for listening. Have a beautiful day.
>> Terry: Thank you.
[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.