by Reginald Walker
I am a 36 year-old Afro-American who is ostensibly serving a prison sentence for property crimes committed to feed the beast of crack cocaine addiction. In fact, however, drug addiction and property crimes committed to support this illness are merely symptoms of the sexual abuse and incest I suffered as a childãshameful secrets I have hidden throughout my life.
This is not my first time in prison. The first time I went to prison was as a child, for acts committed by others. The actual perpetrators were my twin uncles, who sodomized and sexually molested me for roughly four years, from the age of six to ten years old. My other perpetrator was not supposed to be someone whom I despised as a result of abuse, fear, and loss of innocence in my childhood. This perpetrator was my mother.
Often in my healing and therapy, which is ongoing as of this writing, I refer to my lost childhood as being born guilty of being innocent. I was physically and psychologically abused throughout my entire childhood. My mother beat me with tree branches, extension cords, and water hoses. If that wasn't enough, with each beating she would angrily order me to undress down to the nude. During the beatings I was called everything I was not and all the things she wanted me to be. Imagine, if you will, being beaten unmercifully and your abuser is making you say, "Mama, I'm sorry. Please, Mama, I won't do it again." And the sadness of it all is that you haven't done anything at all to justify the punishment. Afterwards my mother made me sit in her lap and demanded that I tell her that I loved herãloved her for damn near killing me.
As often occurs in life, we find ourselves unable to recognize or acknowledge the true source of our problems, in part because of the tendency to suppress traumatic memories and in part because the symptoms produced by such deep-seated problems are seemingly unrelated to our abnormal behavior. We tend to focus on the symptoms (the byproducts that are characterized as abnormal behavior), which take on a life of their own and then become new problems: new baggage that complicates matters and is carried around for the rest of our lives.
The early phase of being an abused and neglected childãthe emotional, mental, and physical abuse inflicted on me by my motherãcreated a greater fear and had deeper impact on me than did the sexual abuse by my uncles. I was the only child, and my best friend, my "go-to" person, was my mother, as I never had a father. So what my mother was doing to me, mentally and physically, I interpreted as love and caring. In other words, I suffered from an inverted reality. After all, she was the only one there for me. The pattern of her established abuse was our bond between mother and son. I do not say this to justify or excuse her conduct, but instead to express the cruel reality of our relationship. My whole childhood was lived in fear of the person I loved most.
Until I broke my self-imposed silence I had no idea of how to be who I am, as my abusers (primarily my mother) never allowed me to manifest my own, inherent personality. The bottom line for me as an inmate, sharing with you my experiences with incest and child abuse, is the inner freedom I've gained from breaking my silence. Since my early childhood onwards, I actively retained the memories of abuse and felt the discomfort about my perpetrators, yet I maintained my child's silence out of fear, pain, and the need to somehow survive.
I did not want either my male or female contemporaries to know about my past, as I feared that such knowledge would inevitably lead to their questioning my masculinity, and that I would be diminished as a person. Unfortunately, no one during my high school years was talking about incest or the sexual abuse of male victims: not in books, the news media, and definitely not in my school setting. In many ways society enabled and in fact forced me and many other male survivors of these crimes to live in silence about our past, and at the same time it protected the perpetrators who violated us.
I do not regret my decision to let my ghost out of its closet, even though prison rape and sexual misconduct is rife in this setting. Prison bureaucrats turn a blind eye to prison rapes and sexual misconduct, thus reinforcing the damage done to 70% of all offenders who were abused in their childhood. This is a classical case of the vicious, never-ending cycle where literally everyone is a loser. My recovery and healing process has been a slow one, and I suspect that I will never rid myself of these terrible memories. I do believe however that breaking my silence is medicinal, healing the wounds to a point where I can become functional and live with my past, and perhaps even learn the secret of being happy with myself and my life, such as it is. I also believe that recovery is a lifelong process, but I am learning to like myself and appreciate the qualities that God gave me. This is the end product of breaking my silence and now writing about these terrible experiences so as to help others.