Trigger Warning – this post discusses childhood sexual abuse and rape.
Conspire alum Lauren Johnson continues her series on incarceration, addiction, criminal justice and life in general.
Recently I had the opportunity to tag along with Kat to an “Inner View” with KOOP personality Abigail Mahnke. Kat did a fabulous job talking about her craft, (pun intended) and I thought going in that I was prepared for the usual questions that I am asked about Conspire. For the most part that was true although there was a small section that I stumbled around in and couldn’t think clearly enough to articulate what I would have wanted to say. All of that said, Abigail asked me an unexpected question that I didn’t stumble with. I do, however, think that it is a question that I would like to explore a little more here. We were discussing how many of the women that come into prison have experienced some type of trauma. Abigail asked me if that was true for me and I was a little vague with my answer.
The truth of the matter is that I can remember two instances of sexual abuse. The first one happened when I was four or five years old. A friend of mine and I were playing in the apartments that we lived in, counting mailboxes. Some guy came over and I really don’t remember how he got us to go with him. I remember that he took us to an apartment, had us masturbate him and then gave us items and sent us on our way. I remember thinking it was yucky. I remember that my friend was given a nice watch, and I was given some sort of magazine. I don’t know if I was told or if it was just my own thought that she got a better prize because I didn’t do a good job. This is my thought as a child. I know we didn’t go straight back and tell our parents and I am not sure why.
Eventually my friend and I told some lady that was moving into the complex as we were talking to her. Of course she went and told our parents. I remember going to the police station and looking through mug shot books. I really didn’t recognize the guy (or at least that is my memory now) But my friend did, or maybe she just said she did so we could leave. I also seem to remember her and I leading a small SWAT team to the apartment that we were taken to. I don’t know anything beyond that of what happened with the whole thing.
The next time something happened to me, I was thirteen. It was the morning of November 22, 1990. You may think that it is significant that I remember the date, but I didn’t. I just know that it happened the morning of Thanksgiving. I had snuck out of the house and gone over to the house of a friend of mine where I hung out sometimes. It was about a 30 minute walk from my house to there, but this was something that I did on a fairly regular basis. I had hung out with my friend and then around 1 or 2 am, I began my trek back home. About half way through the walk I heard a man coming up behind me. I looked back and saw him a few steps back but it wasn’t until he wrapped his hand around my mouth that I knew I was in trouble. He walked me around to the side of a house just off the main road. He put a dog leash around my neck and threatened to choke me if I made any noise. I wasn’t sure that I was going to live through the experience. Once he was finished, he left and I went back to the pay phone and called my friend collect. My friend met me at that store and brought me back and sat there with me while I cried, and showered and cried.
It was an awful and traumatic experience. The thought that kept crossing my mind afterward was that as awful as that was, I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if it had been someone I knew and trusted. I knew more than one girl who had gone through something like that with a father, or uncle. I went back home at 5 or so in the morning and snuck back in through the window. I laid there thinking about all the possible consequences that could still be pending. What if I was pregnant, or had an STD or HIV? Then I heard a loud thump on the door. A racing thought that the man had followed me ran through my mind. Just like the girl in the horror movie, I go to the door to find out…. it was the morning paper. My mom must have discovered that I had left that night because she came into my room and asked where I had been. I lied and said I had been sleeping in an alcove of my closet. I doubt she bought it, but she wasn’t in the mood to argue with me that morning. She left the room, but not before saying something to the effect of:“one of these days something bad is going to happen. You are going to get raped or murdered and then what?”
I remember that whole day being off kilter to me. I was smart enough to make an appointment with Planned Parenthood where I could be seen without payment. I got tested for everything, and I got on birth control. I am thankful that they were there! I was thankful that everything turned out negative. My rape experience was the worst thing I have endured at the hands of someone else. In the scheme of my life it comes second only to the experience of going back to jail after having my son and being separated from him.
There were other times growing up when I had the feeling that if a person had the chance to do something to me, they would. So those were the people that I never allowed to have that opportunity. My stories are not that bad considering the stories that I have heard from other women. I don’t say that to minimize it. I don’t think that these instances had anything to do with the direction that my life went. I dealt with them in a healthy way and chose not to spend a lot of time dwelling on them once I did. It is a part of my story, but it doesn’t define me. Everyone experiences things differently, and just because I bounced back from these experiences doesn’t mean that everyone should handle it the same way. Each individual has to go through their own process. The recommendation I would make to someone going through that is: feel the feeling, the sadness, the anger, the grief, the fear. All of those “bad emotions” that aren’t bad at all. Set a time limit. Don’t allow it to take over your life. Talk about it with someone you trust. Talking about it helps to release the power that it holds over you.
Ed. note: If you have experienced rape or sexual abuse, there are several low cost and/or free counseling services available. Contact Capitol Area Counseling, the YWCA or call 211 to find info about victim services.