The Cycle of Abuse

Source: Gerry Phelan

It has been called the cycle of abuse. A case in point was shared in my office, and as ugly as it is, there is still a lesson of faith.  I have cleaned up, and left out, some of the precise details.  I sat through the full story; your imagination will provide less nightmares.

It was the ultimate horror show.  The conversation was one of the few that made this prison chaplain cringe, and while the clock ticked away, yelling at me to shut him down so I could get to my next appointment, I could not.

And 45 minutes later, I knew it would have been fruitless anyway. God had determined that my job today was to be an ear to this inmate.

Len started off by telling me he was in jail, convicted of robbing items to feed himself. The story went back and forth with some irregularities, but ultimately there was a cocaine addiction, money owed him, him owing money, a broken marriage and on and on.

And a story of horrendous abuse that led him to where he was today.

He stared at the floor, as he told me his dad was a victim of abuse at an infamous Canadian orphanage and had carried that abuse into his own family. His father, he said, had raped Len’s sister and brother, and Len too.

His own abuse went on for weeks, at age 14, when he knew nothing about sex, and his dad would crawl into bed, and place his rough hands over Len’s penis.  And on one of those nights, his mom had come into the room, and saw what was happening…..and just walked away.  Len said his relationship with both parents died that day.

He had no one to tell. At school, the Christian Brothers (and he named them) were no better. It wasn’t sexual abuse but he acted out, and got punished physically…and extremely.

Abuse leads to abuse. He decided to abuse himself…with drugs, legal and illegal.

Today, years later, he appears fearless.  But he does have God, and told me he is a believer. He fondled the cross on his Rosary as he concluded his tale.

I didn’t ask Len to pray with me. I believe his story and his faith were his prayer. But boy, have I prayed for him ever since.

I am grateful that his name hasn’t appeared again on the inmate register.  I wonder if he took my advice to seek real help.  And I will always remember that despite his pain, he never once asked, “Why did God let this happen to me?”

Gerry Phelan is the Roman Catholic Chaplain at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St.John's, Newfoundland, Canada. He previously spent 37 years as an award-winning journalist, in radio, print and television. He calls his chaplain's work "the most rewarding" thing he has ever done.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 01:08h, 26 July Reply

    Thank very much for sharing this Gerry.

  • Eduardo Soto Parra
    Posted at 01:31h, 26 July Reply

    Unheard stories of abuse are behind many of those who have been in prison..and many of them are still trying to live with dignity. However society often stigmatize them instead of embrace their silenced pain. Blessed be the listeners…

Post A Comment

Subscribe to igNation

Subscribe to receive our latest articles delivered right to your inbox!