When the priest arrived for his assessment at the apartment at 13th and Vine, he was not prepared for what he would find. The priest was aghast when he saw Kenny, only weeks old, crying uncontrollably, already suffering from malnutrition and neglect. Besides the soiled and dirty condition of the baby, he had bruises covering his tiny body, and bleeding from his left ear. At the hospital, they discovered a broken arm, a broken sternum, and two fractured legs. His mother, a prostitute, insisted he only fell out of the crib, but Kenny was immediately put under the care of Child Protective Services and placed in a foster home.
His foster parents, the Stegmans, were loving, caring people that Kenny adored. During his next seven years with them, Kenny grew to love them dearly. But in the 1960’s the state put emphasis on keeping families together, so every few months Kenny was returned to his biological mother for a visit. And each time, he would come back to the Stegmans hungry and beaten. Kenny would beg and plead not to be sent there for a visit, asking, “If you really love me, why would you send me back there?” But that was the policy of CPS at the time. When he had to go on a visit, Mrs. Stegman would make sure he ate a good meal before he left, knowing he wouldn’t be fed until he returned a few days later.
During the visits, the Browns would drink and scream constantly and his father would beat his mother. She constantly had different men in and out of the apartment. The apartment was filthy and infested with roaches. There was seldom food there, and the rats were the size of small dogs.
When Kenny was visiting his parents, he always got into trouble. He was always trying to run away and would lie and steal. Kenny became labeled a “problem child”. Once, (age 6) he was so filled with hatred for his biological parents, that he set their place on fire, and burnt it to the ground. Finally during one visit, his father was angry and yelling at his mother, and Kenny got in the way. He began punching Kenny and broke his nose. When Mr. Stegman came to pick him up, Kenny’s beautiful blond hair was caked with blood, and his face was dark blue from all the bruises. Mr. Stegman picked him up and held him, pushed back his bloody hair and told him it would be ok. He would never let anyone hurt his boy again. Kenny never went back to see his biological parents again.
During his years with the Stegmans, Kenny felt loved and wanted. He loved his foster parents, but it was always on his mind that he wanted a real family – a permanent family. He dreamt of the day a family would meet him and want him for their own. The Stegmans had two kids of their own, and four other foster kids, so wouldn’t be able to adopt him. Kenny knew he was different – having no real family. He often wondered “What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t anyone want me?” So when he was nearing his seventh birthday, and the Harrisons began to visit Kenny with an interest in adopting, his hopes ran high. When Harrison family finally asked “Kenny, do you want to become our son and live with us? Be part of our family?” Kenny knew he wanted that. He wanted a family more than anything.
The Stegmans opposed the Harrison’s adoption of Kenny and felt something wrong. Little incidents made them wonder if there was really any love there. Once Ms. Stegman told Ms. Harrison Kenny had an allergy to tomatoes, but Joy Harrison forced him to eat them anyway, saying, “This is what’s for dinner – you will eat it.” So Kenny ended up in the hospital. Other incidents made the Stegmans wonder if this was the right family for Kenny.
But despite the Stegmans’ objections, the Harrisons adopted Kenny and changed name to Jon Harrison. At age seven, Jon now had a real family. He had a brother and a sister. He had his own room, clothes, and a puppy. He was now part of a rich, influential family. He met all of the relatives and they all doted on him, commenting on his beautiful blond hair and blue eyes. It was a good Catholic family that attended church every Sunday. Family. Jon finally had a family.
About three weeks after the adoption, Mr. Harrison came into his room one night and sat next to him on the bed. He told Jon how much he loved him, and asked him if he liked having family. He brushed back his hair, told him what good boy he was, how happy he was that Jon was there, and how he made the family whole. Then he kissed his forehead, and his cheek, and slowly slipped his hands down his pants. Jon didn’t know how to react. Mr. Harrison fondled Jon, gave him a kiss, and said, “This is how daddy shows he loves you.” Although it made Jon uncomfortable, he thought this must be what family did.
The game progressed into sodomy and rape. One day his dad told him to go in and take a bath. Jon went into the bathroom, and had just taken off his pants, when his dad came in. By this time, Jon became sick to his stomach every time they were alone, and he withdrew into own world. His father touched him and fondled him. Then he reached for the lotion in cabinet, and raped Jon. Jon screamed from the pain, but his dad kept saying “Shut up! Shut up”: and put his hand over Jon’s face. Finally he stopped and turned Jon around. His father said, “Now look what you’ve done.” There was blood all over him, so he told Jon to clean up. “Get in the tub and wash yourself – You are nasty”.
This went on for years, 2 or 3 times a week, regardless of whether they’d just returned from church, a shriners convention, or back from grocery shopping. But his dad always put on a righteous front in front of the people outside. He was considered an upright Christian leader at his church. That was the beginning of Jon’s hatred for the church.
The abuse didn’t stop with Jon’s father. He was shared with his Uncle Bill, sometimes both at the same time. Afterwards they’d tell Jon, “Such a good boy.” Once when Uncle Bill came over, Jon tried to refuse. So Uncle Bill said, “Then we’ll just make a wishbone out of you.” They forced his legs open and snapped his pelvic bones. Jon was in a body cast for four months. He still has scars where the doctors had to screw his bones back together.
During the next few years, Jon ran away several times. They sent him to 20/20 or foster homes or into psychological treatment. Throughout it all, Jon never told his therapist the truth. They thought he was just having trouble adopting. They also diagnosed him as mentally retarded. Jon couldn’t comprehend what was happening. “Why?” he wondered. He never did anything wrong to them. Why did he feel safer in a foster home or 20/20 than at home? Why won’t God help him?
Jon finally told a friend in the hospital what was going on. The doctor confronted his father, but his father denied everything, saying Jon was a drug addict and a liar. So they just passed it off as Jon's imagination. So Jon knew no one would help him. By the age of 13, he had spent several years in the children’s home or an institution. And they kept sending him back home. So one day, after his dad raped him, Jon took a razor and slit his wrists. He didn’t call for help. He didn’t leave a note. His Mom found him in a pool of blood in the bathroom, and took him to the hospital. There they fixed him up, gave him a psych evaluation and sent him back home. As soon as got home, he ran away again. This time he wouldn’t let them send him back. And he was gone for good.
His father once told Jon when he had tried to refuse him, “You’d betted do as I say. I paid more than $10,000 for you.” Years later he saw his sister, and she asked him, "You know why you were adopted, don’t you?“ Jon was confused and answered, “Because they loved me and wanted to give me a home.“ His sister laughed and replied, “Don’t be stupid. You were adopted to be Glenn’s playtoy - so he wouldn’t touch us.” Jon had been his mother’s way of protecting her natural children.
Jon stayed in institutions until he was eighteen. He was doing drugs heavily, and dropped out of high school. He would get jobs here and there, but after a couple of paychecks, he would be so drunk or high, wouldn’t be able to make it back to work. He spent time in prison and in a motorcycle gang. He had two unsuccessful marriages, but one beautiful daughter that he adores. His drug use progressed to a daily heroin habit for years. Things began to spiral downward, and he lost his job and ended up homeless and living on the river.
Throughout it all, he could never believe that there was a God that would allow these things to happen to him. When he began coming to church, initially it was to meet people to find some handyman jobs or work on their cars. But eventually conversations would turn to God, and he would express his confusion. How could such a loving God allow such cruelty? Where was God when he had called out for Him?
But Jon saw that there was another side of life… that people could be sincerely loving and giving. That’s what he had craved all his life. So he is searching for the truth now… and gradually turning to a new way of thinking. He’s been off drugs for months and doesn’t want to go back. He doesn’t allow his past to be an excuse or think of himself as a victim. He’s letting go of past resentments he had against church and bitterness toward God. He’s working on forgiveness for his father. He realizes that love is possible for his life and he’s determined to see his life turn around. He's learned to love others and to reach out to those in need worse than his own. Jon is a transformation in process.