"What matters is that we face our challenges" – Joe Secrist, author of A White Room of Peace
Joe Secrist's childhood was coloured with blue, black and purple marks of abuse. These were hidden away under layers of clothes, but the scars left him retreating into a safe place – a white room of peace. This is the title of his life story that he wrote with the help of author Gina A. Jones. I chatted to them about the book that is on sale from 5 June:
Joe, thank you for your willingness to share your very moving story with the world. What effect has it had on you?
Joe: It's been a good thing. My goal in telling this is to let others know that it's ok to speak out and not hold things in. We all have a dark side and it's not good to let it control you. It’s been a weight off my shoulders that I've carried for most of my life.
How did your own family respond when you shared your story with them?
Joe: My wife has never shown interest in my past and has not read the book yet. My son finds my life very interesting and has tried getting me into his university to speak about dealing with life.
Did you ever (as an adult) get counselling for the trauma that you experienced?
Joe: I did do some counseling and found it not very helpful. I found that the best way to fix me was to do the things that made me feel like I was fulfilling my mission.
How did your father and brothers respond to the fact that their behaviour is now exposed? Have they apologised to you for not doing anything to protect you when you were abused by your stepmom? What is your relationship with them like now?
Joe: My father feels he has never done anything wrong in his life, so this is no different. My brothers said that even though they saw it, they never realised how bad it was. We all get along ok but don’t have much of a relationship.
You mention the school for the blind that you attended. Did you ever let them know what happened to you while you were under their care?
Joe: I have spoken to one of my former coaches, who is a good friend now and told him. He was shocked and felt very bad about what had happened. It was so many years ago, that all of the people who were there then have moved on in life.
In the light of the recent Me Too movement, have you ever considered exposing the abusers that you mention in the book, and calling them to account?
Several years ago, tried to find him and confront him about this and ask why. I found that he had passed away. I do want to go to his grave at some point and do to things, first ask him why and second tell him that he is forgiven. He did a terrible thing to me but he also helped make me who I am today. His actions are not forgivable but as a person he is.
At the start of the book you say that you don't want people to feel sorry for you. What would you like readers to take away after reading your story?
Joe: Every person has gone through hard times and we all have things that have happened that we wish didn’t. We all have challenges in our lives that we must face. Everyone has a disability of some sort if we recognise it or not. What matters is that we face our challenges, we learn from our past and we do the best we can with what we have. In life, many doors will be closed and many others will be opened. The trick is to go through the open doors and experience life and not let life hold you back.
Looking back at your life then, what would you have done differently if you could?
Joe: A couple of things – I would have reported the guy to officials so that I could have prevented this from happening to others if it did. I would also attend my local High School graduation so that I was a part of that as well. I would have pursued my dreams instead of following others and living life to please them.
Describe yourself with three words that best personify you?
Joe: Adventurous, compassionate, caring.
What encouragement would you like to offer to anyone who is undergoing any form of abuse today?
Joe: You don’t have to keep living that way. Reach out for help and never blame yourself for their abusive actions. No one is perfect, but no one deserves to be abused. You are not alone in this.
Lastly, all your accomplishments make you sound like a real-life Forrest Gump. What goals do you still have for your life?
Joe: My goals are ever-reaching: I want to run a full marathon again; I want to be the best I can be; I want to share my story with others and help them to understand its ok to be different, and ok to reach out. I want to fly a fighter jet off of an aircraft carrier, and I want to have a therapy dog that I can use to help those who are hurting. Mostly, I want to spend my life speaking to groups at schools, churches, organisations, businesses, and talk to them about my life and how I faced my challenges even though I was no one special. I try to live by the idea that anything is possible, and that we must control our challenges instead of them controlling us.
Gina, this is a very different book from your usual romance and thrillers. What motivated you to take on the project and would you do something similar in the future?
Gina: A White Room of Peace is very different from what I've written in the past. But as a reader, I love all genres. I have read several biographies, those of which have a tragic side and deals with children especially. A Child Call It by Dave Pelzer was most disturbing and I think this was the one that led me down the path of biographies. A man at work was reading it with his church group and brought it to work. And that was long before I ever wrote a book. That book impacted me much, and when Joe contacted me, I felt it was my calling. I also felt honour when Joe reached out to me. As an independent author, I know the struggle of getting notice and how we work just as hard as traditional authors. And maybe harder, because we must do all the work ourselves. Finding an editor. Book cover design. Marketing, and all the expenses that go into writing a book. Yes, I would be interested if asked to write another biography.
How did you manage the writing process?
I would meet with Joe at a local coffee shop each week for a couple of hours. I would listen as he talked of his earliest childhood memories. I would document as much as I could. I also had my mother there to document as well. Each week we would focus on certain timelines of his life, childhood, teenage, college, life after college, marriage, and it that time, his future was still growing with achievements. The entire process took two years, and that was mostly due to the projects I already had in the process to publish. But I felt I got to know Joe more at that time and with that, we were able to add his new accomplishments to the book – such as the interview with the local news station and his triathlons.
What is your next writing project about?
I have several in the process. Currently, I have a pre-order up and so that must finish first. It is a psychological thriller, disguised as romance. Why I say that is because I wrote in in an unreliable narrative. The book is called The Writer. This manuscript received an outstanding Kirkus review four years ago under a different title. I never published it and now I’m excited to release this September.
For more info on Gina A. Jones' writing visit her website: https://www.ginaajones.com