Posted by: Jack Brown | February 7, 2012

The Janitor’s Closet

Two weeks ago in my sermon I said these words:

“When I was nine years old, I encountered evil.
The effects of that encounter have been long-lasting and far-reaching.”

I didn’t go into detail from the pulpit (out of a desire to be sensitive to families with young folks in our church), but I did talk about the journey to freedom I have been on in recent months as I have been dealing with one simple, yet very complicated, fact: the janitor at my elementary school was a pedophile. For years (decades, in fact) I have ignored that reality and refused to face up to the impact it had on my life, but a number of factors last fall brought me to a place of realizing I needed to deal with it. The Penn State scandal was actually a big part of that realization, as I found myself not only obsessing with the story but also realizing the accused offender, Jerry Sandusky, reminded me of the janitor at my school. And as I watched that situation unfold, I heard a voice inside my head saying, “How long, Jack?” And for the first time in my life I found myself replying, “No longer.”

The main reason I have never dealt with this is that I spent all my life minimizing what had happened. My attitude was this: “What happened to me wasn’t as bad as what other kids go through, so I should just get over it and move on.” It wasn’t until a friend of mine pointed out to me that while it may be true I was spared the very worst possible scenarios, what happened to me would have been more than enough to send this guy to jail for a long, long time. She looked at me and said, “Jack, you were the victim of a sexual predator.” I never thought of myself that way. After all, who wants to?

I don’t know how long it went on, but I have numerous memories of being lured by this janitor into his little closet near the school bathrooms (I would later learn he had holes drilled in the wall to look into them). There he would show me things that a nine-year-old boy shouldn’t have to see, and try to get me to experience things a nine-year-old boy shouldn’t experience. And one my strongest memories is running as fast as I could to get away from that closet. In fact, it became a regular practice of mine to hide behind a pillar in the school near the closet anytime I needed to go past it. I would stand there, consumed by sheer terror, and then when I was sure he wasn’t looking I would run as fast as my little legs could carry me.

What I’ve since come to realize is that I have been running ever since. That janitor’s closet has come to symbolize for me all the things I’m afraid of, the greater sense I’ve always struggled with that there was something “out there” just waiting to get me. Most kids worry about monsters under their bed, but the image in my mind as a child was of a very real monster who has lurked in my subconscious ever since. I have always struggled with inordinate levels of fear and anxiety, worry and sense of being out-of-control. While I know it isn’t all because of that closet, I know that it begins there. And unless I deal with the root, the weeds will never stop growing.

So I hope you can understand as I attempt in my next few blog postings to process the journey I’ve been on. One of the very clear things I’ve learned recently is that I need to open up and share my story with others. This seems a good medium for doing that–I always think better when I type things out. And who knows…maybe there are others out there who have a “janitor’s closet”–a memory, a struggle, a stronghold that hovers in the back of their life and exerts too much control over them. And maybe we can make some progress on closing the doors together.



  1. I am so sad for the 9 year old Jack running and hiding in the halls of the school. I am so grateful for the man Jack that has shared a hard thing. May God use your story to heal many, Jack.
    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Shalom, and peace as you go forward into a world that must seem a bit different, yet nothing has changed.

  3. praying Jack, for healing, forgiveness, and understanding!

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