I spent the first part of my childhood in the projects. I mean, as projects go it was pretty nice. There were no large apartment complexes; this was Bristol Connecticut after all so we had duplexes and I even had a little “fort” outback that in reality was a Mountain Laurel with a rock that was kind of chair shaped, or so it felt to a 2 or 3 year old. There also was an oak tree growing through the middle, it was right in front of my “chair” so I pretended it was a TV set and imagined all the cartoons that it played. I had some great times in my little fort. At one time I must have had at least 3 or 4 friends “watching cartoons” in there with me.
There were many different types of folks in our neighborhood, the one thing we had in common was a lack of money. Some folks were awesome and friendships were made then that are still with me today. Some folks left indelible marks on my psyche, many positive but a few very dark: damaging. The biggest was named Danny (the last name omitted out of respect to his kin).
Danny was a local father who technically was not in the projects but lived diagonally from us on the street before us. He had an apartment on the first floor of what I think was a two family house; it may have been a single family, being a toddler I just am not sure. Danny had kids and was a family man. He had a job and supposedly worked hard to provide for them, to love and nourish them. He taught them wrong from right, the love of the bible and the security of belonging to organized religion (church name with held as this is not about any particular church). He was an active church member and either taught Sunday school at one time or was a church elder, again, due to my age I am not quite sure but I think he was a church elder.
One thing the projects had was a series of churches that would try to offer the kids an alternative to “the streets.” Knowing that many parents lacked transportation we even had a few churches that would drive to the neighborhood on set days and times and offer a ride to the neighborhood kids that wanted to come for service or church activities. Many kids piled in that van, they did not appear to need parental approval. They stopped at a section of the projects and just waited for the kids to come. Some parents asked many questions and were reluctant to have strangers take their kids for awhile, others asked questions and then were satisfied. Some appeared clueless that their kids were even gone for hours at a time.
Danny offered an alternative to the parents who wanted their kids to be exposed to religion but did not feel safe with strangers taking their kids. He had this bluish 4 door boat of a car that could fit a ton of kids (seatbelts were not a priority in those days) and besides, as deacon and a parent he was going anyway; it was no problem. He was unassuming. Not big or small, not a hippie or a square. His hair was longish but not too long and he alternated from a beard to scruff to clean shaved depending on the occasion. He wore jeans and a leather jacket at times; he dressed as most men dressed in those days. He blended in so perfectly.
A few of our parents who were very concerned for their children opted to have Danny take us to church; they wanted us safe and who better than a church elder.
I remember Danny and how a large part of my childhood ended at such an early age. I remember seeing friend’s behavior and attitudes changing rapidly. I remember some kids suddenly becoming protective of me, keeping me away from Danny and from his house. I have glimpses of memories of Danny and how we interacted. I remember being in his car in the driveway and getting ready to leave when I told him that I had to use the potty. I remember him turning toward me from the driver’s seat and asking me if I could make it to the church and answering him no. He was nice; turned the car off and said he would bring me to his bathroom. I remember being lead up the stairs and into the house and walking down the hallway; the bathroom was at the end. I remember seeing the door wide open and feeling weird when I saw a nude older boy using the bathroom (doors were not allowed to be closed in his house). I later remember feeling awkward as I walked into the church, the remnants of a bag of sugar smacks being munched on. My Mumma always making sure her kids were fed and safe…
Danny had a good plan. He wore a mask of normalcy and wrapped himself in the cloth of the church. He was the “safe” neighbor that you could trust. This made it easier for him to catch his prey. Danny was a pedophile. He was married with children of his own. He was an equal opportunity pedophile, he raped boys and girls of all ages; he even raped his own children. He told them no one would believe them if they told. He told them that if they told he would kill them and their families. He told them that if they let him rape them that he would leave their kin alone. Some kids continued to be raped in an effort to try to spare their siblings from having the same happen to them. No one told for many years. Danny continued to rape, to talk of religion, to “help” other parents by babysitting and giving parenting advice. He had it made; the children lived in terror.
I can only imagine the horror of a small child who is being repeatedly raped; frightened to tell anyone for fear that they and their parents would be killed. “Agreeing” to continually be abused if it would save their kin from having the same fate thrust upon them; the devastation years later of learning that their kin were told the same thing, you see, being a pedophile he would tell his victims anything to keep them quiet. Lives were shattered on the way to and from church and around the neighborhood. We would never learn just how many kids Danny would claim nor the exact debts his depravity would sink to. All we know now was that one day his abuse went too far and medical professionals would learn of Danny and his dark hidden secrets….
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor and the clinical & executive director of a community counseling agency in central CT (www.docwarren.org).