Thursday, May 12, 2016

Letter to the editor

Last week, I mentioned that I was "slightly terrified" because I wrote a letter to the editor that shared some personal details.  I thought I'd share my experience with you.

A few weeks ago, I had a serious talk about a particular case that occurred in the school district that I attended 7th through 12th grade.  To remind you:   A high school softball coach and social studies teacher has committed suicide after accusations of sexual misconduct with a student.  You can read an article about it here. 

I couldn't stop thinking about this case.  The people directly effected and the community too.  I threw out the idea to a friend of mine that still lives in the area (she works for the paper) that I might write a letter to the editor.  After all, I've got a personal point-of-view that not many have.  This letter was crafted several times.  Personally, I was swirling with emotion...the letter reflected that.  Several drafts were scattered and all over the place.  I kept thinking "what is the one thing, the most important element that I want to focus on?"  That helped. 

Also, I asked a couple of close confidants that happen to be strong women who I respect that knew me at the time (and know me now).  I even pulled out the "big guns" and asked my 11th grade beloved English teacher to take a look and freely edit. 

Once I was satisfied with my letter and the message I wanted to share, I emailed it to the editor.  I thought I had been "ghosted".  I didn't hear a peep.  But, I felt my message was important and timely considering the allegation and subsequent suicide that happened in the area.  I emailed again.  I got a response, and he asked me to call him to discuss a couple of concerns/questions that he had.

Now, I must give this editor props.  He was fair, ethical, and thoughtful.  He wanted to make sure that I was prepared to share my name and identifying facts about myself.  I respected that.  We discussed a few questions he had about what I was sharing, and he reinforced my belief that yes, this was an important message to share with the community.

So...the letter printed.  Here it is...  Letter to the editor: Both sides of a sad case deserve our compassion
To the editor:

I am a 1991 graduate of Oak Ridge High School currently living in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. I have a daily routine: I read Houston-area news, USA news, Australian news and World news.
When I read news reports about alleged inappropriate relationships between a teacher and a student, as is the case with many criminal allegations, especially those of a sexual nature, I am aware of the controversy and varying opinions surrounding these cases. Fair enough. But, I feel I have personal insight that is worth sharing.

I was that 17-year-old student. I did know better. I was an intelligent, honors student who was involved in many school activities.

I was manipulated by a teacher 10 years older than I. He was a Social Studies teacher and football coach who was respected, attractive, articulate and had a master’s degree. He groomed me when I was 16 but didn’t act on it until I was 17. He convinced me that my parents were neglecting me (They weren’t). He made lofty promises of love, security and devotion. He tried to convince me that my choice of worship was not good enough; that his choice of faith was better for me. He encouraged me to separate myself from most of my friends, yet keep others who could cover for us.
Yes, I knew better than to get involved with him, but I was still young enough and impressionable enough that his ploys messed with my head, my heart, my emotions and my decision-making skills. He definitely used his age, experience and status to manipulate the situation for his favor. An inappropriate relationship occurred throughout my entire senior year of high school.

Eventually, I married this man when I was 19; and I was divorced by 21. During that time, I moved to another part of the country to be with him. His control and manipulation of me continued.

It took many years of hiding from the aftermath of this relationship, of trying to numb my pain, or avoid my feelings, or fake being strong. I’d often hide behind laughter, tell self-deprecating stories, or allowed myself to be at the butt end of jokes. Or, I was encouraged to not disclose it at all. Hide it. Sweep it under the rug.

All these years, I’ve carried some pretty deep, dark scars from this relationship. I felt tainted and unworthy of love and respect. I experienced a difficult time recognizing the manipulation in that relationship and how it affected my self-worth. It took years to recognize the “grooming” that occurred for him to win my trust and convince me of the role in my life he was determined to play.
I am not sharing my story for you to feel sorry for me or to judge me. By sharing these personal details, I hope to bring awareness and offer a perspective from an adult who experienced this type of relationship as a teenager.

Which brings me to the news story that has inspired me to write to the Montgomery County area ... the tragic and disturbing events surrounding the allegations and death of The Woodlands High School’s Richard Harvey Jorgensen: A high school softball coach and Social Studies teacher has committed suicide after accusations of sexual misconduct with a student.

The current story is filled with controversial material. The coach and teacher was married with children. He was only accused, so in light of America being a country where one is innocent until proven guilty, I don’t want to make judgment of guilt or innocence. Some may say he killed himself because of the guilt he felt, or the fear he felt for getting caught, or the stress he felt for being accused of something he didn’t do. We don’t know his story.

If the accusations of misconduct are true, can you imagine what that 16-year-old girl is feeling now? Accompanied with the trauma, shame, embarrassment and confusion she was most likely already experiencing, now she is unjustly carrying feelings of guilt as well. If the accusations are true, he added another heap of negativity to that 16-year-old plus the additional trauma he has caused his wife and children.

I encourage you as a community to unite and offer compassion, support, encouragement and assistance to everyone affected: the 16-year-old accuser, her family, friends, fellow students and loved ones; plus the family and loved ones of Mr. Jorgensen, his wife, his children, his former students and players, faculty and work colleagues.

I encourage you to refrain from passing judgment, speculation or ridicule.

Personally, I still struggle at times. For instance, in writing this piece, well, it hasn’t been easy. I’ve written, deleted, written again, deleted.  I still have a hard time thinking of myself as a victim. At that time, there was no felonious law in Texas to criminalize such a relationship between an educator and a student. If our relationship transpired post-2003, he would be guilty of committing a felony, and I would be a victim. At the time, that law did not exist. No crime was committed, and no charges were filed. The guilt, shame and embarrassment, the self-loathing and blame that I still fight to this day don’t allow me to grasp this and acknowledge it fully. I’m still working.

Erin Gray
Sydney, Australia
Former Oak Ridge resident

Then & Now

When I emailed it, I shared it with my parents.  Neither had much to say.  I'm not going to lie.  That hurts a little.  It still makes me feel ashamed and like they'd rather me "keep quiet" about my experiences.  I am making assumptions.  That may not be what they think at all, but that's how I feel.

I received an overwhelming amount of support from former high school friends (and people I barely knew), from a friend of my mother's, from a couple of my aunts, from a parent of a friend that I was close to at the time...really, I was shocked by the number of positive responses that I received.  What I most appreciated was a few shared my post and encouraged parents to use it as a talking tool with their teenagers.  I liked that.  A lot. 

There were a couple of questionable comments on the link I attached (the paper's website), but those comments are going to happen.  And, I didn't want to get in a keyboard battle with those couple of people. 

If you have teens (or pre-teens), I encourage you to discuss inappropriate and appropriate relationships.  Coaches and teachers can be valuable, influential mentors in kids' lives.  Those are the ones that don't get thanked enough for all they do.  Sadly, there are some ugly, effed up adults that use their position of influence to steer a student down the wrong path. 

Talk to your kids about it...before it happens.  If you have any questions for me about this, ask.  I'm (finally) at the point I'm willing to share and want to help.  Talk to your kids about coming to you if they know a friend in such a situation.  Or suspect a friend.  Get involved.  I know, I would have not responded well to someone getting involved in my "relationship" at the time.  But, I sure wish they would have.



  1. oh girl. my brave friend! so one of your friends posted a link on fb to the letter and i read a few days ago and have meant to reach out. i love loved it! you're so strong and have all the courage. i am glad you have friends support :)

    xoxo cheshire kat

  2. Kudos for putting yourself out there in order to make a community think about how they might approach this as a whole in a way that will not further damage that girl. I'm proud of you!

  3. Good job and yayyyy for mostly positive responses, it's hard to put yourself out there but sometimes necessary.

  4. I think it's awesome how brave you were to share that part of your life with so many people. It's not easy but hopefully it makes a difference and opens conversation.

  5. I love that you've used your negative experience as a positive teaching tool for parents and pre-/teens. Not only that, but you're shedding light on a situation that most adults have never been through.
    There are few people with your experience and even fewer that have come out of it strong and brave and ready to help others- you're an amazing individual. I'm so proud to "know" you through the blog world- I think you're an honest, admirable woman!

  6. Good for you for posting that... you never know if you help just ONE person speak up about their situation or seek help. It takes courage to put things about your life out there on a topic that is debated on.
    I love when people maybe open the eyes of writers that really didnt' think about more to the story or the other side.

  7. What a fabulous letter. It's so wonderful to hear that your letter has become a springboard for discussion of this among parents and teens.

  8. Erin, I am so proud of you for sharing what was obviously an extremely difficult time in your life, even though you knew that some trolls would show-up. They don't matter. What you did matters and is helping those involved heal and others think a bit differently. We are so quick to judge, especially in crimes like this. There are always two sides to a story and people deserve compassion and support, not judgment. You did an amazing, brave thing, Erin. I hope this helps you heal a little bit more and lessens the hold that dark time has on you.

  9. Oh my goodness, Erin that letter was seriously so powerful! I love that you talked about both sides, even though you are a victim of a similar crime yourself, and that you encouraged the community to join together. That takes a lot of strength and bravery to be able to open yourself up like that! Don't let the internet trolls get you down either! Whatever they're saying is total bull anyways!

  10. You are so brave for sharing your story, which will hopefully help others who may be in the same situation or may be about to embark upon a similar one!

  11. This is so well-written. I'm so proud of you for sharing your experience. Hopefully it makes people think about this specific situation as well as other instances of this.

  12. I have so much respect for you to not only share this story on your blog, but to write to the newspaper in hopes to help heal the community as this tragedy plays out. It isn't easy to share something of this nature, and there are always going to be some negative comments but I for one thing this letter was wonderfully written and it most certainly should be shared with children to help them understand that this stuff does in fact go on. To prevent them from manipulation. Kudos!

  13. I read this first early this morning, but knew I was coherent enough to fully digest it. Having read it a second time just now, I must say that what you did took a lot of guts, girl. This is probably one of the bravest acts I have ever witnessed. I applaud you for sharing your experience with the world. You and I would have gone to high school together, so as I read your story, I tried to imagine what that would have looked like in the early 1990s. Can you imagine what a similar scenario would look like now, with all the easy access to technology? Scary stuff. I do hope that your letter encourages meaningful dialogue between teenagers and trusted adults about the dangers of the world we live in.

  14. Again, girl, you are awesome! I have no other words than that. Really, you are a strong gal for sharing this experience with so many people. I'm sending you a big ol' hug all the way from Wisconsin cuz, girl, you deserve it! :)

  15. Way to go, Erin! That takes so much courage to share such a personal story. I bet it's making a difference to all those who read it even if they don't yet realize it. I know it's made me re-think my position on this particular issue and has helped me work harder to try to see and understand other angles.

  16. Wow, so brave for sharing this. I can understand how it would take a while and a lot of reflection to get to that point. I am sure that the article was helpful and inspiring to so many. I am sure your POV is helping to spark good conversations. That is so great. I'm really happy for you that you were able to get out of that bad relationship, and move forward, and process all that has happened. I can't imagine how hard that must of been. We had a situation that was similar in my school. It was a female teacher and a student on her softball team. I didn't know any of the gossip or details, and I don't remember hearing about it in the newspaper... but she lost her teaching license. I actually ran into her at another job later in life... and it was kind of strange. But I really don't know what did or did not happen. A very hard situation for all. E-hugs. XO - Alexandra

    Simply Alexandra: My Favorite Things

  17. Erin. Thank you for letting us—and your community back at home, and every community that this letter will touch—in on your story. It couldn't have been easy to confront the feelings you had and continue to have about this situation in light of your past, so kudos to you for doing so. I'm sorry that not all the response was positive (but unfortunately, as you noted, we can't really expect them to be). But I'm glad to hear the support you've mostly received, and so happy to hear this could be a useful tool for parents and their teens. The subject of grooming as you mention it in your letter is SO under-realized in cases like this, and in others where it's not even a de facto authority figure but simply someone older and with social influence. It's so important for people to be aware of all that happens on both sides of an actual occurrence or allegation of this kind of behavior. So though it can't be easy for you to have written and sent this letter and receive the feedback, you can rest easy knowing it may end up being a life-changer for someone out there.

  18. Erin. So much love for you, for sharing this post and writing that letter. I am of course sorry you went through this, but thankful that you have turned into the woman you are today, helping people. If I have teenagers one day, I will absolutely share your story with them. I wish I had better words to convey my feelings for this post and your story. Thank you for being you xxx


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