By Addie Whitlow, Features Editor — Almost all families have their secrets, and J. Ronald M. York details a concealed and mysterious family secret he unearthed from a box of letters exchanged between his parents over 60 years ago in his first novel, “Kept in the Dark.”
He will be signing copies of the book this Saturday at Artists on the Loose.
“Kept in the Dark,” written by the Nashville-based artist and author and published in January 2017, contains copies of 100 letters York’s father sent to his mother while he spent eight weeks in a Florida jail on charges of child molestation from his time as Boy Scout troop leader in Miami, Florida.
York was a very young child at the time, and he doesn’t recall his time spent without his father; his family never mentioned the fact that his father spent time in prison, either.
Finding the box of letters – and newspaper clippings and photographs – years after his parents had passed away led York to conduct an extensive amount of research to learn more about this dark secret he had previously known nothing about.
After processing the information that he found in the letters and researching to figure out more, York said he had initially thought about just publishing the letters by themselves.
However, he decided that he’d rather turn it into a book, which he narrates, to tell the story of the important role his parents played in his life.
“I realized that by putting [the letters] out, that’s such a [small] blip in a very long life,” York explained. “There’s so much more to my parents life than that crime, which was a part of my parents life [but not mine].”
In addition to providing details about the contents within the letters and how he went about processing them, York said that he needed to tell about the life he had with his parents.
“It is kind of a powerful love story, and [a story about] the love I got from my parents,” said York.
After York initially found the box of letters, he didn’t open it for over a decade because he said he wasn’t quite ready to figure out what was inside.
“I waited 15 years [to open the box]; had I opened it back then, there would have been people who could have pieced it together, but by waiting, everyone is gone; there is no one to be hurt by it,” York said.
York didn’t fully decide to open the box of letters until after he watched a movie that dealt with the discovery of the sexual abuse of boys in the Catholic church.
As someone who was sexually abused as a child, the movie had a huge impact on York, and it was after the film ended that he decided to finally open the box and learn what was inside.
“The catalyst that had me do this was, last January, when I watched the movie ‘Spotlight.’ Dealing with the abuse in the Catholic church, and as someone who was abused, it struck home with me,” explained York. “When the movie ended, I needed to know what was in the box.”
York said he believes that his parents meant for him to find the contents of his father’s time in prison after they passed away.
His parents could have easily thrown the box away, but they held onto it for over 60 years; they moved states several times, but the box always went with them.
“This [box] was left for me for a purpose. It was found at the time it needed to be found,” York said.
Now that the book containing the details of the secret his parents kept for so long has been published, York said the support he’s gotten has been overwhelming.
He said it has moved past friends and loved ones; now, York is receiving responses from strangers who’ve read his book and been impacted by it.
“The response has been amazing; I’ve been blown away by the fact that so many people have come to me with something in their life, either they’ve been molested or someone in their family has, and [my story] helps them,” York explained. “I look at it kind of as, some people, they have this [secret], but they maybe they aren’t strong enough to come forward with it, but with me doing this, it gives them the strength.”
York said that if his book can help start dialogues, then he’s more than happy to be the poster child for these types of issues that are often difficult to talk about.
“Since it’s been published, I kind of looked at it as that, I was on this journey of discovery and all that, and this journey would continue, but I’ve now started a new journey,” said York. “Now that all of this is known, I’m relating to people with this.”
York will be in Chattanooga on Saturday, March 11, to sign copies of his book and meet his fans.
He will be holding a book signing at Artists on the Loose from 1 to 4 p.m., so be sure to stop by this weekend to meet the author of this gripping novel.