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I'm Not Broken is a heartbreaking memoir that depicts child exploitation, child abuse, sexual abuse in the United States and the cultural pressures that contributed to a child’s silence. Photo: Martin Mann

Book analysis: 'I’m not Broken' by Jesse Leon

I’m Not Broken is the epitome of triumph against trauma & the inspirational transformation of Jesse, a social impact consultant & alum of UC Berkeley & Harvard

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I never had a prologue feel familiar and distinct from my own. I understand hardship, the lack of U.S educational awareness immigrant families experience, and the uncertainty of making ends-meet. Jesse Leon words haunt me. I never knew anyone that can label themself as ‘poor, sexually abused, drug-addicted’ simultaneously without relinquishing power. Here, he claimed those labels that once haunted him. Visibly accessible to the reader to hold, to safeguard— as the turning of the pages depict the horrors of a life Jesse learned to navigate, endure, and overcome. 

“I was angry that we were poor. I was angry that my mom worked so hard and still she didn’t have the luxury of knowing what I knew. I was angry at the injustice of it all,” Jesse expressed towards the end of the Prologue.

I embrace myself knowing sexual abuse will be discuss in this memoir. I wonder if the first chapter will narrate the things Jesse had to endure. I sigh gently, wondering if I’m capable of embracing his painful story.  Chapter One, discusses the tumultuous family life he faced while still holding on to the nuances that made them a ‘tight unit.’ 

Chapter two crushed me. Finding out how a child, Jesse, was violently raped by an older man shattered me. I could feel his innocence fading the more I read. I could sense his fear and confusion and the need to keep that shame to himself. Chapter three was heartbreaking. The psychological and emotional manipulation enforced by the shopkeeper to continue to rape Jesse only account for Jesse’s need to disassociate himself from reality— which didn’t help that he was introduced to weed by this individual. 

“I learned to detach myself spiritually and emotionally from my body and my thoughts. I learned how to create a psychological barrier that prevented my feeling pain. The beatings hurt, but the pain was manageable when I shut down. I’d leave my body and imagine myself floating above, watching what was happening as if it were a movie,” mentions Jesse in Chapter three. 

Eventually it wasn’t just the shopkeeper abusing Jesse, but other men the shopkeeper would charge as he pimped Jesse over and over again.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime, and 24.8% sexual violence in their lifetime.  

Sexually abused men have to overcome the stigma and stereotypes promoted in different cultures, especially U.S culture where ‘men always want sex.’ 

Jesse states in his book “I learned that forced sex workers in life threatening situations do not self-identify as victims. We are so traumatized that we eventually believe we are making the only choice we have. In order to achieve a sense of normalcy, we are forced to live in an altered reality.” 

Even while trying to be intimate with women, Jesse was still powerless. His needs were never important as others’ desires needed to be met. He complied reluctantly to the many advances and situations that further perpetuated a sense of disgust. 

His Amá, as he often called his mother, was a sign of hope, support, and safety. Even during those moments when he felt unprotected and directed his anger towards her, he knew she cared. She was the only person who ever made him feel the power of pure love. 

Despite his outburst, Chapter six offers a respite. The truth about Jesse’s abuse is revealed and although it is challenging, he finally gets to experience real stillness— “I pulled out a coloring book and crayons. I lay on the floor, as I had done so many times as a kid, and colored,” Jesse explained. A moment that might seem irrelevant to some, was one of the most powerful signs of resilience. Jesse endured countless years of abuse. He felt hopeless, powerless, and helpless, but even through all these emotions, he fought to survive the unthinkable and unbearable. 

Psychiatrist Carl Jung who founded analytical psychology used the coloring of mandalas and drawing as a form of therapy. He stated that “colors are the mother tongue of the subconscious,” and that art therapy would allow individuals to overcome trauma. 

The color choices you select express your psyche. 

Prior to his trauma, Jesse used to color and draw because life had purpose. It felt safe. It felt familiar. Once the abuse happened ‘dark,’ ‘dirty,’ ‘nasty’ were often words he would use to describe himself or the situations he was facing. This is the absence of color, a determinant of his behavior and radical personality change. 

I’m Not Broken is a memoir like no other that depicts child exploitation, child abuse, sexual abuse in the United States and the cultural pressures that contributed to a child’s silence. This memoir found ways to shatter me and even through my discomfort I knew it would never come close to the horrors Jesse endured at the hands of his abusers. The intrusive thoughts of wanting to end his life that eventually led to a life as a sex worker —trying to cope with Amá’s deteriorating health, doing what he could to still survive after being failed by his therapist— a cold, indifferent human being focused on receiving a paycheck than actively helping Jesse and his family heal from the abuse. 

I felt a torch burning inches of my heart with every new discovery of terror that invaded my flesh the longer I read. My heart goes out to Jesse, the child who desperately needed to be held and never got to. This memoir was painful, ripping, and raw. It is a testament of perseverance and growth. ‘I’m not Broken’ is the epitome of triumph against trauma and the inspirational transformation of Jesse, a social impact consultant and alum of UC Berkeley and Harvard University.

Q & A with author Jesse Leon

I had the opportunity to ask Jesse Leon a few questions via email regarding I’m Not Broken. Here is our conversation:

Why was writing a memoir important to you?

Writing my memoir was important to me because too often our narratives, as Latinos, are told by others. I talk about issues that are often not talked about in our communities. Most importantly, I wrote my memoir with the hope that anyone who reads my book who may be experiencing issues with anxiety, mental health issues, sex abuse, trauma, identity, and who feel as alone as I once did, that they can identify and realize that they are not alone and find hope. That in spite of our often painful realities, we are not broken – we can thrive! More success stories of people that have lived through the horrors of abuse and addiction are needed in our communities. 

Were there any information you hesitated in including?

I hesitated including the graphic nature of my experiences but it was important as part of my healing journey and to help identify with the reader who may be or has experienced similar situations and show that we are not alone.  

How difficult was it to revisit your childhood trauma?

Luckily, I am a huge advocate for and continue to go [to] trauma informed therapy, which is about addressing the trauma and being able to talk about it, without reliving it. I am also blessed to have an amazingly strong support system and belong to an amazing community of people in recovery. I continue to go to NA meetings, have a sponsor, work my steps and am of service to others. If I am struggling, I have people I can turn to who love me unconditionally and understand me. I’ve been a public speaker for a very long time and have spoken in front of thousands about issues of trauma, substance abuse, and recovery. 

How long did it take you to write this book?

I wrote my manuscript prior to finding an agent. I needed to do that for me. So, I wrote for years until I knew I was done. It wasn’t until right before COVID that I was blessed to find an agent and then the next part of the journey began, which was publishing the book. To all other aspiring writers – don’t give up on your dream! Keep writing!

What was your family’s response to finding out you wrote a memoir?

My family has been extremely supportive. I have a large extended family. Some have preferred to listen to the audiobook because of the heart and emotion that I put into reading my own audiobook. Others have listened to the audiobook as they follow along with holding the book in hand because they feel like I am there reading with them. The love and support from my family has been amazing! My family in Mexico can’t wait for the Spanish version, NO ESTOY ROTO, to be released on November 22 in paperback, audiobook, and e-book. I also read the Spanish version.

How important was for you to pursue a higher education degree after enduring so many trials and tribulations?

At first, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I started in community college. I even got my cosmetology license to learn a trade because I didn’t know how far I would go with school, which is often the case for many of us who come from low income communities of color who have to work full time while going to school to help support [their] family. Luckily, people were placed in my life at exactly the right time, which I call “Moments of Magic” to help steer me on my path. As I moved onto UC Berkeley, Harvard, and UPENN, I decided that I wanted to be at the table formulating policy and creating philanthropic programs to help our communities, because too often, people like us, especially people like us with lived experiences, are not at the table and others are making decisions for us. Pursuing my higher education helped me identify what I wanted to do and find the right path to achieve my dream of helping others. Also, I was blessed to have people teach me about internships and fellowships along the way, which I had no clue about. One in particular, the Public Policy International Affairs (PPIA) fellowship, helped me focus on public policy and provided financial support towards my Master’s degree. 

Any future plans or book(s) you are currently working on?

My dream is to do a young adult novel adaptation of I’M NOT BROKEN in both English and Spanish. I’d love to have the book be assigned as required reading in community colleges, universities, and master degree programs especially for social work, psychology, public policy, criminal justice, education, ethnic studies, Chicano/Latino studies, Native American studies, LGBTQ+ studies, and affordable housing courses. I hope to have many more “Moments of Magic”where this becomes a reality. 

 

 

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