The Healing Power of Anonymous Letters

Jeff - Federal Way, Washington
Entered on March 24, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I grew up in Los Angeles in a violence filled housing project, nicknamed Dog Town. Last year I finally got help to deal with my childhood experiences. My mental health counselor said that I was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, even before I got help, I would write to people from my past. I have no plans to send what I write to anyone, because I believe in the healing power of anonymous letters.

The worst events in my life happened nearly 30 years ago. One event that my counselor helped me work through took place just after I started 8th grade. I got off the school bus daydreaming about Ananda, a pretty girl in one of my classes. I should have been paying attention. I got too close to a group of gang members. One of them pulled out a gun, put it to my head and after using a racial slur, angrily asked, “Do you want to die?” With my thoughts about Ananda abruptly halted, I barely squeaked out the short answer “No.” I thought I would be dead soon, since during the past summer members from the same gang had murdered someone I knew. Fortunately, the shot I was sure was coming never came.

The next morning, some of neighborhood boys asked me about the incident. Almost all the details were the same, but they kept mentioning a gun that I did not remember. They said that I must be crazy if I could not remember that a gun was pointing at my head the day before.

This was only one of several times someone threatened to kill me with a gun. Frightening memories began to trouble me years later.

One way that I deal with my past is to write to people to tell them how they made me feel. In the letters, I talk about how emotionally scarred I was because of what they did and that despite everything I am unbroken, that I am still here.

These anonymous letters allow me to rant, express empathy or to give or ask for forgiveness. I wrote to the first gang member who pointed a gun at me telling him how sorry I feel for him, since he is likely dead or in prison. I wrote to my alcoholic father who died in 2001 who once told me in a drunken rage that he was going to blow my mother “F word” head off, while reaching for his gun. At age 16 I probably became a father myself, but lost contact with the mother so never knew for sure. I wrote my probable child to apologize for us never meeting, for us never having our rightful relationship and for their own bad experiences in Dog Town.

Places like and allow me to post my healing letters anonymously. I believe that those who have had experiences similar to mine might begin to heal by reading my letters and then writing their own.