This was my very first post, as I had never used Facebook. I joined to aid my recovery process after leaving the Jehovah’s Witness organization. The post was a sort of “coming out.” I wrote about the British television series from the 1960s known as “The Prisoner.” Freedom of mind, individuality, and escape were themes central to the show.
It never occurred to me that researching and writing would become an important part of my life and work over the next 4 years.
Jehovah’s Witnesses rarely write, and when they do, their thoughts and writings are closely monitored by fellow tattle-tale Witnesses and congregation elders, who are sometimes borderline illiterate, or completely devoid of any desire to put their thoughts down in writing.
The Witness environment is not where you want to be if you desire to express yourself. Social media posts are monitored, questioned, and scrutinized. Independent thinking is out of the question. Anyone opposing Watchtower’s revolving dogma-door will be introduced to the business end of an elder’s conference room.
And if you are a woman – forget it.
So I extracted myself from the Jehovah’s Witness mental incarceration and began writing. Nothing prolific – just a few posts here and there, but enough to recognize that this is where I need to be. Just over a year later I engaged with the Australian Royal Commission and wrote an email which affected the outcome of the Commission. It resulted in the subpoena of a Governing Body member. Recently I received correspondence from the Commission confirming the events which led to that subpoena, and I hope to write about that soon.
Words, evidence, and facts matter
By the end of 2015, I started writing for JW Survey, a website which analyzes the latest Watchtower developments. A few months later, I became an editor, together with “Covert Fade” – a well-respected, intelligent fader from the JW religion. We coordinated and collaborated on our own articles and posts, along with contributed pieces from a litany of former Witnesses.
From simple Facebook posts to investigative journalism, a lot has happened in four years. Writing matters. If you don’t dig into a story, you will never get answers. And if you don’t get answers, neither will the public. In 2016 I dug deep enough into Watchtower’s “Telly award” news post that I was able to unearth a decades-long pattern of self-promotion in the form of fake media awards. Before the end of the year, Watchtower pulled down their news article and refused to comment on the reason for this move.
In 2017 I traveled to Philadelphia for a week to cover the Fessler versus Watchtower trial, which in retrospect was the best decision I made that year. The trial itself was not covered by the media, except for a reporter who arrived just in time for the settlement by Watchtower, and the subsequent sealing off of this case by a non-disclosure agreement. Thankfully I was there, and still have information to publish about that case. It was an eye-opening experience.
The Fessler coverage landed me an invitation to speak at the London Reveal conference a few months later, where I met journalist Mike Michael Rezendes from the Boston Globe – the inspirational coordinator of the Spotlight team which exposed institutional abuses and corruption inside the Catholic Church. I remember asking Mike what he felt was the most important part of his investigative journalism. He answered: “Documents.”
This was good advice. Recently it paid off when I began investigating the status of the Delaware versus Laurel Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses child abuse case, where elders have been held responsible for failure to report abuse. Very soon I will be reporting on the outcome of this case, thanks to documents I have filed for from the State of Delaware. Watchtower attempted to sweep the outcome of this case under the carpet – but I am not going to let that happen. The penalties imposed by the court will soon become public knowledge, thanks to documents.
A lot has happened in 4 years, since my first Facebook post. In that post, I wrote about the British “Prisoner” series, which was a metaphor for my own life. At the end of 2016, I visited the Portmeirion village in Wales, the iconic home of the Prisoner series, which was filmed 50 years ago. It seemed appropriate that I journeyed there with JW Survey founder Lloyd Evans, and our co-worker Covert Fade. I think we’ve all come a long way.
What will the next 4 years hold for all of us? I can’t be sure, but I can tell you this: We will continue to research, to write, and most importantly, to help individuals wake up from lies, undue influence, and indoctrination.
We will welcome former Witnesses with open arms, much like Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they will welcome back the dead in the “New System of Things.” Except this resurrection is real, and men and women are being brought back to life in ways they never thought possible.
For all those who are my friends, both in person and around the world, I thank you for listening for four years. If I have learned anything, it is that one person can make a difference. Keep on reading, keep on writing, and never underestimate your ability to make this world a better place.
Mark O'Donnell is a former Jehovah's Witness turned whistleblower after discovering the disturbing child abuse epidemic within the religion. His story, along with the revelation of a secret database of child molesters were featured in the March 2019 online issue of the Atlantic Magazine:
O'Donnell continues to investigate allegations of child abuse within the Witness organization, and works with law enforcement, attorneys, and survivors of abuse, writing about his findings on jwsurvey.org and other outlets.