The Bristlecone Project

Portraits and Biographies of Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Joe Leistman

Joe was adopted from Canada and raised in New Jersey. When he was 13 years old, his adoptive mother, who had abused both Joe and his sister, abandoned the family. A bitter divorce battle followed, and Joe and his sister lived thereafter with their adoptive father. In the midst of these cataclysmic changes, the Scout master of Joe’s Boy Scout troop began spending more and more time with Joe, and ultimately sexually abused Joe for the first time during a trip to the Gettysburg battlefield. The repeated sexual abuse, and the earlier traumas of his childhood contributed to Joe’s increasingly turbulent adolescence. He began using drugs, and eventually became addicted. He got into repeated trouble with the law as he got deeper into criminal activity. It became a pattern, with numerous stints in state prisons across the country.

But the seeds of transformation survived even within the dark walls of prison. During a visit to prison from his father and grandfather, Joe disclosed the sexual abuse for the first time. Reading voraciously, even during long stints in solitary confinement, Joe began the long process of confronting the legacies of his childhood traumas. Clean and free since 2007, Joe is now working on his life story, “Broken Boy, Meaningful Man.”