Jessica Willis Fisher’s ‘Unspeakable’ breaks silence on her father’s abuse

For 25 years, Toby Willis ruled his family of 12 musical children like a dictator. No one dared to disobey the patriarch – seen on TLC’s “The Willis Family” – even though he also sexually abused at least four of his young daughters. Other children were beaten, some to the point of bruising and blood.

Today, 52-year-old Willis is inmate #581910 at Tennessee State Prison in Tiptonville, where he is serving a 40-year sentence for child rape. Her eldest daughter, singer-songwriter Jessica Willis Fisher, bravely reported it to authorities in 2016.

His new memoirs “Unspeakable(Thomas Nelson), chronicles both her harrowing childhood in a fundamentalist Christian family and the nightmare that ensued when she tried to escape from the family six years ago. The Willis clan first rose to fame in 2014, when they appeared on season 9 of “America has talent and later starred on the short-lived TLC show in 2015 and 2016.

Jessica WillisFisher
Willis Fisher recounts his abusive childhood in his new memoir, “Unspeakable.”

Willis Fisher says she has fond memories of life with her siblings growing up, including frequent tours of Ireland – but the bad far outweigh the good.

“I was literally doing shows and singing and putting on a performance, but I was also putting on a performance every day offstage and pretending to be happy,” she told the Post during a recent trip to New York with her husband, photographer Sean Fisher. . “I was spanked and beaten for not smiling.”

Toby Willis
Toby Willis, 52, is currently serving a 40-year sentence at Tennessee State Prison in Tiptonville.

Even at 23, despite being the lead singer, fiddler and main songwriter of the family band, Jessica was not allowed to have a cell phone and was forbidden to go on unchaperoned dates. Like many of his siblings, his clothes and hairstyle had to be approved by his father – who kept a supply of AR-15s at home. When she started to rebel and indicated that she wanted to leave home in her early twenties, her father called her “evil”. Her mother and some of her siblings urged her not to go and blamed her for upsetting the family dynamic, despite being well aware of Toby Willis’ long history of abuse.

Toby’s own childhood was marked by tragedy. His parents, Pastor Scott and his wife Janet, were the only survivors of a burning van accident in Wisconsin in 1994, in which six of their nine children were killed. The family later won a $100 million settlement.

The Willis in 2014, when they appeared on Season 9 of
The Willis clan first came into the public eye in 2014, when they appeared on season 9 of “America’s Got Talent.”
Eric Liebowitz/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

A high school wrestling champion, Toby met his future wife Brenda when they were both teenagers. They married around 1990 and soon began to expand their family; Jessica, the eldest daughter, was born in the Chicago area in 1992. The family grew – there would be 12 children in total, all with names beginning with “J” – and in 2001 they moved just to outside of Nashville, Tennessee, to a home that once belonged to country star Randy Travis. They homeschooled their children, enforcing strict extracurricular activities, including wrestling, competitive swing dancing, instrument playing, and singing.

After being silent for decades, Willis Fisher, now 30, first wrote about her childhood in a shocking way. 2018 blog post which began in part with: “As far as I can remember, I was sexually abused by my father. I understood that I was around three years old in some of the earliest memories.

‘I was . . . sing and put on a performance, but I was also doing a performance every day off stage.

Jessica Willis Fisher on the hidden torment of her father’s abuse

Her mother approached her when Jessica was nine and asked if her father was behaving inappropriately. Jessica nodded – a little uncertain. But her father denied it all and then became more surreptitious and “dangerous” in his abuse, writes Willis Fisher. “I would say it’s amazing that we don’t talk about it,” she says of the years at the Willis house and on tour where she and her sisters were sexually assaulted. “A lot later we got to the point where there were conversations about the problem, the dad problem. But none of those times did I say daddy this or that to me.

It only came out in August 2015 when Willis Fisher, in agony and in a deep depression, wrote a 14-page letter to his mother, pouring out the often ‘graphic’ abuse she suffered at the hands of his mother. from his father.

Jessica WillisFisher
“As far back as I can remember, I was sexually abused by my father,” Willis Fisher wrote in a 2018 blog post. “I figured out I was around three years old in some of the earliest memories.”
Sean Fisher for the New York Post

Despite the shocking revelation, nothing has really changed in the family where Toby enjoyed cult leader status.

“My mother begged me to comply during (the clashes with her father), proving that her sympathy was only available if my father was not there to demand her support,” Willis Fisher writes. “When I pulled her one way and daddy the other, daddy’s strings always won.”

Brenda Willis, now 53, lives outside of Nashville with her young children. Six of the Willis children, including Jessica, have been married since their father was jailed in 2016. Jessica said her mother divorced Toby, although she kept a picture of him on her Facebook profile for months afterwards. his arrest before finally deleting it.

The Willis Family on TLC
The Grand Ole Opry performer Willis family cast a happy vision on their TLC reality show before Jessica Willis Fisher (middle) reported her father to police in 2016.

“I know my mother loves me,” says Willis Fisher. “But yes, she let me down.”

Brenda Willis declined to comment and abruptly hung up when called by The Post. But she strongly supported Jessica on her Facebook page, linking to her memoir and saying she’s proud of her.

With the encouragement of her husband Sean, the son of PetFisher, who ran the Grand Ole Opry for 30 years before stepping down in 2017, Willis Fisher finally worked up the courage to leave her family home on April 7, 2016, just hours after her father beat her with a belt and told her off. asked to apologize after an argument.

Jessica WillisFisher
Willis Fisher lives with her husband in Nashville and enjoys friendly relations with her siblings and her mother.
Sean Fisher for the New York Post

She writes that she was physically prevented by her family from leaving; her little sister was sobbing and clinging to her legs. But on April 7, something inside her broke her. She was determined to leave home for good.

“Staying doesn’t help anyone,” Willis Fisher writes of his achievement. “I can’t save them here. I thought I might die if I didn’t leave.

She later considered reaching out to her father in prison and possibly visiting him, but when she found out he had the option to refuse the request, she said she didn’t want to give it to him. this choice.

Jessica WillisFisher
The memoir is a “witness statement,” says Willis Fisher, who also recently released a companion album called “Brand New Day.”
Sean Fisher for the New York Post

“The truth is, I don’t know what was going through my dad’s head,” she said. “Did he really think we were going to go on like this forever? Our family was like a cult and there are cults that have been going on for generations. Was this what he was hoping for? I do not know. It’s scary to remember some of the dreams he had for us and his grandchildren.

Despite everything, she remains faithful to her mother and her siblings, and emphasizes that the book is her own personal experience – she cannot speak for her entire family. “Unspeakable” isn’t overly graphic in its description of the abuse Jessica suffered, but it doesn’t shy away from some gruesome details and comes with a trigger warning. Willis Fisher also released a highly rated album, “New day,” in April. She wrote nine of the 10 songs and says it serves as a supplement to her memoir, which she calls her “witness statement.”

Unspeakable: Surviving My Childhood and Finding My Voice by Jessica Willis Fisher
Cover of “Unspeakable” memoir by Jessica Willis Fisher

“I originally wrote this book for my own healing,” says Fisher.

“Whether someone else saw it or not, that was the first and most important thing. Because for almost 25 years I tried to make other people happy. I was trying to protect them , whether it was playing in the band or trying to put on this show that everything was fine, but inside I was hurting so priorities had to be rearranged immediately and I had to start taking care of myself.

Today, Fisher Willis lives with her husband in Nashville and is friends with her siblings and mother. She performed last year at the Grand Ole Opry, where she appeared with The Willis Clan as a teenager, and performs regularly at other venues.

“I don’t want to be defined by what my dad did,” she says. “I’ve had people ask me, ‘Do you want to be defined by this?’ ‘But since I don’t define myself by that, it’s not my problem if others do.

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