Jonathan Friesen stood in front of a mass of people, recounting the emotional story of his personal struggles. The group was unlike Friesen’s usual crowd—he was in a prison, surrounded by inmates. Concluding his speech, Friesen watched a prison guard begin calling out numbers. The group slowly trickled out of the room. As the guard called number 68, the flow changed. Turning around, the prisoner didn’t follow the others out the door, but approached Friesen in tears. He began confessing his wrongdoings, telling Friesen about the people he killed and the way he did it. He recited things no one else knew, he unfolded his secrets. This opened the floodgates. One by one, other men began to confess their stories to Friesen. Once they finished, the guard told him that was the first time that had ever happened.
This made Friesen contemplate the secrets held in prisons. He began to wonder what would happen if those secrets were to get out.
These thoughts brought to life Friesen’s most recent book, “Unfolding.” A book about a single secret bound in a town, he tells a tale of a prisoner holding a secret in a jail—a secret that holds the whole town in captivity. The prisoner is the only one held in the jail, and once he gets out the secret does too.
Friesen said he has never seen himself solely as a writer. Instead, he considers himself a speaker and a writer. He never enjoyed writing while growing up because of his turrets syndrome. He knew he loved to tell stories, but didn’t see himself as a writer. It wasn’t until he was sitting with a room full of fifth graders about 20 years ago that his eyes were opened to the possibility of creating novels. These elementary students gave him to passion to write for young adults.
After some thought and conversations with his wife, Friesen quit teaching and became a full time writer. For 10 years he wrote books and spoke at various conferences. One conference was at North Central, and a year later, the fall of 2014, he found himself back at the university working as an education professor.
Friesen continues to write novels in addition to his professorial duties. He speaks across the country on the weekends and writes in the summer.
Friesen writes for Penguin Random House, the world’s largest publishing house, as well as Zondervan, a Christian publishing house, who produced his latest novel. The publishing house that he uses varies from book to book, depending on where he wants the book to be sold— either at Christian bookstores or public sectors like Barnes and Noble. He said that he does not currently have an idea for his next book, but will begin another when he does.
“My goal for my books is always that somewhere in [the book],” Friesen said. “If someone can find hope in the pages, I feel like I did my job.”