Eight women sit around a table. Three laugh about something that happened earlier in the day. Two are stirring cups of chocolate milk, chatting like old friends. Another appears lost in thought, quietly looking down at her lap. I rifle through my binder while the woman to my right takes a sip from her water bottle. Even though it is a humid 90 degrees outside, I notice everyone pulling their sweaters tight against the air-conditioned chill in the room. The woman to my right and I are here from The Prevention Project of A Woman’s Place (AWP) – “here” being the Bucks County Correctional Facility. We’ve been invited to lead the other six women in a conversation about a topic with which they are all too familiar: domestic violence.
Regardless of what has brought them to prison, each of their stories share the common thread of abusive relationships. Each of these women has felt the sting of degrading words hurled her way. Each has watched her self-esteem plummet as she was stripped of her dignity, identity, and autonomy. One has even fought for her life during a terrifying instance of extreme physical violence. Unfortunately, the common thread was not that they all knew how to prevent or safely leave a bad relationship, but that they all knew what it meant to be in one, where power and control stood in place of equality and love. Only one could say with certainty that she knew what a healthy relationship is. That she saw an example of such in her parents when she was growing up. For most, however, the concept of a healthy, safe, and loving relationship seemed to be an elusive one – a mythical one, even. On our very first day together, after discussing some warning signs of potentially abusive relationships, the quiet woman at the table shares in a shaky, tear-filled voice that she wished she had known these things sooner.
Well what if she had known those things sooner? What if she had sat through one of our Peace Works or Healthy Relationships programs in school, or attended Peace Works Camp, and laid the foundation for her future self to have healthy relationships? What if she had learned from an AWP guest speaker at her faith group that she deserves to be respected in her relationships? What if a friend had discovered the services available at AWP through a presentation to her community group , and helped connect her with much-needed support? What if she’d spoken to her health care provider about her safety at home?
No one can say for sure what would’ve happened but she firmly believes that knowing these things sooner would have changed the course of her life. And now that she does know, she is committed to raising her son in a peaceful, positive, and nonviolent home. So that maybe he will be one less person in need of domestic violence services. So that maybe he can do his small part to help this country eliminate the need to spend $5.8 billion a year on domestic violence. What if he helps to free up that $5.8 billion? Who knows! The possibilities for a flourishing community are endless when its members are empowered with knowledge, resources, and maybe just a little extra spending money.
The Prevention Project Team