I Was Abused By My Husband, Then Incarcerated. I’m Still Standing

Photographed by Kara Birnbaum.
Ideally, home should feel warm. But for the 10 million people who experience domestic violence every year, home can be a scary and unsafe place. 
On average, nearly 20 people in the US are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute. As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, forcing people to stay indoors, that number may be growing. Estimates suggest that three months of quarantine could result in a 20 percent rise in intimate partner violence, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Although in some cities calls to hotlines have been less frequent throughout the pandemic, experts tell The Marshall Project they believe that’s because people have fewer opportunities to reach out for help. Their abusers may not be leaving the house to go to work, for instance, removing a critical window that could allow them to break free.
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One fact that’s often left out of the discussion around intimate partner violence: Survivors have an increased risk of being incarcerated, and are often treated as offenders by the state. During the “Night Of Solidarity,” a fundraising event on May 13 that helped raise money for domestic violence prevention organisations (full video here), one woman shared how she was arrested while planning to escape from a violent partner. You can watch a dramatic reading of her story here. This was her all-too-common experience.
Growing up I felt like a backwoods princess. Ken pushed that princess into hiding. Ken was my husband. I married him trying to fill the void of an absentee father. There was never really love between us. He got me high and I gave him sex. 
His calloused hands were as hard as his hits that came six months into our marriage. Two and a half years after the first hit landed, I found myself standing alone, pregnant, in my grandparents house. 
I stared at myself in the mirror. My makeup was darker than it should have been. My dark pink tank top, long enough to cover the yellowing marks of each kick on my back, stomach, ribs. Staring at myself in the mirror something shifted…I was going to be a mother now. My baby had to have a better life. I had to get rid of Ken. 
I started looking for a job. Then I would search for domestic violence shelters. I’d put my applications in. It was a start of a plan. 
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Turns out God had a different plan. 
Ten weeks after my son’s birth, I woke up in the middle of the night to Ken screaming, “Call 911, call 911.” His niece has been staying with us. And she was injured. 
The medic said that it was something like shaken baby syndrome. Ken and I were arrested. I was charged with child endangerment. The court said I was just as guilty as he was because I was in the house with children and I knew he was an abuser. 
I received a five-year sentence. Ken received six. The judge gave me early release. He realised the mistake had been made in my case. Problem is I had no home to go back to.
It’s easy to get back into a relationship with your abuser once you’re released. 
I was lucky. I was released to a shelter. I took classes that helped me talk about what I’d been through. The support was tremendous. 
Being a felon you wonder, “Who’s gonna hire me?” 
I found a job in the food service industry. The bar I work at, everyone is super supportive. From the bosses to the regulars. They know about my past and they welcome me with open arms.
Ken gets out next year. That scares me. But in the last few years, I’ve learnt to listen to what I want. And I don’t want to waste another day — another day in the shadows of my mistakes. 
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, please call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 0808 2000 247 for confidential support. 
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