We continue our series, “Not a Prisoner of the Past,” exploring the challenges facing women and families that are attempting to build their life again after being incarcerated and other life changing circumstances. This is our third post in this series, examining domestic violence. Andrea VanHorn shares more about her work at the YWCA Seattle I King I Snohomish Passage Point, a supportive residential community for parents discharged from the corrections system who would otherwise be homeless and who seek to reunite with their minor children and families. Passage Point also offers support for women, like Tiffany, who are survivors of domestic violence.
Written by Andrea VanHorn, YWCA Seattle I King I Snohomish Community Resource Coordinator
Every day we live, we learn something new. Working at YWCA Passage Point I get to double my chances. Through advocating for residents, hearing their stories, and helping them move forward, I am constantly rewarded with information that no book could teach me. Learning about domestic violence is just one example. I have always known what domestic violence is. I am educated, worldly, and come from a background that had a lot of strife, but it was not until I met Tiffany that I really started to “know” and understand domestic violence and what it means to be a survivor.
Did you know?
Approximately one out of every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and 1.3 million women are victims of domestic violence each year (National Coalition for the Homeless).
Can you imagine sitting with a group of friends or in a room at a party and think that one out four of the women in that room may have been abused?
Tiffany was a victim of domestic violence. She was the one in that room but she never knew it. To her physical and verbal abuse and control was normal. She never knew there was a word to describe the abuse she had encountered her whole life nor did she know it was wrong.
Until her son was taken away from her because of domestic violence in the home and Tiffany became homeless.
Did you know?
Every year, more than 3 million children witness domestic violence in their homes and children who live in homes where there is domestic violence are also victims of abuse or neglect in 30% of 60% of such cases (safehorizon.org).
But Tiffany is a strong woman.
Tiffany moved into Passage Point with one goal – reunite with her son. She immediately set out participating in every program; group, counseling opportunity and activity possible to prove not only to the courts but also but herself that she could be a great mother.
Tiffany enrolled into parenting classes, mental health therapy, domestic violence classes and support groups and approached me multiple times on activities, teaching lessons and appropriate extra-curricular activities for her son. Her passion for learning was contagious and it paid off.
Andrea: What is your biggest success this past year?
Tiffany: Reunification. The biggest success is to have the opportunity to have my own place, with my own rules, with my son and to have an opportunity to learn the tools to be a parent.
Andrea: How has living at Passage Point helped you?
Tiffany: Man. (Laughs). It has helped me managed food, scheduling, keeping me organized, life skills, and help me advocate for myself – because if you cannot speak up for what you want you will never get it. It (Passage Point) helps me better my life so when my son comes home his life will be the best.
Andrea: What does it feel like to be a mother?
Tiffany: (Sighs). The best feeling in the world, it’s like… my situation. I’m a mother regardless, but to feel like a mother, I feel like someone needs me and I’m wanted. I have to give him the life I never had and that is powerful.
Andrea: What have you learned about yourself throughout reunification?
Tiffany: That I’m determined and every goal I have set has been reached. It gets worse before it gets better. The footwork is the hardest part – it’s not done until they (Child Protective Services) are out.
Andrea: If you could tell your child one thing about your experience that could be helpful to him, what would it be?
Tiffany: To handle business before anything. I mean, have your priorities set. If you want to have a family make sure she is your soul mate – know her cues and your childs. Don’t be what other people think you will be because you are African American or what your parents were. I would tell him education is the key to everything and choose family over everything.
Over the year Tiffany learned how to be the parent she wanted to be for her son. But she also learned something about herself and her past. She learned about domestic violence and how she never wanted to be a victim again. Tiffany decided she would no longer be one in four women who are abused or one of the 63% of women who are homeless because of domestic violence. She is survivor and a great mother and thanks to her I learned a lot more.
Are you familiar with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence? They do great work around WA state and provide a lot of leadership around public policy. Check them out!