FSS is honored to partner with the Jack Duncan Rhodes Foundation to offer RELATE to Amarillo area teens.
The Jack Duncan Rhodes Teen Suicide Prevention Program started RELATE as a way to promote emotional well-being, healthy coping strategies, and provide a place for teens to make connections with other teens who are navigating the journey of being a teenager and facing the same struggles they are.
RELATE will offer teens a supportive atmosphere with the only people in the world who truly understand the struggles of being a teen… other teens.
For more information about RELATE, please call 806-342-2530
When most people see me, they see the image that I put forward; I’m a young successful man with a good job, a nice car, and a stable life.
What they don’t see is that I come from a broken home where violence was the norm, and that I know all too well the pain that domestic violence can bring.
I've spent years trying to keep the struggles that my family has endured a secret; I tried to make sure that people only knew the version of me that I wanted them to know. However, in recent years as I’ve become involved with domestic violence awareness, I realize more than ever that it is important for people to share their story so that victims can understand that they are not alone.
When I was only nine years old, my mother entered into a relationship with a man named Carl. He would end up changing our lives forever. What began as a loving and caring relationship quickly began to spin out of control as drugs, alcohol, and jealousy led to violence. After a night of drinking my mother and stepfather began to argue and things became physical- my mother was slapped, kicked, and had her hair pulled. As things began to escalate, I instinctively ran to the phone and called the police begging for help, they came and helped to calm everyone down and asked my step-father to leave for the night. I laid in bed awake the entire night, confused and scared; I prayed that this was just a one-time situation that had gotten out of hand, and that things would simply go back to normal. And they did. For awhile.
Before long it became a regular occurrence to see an argument quickly escalate until things were being thrown across the room, or my mother was being thrown to the ground and beaten. During the day I went to school and became an expert at putting on a happy face and pretending that everything was ok, but by the time the bell would ring at the end of the day, I was usually terrified of what I would find at my home. I knew that any day could possibly be the day when he took it just a little too far, when he hit her a little too hard and she would be gone forever. On many of those days I would find her in tears and terrified, often times with visible marks of abuse.
Studies show that the most dangerous time in a domestic violence situation is after the victim leaves their abuser, and this proved to be the case for us. Just 2 months after we left the home that we shared with him, on May 12th 2001, after spending the day out for my 13th birthday we returned home and found that Carl was in our house waiting for us.
He had broken in while we were gone, cut the phone lines and waited for us to return from our trip. Almost immediately he began to beat my mother as she fell to the ground begging for him to stop, I jumped on his back and tried to pull him off of her but he easily threw me off of him and into a wall. I apparently blacked out for a short time, and when I came to I was lying on the floor next to my mother and Carl was kneeling over both of us with his hand around my throat and a knife held up to hers. I was able to pull myself from under him and pull him off of her long enough for her to get back to her feet. Carl was now standing between the two of us and my mother was screaming for me to try to run out the back door. I know that she was worried about my safety but I couldn’t move, I couldn’t leave her to face him by herself.
We spent the next several hours trapped in the house with him; it would shift from vicious beatings to moments of him attempting to explain away his actions before the anger would take him over again. We were finally able to persuade him to let us go; we agreed to drive him to his mother’s home and promised not to go to the authorities. The last thing he said to us was a threat- if we went to the police, then he would kill the both of us and my older brother, who was living with his father at the time.
After dropping him off, we immediately went to the police station for help. We were quickly taken to the hospital to treat the wounds from the attack. My mother had a black eye, busted lip, bruising all over her face, and the doctors were initially concerned that bones in her face were broken. We spent the rest of the night at the hospital, both reeling from the events of the day and terrified about what would come next. We were beyond grateful when a crisis advocate from a domestic violence shelter came to meet us at the hospital. She was extremely kind and compassionate with us as she offered us a place to stay where we would be safe. We spent the next few days in the shelter, enjoying the thing that we used to take for granted- the fact that we were safe.
The next few months were extremely frightening; we left Texas in hopes of getting away from our problems, only to have Carl track us down in Oklahoma. We again turned to a local domestic violence prevention organization and they helped us get into another shelter and to investigate legal options we could pursue to keep him away from us. Ultimately he was caught several months later as police staked out a payphone he had been using to call and harass us for months. We eventually went to trial and he was sentenced to 45 years in prison, which was later reduced to 8 years on a technicality. For the first time in years we could walk out our door without having to look for someone who might be waiting for us. It was an extremely liberating feeling.
My mother ultimately remarried, and I went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology and have had a successful banking career. After years of rebuilding our lives and attempting to move on from our experiences, we were dealt a very harsh reminder of the prevalence of domestic violence. On June 23rd 2013, my younger step-sister Kayla and her friend Alex were shot and killed by Kayla’s estranged boyfriend. The shooting came after many months of violent episodes. Shortly after murdering Kayla, he turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
Kayla was only 19 when she was killed, and left behind a 5 month old little girl that will never get to know either of her parents.
Just over a year after Kayla died, we learned that my mother’s ex-husband Carl had been arrested for killing his girlfriend following a series of domestic disputes. We had been concerned when he was released from prison, but had heard that he had moved on and gotten married. We had gone for years without hearing from him, until shortly before he killed his girlfriend, when we began to receive threatening messages from him again. After the tragedy we immediately felt for her family; not only had we gone through a very similar loss with Kayla, but we also understood all too well that it could have very easily been us.
What I’ve learned over the years is that domestic violence does not make sense. There is no way to ever understand why something so senseless happens, there’s no way to spot those affected, and there is no easy answer to this problem.
What we can do is work to make sure that we get rid of the stigma that is attached to domestic violence; it can and does affect people from all walks of life. The next time that you feel like you’re the only one struggling with these issues, just look around at the grocery store, the restaurant, or the bank and know that many of those people have been forced to deal with similar situations and they understand how it feels.
I strongly believe that had an organization like Family Support Services not given us a safe place to go during those difficult times, we could have very easily been killed at the hand of our abuser. There is help available, and because of organizations like Family Support Services, we were able to feel safe.
Jay Polvadore is a Bank Officer at Amarillo National Bank. He serves on the Board of Directors for Family Support Services, and has volunteered for the Boys and Girls Club as well as many other agencies.
If you are in a domestic violence situation in the Amarillo area,
FSS is here to help.
Main Office: 806-342-2500
24 Hour Crisis Line 806-374-5433 or 800-749-9026
Outside of Amarillo?
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
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By Vanessa Garcia and JC Cortez
Vicki Craig recalled a poem she wrote when she was 10 years old and dealing with abuse at home.
“I am the one who sneaks out the back door,” Craig read. “Running fast to get help — he has her pinned on the floor.”
Craig and others shared their stories this month with a local community domestic violence task force, a group that includes representatives from local law enforcement, child protection and judicial agencies, to raise awareness of domestic violence issues in local communities.
“I think the critical thing we need to focus on is the fact that these crimes have escalated. We have a percentage of people who have lost their lives because of some form of family violence,” advocate Angie Stovall said. “In the last 12 months, there have been about eight homicides (in Amarillo) somehow related to family violence.”
Stovall works as crisis services coordinator for Family Support Services, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping victims of sexual assault and family violence in Amarillo.
At a meeting April 9 in Santa Fe Building, Craig told the group her father physically abused her and her mother. She recalled one time when he physically abused her when she was in second grade for coming home late from school.
Her situation was so bad, she said, she started working at age 12 just to stay away from home.
“There’s only so much you can take,” Craig said. “Without hope, we’re lost and so are the (other) victims.”
Amarillo police responded to more than 2,600 domestic violence incidents in 2014, according to information provided by the department. That’s an average of 217 calls per month.
“And the big picture is this crime is underreported,” Stovall said.
Many factors can make victims reluctant or afraid to report their situations, Stovall said. For one, an abusive relationship can progress so slowly that victims sometimes do not realize they are being victimized. An abusive relationship starts out like most relationships, she said. It can appear loving, supportive and affectionate until the abusive behaviors begin.
“Then they wake up one day and say, ‘I’m not this type of person. I’m not a victim. I don’t let people do this to me. How did I wake up today without any money? My house is gone. I don’t have transportation. I don’t have a job. My self-esteem is bottomed-out and I don’t feel like I can do the things I need to do.’”
That pattern of thinking can keep a victim tethered to an unhealthy partner. A person who sees no alternative may opt to stay in dangerous circumstances.
“And the number one reason is they are afraid they’re not going to be believed,” she said. “Regardless of anyone’s upbringing, their status, their ability to make money — it can happen to anyone, male or female.”
Laura Cook said her ex-husband abused her physically, emotionally, sexually and financially. Cook said her turning point was when she discovered he sexually assaulted two of her stepdaughters.
Cook recounted she was in her bedroom when her stepdaughter said, “I need to tell you something,” but was silenced when her father opened the door. Years later, Cook’s stepdaughter told her, “I was going to tell you what he was doing to me and my younger sister.”
“(That’s) when momma bear turns into momma bear,” Cook said.
Child Protective Services became involved and later he was forced to leave and Cook divorced him, she said.
“I would not have survived if it weren’t for my heavenly father,” Cook said. “The guilt was unbearable. God released that guilt for me.”
Once a relationship becomes violent, Stovall said, the victim can become desensitized as abuse escalates and the victim’s attention turns to survival.
“It becomes, ‘How do I get through the day without getting killed, without my kids getting hurt?’” she said. “Our culture can help by making sure this is a crime that is not tolerated and victims will be believed.”
Craig and Cook said they work to help other victims in domestic violence situations.
“(The term) victim has turned into victory,” Cook said.
Family Support Services operates a safe house emergency shelter and runs a 24-hour crisis hotline for family violence victims at 806-374-5433.