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Doing The Right Thing

Apr 21, 2021

Once upon a time there was an adolescent girls group home located on Stratton Avenue. We were the last stop before Woodside. The girls, between the ages of 12 and 18, were chronic runaways, neglected, physically and sexually abused, and practiced self-harm to cope. They also were frequently adjudicated and some, down-right dangerous. We had between 8-12 girls at any given time from all over the state.  I stayed there almost 5 years.

The three doors in the house were alarmed but would open after pulling on them for so many seconds. Time after time the girls would devise an escape plan involving assaulting staff, pulling the fire alarm, and running out the doors.   When hired, staff signed statements that we would not press charges against any of the girls if they assault us 

Every time the fire alarm was pulled, of course we got a lot of tall visitors in big hats and shiny coats and this would always escalate the girls behaviors. Every time the Fire Fighters entered, the girls would increase in screaming and fighting. There were a few nights the Fire Fighters helped us restrain several girls out on the front yard under a flood light.

For a while we brought these girls to school at VAC.  When that didn’t work out, we found another building for school.  Every morning we would load up the 12 passenger van to drive across town to stay the day at the educational building. One winter morning, a new staff thought it would be a good idea to start the van up so it would be warm by the time they got into it. The girls were thinking faster though and about 4 of them ran out the door, jumped in the van, and took off towards the hospital but crashed before they even made it down to McDonalds.

At this group home, we also had what was called a ‘safe room.’  This place was designed for placing escalating and dangerous girls until they could calm down. This would decrease the negative impact the behavior would have on the rest of the residents. The state would not allow us to lock any resident in a room, so we stayed at the door to the safe room with a belt through the door handle and we were to pull against it if the girl tries to open the door.

Some type of foam/rubber lined the floor and walls. Sometimes these girls would begin banging their heads into the wall and we would have to go in to restrain them for their own safety. The hardest part was getting the girl to go back through several doors and hallways to reach the safe room.  Many times we had multiple restraints on the floor just to get her into the room.

Some of these girls had eyes like hawks and could find any little thing they could use to cut themselves, stick it into an electrical outlet, and/or hurt another resident or staff. To see such damage done to these children at such a young age and to witness their unbearable pain of abuse, neglect, and more was heartbreaking.

One day, the house Director was arguing with a resident. This particular resident was a small 13 year old who came to us so damaged from sexual abuse, she tried to hang herself with a shower chord.  She was the one who most consistently would bang her head on the wall.  Several of us staff hear from outside the room, ‘Here, how do you like that?” Then a loud bump on the wall sound.

One staff had witnessed and three staff overheard the event. The director grabbed the girls hair in back of her head, then pushed her head forward into the wall, hard enough we all heard it in the other room. What do we do? Who do we call? We are all pretty much in shock.

One staff decided to call the same person the director was calling at the same time – her boss. We eventually had to sit in a room with this director and answer questions from attorneys on both sides. Working in the environment we did, all of us had to work closely with each other to protect each other and to keep the residents safe. We had struggles in our relationships as staff, but we were still a team and we had up to this point, looked to our director for direction. Now we had to look her in the eye and tell her she messed up. Which meant legal charges.

Doing what is right, not what is easy is a difficult path to choose. You lose friends, gain enemies, you might even face retaliation. 

I was working as a therapist in a women’s Therapeutic Community Unit in Albuquerque, New Mexico through Corrections Corporation of America.  After several months passed, I began to pick up on little actions and looks between a male correctional officer and several of the women.  I watched for a couple more weeks until I was pretty sure what was going on and I asked to speak with the head of security and told him my suspicions. I left shortly after telling him this, but years later I looked back and actually found an article where the women won a multi-million dollar lawsuit and the officer went to jail. The women had it all planned out from the start and this officer walked right into it.

As difficult as it is to confront injustice, corruption, bullies, town leadership, etc. what would happen ignoring it and looking the other way?  Sometimes coming forward, reporting, and asking for help may be ignored, denied, scoffed at, and you might even get chased out of town.

My 12 year old boy was playing basketball at the Rec Center with a friend.  They got into a skirmish and the kid’s father steps onto the court, picks my sin up by his neck, and throws him into a mettle divider where he then falls and hits his head as well. An hour later he is still hysterical to a degree and a red hand print was still visible on his chest. I spotted a man in uniform so I ask him for help, he just looks at me and tells me he is here to watch his son play basketball, that he’s off duty. This is after I tell him my son was assaulted by an adult.

Shaking my head I call the police department and an officer comes and takes statements. I have a very clear photo of the red hand print. The officer says the man accused of this is now out of town on business and cannot be reached. How convenient. If any of my down and out clients did the same thing, they would be in jail that night.

Not this man.  A town business man who does construction work for the town. He has two prior domestic charges too so the police made sure to protect him.  They denied my son an advocate. The kids in his class were coached by their parents to deny the event and ostracize my son.  I was denied the police report repeatedly for a year. I had no money as a single mother of three to get an attorney.  These men know this so single mothers are often a target as they are known to not fight back due to lack of funds.  They are predators.

They sent me a determination a few weeks after the decision. I made an appointment to go see the corrupt DA in which he told me he wouldn’t prosecute because the picture wasn’t very clear.  The picture used that was attached to the file was a poor photocopy of the handprint. Are you kidding me??

Finally after a year, I hired an attorney to go to the station and get my report as well as my business laptop they took out of my office without a warrant, never got a warrant, and still had it a year later, denying me it every time I ask. My attorney got both the report and my laptop back.

The abuser today has multi-million dollar construction contracts and a beautiful new office which he was building when this occurred. The whole town, from police, attorneys, family and child services, and Advocacy protected this man and misled the victim. Quite common in Cody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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