Guest Author - Dountonia S. Slack
Saturday, July 1, 2006, was the first time I was arrested for a crime that I did not commit. After hours of being body slammed, strangled, and slapped by my husband, I threw one punch that blacked his eye. He had marks I did not. My premature baby and I had only been home for four days after an emergency C-section and a very difficult month long neonatal stay in the hospital. I was unaware of the issues my husband had with my decision to breastfeed our child. He complained that the baby would not know him; that I would become more attached to the baby than to him; and that nursing took away from my “wifely” duties. Consequently, this decision led to charges of domestic battery against me.
I was released on my own recognizance Wednesday, July 5th and immediately began to prove that I was the victim, not the perpetrator, and to fight for custody of my son. Instinctively, I went to the police. I believed that if the police just heard the whole truth then everything would straighten itself out. This was extremely naive. I was labeled the suspect by police and everything I shared could have been used against me in a court of law. On the other hand, my baby was back in my care by Friday because he was a breastfed child.
After weeks of separation from my husband because of a No Contact Order, we reconciled and a month later we were expecting our second child together. I loved my husband. I wanted our marriage to work, but I also wanted the abuse to stop. He attacked me three more times in less than a year and on June 11, 2007, I lost hope that he would change. I finally realized that he was never going to stop physically abusing me and would continue to pretend to be the victim of abuse every time I defended myself against him or reached out to someone for help.
Leaving him also meant leaving our first child in his keeping, however, if I attempted to take that son with me, the violence would escalate from penning me against a wall smashing my pregnant belly to punching me in the face with our son in my arms. Furthermore, I left my son because I believed that I would have him back in my custody in a matter of days like before. It took 17 months and a long, nasty divorce to get my son back. Other than with my siblings growing up, I had never been in a fight with anyone except my husband, and I learned quickly that if I did not want to go back to jail, I should not fight back. He never left a mark and he continued to file false accusations against me which led to several additional charges of invasion of privacy even after I left him.
Eventually, I had to seek professional counseling. The twilight arrests, the “evidence” that was never produced, the warrants based upon lies, and the prosecutor ignoring my witnesses that caught him stalking me more than once finally took its toll on me. I was doing all the right things: documenting where I went and to whom I spoke when in public; securing the services of an advocate; ensuring that I had someone with me at all times; and, following all court orders meticulously. But, I was still arrested five times on false pretenses. It took three sessions with a counselor before the light bulb came on for me. As the result of my displeasure with the advocacy I was receiving, my counselor suggested in passing, “Why don’t you become your own advocate?” Those seven words changed my life forever. Hence, I developed a passion for justice that has led to a desire to become an attorney to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
I left that session seeing with new eyes. Committed to the truth, I was eager to start swinging punches in a new way – metaphorically rather than physically. Through research, knowledge of the court process, effective communication with my attorney, and armed with points of information that would help shape my case, ten months later my attorney whispered into my ear, “I finally understand this case now.” On Friday, November 7, 2008, I was cleared of all charges, granted sole custody of my children, and issued a permanent protective order against my ex-husband (renewable every two years).
Ironically, I am thankful that I went through such a horrible ordeal because I discovered my calling – to become a lawyer. I agree with Marie De Santis’ statement that: “A domestic violence victim who has been arrested is often in such a broken mental state that she is unable to focus on the steps she must take to survive the legal system, protect her future, and maintain custody of her children. On top of the trauma of the domestic violence itself, the injustice of the arrest is unbearable for most women”. As an attorney, it will not take me ten months to understand this kind of torment a client is suffering. As an advocate, I have first-hand knowledge of the unspoken needs of a client. And, as a counselor, I will be able to help my clients find the strength to endure the court process regardless of the outcome.
I used to think that the worse thing in life is being accused of something that I am innocent of. Now, I know that the worse thing would be missing the lesson in the affliction. I am not the only person who has endured injustice, but there are too many people who do not have empathetic representation that understands the complex emotions that a person struggles through with crimes such as these. It is my responsibility to help others to navigate the cesspool of injustice because, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.