Whose Side Are You On?

We were in the bus about to make our way up a windy road. My phone began ringing and I warned everyone I needed to take the call. I picked up and heard a woman’s voice on the line with a hint of distress, and I was immediately transported to a cold, dirty bathroom floor with a woman I had never met. I sat there and comforted her as her tears streamed down her face and the shame exuded from her being. She touched her body and confirmed she was bleeding and questioned if he had cum in her. Seconds later, she sadly confirmed that he had. This was Monday morning at 8:30am.

The call ended, and I was back in the bus. I had volunteered on the crisis line before, but none of my previous calls had actually been a crisis. This was a crisis. I sat in the bus and analyzed and critiqued everything I had said. Why didn’t I ask her exact location? Did I get her phone number right? Would she call the police or her friend as I told her to do? Would she go to the hospital to get help? These are questions to answers that I may never know. All I know is her name and what had happened to her. The only thing I’m confident in is that I tried to give her options. I tried to soothe her and let her know I was there in spite of my shock. I tried to talk to her like a friend and like someone that cared about her. I still don’t know if I did everything right. But I do know that I have never felt so helpless when trying to help someone. I am not sure if that feeling is going to leave me any time soon.

I am used to dealing with tough topics. Well, at least I hope I am because if I want to actually be a peacebuilder or an agent in this field, my life is going to be inundated with people going through these experiences and dealing with these topics. I try to be cognizant of my power to do certain acts, and to also separate myself from things I cannot control, but I struggled yesterday. Of course, this was the beginning of a day with tough topics that seemed to fall in line with what happened in the morning. I have no direct connection with the CA or Federal prison systems, but the functioning of our federal justice system, the failings of programs, the treatment of inmates and the stressors that affect correctional officers are all topics that weigh heavy on me whenever they are brought up. I empathize greatly with victims, as I have been a victim that has dealt with the legal system in another country, but I feel like that experience also makes me empathize with perpetrators of violence and crime as I recognize they are victims too. I’m cognizant of the power of the family you were born into, the environment you were raised in, and the abuses that most abusers have also endured. I realize that violence creates violence, and perpetrators are oftentimes the products of greater violences and injustices than I could ever imagine. The stories I heard from our speakers yesterday, which involved an investigative journalist and ex-gang member from Salinas, confirmed all the feelings that I have already felt. My day left me hurting for the woman I sat on the bathroom floor with, but it also had me hurting for the man and the pain he must live with that brought him to commit this type of violence against someone else. My day left me asking why and how can we help both of them? They both need help… and I will never know if either of them will ever get any.