The assistant district attorney cleared the courtroom, while two sheriff's deputies searched the defendant. He was known to own 13 guns. Word had reached the sheriff's office that there might be violence.
I stood between my client--the plaintiff--and the man she had lived with, and been abused by, for 13 years. Three nights before, when he had held a gun to her head until daybreak, she decided it was time to come to court for a restraining order. Like most of the women I encountered in my work as a court advocate, she had suffered for years under a reign of terror and humiliation.
After the proceedings, the defendant approached me in the corridor outside the courtroom, anxious to tell me his side of the story. Most of the partners of my clients found a way to speak to me, in the courthouse or out in the parking lot. I have heard some interesting tales. But I have also witnessed the pain of men who seem truly sorry for their violence, who grieve the loss of seeing their children, who tearfully recount the abuse that was done to them as children.
A few months ago, I decided to leave my court job and begin co-facilitating an "anger management group" for men who batter. The therapist who convenes the group has had extensive experience with men who have a history of domestic violence. I mostly wanted to learn what he knows.
My interest seemed consistent with my history. Since the day I was 13 years old, living in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and witnessed the riots in nearby Harrisburg after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., my life seems to have been about crossing the barriers that divide people. My first step into Harrisburg that summer led to another into Harlem a few years later, and then one into inner-city Washington, D.C., that lasted 15 years. For much of my life, racial and economic divisions have been a primary concern.