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Friday, August 2, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison



Some Chemotherapy Just in Case


I had three days to get into a domestic violence program and bring “proof of enrollment” back to the court.

I had gone through this once before but now there was a problem. Let me explain.

Back when all of this started, nine months ago, I was arrested at my home. This happened about 11:30 at night. My wife Khadija explained to the police how I had pushed her in the chest causing her to fall, spin around, and break the kitchen window with her left fist. She had cut her hand. I tried to explain to the police, no, no, it didn’t happen that way at all. They had me handcuffed out on the curb in front of our apartment building for about one hour. People walked by looking. But the police didn’t listen to me. They didn’t believe me. I’m not sure I blame them. I don’t think I would believe me either (if I were them). Here was a middle-aged man with a young beautiful wife, and just from looking at the two of us you could tell who was guilty. You could just tell. One glance and it was obvious.

Or so it seemed.

This was exactly my own problem. Believing my wife. In our marriage troubling things would happen. Khadija wasn’t what I thought a wife should be. This was the first time either of us had been married, but it still didn’t seem right. For one thing she insisted on her own bedroom. Months passed and she would never sleep in the same bed with me. She refused to consummate the marriage. She had all kinds of reasons. One reason she gave was that as a Muslim she wanted to wait two years and do that in Morocco after a big wedding party. She said her friend Fatima was waiting too. She never bought me presents. She pressured me to send money to her family in Morocco. She was sweet about it, but the pressure never let up. I would feel full of doubt and ask her why she seemed more like a roommate then a wife. Looking at me eye to eye, she would ask me why I was questioning her. If I persisted she would start to cry and say if I loved her I wouldn’t question her. She said she loved me but I had to get over my distrust of people. I had to get over my distrust of her. One time she called it my “sickness”. And when she was done with me, usually I felt such shame. I felt so sorry for upsetting her. If she was in tears, she must be telling the truth. I felt so sure of that, at the time.

So the police officers sat in our kitchen and she cried and said how I pushed her. She told them how she just wanted to go to bed but I wanted to question her about the Koran. They didn’t doubt her. They were sure they had wrapped up the case. Here was another bad guy just like in the papers, a wife batterer. The blood on the floor certainly didn’t help. The blood was from her cut hand. There it was, broken glass, blood, and a woman crying. Case solved. Because of the injury, the police charged me with two felonies. I was another O.J. Simpson and they knew how to get tough with guys like me.

I was let out of jail on the condition that I immediately enroll in domestic violence counseling. The other condition was that I have no contact whatsoever, of any kind, with my wife. That was the most painful part. This was nine months ago, as I mentioned. In court at the time I was released ,I was given a referral to take to the counseling center. On the bottom of the page were six treatment centers, all in San Francisco; I could pick the one I wanted. but I had to get in. I was told to call and set up an appointment.

I called the treatment center closest to me in the Mission District. The King Center on Valencia Street. I made an appointment. In the lobby I filled out an application and questionnaire. When was I born? What was my job? What was my income? When had I last had alcohol in my system? I wrote: December 31, 1999, Paris. My wife was a devout Muslim so I had stopped all alcohol. When had I last had any drug? Many years ago. Then some questions about my history of violence and specifics about what happened. I answered as truthfully as I could. I don’t recall the exact questions, but they asked for details of my past domestic violence. I had nothing to put down. I wrote something like “does not apply.”

A woman took me into the back office to conduct an interview. I can’t express the relief I felt. Here at last I could really explain what happened. You don’t know how hopeful I was. Talking to the police was talking to a row of parking meters. When I told the public defender that I was innocent, he didn’t even blink. “You and all the other men,” he said. And this was not just any crime and not just any accusation. Abusive men, I learned, are often determined liars. That’s how some get away with it so long. They can be charmers. No, it doesn’t stop there. Many victims of domestic violence live in fear, in terror of the men who have hurt them, so they lie too. They lie to protect their abuser. They lie because their self-esteem is so low that they take the blame for what has been done to them. So what I found myself in was basically a snakepit of liars. I was in a trap of “he said, she said” and my wife appeared the far more compelling. So when I went into the special office to interview at King Center, I felt I could describe in careful detail what had happened and at last I would have someone who understood.

The woman interviewing me sat behind her desk. She had a pen and papers for my file, and she asked me what had happened. How had I gotten arrested? I told her the whole thing. I just put it all on the table. I explained all the little details about my wife having a funny thing about the kitchen knives. About her black belt in Tae Kwan Do. This woman sat quietly, listening. I thought she took it all in. Then when I was done, she said to me, “Well, considering the men who should be prosecuted but aren’t and the number of men that shouldn’t be prosecuted but are, they do very well.”


“More guilty people are free then innocent people captured.”


Then she had me sign some papers. One paper listed all the conditions of coming in for counseling, and among the items was something that said, “I admit I have problems with domestic violence….” I wasn’t fully comfortable with the wording, but my feeling at the time was “I sure do! Look at the mess I’m in!”

I was accepted into the program. It cost $1,300 for treatment. I made a first payment up at the front counter and they signed my form to take back to court.

You’d think it was easy. A little counseling never hurt anyone, did it? Some counseling for me just in case. To help me with my "problem" and help my marriage. To help my wife. It all seemed to make good sense. If it made everyone happy, I was all for it. Give treatment a chance, sure.

Well, I soon found, this is not your ordinary counseling.

I returned for counseling at the hour assigned to me. I went into one of the meeting rooms, where a group of men sat in a circle. The meeting usually had about ten men. The only woman was the counselor, Joan Barklie. There she was with her papers and clipboard, alone in the lion’s cage. Each week the first thing we did was to sign in on a piece of paper that was passed around. Four minutes late counted as an absence. The first order of business was to tell the other men our name, how many weeks we had been attending, and a sentence or two about how our week had gone. All the men were present because of court orders and all men were required to complete 52 weeks. We were not to talk to each other but always to direct all comments to the counselor. The sessions were two hours long.

I can’t convey the identities or stories of any of the men in the group because I signed a confidentiality statement, but I will say what my own experience was. The counselor, Joan Barklie, would shout, demean, scold, drill, and demand a level of discipline that I can only imagine happens in the army or dog training schools. She did have a sense of humor and told some good stories, but you must think drill sergeant to picture her. The content of the program was unapologetically sexist. I started to feel these were “punishment for misogynists” sessions. I mean the whole emphasis was on brutal men, hateful men, jealous, controlling, power-manipulating men. Men in denial of how bad they really were. Sometimes we watched short video clips and then were drilled on them. In these videos the man is always the bad guy. Little situations were acted out where the man acted terribly. But in one video I suspected the woman might be slightly culpable. I was merely remembering what happened to me. I expressed my opinion to the others. The counselor really jumped on me. Hadn’t I been paying attention! Hadn’t I been watching what the other men were watching!

The weeks went by and the men were forbidden to talk about anything anyone else had done that might have caused problems in their relationship. We could not criticize our partners. We didn’t dare criticize a woman with Ms. Barklie bearing down on us. We were the damaged goods. We were in denial. We were guilty of abuse in many many forms. I came out of those two-hour punishment sessions feeling so low, feeling so battered. One week I walked back to my bookstore dejected and depressed. I felt my arms were made of lead. I sat in a chair at the bookstore and someone asked me if I was all right and I just broke into tears. Then I felt humiliated and embarrassed because people in the bookstore were looking at me. I felt I should handle it better and let it roll off me, but I just couldn’t always do that. Besides, I knew very well that others caught in the system were getting it much worse then I.

I thought many times that someone must be sitting in front of my wife Khadija, browbeating her, telling her, “He was a monster. We know about men like him! Honey, you have to stop protecting him! You need to think of yourself now. You are in denial, honey. He was horrible. You are so lucky you got away from him in time. Many women don’t.”

There is an invisible dimension to the entire criminal justice system that people do not understand. Some years ago they eliminated most of the physical torture, but what we have now is mental torture. Our system deals with men with a violence that is massive but invisible because it is psychological. They humiliate, degrade, pressure, threaten, and use all sorts of effective instruments of mental torture. I say this because these sessions were torture for me but only I knew it because only I knew what was happening in my head. Just imagine you are married. Imagine you love your wife and one day this thing happens and you are in the meat grinder. You soon discover there is no way to turn the meat grinder off. I was in a state of shock at what my wife had done to me. She had thrown me down a well without a rope. I was heartbroken that I could not see her or talk to her. I suffered sleepless nights, dizzy spells, severe depression, and short-term memory troubles. I had many days when I was unable to do work. At the same time, because my wife Khadija had so much warmth, charm, and sweetness about her, she had dozens of friends to love her, support her, and talk to her. I just didn’t have anywhere like that support. And here I was trotted into these sessions where all they did was shut me up and push me down. Where every particular about my life and my case was utterly irrelevant. If you ask someone unconnected, they’ll say, “Tough on wife beaters? Good! Hope they get tougher.” I will tell you, sitting with those men, a lot of them should not have been in this system. Certainly not. There is plenty of baloney. I used to tell my friends, “Well I’ve got to go to dog training tonight.”