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Friday, August 16, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison




Some Chemotherapy Just in Case


It was four in the afternoon and I had until evening to get myself admitted to a domestic violence counseling program. I did have the one last place that the judge himself had recommended – a program run by Bill Tiedeman in the basement of a church in Daly City.

I was taken into a special room for the interview. I filled out the forms. An assistant to Bill asked me what the story was. I gave him the story. I told him my wife Khadija was a devout Muslim. I explained how she broke the kitchen window but told police I had pushed her into it.

Bill’s assistant listened politely. I suppose I could have spent that half hour describing how I make peanut butter sandwiches. He listened politely, then said, “Scott, you will need to sign this contract. Take it with you as we join the group. Read it carefully. Sign it and give it back after the meeting. One copy is for you and the other is ours.”

We walked into the bigger room, where Bill was leading the session. Eight men. I took a chair. I listened for several minutes. Then I glanced down at the contract. My heart sank. There it was right on top of the page: “I acknowledge that I am here for treatment and education regarding my violence,” and “I understand that my violence is damaging to family members…” I felt myself slipping towards the tar pit. Sign it? Not sign it and have nothing for court in the morning?

Bill and a couple others were munching on sunflower seeds.

Then Bill looked at me and said, “We have a new member joining us tonight. Could you tell us who you are and why you are here?”

“My name is Scott Harrison. I own a dusty bookstore in San Francisco.”

“Dusty? Why dusty? Don’t you clean it?”

“We sell used and old books. I just didn’t want you to imagine I was rich and had a fancy new bookstore.”

“Go on then, Scott. Tell us why are you here? Describe the incident.”

“I would like to join your group but I’m not sure that will be possible. I was reading over this contract. Parts of it just don’t apply to me. I never committed any acts of violence against my wife. I don’t think I will be able to sign it.”

“What happened then Scott? Tell us about the incident.”

“I was sitting in the kitchen. She was standing in front of me. I was reading quotes I’d copied from the Koran, which I’d written on yellow index cards. I was asking her to explain them. I was upset. My wife Khadija looked at me in a way I can’t describe. Very serious, very angry. She was silent as I read the yellow index cards, but I only got through about five when she picked up a dish from the kitchen table and threw it smashing against a rack of dishes on the counter. She then sent the whole rack of dishes flying and breaking across the kitchen sink. She wasn’t finished. She stepped forward and broke the window to the back door with her fist and yelled out the window, ‘Help! Help! Someone call the police! Help!’ When she broke the window she had cut her hand. Blood was on the floor. She went for the long knives beside the stove. I held her arm and tried everything I could to calm her down. I told her I loved her. I told her to calm down. I told her I was sorry if I had gotten her mad. I told her to call her friend Fatima or her friend Najet. She went into our living room and called the police. She said she would call a friend but dialed 911. When the police arrived and took me outside, I had blood on my shirt and broken glass was all over the kitchen.”

After I described most the details to the men in the group, someone asked what American terrorist groups she might be a member of.

I said: “I have no reason to believe she is a member of any group. I was falsely accused and I don’t want that to happen to her. She made a serious mistake, but that doesn’t mean she’s a terrorist.”

Bill’s assistant told the group that men often do not realize when they are being violent. He said, “To give you another example of how the law works, say you are at a party with your wife and you go up to her and tell her you want to leave. She says she wants to stay, but you get her coat and insist that she leave. Well, under the law that’s kidnapping. You would be found guilty of kidnapping.”

I couldn’t see how I could be admitted to the group. In the last group, at King Center, I had stayed quiet for 31 weeks. I had never once told that group that my wife had broken a window. But by being silent I had trapped myself. I got into that sadistic corner: if you dare tell the truth, we’ll punish you. If you stick your head up, we’ll drop you out of the program. So this time I just wanted to make sure we understood each other.

After the meeting I said to Bill Tiedeman, “I don’t see how I can sign this contract.” He treated me to a long pregnant pause and answered, “Then we’ll just have to change it. Put in the offense the court found you guilty of.”

“136, dissuading someone from calling the police. I pleaded “no contest” (because I had advised her to call her friends and not the police).

“Ok, write that in.”

I crossed out both references to violence and wrote “136PC No Contest plea” in its place.

Bill Tiedeman then signed my paper for court. I headed out to my car. I drove out of the hills of Daly City and took the 280 back toward San Francisco. There was a thick cloud cover, which amounted to almost a light rain. I hadn’t said one word to my wife in nearly ten months but at least, with my signed “proof of enrollment,” all my papers were now in place. All my papers were proper.