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Friday, August 9, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison



Some Chemotherapy Just in Case


It’s not so bad? OK, I’ll tell you what happened next. One week Joan wanted to know how many forms of abuse there were. The men had different opinions. She said two, physical and emotional. I sat in my plastic chair and thought very hard about this question. How many ways can a hurtful person hurt you? I was thinking of the ways my wife had hurt me. She had hurt me legally. She had hurt me financially. She had certainly hurt me socially. And she had hurt me psychologically. I said that I felt there were maybe five. I wasn’t trying to be a smartass. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. If anything, I was thinking of my wife too much again. Joan demanded to know what I thought. How many kinds of abuse are there? I said to her, “I know what you said but I can think of five.” She blew her stack. She said, “It’s obvious, Scott, that you will be unable to learn anything tonight, so leave.”


“Yes. Leave.”

I was amazed. It was just too much. As I opened the door I turned, and said meekly, “Don’t you think you’re being abusive?” She erupted into fury. She told me to get out and not dare say another word. “Stop it right there!!” she said.

I was shaken. It had taken everything I had to stand up to her. To question her. Each week I had been going in and I never told the least bit of my story. She didn’t know me from Jimmy the Greek. I faced the same impasse: Are you still in denial that you beat your wife? It was a question chasing its own tail. Believe me, I tried hard to see the denial I was in, but instead I kept seeing my wife break that window and hearing her say that I had pushed her into it. The court had sent me to this program, not I. I was just sitting tight and making the most of it.

I was ready to just let the matter drop. Shut up and put up, as one man advised me. But when I returned the next week, Joan had gotten her revenge. She had written up a report on me with all the worst possible marks and a stinging paragraph at the bottom about what a troublemaker I was. This was the report I had to take to court, and the court did not allow poor marks. I soon learned that with a bad report the court could start putting on sanctions. I could be given days to clean streets with the sheriff’s work program, I could be given jail time, I certainly would lose permission to see my partner if the restraining order were lifted. A few bad marks could mangle a person’s life. The counselor knew all of this, but I was still learning. She knew just what to do with bad dogs.

I decided to fight back. I decided to register a complaint. I wrote a letter to the director of King Center. I explained everything that had happened and expressed my belief that the counselor was being too heavy-handed. In a phone conversation with the director a few days later – his name is Don Hubbard – he said he felt Joan had acted just fine. Furthermore, he told me, anyone suggesting that they had not committed domestic violence was suppose to be thrown out of the program. Those were the rules. I told Mr. Hubbard that I certainly did not commit domestic violence. He said he would pretend he hadn’t heard what I had said but I was warned: those men who do not admit to acts of domestic violence will be discharged. Any disruption of the counseling program would be dealt with severely.

I was trapped. I asked Mr. Hubbard if he would please not mention the letter I had sent him. I didn’t want to pee in my own bathwater. I explained to him I didn’t want any more trouble. He said he wouldn’t mention my letter to my counselor. He said he was glad I had a clearer idea of how the program worked and what was expected. I thanked him and hung up.

It could have ended there, but when I went to court I was surprised to learn that a letter from Joan Barklie had been written to me but hand-delivered to the probation department, where it was put it in the file to make sure it came to the attention of the judge. It had been hand-delivered to the courthouse, but I hadn’t seen it. What could that letter have said? Whatever it said, the judge was none too happy with me. I tried to say I had a copy of the letter I had sent to the Director of King Center . Two public defenders strongly urged me to shut up and not disagree with the judge. One said to me, “Don’t show the letter you wrote or it will only be used against you! Do whatever the judge says or you’ll never get off probation. It’s a charade. Just play along or you’ll never get off probation!”

So I put my letter away and I nodded in agreement to the judge and said I would do everything I could to get a better report.

After my court appearance, I was very curious to find out exactly what the letter said. I took BART and walked down Valencia Street and into King Center and asked if I could have a copy. I took the letter back to my bookstore and opened it up. I was amazed at what I read. Apparently, unknown to me, I had continually disrupted meetings, often refused guidance, and been a troublemaker for many weeks, and after several warnings Joan had made the report. The letter was complete with fine details, professional jargon, and descriptive instances of how she had attempted to bring me back in line. I own a bookstore and I know fiction when I see it. This letter was pure fiction. It was a whole-cloth fabrication. I thought about it a bit. Here I am in a program because my wife didn’t tell the truth and here is an utterly fake account with no truth to it. I pictured myself before the judge, explaining. Impossible. I could not win. There was no basis for the judge to know. It was a dead end. I was a plucked duck.

A few weeks passed. I did everything in my power to be silent or agreeable. The stress was considerable. I had no idea when Joan would put her sights on me again. I was starting to realize to my horror that the whole system was messed up. All of it.

I came up with a plan. With the help of a friend who had been a public defender for a few years, I made a motion to have my treatment changed from domestic violence, where admissions of violence were a requirement, to anger management where they were not. Then I could step out of jeopardy. I hoped to be able to withdraw my whole plea bargain and take my case to trial where, at long last, I could try to prove that my wife broke the window in our kitchen and I had nothing to do with it.

Eventually Judge Mary Weiss, in Courtroom 15, made an official change in the conditions of my probation. But first, she removed me from King Center and sent me to the Center for Special Problems. They would not admit me because I would not describe my violence. I told them I had described everything. I said I would not lie to them. The judge in Courtroom 15 then said I could attend anger management sessions instead. So that’s when I was sent back in Courtroom 18, Judge Harold Kahn presiding, where I was told I could not be transferred to anger management because it was against the statute. I either had to get readmitted to King Center or had to find a place in San Mateo that might accept me.

I called King Center and scheduled a readmission interview.

I sat in their lobby and filled out the papers for readmission. My age, my address, how much money I earn, and so on. Then another paper, which was a “contract” that I was required to read, agree to, and sign. I ran into trouble in the first paragraph: “I understand I will be held accountable for further acts/threats of domestic violence. I admit I have problems with domestic violence and I am in this program to change such behaviors.”

I could not accept this language. I had not committed violence and I had not threatened violence. I was in the program because the court had ordered it. So I sat on the little couch wondering what to do. Sign it? No. See if they would let me in without signing? No. They wouldn’t. Cross those two sentences out? No good. So I took my pen and added, “I did not commit acts of domestic violence but would like to learn and participate in the program.” And signed my statement and the whole document.

When I took it to the front counter, the clerk said, “Oh no, I don’t think you can change anything.” He showed my contract to another man behind the counter. “No. They don’t allow that,” said the other man.

“I have to ask Don,” said the first man.

Don came out from his office. He looked at what I’d done and said in a slightly raised voice, “You can not come in here and tell us what is to be in our contract! You cannot change our contract. Any clinic in the State of California will require a contract and I guarantee you that all of them will require admissions of violence. You have no choice. You have to sign it without changing it.”

I tried to explain that when I had first gone to King Center nine months ago (I had attended the counseling sessions for 31 weeks), I had explained everything in detail and they had admitted me.

“Yes and you had to sign this contract or you would not have been admitted. I have your file. Yes, here it is. The same contract. Isn’t that your signature?”

I looked at the folder and it was my signature. I said, “I did not understand what you meant by these words then, but I know what you mean now. What these words suggest is not true, so I cannot sign it.”

“You can not tell us how to run our program. You cannot change our contracts so they suit you personally. You must sign it as you did before or go to jail. That’s it. Sign or go to jail.”

“Mr. Hubbard, look at the rest of my file. Look at the questionnaire I filled out back then. I told the woman who interviewed me, who is sitting right here, everything and I’m not changing anything. I made it very clear what happened. I’m just clarifying this written contract to reflect what actually happened.”

“Yes, he did.” said the woman.

“Look, you signed it,” he said. He was positively proud of himself. He knew he was covered. He knew he was in control. He was practically gloating.

“Are you sadistic?” I asked him. “I told you in person that I did not commit domestic violence. I wrote it in two letters. I told the woman who interviewed me. I am here because the court ordered it. I’ve been subjected to so much by this place ... to say nothing of that fabricated letter. It’s so unprofessional! It’s just so unprofessional it’s unbelievable. And you pretend to be helping people!”

I paused and looked at Mr. Hubbard. I looked at all of them. I didn’t sign it without my clarification. I walked out.

[To be continued.]