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May 23, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison




Men’s Group (Part 1)

Finally, after more than a year, I was nearing the end of my mandatory domestic violence counseling. For over a year I had paid two counseling clinics to treat me for a problem that I didn’t have. No matter, it was coming to the end. What I thought was the end. But I found there was a catch.

Because I had made complaints about the first counseling place, it decided to not give me credit for the last five weeks I had attended there. And it wouldn’t refund four more weeks I had paid for but could not attend because the court had transferred me.

I wrote to the place. I said something like, “Oh, by the way, could you please send the Probation Department acknowledgement of the final five weeks I attended? And would you mind sending back the extra money for sessions I paid for?”

No answer. I wrote again. Maybe someone had misplaced my letter. No answer again. I wrote a third time. I left three phone messages.

I did not exist. They just sort of “misplaced” me, my letters, and my records. They had come down with a case of institutional deafness.

I asked my probation officer to call them and straighten the matter out. Surely they would listen to him. He called. Nothing happened. He said there was nothing he could do. If the clinic didn’t give me credit, then I’d have to do the weeks over again. He said if I didn’t like that, then I could talk to his supervisor.

I wrote the supervisor a long letter.

I got no response of any kind from the supervisor.

This wall of stone was getting higher. I thought maybe I better give up. Besides, I had done almost 52 weeks that I shouldn’t have, so what were five more? Well, it was the principle. After everything that lousy clinic had done, now they just couldn’t resist kicking me in the ass on my way out.

So one day I went and sat in Judge Harold Kahn’s courtroom. I wanted to talk with a public defender and see if there was a way for the court to compel the clinic to give me credit.

To my surprise Judge Kahn noticed me as I was talking to one of the public defenders (“Oh no! Not him again!”) and he said from the bench: “Mr. Harrison. I don’t see you on calendar. Is there something you are here today for?”

“I have a small problem I was hoping to straighten out.” I said.

“Please come forward. For the record, let the record reflect that Mr. Harrison is representing himself. Yes, Mr. Harrison, what is it?”

If only I could have stood there and said, “Oh your honor, if only you knew what a circus of the absurd this has been. If only you had some idea what some of these people do! I’m taken to this treatment clinic, these are supposed to be counselors, these are supposed to be psychologists, these people are supposed to be professional and help men, but there I am stuck in my chair every week, never allowed to talk about the disaster that happened to me. I am accused of being a liar when I suggest I did not harm my wife. I can’t talk about my wife. I was threatened with a year in jail if I spoke about being set up. Then when I complain, they write me up. But what the counselor wrote about me was fiction. Vindictive fiction! Oh, if you knew! One week the counselor had each man, one by one, sit knee to knee across from her, look into her eyes, and say three loving things. I have to pay $1,600 for them to “treat” me for something I don’t have!”

But what I actually said in court was brief and nervous. I said I didn’t get credit for five weeks that I attended. What should I do?

I must have sounded like a spoiled baby. Oh poor baby, didn’t get his five weeks. Shut the courthouse down.

Luckily for me, Judge Kahn said, “If you attended the weeks and paid for them, I will see to it that you get credit. I’m going to request your probation officer come into court and I’ll put it on calendar for two weeks from today. Is there anything else, Mr. Harrison?”

“No. Thank you, your honor.”

On my way out I got the paperwork from the officer from the Probation Department and she said to me, “Why is it that there is always a problem with you?”

“I don’t look for problems; they come after me,” I told her.

I went as usual to my Wednesday night men’s group in Daly City (this was the place I had been transferred to.)

This group was so much better than the first I had to attend. For one thing the men could talk. What disasters these men had gone thru! What a wrecking-yard of broken, mangled, dysfunctional relationships! Before anyone is allowed to marry, they should be required to sit through six weeks of these counseling sessions. People thinking of going into marriage should check out people coming out. See some of the ones stripped naked and howling. Sure, the women have equally gruesome stories (or more!), but I haven’t been sitting with the women for a year and a half so I can’t speak for them.

I will alter details and not use real names, but I just don’t feel I can tell this story without a sampling. Here is just some, maybe one-fifth, of what I heard sitting in my chair all these weeks.

Joe had been married some 17 years. They had a son and a daughter. His wife served him with divorce papers at work. He hadn’t expected it. He left work and drove directly home. His wife was nowhere around. He wrote a note asking her, “Why are you doing this!” What he didn’t notice was that his wife had feared he’d over-react so she had also obtained a stay-away order based on one of his phone messages. He wasn’t allowed to go to the house or communicate with her. So he was arrested and required to do 52 weeks of  domestic violence counseling although he had never been violent. He came to the group each week very upset with his circumstances. He was ready to blow up. He was a smoldering volcano. He’d tell us how his wife and her lawyer were totally screwing him. Meanwhile he – a man in his 40’s -- had moved back with his parents.

Kevin and his wife are both from England. They were both working in the Bay Area for an English dot-com business. They met, went out, fell in love, and started living together. But her parents decided he was a wrong turn for their daughter; they jumped on the warpath. At the wedding a fistfight broke out between the bride’s father and the groom’s father. It was pure bitterness, silence, and blame between both families from that point. The honeymoon proved almost fatal to the marriage. But things then seemed to be getting better. Kevin and his wife were working toward a family cease-fire. But instead they ran into more troubles and got into new arguments. One became physical. Now his wife’s parents tell her, “We told you! He’s no good. Listen to us! Divorce him!”

Kao is from Laos. He and his wife got into a loud argument. One of her friends had told her she should call the police if her husband gets her upset. The police arrived, spoke with both, calmed them down, and left. Her English was very poor. Later when they were both in bed, the police came back and said they hadn’t done a full report. The police couldn’t understand Kao’s wife so they asked her a series of leading questions and made up a report believing she had agreed to what they were describing. They had Kao’s wife agree to things she didn’t understand. Police frightened her and she wanted to be agreeable. The police then arrested Kao. His wife and lawyer tried to explain that it was a misunderstanding, but the D.A. said she didn’t believe them, they were now trying to change their story, trying to retract. Kao and his wife paid an attorney to appeal. The appeal was denied. It had cost thousands of dollars. Kao was so bitter he sold his house and is divorcing his wife. Men in the group tried to tell him that as soon as accusations are made, the system takes over and these cases take on a life of their own. It wasn’t his wife’s fault. It was the police and the courts. But despite this, he cannot forgive her. He is so bitter and holding in so much anger, he’s much more likely to erupt into violence now then he was before this thing started.

Sammy came from the Philippines. To earn extra money he took guns apart and shipped them back to the Philippines mixed with other stuff, to be sold on the black market. He loved guns. He’s done time in prison. When his girlfriend came to get some of her things (they were breaking up), they pushed and hit each other. According to him, they both did some kicking and shoving. She left. When the police were called, she told about all his hidden guns. She said he had held one to her head and said he was going to blow her brains out. He told us he did no such thing. He spent more time in prison from the illegal guns the police found and now he was fulfilling the court mandated 52 weeks for the domestic violence. “She told the police about all my guns because she wanted to have me arrested so she could get my money. She knew where that was hidden, too.” After telling us all this, he never came back to the group. The counselor never mentioned what happened to him.

Mr. Chan’s first wife died of cancer. He went to visit her every day in the hospital in China until she died. He sat by her bedside for about eight months. His company paid him while he was doing this. They belonged to a Christian Church and one of the women in the church told him he must not be alone: he needed a wife to take care of him. He had a small daughter, and he needed a woman in his house to take care of her. The woman in his church asked him several times to marry. He didn’t really want to. He didn’t know her, but he agreed. “She pestered me!” he says. But when they moved to the United States they didn’t get along. She bossed him around and was cold and unpleasant. They had two children together. He tried to avoid her nagging by burying himself in his work. One night when he came back from work tired, she complained and complained. He lost his temper and slapped her and threw her against a wall. He lost control of himself. She called the police. All the neighbors saw him being arrested. Everyone in his church soon knew. Mr. Chan always says he was wrong and what he faces now is his own doing, but he also describes a home situation where he can barely stand to be in the same room with this woman, who first threw herself at him and then became a tyrant. He won’t divorce because with the domestic violence charge he fears she’ll get the house, the kids, and everything. So week after week he just suffers. He tells us she’s bossier than ever.

Miller worked in construction. He married a rich girl. They’d married, had kids, separated, and were fighting over custody. He baby-sat one night while she went out on a date. She came back drunk and shouted at him. Why was their son asleep in his clothes on the couch? Why wasn’t the house clean? What were those dirty dishes! He argued. She threw her glass of red wine in his face. He pinned her down on the carpet and swore at her nose-to-nose, eye-to-eye, demanding she never talk to him like that again. She didn't. She called police. Now they don’t talk at all because of the restraining order. She has the kids.

Mark is in his early 40’s. He has battled alcohol and cocaine for years. He told us freely that he was a violent, hot-tempered, abusive jerk when he was loaded. He was pulled in for domestic violence a few times. Had been in treatment programs several times for years. Finally the court gave him one last chance. If he tested positive, he’d face jail. So after staying clean and non-violent nearly two years he was at a Fourth of July party at the beach. Some friends in a parked car had cocaine and offered him some. He took it. He had a blast. He went on a mini-binge. It was like the good old days. Next day, by coincidence, he was told to come in to be tested. The dirty test and fighting it in court cost him two years in state prison. When he started coming to the group, he had just gotten out. He appears to be a man taking complete responsibility for what he has done and is completely clear about what he must do now to avoid any further legal trouble, but I don’t think I was the only one listening to him who wondered when the time and place would converge, someone would put cocaine under his nose and everything would collapse into chaos once again.

Orlando had a good marriage and two children. OK, even if the marriage wasn’t good, it was stable. He explained to us that his wife was too damn snoopy. She had intercepted some emails and discovered he had a girlfriend on the side. She confronted him with it and he said, “Yeah, so what? You and I know there is nothing between us any more; we’re only together because of the kids. Why are you acting so surprised?” When she got hysterical, his attitude was, “OK, have it your way. I’ll pack a bag and leave.” So he packed some things, took his briefcase, his suitcase, and headed out to his car. He sat in the car and put the key in the ignition. She grabbed the keys. He bit her hand to get her to let go. Her hand was bloody. She ran into the house and called the police. He landed in jail. For many months her dream was to reconcile with him. He was telling us, “After she called the police and put me through all this. No way! No way!”

Parker works as a traffic cop. He has people yelling at him and telling him off all day. Every day. It is a demanding job. He had been married more than 23 years. He has grown kids. One night when he came home, his wife brought him his dinner and it was cold. He snapped. He couldn’t control his temper. He threw the plate at her and yelled. Parker seems so easy-going and mellow. In six months I never saw him even agitated. He says he was wrong for what he did. He says things got out of hand. He says he thinks they will get back together. He’s been separated for about eight months.

The bad cases, where the abuse was major and the injuries significant, seldom ended up in a group like ours. I think those men were most often charged with felonies and sent to jail. The men I got to know had milder cases. Some were quite sad. It must be hard for the system to know just where to draw the line. One tall Filipino man had married his girlfriend from the Philippines. He was the tall quiet type, near 50. From his description, she was a nagger. Nothing was ever right. She had a passion for complaining. She started arranging for relatives to come from the Philippines to live with them. He said to us so many times: “Things were all right when it was just her and me, but I couldn’t take all the relatives of hers.” It sounded like five had moved in and five or eight were going to come. His wife was going to pack in as many as she could fit. He was arrested because he too had had a night when he lost his temper. He shoved her onto the couch, shouted at her, and slugged her. She was slapping back. He says that when the police came, she greatly exaggerated what had actually occurred. No matter. He went to jail. He lost his job. He lost his self- respect and wouldn’t move back to the house (although he was permitted to because the restraining order had been modified) until he found a job, but he looked each week and could not find a job.