The seven weeks I spent in jail should have been a full year, but I was placed, under court order, in a special program for “violent and criminal women” for the last 10 months of my sentence. And so I moved into the Shelly P. Horton Memorial Rehabilitation Home.
It basically was a halfway house- a communal living situation with 8 or 9 other women. Not only did we live together, we ate most of our meals together, we did chores together, and we had to participate in regular meetings. Everything was supervised, they helped us all get jobs, and we each contributed a little to the financial needs of the group. Rent was free but we bought our own food. We did all our cleaning and we lived two to a room. You couldn’t spend a night outside of the house, you couldn’t bring people into the house- you get the idea. Newcomers were closely monitored until they proved themselves trustworthy.
It had almost no security- I could have run away at any point, but I knew that would mean more legal troubles. I had only been charged with a misdemeanor, and I had no intention of adding anything else to my record. I still cherished the dream of becoming a lawyer- perhaps even more strongly now that I felt myself a true victim of a rotten patriarchal system. But first I had to finish my time at the Horton House.
The Horton House was run mostly by long-term, highly-trained volunteers, most of whom were a part of a nearby church. They were older and middle-aged women, some of them with a background in nursing or social work. A lot of the classes and meetings we had to take part in were simple life skills- how to balance a checkbook, how to eat healthy, etc. There were also classes on managing anger, avoiding harmful behaviors and all that. I really didn’t learn anything. Maybe a few self-defense classes would have been more appropriate.
I was the only one of the group who had finished high school, let alone started college. And aside from taking a lamp to Jimmy’s face right in front of the cops, I had no other criminal or violent history, which was also unique. But rumors of what I’d done to my ex-husband’s face had gotten around, and I had a reputation as a bad-ass. I let the rumors go- hoping maybe they’d keep trouble away from me.
The official head of the Horton House was the pastor of the church- Pastor Glen. He didn’t spend a lot of time at the house (which might have come off as creepy, since it was all younger women), but he did all of the administrative leadership. He coordinated the volunteers, had dinner with us every Sunday, and he led a weekly Bible study that we were strongly encouraged to attend (they couldn’t require it, I guess). Glen was young- in his early 30’s I estimated- and he didn’t have the formal look and feel I had always associated with a pastor. He had a light, fuzzy beard and wore John Lennon-style glasses. He was medium height and build and his short haircut hid that, even at a young age, he was beginning to bald. He always spoke with a gentle voice and liked to make jokes.
Glen had the files on each woman and had to approve their admittance into the Horton House. He met with each of us on our first day- introducing himself and running over some of the basic philosophy of the place. When I sat down across from him in the kitchen of the house, he was skimming my paperwork. We were on opposite ends of a large table, and a pleasant looking silver-haired woman sat a few seats down from me.
“Dorothy?” he asked, not looking up.
“Dottie,” I said.
“Dottie with an ‘i’?” he asked, picking up a pen, still looking at the folder.
“Yes…you do like the eyes, don’t you,” he mumbled, punning to himself as he flipped through the pages of my file.
Looking up at me for the first time, he cocked his head and paused with his mouth open. He looked at my eyes for almost a minute, until I shifted in my seat from awkwardness.
“Well,” he said abruptly, “Betty will fill you in on all the rules and procedures around here. It’s pretty simple. I’m guessing you’re not going to have a problem with anything. No history…just…just one very violent assault.”
I looked down and to the side, biting the inside of my cheek.
“I would guess he had it coming,” he said thoughtfully, still looking at me. I looked up sharply, surprised that a pastor would say such a thing. After giving me a few seconds to respond, he abandoned that path and changed topics.
“Dottie, do you plan to go back to school?”
“As soon as I can,” I said so quickly that I surprised even myself.
“And your plan is to…”
“Eventually study law.”
He leaned forward and laughed, looking over at Betty. “Law? Well I didn’t see that coming. Guess you’ve got an insider view of the criminal justice system now, don’t you?”
I said nothing in response.
“Hmm. Let me make some calls. I wonder if I can’t get you back into some classes while you’re here. Would you like that?”
I sarıyer escort widened my eyes in surprise, nodding my head.
“No guarantees. But I think there’s some grant money available for women in your situation who want to study. It could cover some of the costs, but you’d still need to work.”
“That’s no problem. I’ve been working and studying. It’s no problem at all,” I didn’t like how eager I sounded, but this seemed like a great chance.
Standing up, he said, “I’ll let you know what I find. We’ve got a few months until fall semester starts, so hang tight and get settled. Make some friends.” He paused after he said that, then turned back towards me and leaned in. ” I mean that, Dottie. Make some friends here. It’ll be good for your heart and…” he squinted at me, “and I’m guessing you’ve got a lot to offer these girls, too.”
Breaking his gaze, he straightened up and headed towards the door. “Thanks Betty- I’ll be in touch. And Dottie…try to leave the lamps where they are.” I rolled my eyes.
I didn’t mind the Horton House- it was better than prison, anyway. It was a few hours further west of my school, so it was a good long drive from home. Daddy and Mama visited about once a month, but after a few long talks with Pastor Glen, they felt OK with me being under the care of his staff. The volunteers were nice, even if some of them were just too saccharine sweet for me- like they hadn’t really had any trouble in life, so everything was rosy and happy for them. Glen seemed that way at first- often joking and teasing, enjoying game nights and meals. But whenever he spoke at the Bible study or sometimes during serious dinner conversations, I could tell he wasn’t all fluff. I kept a close eye on him- no man could work around so many young women and not be looking for a way to take advantage of them.
I’m not sure how I did at making friends, but I soon had a few younger girls (which was funny, because I was only 21 at the time) who followed me around and asked a lot of questions. Sometimes it was about Jimmy- Had I really used a broken light bulb to dig out his eye? Was I going to get the other eye if they hadn’t stopped me? How did I fight off all four police officers?
But then it became different. I was showing them how to use the washing machine and fold their clothes. I taught them a few of the recipes that they liked. I pulled classic novels from the bookshelf and read to them, explaining some of the harder language. As girls came and went, I found newcomers had a way of ending up in my little circle, so that I usually had about 4 girls that I spent time with each day. I listened to their stories and helped them understand how their problems weren’t their fault- the men in their life had forced them into a system that was against them. I told them about the unfair wages and inequities in the law. I didn’t realize what a reputation I was getting until one evening when Betty came from the kitchen and saw me studying in the living room (Glen had been able to get me into a few classes that fall).
“Mother Hen…can you make sure all your little chicks know that dinner is going to be a little late tonight?”
Shayna, folding laundry across the room burst out laughing and said, “She ain’t no Mother Hen! Don’t you know she hates cock?” Then she howled at her own pun. Betty, too proper to let on that she understood the joke, looked at me and held in a laugh.
“I’ve got a lamp right next to me, Shayna…” I threatened.
She stopped laughing, “Aw, come on Dottie. You know it’s true. And that was funny!” She giggled again, then tried to suppress it. I left her alone, then went upstairs to pass along the message. While I walked up the steps, I thought about Shayna’s comment. Did I hate men? No. I didn’t. I loved Daddy. I wished there were more men like him. I suspected men. I hated what they did to women- what most of them did, anyway. But I couldn’t let these girls go on naïvely believing there was something wrong with them when some of them weren’t really guilty of anything except being female. I realized that, what I most wanted to do was just…help them. Help them make a better life for themselves and stop waiting around to find the right guy who will fix everything.
A few days later, we sat around the table for Sunday dinner. Glen was there, as usual, and conversation was light and informal. A bowl of apples was next to Glen and I asked him to pass me one. We were carefully trained on table manners- asking politely, passing things, not talking with your mouth full, all that fun stuff. Glen smiled and picked an apple from the side of the bowl, taking care to find a particular one. I thought that strange, and when I bit into it, I found it was rotten on the inside. I spit out the bite, earning a disapproving gaze from Clara, our manners expert.
“It’s rotten!” I said.
Glen stood up, taking esenyurt escort the bowl. “Oh, then I’ll just throw them all away.”
A few girls protested, including me. “No, just give me another- they can’t all be bad.”
“What? Didn’t you just get a rotten one?”
“Yeah, but there are good ones, too.”
“I don’t know- you got a bad taste in your mouth from that bite. Best to assume all the apples are bad.”
I narrowed my eyes, starting to suspect he was up to something. Most of the girls seemed to be ignoring us, but one or two of my little gang stared in wide-eyed curiosity.
I spoke slowly, trying to piece it together. “I’d still like to try another. I’m sure they’re not all bad.”
Glen tilted his head and smiled, squinting one eye, urging me to think about what I’d just said. He rolled another apple across the table to me and said, “And yet for the sake of a few assholes, you’re ready to write off all mankind…interesting.”
So that was his game. I left the apple- and the rest of my dinner- on my plate. I stood up, tossing my napkin onto the table, and said, “You know, on second thought, I’m just not hungry.” I walked briskly out of the room, which wasn’t allowed during dinner. Clara started to say something, but I heard Glen say, “It’s OK, Miss Clara, let her be.” As I reached the front door, I could hear Shayna at the table say, “Cluck, cluck!” and then laugh loudly to herself. I slammed the door and sat on the porch. I wished Daddy would come walk me around the block and help things make sense.
After I’d been sitting out there for a while, and thankfully once my tears had dried, Glen slipped out onto the porch and asked if he could sit next to me.
“It’s your house,” I mumbled.
He sat down a few feet away, handing me a blanket he had brought out. I wrapped it around my shoulders and we both watched the late evening commuters driving home through our neighborhood. I envied them their easy lives- many of them had everything I had once hoped to have. That world seemed far away from me now. Marriage, family, career- it all seemed too unreal and trivial.
After a few minutes, Glen spoke. “How are your classes going?”
“Are you getting enough study time?”
“Yeah. It’s fine.”
“How about work? Your supervisor tells me you’ve adjusted well. Do you like it there?”
“I wouldn’t want to make a career of it, but it’s fine for now.”
“Wow. Sounds like everything in your life is just…fine. That’s great Dottie.” His sarcasm wasn’t mean. It was playful, and I fought back a smile. Neither of us spoke for a few more minutes. Then Glen said, “Dottie…”
I jumped in, saying what I had been thinking about for the past hour. “There’s a big difference between getting a bad bite of fruit and…and what happened to me. There’s a lot bigger risk involved in…it’s a lot more than just taking another bite.”
“I know that Dottie, and I don’t want to belittle your experience…or your pain. I just want to make the point that not all men are like your ex-husband. In fact, without knowing the details of what preceded that incident with the lamp, I’d guess James was a pretty exceptional, grade-A asshole. Based on what I’ve seen in you these past few months, anyone that can get such a reaction out of you had to have been pretty uniquely awful.”
“I’ve heard a lot of stories this past year, Pastor. A lot of stories from a lot of women, and James doesn’t sound too unique.”
“Hmm. Excellent point.” He thought for a moment. “Tell me, Dottie, have you ever heard the term ‘sampling bias’?”
I thought back to when I had heard that term- it was in a research methods class. “Heard it. Don’t remember it.”
“You walk into a hospital and start studying people’s health. What are you going to find?”
“Everyone is sick.”
“So can you conclude that the whole world is sick? Is there an epidemic?”
“No. Obviously…OK, I remember. The pool of candidates is biased to give you certain results.”
“Exactly. So you’ve been hearing stories…where? In prison? In Horton House? Among the women who have had some of the worst experiences with men- the worst? Let me introduce you to some people with different experiences. Go have a long talk with Betty about her husband, Ron. Thirty-two years they’ve been together- longer than I’ve been alive- and she still just glows when she talks about him. You’ve spent too much time in the rotten apple bin. There’s a whole big orchard out there.”
“Maybe. But Jimmy seemed nice, too. A lot of guys are two faced. They’re as nice as you when they’re in public, but they’ve got another side. An ugly side.”
“I’d be a fool to deny that, Dottie. But you’re still just talking about the rotten apples.”
“What’s the deal, anyway? Why are you so concerned about me? Almost all the girls here have this problem.”
“Well, Mother Hen, I guess I’m avrupa yakası escort just trying to get the most out of my efforts. If I can persuade you to see things differently, it won’t be long before most of the the other girls will see it the same way as you.”
“I think you’re exaggerating,” I said softly, staring up at the moon.
“I think you don’t know what a natural leader you are. These girls listen to you. Not just because you’ve got more book smarts than them, though that helps impress a few of them. But they know a good thing when they see it- they know you’ve got a special kind of wisdom. And more than that…you care about them.”
I looked sharply at him. Caring was…it was almost a weakness in this new world I had been thrust into.
“I know, I know,” he said. “God forbid any of you women have a heart. But I can see it. You want to help them, Dottie, just like I do. And I’m just wanting to make sure that what you’re doing actually helps.”
I wasn’t ready to respond to that, and Glen knew when to end a conversation. He left that thought hanging, and after a couple minutes, he went back inside. “Betty put your food in the oven to keep it warm,” he said as he opened the door.
“Thank you,” I said quietly.
“No, thank Betty for that. I wasn’t going to fight Clara, who said you should go hungry for leaving so rudely. But Betty stood up for you.”
“No…I mean…thank you.”
“Oh. Well in that case…you’re welcome.”
A few weeks later, after Sunday dinner, I walked out to the porch again. I had found it to be a nice place to think and process. With Glen trying to subtly plant ideas in our heads during dinner conversation, I usually needed some time to reflect. Glen joined me after he had cleared the table. Handing me a mug of hot chocolate, he asked if he could sit down. I scooted over to make room, and Glen sat on the far end of the step, leaning his back against the handrail post. In that position, he was facing me while I watched the cars go by.
“Finals coming up?” he asked.
“Yeah. But I’m mostly ready,” I said, my mind still on other things.
“Good. So…I was thinking it might be a good idea to transfer your credits to somewhere closer to here.”
I turned my head to look at him, my face showing the skepticism that I felt.
“It’s just a thought. But what if you could go full time next semester? I could take care of the details as far as the courts go- you could probably get away without needing a job, as long as you kept up your grades. Your time here is up during the middle of the semester, so it makes more sense that way.”
“And what happens when my time here is up? No place to live, no job. Doesn’t sound like a good situation for me. It makes more sense for me to go back home.”
“Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve been kicking around an idea for a year or so of hiring a residential caretaker. Someone to live in the house and help look after the girls. The pay wouldn’t be much, but your housing and food would be covered. It would look good on your resume, it would really help us out, and it might be just the thing you need to help you finish your bachelor’s program.”
So it was a well-thought-out plan. The Horton House was feeling like a good, safe environment for me, and to combine that with my education would be pretty ideal. Glen could see me thinking it through, and he said, “No need to answer now. I still haven’t convinced the State to give me the funding yet. But think about it. If you’re interested, I’ll make sure it happens.”
I did think about it. When Daddy and Mama visited the next weekend, we talked about it for a long time. Daddy finally said, “I think I need to have another talk with that preacher.” Glen took a long walk with Daddy that Sunday after church while Mama showed the girls and I how to make pie crusts from scratch. When the guys returned, Daddy took me out to the porch and we talked some more. He mostly asked what I thought of Glen and if I trusted him.
“About as well as I trust any man,” I answered.
“That’s an answer that ain’t an answer, Dorothy Jane.”
“Fine. I guess…I’ve got no reason not to trust him. Everyone else thinks he’s a good guy- even the women who have been working with him for a few years. I guess that says something.”
“Good enough,” Daddy replied, without explanation.
I’m sure you know where this is headed, but at that point, I still had no idea. It turned out, Glen and Daddy had a long talk that began with Daddy trying to find out exactly what Glen’s vision was for my role at the House. But as Glen talked about that vision, he smoothly transitioned into asking my father if, somewhere down the road, he would consent to a marriage. That took Daddy by surprise, and he thought maybe Glen and I had been carrying on in secret, like I had with James. After Glen assured my agitated father that nothing of the sort had happened, he explained that he doubted he could talk me into a relationship, but just in case he did, he wanted to know that it was OK.
It took Daddy some convincing that there really wasn’t anything going on between us, and once he believed Glen, it seemed even more strange that he would be thinking so far ahead.