Monday, November 9, 2009

The Color Purple

While for my service learning I work at Cristo Rey, I thought after reading “The Color Purple” it was more appropriate to share my experiences working at the Protection Order Project to help women who are in abusive relationships obtain protection. While I’m sure that many readers of “The Color Purple” cannot understand why or how Celie went back to Mr._____ after all of the abuse, but this pattern is disturbingly popular in cases of domestic violence. Before my internship, I think I would have become far angrier when reading this book, but after witnessing what victims of domestic violence have to endure, I find that I am no longer able to judge their decisions. Celie’s first experiences with love and sex were betrayal, rape, pain, and destruction. With the male role models in her life, it was no surprise that she turned to the love of a woman, to find some sense of security and safety. The relationships presented in the novel show the power of abuse in changing both the victim and the abuser.

When a client comes into the office, the very first thing we must do is file the protective order. In order to do this, we need to take down all of the client’s information as well as the information of the person who abused them. The most important part of the form is where the client is asked to describe the incident. In Maryland, the law states that in order to receive a protective order there must be clear and convincing evidence. Many judges have different opinions of what that statement truly means, so it is very important that the client’s description of the events be as clear and concise as possible. Failing to leave out one descriptive word of the action, or a particular verb change could cause the client to not receive the order. It soon became very clear to me that it was not as important WHAT you said, but HOW you said it, in order to get the order approved.

After we helped the new client fill our her forms, she was sent upstairs to see a judge to have the temporary order filed. Next came by far the most interesting part of my day. Each of the two attorneys I work with Jessica and Ellen had two cases in court. Before court began both Jessica and Ellen approached the defendant and tried to work out an agreement to avoid going to trial. Unfortunately both of the opposing parties would not comply and a trial was necessary. In Ellen’s trial, the defendant chose not to get a lawyer and had to defend himself. Watching him try to cross- examine his ex-wife and other witnesses showed me how important language truly is. Ellen, in the way she worded her questions, and the order she asked her questions was able to paint a clear picture for the judge of the events that occurred on the day our client was abused, and on the many cases of abuse in the past. The defendant however, came off as purely irrational, erratic, and found himself trapped in blatant lies as he confused dates, incidents, and contradicted himself at every turn.

Luckily, the judge was able to see that our client did in fact deserve to have a protection order and Ellen won the case. Watching Ellen paint the picture for the judge using her opening and closing statements, along with the questions she asked the witnesses was incredible. It made me feel like I had finally found something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I sat on the bench grinning ear to ear, so excited that this is the career I had chosen, this is what I am going to be able to do. I can combine my passion for helping others, with my love of words, to truly make a difference and be constantly challenged every day.

As excited as I was to be witnessing the events of the case unfolding, I came crashing back to reality as I looked at the brave woman next to me, who looked completely terrified by the sight of her husband. It was only then that I realized how much courage it takes for women to take a stand and fight back against their abusers. Luckily, now, women can have the power of the law on their side. They can have police at their home in an instant, and a simple piece of paper can give them peace. In “The Color Purple”, Celie had no such option. I think it is important when reading this book, to truly look at what options Celie had, and to realize that the choices she made, while they may not seem logical or correct to the reader, were choices made for her survival both mentally and physically.

That day in court, Jessica’s case was even more interesting than Ellen’s. In her case, there was a woman who was trying to get a protection order against her husband for a year while they filed for divorce. Unlike the first defendant, he chose to have a lawyer, so before the trial Jessica and I approached his lawyer to see if he could agree to the terms of the protection order without going to trial. His lawyer became upset, and did not understand why in the protection order there needed to be restrictions about child visitation. Using language, he tried to manipulate Jessica into believing that it was unnecessary, but she was able to see the contradictions in his words. He was attempting to use a parallel situation to prove that Jessica was being irrational when in fact the two situations had nothing in common. In the end, Jessica and the defendant’s lawyer decided they had to go to trial. In the mean time, Jessica called her client out into the hallway to discuss what had been decided, and at the same time the defendant entered the hallway. Quickly he stormed over and began to scream and curse loudly both at our client, Jessica, and his own lawyer using profanities I had never heard combined before. When it was time for their trial, his lawyer requested to speak to the judge. He asked that he be given permission to be taken off of the case, because he could not represent someone who was so disrespectful and aggressive. The judge granted his request, and the defendant instead of asking to have time to find a new lawyer simply said “Give the bitch whatever she wants. I don’t give a fuck.”. After being yelled at by the judge and warned to watch his behavior, the judge granted our client all of her requests from the protective order.

I bring up how important language is in court, because while reading “The Color Purple” I was struck by the language used. Throughout the novel there were constantly miscommunications in language that led to conflict and pain. Had the characters known more about the power of language and the skills of communication, it would have been a completely different novel.

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